Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review: The Good Woman by Jane Porter

The Good Woman by Jane Porter introduces us to the Brennan sisters - Meg, Bree, Kit and Sarah- but the story focuses on Meg. Margaret Mary Brennan Roberts has always been the "good girl" - she is the responsible older sister, wife and dedicated mother to three. A perfectionist, she keeps the many plates of this busy family spinning from sports commitments and dance recitals to family birthdays.  All this and she works full time at a Napa winery as their marketing coordinator.

Lately, however, she is feeling under appreciated by her husband and beginning to question her need to always do the "right" thing. Feeling weighed down by her many commitments, Meg is tired and feels depleted. In addition to her busy home life, Meg is also entrenched in the many issues faced by her family.  Her sister Kit has been in a ten year relationship with Richard and there is no proposal in sight despite the fact that Kit very much wants to get married and have children.  Sarah's pro baseball player husband, Boone, cheated on her and Sarah has felt insecure in their relationship since. Being the protective older sister, Meg wants to protect her sisters from these hurts and her heart aches to see them struggle in their relationships.  Perhaps the most devastating family news, however, is that their mother's cancer is back and has metastasized.

Just as she is feeling insecure in her relationship with her husband and frustrated by the lack of passion they share lately, Jane's boss Chad takes an active interest in her. He pays her all the attention her husband does not - complimenting her on her clothes and appreciating the work she does for the vineyard. Pulled in so many directions and feeling under appreciated, Meg is especially vulnerable to this attention and she struggles with her conscience which warns that she is in dangerous territory.

My Thoughts
I have long been a fan of Jane Porter's contemporary fiction and when I started The Good Woman I was reminded of just how much I enjoy her books.  The characters come to life and feel like those you know in real life - your sisters, best friends and book club members. Meg, in particular, rang true for me - I see much of myself in her.  Even though I am not married with kids, I can relate to being the first born, being a perfectionist and feeling very obligated all the time. At one point in the novel, Meg's father recounts a story from Meg's childhood; she insisted on getting ready for school all by herself and finally came downstairs dressed in pants and a skirt. Her parents thought it was funny and were prepared to let her go dressed as is because Meg was so very proud of getting ready on her own.  At the last minute, her Dad changed her shoes because she had them on the wrong feet - Meg was devastated and said she just wanted to get it right.  She was hard on herself even as a young girl - her Dad reminded her that she came that way - her parents didn't cultivate that in her. My Mom says the same thing to me  all the time.  I get Meg.

This book is the first in a trilogy (the second book, focusing on Kit and entitled The Good Daughter is already out) - I am definitely looking forward to continuing to read about the Brennan sisters. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver

The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver is a sweeping, multi-generational tale that chronicles the Porter family (and their staff) during their summers at Ashaunt Point on Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. The point is a magical and mythical place for this family of privilege whose wealth does not insulate them from the big troubles faced by many families - death, mental illness and infirmity or the more pedestrian troubles of sibling rivalry, parental indifference and lack of direction. The constant throughout the generations is Ashaunt Point - it has a pull, both positive and negative, on the Porter family.

The book opens with the story being told by Bea, nanny to the young Porter children, who left Scotland to come to the US shortly after her mother's death.  It is 1942 and Bea is with the Porter family for the summer at Ashaunt Point. They share their summer oasis that year with the army stationed there for the war. There is a spareness to Bea - she lives carefully and seems afraid of happiness. Whether this comes from the devastation of losing of her mother and then leaving a country she felt no longer held anything for her or from a lifetime of limited expectations is hard to tell.  She is extraordinarily devoted to the Porter's youngest child, Janie, to the point that she is willing to sacrifice her own fulfillment to continue to care for Jane. This quote sums up the way in which Bea lives without allowing herself to yearn for much:
She had long ago given up the idea of having her own child - not given up, even, just never let the desire take shape, until in its shapelessness, it evaporated, it slipped away
Following Bea, the oldest Porter daughter Helen takes over the narrative with a series of letters and diary entries from Europe and then Ashaunt where she has returned for summers as an adult with her own family. She brings the story through to the 1960's and we see the progress in the lives of the Porters. All three daughters are married with children and each returns to Ashaunt with their families to the point that the Porter's home begins to resemble a hotel. Helen (aka Hellion) is restless and has always tested those around her. She has an insatiable thirst for knowledge but this also contributes to her constant searching and seeming inability to settle. Even at Ashaunt with her own family, Helen finds solace in her childhood summer destination but is still plagued by a sense of dissatisfaction.

Finally, Helen's adult son, Charlie,  takes over the narrative and we see Ashaunt Point again during war - this time the Vietnam War. Ashaunt Point still has a tremendous hold on this family - even Charlie believes it may be the only place in which he has been truly happy. Charlie is troubled  - almost as if the minor transgressions of the Porter's in earlier generations have all accumulated in this one son. He struggles with high expectations but an inability to deliver against them. As the book concludes in the 1990's, the stories begun throughout the book are brought to conclusion, as in a crescendo.

