From the bestselling author of Mrs. Poe and Twain’s End comes a “poignant, beautifully rendered story of two sisters who find the courage to reclaim their bond after years of misunderstandings and heartbreak” (Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author) during the Great Depression.
1934. Ruth has been single-handedly raising four young daughters and running her family’s Indiana farm for eight long years, ever since her husband, John, was infected by the infamous “sleeping sickness” devastating families across the country. If only she could trade places with her older sister, June: blonde and beautiful, married to a wealthy doctor, living in a mansion in St. Paul. And June has a coveted job, too, as one of “the Bettys,” the perky recipe developers who populate the famous Betty Crocker test kitchen. But these gilded trappings hide sorrows: she has borne no children. And the man she loves more than anything belongs to Ruth.
When the two sisters reluctantly reunite after a long estrangement, June’s bitterness about her sister’s betrayal sets into motion a confrontation that’s been years in the making. And their mother, Dorothy, who’s brought the two of them together, has her own dark secrets, which might blow up the fragile peace she hopes to restore between her daughters.
An emotional journey of redemption, inner strength, and the ties that bind families together, for better or worse, The Sisters of Summit Avenue is a moving and heartfelt tribute to mothers, daughters, and sisters everywhere.
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Lynn Cullen grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana and is the bestselling author of The Sisters of Summit Avenue, Twain’s End, and Mrs. Poe, which was named an NPR 2013 Great Read and an Indie Next List selection. She lives in Atlanta.
Read an Excerpt
The Sisters of Summit Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1934
June had been working for Betty Crocker for two of her thirty-two years. Yet each morning when she arrived at the Minneapolis Grain Exchange Building with its wheat sheaves carved around the door and its imposing wall of elevators, and she clicked across the cavernous green marble lobby in her chunky-heeled nurse’s shoes, her purse swinging on her arm above her gloves and the skirt of her white uniform swishing against her hosiery, she felt as if she were on the verge of discovery. Of what, she didn’t know. As she rode up in the elevator thick with the smell of brass polish, she imagined herself to be like the heavy brown cicada larvae that lumbered up the trunks of the trees of her Summit Avenue estate in St. Paul. Her body was swelling, her too-tight shell was splitting, and her wings were unfurling to fly her up to the treetops—or in her case, to the ninth floor—where she might sing, or soar . . . or fall down to the ground to buzz clumsily on her back.
None of the other women in the Betty Crocker test kitchen would guess her fear of failure; at least she hoped not. All twenty-one of them had an area of expertise. Karen from Hastings, Nebraska, was the go-to girl on naming foods; “Pigs in Blankets” were “Wiener Turnovers” until she came along. Carolyn of Angola, Indiana, was the Queen of Stretching a Dime, a handy skill when most people had so few of them these days. Eager little Darlene from Endeavor, Wisconsin, whose hunger for more than Bundt cakes was belied by her wholesome, well-scrubbed face, was their expert on pleasing men, proof that you should never judge a book by the cover.
June’s role around the Crocker kitchen was to be the Sophisticated One. The other girls called upon her to create menus for “smart luncheons” and “elegant suppers,” and to show how “distinguished social leaders” set their lovely tables in advertisements and cooking publications like last year’s Betty Crocker’s 101 Delicious Bisquick Creations as Made and Served by Well-Known Gracious Hostesses, Famous Chefs, Distinguished Epicures, and Smart Luminaries of Movieland. (Advertising’s title, not hers.) She was the Girl Friday to whom the others came when describing how to put on a proper plate luncheon, yachting party, or hunt club breakfast, activities the ad men imagined that Betty Crocker’s fans dreamed of.
While a campaign that featured the man-trapping properties of flour always played well, increasingly Advertising was turning its attention to the everyday housewife. Once they got her married, what did they imagine that the American Woman wanted? More, that’s what, of everything! She wanted, no, she deserved the High Life and all that came with it: furs and maids and Cadillacs, and most importantly, the burning envy of her peers. And once the ember of that desire was fanned and stoked into a raging fire of need, how might the American Woman attain it? How might your plain penny-squeezing Jane, at home frying cabbage for her unemployed husband and letting down the cuffs of her growing children’s coat sleeves, transform herself into the elegant, popular, tiara-wearing hostess portrayed in publications? By listening to that oracle of success (who happened to use a lot of flour) Betty Crocker—that’s how!
And so June had been hired. She was the only girl on staff without a home ec degree. Her husband had been her qualifier. Not only was Richard a prominent surgeon in town, but his family came from money. Buckets of it. No one at the company had asked her who her own family was when they’d hired her. They still hadn’t.
