Thursday, July 15, 2010

Review: Sea Escape

Summary: Acclaimed novelist and nationally recognized family expert Lynne Griffin returns with Sea Escape—an emotional, beautifully imagined story inspired by the author's family letters about the ties that bind mothers and daughters.

Laura Martinez is wedged in the middle place, grappling with her busy life as a nurse, wife, and devoted mom to her two young children when her estranged mother, Helen, suffers a devastating stroke. In a desperate attempt to lure her mother into choosing life, Laura goes to Sea Escape, the pristine beach home that Helen took refuge in after the death of her beloved husband, Joseph. There, Laura hunts for the legendary love letters her father wrote to her mother when he served as a reporter for the Associated Press during wartime Vietnam.

Believing the beauty and sway of her father's words will have the power to heal, Laura reads the letters bedside to her mother, a woman who once spoke the language of fabric—of Peony Sky in Jade and Paradise Garden Sage—but who can't or won't speak to her now. As Laura delves deeper into her tangled family history, she becomes increasingly determined to save her mother. As each letter reveals a patchwork detail of her parents' marriage, she discovers a common thread: a secret that mother and daughter unknowingly share.

Weaving back and forth from Laura's story to her mother's, beginning in the idyllic 1950s with Helen's love affair with Joseph through the tumultuous Vietnam War period on to the present, Sea Escape takes a gratifying look at what women face in their everyday lives—the balancing act of raising capable and happy children and being accomplished and steadfast wives while still being gracious and good daughters. It is a story that opens the door to family secrets so gripping, you won't be able to put this book down until each is revealed. -- Simon & Schuster

When I was first approached to be part of the SEA ESCAPE tour for TLC Book Tours, I immediately read the book's description and it definitely appealed to me. I was somewhat familiar with the author Lynne Griffin from my time spent on Twitter and more than a little curious to read one of her books, but I have to admit that the story is what really sold me on this novel. I am a huge sucker for books about female relationships, and especially relationships between mother and daughters.

I enjoyed SEA ESCAPE a great deal. I probably wouldn't go so far as to say it's one of my favorite books of the summer, but I am definitely glad that I read it. (I have to mention that this book isn't a light or even easy read -- it definitely deals with some serious issues.) I think what I appreciated most about this book was how the author delved into the very complex relationship between Laura and her mother Helen. Ms. Griffin tackled some tough (and pretty uncomfortable) situations including dealing with an aging parent, loss, and grief as well as discovering some troubling family secrets. I became caught up in Laura's life and I actually found parts of this book almost difficult to process because they were so painful for the characters.

I enjoyed how Ms. Griffin told this story -- various chapters alternated between the present day and the past. Not only did I reading about the different time periods because there was some historical information included, but I also think this was a very effective way to tell this story. The flashbacks into Laura's mother's past actually made her more human to me. (I'm not sure I could have bonded with her without the personal insights.) I also liked how bits and pieces of the story (and especially the secrets) were revealed to the reader, and I really enjoyed how it all came together in a somewhat surprising ending.

I also appreciated how well Ms. Griffin developed the various characters, and I thought she did a good job of creating some very real characters. I enjoyed that the characters were complex, and that they had some pretty serious secrets -- it definitely made for some interesting reading. However, I can't say that I could really relate to the mother-daughter relationship in this novel. I think had I been able to relate a bit more to Laura's character, it might have escalated this book to the next level for me.

This is the first novel that I've read by Ms. Griffin; however, based on the reviews I've seen (and my enjoyment of this novel), I'm definitely anxious to read her prior novel LIFE WITHOUT SUMMER. I appreciated Ms. Griffin's writing style and character development, and I thought much of her prose was lovely. Since completing the book, I have learned that SEA ESCAPE was a very personal novel for Ms. Griffin. She was inspired to write this story after her mother experienced a stroke, and she found herself reading letters to her mother that were written by her father. In the Acknowledgments section, she admits that some details from her life found their way into this novel. As a reader I wasn't surprised to learn this. I definitely felt as if parts of this story seemed to be very heartfelt and honest.

I believe that SEA ESCAPE is ideal for book clubs like mine -- ones that just love women's fiction. I wasn't able to find formal discussion questions at this time, but I'm not sure that you would need them to discuss this novel. I have a feeling that that there is so much to talk about from the various characters to their secrets to their interactions with each other that most groups could talk for hours. Some of the central themes in this novel include mother/daughter relationships (obviously), family dynamics, romantic love, spirituality, aging, loss, grief, acceptance and forgiveness. There are also many issues that women in today's society have to face like balancing work and family time, taking care of elderly parents, figuring out the health care system, finding time for one's self, etc. It's a very powerful book that many women will relate to and want to share with others.

I was happy to learn that I am not alone in my appreciation of SEA ESCAPE. My go-to book resource Entertainment Weekly Magazine named it as one of the ten Must Read Books for the Summer and it was also an Indie Next List Notable Pick. I'm sure you've seen many great reviews around the blogosphere too!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for asking me to participate in this book tour. Make sure you check out Ms. Griffin's guest post as well as my giveaway for two of her books.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

How interesting that she got to read letters to her mother that were written by her father. I've always wished I could get better insights into my parents' relationship not filtered by the parent interpretation factor.

bermudaonion said...

I love books that explore the complex relationship between mothers and daughters - this sounds like a good one.

Alyce said...

I've seen this book around, but yours is the first review I've read of it. It does sound like a good women's fiction read.

Beth F said...

I plan to read Sea Escape this weekend!

Anonymous said...

I think you're right, this could be an excellent book for book clubs that enjoy delving into relationships. I'm glad you gave this one a shot even though it isn't a light beach read.

Serena said...

I've heard good things about this book...sounds like a good summer selection.

Meg @ write meg! said...

Griffin's character development was definitely spot-on! I really felt like I got to know Helen, Laura and even Joseph -- through all his flowery letters. It hurt to begin questioning how much of what he was saying was the truth... and how much a facade. But it made for some interesting thinking. Great review!