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Saints for All Occasions

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Family and bitterness.

This is a saga of an Irish-American family spanning for 50+years of life of two sisters, Nora and Theresa/Mother Cecilia and how they deal with the life they have been given. 
Nora, a mother of four. Theresa, a cloistered nun. And secrets and things untold and feelings never revealed. And family, duties, tradition and a little bit of faith. 

Firstly - the authoress has a way with words. It is mostly because of her talent that I have spent much of my reading time glued to the pages of this book, lost within the individual lives of Nora, Theresa/Mother Cecilia and Nora's children Patrick, John, Bridget and Brian. 
Yet - the novel is very inconsistent considering the plot. Also it is unclear what the authoress wants to portray the most - the family? The Irish-American life? The secrets? The Catholic Church? 
As for the family, she is very successfull. The family is portrayed with exactness of how the family members can hurt and heal each other, how the petty fights go much deeper than anything else life deals you with - and yet how the night of drinking together can bring real forgiveness. Yes, the characters of the younger generation are quite one-dimensional, yet as whole this family is an interesting lot and I can relate to them. 
As for the Irish-American life - she is also good, I have learned a lot about the specific Irish-American soul and sentiments. 
As for the Catholic Church - this is, more than anything, a very bitter countdown. Mostly with the Church males - all priests are portrayed simply as vile creatures. Nuns have better positions here - the traditional ones are evil, too, but the modern ones - that's another story, offering the fierce femaleness, ownership and pride. And I find it all lacking. I am a practicing Catholic and while I do not close down my eyes from all the wrongdoings od Church and its members, my experience differs - I have met much more of the good people in Church than the bad. The priests and nuns I have met might be human with their weaknesses, yet most of them are good people doing the good work with all their might. Also, there is the question of faith - and faith has a very small place in the novel. Church is more an institution of tradition (and breaking from it) here in the novel than the place of living faith, which it is in my experience. 
But I could live with the lacking portrayal of the Catholic Church would the novel be good, would it bring the emotional breakdown and freshness of finally having it all out, finally uniting over the secrets. Yet this is not the case. Because as for the secrets - this is where the novelist had let me down. The "big secret" is treated very poorly and the main climax of the novel never arrives. The book prepares us for the great cathartic moment - and then there is none. So why we have hundreds of pages aiming for it? 

The final conclusion - good writer, interesting setup, plots worth of exploring, very spot-on problems. And the lack of courage to really deal with it.
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I keep trying to get into J Courtney Sullivan, first with The Engagements which I muddled through and now with this one. I just find that the stories and characters don't grab me and keep me coming back, so I end up picking something else and leaving the work(s) aside for so long that I figure I might as well give up. I know these are good books, they are just not for me.
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This story is a sensitive portrayal of an Irish family, beginning with the main characters' journey from Ireland to the United States.  Two sisters begin the voyage, one with the sad intention of getting married upon arrival and the other sister hoping to make her mark in the New World.  Unfortunately, unforeseen mishaps and circumstances occur, causing ominous results.  The plot is a twist on a common theme yet handled so sensitively  and creatively that the reader feels they're experiencing the story for the first time.
Great read!
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This book was very good, the dynamics of the family were very interesting.
The strong personality of the Irish matriarch is truly a force to be reckoned with as we also learned in Ms. Sullivan's book Maine.
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Two sisters leave their homeland in Ireland.  When.  the arrive they are totally unprepared for what lies ahead.  A secret drives the two sisters apart - neither telling the other the problem.  One marries and has children who never are aware of the past, they only know the present so do not understand all the undercurrents that swirl around them.  The other sister eventually marries the church and becomes a cloistered nun.  It was hard to put the book down, I became immersed in the story.  Well-done.
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http://beachreads83.blogspot.com/2017/07/saints-for-all-occasions.html
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Saints for All Occasions is compelling, if sad reading.  It tells the stories of two Irish sisters, twenty-one year old Nora, and seventeen year old Theresa, who emigrate to America where Nora plans to marry a man from home that she does not love.  The family saga encompasses fifty years from beginning to end.  Nora marries her fiancé and her life becomes entwined with his Irish Catholic family who have settled in America, and Theresa, surprisingly becomes a nun.  The sisters part and do not see each other for decades until a funeral brings them back together.  Nora mothers four children whose lives have joys and sorrows also.  The novel kept my interest, but was full of angst and repression.  I did like the ending, however, which was powerful and full of hope.  Thank you Knopf and Netgalley for allowing me to review J. Courtney Sullivan's newest offering.
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I liked this, but it wasn't that memorable/original. I kept waiting for Nora to tell the truth and I'm a little disappointed that didn't happen, if at all, until after the events of the novel.
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A good family generational novel about two Irish sisters who come to America to seek a better life.  I enjoyed the details of the cloistered life and the convent.  The characters are well-developed and the plot keeps your interest.
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It was the 1950's when Nora and Theresa Flynn left their small village in Ireland to sail to America where they are greeted by the man that Nora is meant to marry.  For Nora and Theresa adjusting to life in America isn't easy, the culture, the pace, the people are all different.  Theresa - unaccustomed to the more advanced lifestyle finds herself pregnant at eighteen. Even in the fast-pace American lifestyle, this is a major problem and mortal sin.  Theresa agrees to turn baby Patrick over to Nora and Charlie to raise as their own, but the arrangement proves to be far more difficult for both Theresa and Nora than they ever dreamed.  Their relationship is the biggest casualty of Theresa's pregnancy and it completely splinters when Theresa joins the convent.   Fifty years go by and Patrick is tragically killed in a car accident.  Will this tragedy be what it takes to bring Nora and Theresa back together?

Saints for All Occasions is such a good book that spans fifty years of strained family dynamics.   I come from a long line of Irish-Americans there was so much that I could relate to in this book.   Nora is a tough woman, not real affectionate to her children, but she does what she has to do - even if it is raising her sister's baby as her own.  Theresa is also a strong woman, being able to give up her son and then commit her life to living as a cloistered nun. I have a second cousin who recently joined the convent (see, told you I could relate) and it was interesting to me hearing about life in the convent.  I could see where that life and devotion could be appealing.   The author moves the book around from the past and the present (2009) and the grief that Nora and family feels at the loss of Patrick is palpable and heartbreaking.   I wasn't sure how the story was going to end, but I was very pleased with the way it ended.  It was satisfying and it felt right.

Bottom line - Saints for All Occasions was one of those books that people are going to be talking about all summer.  The characters are rich and the story is intricate - so good!

Details:
Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
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Pages:352
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Publication Date: 5/9/2017
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I had a hard time getting into this story, but I'm so glad I stuck with it because I ended up loving it. Such a sweeping story of Irish immigrant sisters, their love, secrets, and sacrifice.
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Saints for All Occasions  a novel written by J. Courtney Sullivan and published on June 9 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group is a very complicated story between two Irish sisters, Nora and Theresa Flynn.
They live in the rural Irish countryside, and Nora starts a relationship with Charlie. She is 20, her sisters more little than her.

She is not incredibly involved by this love-story with Charlie and she is not completely happy of this choice but when Charlie goes to the USA in search of fortune and she promises her he will save money for her and Theresa, because it was indispensable to bring also the littlest sister with her to the USA, she is at least happy.

She receives various letters with updates of his American life. They live in Boston, they're happy because in their life entered the word dignity and modernity, with hot water and real warm houses.

At the end saved the money Nora and Theresa will afford to the USA. Boston is a frenetic city, Charlie, a complete stranger to Nora according to her most profound feelings. Charlie doesn't understand her feelings and her discomfort. He will introduce at the two of them his friends and people he met along his way.
If Nora remains a melancholic and at the same time solid soul, at the end appreciating Boston and the USA and giving up at the idea of returning to Ireland (a dream cultivated by Charlie for all his life, because he missed his old land, it's a common sentiment this one for emigrants) Theresa is a bubbling character. She loves to go out, she loves to meeting her girlfriends and she also meet a man, Walter, pretty interesting and with which she has some sexual intercourse.
She doesn't know that Walter is married.

We are in the 1950s when this story starts and of course a pregnancy a big shame for a Catholic family. Theresa doesn't imagine... She is sunny, she wants to live her life, she is happy and cheerful, but one day a friend of her ask her if maybe she is pregnant. What to do?

Nuns and a monastery where kept segregated Theresa and where later
she would have given away the baby the best choice according to the family when they discover that dear Walter is a happy husband in search for some ingenuous company.

Nora still uncertain about Charlie, because she doesn't love him a lot although she is affectionate to him decides to marry him. She does it just for Theresa and her baby. For keeping Theresa's son with them and for growing up this baby as if she would have been their own baby. The nuns accept this unusual request. After all Theresa could see Patrick all the time and growing up with them Patrick in the while.

Theresa although Nora keep Patrick in the family and at first help her, can't do it and she run away. Again. A friend suggest her to spend some time in a convent and well, Theresa decides that maybe this one is the best choice for her. It's a revolution.
Not from bubbling Theresa, the life-lover. Not from her. She becomes sister Cecilia, buried in a convent and for 50 years just sporadic visit at the family with cold conversations.

The book develop the entire plot of events past and present, starting with the unexpected and tragic departure of Patrick dead in a car accident in 2009 and the organization of the funeral with the arrival of friends, relatives.

Theresa's son is dead and  thoughts, feelings, impressions of the two sisters will be the strongest part of this book like also a vivid complete wonderful reconstruction of Ireland during the 1950s and social situation of the family during the various decades in Boston like also the life of the various children and Nora and Theresa's friends.

The structure chosen by the author is the one of stream of consciousness but it makes more than a sense because when we attend a funeral, or a wedding or another important event our mind is frequently transported in a dimension of past and lost occasions, memories and events we shared with our family and we do indulge to examining more than in other part of our existence our life under many perspectives. It's after all  what the two protagonists will do in this book.

Theresa think that maybe Patrick the turbulent son she has had never found a dimension in Nora's family because he felt that he was different. He was part of another mom.
Maybe that's why he developed this rebellion, he had a lot of girls and lived a wild life.
Or simply: he was very similar to his mom but he didn't become a friar choosing differently to enjoying life.

At the same time Nora can't forgive the egoism of the sister and the  sacrifice she did just for her and Patrick fruit of joy and love, because maybe this sister missed a word that to her was important: gratitude. She escaped, she refused responsibilities.
Nora grew up Patrick and Patrick was surely her son although not his biological son.

In the while we will also discover the life of the rest of Nora's family. Pretty complicated.
With Charlie, her husband she has had other three children: John, Bridget, and Brian.

Catholic family, Theresa was fixated with the cards of the saints that they had in their house in Ireland and a book called: Saints for all Occasions.
You discovered the meaning of the title of this book :-)

When her children were little Nora didn't permit to any of them to touch these cards. For every problems there was a specific saints, for every sin there was a saint. And still there is with her new cards.

Will there be also a saint adapted for forgiving, putting the past, in particularly the remote one behind for these two sisters and for a new beginning after a life spent apart?

This book let us reflect about secrets and the danger they cause in families. Theresa after all buried herself and her bubbling character in a convent, not forgetting but also avoiding responsibilities and the joys of seeing her own child growing up with her sister and with the possible chance of telling him the truth once adult because of course a child out of a wedding didn't preclude to her the construction of a family. No one knew anything of her past "sin.".  Praying for other families and children and moms  wonderful but Theresa unable to be a real mother as Nora has been for Patrick. She didn't keep in touch, she didn't think that her son became the man who was in that coffin. She wouldn't never recognized him if she would have met him along a street.

Sure Theresa didn't want to "expect" any baby and didn't search for that baby and so maybe she didn't feel her as a mom. She lived this experience of maternity as a stranger. The baby unwanted, surely not wanted as she wanted Walter, so badly.
She loved the idea of Walter, her big love but Walter couldn't be his man.
Who knows? Maybe if Walter wasn't occupied but free, if Theresa matured much more in his company  they would have become a couple and she would have had a lot of children from him. All wonderfully opened as she was.
But Theresa deluded by life, men and sufferance and she decided to choose a drastic different path, she decided to choose for peace. She was not completely understood by her entire family in Ireland and Boston. A situation accepted with resignation and anger at the end. In Ireland in general  it's an honor to have a priest, a friar or a nun as a relative, but maybe they thought that this mission wasn't for Theresa the proper one. Because of her character.

Nora is different from her sister: she loves to give love and she is not scared of starting the adventure with Patrick, telling to everyone that she is pregnant. Growing up the very beloved son of her sister  not a problem.
It's just a word: love.
The love of a mom, the love of a woman who can't permit to give in adoption the baby of her sister because he is part of them. Just, part of them all.

I thank NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for this book.
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Not as good as Maine but a great family novel full of quiet secrets. The back and forth in time isn't typical of Sullivan (that I know of) but she mixed it in well. I loved the characters and how Nora explained her feelings, especially about going back to Ireland.
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Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan is one of my favorite books of 2017.  I loved getting to know the large Irish family that is portrayed so brilliantly well in this story.  Nora and Theresa travel from their home in Ireland to Boston, Massachusetts where Nora is going to be marrying her boyfriend.  Before the marriage can take place Theresa gets into a situation that Nora feels she needs to rectify.  This decision of Nora's will transform the relationship that the two sisters have had up to this point.  The story is told in alternating sections between the near present and the mid-1900s.  Get to know the whole clan and hopefully you will come to love them as much as I did.  Read and enjoy!
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I loved all of this! Loved the story, loved the characters. Didn't want it to end. I would have liked a little more from the conclusion only because I grew attached to the characters and wanted more! Don't leave me hanging like that! But overall I really enjoyed this. I loved Commencement and this was just as good! Thank you for the opportunity to read and review this in advance! I've already recommended it to friends.
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Sullivan's strong writing pulled me into this story of two sisters, four raised as siblings, and faith and loyalty pulled me in from the start.  I thought it was going to be one of those rare literary "can't put down" novels. And it was for a while.  Unfortunately, the author  seemed to tire as the book changed from one of strong character study plus story to one that strained to tie almost everything up too neatly.  I think this is one of those unusual cases in which more would have been better, particularly to develop further John, Julia, and Maeve, individually and as a family unit, and Brian.  I've come to expect near-perfection from Sullivan and while disappointed that Saints for All Occasions doesn't quite reach that standard, I look forward to reading her next offering.
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This book was a great family saga to get buried in over the weekend, and the fact that it was about an Irish family made it perfect for St. Patrick's Day!!

Saints for All Occasions (both a literal and figurative reference) covers the lives of two sisters who came to America in the 1950's. The story is told during that time frame, the 1970's, and the present. While there are many Catholic references, one can still enjoy the story without following that religion.

This family pulls out all the stops in being dysfunctional, there is definitely no "fun" there. However, choices, sacrifice, and guilt figure into the story quite well and like in many ethnic families, a few surprises thrown in for good measure.

I have read a couple of other books by J. Courtney Sullivan and was very happy to see this title. She certainly did not disappoint once again.
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Nora and Theresa leave Ireland to come to Boston so Nora can marry Charlie.  The story weaves between the account of their establishing themselves in Boston, and Nora's present day family of three sons and a daughter.  Family secrets, complicated sibling relationships and overcoming mistakes make this an appealing book.  I highly recommend, as this is Sullivan's best novel yet.
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"Saints for All Occasions" hit me at just the right time, right when I was very eager for a nice, juicy novel, and this is it. I gobbled it down with great pleasure, which makes it a five star event in my book. The characters are all believable and full, and the story keeps you glued to the page. Once you've read this, you will be ready for another Irish-Catholic saga, so go looking for "Ashes of Fiery Weather," another rich and enjoyable Irish immigrant novel. Lovely reading.
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