“Here we are, Betty!” The elevator operator, Mr. Gustafson, an elfin, elderly gentleman with a long upper lip and bright gray eyes, folded back the brass restraining gate with the same zeal that he’d shown since hiring on a few months ago—grateful to have employment in these difficult times, June assumed. He called all the women who worked in the Betty Crocker kitchen “Betty.”
He pulled the heavy lever to open the doors. “Go make someone happy!”
June replied to him as she did every day. “I will, Mr. Gustafson, I will.”
She stepped across a mat bristling with the word WELCOME. Even the floor was friendly in Betty Crocker’s world. A push through glass doors brought June into the Tasting Room, a yellow-papered space bright with stylish caramel-colored Early American tables and chairs, ruffled curtains, and the smell of warm spice cake, frying bacon, and Lysol. The girls were already at work. You had to get up early to get ahead in the Crocker kitchen.
At her cubby, June peeled off her gloves, purse, and hat, stashed them on the shelf, checked her mirror (small blemish by her nose—who knew that you still got pimples at her age?), and readjusted her trademark pearl choker. She was the only Crockette to wear such an expensive accessory. She would have rather left it at home out of respect to the others, most of whom were the only breadwinners in their families and wore the same plain white dress every day to work, but her bosses complimented her on the necklace and encouraged her to wear it. For now, it stayed.
She took out her binder, and then went through an additional set of glass doors to enter what appeared to be a cross between a scientific laboratory and an appliance store. To the left gleamed a white-enameled bank of the latest in electric refrigerators, ovens, and ranges, upon one of which the previously detected bacon sizzled. To the right, a dozen women in white, down to their shoes, tapped purposefully around the rows of white porcelain-topped tables, measuring concoctions, pouring mixtures into pans, or writing notes, even at this early hour. White sinks stood along the back wall, ready to sanitize.
But this was not your typical dull research facility. Pains had been taken to give the test kitchen the feel of a lady cook’s playground. Orange and navy plates marched across the cornice above the stoves. A tomato-red watering can and a copper teapot winked from the corner shelves. Blue checked curtains waved from windows open to the springtime breeze and a view of the nearby flour mill, atop which scrolling letters spelled out in lights: “Eventually.”
Eventually—Why Not Now? was the company’s original slogan. June supposed that “You’re going to want our flour sooner or later, so you might as well buy it now,” was probably not the most compelling argument to make a sale. But the forefathers had made a leap in figuring out how to net buyers in 1921, when one of them realized that a likable female character might sell goods better than even a catchy motto ever could. Hello, Betty Crocker!
June laid her notebook on one of the tables, then peered into the bowl that her neighbor, Darlene from Endeavor, hugged to her white lapels. Man-loving little Darlene, squeaky-clean, honey-blond, white-lashed, and every bit as energetic as you’d imagine someone from a town called Endeavor might be, was fresh out of the home economics department of the university in Madison. She wouldn’t last long. She’d gotten married last year and a baby would surely follow. They always did. Unless you were June.
“What are you making today?”
“Cheese and bacon waffles!” Darlene sang.
“Interesting. Do you put the bacon in the mix?”
“No, just the grated American, half a cup per recipe. I’m thinking I’ll lay cooked strips directly on the waffle iron, then ssssss—” Darlene acted out clamping a lid down on a waffle iron, sending a glop of batter from her spoon into her bowl. “—I’ll seal them in. I got the idea in a dream last night. I woke up Gary when I wrote it down. He was quite the grump—until I made it worth his while.”
When they glanced at one another, Darlene laughed. Wife humor.
She ironed the grin out of her voice. “What do you think of using cheese and bacon waffles on a breakfast menu for Clark Gable?”
June raised her chin as if she and Richard, too, were going wild under the covers, although anyone with a touch of class might consider it just a wee bit gauche to boast about it. “Hmm. Sounds promising. I’ll think about it. Thank you.”
It was genius.
And there was nothing happening in her and Richard’s bedroom for her to brag about these days, even if she’d wanted to.
Anyhow, she had her own new recipe for Let the Stars Show You How to Take a Trick a Day with Bisquick, the booklet they were currently developing. Until twenty seconds ago, she’d been pleased with it. She’d gotten it last evening while being walked by the dog, a rambunctious German shepherd named Stella that Richard had chosen and she took care of.
It had been a glorious evening in May, with the air full of the scent of new leaves and blooming lilacs, the kind of evening that makes one feel inexplicably hopeful. Stella had been yanking her past a ragged man shooting a slingshot at pigeons on a telephone line (dinner, apparently) and some youths tossing a football on the lawn of the college down the street. Suddenly the boys’ calls to one another got louder and their dives for the ball more exaggerated. They were looking in her direction. June responded to the college idiots as did the peahens to the peacocks shaking open their tail feathers in the Como Park Zoo: she ignored them.
