The Sunshine Sisters isn’t all sunshine

32867521The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green is about the relationships within one family.  Ronni Sunshine is the perfect selfish Hollywood diva who cares more about her image than her three daughters who can’t wait to get away from her, and a husband who can’t make her happy no matter what he does.  To the general public, Ronni is a wonderful person who has the perfect family.  But behind closed doors it’s another story.  Ronni is narcissistic and often a cruel mother.

When the veil comes off and her mood comes out, Ronni treats her daughters differently and the daughters react in different ways to Ronni’s cruelness.  Nell, who is the oldest, withdraws within herself and when she turns 18, flees to a farm a few miles away where she befriends the owner, who becomes a stable mother figure.  Nell seemed like a genuine, down-to-earth person who worked tirelessly to fill the voids she didn’t get from her childhood.

Meredith takes a lot of abuse from Ronni.  She is told she needs to lose weight, that she isn’t pretty enough.  This breaks Meredith and she flees to England to stay with relatives.  Meredith is a people pleaser and wants everyone to be happy.  Because of her mother’s comments over the years, Meredith doesn’t feel she deserve to be treated with respect, which leads her to be engaged to a who acts like she isn’t good enough as herself.

Then there is Lizzy who doesn’t take any crap from Ronnie.  While growing up, she laughed at the things Ronni said and did, never taking it seriously.  Lizzy really came across just as selfish and self-centered as Ronni.  Now a famous TV chef, Lizzy doesn’t care who she hurts with her actions, including her husband and child.

The main focus of the book is bringing the three girls together again to be with Ronnie, who has become ill and wants them by her side as she passes.  Once again making everything about her and bringing the attention to her, the center of attention.  This story is also about the relationship between the sisters, who are not close and are so very different.

The Sunshine Sisters shows that families can look all rainbows and sunshine on the outside, the inside, behind closed doors, might not be what it seems.  It’s probably why on the news, the neighbors say “they were such a nice and loving family” when something goes wrong with a family member or an entire family.

I have four older sisters so it was interesting for me to see how the sisters were very different yet could support each other after being reacquainted. There were relationships where I wanted to smack people on the back of the head and relationships where I wanted to stand up and cheer.

I have pretty much read all of Jane Green’s books and have enjoyed every one of them.  Like her other books, I had a hard time putting The Sunshine Sisters down.  When I wasn’t reading the book, I found myself thinking about the sisters.  The Sunshine Sisters looks like a fun cheerful book, but instead it dives into family dynamics that aren’t so filled with sunshine.

Book Description:
The New York Times bestselling author of Falling presents a warm, wise, and wonderfully vivid novel about a mother who asks her three estranged daughters to come home to help her end her life.

Ronni Sunshine left London for Hollywood to become a beautiful, charismatic star of the silver screen. But at home, she was a narcissistic, disinterested mother who alienated her three daughters.

As soon as possible, tomboy Nell fled her mother’s overbearing presence to work on a farm and find her own way in the world as a single mother. The target of her mother s criticism, Meredith never felt good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Her life took her to London and into the arms of a man whom she may not even love. And Lizzy, the youngest, more like Ronni than any of them, seemed to have it easy, using her drive and ambition to build a culinary career to rival her mother’s fame, while her marriage crumbled around her.

But now the Sunshine Girls are together again, called home by Ronni, who has learned that she has a serious disease and needs her daughters to fulfill her final wishes. And though Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy are all going through crises of their own, their mother s illness draws them together to confront old jealousies and secret fears and they discover that blood might be thicker than water after all.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat


Sri Lanka tea plantations are a fascinating topic

25237718It’s always enjoyable to read a good historical literature, especially when it’s set in a location I know nothing about.  That is one of the great things about The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jeffries.

The story starts in 1925 as 19-year-old Gwendoline meets Laurence Hooper and quickly marries him.  She sails to Ceylon to join Laurence at his tea plantation.  Life on the plantation has a big racial divide between the British Colonists who own the plantations and the workers who are Indian Tamils and the Sinhalese.

The residents of the Hooper tea plantation are very interesting.  We meet Nick MacGregor, the plantation manager who treats the workers like objects and not human beings.  Gwen doesn’t understand why Nick treats the workers this way.  She believes the workers deserve a better life and wants to give them better health care, better living conditions and better nutrition.  Nick doesn’t like Gwen butting into his business when she tries to befriend the workers.

