Read: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

commonwealthI got an e-copy of this book from the publishers for review (via Edelweiss).

My opinion: Written as well as always, but not half as good as State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (which I loved). The story follows two families who intermarry (i.e., the mother of one family marries the father of the other family) and out of necessity need to deal with each other. We follow some of the family members in the next five decades. There’s also a secret that involves the children of both families. This is slowly revealed during the story.

This novel reminded me a lot of Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread which also follows a family throughout the years – and there’s a secret too. Because of the jumps through time and the different characters that were followed – rather than sticking with one or two – this story felt a little disjointed. I read it with interest but I was never hooked.

The publisher says: “One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.”

leeswammes_signature

Read: Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

familytreeI got an e-copy of this book from the publishers for review (via Edelweiss).

The publisher says: “Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes. Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a yearlong coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.

Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.

My view

A fun read—I love reading about cooks and cooking—but also rather messy. The story jumps back and forth from the current time to the past quite a bit.  Quite early on in the story, because of what the stories in the past focus most on, it becomes clear what we can expect to happen in the current time. When this indeed happens, finally, it’s not much of a surprise, and it’s also more or less the end of the book. I had hoped to be able to read beyond what I was expecting to happen, but there wasn’t much more.

The main subject was whether you should follow your dreams to every price. How far do you go when you have a chance to fulfil your greatest dream but have to give up something else that is very important to you too? What do you do? This comes back a few times, but with Annie, the protagonist, it becomes a bit tedious. Still, this was an important and interesting topic: not fulfilling your dreams seems like such a shame, but fulfilling them while giving up other aspects of your life might be a bad choice as well.

So, it’s an interesting read, especially for the dilemmas that Annie and some of the other characters have to deal with. An easy-going story that concentrates a lot on family, love, and, of course, cooking.

 

Other books I read by Susan WiggsThe Apple Orchard

leeswammes_signature

Read: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

homegoing
The publisher says: “Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.”

I thought: Beautifully written story of two sisters and their descendants, spanning two centuries. Because every chapter is about a new generation, it’s more a collection of short stories than a novel. Of course, the stories of each line of descendants does continue over the generations, but it did feel a bit disjointed.

The descendants of one of the sisters stays in Africa while the other line is sold into slavery and ends up in America. The stories seem very realistic. Interestingly, the descendants who stayed in Africa are not necessarily better off than those sold into slavery.

leeswammes_signature

signatureI’ve read several books by Elizabeth Gilbert but had not read The Signature of All Things yet, so it was about time! I had no idea what it would be about, and I was surprised to find that this was historical fiction. The other novels I’d read by Gilbert were all set in current times.

This is a novel about the life of a female botanist, Alma Whittaker, born at the end of the eighteenth century and follows her from birth to the grave (and even before birth, as we learn how her father acquired such wealth as he did). Alma is more interested in her father’s work, botany, than in becoming a socially acceptable girl. This means she prefers her research over settling down with a husband. During the story, we follow her struggles with becoming accepted as a female botanist, with love, and her adventures abroad, taking her into a very different, spiritual, world.

I very much enjoyed reading Alma’s story – it felt like this was a woman who had really existed. She’s completely fictional, though (I checked). This is both a story about a woman quietly doing research at her large estate, as a story about adventure, tropical islands and sea captains. Five stars from me. I loved this!

The publisher says: “Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.”

leeswammes_signature

 

 

%d bloggers like this: