Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Review: A Soft Place to Land

Summary: For more than ten years, Naomi and Phil Harrison enjoyed a marriage of heady romance, tempered only by the needs of their children. But on a vacation alone, the couple perishes in a flight over the Grand Canyon. After the funeral, their daughters, Ruthie and Julia, are shocked by the provisions in their will.

Spanning nearly two decades, the sisters’ journeys take them from their familiar home in Atlanta to sophisticated bohemian San Francisco, a mountain town in Virginia, the campus of Berkeley, and lofts in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As they heal from loss, search for love, and begin careers, their sisterhood, once an oasis, becomes complicated by resentment, anger, and jealousy. It seems as though the echoes of their parents’ deaths will never stop reverberating—until another shocking accident changes everything once again. -- Touchstone

A SOFT PLACE TO LAND by Susan Rebecca White is getting rave reviews from some pretty impressive authors like Kathryn Stockett and Todd Johnson (two authors whose books I really enjoyed.) So needless to say, I was excited to sit down and see if I found this book to live up to its hype. I'll be honest...I'm kind of torn on this one. I liked it, but I didn't love it -- and I really wanted to love it.

On one hand, I thought the premise of the book was solid. Two sisters lose their parents in a plane wreck. Since they have different fathers, they are forced to separate -- Julia goes to live with her father and his new family in rural Virginia, and Ruthie heads to San Francisco to live with her childless aunt and uncle. The book tells the story of each girl as they start their new life without the other one. It was an interesting story with a unique glimpse into two women's lives.

But on the other hand, I just don't think I felt enough for the characters. It's not that the characters weren't developed well (because I think they were). It's just that I didn't really like them very much. Even Ruthie, whom I thought I would love because she was so sweet and innocent at the novel's start, became rather difficult. I know that sounds awful and heartless, especially after the tragedy that occurred when they were girls, but I didn't find myself relating to them very much. I think that was the main reason that I wasn't over-the-top about this book.

But there were a lot of things that I did appreciate about this novel. First and foremost, I really enjoyed Ms. White's writing style. I definitely liked how she told this story and I thought she did a great job creating her characters. While I didn't exactly love either of the sisters, I was impressed with how human they were. The were both flawed and extremely complex, and I did find them interesting. I also loved how Ms. White included some wonderful descriptions of food into this story, especially as they related to Ruthie. Many times these descriptions evoked feelings of comfort for Ruthie and even helped her find direction in her life.

Another thing I really liked was how Ms. White portrayed the sisters' relationship. She showed what many readers will see as a very realistic relationship between the two sisters. At the beginning of the story, I think they had a pretty typical relationship. Ruthie, the younger one, looked up and admired her older sister, Julia. However, once they were separated and didn't see much of each other, they grew apart. In fact, Ruthie eventually came to see Julia's "strengths" as insecurities, and I kind of thought she became a little judgmental. Their relationship had its fair share of ups and downs, and each woman definitely exhibited moments of anger, jealousy, frustration, resentment, and eventually acceptance.

A SOFT PLACE TO LAND was the first book that I've read by Susan Rebecca White, but it won't be the last -- that's for sure. But you know I am a sucker for southern fiction. I appreciated Ms. White's writing style and character development, and I think we'll be seeing a lot more of this author in the future. I already have her prior novel BOUND SOUTH and I can't wait to read it. I read that Ms. White is currently working on her third novel -- one that has a lot of food incorporated into it. Since I enjoyed her marvelous descriptions of food in this novel, I am definitely looking forward to it!

A SOFT PLACE TO LAND is an ideal book club discussion especially if your group enjoys women's fiction. I'm not sure that the entire group will be on the same page with this novel, and I always think the best discussions occur when there is some dissension. A SOFT PLACE TO LAND deals with many interesting topics as they relate to all types of families; but the at its core, this novel is about the complex relationship between sisters. Some of the themes that you might want to further explore include death, loss, grief, betrayal, secrets, family (and step-family) dynamics, sisterly love, sibling rivalry, jealousy, and forgiveness. I'm sure most groups will not have a lack of things to talk about, but just in case, there is a reading guide.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this novel. Make sure you stop by tomorrow because Ms. White will be stopping by with a special guest post for my Book Club Exchange feature.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I got pretty excited about this book when I read the synopsis, and is too bad that it didn't quite reach perfection. Still it sounds like it is worth picking up!

bermudaonion said...

The premise of the book sounds fantastic in this day and time. I'm interested in it because of the settings.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

I'm so mixed about reading this one. I've seen such mixed reviews.

bookaddict4real said...

I liked this review because you paid attention to how well developed the characters and I feel that's important!

Jo-Jo said...

Thanks for the honest review Julie. I also love southern fiction and I can't help but adore the I will probably read this one also.

carolsnotebook said...

The premise sounds great. It's a shame it didn't live up to your expectations.

Beth F said...

I have a hard time with books when I can't connect with or I don't exactly like the characters.