Review: The Bungalow

Why I picked it: I read The Violets of March earlier this year and since I loved the writing style and storytelling... I had to read The Bungalow.

The Manic Mommies Book Club read and discussed The Violets of March with Sarah Jio last summer.  Click here to listen/download our discussion.

Synopsis: In the summer of 1942, twenty-one-year-old Anne Calloway, newly engaged, sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora-Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancé, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. Under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world-until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war.

A timeless story of enduring passion, The Bungalow chronicles Anne's determination to discover the truth about the twin losses-of life, and of love-that have haunted her for seventy years.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take: I'm so happy that I was sick last weekend... creating time to read this novel in two days.  I was completely absorbed in Anne's story. It's a love story at it's core but it's also a reminder of the sacrifices many made during WWII. 

Jio's storytelling is brilliant, it felt like I was in Bora Bora watching lives change.  Friendships are tested, love is found and lost (sometimes by death) and there is plenty of heartbreak.  Ultimately this is a story of love and perseverance in tough times.  There's so much I want to share... but I don't want to ruin the story.  Let me just say that I couldn't put this book down.

Read it!

Rating: 5/5 stars
Country: Tahiti (Bora-Bora)
Source: NetGalley

Review: Deep Down True

Why I picked it: Manic Mommies Book Club (August 2011)

Synopsis: Newly divorced Dana Stellgarten has always been unfailingly nice—even to telemarketers—but now her temper is wearing thin. Money is tight, her kids are reeling from their dad's departure, and her Goth teenage niece has just landed on her doorstep. As she enters the slipstream of post-divorce romance and is befriended by the town queen bee, Dana finds that the tension between being true to yourself and being liked doesn't end in middle school…and that sometimes it takes a real friend to help you embrace adulthood in all its flawed complexity.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: At the surface, Deep Down True is a story about a woman navigating divorce and rebuilding her life but you quickly learn this novel is about so much more.

Dana is juggling all aspects of life. from finding a meaningful job, discovering who her real friends are, connecting with family, and learning how to co-parent with her ex-husband.  Mix in learning to date, a niece who comes to stay and a few bumps along the way... this book makes for a good book club discussion.  Everyone will connect to at least one part of the story.

Click here to listen to our lively discussion with author Juliette Fay.

Rating: 3/5 stars
Source: Personal Copy (Audio, iTunes)

Review: The Orphan Sister

Why I picked it: Manic Mommies Book Club selection.  I love it when listeners recommend books for us to read, it’s even better when the author is available to discuss the book with us!

This month we read an interesting novel about triplets, exploring the relationships of a set of identical twins and their triplet sister who shared a womb. I always read/hear about twins and their connections but have never thought about how might this be different for the triplet who doesn’t share the ‘identical’ label.

Synopsis:  Clementine Lord is not an orphan. She just feels like one sometimes. One of triplets, a quirk of nature left her the odd one out. Odette and Olivia are identical; Clementine is a singleton. Biologically speaking, she came from her own egg. Practically speaking, she never quite left it. Then Clementine’s father—a pediatric neurologist who is an expert on children’s brains, but clueless when it comes to his own daughters—disappears, and his choices, both past and present, force the family dynamics to change at last. As the three sisters struggle to make sense of it, their mother must emerge from the greenhouse and leave the flowers that have long been the focus of her warmth and nurturing.

For Clementine, the next step means retracing the winding route that led her to this very moment: to understand her father’s betrayal, the tragedy of her first lost love, her family’s divisions, and her best friend Eli’s sudden romantic interest. Most of all, she may finally have found the voice with which to share the inside story of being the odd sister out. . . .

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: We had a wonderful discussion with author Gwendolen Gross last night.  Not having sisters I tend to overlook the theme of sisterhood.  I don't do this intentionally, instead I connect to other elements in novels... so it was nice exploring sisterhood and triplet sisters on the call.

At the core, the novel explores the need for pairing. The longing we have to be a couple, through friendships, relationships, siblings, or marriage.  We follow Clementine through her life journey (into her late twenties) as she longs to find her pair.  Although she has a strong connection to her sisters she tends to feel like an extra at times, her sisters are identical twins who's lives haven't diverted from plan.  Clementine's journey has taken a few course corrections but she's finding her way.

Mix in a missing father, postpartum, animal rescue and more... this makes for a wonderful book discussion.

If you enjoy Barbara Delinsky, Jodi Picoult novels you will enjoy The Orphan Sister.

Gwendolen's Book Recommendations:
500 Acres and No Where to Hide (McCorkendale)
Alice Bliss(Harrington)
The Highest Tide (Lynch)

Click the green button to listen from here, the discussion lasts 46 minutes. It's also available on iTunes (search Manic Mommies Book Club) or click here to download/listen.

Rating: 4 stars
Source: Personal Copy (Nook)

Review: Maine

Why I picked it: I had to read what all the fuss was about. 

Synopsis:  For the Kellehers, Maine is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and old Irish songs are sung around a piano. Their beachfront property, won on a barroom bet after the war, sits on three acres of sand and pine nestled between stretches of rocky coast, with one tree bearing the initials “A.H.” At the cottage, built by Kelleher hands, cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and decades-old grudges simmer beneath the surface.

