Necessary Lies

Ivy Hart and Jane Forrester are separate people with separate lives going in separate directions until their paths cross in 1960 on a tobacco farm in North Carolina.  Jane is the freshman social worker assigned to watch out for the welfare of Ivy’s family who are all tenants on the tobacco farm.  Jane feels very out of her league as she struggles with trying to help Ivy (who battles epilepsy), Ivy’s aging grandmother (who is growing weaker with each passing year), Ivy’s older sister (who battles mental illness), and Ivy’s nephew (who is always getting into mischief, the way toddlers do).  To make matters more complicated on the farm, with so many teenagers and young adults living in such close quarters, the matter of a child being born out of wedlock into a tumultuous environment is not a matter of if, but when.  Despite Jane’s new husband’s disapproval of breaking traditional roles expected of the wife of a physician, she forges her own way which takes her down an unconventional path of guardianship over and eventual friendship with her clients.  When Jane discovers a disturbing, yet acceptable, policy among social workers of the time, she faces a moral dilemma that will either break her or break the family that has placed their trust (and love) in her.  What she chooses to do next will change her life, and the lives of everyone in the family, forever.

Why I read it: Recommendation in an online book group

Trigger warnings: elective sterilization, unexpected death

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle

In the height of WWII in Britain, everyone was expected to do their part to support the Nazi defeat in Europe.  The war fundamentally and permanently changed England’s social hierarchy.  Germany’s Blitz on Europe didn’t distinguish between upper and lower class citizens as all people regardless of status had to share bomb shelters, and people were left figuring out their new roles in the reorganized ladder of society.

When Cressida Westcott’s upscale apartment and fashion design office were destroyed by a Nazi air raid in downtown London, she is forced to find a temporary residence in the countryside at her family’s manor.  As the black sheep of the family who refused to conform to her family’s traditional expectations, Cressida knew she was less than welcome to stay at the manor while her brother was alive; however, his recent death means that the manor is now under the management of Hugh, her nephew who splits his time between his landlord duties in the country and a political career in London.  Violet, her niece who is fully invested in the old way of life that honors English nobility and prides itself on royal bloodlines and strategic marriages, is more than happy to have her chic aunt stay with them.  During her stay, Violet introduces Cressida to Grace, a simple girl who is the vicar’s daughter and is engaged to a clergyman ten years her senior, and the rest of the local sewing circle which is made of a group of women who find comfort and camaraderie during their weekly meetings where they do their patriotic duty by sewing and repurposing old clothes to accommodate the fabric and clothes rations imposed during the war.  Grace’s impending nuptials prompt her to search for and find her deceased mother’s wedding dress which, to her disappointment, was disintegrating due to years of moths feasting on it in the attic.  As they, along with the rest of the sewing circle members, commit to working on the wedding dress to prepare for the big day, Cressida, Violet, and Grace, respectively, embark on a personal journey toward self-discovery as they each navigate their way through this unprecedented time in history.  Through their unique and individual experiences, they each realize that the only things of which they can be certain are life’s uncertainties.

Why I read it: My Book of the Month pick

Trigger warnings: N/A

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

Jacqueline in Paris

Before she was Jackie Kennedy, First Lady of the United States, she was Jacqueline Bouvier, Queen Deb (debutante) in 1947, a product of a modest upbringing with divorced parents and an overbearing mother who is intent on finding her daughter a suitable and prestigious man with whom to form a strategic (and perhaps even loving) union.  In her prime courting years, however, Jacqueline is intent on spending a year studying in Paris where she can fully immerse herself in the culture of a war-torn country a half of a world away.  Her strong French heritage has always played a key role in her fascination with France, and she thinks there is no better time than now to go on this adventure of a lifetime.  Her time in Paris is one filled with learning, love, loss, confusion, fear, delight, wonder, and sincere appreciation.  With the Allied victory against the Axis powers being less than a decade ago, Jacqueline finds herself in a country that is slowly trying to pick up the pieces after fighting two, devastating wars in twenty years.  Her host family has their share of secrets surrounding their involvement with the Resistance, and Jacqueline quickly finds herself at the threshold of the world’s newest conflict involving Russia, spies, and nuclear weapons.  Young idealists who sympathize with Communist ideology challenge her democratic tendencies, and she is both fascinated with and confused by this struggle between two very different groups who both believe their way of thinking is the only way forward for France.  Jacqueline’s experiences are shaped not only by the political climate at the time, but also through the company with whom she keeps.  Her French and American friends and lover are all significant characters with whom she establishes such deep and meaningful connections that enables her to find out more about herself in 12 months than she knew about herself in the past 20 years.  When she returns to America following her coursework abroad, she brings with her a lifelong appreciation for France as well as the knowledge that would be necessary in the future as she accompanied her husband, the President of the United States, to France on diplomatic visits.

Why I read it:  My book of the month subscription pick

Trigger warnings: mild sexual content

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

Winter Garden

Well, she does it again.

