REVIEW: THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE, BY LYNDA COHEN LOIGMAN

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The two Berman brothers, Abe and Mort, began sharing the control of their father’s company after his death. Mort was not as enthusiastic about having to leave college to join the company, but at least he had the number crunching job, which utilized his mathematical abilities, while Abe was the people person.

Their home lives were very connected as well. They shared a two-family house in Brooklyn…they got a great deal on the price of it, and it suited their family lives.

Living on the top floor with his wife Helen and their four sons, Abe was happy. Helen enjoyed the close proximity to Mort’s wife Rose, and the two became good friends. Mort and Rose had three daughters. Mort was often grumpy and annoyed at the noise Abe’s sons made as they clumped around upstairs. Was he just envious of Abe’s sons, while he only had daughters?

Then the two women got pregnant again, and their due dates were within days of each other.

One night when a blizzard cut off transportation and closed down ambulances, Rose went into labor. And then Helen’s water broke. They eventually discovered a midwife nearby…and she came to save the day.

Rose’s oldest daughter Judith, who was twelve at the time, was helping out. But something happened that night that changed the connections between the two women, and altered all of their lives forever.

The Two-Family House was set in the 1940s, and the roles the characters played in their lives and in their marriages were typical of the times. What would the events of that stormy night do to each of the mothers, and how would everything that had happened impact their marriages, their children, and their futures?

I enjoyed how the passage of time, with alternating narrators, revealed the effects on each character. I was especially fond of Judith, who was bright and had a sense of something having gone awry that night. Would her connection with Natalie, who was Abe and Helen’s daughter, cause her to take a closer look at events?

The story traversed time, from the 1940s to the 1970s. I like the saga that unfolded, showing us the strengths and the challenges of each family member. A memorable read. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE, BY ANN PACKER

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Spanning more than fifty years, The Children’s Crusade: A Novel is the story of a family.

It began with Bill Blair and his dreams for the land he bought in Portola Valley, in 1954. He met a woman named Penny. They married, and together they produced four children and built up their home. He became a pediatrician and his work became primary for him.

The dynamics of the family begin to show on one day when the four children were young; we witness Penny unraveling as she prepares for a party. There is nothing happy about Penny, and the sense of doom that hovers for the next few years will tell us more about her. She complains constantly about Bill not being there to “help.”

Meanwhile, the children are already assuming their roles, with Robert, as the eldest, and the one who sees himself as the leader. Rebecca, a little younger, is very maternal with the younger siblings, Ryan and James. At age three, we can already sense that James is out of control, and that his mother is constantly frustrated with him.

Fast forward over the years: in adulthood, Robert and Rebecca are both doctors, but Rebecca’s choice to become a psychiatrist is her way of extending the role she assumed in the family. Ryan is a teacher and very artistic. And James seems to be a lost soul.

Forward and backward we go, filling in the blanks of what led them all to the people they became. The troubles, the rivalries, and how Penny distanced herself from the family early on to pursue her “art.” Bill reveals his role as the nurturing parent and counsels the children through some of their troubles.

Individual chapters are devoted to each one’s perspective, and as we see each character from all sides, we come to understand them a lot more.

What events will thoroughly test the family bonds? How will the siblings solve some of their most crucial issues? How will the house become the centerpiece for their bonds, and what will ultimately happen to it? How will James’s visit with his mother in Taos, NM, relieve him of an old grievance?

The “crusade” that the children dreamed up to help their mother connect to them was never carried out, but it seemed like a recurring theme, in that later on, they all mentioned how their father had a crusade of his own. Children were his life: his own children, and those he helped heal as a doctor.

The writing style was interesting, in that we got to see them all as children…and then grown, and saw how they resolved some of their issues. Sometimes I got a little bogged down, but I enjoyed it overall. Recommended for those who enjoy family sagas, and don’t mind family dysfunction. 4.0 stars.

A LONG JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF & LOSS — A REVIEW

Filled with themes of struggle, loss, and triumph, Rain portrays a family through the decades. From the 1960s to the mid-2000s, this journey of one family living in rural Australia is a testament to survival in the face of extremes.

A fire in the mill owned by the Wallin family is only the beginning of what seems like a trail of grief. The theme of rain peppers the pages, too; not just the seasonal rains that bring devastation but the symbolic rain of grief and loss.

But the rains can also remind us of other things, as in this excerpt:

 

 

 

 

 

(Carla, the third generation daughter is contemplating the rain). “I am waiting for the rain to pass so I can hike again through the bush—I go there in search of my guide. There is something about the rain. I have always found it comforting. It makes me feel warm even when it is cold. I love the way it smells, especially the way the bush smells after the rain. I love the way it tastes and I love the way it feels on my skin. Rain is life—everything grows from it….”

When I chose this family saga, I expected something quite different. I enjoyed the symbolism, the struggles, and the persistence of the characters despite the tragedies that seemed to flank them. Perhaps even because of the tragedies. But parts of the story seemed bogged down by a tendency toward “chronicling” the lives of the characters rather than showing them through their interactions and through dialogue.

I did care about what happened to them, but at times, I felt frustrated by the detached tone of the author. I would still recommend this book to those who enjoy family stories. My rating is 3.5 stars.