Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review - Sea Escape by Lynne Griffin

Sea Escape by Lynne Griffin
304 pages
published 7/10

Synopsis from publisher:

Laura Martinez is wedged in the middle place, grappling with her busy life as a nurse, wife, and devoted mom to her two young children when her estranged mother, Helen, suffers a devastating stroke. In a desperate attempt to lure her mother into choosing life, Laura goes to Sea Escape, the pristine beach home that Helen took refuge in after the death of her beloved husband, Joseph. There, Laura hunts for the legendary love letters her father wrote to her mother when he served as a reporter for the Associated Press during wartime Vietnam.

Believing the beauty and sway of her father's words will have the power to heal, Laura reads the letters bedside to her mother, a woman who once spoke the language of fabric--of Peony Sky in Jade and Paradise Garden Sage--but who can't or won't speak to her now. As Laura delves deeper into her tangled family history, she becomes increasingly determined to save her mother. As each letter reveals a patchwork detail of her parents' marriage, she discovers a common thread: a secret that mother and daughter unknowingly share.

Weaving back and forth from Laura's story to her mother's, beginning in the idyllic 1950s with Helen's love affair with Joseph through the tumultuous Vietnam War period on to the present, Sea Escape takes a gratifying look at what women face in their everyday lives--the balancing act of raising capable and happy children and being accomplished and steadfast wives while still being gracious and good daughters. It is a story that opens the door to family secrets so gripping, you won't be able to put this book down until each is revealed.

My thoughts:


Those of you who read my blog on a semi-regular basis have noticed how quiet it's been around here lately. This year has been a LOT, on many different levels, and my reading time has suffered. I've read less this year than any year since I finished college. I've also noticed that my expectations for the books I HAVE managed to read are changing.

Because I know I have so little time to read, I want each and every book to be a knockout. I want them to grab me immediately, pack an emotional punch, and be instantly entertaining. I don't have much patience for dilly dallying around. I've been waiting all summer for the book that would meet all these criteria, and I'm so happy to say it arrived for me in Sea Escape.

What made this such a great book for me was the instant emotional connection I made to Laura and her situation. Other reviewers have pointed out flaws in the novel's pacing and storyline, and I don't know that I would argue with them. But for me, the emotional impact outweighed any issues I had with the rest of the novel.

Because I have so recently experienced the sudden illness and loss of my mother-in-law, Laura's shock and fear resonated with my in a deep and lasting way. As she tried to navigate the ins and outs of her mother's treatment, I could relate to her frustration and anger when she felt like the medical establishment wasn't doing its best. Her self-examination and blame; the feeling that there should have been something she could have done to prevent this tragedy; her desperate grasping for anything that might resemble an improvement; Griffin's depiction of all of these feelings was absolutely pitch perfect.

I also so appreciated Griffin's portrait of Laura's marriage. Neither Laura nor her husband are perfect- Griffin allows both to have shortcomings, and their relationship is not always idyllic, but their commitment to each other and the life they have built was so refreshing to read. Sometimes it seems that contemporary fiction can only write damaged relationships - I found this marriage to be one I could relate to, and it felt honest and true.

This may not be the best book I read all year, but it will certainly be one that I remember. The emotions and relationships touched a chord with me, and ultimately I think reading this novel was cathartic for me on many levels. I'm grateful I had the opportunity to read it, and I will definitely be looking forward to reading more by this author.

Finished: 7/2/20
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours - thank you!
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language and hinting at sexual situations
My Rating: 8/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

Tuesday, July 6th: Peeking Between the Pages

Wedensday, July 7th: S. Kristinas Books

Thursday, July 8th: She is Too Fond of Books

Monday, July 12th: Bookstack

Tuesday, July 13th: Caribousmom

Wednesday, July 14th: Red Lady’s Reading Room

Thursday, July 15th: Booking Mama

Monday, July 19th: Raging Bibliomania

Tuesday, July 20th: Beth Fish Reads

Wednesday, July 21st: Maw Books Blog

Thursday, July 22nd: Dolce Bellezza

Monday, July 26th: Books Like Breathing

Tuesday, July 27th: Write Meg

Wednesday, July 28th: Thoughts From an Evil Overlord

Thursday, July 29th: As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

This book counts toward:

What's in a Name 3 - Category 2, Body of Water

1 of 6 complete

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review - Not That Kind of Girl by Carlene Bauer

Not That Kind of Girl by Carlene Bauer
276 pages
published 8/09

Synopsis from publisher:

Raised in evangelical churches that preached apocalypse now, Carlene Bauer grows up happy to oblige the God who presides over her New Jersey girlhood. But in high school and college, her intellectual and spiritual horizons widen, and she becomes skeptical of the judgmental God she's been given. Still, she finds it hard to let go of the ideals she's been raised with, and to rebel as she knows she should. She loves rock and roll, but politely declines offers of sex and drugs; she thinks the Bible and the Norton Anthology of American Literature are equally authoritative guides to life. Since there are no churches worshipping the Jesus Paul Westerberg sang about in Can't Hardly Wait, and no tidy categories for those who are neither riot grrrls nor altar girls, she hovers between a hunger for the world and a suspicion of it.

In her twenties, however, determined to make up for lost time, Bauer undertakes a belated and often comic coming-of-age in New York City. Between late blooming at parties and staying late at work, it seems that she might become as bold as she'd hoped to be — even if the late blooming is a little more hapless than highly erotic. And yet the city and its pleasures do not distract her from another hope: that she might learn how to have a faith that she can truly call her own. Enter the Catholic Church, and a conversion. But then she falls in love, and loses her religion — which leaves her wondering just what it means to be good.

Sharply written, hilarious, and touching, Not That Kind of Girl is the story of one young woman's efforts to define worldliness, ambition, and love on her own terms — while believing in, among other things, The Smiths, Virginia Woolf, and the transformative power of New York City. Fellow restless seekers will find solace in Bauer's struggle to create meaning in the face of overwhelming doubt, and fall in love with the highly original voice at the center of this unforgettable debut.

My thoughts:

I think one of the most interesting and telling things to learn about a person is the journey they have made to their chosen spiritual center. Whether they are cradle Catholics, or born-again Presbyterians, or people who choose not to identify with any particular spiritual creed, I find a person's spiritual path to be fascinating. So this memoir, about a young woman raised in an Evangelical setting who decides to search for her own road to God, sounded like something I would devour.

Of course, my own Evangelical upbringing was certainly part of my interest, and I found myself relating to so much of the author's experience growing up in private Christian school, attending retreats and taking Bible classes. While our situations were quite different, the essence of our early training was very similar, and I couldn't help but chuckle at many of the situations she found herself in.

The parts of the book that deal with the author's spiritual journey I did find quite compelling - in many ways, I could relate to her dissatisfaction and frustration, and appreciated her desire to come to know God on her own terms; to feel like her intellectual capacity did not have to be checked at the door of the church of her choice; to find the place that felt like home. I enjoyed Bauer's narrative voice, and her intelligence sparkled off the pages.

Where I felt the memoir fell short for me was in it's seeming lack of focus - rather than the story of her spiritual quest, it seemed to become a chronicle of her job insecurities and failed love interests. While I understand that those things all played a part in the journey she was taking, I felt much less compelled to read about her late-night exploits, and honestly had a hard time keeping her boyfriends straight.

I really enjoyed the first part of this book, but unfortunately the latter half lost its spark for me. I do think Bauer has an interesting and intelligent perspective on the world, and I would read another book by this author. I have a feeling that she still has a long way to go on her journey, and I would be interested to see the next installment in her story.

Finished: 7/11/10
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours - thank you!
MPAA Rating: probably R for plenty of language and sexual situations
My Rating: 6/10

Don't just take my word for it! Check out what these other fabulous bloggers have to say:

Tuesday, June 29th: Literate Housewife

Thursday, July 1st: Tales of a Capricious Reader

Tuesday, July 6th: The Book Nest

Monday, July 12th: Drey’sLibrary

Wednesday, July 14th: As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

Thursday, July 15th: she reads and reads

Tuesday, July 20th: Heart 2 Heart

Friday, July 23rd: Knowing the Difference

Monday, July 26th: Bookshipper

Tuesday, July 27th: Life In Pink

Wednesday, July 28th: my books. my life.

Thursday, July 29th: Suko’s Notebook

Friday, July 30th: A Fair Substitute for Heaven

Monday, August 2nd: A Certain Bent Appeal

Wednesday, August 4th: Sara’s Organized Chaos