Ladies! This one is all about you! This group discussion was all about women’s fiction and what a selection of titles we had. The common element to these stories should be found through: a female protagonist, a story focused primarily on relationships between the main character and those around her, plus learning from difficulties that must be overcome. There can be elements of suspense or mystery but will always have a more romantic tone. Are you ready to see what everyone has to say about their choices?
Carol: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton begins in 1961 in the English Countryside, as the Nicolson family gathers to celebrate the birthday of 2-year-old Gerry. 16-year-old Laurel is hiding, daydreaming in the family tree house. From this perch Laurel witnesses her mother Dorothy kill a strange man who has approached the house. When the police investigate, Laurel supports her mother’s claim that it was done in self-defense and by day’s end she’s convinced herself that it was exactly that. The book picks up again in 2011 and Dorothy is in hospice. Laurel, now a famous actress, faced with the loss of her mother, begins to wonder about the crime she witnessed years ago and begins to do some detective to resolve this secret. The Secret Keeper flashes back and forth between 2011 and Dorothy’s past in WWII London, when as a young woman, she befriended Jimmy and Vivien, two people whose stories help reveal the motive behind Dorothy’s actions. This novel is rich and atmospheric, and is a perfect blend of historical fiction, mystery and women’s fiction, and it leaves its biggest secret for the book’s satisfying ending.
Chris: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout tells the story of three adult siblings: Jim and Bob Burgess, both attorneys practicing in New York, and their sister Susan who stayed back home in Maine. It begins with Susan contacting her brothers for help because her teenage son is being charged with a hate crime against the Somali people now residing in their neighborhood. This incident brings them all together, both physically and emotionally, in a way they haven’t been in years. And all of them grow and benefit. As always, Strout takes a lot of time in developing and showing her characters, and as a result, they give her her story. Another great story it is!
Steve: State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, tells the story of Dr. Marina Singh, a Minnesota-based pharmaceutical researcher, who is sent to the Amazon by her boss, Mr. Fox, who also happens to be her married lover. Marina is sent to investigate the progress of her company’s research efforts, which are led by the domineering and elusive Dr. Annick Swenson. Marina is also looking for the truth on what has happened to her former research partner, Dr. Anders Eckman, who was previously sent to find Swenson, and has been reported dead. What Marina encounters is a bizarre environment in which the women of the native Lakashi tribe bear children well into their 70’s. This is an interesting story but is impeded by slow pacing at times.
Emma: The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is the story of Molly and Vivian. In 2011 Molly, who is rapidly aging out of foster care, must do several hours of community service for stealing a book from the local library and 91-year-old Vivian needs help cleaning out her attic. As Molly helps Vivian sort through boxes, Vivian reminisces about her young life as an immigrant from Ireland living in New York with her family until there’s a tenement fire and she is left alone. At age 10 in 1929, Vivian finds herself on an “Orphan Train” heading west to find a new family. Vivian is placed with three different families until she feels safe and loved. She reunites with and marries a fellow orphan train rider who is then killed in WWII. Vivian gives their baby away and eventually marries again. With the Internet Molly helps Vivian find the child she gave away and they meet as the story ends. A deeply moving story.
Dori: In Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray, Clover Hobart, a 54-year-old woman who’s feeling unattractive, bored and taken for granted, wakes one morning to find herself literally invisible. The crazier thing is that no one, not even her husband and son, notices! Spotting an ad for a meeting at the local Sheraton for “Invisible Women”, she attends and finds that she isn’t alone: the large group includes her children’s former teacher and a local news anchor. Eventually, they discover that their shared pill regimen is the culprit and that the pharmaceutical firm that produces them is more concerned with money than invisible women, which leads them to start a campaign against the company. Funny, with engaging characters and heartwarming relationships, Calling Invisible Women reminds us to pay a lot more attention to those around us!
Megan: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott chronicles the lives of the four young March sisters as they work to support each other while their father is away serving as a chaplain for the Union Army during the Civil War. Responsibility for the household falls to their beloved mother, Marmee and the girls all do their best to please her and ease her burden. Together they face everyday hardships and celebrate simple pleasures as they learn to become proper women. This delightful and charming classic may seem a bit outdated, but the careful reader will still find many lessons that are still relevant today. As a first time reader, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the March family.
Ann: In The Silver Boat by Luanne Rice, three sisters, Dara, Delia, and Rori gather on Martha’s Vineyard to pack up and prepare to sell the family summer home. Their mother has died, and they can no longer afford to keep the house and property. As they pack and reminisce they talk about their father, who set sail years ago for Ireland and was only heard from once. No one knows what happened to him. The more they talk, the sisters realize, that for closure they must try and find out what happened to their dad. And so they set off to Ireland searching for evidence of him. They find the town where he first landed and they make a startling discovery. A pleasant story of sisters and family entanglements, with some lovely settings on Martha’s Vineyard and in Ireland.
Stacey: Little Bitty Lies by Mary Kay Andrews felt reminiscent of an Olivia Goldsmith book, maybe The First Wives Club or Flavor of the Month, both of which I would suggest before selecting Little Bitty Lies. Mary Bliss McGowan’s husband took off in the middle of the night with no warning -and all their money! Now Mary Bliss has to figure out a way to survive financially, deal with a thoughtless teen-aged daughter, and decide if she should seriously consider a relationship with any of the men currently asking her out. The least likable pieces of this novel are the unkind spirits of Mary Bliss’s husband, mother-in-law, and daughter, with little personal growth in the end.
Next time we’ll be looking for books in our recently tweaked religious fiction category. These book should have any kind of religion as it’s motivating or central force to the story. Now start thinking out of the box my friends! Why not look for something that features Native American beliefs or Druidic customs? Wouldn’t that be interesting?! See you in a month!