Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

Rules for Visiting
by
Jessica Francis Kane

Rating:

May Attaway has reached a personal crossroads. She’s 40 years old and shares a house with her father (he’s in the basement apartment) and her brother has moved across the country, having broken off from the family. May is a landscape architect for the university in town and one day, she realizes that she doesn’t have many friends, and has lost touch with the ones she’s had. Something is missing and there’s a sadness about May’s family, pointing to her mother’s depression and the years of withdrawal and sickness that led to her death.

May, afraid she will be like her mother, decides to make a fix. So she uses her gifted time off and visits four old friends from childhood, college and her young adult life, hoping that by reconnecting, she will understand how to keep friends and make new ones.

“I was interested in figuring out who I was with other people, and why that person was hard to be with,” she says. She later adds, “It seems to me that your oldest friends offer a glimpse of who you were from a time before you had a sense of yourself and that’s what I’m after.”

May’s story is cleverly framed around descriptions of the many trees and plants she has come to love and understand. Of particular importance is a yew tree that May has cared for at the university. She’d brought the sapling from Scotland and tenderly cultivated until it was ready to plant and now it’s a point of interest on the grounds. Its true significance is revealed at the end of the book

In this feel-good story, May approaches a better understanding of who she is and how to connect with other people, and just as important, how to confront the sadness that has crippled her family.

In a world of fake social media connections, where impressions of the perfect life make others feel disconnected, Kane shows the value of the face-to-face friendship. May rediscovers her old friends and recognizes that the people around her, including a potential love interest, are just waiting to connect.

I enjoyed this hopeful story that started out sad but ended nicely. Rules for Visiting is a quick read that will make you want to catch up with an old friend or make plans with a new one. I recommend it to readers who like stories about friendship and overcoming depression.

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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden
by
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Illustrated by Tasha Tudor

Rating:

Classic children’s books don’t get any better than this story about a spoiled, but frail and lonely ten-year-old orphan girl who is sent to live on a vast English moorland manor, with a reclusive uncle she has never met. In a delightful transformation, fresh air, exercise, surprise friendships, returned health and the newfound wonders of a secret and neglected garden are the springtime magic that brings Mary Lennox and her new family together.

Mary has lived a privileged life in India, waited on by her Ayah and knowing nothing about good manners or other people’s feelings. Her parents have died of cholera and now she must learn how to be kind to others and do things for herself. She’s been warned that her uncle has little interest in children. In fact, Archibald Craven is determinedly away when Mary arrives at Misselthwaite Manor and she is left in the care of the housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, and the young housemaid, Martha Sowerby.

There are many secrets at Misselthwaite, including long corridors, hundreds of unused rooms and strange noises in other parts of the house. She’s told to stay in her own rooms when indoors, so Mary explores the outdoors where she finds many gardens and meets the groundskeeper, Ben Weatherstaff, and a friendly robin. When the robin flies to the top of a tree in an enclosed garden with no apparent door, Mary knows she must find a way in.

Once discovered, it’s a secret Mary longs to share with someone she can trust. And when she meets Dickon, Martha’s younger brother, she knows he is the perfect friend to tell. Dickon knows all about gardens and the creatures on the moor and has a magic about him that makes him glow with happiness. As the two children plant flowers and clear out the weeds, Mary learns about the unbearable unhappiness the garden represents to her uncle. And the alarming cries in the night reveal another secret about the manor.

As Mary befriends the people in her small world who struggle with their own problems, she entrusts them with her secret and learns that the greatest joy comes with helping each other. It’s a delightful story in which goodness rises to the top of much loss and sadness. The author does not shy away from these realities; she tells of them plainly and shows that faith and a little bit of springtime magic are no match for Misselthwaite’s troubles.

There is more to tell, but some secrets are better enjoyed first-hand. I recommend The Secret Garden to all readers, young and old, who enjoy books about children, friendship and the joys of finding a way out of unhappy times. I especially enjoyed this Tasha Tudor Edition, published in 1962 by Harper Collins. The artist’s illustrations are beautiful and give the reader a wonderful picture of Burnett’s story.


I read The Secret Garden as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to read a children’s classic.

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Book Talk – The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett

Image: Pixabay

Welcome to a new and occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of new books that catch my eye.

I love reading stories about secrets and the chaos they create. Keeping secrets is one kind of story, but dealing with the mess when secrets are found out is the best kind. That’s why The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett caught my eye. It’s about a charming magician whose sudden death reveals a secret past and family. And this is the mess his widow/assistant has to face.

When Parsifal dies, Sabine discovers that he has been living under a false identity. The family he claimed had died in an accident is alive and are named as heirs in Parsifal’s will. It’s up to Sabine to figure things out.

I’ve had The Magician’s Assistant on my shelf for a few years. Ann Patchett is such a talented writer, I have to get back to her soon! Commonwealth has been waiting patiently on my Kindle and I’ve already read Bel Canto and State of Wonder.

Can someone work a little magic on my schedule to make room for this one?

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Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Today Will Be Different
by
Maria Semple

Rating:

Eleanor Flood’s life is teetering on a cliff, even if she doesn’t realize it. Everything is off-kilter, including her marriage and the graphic memoir she’s been writing for way too long. In addition, their third-grade son, Timby, is having stomach problems. But on this Seattle morning, Eleanor resolves that this day will be different: “Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being.”

Despite her resolve, the day begins poorly. Her husband Joe, a highly respected hand surgeon, is face down at the kitchen table, arms splayed, and he doesn’t want to talk about it. Timby is in the bathroom putting on scads of makeup. What to do? She thinks she will find inner peace at her poetry lesson, but a call from Timby’s school summons her to the nurse’s office. Timby has another stomach ache.

The issue isn’t what is happening to Eleanor, it’s how she reacts. Questionable decisions and outrageous actions send her into a crazy, no logic, self-absorbed spiral. It’s a reader’s train wreck—impossible to look away.

At the core of Eleanor’s imbalance is a lonely and unhappy childhood, documented in a book of drawings entitled The Flood Girls, and presented to her sister Ivy. But something else is wrong. Joe is leading a secret life.

As Eleanor catapults herself into one disaster after another, the reader wonders where on earth this story is going. Chapters are varied, some are narrated by Eleanor, others jump back in time and are told in third-person, with The Flood Girls drawings in the middle. As the story gains momentum, the urge to read on is fueled entirely by a need to know what Joe is doing.

I don’t know what to call this book. Before I learned the truth about Joe, I liked that the characters were headed for disaster (more train-wreck reading) and thinking there would be a big and satisfying confrontation, but I was sorely disappointed with the finish, making me wonder just what Semple is trying to do with this book.

I also found Semple’s characters hard to like. Eleanor is selfish and quirky. Timby is unrealistic, Ivy is too shattered, etc. Joe’s character is the most human, but nothing fits together.

Despite these remarks, Today Will Be Different is an easy read, with some clever dialogue and a few entertaining outrageous scenes. Seattle readers will enjoy the references to various public places and football fans will appreciate Pete Carroll’s gum-chewing cameo in the book.

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