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Reel Life

Reel Life

4.5 4
by Jackie Townsend

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Sisters are meant to always be there for each other, or are they? In the glare of reality, clashing views and acts of betrayal can form unbridgeable gaps, and the fabric of sisterly love must be rewoven from whole cloth. Reel Life, the debut novel by Jackie Townsend, charts the story of two sisters who must call upon the past to forge a new and meaningful connection.


Sisters are meant to always be there for each other, or are they? In the glare of reality, clashing views and acts of betrayal can form unbridgeable gaps, and the fabric of sisterly love must be rewoven from whole cloth. Reel Life, the debut novel by Jackie Townsend, charts the story of two sisters who must call upon the past to forge a new and meaningful connection. With iconic moments of cinema as its driving narrative thread, this finely-wrought, absorbing work will cut straight to the heart, and reveal the intricate emotions that come together to form a family.

Exploring themes of motherhood, body image, ambition, and love, Reel Life offers a poignant close-up of the most intimate of relationships that move, confuse, haunt, and heal. Surging with drama interlaced with subtle irony, Reel Life will shock, surprise and move anyone who understands that sometimes, escaping reality offers the clearest path to emotional truth.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Two sisters travel a rocky path to self-fulfillment--watching some movies along the way--in this reflective debut novel. Betty and Jamie, red-haired siblings just a year apart in age, don't exactly share a sisterly bond. In an early scene, 9-year-old Betty wishes her younger sister "would pirouette right through the pane glass window." Seconds later, Jamie injures herself in a fall, and Betty lets her writhe in pain for several minutes before calling for help. It's an event that sets the tone for the sisters' future relationship--there's love between them, but it's tempered by misunderstandings, jealousy and failures to connect. A difficult home life doesn't make things easier: Their father is a frustrated actor turned therapist, their mother an ambitious career woman who leaves her husband for another man as her daughters enter adolescence. These formative experiences leave a deep impression, which is apparent as the sisters grow older and make decisions about motherhood, careers and romance. A complex relationship with their moody, troubled mom haunts them, and neither sibling can forgive her failings. Betty copes by overcompensating, embracing her maternal instinct (she has three children) and designing a line of baby clothes. Jamie's relationship to motherhood is more complicated. Cancer treatments appear to have left her infertile, and her husband is adamant he doesn't want children. The novel is episodic and shifts between the recent and more distant past. A different film provides the structure for each chapter to indicate both the era and the circumstances of the sisters' lives--Little Darlings during their teen years in the early 1980s, Breaking the Waves in the mid-'90s when Betty sacrifices her dreams to support her husband's career. Some of these references work better than others; readers may be more familiar with The Wizard of Oz or Hitchcock's Vertigo than the less-memorable 1998 film Primary Colors, and the summary of movie plots occasionally distracts from the larger story. From Betty's infidelity to a shocking revelation from Jamie's husband, the sisters have plenty of their own drama without heading to the movies. But they grow wiser as they age, a trajectory that expands the novel's emotional scope. A realistic, moving chronicle of the evolving relationship between sisters.
San Francisco Book Review - Alicia Latimer
“Surprising twists add to the drama, as infidelity and betrayal re-occur like a generational curse. But, that’s real life, and ultimately, REEL LIFE turns out to be interesting, just like in the movies.” – 4 out of 5 stars – San Francisco Book Review
Bellas Novellas - Ashley Lee
“This novel took me a while to finish," says Ashley at Bellas Novellas. "Not because it was slow or boring in the least, but the subtle nuancing of the story made me really want to take my time to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The characters were fascinating enigmas throughout and the tension between the sisters was palpable…REEL LIFE was a thoroughly compelling tale.”
Curled Up with a Good Book Blog - Leslie Raith
“Movie buffs, sisters, daughters, mothers, the grown children of sisters—all will hungrily ingest Jackie Townsend’s first novel, Reel Life," says Leslie Raith of Curled Up With A Good Book Blog

Product Details

Townsend Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.85(d)
Age Range:
3 Months

Meet the Author

Jackie Townsend, a native of Southern California, spends a lot of her time in places not her own. As the youngest of four children, she carries a strong sense of family with her to these places, often foreign, and writes about belonging (or not belonging), loss, and love. She lives in New York with her husband. "Reel Life" is her first book.
Read an excerpt of Jackie's upcoming novel, Hurray for the Bride and Groom!, at jackietownsend.com.

