Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok is a must read…a wonderful immigrant story focused on family and secrets that is also an addictive and compelling mystery! Includes author Q & A…

Searching For Sylvie Lee By Jean Kwok

My Review:

A perfect combination of literary fiction and suspense, in Searching for Sylvie Lee, Jean Kwok lets us inside the minds of Chinese immigrant sisters Sylvie, Amy and their Ma.  Smart, pretty and accomplished, Sylvie is the golden child in the family.  Having grown up with her grandmother in the Netherlands, she felt compelled to return there when Grandma became ill.  Younger sister, Amy, is shy and insecure.  When Amy hears that Sylvie has mysteriously disappeared, she has to pull it together to be strong, and travel overseas to find out what happened to her beloved big sister.

Ma’s relationships with her daughters are complicated; she immigrated to NYC when she and Pa were young and she was pregnant.  They were very poor and worked many jobs to stay afloat.  Once Sylvie was born they sent her to the Netherlands to be cared for by Ma’s mother, as they thought it would be a better life for her. The  feeling of rejection had a huge impact on Sylvie and her other relationships.  She stayed in Amsterdam for more than 8 years, and when Ma and Pa had another daughter, Sylvie returned to NY, yet she felt she was called home to be a babysitter for her younger sister, Amy.

Communication barriers and lack of understanding add to the tension of this story and is often the case with immigrant families.  The relationship with children can be strained and sacrificed when coming to a new country as the parents have a hard time learning the ways of the new home yet the kids haven’t lived any other way.

Ma’s communication skills are limited because she only speaks broken English, but her thoughts in Chinese are clear and strong.  Sylvie spent her formative years in Dutch culture, feeling loved by her Grandma and cousin and on unsettled ground with her aunt and uncle, and Amy was from NY, had hard working, supportive parents but struggled with a stutter and had a hard time expressing herself.

Searching For Sylvie Lee is a story of love…the beauty and the pitfalls, the joy and the heartbreak.  An unexpected disappearance becomes a full on mystery, and pain, confusion and misunderstandings are the results of buried family secrets – unintentional hurt is inflicted all around, but does the truth come out too late?  

 A Chinese immigrant experience in NY and Amsterdam, Searching For Sylvie Lee is full of suspense and wonderful writing.  This is one of my favorite books of the year!

The idea to write about a missing person was inspired by author Jean Kwok’s brother.  Learn more about the devastating disappearance of Jean Kwok’s brother HERE

Q & A with Jean Kwok

 
Q:  What inspires you to write and how do you decide the format and genre?
 
A:  I always write about issues that mean a great deal to me personally. Searching for Sylvie Lee was inspired by the real-life disappearance of my beloved and brilliant brother. I changed the main character to a woman, Sylvie, to escape the gravitational force of the true story, and Sylvie, her younger sister Amy and Ma indeed took on their own lives. However, since I did want to write about a disappearance and the ways in which we are hidden from each other by language and culture, it was natural to shape this book as a mystery surrounding a suspenseful immigrant family drama. 
 
 
Q:  The backdrop for Searching For Sylvie Lee is an immigration story about a family.  How similar is your personal story?
 
A:  Like Sylvie, I’m a first generation Chinese American immigrant and my family was also very poor when we first came to this country. Although I wasn’t sent away to be raised by my grandmother the way Sylvie was, I saw firsthand what it was like for every able-bodied person in my family to work day and night just to make ends meet. Even though I did end up going to Harvard and Columbia, I was never considered the golden child in my family – that role was reserved for my brother, the one who disappeared. I was too bad at being a Chinese girl: terrible housekeeper and cook, too opinionated and independent. So when he vanished, I had the same feeling that Amy did, of needing to pull myself together to try to figure out what had happened to my beloved sibling. 
 
 
Q:  The Grandmother took responsibility for Sylvie as a baby and in the end Sylvie felt it was important to be with her when she was ill.  Typical family structure with traditional upbringing of the children by the parents was not the route this family took.  How did you come up with this scenario?  Can you tell us about your grandparents?
 
