February 1, 2013

Book Tour: The Second Daughter by J. Jeffrey

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Theodore’s support was essential those first weeks. And thus one would so dearly like to say—and Theodore did imagine himself saying to his one-day future biographer—that by means of his heroic support they were able to reach that happy ending; that after the trials and tribulations the new baby was finally to figure out what to do with her mother’s breasts, that those breasts were finally to figure out what to do with the new baby, and that they were all to start building their new life as a truly complete family of four auspiciously approaching the Age of Aquarius.
 Alas, that was not to be.
-from The Second Daughter by J. Jeffrey
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Publisher's Synopsis:
           You try turning out all right after you overhear your mother wishing you hadn’t been born.
            It had started out well. Umbrellas tangled. A storybook romance followed. A wonderful wedding. A beautiful, sweet first daughter. They were complete, a family, happy.
            And then they went and had another daughter.
            Her charming and witty father Theodore starts disappearing, then worse, starts coming back. Her once allegedly sweet older sister Regina angrily resents her, and the sisters are at constant war. Her mother Helen is so busy what-iffing about the life she might have had that she overlooks the life she is actually having. Everyone blames Debra for pretty much everything as the family slowly, then quickly, then one day explosively disintegrates. Along the way there are secrets and lies, heartbreaks and betrayals, plus the dramatic unexpected death of a central character at a pivotal moment. The now young woman finds herself living awkwardly alone with her embittered mother when the phone rings—and her mother’s secret past suddenly crashes back into the present.
            Their life may be about to change forever; or rather, perhaps, revert back to what it should have been all along.
            But not exactly because of that phone call, as it turns out.
            Because of the remarkable second daughter. For what Debra Gale has is unyielding determination. What she has is an irrepressible capacity to love. 
            And now at last what she has is a chance.
            The complex dynamics of a changing family. Mother, daughters, sisters, and the father who both divides and unifies them. That dramatic unexpected death, plus more than the ordinary amount of banana cream pie. Welcome to The Second Daughter: a funny but poignant, unusual but beautiful love story.

Review: The subject of "family" is so vast and complex, it gives authors endless material to explore and weave into stories for readers to consume. Large personalities alone are sufficient subjects for great novels; but when an author is able to examine the intricacies of familial relationships and uncover the layers of emotions coexisting on tipping scales between a cast of characters, that is where I am most impressed, intrigued and enriched as a reader. Furthermore, when a novel about family is well executed, all of the characters exhibit large enough personalities to entertain and carry a story because of their transparency and vulnerability as illustrated through their family experience. J. Jeffrey's novel The Second Daughter is a wonderful example of such a novel.

As with most novels about family, it's not big twists and turns that make them impressive, it's the attention to detail the author pays to the nuances and emotions that make up each character's individual experience. In The Second Daughter, every character (major and minor) exhibit large personalities because of the nuances Jeffrey develops through their experiences with each other. Parents Helen and Theodore jump off the page as a real couple because readers experience the simple, relatable details of their courtship and their relationship offers a transparent view into their individual psyches. The separate defining experiences of sisters Regina and Debra are stunning in their simplicity and capable of making the reader feel rage and sadness within a single page. Stories of sibling rivalry are some of the oldest ever told, but Jeffrey rejuvenates this novel with his layers of perfectly placed details, ideas, emotions and effects of another character's actions. At the end of the story you not only see how vividly the Gale family is painted, but you feel their experience.

While this novel is everything described in the above synopsis, it is also so much more. I feel that The Second Daughter can be broken into two parts: before Debra finds her place in her family and after. Without spoiling too much of the story, I was most entertained by Theodore, the father. I can't say he was my "favorite" character because almost everything he did made me angry and boiled my blood (In fact, the phrase, "He boils my blood!!" appears more than once in my reading notes). But it was because Theodore elicited so many emotions from me as a reader that caused me appreciate him so much as a character. Aside from him literally being the largest personality in the book, his ability to convince himself of his own self righteousness was as fascinating as it was appalling. (I must note, Theodore reminds me so much of my own father that I may have somewhat of a bias when relating to him.)

My favorite part of the book is when Helen tells her young daughter Debra, regarding bringing home animals, "You are not capable of caring for them. Loving something is not the same as taking care of it" (87). This is one of my favorite examples of Jeffrey's skill as a writer because Helen shows a lack of love for Debra. In contrast to Debra and her animals, Helen shows an incapacity to love her daughter and caring for her is not the same as loving her. I think it's a much more understandable point made if you read the novel, but it was too beautiful of a line in the story to omit in this review. ;)

What pushed this novel from a 4 star to a 5 star for me was the Postscript by the author. While I can't explain why it made the book so much more enjoyable for me without spoiling the book altogether, I can say that this book is definitely worth reading!

Bottom Line: If you love books about family dynamics and psychology of personality in relation to family, I think you will truly love this one! Even if you don't ordinarily care for family themed novels, this is a great story overall! 5/5 stars

About the Author:
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J. Jeffrey stands about six foot three and likes poetry. He has been known to climb the occasional mountain and tame the occasional lion. He sings opera as an amateur but is trained as a masseur, and he is extremely partial to his wife’s green tea perfume. He drinks too much coffee, and gets lost a lot. Two words: Florence, Italy. Pastry for breakfast, over the crossword puzzle, preferably after noon. Soup for lunch, preferably late afternoon, over another puzzle (the first having been solved). His favorite drink (after coffee) is red wine. He knows a word or two but will not play scrabble. Regrettably, he believes he might be happy if only you would think him as funny as he thinks he is. But most importantly, he is not to be trusted. He writes biographies full of lies, or are they novels full of truths? Such a fine line.

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