21 December 2010

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Flap Copy from ARC: "The Andreas family is one of readers - books are their passion and their solace. The father is a bit eccentric. A renowned professor who communicates almost exclusively in Shakespearean verse, he named all three of his daughters for great Shakespearean women: Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean), and Cordelia (Cordy.) As a result, they find that they have a lot to live up to.

Each of the sisters has found her life nothing like what she had thought it would be - and when they are suddenly faced with their parents' frailty and their own disappointments and setbacks, their usual quicl salve of a book can't solve what ails them. When they each return to their childhood home - ostensibly to take care of their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds - they are dismayed to find the others there ... To their surprise, the three discover that they are more similar than they ever imagined, and their childhood town and their sisterly bond offer much more than they ever expected."

The Andreas family certainly has more quirks than most, but in many ways they are a normal family - three sisters with individual problems and insecurities, a scholarly father who can't separate his work from his life, and a loving but absentminded mother who has her own issues to handle. Rose is the eldest, with all the fears that come from losing the attention and honor of being the only child. Bean is the quintessential middle child, desperate for attention and seeking it in all the wrong places - with disastrous results. And Cordy, the baby of the group, has always been indulged and is finding out now, more than a little too late, that she needs to stand on her own two feet.

Brown's writing style is funny and lyrical; her understanding of Shakespeare and her clever insertions of his lines throughout the characters' dialogue turned this family story into a literate delight. The omniscient narrator (apparently the three sisters speaking as one voice) took a little getting used to, but Brown's skillful combination of flashbacks and the present day wove a complete and entertaining tale of family life in the face of widely varied obstacles. I definitely recommend this novel with 3.5 stars - I mean really, who can resist a little iambic pentameter?

04 December 2010

Night Road by Kristin Hannah

Product Description from Amazon.com: "Jude Farraday is a happily married, stay-at-home mom who puts everyone’s needs above her own. Her twins, Mia and Zach, are bright and happy teenagers. When Lexi Baill enters their lives, no one is more supportive than Jude. A former foster child with a dark past, Lexi quickly becomes Mia’s best friend. Then Zach falls in love with Lexi and the three become inseparable. But senior year of high school brings unexpected dangers. In an instant, Jude's idyllic life is shattered and her close-knit community is torn apart. People - and Jude - demand justice, and when the finger of blame is pointed, it lands solely on eighteen-year-old Lexi Baill. In a heartbeat, their love for each other will be shattered, the family broken. Lexi gives up everything that matters to her - the boy she loves, her place in the family, the best friend she ever had - while Jude loses even more.

When Lexi returns, older and wiser, she demands a reckoning. Long buried feelings will rise again, and Jude will finally have to face the woman she has become. She must decide whether to remain broken or try to forgive both Lexi … and herself."

I read this book in one evening, staying up late because I couldn't put it down. Hannah's descriptions are vivid and her characters are real - I felt as though their struggles were my own; their emotional upheaval affected me and kept me turning the pages. Lexi, Zach and Mia felt like people I had always known; Jude was just like so many moms I knew in high school.

There were moments in the story that were predictable, for sure (it's hard to write a rich kid/poor kid relationship without falling into at least a couple of standard literary traps) but I definitely found myself surprised more often than not. When tragedy struck, I could truly feel the fabric of these characters' lives ripping apart.

Hannah raises profound questions about motherhood, friendship, identity, loss and forgiveness. I know the product description hints to a chick-lit story aimed mostly at women - and yes, I do believe women are more likely to respond to the story and it's players, but I do not want to label this novel as chick-lit - Hannah deserves the credit for crafting a truly enjoyable, finely nuanced and complex work of literary fiction. I give this book 5 stars, and strongly recommend that readers scoop it up when it hits the shelves in March 2011.

01 December 2010

Trespass by Rose Tremain

Flap Copy from ARC: "In a silent valley in Southern France stands an isolated stone farmhouse, the Mas Lunel. Aramon, the owner, is so haunted by his violent past that he's become incapable of all meaningful action, letting his hunting dogs starve and his land go to ruin. Meanwhile, his sister Audrun, alone in her modern bungalow within sight of the Mas Lunel, dreams of exacting retribution for the unspoken betrayals that have blighted her life. Into this closed world comes Anthony Verey, a wealthy but disillusioned antiques dealer from London. When he sets his sights on the Mas, a frightening an unstoppable series of consequences is set in motion."

This book tells a dark tale of the trespasses we visit upon one another, as well as those we commit against the land we walk and the world in which we live. On the one hand are Aramon and Audrun, on the other Anthony Verey and his sister Veronica. The lives of these four intersect when Anthony travels to France to visit Veronica, and then sets his sights on buying the Mas Lunel. All of these characters are over sixty years old, and all are living as much in a more vibrant past as in their dismal present day.

Tremain's prose is haunting, her language lyrical and descriptive and at the same time somehow sparse. The darkness in her characters' hearts is palpable to the reader, as is their growing despair. I found the novel to be at times unrelentingly grim, however, and though I was engaged in the story, I was more than ready to finish and shelve the book. I give it 3 stars - for the quality of the writing and for the power of the haunting feelings I was left with long after I was finished reading.