Saturday, April 13, 2013

April 2013 Bookers Minutes - Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson

            Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson, first in the Promises to Keep series
           Walking in the past clarifies the present.
18 Bookers met at the home of Charlotte Pechacek for a stroll into the 19th century fresh with scones and lemonade. Although set in New Zealand, the women’s issues detailed in this selection were universal particularly in America during this era. Women were not only chief-cooks and bottle-washers, but viewed as property by their husbands. They could not own land separate from their spouses even if inherited. Universal suffrage issues as a civil right was addressed during the Reconstruction era after the Civil War, but it took forty-one years after the women’s voting rights amendment was drafted and submitted to Congress before the State’s ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granted them the privilege of voting. As the Virginia Slims commercial said, “We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby.”
Our reviewer, Melba Holt, arriving in a long skirt and straw hat, had requested we bring any photos or memorabilia from this period. Bonnie Magee brought her treasured maternal grandmother’s christening dress. Our hostess displayed several photos from her husband’s Czechoslovakian ancestry including a portrait of bearded men, bonneted women and children each with boxes of strawberries and a wedding photo of an elegantly dressed gentleman and his bride. Rosemary printed period photos from the Internet and Melba displayed them on poster board…once a teacher always a teacher! Jane brought a group photo of her great-grandparents, her grandparents, and her Mother. Daryl had her husband’s ‘Chipman’ family book accounting his Kentucky roots. I shared a photo of my fraternal grandmother dressed to the nines striding down the sidewalk in Amarillo, Texas and a snapshot of her three sons, my father, and his two brothers, pulled in a cart by a goat. I hope this was not their primary mode of transportation, but I can’t say it wasn’t! Melba told us of a time when residences had two separate staircases for men and women so the men could not see the women’s ankles as they climbed up the stairs. Women  wore long skirts to cover their ankles, but it was deemed acceptable to show a little cleavage “back in the day.” All in all, this was a wonderful tribute to the days of old and we thank Melba for her hard work in putting together this visual journey through time.
This is the author’s debut, self-published series set in a fictional harbor town of Ruatane in the Bay of Plenty. Her mastery of character development and imagery shines throughout the novel and is a true testimony to her writing skill. Set in New Zealand farm life in the 1880’s, twelve-year old Amy Leith dreams of a life beyond the boundaries of her small community…she pines to be a teacher and experience city life. Raised by her father and grandmother, our motherless protagonist, along with two older brothers settle into their routines necessary to run a farm. Amy’s life turns upside down when her Granny dies and her father returns from a business trip with a new wife and mother for his children. Susannah, twenty-five and from the city, marries out of desperation to lose her old-maid title, but is ill prepared for life on the farm. She’s selfish, conniving, self-absorbed – sometimes bordering on madness – and successfully makes life miserable for all, especially Amy. Amy’s father, Jack, is a complicated mess at times. It’s frustrating to see him waffle between his daughter and his bride, although an understandable stance from a lonely widow. As though by sticking his head in the sand misery will disappear and the wrinkles of their new life will iron out with a spray bottle of patience and cooperation.  Amy’s best friend and cousin, Lizzie, provides a contrasting spark to Amy’s demeanor. They are sisterly but with different ambitions…Lizzie content to marry and continue the legacy of small town farming in New Zealand. Susannah’s younger brother, James, arrives for a visit and is seemingly on a heat-seeking mission to “get his way” with young naïve Amy. Unfortunately, Amy falls for his charms and the choices she makes tosses her life into the air of despair. Two “city snakes” – one family!
Real life has its share of good and evil people – most don’t have one trait or the other, but a combination of both. The author offers a good mix and even gives Susannah a small dose of a redeeming quality in her treatment of Amy towards the end of the novel. I think you will have to read the rest of the series to see if James every gets out of the fire pit. Whether you liked or hated the book, Ms. Parkinson’s characters jumped out of the pages giving you an opportunity to strangle them or give one a hug. Extracting emotion from the reader is the goal of every author and she accomplishes this skillfully. Her imagery draws us into the scenes almost as though you are watching the novel unfold on the movie screen. The title of the book is apropos to the ending of the first in the series. It’s predictable, but that doesn’t stop you from ordering the next one to see how Amy mutters through her arranged marriage to the creepy Charlie Stewart, hoping somehow she will get a break and eventually find some joy! Stay tuned.
