Tag Archives: families

*** Before the War by Fay Weldon

Before the War is a delightful comedy featuring a wonderfully self-centered and monstrous mother, a distracted father, an oddball daughter and her new husband, who must be wed and accepts so he can share in the wealth. What follows are lots of secrets about babies with doubtful pedigrees, which baffle most of the main characters to the very end. Well done, in a come-in-my-parlor style that manages to be cosy and cynical at the same time.

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Filed under New fiction

** 1/2 The Strays by Emily Bitto

The Strays paints a brilliant picture of a willfully bohemian family that draws in the best friend of the middle sister, who is dazzled by the unlikely goings-on of artists, so different from her own poor and conventional family. Of course, not all is well in bohemia and the family (and the girls’ friendship) will eventually explode and destroy some of the players. The separate world of children and teenagers is perfectly captured. The part of the book that does not work is the present day musings of the main character, which read like a cheap novel with canned feelings. Fortunately it’s a small portion of the story.

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** Rise by Cara Brookins

In Rise: How a House Built a Family, a thrice-divorced mother of four somehow conceives that building a house (herself, with the help of her two teenage children) is a realistic goal and a good way to escape both schizophrenic husband #2 and memories of abusive husband #3. What follows is the incredible story of how she did it, starting with convincing a bank to lend money to a DIYer with no experience and continuing through injuries bad enough to take her to the emergency room (and, ironically, summon a counselor to probe for partner abuse), a fainting spell after she applies floor polish without a respirator, and  disputes with various subcontractors selected for their low rates rather than their competence. And yes, in the end the house is finished. The story is certainly gripping and you will likely find yourself for the builder — but I kept wondering about the wisdom of the whole enterprise.

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Filed under True story

*** Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth is the story of a complicated family that makes it way into a novel and eventually a movie, creating uncomfortable moments for the various family members who feel variously betrayed, forced to revisit awkward moments of the past, and exposed in ways they had never imagined they would be. The book within a book idea is clever, but the strength of the story is the imaginative, deeply felt family saga with complicated characters and relationships.

If you were disappointed by State of Wonder, as I was, give this one a try: it’s a keeper.

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Filed under New fiction

* Same Family, Different Colors by Lori Tharps

Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families is a brave book for daring to tackle the topic of color bias within families. Sadly, the book does not rise above a series of anecdotes and casual chats, which certainly give interesting insights on how family members treat those with different skin tones in a society that is hyper-conscious of color — but it’s very difficult to see any kind of strong pattern without a more detailed analysis.

The author quotes Far From The Tree multiple times, a book that focused on raising children very different from oneself. I would suggest reading Far From The Tree instead of this one.

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Filed under Non fiction

** Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Having loved Gone Girl, I was somewhat disappointed by Sharp Objects, which is just as chilling a mystery but features a set of teenage bullies with teenage preoccupations and dialogs that felt quite tiresome. Still, the heroine returning to her hometown (and her very dysfunctional mother) as an investigative journalist is a masterful portrait.

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Filed under Mystery

* The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan


The Sport of Kings is probably best suited for horse lovers. For me, this attempt at a family saga failed, with over-long descriptions of landscapes, flashbacks to predictable family ancestral stories, lengthy digressions seemingly drawn straight from biology textbooks, and, most problematic of all, long racist rants where a short one would have sufficed to show the distasteful beliefs of  the father and grandfather.

What’s left? Cruel parents, cruel husbands, cruel horse trainers, cruel people all around. Definitely not a Christmastime story.

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Filed under New fiction