There is Laurence’s sister Verity.  This woman is very messed up and jealous of any female who is more important to Laurence than she is.  Verity has an aversion to working and acts like Laurence needs to support her.  She’s a spoiled little brat who I wanted to just go away.  I think I even said “go away, go away, go away” when Verity yet again moves into the plantation house.

Then there is ex-mistress Christina Bradshaw who blatantly flirts with Laurence right in front of Gwen.  Christina and Laurence do business together but Christina wants more.  Another character I wanted to go away and leave Laurence and Gwen alone.

The Tea Plantation’s Wife highlights a very volatile time in history and Jeffries does a great job bringing the era to life.  There are also lots of secrets in this family that are hidden for many years and slowly come to light.  Because of this story, I have researched more information about Ceylon and about tea plantations in Sri Lanka. This is definitely well worth the read.  I was able to read this book through the First to Read program with Penguin Random House.

Book Description:
#1 International bestselling novel set in 1920’s Ceylon, about a young Englishwoman who marries a charming tea plantation owner and widower, only to discover he’s keeping terrible secrets about his past, including what happened to his first wife, that lead to devastating consequences

Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected.

The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous, and there are clues to the past – a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds – that her husband refuses to discuss.

Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can’t stay buried forever…

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat


With Love from the Inside is a heartbreaking story

27833799With Love from the Inside by Angela Pisel is a story about a mother, Grace, accused of killing her infant son, William, and what the accusation did to her husband and daughter.  Grace insisted she is innocent but is convicted of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome.  After serving 17 years, she is now awaiting execution.  She hasn’t seen her daughter Sophie for 11 years and wants to see her one last time before she is executed.

While Grace has been sitting on death row, her husband always believed she was innocent and worked hard trying to get her conviction overturned.  After her father died, Sophie started to doubt her mom and thinks she really is guilty.  Sophie decides she needs to move on and doesn’t want anything to do with Grace so she stops visiting.  She wants to just live a normal life.  But she can’t quite do that knowing Grace is about to be executed.

The story is told from two perspectives – Grace and Sophie.  Grace is a very strong woman who has accepted her fate and has made her life behind bars the best that it can be.  This book is sad in so many different ways.  I was really surprised the emotion the story brought out of me.

When I was first married, there was a woman in my apartment complex who was charged with Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome so this story really interested me.  I’m so glad I had the chance to read this story.  It was well worth my time.  I want to thank Penguin Random House for the advanced copy I received through their First to Read program.

Book Description:

Grace Bradshaw knows the exact minute she will die.  On death row for murdering her infant son, her last breath will be taken on February 15 at 12:01 a.m.  Eleven years, five months, and twenty-seven days separate her from the last time she heard her precious daughter’s voice and the final moment she’d heard anyone call her Mom.  Out of appeals, she can focus on only one thing—reconnecting with her daughter and making sure she knows the truth.

Secrets lurk behind Sophie Logan’s big house and even bigger bank account.  Every day when she kisses her husband good-bye, she worries her fabricated life is about to come crumbling down.  No one knows the unforgivable things her mother did to tear her family apart—not her husband, who is a prominent plastic surgeon, or her “synthetic” friends who live in her upscale neighborhood.

Grace’s looming execution date forces Sophie to revisit the traumatic events that haunted her childhood.  When she returns to her hometown, she discovers new evidence about her baby brother William’s death seventeen years ago—proof that might set her mother free but shatter her marriage forever.

Sophie must quickly decide if her mother is the monster the prosecutor made her out to be or the loving mother she remembers—the one who painted her toenails glittery pink and plastered Post-it notes with inspiring quotes (“100 percent failure rate if you don’t try”) all over Sophie’s bathroom mirror—before their time runs out.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Things can change your perspective on life

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York

Suze Orman asked a very interesting question the other day on the show Finding Sarah, on Lifetime about Duchess Sarah Ferguson.  “What will matter when you are on your deathbed?”  Sarah is struggling with lots of past issues, she is working on her self esteem and finding who she is, not who the media think she is.

Suze asked Sarah when she is on her deathbed, will what other people think of her matter.  Sarah immediately said yes, with no hesitation.  I had kind of an ah ha moment when Suze asked the question.  What really does matter at the end of the day?  And I’ve always wondered what an ah ha moment felt like when Oprah talked about them.