Our discussion revolved around those characters we loved to hate – some describing the same emotion (there’s that word again) evoked from the child abuser in our selection, The Good Dream. We talked about how many in our generation flew by the seat of our pants with misconceptions of the realities of sex. It seemed rare that a mother in our era would have frank discussions with their daughters about this subject – Victorian morality stood in the way of sharing and informing – the same conversational uneasiness that allowed Amy to confuse love and love-making.
On the business side:
We voted to move May’s book selection to June as there was some concern that the book and reviewer should be front and center rather than mixed in a party atmosphere. We hope everyone will bring a book to share along with a brief synopsis.
We moved the final books in the Promises to Keep quartet series to our recommended reading list. Mud & Gold and Settling the Account are numbers two and three. A Second Chance is the sequel to these. Shayne Parkinson’s latest, Daisy’s War, revisits some of the characters of these previous novels, but can be read as a stand-alone book.
Melba suggested The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon to those interested in the historical fiction genre.
Patty Evans recommended a new bestseller in the young adult fiction category, The Fault in our Stars, by John Green. It will move you to laugh aloud and cry buckets of tears – the subject – teenagers with cancer. MN and I will read it – according to Patty, it could be a wonderful Bookers’ book.
Pat Faherty has purchased Jodi Picoult’s latest novel, The Storyteller, on recommendation from her very literary sister. We loved Plain Truth by this author but since then have cooled on some of her works. Reports indicate this new one has Jodi back on track. She has always tackled difficult subjects and moral dilemmas. This one is no exception but for our group might be an issue we don’t want to revisit again – the Holocaust as seen from the perspective of a survivor, her granddaughter and a former German SS guard. Let’s wait to see what Pat thinks before we decide definitely.
MN and I have both read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and are in a “Life Of Pi type debate” on this one. She insists if we read it for Bookers it must be read in the winter (it’s a fantasy set in Alaska)…We both agree it is wonderful but we’ll keep you posted.   
We spoke of Bookers’ upcoming milestone in September – 10 years we have been reading together! One suggestion in celebration of this event was from Melanie who said we might take a look at the bestseller lists from the past ten years and pick a book for each year – excluding 50 Shades… of Anything . We thought it might be redundant to pick a book from our list for each year as there are so many available to read. One very popular suggestion was a road trip to Dauphin Island, Alabama. We could all envision MN fainting with this idea…HA!
As always, we are open to innovative ways to celebrate our love of books and our Bookers’ members. Please feel free to offer your suggestions as to how we can commemorate this event.
                                    WHITE:                      LIGHT READ
                                    PINK:                         MODERATELY CHALLENGING
                                    RED:                           CHALLENGING

May 7th:                       6th Annual Wine & Cheese Evening Meeting, 6:00 PM        
                                    Home of Melanie Prebis
                                    Bring a book to share
Bonnie Magee, our food czar, will be contacting you mid-April for food   and drink choices.
June 11th:                     Bonus Bookers Meeting
                                    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet, Jamie Ford
                                    Home of Kay Robinson
                                    Reviewer: Pat Faherty

Summer Break:           Summer Read: A classic, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, considered a prophetic genius and one of the most important literary and philosophical voices of the 20th century. The book, in essence, is a portrayal of a utopia in which there is constant prosperity, people are always content and provided for, and have been programmed to like their society in all respects. It asks the question: ‘What can possibly be wrong with a world in which everybody is happy?’
September 10th:           Happy 10th year of Bookers!
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Home: TBA
Reviewer: Penny Barshop
Happy Reading,

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful setting you created, with your photographs and memorabilia! And what insightful and thoughtful comments. Thank you so much for discussing Sentence of Marriage.