She was studiously doing just that as Stella wrenched her arm from its socket, when a football skidded on the sidewalk in front of her. The dog lunged for it, nails scrabbling on cement.
A boy slicked back the blond lock that was flapping in rhythm with the wide legs of his flannel trousers as he trotted up—a rich kid, or at least his family had been, before The Crash. He grinned. “Hey, gorgeous, has anyone ever told you you’re beautiful?”
The knee-jerk burst of relief that came from hearing that as a matron of thirty-two, she had not yet totally lost “it,” evaporated. The heat of shame leaped up in its place, her fig leaf of status snatched away. Her Chicago-bought clothes, her Bes-Ben hat, her diamond ring were for naught. She was back to being a nobody, just a good-looking broad, unworthy of respect. How did he know?
Aware of the ragged man watching them as he stuffed a fallen bird into his gunny sack, she pried the ball from Stella’s mouth to make her escape. And then, even as the sweat of embarrassment sprang into the dress shields under her arms, it came to her: she could do a football-shaped chocolate cake for Take a Trick, playing up Clark Gable’s image as an athlete.
Already scheming how this might be achieved—she could cut the layers and reassemble them!—the milk chocolate frosting could be dappled to resemble leather!—she had absentmindedly heaved back the ball to the startled youth. Here, shake your tail feathers, sonny!
Now, as she smelled the bacon Darlene was cooking, she realized a cake that looked like a football would never excite men as much as something with bacon in it. Although she wouldn’t eat the stuff—she felt too sorry for the pigs—she knew that her bosses thought recipes with fatty meats, and any other foods that men particularly liked, sold flour well, even though women were the ones usually buying the product. Maybe if she used bacon as a seam on a football-shaped waffle . . .
She took a stool. As sophisticated as she and her pearls were supposed to be, she wasn’t the best at developing recipes, one of every girl’s duties on the job. They were expected to follow their products from the time the items were hatched in the research lab, through the famous Betty Crocker “Kitchen-testing,” then through market testing and on to promotion on Betty’s radio show and in publications. They all chipped in to answer Betty’s fan mail, too—four thousand letters on some days, nothing to sniff at. They spent a portion of each day doling out their expert advice on cooking, homemaking, and, often, men. (Those letters were handed to Darlene.) They signed their responses in Betty’s rounded, uniform, maybe a tad childish signature. One of the fellows in Advertising had chosen it.
The glass doors to the test kitchen crashed open. In barged a substantial woman, hair-netted, wire-spectacled, and sprigged-cotton-clad. A large patent leather purse hung from one fleshy arm and a picnic basket from the other.
“We’ve come to see Betty Crocker!”
The girls stopped in their work, alert as a herd of deer.
Advertising had been stepping up their encouragement of Betty Crocker’s radio fans to visit her in her kitchen in Minneapolis. June worried about the wisdom of this. The country was oozing with lonely, desperate, destitute women, women anxious for something to cling to with so many of their men cut adrift. Over the last four years, America had become a nation of hoboes and Hoovervilles, bank robbers and soup lines, home foreclosures and skyscraper leaps. In Minneapolis, men walked around the Gateway District with a stunned, sheepish expression on their faces. Jobless single women lived in the stacks in the libraries or in the train station, speaking to no one, as elusive as ghosts. Packs of children snuck into the comforting darkness of the movie shows, where Frankenstein and King Kong scared them less than their own sleepwalking parents.
Even the weather had gone haywire, breaking heat and drought records across the country. In some parts of the West, waves of jackrabbits, grasshoppers, and spiders had descended, all of them hungry for the crops that had already been lost. Millions of families courted disaster of some sort each day, and they were starved for relief and diversion. Betty Crocker gave it to them. Oh, sometimes Betty’s radio shows sounded trivial, with her finicky football players looking for wives, her infantile bachelor doctors, and her no-roll pie crusts. She spent entirely too much time showcasing the thoughts, desires, and recipes of movie stars. Who gave two figs what Bing Crosby ate for supper?
But often what Betty Crocker did was heroic. She was at her best when she cheered on everyday women, making them feel proud of holding their families together. She gave them the strength to dry their eyes on their aprons and get cooking for their paralyzed men and frightened kids, no matter what disaster was on their doorstep. She gave women hope. She gave them advice. She gave them cookies. She was America’s mother. June wished, fervently, that she were hers.
It was a shame that Betty didn’t exist.
At the visitor’s hip wavered her thin, younger version down to the same flowered print, as if Mama had been cranked through some sort of grinder that took off years and pounds. She ducked her head at the girls. “We don’t know if she’s here, Mother. She might be on the radio now.”
The mother’s small steel-edged teeth shone along with her glasses in the artificial light. “Can’t be. It’s not showtime.”