My Thoughts
This quiet book is remarkably moving and beautifully written. Despite what I felt was a slow start, I soon became captivated by Bea's story. Her practical but almost emotionless movement through life was fascinating to me. As each section of the novel played out, I found myself inextricably connected to these characters. This is surprising because, on the surface, there is very little about them to which I can relate. The key, however, is that their lives of privilege do not insulate them from everyday concerns and the characters are drawn so detailed that I found myself recognizing their emotions and frailties as similar to my own. Definitely recommend.

You can read other reviews from those on the TLC Tour (some are even offering a giveway!).

I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of the tour

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Books You Had to Have But Are Still On Your Shelves

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is books you had to have but are still on your shelves.

My eyes for books are much bigger than my pace of reading - hence, I have tons of books on the shelves waiting to be read (hoping to make a dent with the off the shelves challenge this year). My Top Ten still in TBR purgatory:

  1.    Freddy and Fredericka by Marc Halperin : I love reading about the British Monarchy so this allegory about the monarchy had me hooked.  Perhaps the 500+ page count has been holding me back
  2. The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper: When I read This is Where I Leave You for a book club, I fell in love with this author.  For some reason, however, I still haven't gotten to this one. 
  3.  I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass: Another example of a book bought because I loved another work by the author - Three Junes moved me so I immediately purchased the author's next two books.
  4.  Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman: I found Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven hysterical and loved the author's voice - I immediately snapped up another of her memoirs
  5.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: I heard such great things about this book/series and although I am not usually a YA fan, I caved.  I started reading this and really liked it but still need to get back to it.

  1.  The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst: I remember reading about this in the NY Times Book Review and deciding I had to have it. The book then won the 2004 Man Booker Prize . . . but I still have not read it.  It is on the docket for 2013!
  2.  The Help by Kathryn Stockett: I really might be the last person to have not either seen the movie or read the book. I almost watched the movie on the plane over the weekend but I believe the book will be better so held out!  Definitely will read this one this year for The Southern Literature Challenge 
  3.  Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese: About two years ago, glowing reviews for this book were all over the blogs and I was captivated by the storyline and the accolades . . .sadly, still have not read it.
  4.  Empty Family by Colm Toibin: Toibin is a favorite author of mine so when I had the chance to hear him speak locally, I was so excited!  This was his newest book at the time so I purchased it and had it signed by the author.
  5.  any book by Jill Mansell : I am a lover of British chick lit and this author does it very well. I voraciously collect her books when I go to the UK but need to read them faster!
Phew - this post has been a good reminder to me about books I want to and need to read!  What books have lingered on your shelves for a little too long? 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Salon - Irish on St. Patrick's Day

Irish on St. Patrick's Day
St. Patrick's Day - a holiday about which I have mixed feelings. My parents both immigrated to the US in their early 20's - my Dad from Scotland and my Mom from Ireland. My brother and I grew up with a strong sense of our heritage as my parents tried to find that balance between assimilating to their new country, the country of our births and preserving customs and traditions from their homelands.

Mom, Brother and me - Ireland circa 1979

My Mom left behind her entire family in County Mayo and she made a concerted effort to bring us back to visit them every year so that the connection wouldn't be broken - I have many fond memories of summers spent in Ireland enjoying the new found freedom afforded by the open fields that surrounded my grandparents' home. I know it was difficult to save every year to go "home" and I will always be grateful to my parents for making that sacrifice -the opportunity to know my family in Ireland and to travel the country is priceless and it has cemented my connection to my heritage.

Corned Beef and Cabbage?
St. Patrick's Day in the United States - the celebration is marked by green beer, leprechauns and "wearing of the green". Somehow, none of that reconciles with what I know of my Irish heritage and it seems to make a mockery of the rich culture of the Irish. Growing up, my Grandmother would send us authentic St. Patrick's Day "badges" with live shamrock which my Mom would proudly pin to our school uniforms. There were no special meals or other traditions partly because the holiday has generally (until recent years) been celebrated as a religious holiday in Ireland and partly because the touchstones of our Irish heritage - the food, the music, etc were really already incorporated into our daily lives so there was no need to do anything differently on March 17th. In this National Geographic article, another daughter of an expat Irish family recalls a similar experience - badges with shamrocks and all!

Me - Irish Step Dancing at Feis, circa 1985

At the same time, however, we celebrate St. Patrick's Day so raucously in the US thanks to the long history of Irish immigrants who have made this country their home. The experience of maintaining connections to your roots and pride in your heritage - no matter how many generations back - while still pledging allegiance to this country is a uniquely American experience. I am happy to be in a country where these connections are celebrated and enjoy watching everyone being "Irish for a Day" - I realize now that it doesn't diminish my heritage at all but rather adds to the richness of it.

Beannachtaí na Féile Páraic oraibh! (visit here for translation and pronunciation)

Short Stories from Author Aine Greaney
Author Aine Greaney (review of her book Dance Lessons) currently has three short stories posted on her website free to readers through March 17th.  All three stories are set in Ireland.  The author calls them "Love and infidelity, Irish style".  I am looking forward to reading more from this author!

