Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Finally, a book set in dual time periods where each story is well worth reading. Both are centered around a house in need of repairs in Vineland, New Jersey. Thatcher Greenwood is a science teacher with a young, materialistic wife and an eccentric neighbor who corresponds with Darwin. Willa and her gorgeous but impractical husband are struggling financially, while simultaneously caring for an elderly parent who swears in Greek and a new grandson. Willa looks for grant money to repair their historic house and learns about the town’s remarkable history. Somewhat preachy ecologically and bittersweet in tone, this is a pageturner in both time periods.
Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave
Georgia Ford comes home to her family’s Sonoma Valley vineyard the week before her wedding, needing time to think but finding secrets and chaos. Two marriages are in trouble, and her parents are selling the vineyard. Georgia, a real estate lawyer, has just found out that her British fiance Ben has a daughter. It’s not clear when Ben meant to share that news with Georgia, even though they are moving to London right after their wedding. The Fords’ last harvest festival is just around the corner, and Georgia and her brothers struggle to reconnect while the reader learns through flashbacks the history of the family vineyard. I think the number of problems and secrets affecting the Ford family is much too high, but the characters feel real and the vineyard setting is well drawn. More of a family drama than a romantic comedy, this novel may become a movie. I think readers of books by Robyn Carr about the Lacoumette family, The Promise and New Hope, would enjoy this book.
Wide-Open World by John Marshall
John and Traca Marshall were growing apart. Jackson, 14, wouldn’t put her phone down long enough to talk with her dad, while shy Logan was 17 and headed for college soon. It was time to reconnect, and John dreamed of taking the family and traveling around the world for a year of service. This was not the memoir I was expecting to read. They didn’t have a lot of money, and almost gave up on their dream. Finally, they rented out their Maine house and set out for a half year of volunteering. I thought the trip would be organized well in advance. While the author gives practical tips for other families who’d like to volunteer abroad, including how not to rent out your house, the Marshalls didn’t always know where they were headed next. I expected humor, adventure, illness, and increased closeness of the family. No one got sick although John did get attacked by a monkey in Costa Rica, on more than one occasion. They certainly had adventures, traveling to New Zealand, Thailand, India, and Portugal, and the people and settings they visited sound quite appealing. The teens grew and changed during their travels, and are continuing to travel and volunteer. There are some humorous anecdotes, but the family as a whole didn’t reconnect they way they had hoped and not all of the volunteer experiences were positive. A very honest, reflective memoir of a family who followed their dream to make a difference and see the world.
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
First Frost is a pleasant, mostly gentle read that may make you hungry. I didn’t realize at first that it’s a sequel to the author’s first book, Garden Spells, set ten years later in Bascom, North Carolina. Claire is living in the house she inherited from her Waverley grandmother, but now makes candy with edible flowers instead of catering. Her niece Bay enjoys helping out, but Claire is increasingly tense. The Waverley women all have minor magical talents. Elderly cousin Evanelle gives people unusual gifts they may need later, such as a spatula. Claire’s affinity is for flowers and cooking, while her sister Sydney is a wonderful hair stylist. But Claire’s young daughter seems quite ordinary. Bay knows where some people and things belong, making her a great organizer, but when she gives Josh a note telling him that he belongs in her life, he doesn’t know how to respond. When a stranger in town tries to convince Claire that she’s not really a Waverley, it takes the magic of first frost, when their apple tree blooms, to set things to rights. It’s nice to visit with the Waverleys again, and Bay is an appealing narrator, but I wanted more back story to remind me what happened in the first book. Actually, I’d really like a book set earlier than First Frost. Complaints aside, this was a very enjoyable book to read, and I will probably re-read Garden Spells.