For the past few months I have had a lot of ah ha moments.  Not sure if it’s due to my blinders finally being taken off or if I finally have become an older, wiser adult.  Who knows, maybe I finally got kicked in the head and everything lined up correctly.

All I know is my perspective on life has changed.  When I was going through cancer treatment, everyone kept saying it would totally change the way I looked at life, I wouldn’t take anything for granted.  Things would be sharper and more in focus.

Didn’t happen.  I think I didn’t have the clarity because I knew I wasn’t going to die.  I knew when treatment was over, I would be fine.  Don’t get me wrong; hearing the “c” word drops you to your knees and makes you start thinking if you will see your child grow up, if you will grow old with your spouse.  But it didn’t change me like a lot of people said it would.

Well, it changed me a little.  I now eat more fresh produce; I use natural or organic products from house cleaning to make-up.  I use organic fertilizer for the yard.  I’ve even purchased a few clothes made from natural fibers.  I’m more careful about the items I consume or the products next to my skin.

My boss and his family.

What really changed my perspective on life and changed my answer to Suze Orman’s question is the recent death of my boss.  He was a 51-year-old man who was in pretty good health, full of energy and life and had a lot of things he wanted to get done, including walk his four daughters down the aisle when they got married.  What he didn’t plan was to be told he had terminal cancer instead of a fractured hip or pulled muscle.  He didn’t plan on having such a rare form of cancer that only 12 people were diagnosed in 2010.  He also didn’t plan on dying less than three months after his diagnosis.  THAT is what changed my perspective on life.

Watching someone full of big plans, walking so fast I can hardly keep up, to dying 90 days later that puts things in perspective.  Yes, that’s right.  It took just 90 days for his life, his family’s life and my associates’ lives to change.  Ninety days is not long.

After the loss of my boss, which I still am struggling with, I started thinking back over my life.  When I was a kid, I had dreams of traveling the world.  I wanted to leave my small town farm and go to the ends of the earth and see all the exotic locations.  The Great Wall of China, Australia, Africa, the Sahara Desert, the Great Barrier Reef, all the ancient villages and locations rich with history.

Great Wall of China

Instead I lost focus.  Having a bigger house, a nicer car, the latest electronic gadget was more important.  Getting all the fun stuff for my crafts, whether it was counted cross stitching or rubber stamping my own cards, that was more important.  Yes, I got married and had a child, but that shouldn’t have changed my focus.  Instead I had someone to go to all the wonderful places with me.

I’ve been decluttering the house and as I uncover items from my past, my thought has been “what was I thinking?”  None of this matters; none of this will matter when I’m on my death bed.

What matters to me when I’m on my death bed?  Spending time with family and friends, even if it is just sitting on the back deck having a conversation.  What matters?  Seeing the world like I wanted to when I was a kid.

A big house, fancy gadgets no longer matter to me.  If I need something I can always get it, why hold onto the useless stuff that doesn’t help me with my answer.  Why hold onto something for 20 years because I “might” use it.  Why have something else to dust.

Alexander Vinokourov after crashing and probably ending his career.

I’ve experienced a few other ah ha moments since my boss’ death.  Shannon Stone, an 18 year firefighter, trying to grab a baseball thrown to him at a Rangers game, trying to catch it and instead falling to his death in front of his young son.  The scary crashes at the Tour de France that have ended a few careers, and the woman who recently was out for a triathlon bike training run and was run over.  It’s like ah ha moments are springing up everywhere.  My blinders must be demolished or they are signs telling me to wake up from my slumber.

So what have I done to change things and do what will matter to me on my deathbed?  I’ve initiated a Monday happy hour with my friend Karen.  Every Monday we meet for happy hour and if our husbands, daughters or some of our friends want to join us then more the merrier, if not that’s fine, we get to catch up on our lives.

We have put our house up for sale.  That’s right, we are downsizing to a patio home so no more time wasted on taking care of a yard and no more time wasted on maintenance of a big house.  I plan to travel more including scheduling a time to visit my cousin who lives in Costa Rica.  I’m attending a family reunion which I haven’t attended in over ten years.

I’m saying what the hell, why am I waiting to rent a car and drive around the French countryside.  Why am I waiting to walk the length of the Great Wall of China.  Why am I waiting to spend time with my family who live in different cities?  None of us are getting any younger.

When I’m on my death bed and someone asks me what matters, my answer hopefully will be I lived a great life because I said why not, I didn’t wait.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat.