Book Review: “Sisters, Ink” Series

It took me over a year (due to publication dates, not because they were boring or anything), but I finally finished the Sisters, Ink series of books by Rebeca Seitz.  There were only four books in the series: Sisters, Ink; Coming Unglued; Scrapping Plans; and Perfect Piece.  Each book focuses on one of the Sinclair sisters, a very diverse group of young women who were all adopted by Jack Sinclair and his late wife.  Throughout all of their shared troubles, including starting a new business together and learning to deal with a new step-mother, Zelda, who could not be more different than their beloved mother, the sisters get together to share their favorite hobby, scrapbooking, and solve all their problems (and consume a lot of chocolate along the way!).

The individual books each deal with their own theme, in addition to the above-mentioned themes that are present in all the books. The first two focus on the only two unmarried sisters as they deal with relationships and ponder marriage.  I thought these two books were excellent–Sisters, Ink, about the red-haired lawyer sister Tandy, really drew me in, and made me want to get to know the sisters, learn about their pasts, and anticipate what might happen in their futures.  Coming Unglued, about artistic Kendra, was an excellent sequel, answering some questions raised in the first book, as well as creating some new ones to be explored in future books.

I wish I could say I enjoyed the last two books as much as the first two.  I thought that Scrapping Plans was the worst of the four, partly because of some previously mentioned Lutheran bashing, and also because I felt that the main story, about Martha-Stewart -in-training Joy’s dealings with infertility and adoption, was unrealistic, and too easily resolved.  Perfect Piece was a better book than Scrapping Plans, but it was lacking the same spirit of the first two books.  In this book, the oldest sister, and mother of three, Meg, dealt with a brain tumor, and then her husband’s emotional infidelity as well.  I felt the author had a completely unrealistic opinion of how quickly someone who just had brain surgery should recover, and, like the previous book, felt that the tension wrapped up a little too neatly.

My only other criticism of the series is that it seemed to plagiarize the television show Gilmore Girls quite a bit.  From the main setting being a small town called Stars Hill (complete with over-the-top annual festivals), to Clay’s Diner, and Tanner, the over-zealous town champion who loves holding town meetings for the betterment Stars Hill, a lot of things in the books seemed familiar, in a “I’ve watched this show for way too long” kind of way.  I’m assuming it was unintentional, but for anyone familiar with Gilmore Girls, it is impossible to miss.

It was a good series of books, but the third one really left a bad taste in my mouth, and in some ways, ruined the whole series for me.  I do know that I wish I had the sisters’ scrapping studio for my use, as well as their disposable income to purchase all the supplies I want!

Book Review: “The Potluck Club”

This review will focus not only on the book “The Potluck Club,” but on the whole three book series of the same name, all written by the duo of Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson. The other two books are “The Potluck Club: Trouble’s Brewing” and “The Potluck Club Takes the Cake.”

I read the first book of the series back sometime last fall. I got it from the library, along with the book “She’s All That” from the Spa Girls trilogy by Kristin Billerbeck. I had not heard of either of the series before, and only vaguely heard of the authors, but they both popped up on a “if you like this book, you might like these” kind of recommendation from Amazon. I started the series with low expectations, partly because I was very disappointed with “She’s All That” (another review for another time), and partly because it didn’t take me long to realize that most of the main characters in the book were my mother’s age, if not older, and I wasn’t sure that I would find anything appealing about it, or that I would have anything in common with the characters. I didn’t have to read very far into the first book to realize that despite the age difference, I could really relate to, and laugh and cry with, the ladies of the Potluck Club.

The series takes place in and around the small town of Summit View, Colorado, and the scenes were written so well that I could almost see the mountains and breathe in the fresh air. I especially liked the winter scenes, (even a rather frightening avalanche!) because I could just see the majestic beauty of the snow-covered terrain.

What I liked most about these books was the way the authors dealt with hard, real-life issues, even amid the laughter and crazy antics of the club ladies. Topics such as pregnancy out of wedlock, infidelity, and even abortion, were dealt with, and given the proper amounts of suffering, as well as grace under the Gospel. Other hard topics, such as adoption, inter-racial marriage in a time that did not tolerate such things, loneliness and alcoholism were dealt with equally well. The characters did not have perfect lives, did not always make good choices, and, in fact, at least one of the main characters isn’t sure she’s really a Christian at all.

The whole trilogy takes place in a short amount of time–less than a year. So much happens in each of the books that it’s hard to believe that such a short period of time is covered. Each of the six main characters has her own story, some of which are intertwined with each other. Evie deals with a long-suffering, not-so-unrequited love, and a unexpectedly pregnant niece who arrives suddenly. Newcomer to town Lisa Leann schemes to take over the potluck club, ensuring that she’s not making too many friends along the way. Goldie, the high school coach’s wife realizes that she can’t live with the knowledge of her husband’s infidelity any longer. Donna deals with a her immense dislike of Evie, (who also happens to be best friend’s with Donna’s surrogate mother), while doing her job as a deputy and dealing with hard issues from her past. Vonnie has a secret so big that even her husband and best friend are unaware of it, and she finds out that even she didn’t know the whole truth. Lizzie is solid as a rock, even as she deals with family issues of her own.

The characters were all very real–not the phony, life is all sweetness and light, rainbows and butterflies that you find in a lot of Christian fiction. They experienced real emotions, both good and bad, and had very real relationships, also both good and bad, with each other and others in town. The fringe characters were also very likable, particularly newspaper reporter Clay; David, a stranger with secret; Leigh, Evie’s niece; and Jan, the beloved pastor’s wife who was battling cancer.

