Friday, August 08, 2008

Surprise Packages by Anderson, Littke & Morris

Surprise Packages by Nancy Anderson, Lael Littke and Carroll Hofeling Morris

Book three in the series "The Company of Good Women"

Published by Deseret Book

Before I get into the review of this book, I need to make a confession. I've been a little grumpy about doing my book reviews lately. I started my summer reading season full of excitement with a two foot stack of titles I couldn't wait to get through. Most of them were fantasy or sci-fi, my genre of choice. But I've been able to read very few of those because of an issue I've been having with my eyesight which made me very ill every time I tried to read. So with my limited reading time, instead of reading the books I wanted to read, I was having to read books I'd agreed to review for blog tours. Not that the blog tour books haven't been good—they have been. It's just that they were preventing me from reading my books. So it was with a bit of an attitude that I picked up Surprise Packages —one more book that was from my "obligatory" stack, rather than my "fun" stack.

I was also at a disadvantage with Surprise Packages . I hadn't read the first two books, Almost Sisters and Three Tickets to Peoria. With this series, I think it's important to read the books in order because there are so many characters and so much backstory that is referenced but not fully explained that I very quickly became lost. It was frustrating at first, but even with the confusion of not remembering whose child was whose and who the heck this new character was supposed to be, this book very quickly won me over. I forgot my grumpy attitude and began to care about these three women and their lives. I found myself eager to learn what was going to happen next.

When asked to describe the series, "The Company of Good Women," the authors say it "is the story of three women in three different parts of the country and their quest to become Crusty Old Broads—written by three women from three different parts of the country who are self-professed Crusty Old Broads!" They got the idea in 1998 when they were on vacation together in Moab, UT. The first book in the series, Almost Sisters, was published in 2006 and book two, Three Tickets to Peoria, was published last year, and Surprise Packages, the final book in the series, is available now.

Promo Info for Surprise Packages:
Fifteen years after meeting at Education Week at Brigham Young University, Juneau, Deenie, and Erin face new challenges. Deenie, now living in Gainesville, Florida, begins to question everything she has believed about herself as she sees her actions through others' eyes. Juneau's feelings of guilt come to a head when a secret from her childhood and the mystery of her great-grandmother, Letitia, combine to force her to confront her past. And Erin, whose painful divorce has made her cynical about love and marriage, must decide if she can take a risk when she has a second chance for love.

Staying in touch through phone calls, e-mails, and periodic vacations together, the friends offer one another support, sometimes in the form of blunt feedback. But as they anticipate reaching their goal to become Crusty Old Broads, life takes a turn that puts their twenty-five-year pact in doubt.

Nancy Anderson writes from the perspective of Deenie, who has recently been uprooted from Wellsville, UT to Gainesville FL, where she must learn to fit in with a new group of people who don't immediately accept her; Lael Littke writes from the perspective of Juneau, who is feeling a bit distanced from her husband and who is raising her grandson; and Carroll Hofeling Morris writes from the perspective of Erin, a divorced woman wondering if she should take a chance on love again.

And that is only the beginning. Each of these women have a host of characters and trials dancing through their lives, making this book very rich with detail and emotion, very realistic, very much like my own life, in fact. Seeing how they faced or avoided their issues, how they acted or reacted to the events in their lives, was not only a great read, but also surprisingly inspiring to me. Here is just one example of the many insightful nuggets scattered through this book. Erin, speaking to her young daughter about divorce, says:

"Getting married in the temple isn't like gluing two pieces of wood together. It's more like setting two plants in the ground close enough to each other that they can grow together as the years pass. If they grow together so much that you can't tell where one begins and the other ends, then the Holy Spirit blesses them to be. . ."

"Forever Plants!" Hannah chortled.

"But if those plants—that husband and wife—let something or someone get between them, or if one starts growing in a different direction, they don't intertwine." (p 207)

As someone who had to explain divorce to her own young children, I wish I'd had this analogy then.

This book is not at all preachy. The women are LDS, and LDS theology is occasionally explained (as shown above), but not in a way that's trying to convert the reader. Neighbors and friends are converted and baptized in this book, but that's just part of the facts of the main characters' lives. It's not the focus of the book, in fact, it's very low key. I thought it was handled very well.

I give this book a 4.5 out of 5. I really, really liked it and I whole-heartedly recommend it to other readers with one caveat—start with book one!

You can read chapter 1 of Surprise Packages and learn more about these authors at their website.

You can read other reviews of this book and find out what the Crusty Old Broads are up to by visiting their blog.


Tristi Pinkston said...

I'm sorry you've been having so much trouble with your eyes -- hope they get better soon!

Thanks for this review -- it was great!

Belladonna said...

I enjoyed reading another person's take on this book. I'm looking forward to exploring more of your blog!

Carroll said...

Karlene, I was so moved when I read how much you appreciated Erin's conversation with her daughter, Hannah. I was having trouble with it, and I honestly think Hannah (wherever she is) inspired me to write that exchange.

Thanks so much for being part of our virtual book tour. It's helped me to feel like I'm part of the community of LDS authors!