REVIEW: MEG & JO, BY VIRGINIA KANTRA

 

The timeless classic Little Women inspired this heartwarming modern tale of four sisters from New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra.

The March sisters—reliable Meg, independent Jo, stylish Amy, and shy Beth—have grown up to pursue their separate dreams. When Jo followed her ambitions to New York City, she never thought her career in journalism would come crashing down, leaving her struggling to stay afloat in a gig economy as a prep cook and secret food blogger.

Meg appears to have the life she always planned—the handsome husband, the adorable toddlers, the house in a charming subdivision. But sometimes getting everything you’ve ever wanted isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When their mother’s illness forces the sisters home to North Carolina for the holidays, they’ll re-discover what really matters.

One thing’s for sure—they’ll need the strength of family and the power of sisterhood to remake their lives and reimagine their dreams.

My Thoughts: As I dived into Meg and Jo, I felt as though I were revisiting a family I had loved for years. But despite the familiarity of the characters I had first met in Little Women, these family members were just different enough that I would discover the newness of them, too.

Set in contemporary times, we first connect with Jo in Manhattan, working in a restaurant and writing a food blog. I loved how she shared her self-discoveries, her life, and the Chef who turns out to be more than just a boss.

In North Carolina, Meg and John and their twins are enjoying their life as a family, but at the same time, the two of them are realizing that their communication could use some work.

Marmee’s illness changes the family dynamics, and the daughters realize that they need to step in and help out more.

Amy and Beth make brief appearances, but the focus is on Jo and Meg and their life changes. A delightful read. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: CALIFORNIA GIRLS, BY SUSAN MALLERY

 

Finola, a popular LA morning-show host, is famously upbeat until she’s blindsided on live TV by the news that her husband is sleeping with a young pop sensation who has set their affair to music. While avoiding the tabloids and pretending she’s just fine, she’s crumbling inside, desperate for him to come to his senses and for life to go back to normal.

Zennie’s breakup is no big loss. Although the world insists she pair up, she’d rather be surfing. So agreeing to be the surrogate for her best friend is a no-brainer—after all, she has an available womb and no other attachments to worry about. Except…when everyone else, including her big sister, thinks she’s making a huge mistake, being pregnant is a lot lonelier—and more complicated—than she imagined.

Never the tallest, thinnest or prettiest sister, Ali is used to being overlooked, but when her fiancé sends his disapproving brother to call off the wedding, it’s a new low. And yet Daniel continues to turn up “for support,” making Ali wonder if maybe—for once—someone sees her in a way no one ever has.

 

My Thoughts: California Girls swept me up into the sisterly world of three women, and it didn’t take long to feel like I was connected to each of them.

Finola ‘s life in the spotlight as a TV host intrigued me…and then I felt sorry for her as she became part of the tabloid stories. Her husband was easy to hate because of the timing and the way that he informed her of his actions. But I did like that she was able to use their time apart to do some soul searching.

Zennie’s world turns upside down when she makes a choice to help her friend, and in the end, she learns a lot about herself.

Ali was my favorite character. Who doesn’t love the girl who goes through a horrific break-up only to find a great new friend to help her along? You know right away that the friendship will turn into something else at some point.

A predictable story that delighted me along the way and earned 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE FABULOUS BOUVIER SISTERS, BY KASHNER & SCHOENBERGER

 

A poignant, evocative, and wonderfully gossipy account of the two sisters who represented style and class above all else—Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill—from the authors of Furious Love.

When sixty-four-year-old Jackie Kennedy Onassis died in her Fifth Avenue apartment, her younger sister Lee wept inconsolably. Then Jackie’s thirty-eight-page will was read. Lee discovered that substantial cash bequests were left to family members, friends, and employees—but nothing to her. “I have made no provision in this my Will for my sister, Lee B. Radziwill, for whom I have great affection, because I have already done so during my lifetime,” read Jackie’s final testament.

Drawing on the authors’ candid interviews with Lee Radziwill, The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters explores their complicated relationship, placing them at the center of twentieth-century fashion, design, and style.

In life, Jackie and Lee were alike in so many ways. Both women had a keen eye for beauty—in fashion, design, painting, music, dance, sculpture, poetry—and both were talented artists. Both loved pre-revolutionary Russian culture, and the blinding sunlight, calm seas, and ancient olive groves of Greece. Both loved the siren call of the Atlantic, sharing sweet, early memories of swimming with the rakish father they adored, Jack Vernou Bouvier, at his East Hampton retreat. But Jackie was her father’s favorite, and Lee, her mother’s. One would grow to become the most iconic woman of her time, while the other lived in her shadow. As they grew up, the two sisters developed an extremely close relationship threaded with rivalry, jealousy, and competition. Yet it was probably the most important relationship of their lives.

My Thoughts: Since I am a fan of all things Jackie, as well as the Kennedys, I was excited to learn more about her sisterhood bond with Lee Radziwill; therefore, The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters flew off the shelf and into my hands. The story began with Jackie’s shocking will, in which she left nothing to Lee.