As three generations of Kelleher women descend on the property one summer, each brings her own hopes and fears. Maggie is thirty-two and pregnant, waiting for the perfect moment to tell her imperfect boyfriend the news; Ann Marie, a Kelleher by marriage, is channeling her domestic frustration into a dollhouse obsession and an ill-advised crush; Kathleen, the black sheep, never wanted to set foot in the cottage again; and Alice, the matriarch at the center of it all, would trade every floorboard for a chance to undo the events of one night, long ago.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: While reading this book I kept thinking about a Haigh novel that felt similar.  Lot's of emotion yet moving slowly from start to finish.  I know someone who was so excited to read this book, solely because the title.  Maine is a secondary character at best. I wonder if she has read it...

I'm sorry to say I was left unsatisfied when I finished this one.  I anticipated the ending after the big secret is revealed early in the novel, in my opinion the secret needed to slip out at the dinner table.  That would have made for an interesting situation.

This is a story filled with family drama, alcoholism, and several other themes.  I enjoyed the family relationships most so to explore this a bit more I thought I would answer a few of the questions listed in the discussion section:

If you had to choose one word to describe the overriding theme of Maine, what would it be? Family Loyalty.  There's a lot going on in this novel, people running away from family, entitlement, a potential affair, secrets (many of them)....

What was Alice’s motivation for changing her will? Why did she wait so long to tell her family?  Alice didn't understand, or didn't want to understand that her son set up the Maine calendar (staggering visits) so that she wouldn't be alone.  She thought her children didn't like each other, and while it wasn't a close family, I did feel they had a connection to the Maine house and family.

Not telling her family about her plans was terrible and the easy way out.  I kept waiting for this news to be shared.  Keeping this a secret let her feel control and she made reference to the shock they would experience so she knew what she was doing.  Alice wasn't  a warm and fuzzy person.

Which of these women would you like to spend more time with? Are there any you’d never want to see again? I didn't care for Ann Marie but her story is the one that kept me reading. She felt entitled, and was a bit of a 'Debbie Downer'.  She didn't like her husband much, craved order and seemed unhappy.  Her doll house obsession seemed to replace life, she could control of every aspect of the doll house. She did keep the book entertaining though...

I gave my audio copy to my neighbor a few weeks ago, I can't wait to discuss this book with her.  Have you read it?

Rating: 3/5 stars
Source: Library (audio)

Review: The Marriage Plot

Why I picked it: This novel was selected as the first book selection for a new book club that my friends and I have started.  It was my choice, and a risky one.

Why this book? I knew the reading habits of only two gals but thought this would be an interesting choice after everyone said they want to read outside their comfort zone. Some of the women I have met just 2-3 times before our discussion... college/dating seemed like a safe place. 

Synopsis: It's the early 1980s--the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.

As Madeleine tries to understand why "it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France," real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead--charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy--suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old "friend" Mitchell Grammaticus--who's been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange--resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology Laboratory on Cape Cod, but can't escape the secret responsible for Leonard's seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Before recapping our discussion, let me say that I enjoyed this book very much.  The first section is packed with information and the reader might be concerned that the entire book will follow the flow of part one.  Don't get stuck here... it's reality fiction, a love triangle/personal growth story.

One of my walking friends wasn't able to finish the book.  She tried to read it but I think it's safe to say she hated it.  Everyone else enjoyed it.  I did walk away from our discussion wondering how this novel reads internationally.  The women who read this book with 'English as a second language' really struggled with some of the vocabulary and section one was difficult for them.  I would love to read reviews from my friends outside the US to see if they had a similar experience.

I did write all over my copy, noting paragraphs to discuss.  As mentioned in the synopsis, Madeleine is a romantic who writes her thesis on love and the classics.  I loved this statement to Madeleine:

"...was there a novel where the heroine gets married to the wrong guy and then realizes it, and then the other suitor shows up, some guy who's always been in love with her, and then they get together, but finally the second suitor realizes that the last thing the woman needs is to get married again, that she's got more important things to do with her life?..."

I was satisfied with the ending, it was exactly what I was looking for. 

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: personal copy

Review: The Paris Wife

Why I picked it: I had come close to reading this book several times so when a good friend told me it was a must read, I knew I had to read it.

Synopsis: A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

Type: Historical Fiction
Quick Take: This is a heartbreaking portrayal of love and loyalty.  As I listened to this book I kept thinking about how sad Hadley must have been.  I didn't get the sense that life was joyful for them.  Hemingway was often depressed. That said, I did feel the love she had for him.  It was only at the end of listening to this book that I had compassion for their marriage. 

I loved all the references of Paris, prohibition, life in the 20's, and learning more about a circle of authors. 

I had forgotten that Hemingway's family is filled with depression and suicide.  It's tragic.

Shortly after reading this book, a friend and I saw the new Woody Allen movie (Midnight's in Paris).  It was so much fun to recognize authors, wive's, etc in the movie.  A fun complement to the book.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Library (audio)

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