Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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My Review:

In Little Fires Everywhere, Author Celeste Ng skillfully weaves together two unlikely families as they hide secrets to pursue a good life.  Elena Richardson, born and bred in Shaker Heights,  is a buttoned up, mother of four.  The relationships she has with her husband and children seem typical and normal, yet, as she is continually trying to do the right thing, she struggles with her own expressions and tendencies and unknowingly distances herself from her family.  Free spirited, single mother, artist, Mia Warren and her obedient teenage daughter, Pearl, move to town and quickly become intertwined in the lives of the Richardsons. For Pearl, the Richardsons represent a typical, happy family; a family she would love to be a part of.  For the Richardson kids, Mia is the fun mom, the person to trust, the one who encourages, supports and speaks the truth.

Mia and Elena are conflicted within themselves and each other; one is hiding the secret in her past, yet is living freely and authentically and the other is pursuing the truth, yet is living in a self created cage and holding back.  Their relationship is complex; one would think mothers support other mothers yet not all mothers are created equal, and this is an interesting theme in the book.  Mother daughter relationships is another reoccurring focus as we see how Elena’s daughters are drawn to Mia and how Pearl wants to spend her time at Elena’s house.  When the Richardson’s family friend’s adoption debacle arises, there is a divide in who supports who, and what a mother’s rights are.

Celeste Ng writes a beautiful story using subtle touches to enhance her words.  Along with the incendiary descriptions throughout, she uses the name Mrs. Richardson rather than first name, Elena, allowing the reader to feel distant. I enjoyed the way Mia expresses herself, I felt I could see inside her soul.  Flawed yet beloved, Mia allowed each character to become more fully developed and live more honestly and truthfully.  She was able to see everyone for who they really were and appreciate them at face value without judgement – just like her art, which portrayed what she saw with beauty and honestly, each photograph a composition which represented each subject’s powerful essence.  On the other hand, Elena stood for what she believed what right, yet, to me, she seemed trapped.

In my opinion, at first look, Mia and Pearl were unlucky and the Richardsons had it all, but upon closer examination, the mother and daughter lived more authentically and had a much clearer grip on who they were.  Finally, each character made a decision that impacted everyones else’s lives, culminating in a devastating, fiery end.

Little Fires Everywhere was the bookclub choice this month and it provided fantastic conversation and plenty of disagreement amongst us.  I loved the story and highly recommend it along with Celeste Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You.

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Little Fires Everywhere book discussion, holiday party and grab bag!

As Seen in Goodreads:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned — from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren — an enigmatic artist and single mother — who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

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About the Author:

Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You, which was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book of 2014, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and named a best book of the year by over a dozen publications. Everything I Never Told You was also the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the ALA’s Alex Award, and the Medici Book Club Prize, and was a finalist for numerous awards, including the Ohioana Award, the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award.

Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize.

Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, was published by Penguin Press in fall 2017.

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Fractured Memories by Emily Page

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Fractured Memories:  Because Demented People need Love, Too by Emily Page.

Emily and her father were extremely close; they had a unique and special father-daughter relationship. In this brutally honest and real book Emily first tells us about her larger than life father in a way we can really get to know and love him as she did; a vibrant, talented and colorful guy. Next, she brings us on her journey as a devoted daughter, caregiver and decision maker as we learn about how dementia manifested in her dad and slowly took him. She bravely offers up her thoughts recorded in her journal during this time and includes her beautiful artwork which depicts her dad, his faltering state of mind, and their relationship as it changed. I laughed and cried through this book as it touched my heart.

If you know me you probably are aware that my father has been living with dementia for almost a decade and my incredibly strong and brave mother is his primary caregiver along with daytime, lifesaving in-home caregivers. Day to day living is consistently stressful and worrisome; riddled with questions where no answers exist and little support is available. The doctors don’t know enough, many caregivers lack proper experience or intuition, most friends and family don’t come around often, and every little household chore becomes a huge burden to tackle. More recently Alzheimer’s and dementia have been in the spotlight due to publicity from news about Pat Summit, Glen Campbell, Ronald Reagan and Robin Williams, but the media (tv, movies, and books) had yet to present to me anything that resembles truly what dementia entails and what my family has been enduring…until Fractured Memories: Because Demented PeopleNeed Love, Too.

 
Its not always as simple as the person with dementia gradually just forgetting things and becoming quiet. It is so much more and so much worse. It’s more like watching your loved one go from being strong, independent, creative and reasonable to not driving, not knowing what to do with a pencil, unable to complete a sentence. Keeping your loved one clean, dressed, safe, fed, distracted, nonviolent, happy and occupied uses up every bit of energy. And if you are lucky to sleep at night you can recharge to be ready to do it all over again the next day, but often sleep doesn’t come because of the worries about money, medications, living situations, proper help, the future…Emily Page offers advise and tips for caregivers, dementia facilities, and friends and family of dementia patients…so many tidbits I have wanted to scream from the rooftops myself! She has touched on just how difficult this disease is for the patient and the family.

