Women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker

Title: Women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough
Author: Ruth Pennebaker
Source: Review Copy
Publisher: Berkley (January 4, 2011)
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

My thoughts:
When 3 generation of women who cannot stand each other have to live under the same roof, you can definitely expect some entertainment. That’s exactly what we get in Women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough. For a minute I thought this would be a self help book, but not really. It’s a story about 3 completely different women and how they go through their almost nervous breakdowns and subsequent breakthrough’s.

Joanie is in her late 40’s and has just gone through a divorce with her long time husband Richard because he cheated on her with a girl in her 20’s. Her mother Ivy whom Joanie is not very close to has also come to stay with her. Her teenage daughter Caroline is trying to come to terms with her parents’ divorce in her own way which has created a distance between mother and daughter. In addition to all this, Joanie has to take up an advertising job after years of staying at home. Obviously she is on an all time low.

All these three women are annoying and endearing at the same time. With her marriage broken, Joanie is always complaining and although you understand why, you wish she would just stop for a minute. But then she is also trying to get her life back on track by getting a job and working towards her issues by joining a divorce group. I disliked Ivy for  always nagging Joanie and Caroline and finding faults in everything Joanie did. She’s also more biased towards her son even though its Joanie who has taken her in after she lost all her savings. On the other hand you also feel bad for her because she’s lost everything and has come to her daughter to stay. Caroline is a teenager, so obviously she is irritating and annoying and all that but you also feel bad for her because she feels invisible in school and everything is not good at the home front too.

As the novel progresses, each of these three women realize the worth of the other as they come to terms with their own loss and realize the value of the other. The author, Ruth Pennebaker, has written a thoroughly entertaining book and although the circumstances are depressing, no where does the book become overbearing or boring. I didn’t find it laugh out loud funny as written on the book cover but I did make me smile at places. Initially I was a little worried that I wouldn’t like the book because the characters were so unlikable. But as the book progressed and the layers peeled you realize they have their own charm.

The author has managed to show the fragile thread by which these relationships are hanging by and how they reluctantly work towards their differences and misunderstandings. Definitely give this book a try if you interested in reading about relationships between women.

Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas

Title: Sugar Daddy
Author: Lisa Kleypas
Genre: Contemporary Woman’s Fiction
Source: Library
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition edition (March 6, 2007)
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:
I avoided this book for some time now because it’s contemporary Woman’s fiction and all the other Lisa Kleypas books I’ve read have been historical romances. I loved them and I didn’t want to be disappointment even a little as Kleypas is my favorite romance author. But I shouldn’t have worried. I loved Sugar Daddy although I wish the name of the book was different.

Liberty Jones moves to a small town, Welcome in Texas, with her mother and her mothers new boyfriend. They move in a trailer park where she makes new friends including one particular guy called Hardy. Liberty is 14 and Hardy is 17 at that time. They are attracted to each other right from the beginning. But Hardy has big dreams, he wants to escape the dreary life of the small town and he doesn’t want anyone to hold him down, least of all a serious girlfriend. So off he goes but Liberty is unable to forget him, she tries to match every guy she meets with Hardy and all of them fall short.

Meanwhile, Liberty’s mom, who has had her fair share of boyfriends gives birth to a baby girl, Corrington. Liberty ends up taking care of her most of the time. In a way she is more of a mother to her than a sister. Later in her life she meets Churchill, a rich old man, whom she develops a friendship with and eventually gets involved with his eldest son Gage. And then Hardy comes back in her life. There is a lot more to the basic story but I won’t tell you all even though it’s there at the back of the book. Suffice to say it’s all good.

The first half of the book is like a Young Adult novel, a very good one at that. Kleypas explores the mother daughter relationship, the struggles of a mother trying to raise a daughter alone and a daughter who accepts responsibilities way beyond her age. Liberty makes a wonderful heroine, sweet, charming, intelligent, hardworking, at times too perfect but I loved her anyway. Hardy and Gage are excellent heroes, the kind that are in romances. I loved Hardy more because he is the one we come to know first.

Although this is woman’s fiction, Lisa Kleypas has been a romance author for so long that I guess she could not help but include a few cliché’s of the romance genre in Sugar Daddy. But I’m not complaining, I love romances so it only made me happy. Sugar Daddy gave me immense satisfaction, one that comes with loving the book more than you expected.

The Travel Writer by Simone Lazaroo

Title: The Travel Writer
Author: Simone Lazaroo
Published: 2006 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
Genre: Literary Fiction, Woman’s Fiction
Source: Library
Based in Malacca (Malaysia) and London
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

My thoughts:
I found ‘The Travel Writer’ when I was browsing the Singapore Literature section in the library. The cover as well as the summary appealed a lot to me. Set in Malacca (Malaysia) this is a story of 3 generation of women-grandmother, mother and the daughter. This is not a structured book though. It does not follow a time line. The story of the grandmother is not very detailed but the stories of the mother-Ghislaine and the daughter-Isabelle are alternated in chapters.

Ghislaine, as a teenager, is so desperate to escape her surroundings and to explore the world that she gets involved with men who are totally wrong for her. She is looking for an escape from her grief in the form of love. She chases a dream all her life.

Isabelle, living in London, although is very different conditions from her mother, is still looking for the same thing. Love and acceptance.

Simone Lazaroo’s writing is excellent. She writes with a depth, understanding and intelligence that is very rare.

–> In the jungle near home some varieties of Orchids are pollinated by male insects who mistake their colouring and shape for female insects anatomy, my mother had told me as she watered the garden. Flowering is possible despite false love. Remember this.

