Sister by A. Manette Ansay

It's a smaller picture but it's all I could find!
It’s a smaller picture but it’s all I could find!

I know it’s been a long (long, long, long) time since I’ve posted, but I recently finished this fantastic book and knew I had to post with a review.

I just read Sister by A. Manette Ansay, and enjoyed every page. The main character, Abigail, is expecting her first baby and is sick of her mother’s entreaties to baptize the baby in the Catholic faith. Abbigail remembers growing up in Wisconsin in a small and exclusively Catholic town. The book alternates between memories of the past and scenes from the future, in which she seems passive, almost stuck, waiting to know what to do.

Most of Abbigail’s memories center around her father and brother. Her younger brother Sam had been her best friend, but as they started to grow up, her father tried to make Sam into a man. He forced Sam to drink beer, use tools to build things, and discouraged him from ‘girl’ activities like music, housework, and being creative. Sam seemed to get further and further away from Abbigail, who retreated into the Church and her piano playing. Abbigail focuses on the gender roles that were forced upon her and her brother and the way that they affected their upbringing.

From the beginning, we learn that Abbigail’s father drove Sam into running away from home when he was seventeen. Perhaps he struggled too hard to be the man his father wanted him to be, or just got caught up with the wrong crowd along the way. He was suspected of assaulting a local older woman in their church community, but never returned and was eventually given up for dead. Abbigail’s mom refused to accept the possibility of Sam’s death and never moved from the house, even when Abbigail’s father moved down south. Abbigail started a new life on the east coast and left the Catholic church, causing her grandma to disown her and her mother to call relentlessly to beg her to return to her faith. Abbigail’s mom tries to persuade Abbigail to name her new baby Sam and to baptize him, seemingly to give the run-away Sam a new life and new start.

Abbigail eventually takes a trip to visit her father and put up signs with Sam’s face on them, even though enough time had passed that the likelihood of finding him was almost nothing. Then, a discovery is made, and she and her family must come to terms with the truth about Sam. The books ends with a conversation between Abigail and her mother as they discuss what it means to find grace.

Ansay’s writing is beautiful, and my summary probably didn’t do the book justice since I am out of practice blogging about what I read. But the book is full of description, emotion, and passion, and drives you forward to learn more about Abigail’s story. Although at times I was frustrated with adult-Abbigail for being so passive, the memories she delved through helped me understand her character and why she acted that way. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes stories about families and the trials they go through, or anyone who appreciates well-crafted writing.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven

There is a reason this book was on the New York Times Best Seller List for 95 weeks. When it came out almost ten years ago I remember the fuss, but I never read it. My sister brought it home about a week ago from a pile of “To Share” books at work and tossed it into my lap.

(I see how it is. You just want to read to the review on here to see if it’s good, then you might read it after that.)

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom, revolves around a man named Eddie. Eddie is old and grumpy. His wife is dead, he never got along with his father, and he hates his job as a maintenence worker at Ruby Pier, an amusement park that he has been stuck at his entire life. He checks the rides every day and occasionally makes balloon animals for children who ask. One day, one of the rides breaks and Eddie tries to save a little girl who is underneath the falling car. When he wakes up, he is young, full of energy, and can run around this new world that he discovers is actually someone else’s heaven.

In the afterlife, Eddie travels to other peoples’ heavens…specifically five people that had a great impact on his life. The first is the Blue Man, one of the ‘freaks’ in the Ruby Pier show of Eddie’s childhood. The Blue Man explains some of the rules of heaven – how Eddie will travel and what he can expect. He also learns the first lesson of the afterlife: that everyone is connected somehow. He continues traveling and meets the four other people that had the greatest impact on his life. There’s his formy army captian,  and Ruby (who teaches him about his father), then his late wife Marguerite, and finally a young girl named Tala who was killed during World War II while Eddie was a soldier. Each person he meets along the way has a new lesson for him and plays a part in Eddie’s understanding of his life. He must come to terms with everything that happened over his lifetime before he learns whether or not he saved the girl from the ride at Ruby Pier.

