Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout

Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 1st 2000 by Vintage (first published 1998)

0375705198 (ISBN13: 9780375705199)
original title
Amy and Isabelle: A Novel

Goodreads Synopsis:
In a novel about emotional exile, Elizabeth Strout explores the secrets of sexuality that jeopardize the love between a mother and her daughter.
** spoiler alert ** This was a very well-crafted look at a troubled relationship between a mother and a daughter. What I loved about it was how true to form it was – the estrangement between mother and daughter was expected and realistic, and the ways they acted out both with & away from each other demonstrated the anger and hurt each was experiencing.I hated to see Amy start down a path that was at best painful and at worst mentally & emotionally destructive, but I understood what drove her desire. S…moreThis was a very well-crafted look at a troubled relationship between a mother and a daughter. What I loved about it was how true to form it was – the estrangement between mother and daughter was expected and realistic, and the ways they acted out both with & away from each other demonstrated the anger and hurt each was experiencing.I hated to see Amy start down a path that was at best painful and at worst mentally & emotionally destructive, but I understood what drove her desire. She was hurting…she felt weird and ugly…and here is an adult man who made her feel special. She was young and innocent, and didn’t see that she was being played the fool by an unwholesome – and ultimately cruel – man.

I hated that Isabelle was so closed off that she refused to allow herself to connect with friends, preferring instead to maintain her privacy and superior attitude toward virtually every woman with whom she came in contact, including her daughter. I hated that she didn’t understand the need for friendship, because she felt that her existence, such as it was, was sufficient. She wasn’t happy, and she didn’t see a need to be. She fantasized about her boss, an older, frumpy, married man…this personal secret was more valuable to her than a real, loving relationship.

I hated that, when Isabelle found out about Amy’s improper relationship with her teacher, that she attacked her physically, but it was clear that she couldn’t help it at that moment. I hated that she never apologized. But what was good as a result of this meltdown was that the fault lines in the walls she had erected around her life were irreparable, and she finally was able to accept offers of friendship from the women in her office…kind, decent, ordinary women who reached out with tenderness when Isabelle finally admits her own indiscretions. Better even was her recognition that she had hurt her daughter in a way that until that moment she was unaware of, and her heartfelt remorse for that lead to a shift in their relationship that began to heal it.

What was perhaps my only quibble with the book was that, at the very end, Amy comes to the unfortunate understanding that she had a sexual attraction to older men, that they would pursue her, and that she wanted that. The visual encounter with (what I would call) a potentially pervy man in a diner on the way to visit her family showed me that she had learned nothing except that her obsession with Mr. Robertson would end, and there would be others to replace it. How sad.


Hearts on a String by Kris Radish

Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 25th 2010 by Bantam (first published 2010)
ISBN:  0553384759 (ISBN13: 9780553384758)

Bestselling author Kris Radish delves deeply into the emotions of five very different women who are thrown together by chance—only to discover that they have more in common than they ever could have imagined.

Holly Blandeen has always cherished the story her grandmother told her about the thread that connects all women, tying them forever in sisterhood. It’s a beautiful idea, but with all the curveballs life has thrown her way, Holly has often felt isolated, different from other women. That starts to change when she meets four strangers in an airport and they agree to share a luxury hotel suite because a powerful spring storm is barreling across the country, stranding travelers from California to Florida. What begins as a spur-of-the-moment decision becomes an unlikely, unexpected, and sometimes reluctant exercise in female bonding, as these five exceptional women—each at a crossroads—swap stories, share secrets, and seek answers to the questions they’ve been asking about life, love, and the path to true happiness. A storm may have grounded them for the moment, but after this wild adventure in which anything can and does happen, they’ll never have to fly solo again.

My thoughts:
I barreled through this book over the weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Granted, there are elements of the story that are highly implausible, but who cares? What is suspension of disbelief for if not for reading (and enjoying) the most outrageous of stories?? This is total escapist reading…fun, entertaining, crazy, well written (yay!!) and satisfying in the end.

4 Stars

Making Waves by Cassandra King

Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 7th 2004 by Hyperion (first published 1995)
ISBN:  0786887931 (ISBN13: 9780786887934)
original title:  Making Waves

In a small Alabama town in Zion County, life is finally looking up for 20-year-old Donnette Sullivan. Having just inherited her aunt’s old house and beauty shop, she’s taken over the business. Her husband, Tim, recently crippled in an accident, is beginning to cope not only with his disability but also with the loss of his dreams. Once a promising artist who gave up art for sports, Tim paints a sign for Donnette’s new shop, Making Waves, that causes ripples throughout the small southern community. In a sequence of events-sometimes funny, sometimes tragic — the lives of Donnette, Tim, and others in their small circle of family and friends are unavoidably affected. Once the waves of change surge through Zion County, the lives of its people are forever altered.

Cassandra King was born in Alabama, where she has taught English and writing. Her second novel, The Sunday Wife, was published to terrific reviews and acclaim. She now lives in South Carolina’s low country with her husband, Pat Conroy, whom she met when she asked him to write a quote for Making Waves.

My thoughts:

Well, this was an enjoyable enough book, but I got to the end and was left unsatisfied. As with previous books by Cassandra King, I enjoyed the writing style a lot. I really like the way she tells the story from different perspectives in order to weave a more complex & compelling story. However, in this case, I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable. Understandable, yes. Likable, not so much.

Let’s start with Tim: He was a good looking jock with a neglected talent & passion for drawing. But he had no self motivation. He pursued what others told him to pursue, but couldn’t seem to make his own decisions.