The winner of my giveaway of Gilded Age by Claire McMillan is Debbie from ExUrbanis.  Congratulations - I have sent an email for your contact details!

My giveaway for The Admission Movie Prize Pack is still open - enter until March 21st for a chance to win! 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Giveaway: Admission Prize Pack

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz has been made into a movie starring Paul Rudd and Tina Fey - it arrives in theaters on March 22nd.  The trailer looks very funny:

Tina Fey (Date Night, 30 Rock) and Paul Rudd (I Love You Man, Knocked Up) star in Admission, the new film directed by Academy Award nominee Paul Weitz (About a Boy), about the surprising detours we encounter on the road to happiness. Straight-laced Princeton University admissions officer Portia Nathan (Fey) is caught off-guard when she makes a recruiting visit to an alternative high school overseen by her former college classmate, the free-wheeling John Pressman (Rudd). Pressman has surmised that Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), his gifted yet very unconventional student, might well be the son that Portia secretly gave up for adoption many years ago. Soon, Portia finds herself bending the rules for Jeremiah, putting at risk the life she thought she always wanted -- but in the process finding her way to a surprising and exhilarating life and romance she never dreamed of having.

To celebrate the movie opening, I have a Admission Prize Pack to offer as a giveaway.  The Prize Pack includes:

·        Movie Tie-In Book
·         Notepad
·         Pen
·         Drawstring Bag
·         Toothbrush
·         Folder
·         Bossypants by Tina Fey (I reviewed this last year - it is great!)

To enter, leave comment below about your favorite book to movie project. Please also leave a way to reach you.  The giveaway closes on March 21st.  Good Luck!

Prize provided by Focus Features and giveaway open in the US only.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Giveaway: Gilded Age by Claire McMillan

Last year, I reviewed Gilded Age by Claire McMillan.  The book is a modern re-telling of Edith Wharton's House of Mirth set in contemporary Cleveland. The book was published in paperback on February 12, 2013 and the publisher has graciously offered me a copy to giveaway to a lucky reader.

From Simon and SchusterEleanor Hart had made a brilliant marriage in New York, but it ended in a scandalous divorce and thirty days in Sierra Tucson rehab. Now she finds that, despite feminist lip service, she will still need a husband to be socially complete. Navigating the treacherous social terrain where old money meets new, she finds that her beauty is a powerful tool in this world, but it has its limitations, even liabilities. Through one misstep after another, Ellie mishandles her second act. Her options narrow, and now she faces a desperate choice.

To enter, leave a comment below with a way to contact you.  This giveaway will close on Tuesday, March 12th.  Good Luck!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Review: Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'Easter by Lisa Patton

Whistin' Dixie in a Nor'easter: Leelee Satterfield is a true Southern Belle - from her sorority days at Ole Miss to her evenings at the Memphis country club first with her "Daddy" and now with her husband, Baker. She loves her life in Memphis including her group of childhood girlfriends - Virgina, Alice and Mary Jule - with her she still gets into mischief years after they graduated from Miss Jamison's School for Young Ladies. But she loves her husband dearly too so when he expresses frustration with career working in his father's insurance business and wants to open an inn in Vermont, it breaks her heart but she agrees to move the family to Vermont. In Vermont, she will be challenged by much more than homesickness. Leelee has many reservations about moving to Vermont - leaving her friends, moving to a new place, starting a new business as an inn owner. There is much more, however, waiting when she arrives.

Helga and Rolf, the prior owners of the inn Leelee and Baker purchase, are staying on at the inn for the first year. They maintain a ironclad hold on the operations of the inn and Helga in particular makes Leelee's life miserable. Her life is not her own - she must do everything by Helga's schedule and in Helga's way. When the winter weather kicks in, Leelee is introduced to the joys of winter in the North including roof rakes, black ice and hours of shoveling. Leelee is really struggling to adjust and Baker is no help - he doesn't stand up to Helga on Leelee's behalf and he doesn't empathize with her homesickness. In addition to losing her hometown and friends with this move, Leelee also feels like she is losing Baker.

Leelee's inability to stand up to Baker when the decision to move North was first being made is emblematic of Leelee's inability to speak up for and assert herself. She wants so badly to be polite and accommodating that she frequently lets others take advantage of her. Her "Daddy" took great care of her growing up but also made all her decisions for her even down to ordering her entree when they dined at the country club. She also relied on him, and then Baker, to deliver any bad news or confront a difficult situation.  With neither of them defending her in the North, Leelee must learn to stand up for herself and make the most of her new  life in the land of snow.

My Thoughts
Though predictable, Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter definitely charmed me. At times, Leelee's incredulity at the snow, manners of her new neighbors and Northern customs could seem stereotypical but once she started being able to see some good about living in Vermont, the stereotypes were forgotten. I soon found myself rooting for Leelee and celebrating in her growth as she learned how to take care of herself. I especially like her raucous group of girlfriends - we all have that group of friends that can lift us out of the worst of times and the scenes that included Leelee's friends were both heartwarming and downright funny. The book left me anxiously looking forward to its sequel "Yankee Doodle Dixie". Can't wait to see what happens to Leelee next!