 

If you know anyone with dementia or Alzheimer’s – if you are a loved one, a caregiver, a friend, acquaintance, nurse, hospital worker or volunteer, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.
If you have lost someone due to dementia YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.
And even if you have no connection to anyone with this disease YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.

 

Education and understand can only help lead to new medications and hopefully a cure or preventions and better training, facilities and care for the increased number of people who end up with this devastating and debilitating disease that effects entire families as well as the patient. Kudos to author and artist Emily Page for being honest and truthful in her book and her artwork, and loving and loyal to her wonderful father. May his memory be for a blessing.

 

 

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About the author as stated in Goodreads:

Emily Page is a professional artist and part-time writer. Working out of Raleigh, NC, Page spends most of her time elbow deep in paint, but comes up for air periodically to share her art and thoughts on her blog. She translated her ridiculous musings about her family’s journey through her father’s dementia into a book, Fractured Memories: Because Demented People Need Love, Too, available at http://shop.emilypageart.com/. Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyPageArt23, and read her blog at https://emilypageart.net/.

Lift and Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein

 

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Marcy, a 56 year old devoted wife and mother of three is shocked and dismayed when she learns Harvey, her husband of 33 years who she loves and built a life with has cheated on her. Harvey, dedicated CEO of a bra factory has admitted to straying from his marriage to be with a young lingerie model leaving Marcy alone to pick up the pieces of her life; helping her own mother as she battles injury and illness, advising and guiding her adult children, starting a new job, and accepting the challenge of how to fill the void and not the refrigerator.
Faced with uncertainty of the future Marcy is forced to become the center of her own life and although it is difficult at first, she shows us all how a strong woman can keep a sense of humor while coming to terms with change and embracing a fresh new start.  Infidelity, remorse and forgiveness, death and birth, friendship, family and new beginnings: Lift and Separate covers it all and is a story told with drama, emotion and humor. Author Marilyn Simon Rothstein uses vivid, riddle like metaphors and colorful details to enrich this moving tale of heartbreak and healing. I cried tears and I laughed out loud, surely the sign of a good read when you need an escape!

 

About the author (picked up from Goodreads):

For more than twenty-five years, Marilyn Simon Rothstein owned an advertising agency in Connecticut. She grew up in New York City, earned a degree in journalism from New York University, began her writing career at Seventeen magazine, and married a man she met in an elevator. Marilyn received a master of arts in liberal studies from Wesleyan University and a master of arts in Judaic studies from the University of Connecticut.

This Is How It Always Is

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This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

When Rosie and Penn, parents of four boys, learn they are expecting their fifth child, Rosie hopes this one will be a girl. When Claude is born, she comes to terms with the chaos of a family of five boys and nurtures the individuality of each of her sons. But, when Claude is three, he announces that he wants to be a girl, and by the time he starts kindergarten, he’s carrying a purse to school and wearing dresses at home. He’s not allowed to wear his dress to school, but when Rosie discovers a year’s worth of Claude’s artwork, she realizes they need to change their approach. The rest of the family is drawn in detail, while Claude is a stick figure; the rest of the family is painted in vibrant color while Claude is nearly invisible in black and white.
“And then, soon, Claude was nowhere. Rosie Where’s-Waldo-ed for fifteen minutes and failed to find him at all.”
Their son is disappearing before their eyes. They know they need to communicate that they love him unconditionally, no matter what he wears, how he styles his hair, or what he calls himself. Claude becomes Poppy, and blossoms into a confident, happy little girl.
Of course, this decision is not without challenges and complications. As Poppy grows, the choices become more difficult and murky, and Rosie and Penn don’t always agree on what is best for Poppy and for their family. Frankel, who herself has a transgender child, does an incredible job developing each character into real person with doubts and insecurities, each showing “grace under extreme pressure”, a phrase she utilizes throughout the book. She tells this important story with subtlety and gorgeous prose, and closes it with a sense of hope.
On the surface, this is a story about a family with a transgender child, but the themes can be applied to anyone who is someone’s parent or someone’s child. It is about the difficulty of guiding tiny humans towards the path that most fits their personality, and encouraging them to take the path less travelled, despite the difficulty, because it will provide them a more peaceful life.
“The path on the right was paved and shady, rolling gently along a childhood filled with acceptance to an adulthood marked by requited love, grandchildren, and joy, whereas the other path was rock-strewn and windblown, uphill both directions, and led she had no idea where. Here she was at the crossroads letting her baby boy run blindly down the path on the left (in a skirt and heels)…”
This is How it Always Is” would make an ideal book club pick, the controversial topics sure to spark an interesting discussion. Buy or download it as soon as possible as this book is not to be missed.

Guest Blogger:  This review was written by avid reader and author Heather Frimmer.  She is currently in the final stages of completing her first novel.