I loved these books, and give them a five star rating. Although I got the first book from the library, I knew that I would want them for my personal collection, and ended getting the whole trilogy as a Christmas gift, at which point, I dove in, and finally finished the series. It was a long wait in between the first and second books! The story didn’t end with book three, however–a new series, “The Potluck Catering Club”, is being written, and the first book, “The Secret’s in the Sauce,” is scheduled to come out September 1. Given that there were many loose ends left at the end of the first trilogy, there is plenty of material left to be covered in the new series, and I’m sure other story lines will also be introduced. I already have my copy pre-ordered on Amazon–I can’t wait to find out what the ladies of the club do next!

Book Review: “The Girls Who Went Away”

I thought it might be kind of fun to review some of the books I’m reading courtesy of our public library, and, even though I have four children, I also have too much time on my hands, so I came up with a cute little rating system. Five stars–excellent book, probably going to buy it at some point; Four stars–good book, I’ll be requesting it from the library again in the future; Three stars–OK book, I finished it, but have no desire to read it again; Two stars–not so hot, I started to skip sections because I was bored; One star–So bad, I couldn’t even finish it!

Alright, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, the first book I’m going to review is “The Girls Who Went Away” by Ann Fessler. I’ve been meaning to read this book since I heard about it last summer, but I have to admit, I was a little leery of it because of the sub-title: “The Hidden History of Women who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade.” I was afraid that because the author was so bent on mentioning Roe v. Wade on the cover of her book, that the tone of the book would be about the poor women who were forced to give up their babies for adoption because they didn’t have the option of abortion. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that is not what this book is about, and abortion is actually rarely mentioned on the pages at all.

What this book is about, is the heart-wrenching tales of young woman (and even some who were not as young, but were unmarried) who were forced by their families and “social agencies” to give their children away. They were not given any choices or support to keep their babies and raise them, but were told every step of the way what they were going to do, in order to help their families save face, and to provide couples who couldn’t conceive babies of their own in the post-war baby boom the children that everyone expected them to have.

I was not surprised (although I was saddened) by the treatment of these girls by their families; I was shocked, however, at the tactics used by social workers to ensure that the girls did not change their minds about adopting out their children. They used scare tactics on these young women by telling them about the horrible lives their children would have–they would never be able to provide enough material things, their children would be mocked on the playground and friendless, just because they were raised in a single parent home. They were threatened that they would have to pay back the cost of their stay at the unwed mothers’ home, and how could they possibly do that with little education, no job, and a baby to support (never mind no family support on top of all that!) Even though some of these women may technically have been offered the choice to keep their children, it was made clear to them that the only real choice they had was adoption.

Each chapter of the book had a theme, such as “The Family’s Fears,” which contained a lot of statistical information, as well as snippets of women’s stories as they remembered surrendering their children. Following the main body of the chapter were two longer essays, each focusing on a different woman’s story of pregnancy and the adoption of her child. I found myself crying many times in reading these stories, as even after several decades since their loss, these women’s heartache was palpable.

Something that I found very interesting about these women’s stories is the similarities of their labor and delivery experiences. Despite the fact that they lived all over the country, the same fears and indignation kept coming up. Almost all of the women remembered humiliation at having to be shaved prior to delivery. They also tended to recount not being prepared for what would happen in the child birth process, being left alone to labor, and having cruel nurses tell them that they deserved to suffer alone, without any medical intervention or support, throughout the labor process, because of their unwed status.

There were mixed reports on whether or not the women chose to see and spend time with their babies. Some refused to see them at all, realizing they could never give them up once they laid eyes on them. Others set their minds to make the most of every moment, realizing that was all they would ever have. Still others tried to find a way to keep their baby once they bonded with him or her, but were always dissuaded from doing so, either by family, social workers or clergy. Most of them remembered the things every mother relishes about a child–the baby smell, the softness of skin and hair, the number of fingers and toes, the smallness of limbs and of clothing.

This book gave me a completely different view of adoption. I had always assumed that for the most part, unwed mothers would happy to be “relieved” of the burden of having a child at a young age, without a husband, without an education or a job. This is obviously not true. Every one of the women in this book struggled with what she was required to do, and most of them never got over the loss. The maternal instinct is clearly stronger than even I had realized, seeing how badly these teenagers wanted their babies.

The (somewhat) happy ending is that many of the women were reunited with their biological children later in life. I say somewhat, because even a reunion does not make up for the 20+ years of life together that both mother and child missed. It was also sad to see that for the most part, these women had to suffer in silence for such a long time, because there did not used to be resources to help birth parents find the children they had lost, and vice versa. While I still sympathize with the conflicting feelings adoptive parents must have when their children go off in search of their biological families, I also have a greater sympathy for those people connected by DNA, if nothing else, especially realizing that many mothers did not, and still may not, want to give their children up. When you add that to a person’s natural curiosity regarding his or history, medical and otherwise, and from whence he or she came, I understand why both parties would be searching for each other.

I give this book four and a half stars. It really deserves five stars, because it was such a good, emotionally engaging book, but I’m not sure of it’s re-read value, which is why I’m not currently planning on purchasing it. Who knows, though, I may change my mind. I’m sure I would pick up even more on the emotion of those decisions a second (and even third) time through!