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Review: Summer House by Nancy Thayer

summer houseTitle: Summer House

Author: Nancy Thayer

Genre/Pages: Fiction/368

Publication: Ballantine Books; 6/23/09

Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS

On a few acres of her Nona’s beachfront property in Nantucket, Charlotte Wheelwright operates an organic garden and farm stand, self-imposed exile for a transgression that comes to light at the end of this thoroughly enjoyable read.

Nancy Thayer’s honest and captivating novel examines the family dynamic over several generations.  From the first page, I was hooked.  Told from the third person omniscient point of view, we are able to see into the minds of the three main women characters–Charlotte, Nona, and Helen, Nona’s daughter-in-law and Charlotte’s mother.  We are also given a window to Nona’s past, through stategic flashbacks.  This narrative style helps to give readers and understanding of motivations and behaviors.

Summer House examines the relationships between the extended members of the Wheelwright clan, a well-to-do banking family with roots in Boston and Nantucket.  Thayer develops her characters and the conflicts–both internal and external–that they face are realistic and I could relate to them.

The group gathers on Nantucket three times during the course of the summer—once to usher in matriarch Anne ‘Nona’ Wheelwright’s 90th birthday, once for Charlotte’s brother’s wedding, and once for the annual Family Meeting.

Nona, as she is known to her children and grandchildren, has lately taken to spending most of her time in the comforting bubble of her memories, while her son and daughter and their children and grandchildren, struggle with infidelity, divorce, children, dating, petty jealousy, and all the other things that families deal with.  Nona survived her own personal struggles and is now left to reminisce and reap the goodness that family brings.

As with all families, there are a few secrets that come to light as the novel progresses.  Why has Charlotte abruptly left the family banking business to do hard, manual labor in an organic garden?  What is Charlotte’s father hiding from her mother?  Is Charlotte’s brother, Teddy, able to get his act together to take on the new responsibility?  What secret is Nona keeping?

Summer House is a relatively quick read with good pacing and an entertaining story line.  It’s meatier than a standard chick-lit novel, and for that I was thankful.  It really is a story about families and coming to terms with the fact that different people, even though they may be related, can have different ideas and opinions.  Being family is the glue that holds the variety of personalities together.

Nancy Thayer is an accomplished author with scores of published works to her name.  I look forward to picking up some of her earlier works and am interested in reading her daughter’s new book.

Thanks to Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to read this book!

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Review: The Sitting Swing by Irene Watson

swing

Title: The Sitting Swing

Author: Irene Watson

Genre/Pages: Memoir, Inspirational/215 pages

Publication: LHP; July 16, 2008

Rating: 2.5 BOOKMARKS

A journey to find freedom from codependency and unhappiness, Irene Watson’s The Sitting Swing is one woman’s story of recovery.

Raised by Ukranian immigrant parents in almost absolute isolation from society until she was six, Watson recounts her stark childhood in the unforgiving Canadian province of Alberta and how her upbringing shaped her personality and perception of life and relationships.

After losing one child to illness, Irene’s mother isn’t about to let her second child wander too far from her vigilant watch.  As a result, Irene’s attempts at independence are stifled and her personality development is retarded by her mother’s domineering parenting.

The memoir recounts Irene’s struggles to learn English, make friends, and her numerous attempts to escape from under her mother’s thumb.  As an adult, she finds herself repressing her feelings and struggling with her marriage.

A few years shy of 50, Irene, a therapist herself, checks into a 28-day program with little hope of taking away more than just some rhetoric to pass on to her patients.  Initially, she works against the program and is high skeptical of its efficacy.  In the end, she opens herself to the lessons and counselors, finding the tools she needs to make peace with her past and change her present.

This book was a quick and interesting read, though I typically don’t read inspirational nonfiction.  Without minimizing Watson’s childhood struggles, I have to confess that I kept waiting for the big reveal–a major and catastrophic event that brought her to Avalon for help. 

Watson’s diction–chatty and conversational at times–detracted from her story.   Maybe she was aiming for candor, but this memoir could be markedly improved if she would have detached from her audience and relayed the story without casually addressing the reader.

Don’t ask me how, because I don’t know, and I’m not sure I would want to bore you with the details if I did…Let’s zip forward ten years… (Watson, 18-19)

Ultimately, Irene Watson finds the tools she needs and is able to recognize the past for what it is.  From there, she can let go and move forward in her marriage, life, and career.

Thank you to Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book Promotion! for this review copy! 

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Review: Reunion by Therese Fowler

reunionTitle: Reunion

Author: Therese Fowler

Genre/Pages: Fiction; 313 pages

Publication: Ballantine Books; 3/24/2009

Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS

 

Reunion opens with a flashback: Harmony Blue Kucharski finds herself, at 19, unmarried and about to give birth to a baby she gives up for adoption, a decision that will haunt her for the next 20-odd years, despite her rise to celebrity as a television talk-show host.  

After giving her son up for adoption and repackaging herself as Blue Reynolds, her persistence and hard work pay off with a successful career as a talk show host.  Blue’s regrets and need to know what became of her son ultimately lead her to discovering who she really is and what really matters in life.

This book was such a terrfic vehicle to usher in the summer!  Reading Reunion put me in the mood for sandy beaches and vacation.  The exposition is mainly Chicago and Key West, but references to the Middle East are also peppered through the novel. 

Fowler’s writing was descriptive and the imagery made Key West come to life for me–so much so that I’m planning to visit in the fall.  Additionally, the use of bird imagery brought to mind freedom–especially when one character mentions that macaws are sometimes set free in Key West.  To me it was a symbolic parallel of Blue being set free from her cage (celebrity lifestyle, painful past) after impulsively buying a home in Key West.

The title Reunion is so apt–Blue not only reunites with an old flame, but also with an old mentor and his wife, her sister, mother, and most importantly, Blue reunites with herself–Harmony Blue.  While reuniting with her 19-year-old self, she finally forgives the decisions she made in the past.  With that forgiveness comes her ability to open herself to love and be loved, to live and enjoy life, which she does with abandon.

Thanks to Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to review Reunion!