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Reel Life: Sisters are always there for each other... : A Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
s_gallegos More than 1 year ago
Being the oldest sibling of a brother and sister, I can relate a lot to this story. I think all of us with siblings can! Especially when you have a close relationship with them as I do. Although, yes over the years as we have gotten older the relationship has changed, we are all still very close. Because of the changes that have taken place due to "growing up", it is difficult to figure out what the other person is thinking or feeling at any given time. However the one bond we always share, even when we cannot relate to each other is the bond of family. This story really emphasizes this. These two sisters could not be any more different from each other and have lived two completely different life's but in the end they are still sisters. Besides this, the author does and amazing job at describing the places that the story takes these two sisters to from Thailand, California to Washington DC. I have never visited any of these places but felt like I was their with the wonderful descriptions she gave. She also does a unique idea in which you start off each chapter with what the sisters are doing in present day and then takes you back in time to what they did in the past to get them to where they are now. This is a great way of really giving you a full story from both the past and the present that helps you really connect to the characters. This was a good read!!
kim0712 More than 1 year ago
Reel Life, by Jackie Townsend, revolves around two sisters, Betty and Jamie who have traveled a rocky road towards finding who they are and what they mean to each other as sisters. Each chapter starts with present day, then lapses into a scenarios from their past that help explain the reasons they have made certain decisions in their lives and why they feel the way they do about each other. Jamie lives in Thailand with her husband and fought infertility and is unable to have a child. While at the same time, her sister Betty is carrying her fourth child and has never had a problem conceiving – which she sometimes “rubs in the face” of her sister. They grew up with a mother that was basically emotionally unavailable to either of them – so Betty tries her best to thrive as a mother and be the best one she can. Jamie, unable to have children, has thrown herself into her career, which causes struggles in her marriage. Each of them have a different idea of how they grew up and the roles their parents played in how they have evolved as people. Having 2 sisters of my own, I know the intricacies of jealousy between siblings, especially girls, but it is also a forgiving relationship. I found this book to be very honest, but at times, the line between present and past became a bit skewed. I really enjoyed the book, but it is not a light hearted read – it really makes you think about relationships. I especially loved how the author used incorporated movies into the plot of the book – hence the title of the book! I really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend!
National_Board_Certified More than 1 year ago
In Reel Life we get an inside look at the relationship between sisters from a dysfunctional family. The play-on-words in the title is a recurring theme throughout the book. Movies play a huge part of the sisters' way of coping with life. Although the sisters believe that they are distant and cold toward each other, the story would say otherwise. I felt that Betty and Jamie were in fact very close, sharing major life experiences and understanding each other at a depth beyond words. I loved the way that author Jackie Townsend incorporated movies from the 1970's and 1980's into the plot. This was one way that I was able to relate to the story. Sometimes the story droned on, but that seemed to be the nature of the characters rather than the writing style of the author. Overall, this was an enjoyable book. I received a copy of this book to review. The opinions are 100% mine.
Scout4 More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed it - read it!
GreenBear More than 1 year ago
Jackie Townsend's debut novel, Reel Life, a character study of sisters and family, is a riveting story that captures the relationship between two sisters over a period of 30 years, using film as an undercurrent to highlight the novel's themes and gracefully reinforce the sisters' journey over this intense period of their lives. It begins with the sisters, Jamie and Betty, aged eight and nine, watching "The Wizard of Oz" at home, on the color TV just purchased by their mother, and continues on, back and forth in time, until they reach their early forties and their already tenuous relationship is in serious jeopardy. Themes of fertility and motherhood, relationships between close siblings and how they grow to deal with a semi-dysfunctional family resonate in this novel, an engrossing story that kept me engaged through the end. The movie theme was something new, used in a manner that ties the journey together over the thirty or so years that span the novel. It was very unique, never having seen something like this before. Even if I hadn't seen some of the movies discussed in the book, I felt as if I had, and like Betty and Jamie, I'd found an escape in these films.
Trista More than 1 year ago
Reel Life is about a set of sisters who come from the same dysfunctional family unit. Lets be honest, if your family is not somewhat dysfunctional you do not have a real family! The sisters, Betty and Jamie, are and will continuously be butting heads. The one thing that draws them together is the movies. While some sisters are similar, these two were total opposites. Jamie is an architect who sadly is infertile. Betty on the other hand has many children and it seems at times rubs it in her sisters face. As most family does, when one needs help it is undeniable to offer it. Townsend captured what it was like for sisters, even ones who are literally across the world from one another.