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#146 ~ Serendipity

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Serendipity by Louise Shaffer

I normally try to write and publish my reviews in the order in which I have read the books.  In this case, I’m making an exception.  I have been somewhat in a reading lull – reading casually, not voraciously like normal.  Serendipity changed that.  Once I got into this novel, I didn’t want to put it down.  When I finished it, I almost immediately wanted to pick up my next novel at quarter to one in the morning.  It is now quarter after 1 and I had to start this review.  Needless to say, this novel was an energizing read for me.

Serendipity tells the story of four generations of Italian women, each one of them disenchanted with their lives and distant from their mothers.  The novel begins with Carrie Manning, the daughter of Rose Manning, a NYC icon renowned for her philanthropy.  Rose has just passed away, but her presence is no less present.  Carrie can’t bare to let Rose down in death any more than she could in life. Rose was all about her charity work, living in a cramped 5th floor walk up apartment in a questionable neighborhood so that the fortune and royalties left by Bobby Manning could go into the homeless shelter run by the local archdiocese. Carrie grew up feeling like a fraud. She wanted more for her own life than giving it and all potential luxuries up because she was more blessed than other children.  It’s not that Carrie was entirely selfish.  What she really want is what Rose could have given her for free – her smile, her warmth, a desire to be close to her. Instead, Carrie had to go to strangers to put the pieces of her mother’s life together along with those of her grandmother Lu and great-grandmother Mifalda.

What made this novel was the women.  They were all charming in their flaws.  There were so very human.  There was a scene, a thought, or a feeling associated with each of these women that felt just a little (sometimes a little too much) like me. This was especially true with Carrie. I know very well what it is like to grow up with a good Catholic mother when you are not a good girl (and neither Carrie nor I are that bad really). My mother is a wonderful, loving woman. I am blessed to call her Mom.  She is in my eyes the stereotypical good Catholic girl.  I’ve always tried to get some dirt on her from her siblings and close friends.  Those dust bunnies are pretty darn microscopic. The most I ever got was that she and a friend used to argue over who had the meanest mother.  This gives me nothing to work with.  I am a pleaser by nature and she is the last person in the world I want to disappoint.  I am 37 and live 700 miles away, but that doesn’t matter. I didn’t need a Broadway background to understand how Carrie internalized and magnified her own faults when they were held up against her selfless and seemingly perfect mother.

I truly enjoyed Serendipity.  I enjoyed the way that Carrie’s visits with those who knew and loved her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were intertwined with Mifalda, Lu, and Rose’s stories. Despite the fact that those telling Carrie these stories could not have known the private details and inner thoughts of those women, it didn’t bother me in the least that the story was told in this way. It was almost as if that woman was reaching out to the reader to explain what was never shared between mother and daughter. The ending brought a tear to my eye and made me glad to be both a mother and a daughter. Louise Shaffer weaved an interesting history through the relationships of three mothers and four daughters. While Serendipity may not change the world, it kept me up until nearly 2am to finish the review. That puts it in a category all to itself.

++++++

I snagged this novel after requesting it through LibraryThings’ Early Reviewers program, so I’m adding it to my Just for the Love of It Reading Challenge.

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10 Comments

  • At 2009.03.10 05:27, Meghan said:

    Ooh, can’t wait to read this one! I won it on LT but it just missed me in January and I’ve had to wait.

    Meghan’s last blog post..Review: Heir to Sevenwaters, Juliet Marillier

    • At 2009.03.10 05:35, Sandy said:

      Well, you can’t be TOO good or you won’t have any fun! The fact that you are up in the middle of the night because you have to tell us about the book says quite a lot. I would probably relate to the characters too. I am a pleaser, with a mom that isn’t always an easy sell (at least she wasn’t when I was younger…grandkids changed that a bit!)

      Sandy’s last blog post..I’m feeling the love!

      • At 2009.03.10 08:44, Kathy said:

        This book sound just wonderful. I love books with strong women and families. I’m 50 and there are still things I wouldn’t do because I wouldn’t want to disappoint my parents.

        Kathy’s last blog post..Tuesday Thingers and a Picture of Milou

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        • At 2009.03.10 10:32, Jen - Devourer of Books said:

          Wow, that’s pretty impressive how much impact this book had on you. I may have to check it out…

          Jen – Devourer of Books’s last blog post..Feed Readers and Me

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          • At 2009.03.10 10:48, Sheri said:

            Great review! I really enjoyed reading all that you had to say about it. I’ll have to put it on my list!

            Sheri’s last blog post..Book Review: This One is Mine

            • At 2009.03.10 11:51, Darlene said:

              Great review! I’d really like to read this one especially after that glowing review. Any novels having to do with women’s friendships, etc are always interesting to me.

              Darlene’s last blog post..Mailbox Monday (March 9)

              • At 2009.03.10 16:07, Florinda said:

                I’m reading this one via e-mail this week through the DearReader.com E-mail Book Club, and I’ve enjoyed the taste I’ve gotten so far. Your review will officially move the book to my wish list, though – thanks!

                Florinda’s last blog post..Booking Through Thursday on Monday: Behind the music (and lyrics)

                I’ve never heard of the DearReader.com sight. How fun is that? I have never before felt that compelled to write about a novel before. I don’t think you’ll regret it, Florinda.

                • At 2009.03.11 12:44, Alyce said:

                  I’m just dropping by to let you know that I’ve given you an award! http://athomewithbooks.blogspot.com/2009/03/awards-roundup.html

                  Alyce’s last blog post..Awards Roundup

                  • [...] the book and blogging front, I did actually write two reviews :  Serendipity by Louise Shaffer, a review that virtually forced itself out of me in the middle of the night.  I [...]

                    • At 2009.07.26 11:09, Beth Conners said:

                      I picked up Serendipity at the airport last week while waiting for my flight and love it! I’m almost done with it, but just wanted to say that I had all the same feelings that you did while reading it. What a great book – esp. if you share the background of the characters.

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