Taylor: Sarcastic, prone to stir up trouble, and as it turns out, mentally & emotionally unstable. He loved Tim as a friend, and more, and Tim was caught up in the confusion of adolescence. He was weak, covered his weakness in bravado, and his Aunt Della covered for him as well. Only Donnette seemed to really have his number.

Donnette: Manipulative, ignorant, suspicious, and with a fairly simple understanding of the world. Definitely not stupid, and though she misconstrued a lot due to her sheltered life, she understood Taylor. She was also determined to have her man to herself, and would do whatever she needed to so that would happen. She was the perfect stereotype of a small town Southern woman.

Aunt Della: A frail, old woman who was much to forgiving of Taylor’s weaknesses and vices. She loved him like her own son, but raised him in a completely undisciplined way. He was devoted to her, and she to him, which was good, since they were all each other had.

Sonny & Ellis: Vile, ugly, vengeful, rude and manipulative, and ultimately stupid. This is a very, very bad combination.

Daddy Clark: He was a mean, bigoted son-of-a-bitch who used his “religion” to back up how he behaved. He had one view of the world, and anyone who didn’t see things his way didn’t see things the right way. If he couldn’t get you to see things his way, he just forced his will on you. There was no other option.

Aunt Opal: A mean, bigoted alcoholic.

The various other minor characters were not more likable, and while the overall story was engaging, I came away from this book with fairly ambiguous feelings overall. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the story (for me) was the idea (voiced often by Donnette) that some friends and family are completely dispensable. Cat, for instance, who should have made a real appearance in the story. Charlotte, for another. Overall, some additional character development might have rendered this a much more compelling & satisfying read. King has done this in other novels, which made this read disappointing for me.

3 Stars

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Audio CD, 8 disks (9 hours)
Published September 29th 2009 by Riverhead Hardcover
ISBN:  1594488878 (ISBN13: 9781594488870)
primary language:  English
original title:  Juliet, Naked
literary awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2009)
4.5 stars overall / 4 stars audio narration

Annie loves Duncan — or thinks she does. Duncan loves Annie, but then, all of a sudden, he doesn’t. Duncan really loves Tucker Crowe, a reclusive Dylanish singer-songwriter who stopped making music ten years ago. Annie stops loving Duncan, and starts getting her own life.

In doing so, she initiates an e-mail correspondence with Tucker, and a connection is forged between two lonely people who are looking for more out of what they’ve got. Tucker’s been languishing (and he’s unnervingly aware of it), living in rural Pennsylvania with what he sees as his one hope for redemption amid a life of emotional and artistic ruin-his young son, Jackson. But then there’s also the new material he’s about to release to the world: an acoustic, stripped-down version of his greatest album,Juliet — entitled, Juliet, Naked.

What happens when a washed-up musician looks for another chance? And miles away, a restless, childless woman looks for a change? Juliet, Naked is a powerfully engrossing, humblingly humorous novel about music, love, loneliness, and the struggle to live up to one’s promise.

My thoughts:
** spoiler alert ** I thoroughly enjoyed this book…all the way to the end, but what a TERRIBLE way to end the book. The story was fairly well fleshed out, and I loved that Annie really comes into her own at the end, but the abruptness of the ending was definitely a big negative. I kept thinking there had to be a little more, but no, that was it, so the reader is left to conclude what? Sure, Tucker Crowe releases another album that is panned by fans & critics alike, because of the lack of angst in the music. But the “why” of it is frustrating because it remains completely unexplained. Further, since the book was as much (or more) about Annie’s growth as anything else, being left with her simply walking out of the therapist’s office, but without any other definitive action following that, is completely annoying. It wasn’t necessary for her action to be huge, but something more than the “I’m done with counseling, then end” would have been nice.

On the up side, Hornby’s writing is really, really engaging, so I’m pumped to read more of his books.

Helen’s Eyes: A Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s Teacher (Photobiographies) by Marfe Ferguson Delano

Hardcover, 64 pages
Published February 12th 2008 by National Geographic Children’s Books
ISBN:  1426302096 (ISBN13: 9781426302091)
original title:  Helen’s Eyes: A Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s Teacher (Photobiographies)

The epic story of Annie Sullivan’s perseverance and triumph in the face of hardship will enthrall readers of every age. This pioneering teacher overcame disability and misfortune before achieving her success as one of the most famous educators of all time.

This is the inspiring photobiography of Anne Mansfield Sullivan, a woman born into a life of daunting disadvantage and social obstacle. She grew up poor, with little education, the child of struggling Irish immigrants. By the age of eight, Annie was almost blind because of untreated trachoma. Following her mother’s death, the young girl entered an almshouse, where she spent four years among the most wretched of society’s outcasts. Her inquiring intellect and determination helped her escape this bleak detention, and she was sent to the Perkins School for the Blind.

There, at the age of 14, her education began, and her lively mind soon blossomed. After graduation, she was hired as a teacher for Helen Keller, a six-year-old girl who was blind and deaf due to illness. With patience and compassion, Annie reached into the dark, silent world of the little girl, opening her mind and soul to life’s beauty. She became “Helen’s eyes.” Because of her inspired breakthroughs and accomplishments with Helen, Annie was soon known as the “Miracle Worker.” Annie and Helen spent the rest of their lives together—two complex women with feisty personalities who achieved international acclaim.

Marfé Ferguson Delano’s evocative account of teacher and student breaking down barriers to enjoy the wonders of intellectual discovery is a profoundly moving story.

My thoughts:
Beautifully illustrated, and very interesting. I loved being able to see actually photos of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, as it made their beautiful story even more compelling.

5 Stars