Cathy Lamb, the acclaimed author of Julia's Chocolates and The Last Time I Was Me, delivers her most heartwarming novel to date as three sisters reunite during a family crisis.
Ever since the Bommarito sisters were little girls, their mother, River, has written them a letter on pink paper when she has something especially important to impart. And this time, the message is urgent and impossible to ignore--River requires open-heart surgery, and Isabelle and her sisters are needed at home to run the family bakery and take care of their brother and ailing grandmother.
Isabelle has worked hard to leave Trillium River, Oregon, behind as she travels the globe taking award-winning photographs. It's not that Isabelle hates her family. On the contrary, she and her sisters Cecilia, an outspoken kindergarten teacher, and Janie, a bestselling author, share a deep, loving bond. And all of them adore their brother, Henry, whose disabilities haven't stopped him from helping out at the bakery and bringing good cheer to everyone in town.
But going home again has a way of forcing open the secrets and hurts that the Bommaritos would rather keep tightly closed--Isabelle's fleeting and too-frequent relationships, Janie's obsessive compulsive disorder, and Cecilia's self-destructive streak and grief over her husband's death. Working together to look after Henry and save their flagging bakery, Isabelle and her sisters begin to find answers to questions they never knew existed, unexpected ways to salve the wounds of their childhoods, and the courage to grasp surprising new chances at happiness.
Poignant, funny, and as irresistible as one of the Bommarito sisters' delicious giant cupcakes, Henry's Sisters is a novel about family and forgiveness, about mothers and daughters, and about gaining the wisdom to look ahead while still holding tight to everything that matters most.
The Last Time I Was Me
"Charming." --Publishers Weekly
"Julia's Chocolates is wise, tender, and very funny. In Julia Bennett, Cathy Lamb has created a deeply wonderful character, brave and true. I loved this beguiling novel about love, friendship and the enchantment of really good chocolate." --Luanne Rice, New York Times bestselling author
"In Julia's Chocolates, Cathy Lamb has created a passel of characters so weirdly wonderful that you want to hang out with them all day just to see what they'll do next. It's a ride that's both hilarious and poignant, and all the while you cling to the edge of the pickup truck because you'll want to make sure you stay in for the whole trip." --Amy Wallen, author of Moonpies and Movie Stars
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July 28, 2009
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Excerpt from Henry's Sisters by Cathy Lamb
I would have to light my bra on fire. And my thong. It is unfortunate that I feel compelled to do this, because I am particular about my bras and underwear. I spent most of my childhood in near poverty, wearing scraggly underwear and fraying bras held together with safety pins or paper clips, so now I insist on wearing only the truly elegant stuff.
"Burn, bra, burn," I whispered, as the golden lights of morning illuminated me to myself. "Burn, thong, burn."
I studied the man sprawled next to me under my white sheets and white comforter, amidst my white pillows. He was muscled, tanned, had a thick head of longish black hair, and needed a shave.
He had been quite kind.
I would use the lighter with the red handle!
I envisioned the flame crawling its way over each cup like a fire-serpent, crinkling my thong and turning the crotch black and crusty.
I stretched, pushed my skinny brown braids out of my face, fumbled under the bed, and found my bottle of Kahl�a.
I swigged a few swallows as rain splattered on the windows, then walked naked across the wood floor of my loft to peer out. The other boxy buildings and sleek skyscrapers here in downtown Portland were blurry, wet messes of steel and glass.
I have been told that the people in the corporate building across the way can see me when I open my window and lean out, and that this causes a tremendous ruckus when I'm nude, but I can't bring myself to give a rip. It's my window, my air, my insanity. My nudeness.
Besides, after that pink letter arrived yesterday, I needed to breathe. It made me think of my past, which I wanted to avoid, and it made me think of my future, which I also wanted to avoid.
I opened the window, leaned way out, and closed my eyes as the rain twisted through my braids, trickling down in tiny rivulets over the beads at the ends, then my shoulders and boobs.
"Naked I am," I informed myself. "Naked and partly semi-sane."
I did not want to do what that letter told me to do.
No, it was not possible.
I stretched my arms way out as if I were hugging the rain, the Kahl�a bottle dangling, and studied myself. I had an upright rack, a skinny waist, and a belly button ring. Drops teetered off my nipples one by one, pure and clear and cold. I said aloud, "I have cold nipples. Cold nips."
When I was drenched, I smiled and waved with both hands, hoping the busy buzzing boring worker bees in the office buildings were getting their kicks and jollies. They needed kicks and jollies.
"Your minds are dying! Your souls are decaying! Get out of there!" I brought the Kahl�a bottle to my mouth, then shouted, "Free yourself! Free yourself!"
Satisfied with this morning's creative rant, I padded to my kitchen and ran a hand across the black granite slab of my counter, then crawled on it and laid down flat like a naked human pan cake, my body slick with rainwater, my feet drooping over the edge.
I stared at the pink letter propped up on the backsplash. I could smell her flowery, lemony perfume on it. It smelled like suffocation.
No screaming, I told myself. No screaming.
Suddenly I could feel Cecilia in my head. I closed my eyes. I felt abject despair. I felt fear. I felt bone-cracking exhaustion.
The phone rang, knocking the breath clean out of my lungs.
It was Cecilia. I knew it.
This type of thing happened between us so much we could be featured on some freak show about twins. A week ago I called her when I heard her crying in my brain. I couldn't even think she was so noisy. When I reached her, sure enough, she was hiding in a closet and bawling her eyes out. "Quiet down," I'd told her.
"Shut up, Isabelle," she'd sputtered. "Shut up."
We are fraternal twins and our mind-twisting psychic link started young. When we were three, Cecilia was attacked by a dog. He went straight for her throat. She was in our front yard, I was at the grocery store with Momma. At the exact same time she was bitten, I started shrieking and clutched my neck, which felt as if it had been stabbed. I fell to the ground and frantically kicked the air before I passed out. Momma later told me she thought the devil had attacked my very soul.
Another example: Two years ago, when I was working in some squalid village in India, teeming with the poorest of the poor, my stomach started to burn and swell. I had to ride back to the city in a cart with chickens. Cecilia needed an emergency appendectomy.
One more bizarre example: When I was photographing the American bombing of Baghdad, I dove behind a concrete barrier as bullets whizzed by. One grazed my leg. Cecilia's message on my cell phone was hysterical. She thought I'd died, because she couldn't move her leg.
It's odd. It's scary. It's the truth.
I covered my face with my hands. I did not answer the phone, waiting until the answering machine clicked on. I heard her voice--think drill sergeant meets Cruella De Vil.
"Pick up the phone, Isabelle."
I did not move.
"I know you're there," Cecilia/Cruella accused, angry already.
Cecilia/Cruella is almost always angry. It started after that one terrible night with the cocked gun and the jungle visions when we were kids.
I tapped my forehead on the counter. "I'm not here," I muttered.
"And you're listening, aren't you?" I heard the usual impatience.
I breathed a hot, circular mist of steam onto the counter and shook my head. "No," I said. "No, I'm not listening."
"Hell, Isabelle, I know you're wigged out and upset and plotting a trip to an African village or some tribal island to get out of this, but it's not gonna work. Forget it. You hear me, damn it. Forget it."
I blew another steam circle. A raindrop plopped off my nose like a liquid diamond. "You swear too much, and I'm not upset," I said, so quiet. "Why should I be upset? I will not do what she says. If I do I will be crushed in her presence and what is sane will suddenly seem insane. Mrs. Depression will come and rest in my head. I'll have none of that." I shivered at the thought.
"And you're scared. I can feel your fear," she accused. "Ya can't hide that."
"I don't do scared anymore," I said, still shivering. "I don't."
"We're going to talk about what happened to you, too, Isabelle. Don't think you can keep that a secret," she insisted, as if we were having a normal conversation. "Pick up the damn phone before I really get pissed."
I loved Cecilia. She did not deserve, no one deserved, what had come down the pike for her last year with that psycho-freak pig/husband of hers. My year had not been beautiful, either, but hers was worse.
"Isabelle!" Cecilia/Cruella shouted, waiting for me to pick up. "Fine, Isabelle. Fine. Buck up and call me when you get out of bed and the man's gone."
I flipped my head up. She knew! So often she knew about the men. She told me once, "Think of it this way: I don't get the fun of the sex you have, but I sometimes know it's happened by the vague smell of a cigarette."