Over bowls and clipboards, the girls exchanged glances. Would she go easily or hard? You couldn’t tell by looking. Sometimes the sweetest old ladies fought like bobcats.
“Nonsense. She said to come visit her in her kitchen and here we are!” The mother lifted her arms, bashing her basket against a refrigerator. Out from under the lid popped the flop-eared head of a beagle pup.
Darlene from Endeavor went first. “Good morning!” She kept stirring as she approached the visitors. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we don’t allow animals in here. Health department orders.”
The dog dropped back inside the basket as if he understood.
“There was nobody at home to watch him.” The mother placed a protective hand over the basket lid. “We’ve come all the way from Topeka. At great expense.”
June eased to her feet, a green feeling rising in her throat. In her peripheral vision, she could see the other girls cautiously leaving their bowls and pans and cookie sheets. She picked up one of the boxes of tissues placed around the kitchen just for these occasions.
“We’d better go, Mother.”
“No, Enid. Betty and I are friends! We’ve exchanged letters. I’ve got them right here.” The mother released her purse clasp with clumsy gloved fingers. When it gaped open, carefully slit envelopes, a handkerchief, a coin purse, a box of Milk Duds, a hand-colored portrait of a young man, and a copy of Betty’s 15 Ways to a Man’s Heart tumbled out in a colorful shower. The little booklet fell open to a photo of Betty Crocker. “It’s easy to have ‘A WAY WITH MEN,’?” it crowed, “just try these recipes!”
The other girls were scooping up the items and stuffing them in the woman’s purse when June stepped up, smiling in spite of the nausea that always flared before a confrontation. “May I help you?”
The mother gasped. “You’re . . . Betty.” She grabbed June’s wrist. Her voice broke. “Betty! It’s me. Blanche from Topeka!”
“I’m so sorry, dear, but I’m not Betty.”
The mother thrust her face close, her gloved fingers digging into June’s wrist. “Look at those blue eyes, that sweet smile, that slim neck, just like in your pictures. Though you’re blonder than I thought.” She squinted at June’s hair. “Did you peroxide?”
June actually did somewhat resemble the painting of Betty used by Advertising, although it was just a coincidence. The forefathers had had Betty drawn up years before June was hired. “I’m afraid I’m not Betty Crocker, ma’am.”
“I guess you don’t really sound like her.” Reluctantly, the mother let go. “Then where is she?”
June swallowed back another green wave. Her head was starting to pound. Her whole life, conflict had undone her. She didn’t know why. You’d think that her life as a society wife would have eased her discomfort, but it hadn’t. If anything, it had made it worse.
“I am sorry to tell you this,” she said, “but there is no one, single Betty.”
“What? What do you mean? I don’t understand.” The mother looked from June to the other girls, forming a semicircle around her. “Who’s that on the radio, the friend of all the movie stars and society folk, the peach who’s always helping gals to land men? She’s got those nephews who have that terrible habit of gobbling up all her goodies, the rascals. You know—Betty!”
“I think you might mean Agnes White,” June said gently. “Agnes performs on the national show. That’s her lovely voice that you hear.”
“Agnes who? Are those her nephews?”
June massaged her pearl choker. “You also might be interested to learn about Marjorie Husted. She writes all our marvelous radio scripts.”
The mother shook her head. “So she’s the aunt of those boys?”
“Wait a minute.” The daughter’s face had gone tight. “We know that Betty has a lot of helpers testing out her recipes and such. She says so on the radio and in her letters. Is that who you are?”
“Yes!” exclaimed Karen from Nebraska, perhaps too quickly.
“Well,” said the daughter, “we didn’t come all this way to meet them.”
The mother opened her purse again and drew out the portrait. “Here’s my boy Alvin who I wrote Betty about.” She displayed the picture with the edges between her palms so as not to fingerprint it. “I know that Betty says she’s having too much fun baking cakes to marry, but she’s got to be lonely.” She shifted as if irritated by her girdle. “I promise you, my Alvin will make Miss Crocker a bang-up husband. He’s a wonderful son and he’s got good work—he’s a brakeman on the railroad. Tell Betty that! She might be interested.”
“Mother,” the daughter said grimly, “don’t you see? What they are saying is that there is no Betty. I think they made her up.”
Still holding up the portrait, the mother gazed around the circle. “Why would they lie?”
“You’re getting double your money’s worth with all of us!” Darlene exclaimed. “We are all Bettys.”
“No, you’re not.”
The charade was over. Time to cut their losses. June held out the box of tissues, the sight of which released the woman’s tears. It always did.