Sweeping back in time to their beginnings, we explore their relationship with each other: their rivalries at home; their basic differences; and the sense of favoritism for Jackie by their father, all of which set the stage for an intense competition between them.

Over the years, they were alternately close and distant, the competitiveness a constant, even as their sisterhood bond would win out in times of crisis. At those times, they were usually there for each other.

I liked learning more about Lee’s life after she decided to follow Jackie’s example by pursuing a profession. For Lee, interior design was her special talent, and I loved reading about the homes she decorated, including some of her own.

Jackie’s bookish tastes had taken her into publishing, which suited her temperament and skills.

By this time, both were living in Manhattan apartments, but each had summer homes on the islands. They had discovered that they loved spending time with their children as extended family, offering the closeness between the cousins that they had always enjoyed with each other.

But the push and pull of their relationship continued, and by the time they each had more traumatic losses in their later years, some of which were financial for Lee, the differences between them grew. Sadly, their chance for the closeness they longed for was no longer there. A poignant tale of sisters, losses, and how family ties can only carry one so far. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THREE WISHES, BY LIANE MORIARTY

 

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My explorations of this author’s work began with her later books, and I have subsequently moved backward to her earlier ones. Three Wishes was a delightful read, and I thoroughly enjoyed “meeting” the Kettle family, with the sibling rivalry intensified due to the fact that the Kettle girls are triplets.

Set in Sydney, Australia, the story moves back and forth in time, alternately narrated by various characters, including brief notes from random observers.

Lyn and Cat are identical, while Gemma is the fraternal one. Lyn and Cat are blond and Gemma has red hair.

Their parents, Maxine and Frank, divorced when they were six, but something seems to be happening between them now, as the girls, at age 33, approach birthday number 34.

Cat has a lot of issues, starting with her difficulty in getting pregnant. Then she discovers that Dan, her husband, has been unfaithful. She learns a few other things about Dan that throw her world upside down.

Lyn, on the other hand, is obsessively controlled, with her numerous lists…so why is she suddenly suffering from panic attacks in parking lots? As the “perfect” business woman and mother to Maddie, a toddler, why does she feel so estranged from her teenage stepdaughter Kara?

Gemma has a lot going on beneath the surface; why do her relationships seem to self-destruct before they barely get off the ground? What really happened between her and her fiancé Marcus?

With a great peek behind the facades that families present to the world, the story was engaging and kept me glued to the pages. I loved the dynamics between the siblings; the dialogue was often funny, which made me want to be a part of their family, or to be their friend. There were sad, angry, and emotional moments. They felt like real people, and I didn’t want the story to end. I wanted to stay connected to them indefinitely. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: THE ALL-GIRL FILLING STATION’S LAST REUNION – FANNIE FLAGG

17345258For Sookie Simmons Poole, life in Point Clear, Alabama, has been full of rules and expectations. Her mother Lenore has always felt entitled and secure in who she is. And in placing many demands on Sookie, she keeps trying to reinforce the same goals in Sookie.

But Sookie is not so sure about any of that, and Lenore’s expectations of her have always felt a bit like a burden.

So when she receives an unexpected letter one day, her world tilts in totally new directions.

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion: A Novel is a wonderful tale with alternate time lines and stories, beginning around the turn of the century. It veers between Pulaski, Wisconsin, and a family named Jurdabralinski, and the Simmons/Poole family in Point Clear, Alabama.

We are brought into the center of the Wisconsin family during WWII, when the daughters of that family took over the family business of the Phillips 66 Filling Station when the men went off to war. From there we saw three of those women become pilots during special volunteer assignments as WASPS.

What is the connection between these families? How does what Sookie learns in the letter change how she sees herself and what she begins to do with her life?

What a great story! I love how the author fleshed out the characters in the different time periods, bringing the reader into the colorful era of WWII…and then wafting us back to the present.

And I enjoyed how the ending brought out a few secrets not revealed previously. Definitely a book that fans of Fannie Flagg will applaud. Five stars.

SERENDIPITOUS FRIDAYS: BOOK BEGINNINGS & THE FRIDAY 56 — TWO SISTERS

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Welcome to some bookish fun today as we share Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and as we showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

If you have been wanting to participate, but haven’t yet tried, now is the time!

What better way to spend a Friday?

Today’s featured book is an ARC I’ve received from Amazon Vine.  Two Sisters, by Mary Hogan, is a story about one family, two sisters, and a lifetime of secrets….

 

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Beginning:  Muriel unfolded the old bath towel and flung it open with a snap of her wrists.  Gently, it floated over her duvet like a jellyfish, the frayed ends dangling in a tentacled kind of way.

***

56:  While Owen searched for the ideal place to stop, kill the engine, then douse Madalyn’s dreams of their future together, Le Chez came into view.  People were laughing inside, bathed in the flattering light of disposable income.

***

Amazon Blurb:  Mary Hogan’s powerful and poignant debut novel about two sisters—opposites in every way—plus their mother and the secrets and lies that define them all.

One family, two sisters, a lifetime of secrets . . .

The third child in a family that wanted only two, Muriel Sullivant has always been an outsider. Short, dark-haired and round, she worships her beautiful blonde sister, Pia, and envies the close bond she shares with their mother, Lidia. Growing up in their shadow, Muriel believes that if she keeps all their secrets—and she knows plenty, outsiders always do—they will love her, too.

But that was a long time ago. Now an adult, Muriel has accepted the disappointments in her life. With her fourth-floor walk-up apartment and entry-level New York City job, she never will measure up to Pia and her wealthy husband, their daughter, and their suburban Connecticut dream home. Muriel would like nothing better than to avoid her judgmental family altogether. One thing she does quite well.

Until the day Pia shows up to visit and share devastating news that Muriel knows she cannot tell—a secret that will force her to come to terms with the past and help her see her life and her family in unexpected new ways.

***

I love books about family…especially the kind with secrets.  What are you sharing today?

SERENDIPITOUS TUESDAYS: INTROS/TEASERS – THE SILVER BOAT

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Should Be Reading.

Today’s featured book is The Silver Boat, by Luanne Rice.

 

 

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Intro:  Dar McCarthy sat on the granite step of her mother’s rambling, gray-shingled house, listening to surf break beyond the pond.  There had been a gale last night, driving in wild ocean waves, and through the salt pond’s wide bight she could see gray-green seawater tower and crash, the foam bright white in the first morning light.

Last night’s high wind had blown out all the clouds, and the dawn sky was turning what Delia used to call “happy blue.”  The sun hadn’t yet melted the frost, which glimmered on the old stone walls and spiky brown grass, the lilac branches and the stone Buddha in the herb garden.  Her mother’s ancient cats skulked home from a night of hiding under the barn, looking tufty and tiny and old.

***

Teaser:  Loneliness for him made Rory feel desperate, as if she’d be alone forever.  It was the worst feeling, as if she were hollow, as if she didn’t even exist without someone to love her.  (p. 58)

***

Amazon Blurb:  Three far-flung sisters have come home to Martha’s Vineyard one last time. Their mother’s beach house is the only place any of them ever found true happiness, and they need to begin the difficult process of letting go. Memories of their grandmother, mother, and their Irish father rise up and expose the fine cracks in their family myth — especially when a cache of old letters reveals enough truth to send them back to their ancestral homeland.

***

I love the setting of this one, along with a story about sisters, secrets, and loss.  Would you keep reading?

 

WAITING ON WEDNESDAY: THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS — MAY 23

Welcome to our weekly bookish event, Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by Jill, at Breaking the Spine.

For those of us who are eagerly awaiting upcoming releases, Wednesdays are the chance to visit other blogs and find even more books to add to our lists.

Today I’ve selected a book from an author I’ve come to enjoy so much:  Amy Hatvany, whose newest release, The Language of Sisters, will be coming on 7/31/12.

A poignant novel about going home again—and how the most complex relationships can yield the most rewarding surprises.Ten years ago, Nicole Hunter left her troubled past behind her, unable to cope with the demands of a life with her disabled sister, Jenny. Though her search for happiness—both in career and love—has fallen short of her dreams, Nicole pretends that all is well. Then a shattering event turns her world upside down, and suddenly, she is back in her hometown, caring for her pregnant sister and trying to heal her embattled relationship with her mother.

Reunited with her family and forced to confront the guilt that haunts her, Nicole finally has the chance to be the sister she always wished she’d been. And when she is faced with the most difficult choice of her life, Nicole rediscovers the beauty of sisterhood—and receives a special gift that will change her life forever.

***

I  love the cover, the blurb, and every book this author has brought out so far.  Now…I’m off to see what the rest of you have discovered!

INTRODUCING A NEW GENERATION OF SISTERS — A REVIEW

In this delightful tale of the imagined descendants of the characters from Little Women, we are introduced to a modern day family of sisters living in London. The three seem eerily like three of the sisters in the original tale, but with contemporary facets.

The mother, Fee, was a Bostonian who lived in a collective; when she met and fell in love with David, a Brit, she had some adjustments to make in creating a new life in England.

Soon we learn that Jo, from Little Women, was the great-great grandmother to the Atwater girls. Lulu, the middle sister, is the one who goes up to the attic one day to search for old recipes and discovers a cache of Great-Great-Grandmother Jo’s letters. Letters she wrote to Meg, to Amy, and even to Beth.

This discovery comes at an especially pivotal time in Lulu’s life, as she searches for what to do about her future. As she struggles to find something she is passionate enough about to make into a career, she also questions whether or not someone like her will ever find love.

Themes of identity, belonging, and family connections fill the pages of The Little Women Letters, and I was hooked from the beginning. We see a sampling of the letters interspersed with the daily lives of the sisters. I had trouble liking Sophie, the youngest sister, with her sarcastic tongue and her dramatic flair. Emma was easy to like, with her level head and sensible approach. But it was Lulu who captivated me, with her flaws and insecurities. Who wouldn’t love such a person?

Just as the characters in Little Women found a place in my heart, so did this new generation of sisters. This was a lovely book that is just calling out for a sequel, since I’m not feeling satiated by these characters. Five stars.