Such a Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb
Stevie’s mother battled schizophrenia. Though Stevie’s grandparents took care of Stevie and her sister Sunshine (and tried to care for their mother, who refused to take her meds and had been hideously abused when sent to a facility to care for people with mental illness) and praised and loved Stevie, the fact she couldn’t save her younger sister and her mother from the mother’s voices in her head telling her to drown herself and her children has haunted her since that terrible day when she was ten years old. Her mother succeeded in killing herself and Sunshine. The way Stevie “dealt” with it was by eating and eating and eating.
After her grandparents died, Stevie was shipped off to live with her Aunt Janet and Uncle Herbert. I didn’t understand why Janet’s self-esteem was so low she’d marry such a horrible, homophobic man like Herbert, who berated his own children, Polly and Lance, as well as Stevie. I understood why Janet stayed for a while—her ongoing battle with alcoholism made Herbert’s threats that he’d get custody of the kids a legit risk—until they were eighteen. Once they were adults, I guess she stayed because she’d been so emotionally beaten down by him she didn’t have the strength to leave. On the outside, Polly and Lance are successful. Polly is a popular news anchor, but she’s battled anorexia since she was 13 years old. Lance made millions through his entrepreneurship, but he is a wreck—he can’t talk to women, so he can’t fulfill his dream of falling in love, getting married, and having children.
When she was thirty-two, Stevie had a heart attack from being so overweight, so she got barometric surgery. After losing 170 pounds, she got a second cosmetic surgery to tighten up all the loose skin and gets her breasts lifted.
We meet Stevie after she’s had this work done, but she’s still trying to work out the demons of her past.
My favorite character by far in this book is Zena, a woman Stevie works with. Stevie is a legal secretary, who works for the awesome Cherie, and the straight-up evil Crystal.
It takes a long time for Stevie to stop being friends with overweight Eileen, who is also absolutely horrid and keeps telling Stevie she cheated to get thin—even though she got thin to save her life.
The characters in this book are either pure evil or have horrible self-esteem, and it’s hard to root for characters who don’t do anything to help themselves for a long time. Eventually they do, but this is a slow-paced book and it takes forever for the characters (with the exceptions of Zena and Cherie, which is why they are the best characters in the book) to get there.
I wish Lamb had cut out a lot of the parts of the book where Stevie is a little kid dealing with her schizophrenic mother. We got the point, and the Stevie of today was more interesting than Stevie as a powerless little kid.
Root, Petal, Thorn by Ella Joy Olsen
It begins in the present day with Ivy, who is mourning the death of her husband, who was killed in a car accident. As part of trying to deal with her pain, she finishes the house renovation projects she had been working on alongside her husband. This leads to small discoveries about the people who lived in the house before them.
As readers, we go back in time through the first and second world wars and the Great Depression. We also go through the sixties, but that women’s story is more about her battle with manic-depressive disorder and not about what was going on in society as a whole.
The stories of the different women were engaging for a variety of reasons. Once I started a chapter from one of the women’s points of view, I was completely lost in her story and was sad when I had to start a new chapter—but then I’d promptly get engrossed in this other woman’s tale.
The book is set in Salt Lake City, which is obviously heavily Mormon, so the women who live in the house in 1913 (sisters Clara and Emmeline) are Mormon. The practice of polygamy had been outlawed, but it was still practiced by some members (who should have then been excommunicated). Emmeline’s love interest comes from a family that is known for practicing polygamy, but Nathaniel assures her that he doesn’t share his father’s views. He goes off to his two-year mission and asks her to wait for him, but war overseas puts an obstacle in their plans to marry.
I found all of the women’s stories compelling, and have to say the ending took me by surprise—in a good way.
I definitely recommend this book. It’s unique and beautifully told.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
I enjoyed this book. I’d like to say that I had strong feelings about it one way or another—that I really loved it or found a bunch of flaws to critique—but all I can say is that it is fun and touching at moments.
The premise is that Alice gets a concussion while at spin class one day and when she comes to, she thinks it’s 1998 and she’s pregnant with her first child. When others explain to her that it’s 2008 and she has three children and a whole slew of other stuff has happened in those ten years, she can’t believe it. She has to believe it because in those ten years she’s gotten skinny, become a gym nut, lives in a fancy house with a pool, and drives a vehicle called an “SUV,” something she didn’t know about ten years ago.
The story isn’t that you get to do a do over in life—that whole, “if I knew then what I know now” sort of thing, but that she gets a fresh perspective on how she was living when she forgets a decade of her life. (I’m trying not to give anything away or spoil anything).
Maybe because I read this as an ebook so the presentation might have been more jumbled than if I’d read a book book, but at first I got really confused when things started being written about from the sister, Elisabeth’s, perspective, and also the letters from Frannie. (Frannie is Elisabeth and Alice’s honorary grandmother—a next-door neighbor who took care of them like a grandma). I would have left out Frannie’s letters to her dead fiancé (he died right before they could marry), but once I figured out what was going on, I liked the switch from the two sisters alternating points of view.
This is a fun book, but not one of my favorites that I’ve read recently.