Meredith is struggling.  Her oldest child is on her way to becoming a doctor, and her youngest child is beginning her freshman year of college.  This should be one of the easiest and happiest times of her life; yet, she is having a hard time adjusting to her role as an empty nester.  Her marriage, while strong in its longevity, is in a free-fall as it struggles to survive the inevitable changes experienced when the baby of the family leaves home.  She works overtime at her family’s orchard that was started by her father upon his return from serving in World War II.

Nina is struggling.  She works crazy hours in third world countries as a contracted photographer always looking for the perfect shot that accurately conveys the suffering unknown to many in America.  She is in a relationship, but it’s hardly stable as she finds it hard to commit to the idea of a seemingly boring domestic future that her sister, Meredith, has whole heartedly embraced.

Even though Meredith and Nina are sisters, the similarities between the two are few and far between.  It is hard to find any common ground except for the love and devotion they both feel for their father.  The girls’ childhood has been stained by the harsh words and actions of their mother, a Russian immigrant named Anya whose affection they have been deprived as she keeps them at a safe emotional distance and destroys their perception of love and acceptance through her emotional outbursts and confusing reactions.

To make things worse, their beloved father is terminally ill.  His dying wish is for his daughters to not only reconcile with each other, but also with their mother who seems to be stumbling mentally between reality and fantasy.  Their father insists the only way for all 3 girls to understand each other is for their mother to continue telling them an old Russian fairy tale that she recited to the girls as children complete with dragons, black knights, and other mythical creatures and structures.  Attempting to honor his wishes, Anya agrees to finally tell the conclusion of the Russian fairy tale, except, the girls are beginning to wonder if this story is more fact than fiction.  As Anya tells of unthinkable atrocities, the sisters are brought together to find out the truth about themselves, their father, and their mother whom they discover has secrets as deep as an ocean and as dark as a Russian winter.

  • Why I read this book: Recommendation in a Facebook group
  • Trigger Warnings: violence, tragedy, mild sexual conduct

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

A Thousand Splendid Suns

How can such a tragic story be so beautiful?  There were parts of this book that made me sick to my stomach to read.  There were also such beautiful parts of this book that hit me straight in the heart and made me weep.  Unfortunately, a general summary will not do this book justice, but hopefully it will inspire others to read it and engage in discussion.  There are plenty of discussion points throughout the book.

Set between the years 1960-2000, Mariam and Laila are two women living across the street from each other (and then later within the same house) in Afghanistan.  Mariam’s upbringing is heartbreaking, at best.  Her mother is not mentally well and, as she is the product of an illegitimate relationship, Mariam’s father is absent and unavailable.  In an arranged marriage with a man many years her senior (Rasheed), she moves into a house near Kabul and enters a life of one -sided devotion, fear, deprivation, and disappointment.  Her house is down the street from a young girl, Laila, whose childhood best friend is a young boy (Tariq).  As they grow, their relationship grows into a star crossed, teenage love tragedy when disaster strikes the city of Kabul and leaves their homes and street in literal ruins.  With nowhere to turn, Laila is taken as a second wife of Rasheed in hopes of producing a child which is something that Mariam has been unable to provide.  What begins as a relationship filled with jealousy and animosity turns into a deeply devoted friendship and sisterhood between the two women trapped in a destructive marriage with an abusive spouse that is not only legal but ignored by the Afghani government. As the stories of these women unfold, the reader is taken on an emotional roller coaster that keeps them on the edge of their seats anticipating the next twist or turn.  Just when the reader thinks all hope is lost, a glimmer of light in the darkness signals hope and promises of a better future.

  • Why I read it: Recommendation from a Facebook group
  • Trigger warnings: Violence, domestic abuse, infidelity, infertility

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

These is my words: The diary of Sarah Agnes Prine 1881-1901

This is an amazing “based on true events” narrative that had me thinking of my childhood playing “Oregon Trail” and/or reading “The Little House on the Prairie.”  If you’re like me and adored the “Dear America” series, this book is for you.  However, before gifting it to a young girl without reading first, please be advised that it includes some events that, while unfortunately realistic and appropriate to the book’s time period, might be confusing/upsetting to a young reader (or older reader, for that matter).

Sarah Prine, the narrator, embodies everything that it took to survive a harsh journey across America’s frontier in hopes of settling in a forever home in the vastly unclaimed western land.  She quickly discovers that her family’s journey is going to be very, very hard.  Even though the land is unclaimed and not recognized by the American government, it is largely inhabited by Native Americans who present a constant threat to all of the characters throughout the book.  Sarah tells her harrowing story of traveling, settling, falling in love, falling out of love, gains, losses, and the importance of keeping a fighter’s spirit through life’s best (and worst) of times during this unique point in America’s history.

  • Trigger warnings- violence, unexpected death, alluding to rape
  • Why I read it- recommendation from a friend

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)