A:  I actually never met any of my own grandparents because they were left behind in China when we emigrated. However, as the youngest of seven children, I often felt like my parents were in some ways my grandparents too, since they were the age of my friends’ grandparents. I also know many people who either needed to send their children back to their grandparents to be raised because they couldn’t afford to keep them or were sent back themselves as children. So the loving relationship between Sylvie and Grandma is something I understand deeply, even though I didn’t know my own grandparents. I watched my own parents grow older and more frail.
 
 
Q:  I enjoyed all of the details that added to the richness of your story: the bike riding, the music lessons, the trip to Venice, the apple tart…where do you get your ideas?
 
A:  Actually, all of the instances of flirtatious Dutch men on bicycles actually happened to me, which is not as fun as it sounds because my biking skills are even worse than Amy’s. When a huge Dutch guy swung himself onto the baggage rack of my little bicycle as I rode by, I lost control and we almost dove into a canal, which was terrifying because like Sylvie, I can’t swim! I like to use incidents from real life in my books and I also enjoy interviewing people and adding slices of their lives. 
 
 
Q:  I love that each of your main characters, Sylvie, Amy and Ma express their points of view in alternating chapters and yet the reader is the only one that sees the full picture.  How did you decide to write it this way and what was your process?  Did you have to make an outline or organize in any way before you started?
 
A:  One of the questions that Searching for Sylvie Lee asks is, “How well do we truly know the people we love most?” In many immigrant families, the children adopt the dominant language of the country, English, while the parents still struggle with it, resulting in parents and children who no longer speak the same language fluently. I combined those two ideas by having the novel be told by three different narrators – Sylvie, Amy and Ma – all thinking in their own languages: Dutch, English and Chinese. Of course, the book’s written in English but since the inner dialogue is in each woman’s own mother tongue, we are able to get to know each of them in a way that the others can’t. So Ma thinking in Chinese is a much deeper, more complicated person than Amy, her own daughter, will ever know because Amy can only hear the Ma who speaks broken English.
 
I did outline the entire novel before I started writing. The release of information and clues is essential to the pacing of the book, so I had to figure out where to place the Facebook messages, newspaper articles, etc. to keep the reader turning the pages. Many details changed over the course of the novel but I was constantly backing up to check that the overall structure of the book was working well. 
 
 
Q:  Many of your characters have secrets and throughout the story you provide us with clues right up until we learn the truth.  Did the clues appear naturally or did you add them in after you wrote the book?  
 
A:  I planned everything from the very beginning and I did know exactly how the book would end. I personally need to know the ending in advance because the progression of the entire novel is shaped by the ending. I always hope that my work will be both entertaining and enlightening, so I want the reader to enjoy the ride. I’m anticipating the reader experience throughout so that the ending is hopefully both surprising and yet earned. 
 
 
Q:  Sylvie is smart and pretty and looked upon as a being successful…Amy is insecure and lacks direction, but deep down, it seems these sisters are more alike than different.   Can you give us some insight and tell us which one you relate to most?
 
A:  I definitely relate to both of the sisters. I have the same perfectionist drive as Sylvie but am sadly not as talented, so I can identify with Amy who always felt like she was in Sylvie’s shadow as well. In my family, I was never considered smart or successful – that was my brother, and yet, my brother and I loved each other so much. He always took care of me and when we were very poor, he was the person who gave me a blank diary and said, “Whatever you write in this will belong to you.” That was the beginning of my life as a writer. So the love that binds the two sisters is very real to me as well. 
 
 
Q:  How long did it take to write this book and did you have to make any majors changes during the revision process?
 
A:  It took about three years to write this novel and it really seemed to flow seamlessly. I sketched out the story and started writing. There were minor revisions along the way but it almost seemed to write itself. I have a wonderful editor who helped me enhance the relationships, and she also let me know when the foreign languages needed to be pruned back a bit, that sort of thing, but basically, the book has remained unchanged from its initial conception. 
 
 
Q:  This book is a beautiful combination of compelling fiction with well developed characters, varied and descriptive background settings and an addictive mystery.  Do you recommend any other books that have a similar storytelling or other authors that have accomplished the same? 
 
A:  Thank you for your kind words. I think that Miracle Creek by Angie Kim is a wonderful novel that is similar in that it’s a page-turner wrapped around an immigrant family. This novel about a murder trial involving a Korean immigrant family after their medical facility explodes is a suspenseful, deep read. 
 
 
Q:  Can we expect another page turner that takes us on a journey from you?
A:  I’m working on a new novel right now and it’s about a young Chinese American immigrant woman who comes to the US to start a new life, but that fresh start is threatened when she gets involved with her white English teacher and he dies in a suspicious accident involving her. So indeed, I hope this will be another page turner that deals with deeper issues of immigration, culture, race and language. 
 

Watch Jean Kwok’s interview on the Today Show HERE

CLICK HERE for other great book club choices.

Goodreads Summary

Jean Kwok

About the Author:

Jean Kwok is the New York Times and international bestselling, award-winning author of Searching for Sylvie Lee, Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown. Her work has been published in eighteen countries and taught in universities, colleges, and high schools across the world. She has been selected for numerous honors, including the American Library Association Alex Award, the Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award, and the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award international shortlist. She is trilingual, fluent in Dutch, Chinese, and English, and studied Latin for seven years. Jean immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. She received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard and completed an MFA in fiction at Columbia University. She currently lives in the Netherlands with her husband, two boys and three cats.

Learn more about Jean here:
www.jeankwok.com
https://www.facebook.com/JeanKwokAuthor

 

Thorough research and the use of music set the stage for The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman

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My Review:

I loved Lynda Cohen Loigman’s debut, The Two Family House, and she has written another emotional family story, this time taking place in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Filled with detail and charm, she clearly knows how to use research to create an authentic atmosphere in her latest novel, The Wartime Sisters.  Her fully formed characters seemed like real people to me, and thanks to her skilled storytelling, and unique use of music to create scenes, I felt like I was living at the Springfield Armory during the war.

This is a story of sisters. Ruth is the older, smart one; she likes to read and do math.  Not a looker, but is capable and given responsibility in the family.  Millie is three years younger, gets away with everything, and receives all the attention because she is the pretty one.  Now adults, parents gone, Millie has a young son and her husband has gone off to war.  She cannot support herself and her boy so they go to live at the armory with her older sister Ruth and her family.   Ruth has two children and works at the armory, and her husband is an officer and has gone off to war.  Bad blood and secrets between the sisters linger while they learn to co-exist at the armory, but with the tragedy of war and loss, and the importance of family, the gift of time often heals wounds.

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Music was an important part of this book, and Lynda Cohen Loigman shares:

HOW MUSIC HELPED TO SHAPE THE WARTIME SISTERS

Early on in my research, I read a line in a book about the Springfield Armory that mentioned an opera singer who worked as a cook at the Armory cafeteria. When I read this line, I knew I wanted to create a character like that – a woman who would work behind the stove preparing food for the factory workers, but who would have another, more creative and outgoing side to her. From that one line (and a lot of subsequent research), I shaped the character of Arietta. She is the daughter of an Italian immigrant, a former vaudeville singer who performed in theatres owned by Sylvester Poli in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Unlike Arietta, Sylvester Poli was a real person – an immigrant himself, and the owner of several vaudeville theatres throughout the northeast. He started in New Haven, and built his theater empire from there.

In the story, Arietta has a big personality and an even bigger heart. She is a wonderful friend and support for Millie, and very protective of her.

I had the best time listening to 1940’s music, trying to come up with the songs I wanted to include in my story for Arietta to sing. My favorite was a song called “A Pair of Silver Wings,” originally performed by Kay Kaiser, and later sung by Dinah Shore.

One of the pivotal scenes in The Wartime Sisters takes place during a concert that was held on the Armory grounds, put on by the Victory Parade of Spotlight Bands radio show. This scene was modeled on a real concert that occurred at the Armory in September of 1943. Benny Goodman performed for a crowd of thousands on Armory Hill, and the radio show was broadcast throughout the country.

Of course, in my version, I had to move the date slightly, and also make sure that Arietta had the opportunity to perform. The last song she sings at my fictional concert is one that helped to shape my character, Lenny. It’s called “Why Don’t You Do Right,” and Peggy Lee recorded it with Benny Goodman in 1942. It has a particularly haunting and almost ominous melody, perfect for my scene. There were so many additional songs I wanted to include, but I was only able to add a few more to the story. I hope you enjoy them, and I hope you get a chance to listen to them too!

Research is a huge part of writing a novel and here Lynda shares:

THE RABBIT HOLE OF RESEARCH – BALANCING THE “HISTORICAL” WITH THE “FICTION” 

Immersing myself in research can be tremendously rewarding. But after a while, there is a fine line (at least for me) between research and procrastination. I could research forever, and never stop to develop my characters or think about my plot. In many ways, knowing when to stop is the most difficult skill to develop.

In researching The Wartime Sisters, my goal was to create an accurate picture of daily life at the Springfield Armory, from the perspective of both the residents and the workers. I spoke many times with the curator of the Armory museum to try to get all of the details right. But there were two questions that gnawed at me, for which I couldn’t find answers. At the end of the day, one of the answers mattered, and one really didn’t. And I had to force myself to let go of the question that I knew wasn’t going to further my story.

The question that mattered had to do with the Armory’s “On To Victory” dance that occurred in February of 1943. There was an article about the dance in the Armory Newsletter, full of photographs and all kinds of information about the evening. I learned how many tickets were sold, the refreshments that were served, and the name of all the musicians and entertainers who performed. There were detailed photos of various people in attendance so I could see what they were wearing. I read about the war bond raffle and the jitterbug contest. There was, however, one crucial piece of information missing: the article didn’t mention where the dance was held. The curator of the museum had no idea, and neither of us could believe that the venue wasn’t mentioned in any of the articles we found. Finally, after seeking additional help from the Springfield Museums, we found the answer through a ticket advertisement in an old edition of The Springfield Republican. The dance had been held at the Springfield Auditorium.

Knowing the location was crucial to getting the description correct in my story. I wanted to be able to picture the hall, to see where one character stood and where another stopped to rest her feet. I wanted to know what it was like to enter the venue, to walk up the auditorium steps, and to set foot inside. This was a piece of information very worth the time and energy that went into its discovery.

At another point, however, I became fixated on a historical detail that wasn’t nearly as relevant. For whatever reason, I became obsessed with learning how it was that armory residents received their mail. They didn’t have mailboxes, so where was it delivered? Was there a separate mail room? Mail slots in the doors? I never found the answer, and the curator couldn’t help me. Ultimately, I had to let go of that small detail. I knew in my heart that writing about the specific path of a letter from the post office to the postman to my character’s hands wasn’t going to move my plot along. And, to be honest, it probably wasn’t going to be interesting for readers either.

So, there you have it – two tiny mysteries, but only one solved. The mail question continued to bother me for a while, but I forced myself to stop thinking about it. Instead, I focused on my writing and the contents of that letter I had been worrying about. Ultimately, what the letter said about my character was much more important than how it got delivered.

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Writing historical fiction is not an easy task, the research alone is endless and the commitment to accuracy seems like it could be a draining process.  I admire Lynda and so many others who put in the time to write such wonderful, creative and fulfilling stories, creating opportunity to learn about a specific time in history.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Lynda Cohen Loigman grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. She received a B.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard College and a law degree from Columbia Law School. Lynda practiced trusts and estates law in New York City for eight years before moving out of the city to raise her two children with her husband. She wrote The Two-Family House while she was a student of the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. The Two-Family House was chosen by Goodreads as a best book of the month for March, 2016, and was a nominee for the Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards in Historical Fiction. Lynda’s second novel, The Wartime Sisters, was published on January 22, 2019.

Nathalie Jacob stays positive after trauma in her memoir…8 – Rediscovering Life After a Brain Tumor

Rediscovering Life After a Brain Tumor

My  Review:

In 8: Rediscovering Life After a Brain Tumor, Nathalie Jacob tells us her incredible story of bravery and rediscovering life and purpose after doctors discovered a golf ball size tumor in her brain. Enjoying a successful career and an exciting and energetic lifestyle with her new husband and friends, she was shocked when told she required surgery. Assuming she could be back to work and usual life in 3 weeks time, Nathalie and her family were blindsided when the results were not what was expected, and all of a sudden her hopes and dreams were not attainable. A devastating situation with a glimmer of hope, Nathalie had to adjust to the new normal and redefine who she is and what she can accomplish.

I had the pleasure of meeting Nathalie, and without a doubt, she is an incredible, eloquent woman with strength and a kind heart.  She is worldly, well traveled, educated, accomplished, trilingual, with fantastic memories and stories from her days training for the Olympics in sailing and living in Madrid, Columbia, the Caribbean and Miami.  Left with some considerable deficits that prevent her from getting a full time job and returning to her active lifestyle, she is now creating new memories in Connecticut with her husband and beautiful young daughter.  Nathalie started several groups on Facebook, some the are social and one that is for Spanish speaking brain tumor survivors and their families.  She likes connecting people, has found playdates and enjoyed mom’s outings with many of the people who have joined her groups, and her next challenge is to develop a not for profit to benefit children in Colombia.   Her planned path in life may have changed but she is destined for great success.

Here is a video interview of Nathalie talking about her book.  Please take the time to read her story!

Check out this article about celebrities who have had brain tumors.

Goodreads Summary

Author Nathalie Jacob and her daughter

About the Author:

Nathalie Jacob was raised in Colombia, went to high school in France, and later moved to the United States. She is trilingual in English, Spanish, and French.

Nathalie studied business administration at the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia and received her master’s in business administration from IE Business School in Spain. She spent ten years working in high-level marketing jobs for Fortune 500 companies in five different countries. In her spare time, she enjoyed sailing and won several national championships.

The aftereffects of a brain surgery left Nathalie disabled and unable to work. She has done three voluntary jobs since, until the birth of her first child. She is now focusing on being the best mother she can be to her baby daughter, Nicole.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

My Review:

How to Walk Away is a fast paced linear story, with flawed characters facing the challenges of tragedy, secrets and ultimately growth.  It is easy to read and perfect to bring along for a summer weekend away!

Occasionally predictable, yet continuously engaging, heartbreaking and humorous, we meet Margaret, a business school graduate about to be offered her first big job.  Her longtime neighbor turned boyfriend has been studying for his pilot’s license and he coaxes her into taking a joyride on a small plane where he has momentous plans to surprise her.  Her dreams are shattered when a tragic accident occurs, and they now have to struggle to accept the new reality.

At the same time Margaret’s sister shows up after being out of touch for 3 years to check in on her and reveal a family secret about their family.  Margaret reconnects with her seemingly rebellious sister and has to deal with her parents and their troubles, while trying to come to terms with her relationship and achieve some personal goals as the clock runs out.  Mixed with the tragedy and the family mystery, there is one love story fizzling and one brewing as Margaret alternately feels despair, motivation and then friendship with a handsome, Scottish physical therapist.

Katherine Center writes in a way that stirs up lots of emotions as we take the journey with Margaret.  The almost unbelievably ridiculous turn of events in this story and the emotional roller coaster kept me hooked.  Sometimes you just need to laugh, cry and get caught up in someone else’s crazy life, and How to Walk Away is a great choice!

Goodreads Summary

Katherine Center

About the Author:

Katherine Center is the author of six novels about love and family, including The Bright Side of Disaster, The Lost Husband, Happiness for Beginners—and the upcoming How to Walk Away. Her work has appeared in Redbook, People, USA Today, Vanity Fair, InStyle, and Real Simple. She is a graduate of Vassar College and the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. Katherine lives in Houston with her husband and two sweet children.