This book was a fantastic read, and I think anyone who picks it up will truly enjoy it. It shows that everyone is connected somehow, in some way, and that every action in life has some sort of a consequence.

The School of Essential Ingredients

I’ve never read a book about cooking before, except, you know, a cook book, but The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister was a fantastic read. The prose was beautiful, elegant, and rich. I know this sounds like it’s leading to a terrible metaphor comparing cooking and the elements of a story (mix them together, blend gently, folded into the story…) but I really loved this book.

Lillian owns a restaurant and teaches cooking classes on Monday nights once a month. There are eight students, and each chapter revolves around one of the students. The book opens with Lillian’s story, explaining why she loves to cook. As she grew up, she used cooking to connect with her mom and draw her out of her shell, guided by Abuelita, who is a neighborhood shop owner who teaches her certain cooking lessons. Much of Lillian’s “training” comes from experiments she does on her own. She learns to cook without following recipes but going with her intuition and mixing ingredients based on what emotions she wants to create.

Each following chapter then takes one of the students and digs deeper into their story. There is a young girl trying to define her life, a mother who doens’t remember who she is without her children, and a man who lost his wife to breast cancer, to name a few. The stories begin to intertwine with each other as the classes continue and the students get to know each other. A romantic relationship forms between two of the students and unlikely friendships develop.

The interesting thing about the classes is that Lillian doesn’t actually teach her students how to make meals. She splits up tasks and sends them off with vague instructions, leaving them to become comfortable with their own intuition – how long the wine needs to simmer for the sauce, or how long the butter and sugar need to be blended for a white cake.

I would recommend this book to those who like cooking, reading about cooking, or just want to read something beautiful. This book made me wonder if any of the cooking instructions could be followed based on Bauermeister’s description…

Sophomore Switch

Sophomore Switch, by Abby McDonald, was a quick, enjoyable teen read.

 Dubbed “chick lit” by some, this book followed two sophomore girls in college who switch places through an exchange program to try out new lives. Emily, the studious control-freak from Britain, trades places with Tasha, a girl recovering from partying too hard in California. Both girls were accepted at the last minute into the program, and neither received the school they were expecting.

Emily tried to escape a bad break up and an overbearing father, and although she was disappointed not to have been placed at an Ivy League school, she was ready for a chance to loosen up in California. She was placed in all of Tasha’s classes and although she thinks being a film major is not challenging in the least, she is surprised to find herself enjoying writing scripts and directing a movie for a class project. Her partner for the project happens to be a very cute boy…who is her new roommate’s ex-boyfriend. She tries to navigate the California dating scene and on the way, learns how to follow her own dreams, not the pressure from her family.

Tasha was a crazy partier in California, running away after an embarrassing incident caught on camera with a teen celebrity. She feels like she’s in a different world in Oxford and must learn how to navigate heavy textbooks write essays in a single day. Under the guidance of a professor who, if you’re lucky, will give you a C, Tasha joins a group on campus to save the local women’s center. Her cute tutor helps her in classes and she starts to find her own way in this foreign world, discovering that maybe she doesn’t always need a boy at her side or a party on Friday night to look forward to.

In the end, the emails exchanged between Tasha and Emily bring them together at the end of their semesters to talk about how much they’ve changed. They both have learned more about who they want to be, and look forward to their next years in college.

This book was a quick read and fun to follow. Although there was not a lot of depth and the story was fairly predictable, it was a good summer story. I would recommend this to anyone who likes teen fiction and stories about changing in college.

Sisterhood Everlasting

I recently closed out the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series by reading Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares.

This review might be a little short – I don’t want to give anything away! For those who have read and love these books, it’s like getting more ice cream after you thought you already had dessert. Brashares states that she still thought about the characters so much and saw them grow up in her head, so she had to write another book.

The girls are all thirty and have drifted slightly apart from one another. Bridget lives in California with Eric, but refuses to buy a real bed because she likes to move around too much. Tibby is in Australia with Brian, and Carmen is a successful actress in New York. Lena teaches art but feels lost, and her only seeming friend is an old lady that she practices Greek with.