The daughter’s voice was thick. “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
June offered her a Kleenex, too, the pearls around her neck suddenly heavy. It was the third marriage proposal that Betty had received in the mail this week but the first delivered in person by a parent. She drew an exhausted breath. “They need water. Could somebody please bring these tired women a glass of water?”
She felt her way back to her stool and dropped down as the other Bettys helped the visitors.
Ten minutes later, mother and daughter were at a table in the tasting room, sipping water and eating Cheese and Bacon Waffles, a stack of autographed Betty publications next to their plates. Judy from Duluth, the most junior Betty, smiled and chatted with them as she signed another booklet in the slightly juvenile Crocker signature. Under the table, the beagle puppy lapped water from a china soup bowl that someone had produced.
Darlene settled next to June at their table in the test kitchen. “I’m all thumbs when we get caught, but you are so good at soothing people. How’d you ever learn that?”
The sleeves of June’s white dress swished as she crossed her arms. She drew in a breath, then let it out with a smile. “What other recipes do you have for Clark Gable?”
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Sisters of Summit Avenue includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book
Ruth has been single-handedly raising four young daughters and running her family’s Indiana farm for eight long years, ever since her husband, John, fell into a comatose state, infected by the infamous “sleeping sickness” devastating families across the country. If only she could trade places with her older sister, June, who is the envy of everyone she meets: blonde and beautiful, married to a wealthy doctor, living in a mansion in St. Paul. And June has a coveted job, too, as one of “the Bettys,” the perky recipe developers who populate General Mills’s famous Betty Crocker test kitchens. But these gilded trappings hide sorrows: she desperately wants children but can’t have them. And the man she used to love more than anything belongs to Ruth.
When the two sisters reluctantly reunite after a long estrangement, June’s bitterness about her sister’s betrayal sets into motion a confrontation that’s been years in the making. And their mother, Dorothy, who’s brought the two of them together, has her own dark secrets, which might blow up the fragile peace she hopes to restore between her daughters.
An emotional journey of redemption, inner strength, and the ties that bind families together, for better or worse, The Sisters of Summit Avenue is a heartfelt love letter to mothers, daughters, and sisters everywhere.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. The book begins with June’s story and her job in the Betty Crocker kitchens. What is your first impression of her? What do you think of the Betty Crocker persona and the act June and the other women put on?
2. Ruth has worked hard running the family farm since her husband John fell ill, but she is still anxious about her sister’s impending visit. They have a difficult past, but what do you think June is most worried about?
3. Dorothy acts as John’s primary caregiver. She is an extremely private and introverted woman, but as she cares for John, she tells him about her past. Why do you think she chose John to share her stories with?
4. June was an ambitious and proud teenager, but we hear only a few stories from that time. Chapter 9 tells the story of her experience as a window model. Why was this story important to tell? How did that experience shape June?
5. When June and Ruth reunite for the first time in almost a decade, tensions are high. How does each behave? Who acts more honestly?
6. John and Ruth’s daughter, Margaret, compares her father’s life to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Why does the comparison disturb Ruth so much? Is it compassion for John or her own guilt?
7. In a series of flashbacks, we learn that John was engaged to June before he married Ruth. Discuss how this happened. Do you think John would have married June if Ruth had not come to Chicago that night? What do you think of Ruth’s behavior?
8. Do you sympathize with one sister more than the other? Do your sympathies change over the course of the book, and if so, why?
9. It is no small miracle when John wakes up. How do Ruth, the children, and Dorothy each handle this development? What does John have to say about his time “asleep”?
10. As John and June dance in chapter 38, we glimpse more about their current relationship and his relationship with Ruth. Describe how he feels about each woman. Is it possible for him to love them both?
11. Ruth believes June has always been gifted anything she wants, while Ruth has to fight tooth and nail for everything. How has this belief affected their relationship and the course of their lives? How does it all come to a head in Chapter 39?
12. Dorothy had been waiting half her life for June’s father, Edward Lamb, to rescue them, but when he finally arrives, she rejects him. What has changed for Dorothy? Why has June never sought out her father and her inheritance? What do you think Ruth would have done if the roles were reversed?
13. We see June and Richard’s relationship at many different stages. What were they like when they first met? How did they treat each other after they had been married for several years? How has their relationship evolved over time?
14. We end with a small glimpse into the future, when both sisters are working for Betty Crocker and living on Summit Avenue. How do you think they were able to mend the rift between them? Discuss how their relationship with their mother has changed.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. There are three marriages represented throughout the book. Discuss how each is different from the others and how they are similar. Do you think one is a more accurate representation of marriage in the 1920s–1930s than the others? Is one a more modern approach? Are these relationships similar to any in your life?
2. Many people turned to Betty Crocker for advice in the 1900s. Imagine what it would have been like to work as a Betty, giving advice and creating recipes with a team of women. What recipes or advice would you share? Are there any recipes or advice you would not share?
3. Imagine you are one of the Summit Avenue sisters. How would you have handled the many unexpected twists and turns they face? Would you have done anything differently? Is there anything you would not change?
4. In the 1940s, Betty Crocker was named the second-most popular woman in America. (Eleanor Roosevelt was #1.) How did the advent of the radio, the first form of media that could instantaneously reach a nationwide audience, contribute to Betty Crocker’s popularity? In what other ways did the radio and advertising contribute to shaping what women wanted in the 1930s? In what ways does advertising contribute to what women want now?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
While I own another of Lynn Cullen's books, this was my first of hers to actually read. The premise behind the book is very interesting. Sibling rivalries, estranged mother-daughter relationships with deep dark secrets mixed all into one big Betty Crocker cake. I want to start off by saying I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would. I'm not saying it's bad, it just missed a few marks for me. The storyline is a good and solid one. The characters are well developed and very believable, even though a few are not very likeable. I really enjoyed the rivalry between June and Ruth. It's an example you could see in a million households between sisters. Cullen vividly paints a picture of the hardships and blessings between siblings and their parents. I really enjoyed reading about all the Betty Crockers. That's a piece of culinary history I didn't know very much about and it was fascinating learning how that whole conglomerate got started. Dorothy's heartbreak felt true to the core and given the time period of the book, very realistic. Throughout the book the author reveals secrets that I didn't expect at all. If you like what you're reading so far, then stop with my review and go get this book. It does have many positives. Here is where the story fell short for me. Overall, I had to force myself to sit down and read this book. It doesn't grab you from the get go or have a pace that holds your interest. It took far too long for me to read this book. There are aspects of the story the author draws way out to the point of frustration and yet other parts you need more explanation but are just given a line or two. For the most part I felt the writing was very choppy and just didn't flow smoothly. The ending was somewhat of a jumbled mess for me. Not that everything needs to be tied up pretty with a neat little bow, but it felt like a lot gets thrown at the reader to see what parts will stick. Overall it's a decent book but not a great one for me. My thanks to Lynn Cullen, the publisher and Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
In yet another book about sisterly rivalry, this one doesn’t stand out. It’s about two sisters, each wanting what the other has, and how that want, and the lack of communication, is destroying their lives. The writing became ponderous at times as the author stresses the rivalry between the sisters over and over, and brings the story to a crawl. The cast of characters were drawn well. The plotline was a tried and true one. The historical aspects of the book were well researched, from the many Betty Crockers to the devastating effects of the dust bowl to the effects of the Great Depression on every segment of American society. If you are a fan of sibling rivalry books, this just may be the book for you. Thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for an eARC.
This book is about two sisters and their mom who have each had a lot of hardships in their lives. Each woman has struggled in some way. I felt like some of the ending was too rushed. The book had a slow and steady pace and then piled a lot of history all at the end. I think it was meant to be a shocker, but it was a lot to take in all at once
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book was extremely hard for me to read. It jumps from one scenario to a completely different time with another scenario. I had a very hard time keeping track of what was what. I felt it could have been a great book if it were written in a different way.
The description of the book tells the basic background of the situation. This is an intertwined tale of two sisters, very different in personality, and their mother. It bounces around in time from 1922 to 1934 with a few other stops, just read the date at the beginning of each chapter. Each chapter is about each of the women and many times it's the same situation just seen through the others eyes. I found it interesting and made me keep reading to find out how it works out. The Great Depression is a character all on its own as affects each of their lives, the living conditions and travel. The child expert that Dorothy followed was real and I hate to think how many children his "expert" advice messed up, as was the sleeping sickness that no answer has ever been revealed why it happened. I liked the ending and the resolutions of each character. Thanks to NetGalley and Ms Cullen for the chance to read an ARC of this book.
I really wanted to like this, but I couldn't get into it, mainly because I didn't like any of the characters. They all seemed judgmental and pretty miserable. Some parts of the story just didn't add up smoothly. The ending was very rushed too. Apologies to Cullen! The plot idea was a good one.
This is a story about two sisters, Ruth and June, who, like many sisters love each other and are jealous of each other. What one has seems to be perfect and exactly what the other wants. This is also the story about their mother, Dorothy, who does her best to raise her daughters in the Midwest during the 1920s and 1930s. I enjoyed the history of Betty Crocker and the 'sleeping sickness' disease from this time period. It was down right scary what women were taught on how best to raise their children in books, especially the one by psychologist John B. Watson that warned parents of giving children too much love and affection in his book Psychological Care of Infant and Child, released in 1928, especially infants! The effect of adhering to this was devastating all around: "Never hug and kiss [children], never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning… Try it out. In a week's time you will find how easy it is to be perfectly objective with your child and at the same time kind. You will be utterly ashamed of the mawkish, sentimental way you have been handling it."
How can you be happy when you think you love another man more than you love your husband? How can you be content when your are jealous of what your sister has? The story of Dorothy and her two daughters, June and Ruth, may help us all look at our lives and be grateful for the blessings around us. Set in the 1920s & 1930s, the book goes back and forth between Dorothy's story, June and Ruth's growing up years, and their adult years. June loved John, but married Richard because he could give her the prestige she always wanted. Ruth always felt second rate compared to June. Ruth fell in love with John the first time she saw him. They married and lived on a farm and struggled to survive. John contracted "sleeping sickness" and for years he was bedfast only "awakening" occasionally to speak to her. Ruth had to keep their family together and the farm going. She envied June's lavish life style. June wanted children, and was jealous of Ruth because she and Richard were unable to conceive. When Richard, a doctor, gave John and injection that "awakened" him, everything shifted. Dorothy realized she loved her husband, William, more than she had realized when he was living, but it was not too late for her daughter to make changes. Did they? Read the book and find out.
2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 A strong opening with multiple story lines keeps the reader wondering. Mother Dorothy is ‘not much of a parent,’ and has secrets, as do her daughters who loved the same man. June, the ‘more fortunate’ sister (i.e. richer, married to doctor) works for Betty Crocker. Paragraphs telling her story have an edge, the sarcastic tone can get tiresome. ‘Poor Ruth’ is literally poor, on a farm, scraping by during the Depression. The tone describing her tends towards the self-pitying. “June topped her (Ruth) at everything. June had curly blond hair; Ruth’s was brown and straight. June had golden skin; Ruth’s skimmed-milk flesh was shot through with veins. June developed curves in her early teens’ Ruth was still waiting for hers at thirty…” You get the idea, but Cullen goes on. Cullen’s writing is solid, but not special. “Anxiety descended, squeezing her like a too-small coat.” “She could never control his heart. She could never make him not love June. …She could feel them now, perched behind her in the boat, nobly resisting their beautiful love for one another. Their yearning was so palpable she could reach back and wave her hand through it.” There’s more sappiness where that comes from. “Tension vibrated between the like a clothesline in the wind.” Dialog was stilted and didn’t flow easily. I did enjoy the historical aspects of the book and recognizing places and events in the Twin Cities, like Summit Avenue, Minnehaha Park, and Winter Carnival ice palaces. Betty Crocker and the flour mills were a familiar story to me. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an ARC of this inspiring book in exchange for an honest review.
I wanted to like this one so badly, but found myself skimming through the middle and trying to finish. I wasn't very into any of the main characters and didn't think the book flowed well.
Everyone’s family has its share of drama. It is always fun to read about someone else’s family drama. The Sisters of Summit Avenue is no exception. This is a story about a complicated blended family in the early twentieth century when blended families were not spoken of in polite society. Half-sisters June and Ruth cannot be more different, and this novel chronicles their relationship over several decades. Mixed with the family drama is the added bonus of some mystery along with some interesting historical tidbits. I had heard of the mysterious “sleeping sickness” (encephalitis lethargica) epidemic that affected nearly half a million people in the early to mid-1900’s. Reading about the disease as it affects the characters in this book was interesting and truly horrifying. Learning some of the characteristics of this disease made Ruth’s story even more dramatic. I also learned more about the history of Betty Crocker. I received a Betty Crocker Cookbook as a wedding gift about 40 years ago, but this is all I knew of the name or the company behind it. June’s job as one of many Bettys is a fun addition to the story. It is sad to read about how a bad decision and a series of actions made by a selfish and thoughtless young person can sour the relationship between two sisters who love each other. But this is often times how relationships are wrecked. I wish I could tell you that this decision and the actions following are forgiven and that the sisters are able to mend their relationship and live “happily ever after,” but this story is just not that easy. I like the ending of this novel, but it is a lot of work getting there. Maybe this work makes the story more real and believable. The wrap-up is a bit hasty, but it is not meant to overshadow the story of the sister’s relationship. The Sisters of Summit Avenue has a satisfying conclusion.
This is the story of two sisters, June and Ruth who are two totally different personalities. The story is told in a then and now fashion from several different points of view and spans a number of years. There are a number of characters to try to keep track of so it gets a little confusing at times especially in the then and now format. I did really enjoy this book and it kept me captivated until the end although it did leave me with some unanswered questions. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this really interesting book.
I was not a fan this book. I didn't find any of the characters very likable. It is a story of a mother and her daughters and the secrets they keep. Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this novel.
Two sisters who are very different follow different paths in life. Follow their lives to see where their choices lead them. I had a difficult time getting into this story. The author provides vivid descriptions and does help you feel you are experiencing the story along with the characters.
Sibling Rivalry in the Depression Era The sisters, Ruth and June, have very different lives. Ruth is struggling to raise her four daughters and keep the farm working while her husband, John, is incapacitated with sleeping sickness, a victim of the dread disease that has felled many people around the country. June is the golden girl, married to a wealthy doctor, she is also one of the Betty Crockers, women who work in the test kitchens and are the women behind the face of Betty Crocker. Ruth has always envied her older sister who she perceives as having everything, but she has one thing June wanted, her husband John. Now John is out of her reach and she feels lonely and rejected, but hasn’t her whole life been that way? She has no way of knowing how difficult June’s life is and how she still feels the loss of John. When their mother, Dorothy, brings them together at Ruth’s farm, the stage is set for confrontation and old secrets emerge. I found this book rather slow. It is a character driven story and for me, none of the characters was appealing. Ruth is angry and June, who appears to have everything, can’t seem to accept how lucky she is. I think the author did a good job describing how difficult life was for so many people during the depression. However, my favorite scenes were with the Betty Crockers. I found it fascinating how women were so drawn to them and the betrayal they suffered when they discovered the character was more than one woman. I received this book from Net Galley for this review.
The Sisters of Summit Avenue by Lynn Cullen Story of women growing up in the 1930's. Different choices of spouses and family situations. Liked hearing about Betty Crocker, learned some things I did not know. Book goes forward in time then back to when they were teens growing up. Lots of family secrets come to light and some of them left me with my mouth wide open, like hit with a ton of bricks. Didn't really care for the story but did like the words the author used and the detailed descriptions. Acknowledgements are listed at the end. Received this review copy from Gallery, Pocket Books Gallery Books via NetGalley and this is my honest opinion. #NetGalley
Lynn Cullen’s The Sisters of Summit Avenue is a story for those who like suspense-filled historical novels. Set in the 1920s and ‘30s, Dorothy is the daughter of a butler and housekeeper for the Lambs, who are not unlike the Granthams of Downton Abbey. She has two daughters, June and Ruth. They fiercely love one another, but the youngest, Ruth, sees June as her rival all the same. A great divide occurs between the sisters. The editor called this a “heartfelt tribute to mothers, daughters, and sisters everywhere.” What worked for me: 1. The author-reader contract started for me when I read Dorothy’s harrowing tale about escaping with her baby. She told her tale to Ruth’s husband, John, we learn later. He was speechless and motionless from contracting encephalitis lethargic, the sleeping sickness. I was drawn in by the heart-pounding start as she slipped away from somewhere sinister with the baby. She was met by William Dowdy in the rain that day and I was worried for her, not knowing if she would be caught. 2. The theatre of my mind also was triggered as a read about the 1920s and ‘30s, the time when my grandparents grew up. I had read the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and thought the author was tipping her hat to those two authors. 3. Having a sister, I could relate to the bond the sisters shared despite the fallen state of their personal lives. Since they were children, Ruth had seen her relationship to her sister as one of competition. But both sisters were protective of each other in their own ways. They knew their mother was “odd.” They just didn’t know what she had sacrificed. They didn't have the knowledge about her cruel beginnings to explain why she was so secretive and lived like a hermit. 4. I was on the hook to find out what Ruth had done to damage the relationship she had with her sister. I cared about these characters. I wanted to know what happened before both sisters were married, before Ruth became a mother and June became “Betty Crocker.” How did June meet Richard Whiteleather? All was revealed with a bittersweet/satisfying conclusion. Problem areas for me: 1. I was unclear what the emergency was that brought June to Ruth and John’s farm in Indiana-Michigan. Ruth’s animosity toward her sister was evident. Was it John’s illness? No. He’d been ill 8 years so far without June showing up at the farm. Did their father recently die? No. I had to go back to the beginning. Dorothy told June that Ruth wanted her there. She arranged the meeting, according to Richard who traveled with June. I think it would have been better to say Richard had some treatments in mind for John's sleeping sickness. I did expect Dorothy to tell her story to the sisters. 2. I took note of the times I felt like I was losing interest, bogged down in the time period, its people and scenes. In Part One, I wrote: “Some sentences have too much filler between subject and verb. Too much detail about June’s job with Betty Crocker and the ladies identified by first name, hometown.” I felt too much detail intruded on the storyline. I flipped forward to see where I was going next. 3. I like more of a linear approach if I’m to travel back in flashbacks. I think the story of the sisters and their beaus would have been easier to follow had it taken a step-by-step progression before returning to present-day 1934. Thank you to Lynn Cullen and Simon and Schuster for this uncorrected proof to read and review.