–> There she was, falling open at the words her lover had marked in her as he undid her page by page, exposing her spine, leaving only this bad translation of her flapping in the wind.

I loved the first half of the book, but after some time the book got very depressing and sad, so much that I could feel the sadness affecting my mood and I wanted to finish the book as soon as possible. It also does not have a definite plot which could help you turn the pages. I’m not sure that’s a complain but too much melancholy does not work for me.

All in all, I would say I like the book and I loved the writing. I would love to read another book by Simone Lazaroo.

Simone Lazaroo was born in Singapore but migrated to Australia at the age of 3. She has won the Western Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction for all three of her novels, which have also been short-listed for national and international literary awards. The World Waiting to be Made has been translated into French and Mandarin, The Australian Fiancé is optioned for film, and extracts from the manuscript of The Travel Writer won awards including the David T.K. Wong Fellowship at the University of East Anglia, England. Simone’s short stories have been anthologised in Australia and England. She was a judge of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Pacific /South East Asian region) in 2006, and lectures at Murdoch University, Perth.

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

Big Stone Gap

Title: Big Stone Gap
Author: Adriana Trigiani
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books; Later Printing edition (April 3, 2001)
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Big Stone Gap is a small town story and it has all the correct ingredients too. A town settled in between mountains, a bookmobile that makes the rounds every week, a pharmacy, a post office, eccentric characters, gossip passed down from generations and yes, a 35 year old town spinster called Ave Maria Mulligan.

This book is not heavy on plot. It concentrates more on the small town atmosphere, the people and Maria’s life and those connected to her. Maria, as I said, is 35 years old and is also known as the town spinster. She owns a pharmacy in the town. Maria is a very confused woman, she lives her life with very little or no ambition, she has a best friend called Theodore who is the director of the local high school band and she is also eying a guy called Jack who already has his heart set on her.

eeks…I don’t think I am going anywhere with this, I cannot tell you much of the plot because as I said this is a character based novel and giving away anything more might spoil the book for you. I can actually summarize the plot in 5 sentences if I have to.

Let me tell you more about how I felt about this book. This is my first Adriana Trigiani book and I’m actually wondering why I haven’t read anything by her before. I got this book in a sale; otherwise I never would have picked it up.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the humor. Big Stone Gap was funny and I don’t find many books funny. It’s the kind of humor where Maria laughs at herself as well as others. She gets tangled in her mother’s past and finding love and purpose in her life. Along the way we get to know her insecurities and her fears along with a delightful cast of small town characters.

Read this book if you want to read a book that will make you feel all warm and comfortable, the way you feel when you tuck your favorite blanket around you.

Note: Big Stone gap is the first book in a series but it’s a stand alone book.

Have you read anything by Adriana Trigiani? Have you read Big Stone Gap? Which other book by her would you recommend?

Mermaids in the basement

First Line:

” If I had not read the cover story in the March 2, 2000, National Enquirer, it’s doubtful that I would have gone to Alabama and ruined my daddy’s engagement party, much less sent the bride-to-be into a coma.”

Renata is a Hollywood script writer. Her boyfriend is a Hollywood director who is currently directing Ulysses with an actress who cannot speak English and who is known for her colorful ways. Renata thought she had a perfect life, but then everything comes apart when she reads the news in ‘National Enquirer’ suggesting that her boyfriend Fergusson has been getting cozy with his new actress. This news comes after her mom, whom she very close to, and step father die in an accident. Renata is devastated and hurt. And she does the only thing most of us would do. She goes home. Home is Point Clear, Alabama. Home is her grandmother Honora and her nanny Glady’s. Home could have also meant her father Louie, but he has been distant from her since he divorced her mother.

But Renata has one more reason for going home. She finds her mother Shelby’s letter tucked in a drawer that said it is to be opened only after her death. Shelby wants her to know certain things from her past which only Honora and Glady’s could tell.

And thus begins a tale through mysterious letters and newspaper clippings found in her mother’s trunk. Every cutting has a story, be it a party or a wedding announcement. Renata, through these cuttings, her grandmother and nanny learns things that she never thought could have been possible.

The story and the mystery unfold slowly but there wasn’t a single boring moment in the book. The characters were brought to life in a way that made me feel like I was watching a movie. Honora, Glady’s, Shelby and Isabelle (a former actress and Honora’s best friend) are all very colorful characters in true Hollywood style. They have secrets to share and things to reveal that couldn’t be short of a soap opera.

‘Mermaids in the basement’ is more of a character based novel rather than plot based. As Renata learns of new secrets everyday, the reader also learns new facets of every character and makes you feel like you know them so well. The author creates a very ‘I feel I am right there’ atmosphere with her beautiful descriptions of different places. You can smell the food, the air which is a part of the typical Southern atmosphere.

But there is a little problem. Although it’s small I am going to mention it here. As Renata is learning the truth of her mother’s relationship with her father through memories of these women, the narration switches very frequently. Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out whether they are talking to Renata or whether they are just remembering the past. You just have to read the end of every chapter carefully to know what’s coming next.

This is my first Michael Lee West book and I am sure I am going to read more. Don’t forget to check out ’Mermaids in the basement’.

By the way, the novel also has some yummy, mouth watering recipes at the back.

Michael Lee West is the author of five novels including Crazy Ladies, Mad Girls in Love, American Pie, She Flew the Coop as well as a food memoir Consuming Passions. She lives with her husband on a farm in Lebanon, Tennessee with three bratty Yorkshire Terriers, a Chinese Crested, assorted donkeys, chickens, sheep, and African Pygmy goats. Her faithful dog Zap was the inspiration of a character in Mermaids in the Basement.