Family members: It’s hard to live without them, but sometimes it’s harder to live with them. Many of us are blessed with warm, loving, happy families, but anyone who’s ever had to plan a big reunion knows that there are always a few people you’d never spend time with if you weren’t related. If you’re lucky, it might just be Great-Uncle Steve who’s no fun to be around, or it may be closer relations that are the source of all the gossip. The three new books in this week’s book club are all about families gone awry, with some painfully awkward (and possibly even deadly) reunions in the mix. Read on to find out whether blood is thicker than alcohol, and how each family deals with its own black sheep.
1. The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder ($26): “Things happen, and things don’t. Still, though: slicing your finger open on your sister’s wedding invitation can’t be a good sign.” If you were asked to pick one event where family tensions were the most likely to explode, a large proportion of people would go straight to the big family wedding, and they wouldn’t be wrong. A wedding is full of baggage, including cultural and generational expectations, and it brings two different families into the mix. Not only that, but the expense and pressure sometimes create a toxic mix of resentment; if you’re paying $300 a head, does Great-Uncle Steve really have to be invited? In Ginder’s novel, most of the resentment doesn’t come from the marrying couple, but the invitees; Paul and Alice are invited to their half-sister Eloise’s wedding across the pond in England, and neither of them are too sure they even want to go.
They have good reasons; Eloise has always been mother Donna’s favored child, growing up in the lap of luxury with a trust fund due to her wealthy father, and aging into a seemingly perfect life and now an impossibly luxurious wedding. Both Paul and Anna might also be a little bitter, because their own father has passed away (and Donna doesn’t seem particularly upset), and neither of them have the greatest love life. Anna, deeply in debt, is having an affair with her married boss, and Paul’s handsome professor boyfriend is using academic jargon to justify bringing others (maybe even students) into their relationship. Meanwhile, Donna still may harbor a torch for the ex-husband who she’ll see again very soon.
“We knew it would cost at least that much. We just wanted to be justified in our disgust.” Filled with gossip from how many ply and colors the $4500 invitations have (two and three) to the siblings’ deep-seated irritation over their sibling’s vastly different upbringing, Ginder’s acidic and witty book is on just about everyone’s must-read list for the summer, when it’s perfect to take on the plane going to your next family wedding.
2. The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green ($26): If a wedding is fraught with family and sibling tension, just think about the trauma of a deathbed confessional where a mother asks her estranged daughters to help end her life. That’s the situation underpinning Green’s The Sunshine Sisters; movie star Ronni Sunshine has discovered she has a terminal illness, and calls her daughters home to deal with it. Her daughters, though, don’t really even want to deal with their mother on a good day; cold and ego-driven as only the best Hollywood names can be, Ronni didn’t exactly foster positive relationships with them. Can they get over past hurts and give her what she wants?
“She had hoped there would be a camera in the corner, capturing this final scene in a documentary that would be made about her life as she drifted from this one into the next… The first part of her plan has not come together. None of her daughters will cooperate.” Each of daughters Lizzy, Nell, and Meredith has done her level best to escape her mother; Nell raised her son alone on a farm, Meredith became an accountant in London, and Lizzy’s party-girl life evolved to finding success in the restaurant world. However, none of them is particularly willing to help in the final escape, believing there may be still be something to be done. Ronni, though, has a few more tricks up her sleeve.
As the sisters come home to care for their mother, there are revelations, memories, and fights aplenty, because no one can hurt each other quite like family. The memories are painful and colored by different viewpoints, but they might also form a tighter bond between the women who had scattered as far away from each other as possible. Bestselling author Green has already shown herself to be a master of family drama; take this one to the beach as entertainment or therapy.
3. The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor ($26): “When people ask me why I love sharks I tell them it’s because I was bitten by one when I was twelve… The bite resulted in a thirteen-inch scar, thirty-three stitches, and an obsession with sharks. The sharks in The Shark Club are literal: Main character Maeve Donnelly turned a traumatic childhood shark bite into a lifelong course of study in marine biology. The sharks are also figurative, though, and when Maeve takes a trip back home, she finds them in the form of her twin brother and unfaithful ex-fiance. Quite frankly, Maeve prefers the ones with fins.
When Maeve and her brother Robin were children, their parents died in a private plane crash, and they moved into her aunt’s hotel. Maeve’s return to the hotel finds her ex-fiance Daniel as its chef, a single parent to the child who came from his affair during their engagement. In the meantime, Robin, who Maeve has always viewed as a bit of a disappointment, is having his first book published; the novel features a very familiar-sounding story of a broken engagement. This would be bad enough, but Daniel’s six-year-old daughter Hazel, whose mother has died, is also a budding marine biologist and wants to form a Shark Club with Hazel. The Shark Club may be needed, because an illegal shark fin ring has moved into town.
Can Maeve put the past to rest so she can commit to a relationship with colleague Nicholas? Can she save the area sharks? And can she actually get over Daniel’s betrayal when she still has those irritating feelings for him, the ones she’s felt since she felt his kiss and a shark bite on the same fateful morning? When family’s involved, the dangerous activist work stopping the shark slaughter might just be the least difficult task on her list.
What books remind you of your family? Tag us in your next relative read @BritandCo.
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