Daily Archives: May 20, 2013

The Burgess Boys – Book Review

BurgessBoysHaweeya said, “In America, it is about the individual. Self-realization. Go to the grocery store, the doctor’s office, open any magazine, and it is self, self, self. But in my culture it is about community and family.” – from The Burgess Boys –

The Burgess family has had its struggles. Jim, Bob and Susan lost their father to a tragic accident when they were just young children living in Shirley Falls, Maine. For years, Bob has lived with the guilt that it was all his fault. Now, since the death of their mother, both Jim and Bob have moved to New York City where Jim is a well-known and wealthy lawyer for a big firm, and Bob works as a Legal Aid attorney. Their relationship is almost one of bullying – with Jim often making degrading comments to Bob, and Bob feeling “less than” his older brother. Susan has remained in Shirley Falls, raising her son Zach alone after her husband left the marriage.

When Zach makes a bad decision, his actions will not only have deep repercussions within his own family, but will mobilize a divided community because Shirley Falls has become home to a group of Somali Muslims. This isolated group has sparked racism, misunderstanding and a kind of righteous indignation among certain townspeople. When Zach’s singular act occurs, Shirley Falls splits into two groups – those who see the Somalis as outsiders, and those who see Zach’s actions as a form of hate crime. As Jim and Bob rally around their family, returning once again to Maine, the deep fissures in their own pasts rise to the surface.

It saddened him, but it seemed far away. But he knew very soon it would not feel far away; the murkiness of Susan and Zachary and Shirley Falls would seep into his apartment the way the emptiness below waited to remind him that his neighbors were no more, that nothing lasts forever, there is nothing to be counted on. – from The Burgess Boys –

Elizabeth Strout’s newest novel is a bit of a psychological study of the cracks that develop within families and communities and the often difficult road to healing and forgiveness after loss and misunderstanding. As with all her work, the characters in The Burgess Boys are exceptionally well developed. She introduces multiple characters and delves below the surface of them all to help the reader gain understanding of their fears, hopes, and disappointments.

Bob becomes the central character in a story about sibling rivalry, family secrets and searching for connection with others. Bob’s divorce from his wife, Pam, haunts him. Even years after their split, he misses her chatter, laughter, and “sharp opinions.” But he largely suffers in silence, portraying himself as the easy going, likeable guy he wants to be. Beneath the surface, however, Bob harbors another loss which he has never really come to terms with – that of his father. For decades he has accepted responsibility for his father’s death and tolerates his older brother’s cruel verbal abuse. By the end of the novel, Bob will be the character who grows the most.

Despite the extraordinary character development, The Burgess Boys fell a little flat for me. All of the characters are living lives of disappointment and unrealized self-actualization. Marriages are unhealthy and sad. Children are isolated and awkward. Friendships are superficial. Siblings struggle to find something to like about each other. Half way through this book, I began to feel the weight of all this despair. I began to long for something, anything, to brighten the pages and insert hope into the story.

In fairness, Strout does, eventually, deliver redemption for her characters and allows for some hope to surface. But for me, that redemption came a little too late in the story. I turned the final page and sighed, thankful that I could leave these characters and their muddled lives behind.

I found the inclusion of the Somali community in this novel interesting. Strout uses it as a catalyst to spark the conflict in her novel – and she makes an effort to tie the conflict to the contemporary themes of racism and fear which have pervaded American society since 9-11. Strout’s efforts in this area were only partially successful for me. In some ways, the inclusion of the Somali struggle felt contrived – an easy way to create conflict in a novel which is really about familial conflict and misunderstanding. But, some readers may find that expanding the horizons of the story adds depth and power to the novel.

Readers who enjoy character driven stories and who have liked Strout’s novels in the past may want to give this one a try.


librarythingFTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher through the Library Thing Early Reviewer Program.

Medallion Quilts…and a Special “Round Robin” With Friends

RoundNRound.CenterBlock20001Have you ever heard of a medallion quilt? Here is a definition:

Medallion quilts are defined as quilts with a center area of interest surrounded by a series of borders. The center can be a pieced or appliqued block, or a wholecloth panel. The borders can be wholecloth, pieced, or appliqued. – from Liberated Medallion Quilts, by Gwen Marston –

Check out the Pinterest board I started to showcase these amazing quilts.

RoundNRoundBUTTONI love the look of medallion quilts and so I was very excited when I was invited to become part of a group on Threadbias to do a “round robin” for this type of quilt. Angela from All Patched Up is our courageous leader and organizer for the Round N’ Round group (read more about our group here).

Here is how a round robin works:

Everyone in the group creates a center block (my block is right up there in the left hand corner of this post) and establishes a color scheme and/or theme. Then those blocks start to travel. They move from one quilter to the next with each person adding a border to the quilt. Eventually, the quilt returns to the original “owner” of that quilt…with all the gorgeous borders which have been added. The result is a collaborative quilt that celebrates the personality of each person in the group.

Angela had a great idea which was to include a journal with our center block – a place where we could indicate color choices, theme, likes/dislikes, etc… Each quilter will add an entry to the journal before passing the quilt in progress onto the next person. We are also going to include bits of fabric as we go to provide some continuity for future rounds.

As my quilt begins its travels, I will try to keep you updated as to its progress.

In the meantime, if you are interested in starting your own group, or just want to make a medallion quilt on your own, here are some great resources for inspiration:

LiberatedMedallion LibertyLove

Liberated Medallion Quilts by Gwen Marston (AQS Publishing)

Liberty Love by Alexia Marcelle Abegg (C&T Publishing / Stash Books)

The gorgeous medallion quilt in Abegg’s book can also be found in the Spring 2013 edition of Love Quilting and Patchwork, which is a UK publication. Although the paper edition is now sold out, you can still purchase the digital issue.


Have you even made one of these fantastic quilts? If so, please give me a link to a photo of it in the comments so I can add it to my Pinterest Board!!


Mailbox Monday – May 20, 2013

MailboxSpringWelcome to this week’s Mailbox Monday and which is hosted by Abi at For the Love of Books this month. Visit the dedicated blog for the meme to see the complete tour schedule in the right sidebar.

This week I received one unsolicited book from Simon & Schuster:

StepOfFaithA Step of Faith by Richard Paul Evans (May 2013) is the fourth book by this author in his bestselling Walk series. The book picks up where The Road to Grace left off, with Alan in a St. Louis hospital. Ten months earlier, after losing his wife in a tragic accident, Alan had decided to walk across the country to find healing. But now, after traumatic brain surgery, Alan has woken in a dark and unfamiliar hospital. His father and the two women he loves are by his side.  The novel is described as an “engrossing and moving tale that demonstrates the importance of accepting love from wherever it may come from.

Richard Paul Evans is the #1 bestselling author of The Christmas Box. He has written more than twenty novels. He has received the American Mothers Book Award, the Romantic Times Best Women’s Novel of the Year Award, the Washington Times Humanitarian of the Century Award, and the Volunteers of America National Empathy Award, among others. He lives in Salt Lake city with his wife and children. Learn more about Evans by visiting the author’s website.

Did any good books arrive at YOUR house this week?