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July 23, 2020

3 Books About Families

by Susan Roberts

It's always fun to read books about families in transition who have problems and learn how to solve them.  I have read several of this type of book recently and here are reviews for three of them.

Little White Secrets by Carol Mason

May 2020; Lake Union; 978-1542004978
audio, ebook, print (333 pages); women's fiction
"How has time gone so quickly?  I'd give anything just to return to those days when they were little again, and to keep us all there, to preserve then, so we'd eternally have now to look forward to."
(loc 287)

Carol Mason British author and this is her sixth novel.  I'm not sure how I missed reading her books but after reading Little White Secrets I plan to read her earlier books. Little White Secrets is a well-written book about a family in trouble and the lengths that a mother will go to make sure her family is safe.

Emily and Eric Rossi live in a small town in England.  Eric works in London and only comes home on the weekends and Emily is a professor at the local university.  They have two children: 18-year-old Daniel who is a tennis superstar and Zara, 14 years old, who is quiet and sensitive and doesn't fit well into her school life or her family life.  Life may not be perfect for the Rossi family but it's pretty close to perfect.  As the reader gets to know the family, we see the cracks developing that may tear them apart.  Emily resents Eric being gone all week and leaving the parenting to her.  Eric is developing a drinking problem.  Zara who hasn't had a friend since they moved finds a new friend and she and Bethany become inseparable. The problem is that this friendship is toxic - Bethany has no respect for authority, drinks, and has a boyfriend 10 years older than her.  Bethany's mom turns a blind eye to all the trouble that her daughter causes and doesn't get involved in her life.  When Emily finds out that Zara has been skipping school and hanging out with Bethany's older friends, she forbids Zara to see her friend again.  We all know how well that works out with a teenage daughter!  We know that Zara has secrets but it's the secrets that Eric and Emily are keeping from each other that may implode this family.  Even small secrets, over time, can become major. Can Emily save her family as the secrets come to light or will the secrets keep her family from surviving?

Little White Secrets is the story of family, love, and acceptance. It's full of suspense that keeps the pages turning and makes it into a very satisfying novel. It kept me up most of one night to see how it would end.  If you enjoy family-centric novels, this is one to add to your to-read list. 

Buy Little White Secrets at Amazon

The Narcissism of Small Differences by Michael Zadoorian

May 2020;  Akashic Books; 978-1617758188
audio, ebook, print (304 pages); humorous 
"'Are we weird?'
Joe closed his eyes and quietly sighed.  Not another one of these conversations. 'I don't know, Ana.' he said, his voice belying a complete lack of enthusiasm in this subject. 'What do you mean by weird?'"
"I don't know.  I just feel like we're weird." (p13)

The setting of this novel is Detroit in 2009 - a city with its glory days behind it and an uncertain future.  The city is decaying as part of it longs to be reborn.  Just like the city with its strong pulls in diverse directions, so too is the relationship between Joe and Ana.  Both of them are turning 40, they both work in jobs that don't make them happy and they aren't really sure anymore how to make each other happy.  They have been together for 15 years and, much to their families dismay, are neither married nor have children.  They both want to be successful - Joe as a writer and Ana as an advertising writer but as they turn 40 they are questioning their jobs, their life, and their feelings for each other.  They both have friends that mean a lot to them but none seem like very good friends and Joe's friends are more interested in drinking than in being supportive and Ana's friend seems to spend a lot of time making fun of Ana's relationship with Joe.  They strive to be hip and worry that they are weird and are not sure what in life will make them feel fulfilled.

More than a comedy of manners, The Narcissism of Small Differences is a comedy of compromise: the financial compromises we make to feed ourselves; the moral compromises that justify our questionable actions; the everyday compromises we all make just to survive in the world. Yet it’s also about the consequences of those compromises— and the people we become because of them—in our quest for a life that is our own and no one else’s.

I must admit that I love books about Michigan and about Detroit specifically. I really enjoyed reading about places that I knew and had been to in the past.  My main problem with this book is that I didn't like any of the characters - not Ana or Joe or none of their friends.  It's hard to love a book if you don't like any of the characters.  However, the setting in Detroit almost made up for my dislike of the characters so this was an enjoyable book for me.  I didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoyed his last two books but it was still interesting.

Other books that I've enjoyed by Michael Zadoorian

The Leisure Seeker - read my review.
Beautiful Music - read my review.

The narcissism of small differences (German: der Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen) is the thesis that communities with adjoining territories and close relationships are especially likely to engage in feuds and mutual ridicule because of hypersensitivity to details of differentiation. The term was coined by Sigmund Freud in 1917, based on the earlier work of British anthropologist Ernest Crawley. In language differing only slightly from current psychoanalytic terminology, Crawley declared that each individual is separated from others by a taboo of personal isolation, a narcissism of minor differences

Bells for Eli by Susan Beckham Zurenda

March 2020; Mercer University; 978-0881467376
ebook, print (282 pages); southern fiction
"I stared at the spot where the ambulance had parked. I wiped at my eyes.  But when I noticed the arc of blue, green and violet spread in the road, rainbow oil lying slick in a thin puddle...I felt consoled. Because I knew the meaning of rainbows. "
(p 11)  

This beautifully written debut novel is Southern fiction at its best.  I read a lot of Southern fiction and for some reason, I missed this one.  It wasn't until I started reading rave reviews that I knew I needed to buy it and I'm really glad that I did.  It's a lyrical novel and a coming of age story for two cousins in the South during some tumultuous times in the late part of the 20th century.  The story begins in 1959 and ends in 1973.

As the novel begins in 1959, cousins Delia and Eli live across the street from each other in Green Branch, South Carolina.  They are only seven months apart in age but at 3, they are already best friends.  When Eli drinks some lye that had been stored in a Coke bottle, his life changes completely.  He spent months in the hospital while the doctors tried to save him.  When he came home with a  hole in his throat so he could breathe and another hole in his stomach where he was fed, he could no longer be the active boy that he was before the accident.  When school started, Eli was bullied by everyone - he couldn't run, he breathed funny and he smelled.  Delia was his defender and kept him safe from the bullies.  He wasn't physically harmed at school but the bullying affected his mind for the rest of his life.  As a young man, his emotional scars caused him to become a daredevil.  He continues to cherish   Delia and to protect her from her own troubles but has no concern for protecting himself.  This attitude ruled his life through high school and when he started college.  In turn, Delia tries to protect him from the harm caused by his impulsiveness.  

Delia and Eli's special bond continues as they realize that they are in love but can't marry because they are cousins.   Their love is emotional and it affects the choices they each make in their lives as well as helping them both to navigate through the turbulent times they are living in with racial tensions and drug usage all around them.  

This is a beautifully written story about love and friendship that lasts an entire life.  The two main characters, Delia and Eli are so well written that they seem like people I knew back in my younger days.  What is also nice is that all the supporting characters are well written - the friends, the parents, the grandmother which helps make this a perfectly delightful book.  It's hard to believe that this is a debut novel.  I am anxiously waiting to read her future books.

Buy Bells for Eli at Amazon

About the Author:

Susan Beckham Zurenda - After teaching literature, composition, and creative writing to thousands of high school and college students for 33 years, Susan turned her attention to putting a novel in her heart on paper, the genesis of which started with a short story that won a fiction prize some years ago. Her debut novel, Bells for Eli (Mercer University Press, March 2020), was selected as a Winter 2020 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. 

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling. She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter

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  1. wonderful reviews. a couple of the covers are really pretty.
    sherry @ fundinmental

    1. Thanks Sherry - I really liked the cover of Bells for Eli.