One day, the girls all receive tickets from Tibby to fly to Greece and reunite. They are ecstatic because they haven’t heard from Tibby in years. Bridget, Carmen, and Lena fly together to meet Tibby, but when they get to Greece, things aren’t what they expected. They are left reeling, trying to fit themselves back together.

This book made me laugh, cry, and want to throw it across the room at points, but the ending was so satisfying that I ended up loving it despite the roller coaster ride. I’m glad that Brashares gave us a chance to grow up with the girls and show us their lives as adults.

 

 

Divergent by Veronica Roth

After getting this book recommended to be my multiple people, I had to read it, and I’m very glad I did.Divergent, by Veronica Roth, is a dystopian YA novel set in Chicago in the future. The book follows Beatrice (Tris) as she leaves her home to start a new life.

Society is comprised of five factions, each with its own special trait that defines the residents. Beatrice is from Abnegation, where the defining characteristic is selflessness, but she doesn’t feel like she fits in. When all faction residents are 16, there is a test to determine what traits define them and where they really belong, and then everyone gets to make a choice about which faction they want to live in. When Beatrice receives inconclusive results, she is told she is Divergent, but doesn’t understand what that means. The day of the ceremony, she chooses the faction Dauntless, leaving her family behind.

To become a full memeber of Dauntless, Beatrice changes her name to Tris, and undergoes an initiation process to learn courage and how to overcome fear. During this process, Tris learns that being Divergent is very dangerous, and she has to watch herself in training. She finds that she can beat the fear simulations with little effort, which causes the leaders of Dauntless to suspect her of being Divergent. After her initiation, all hell breaks loose.

I won’t give anything away, but as you can imagine with most dystopian novels, the citizens finally realize that things weren’t what they seem and a rebellion is bound to occur. With a little romance thrown in with another Divergent, Tris must fight to save her world. This book was a fun and quick read. I recommend it to anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games and wants to dive into other worlds. There is also a sequel, Insurgent, which I’ll have to find at the library!

Why We Broke Up – A Witty Novel of Teenage Love

A beautiful book with illustrations by Maira Kalman

One of my recent reads,Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler was a slightly hilarious and slightly mortifying read of a high school relationship that fell apart.

Min, short for Minerva, tells this story in one long letter, addressed to her now-ex-boyfriend, Ed. Each chapter features an image of an object (art by Maira Kalman) which Min has placed in a box to return to Ed. These objects are the random souvenirs Min has accumulated throughout the span of their relationship. Her friend Al drives her over to Ed’s house to drop the box off while she writes the letter.

Each object has a different story. There are movie stubs from their first date, a poster that Ed ripped to write his phone number on, and an egg cuber for a movie star party they were going to throw together. Through these objects, we learn the story of how Min and Ed got together and then fell apart. Min is “arty” and “different,” although she just likes films and coffee and doesn’t understand why everyone has to label her that way. Ed is the co-captain of the basketball team and a very unlikely match for Min, who has flown mostly under the radar in high school. Through fights with Al (who doesn’t approve of Ed) and befriending Ed’s ex-girlfriend Annette, we are taken through Min’s journey. Although everyone else seems to be skeptical of them working, she and Ed declare their love for each other and spend most of their time together. Min starts attending Ed’s basketball practices after school and hanging out with him at home, and Ed learns to love coffee at Min’s favorite coffee shop.

However, like all star-crossed-lovers-from-opposite-spheres stories, Ed and Min aren’t meant to last. The end features a secret about Ed that breaks Min’s heart and forces her to end the relationship. Despite the inevitable ending, I really enjoyed this book. Min was so real, so funny, and so easy to relate to. The prose was sophisticated but fit Min’s character exactly. The illustrations were also great additions to the story, allowing the reader to see the objects as Min tells stories about them and what they represent.

Does this make you think of your own high school breakups? Everyone remembers their first heartbreak. Handler and Kalman actually have a website devoted to telling breakup stories – www.whywebrokeupproject.tumblr.com. If you liked the book, it’s worth it to poke around on the website.

Fun Fact: Daniel Handler is also the elusive Lemony Snicket from the Series of Unfortunate Events series. I have to admit I didn’t know that until after reading this book!