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

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My Review:

Author Mira T. Lee so eloquently shows us when someone has a mental illness, it affects each person in the family and impacts all relationships.  Miranda and Lucia grew up very close, as loving sisters, Chinese American and from New York.  When their mother dies, Lucia marries an unlikely match for her, a kind, Israeli man with one arm, and after a time leaves him and gets involved in a relationship with a younger hispanic man, has his child and moves with him to Ecuador to live in a tiny hut with no bathroom, adjacent to his extended family.  Her behaviors are extreme and even after she had ended up in the hospital and been given pills to keep her even tempered, her decisions seem questionable to her sister who struggles with how much she should interfere.

Miranda and both of the men in Lucia’s life offer her support and compassion in their own ways, bringing to light the fact that mental illness is only one aspect of a person and no matter how flawed one is, love and belonging is still needed and deserved.

Everything Here is Beautiful is a beautiful story of family bonds, sisterly love, devotion and responsibility in the face of mental illness and its potentially devastating and damaging consequences.  This is a messy family drama with lots of love, pain and forgiveness. A powerful must read.

 

As Seen on Goodreads: 

Two sisters: Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the vibrant, headstrong, unconventional one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When their mother dies and Lucia starts to hear voices, it’s Miranda who must fight for the help her sister needs — even as Lucia refuses to be defined by any doctor’s diagnosis.

Determined, impetuous, she plows ahead, marrying a big-hearted Israeli only to leave him, suddenly, to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant. She will move with her new family to Ecuador, but the bitter constant remains: she cannot escape her own mental illness. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until inevitably, she crashes to earth. And then Miranda must decide, again, whether or not to step in — but this time, Lucia may not want to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans, but what does it take to break them?

Told from alternating perspectives, Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its core, a heart-wrenching family drama about relationships and tough choices — how much we’re willing to sacrifice for the ones we love, and when it’s time to let go and save ourselves.

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About the Author:

Mira T. Lee’s debut novel, EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL, was recently named a Top 10 Debut of Winter/Spring 2018 by the American Booksellers Association. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as the Southern Review, the Gettysburg Review, the Missouri Review, Harvard Review, and TriQuarterly, and has twice received special mention for the Pushcart Prize. Mira is a graduate of Stanford University and lives in Cambridge, MA.

The Salt House: A Novel by Lisa Duffy

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My Review:

In The Salt House, author Lisa Duffy masterfully takes us deep into the layers of emotions of the Kelly family as they work through feelings of guilt, responsibility and pain following a tragic family loss.  After losing their baby, Hope is paralyzed with her grief; she is having trouble moving forward and is unable to return to work.  She refuses to scatter the ashes and has been reluctant to continue with the renovation of The Salt House, the home the family loves and plans to move in to.  Jack, a lobster fisherman, throws himself into his work on the boat, is rarely home with the family and is neglecting his health.  Overcome with guilt, combined with  the sorrow of losing a child, and the stress it put on the marriage, the Kelly family’s world starts to cave in.  The daughters, Jess and Kat, are living and dealing with the loss of their baby sister in their own ways while baring the brunt of parental stress and disagreements at the same time they are trying to grow up.  So well written from each person’s point of view, the characters dig deep to expose their pain, past and current, and their journey together sets an example for how families can rescue each other from debilitating hurt and grief by facing it head on with truth and honesty.  I felt emotionally overwhelmed and shed many tears while I read The Salt House, a sign of a great book that really touched me, and when it ended I had feelings of renewal and hope for the future.  At under 300 pages, this is a great book to pick up this summer…I loved it!

As seen in Goodreads:

In the tradition of Jodi Picoult and Lisa Genova, this gorgeously written, heartbreaking, yet hopeful debut set during a Maine summer traces the lives of a young family in the aftermath of tragedy.

In the coastal town of Alden, Maine, Hope and Jack Kelly have settled down to a life of wedded bliss. They have a beautiful family, a growing lobster business, and the Salt House—the dilapidated oceanfront cottage they’re renovating into their dream home. But tragedy strikes when their young daughter doesn’t wake up from her afternoon nap, taking her last breath without making a sound.

A year later, each member of the Kelly family navigates the world on their own private island of grief. Hope spends hours staring at her daughter’s ashes, unable to let go. Jack works to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to avoid his crumbling marriage. Their daughters, Jess and Kat, struggle to come to terms with the loss of their younger sister while watching their parents fall apart.

When Jack’s old rival, Ryland Finn, threatens his fishing territory, he ignites emotions that propel the Kelly family toward circumstances that will either tear them apart—or be the path to their family’s future.

Told in alternating voices, The Salt House is a layered, emotional portrait of marriage, family, friendship, and the complex intersections of love, grief, and hope.

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Lisa Duffy is the author of The Salt House, her debut novel. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her short fiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and can be found in The Drum Literary Magazine, So to Speak, Breakwater Review, Let the Bucket Down, and elsewhere. Lisa is the founding editor of ROAR, a literary magazine supporting women in the arts. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children.

The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green

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As seen on Goodreads:

The New York Times bestselling author of Falling presents a warm, wise, and wonderfully vivid novel about a mother who asks her three estranged daughters to come home to help her end her life.

Ronni Sunshine left London for Hollywood to become a beautiful, charismatic star of the silver screen. But at home, she was a narcissistic, disinterested mother who alienated her three daughters.

As soon as possible, tomboy Nell fled her mother’s overbearing presence to work on a farm and find her own way in the world as a single mother. The target of her mother s criticism, Meredith never felt good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Her life took her to London and into the arms of a man whom she may not even love. And Lizzy, the youngest, more like Ronni than any of them, seemed to have it easy, using her drive and ambition to build a culinary career to rival her mother’s fame, while her marriage crumbled around her.

But now the Sunshine Girls are together again, called home by Ronni, who has learned that she has a serious disease and needs her daughters to fulfill her final wishes. And though Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy are all going through crises of their own, their mother s illness draws them together to confront old jealousies and secret fears and they discover that blood might be thicker than water after all.

My Comments:

So much to enjoy in Jane Green’s latest novel, The Sunshine Sisters!  Sisters Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy, have damaged relationships with each other and their actress mother Ronni, and when Ronni asks them all to come see her at once, they are not enthusiastic.  Ronni is ill and wants to make amends before she dies.  She hopes to be forgiven for her less than perfect mothering and to bring her girls together so they can get reacquainted and become a support for each other.

Jane’s characters are complex and well developed; we learn of their insecurities, coping mechanisms and emotions, and we see how it manifests in their words and behaviors.  Each daughter had to overcome obstacles in her life and I was rooting for all of them every step of the way.  In addition to the realistically flawed, likable characters, I have to make mention of the setting.  As a Westport native, it was such a pleasure for me to see my town through the eyes of the Sunshine sisters, nostalgic, accurate and oh so much fun!

Always pleasurable to read a Jane Green novel, and for me, this one was especially wonderful.  A beautiful story of a family mending fences, reevaluating priorities, repairing relationships and creating new and better ones.  The wonderful Westport, Connecticut setting with mentions of all the hot spots read like a cherished home movie for me, and shedding some tears like I did always deserves a thumbs up!

The Sunshine Sisters will be available June 6th!  Order a copy HERE for your beach bag!

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Jane Green is the author of eighteen novels, of which seventeen are New York Times Bestsellers, including her latest, Falling Previous novels have included The Beach House, Second Chance, Jemima J, and Tempting Fate.  Her cookbook, Good Taste, debuted on October 4th.

She is published in over 25 languages, and has over ten million books in print worldwide. She joined the ABC News team to write their first enhanced digital book— about the history of Royal marriages, then joined ABC News as a live correspondent covering Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton.  A former journalist in the UK, she has had her own radio show on BBC Radio London, and is a regular contributor on radio and TV, including as well as regularly appearing on television shows including Good Morning America, The Martha Stewart show, and The Today Show.

Together with writing books and blogs, she contributes to various publications, both online and print, including anthologies and novellas, and features for The Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, Cosmopolitan and Self. She has taught at writers conferences, and does regular keynote speaking, and has a weekly column in The Lady magazine, England’s longest running weekly magazine.

A graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, Green filled two of her books, Saving Grace and Promises to Keep, with recipes culled from her own collection. She says she only cooks food that is “incredibly easy, but has to look as if you have slaved over a hot stove for hours.” This is because she has five children, and has realised that “when you have five children, nobody ever invites you anywhere.”

She lives in Westport, Connecticut with her husband and their blended family. When she is not writing, cooking, gardening, filling her house with friends and herding chickens, she is usually thanking the Lord for caffeine-filled energy drinks. A cancer survivor – she has overcome Malignant Melanoma, she also lives with Chronic Lyme Disease, and believes gratitude and focusing on the good in life is the secret to happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner

 

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As stated in Goodreads:

The discovery of long-buried secrets brings three generations of women together to Cape Cod for the summer homecoming of a lifetime.

Marin Bishop has always played by the rules, and it’s paid off: on the cusp of thirty she has a handsome fiancé, a prestigious Manhattan legal career, and her father’s hard-won admiration. But with one careless mistake at work, Marin suddenly finds herself unemployed and alone. Before she can summon the courage to tell her parents, a young woman appears, claiming to be Marin’s half-sister. Seeking answers, Marin agrees to join her on a soul-searching journey to Cape Cod, to meet the family she didn’t even know she had.

As the summer unfolds at her grandmother’s beachside B&B, it becomes clear that her half-sister’s existence is just the first in a series of truths that will shake Marin’s beliefs–in love, and in her own identity–to the core. Filled with shocking revelations, heartfelt romance, and resilient women banding together against the most unexpected twists of fate, THE FOREVER SUMMER is an emotionally resonant page-turner, and a delicious escape for any season.

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Jamie Brenner is the author of THE FOREVER SUMMER coming in April from Little, Brown. Her previous novels include THE WEDDING SISTERS (St. Martin’s Press). She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

 

My thoughts:

I literally could not put this book down – The Forever Summer was about so many things…love, loss, infidelity, illness, secrets, romance, commitment, revelations and personal truths. Each character has their own story, as in real life, and Jamie Brenner does a wonderful job showing the incredible strength in women and the undeniable power of family. Joining talented authors like Jane Green and Elin Hilderbrand, Jamie Brenner has written the next must read for your beach bag.  The New England Coast setting is my favorite for a juicy summer book – don’t miss this one!

Order The Forever Summer HERE

 

 

The Bloom Girls by Emily Cavanagh

 

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Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with The Bloom Girls, this lovely debut novel by Emily Cavanagh.

When the Bloom sisters, Suzy, Violet and Cal, were young and in school, their father was a caring teacher and swim coach. Due to horrific accusations by some of his students, he was  forced to resign. The stress and embarrassment of being in the spotlight combined with an unspoken personal secret lead to the break up of his marriage. The relationships with his daughters changed dramatically and became fractured as he tried to rebuild his life in a new place, always feeling the void of his beloved family.

Years later, Suzy, the youngest, now in her late 20s was living with her own secret, Violet, the middle daughter was rejecting her loving, unconventional boyfriend, and Cal was feeling unsatisfied with her job and overwhelmed with family responsibilities. After hearing the shocking news of their father’s unexpected death, the girls are devastated and are faced with questions, unspoken words and regrets. The Bloom sisters come together for his funeral where they learn more about him through his community.   Mourning together provides the girls with time to understand his painful past, process how it impacted their young lives and to find forgiveness as they make decisions for the future.

This was a heartfelt story of sisters, complexities in families, and how secrets can eat away at happiness and poison relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey of The Bloom Girls and look forward to Emily Cavanagh’s next novel.