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From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen's Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades. Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 19 From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen's Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades. Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high. Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family's future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story--Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn't settled down-their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history.


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From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen's Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades. Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 19 From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen's Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades. Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high. Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family's future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story--Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn't settled down-their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history.

30 review for The Children's Crusade

  1. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    This is a beautifully written novel, (to be savored), which will linger in your mind and heart. While deeply engaged with the intimate storytelling of parents Bill and Penny, and their children: Robert, Rebecca, Ryan, and James, (characters so rich and nuanced), I began to question, "what does it mean to be a good sibling? , a good father? , a good mother"? There are several themes throughout "The Children's Crusade" which are worthy to examine in discussion. Its an excellent book-club pick! If This is a beautifully written novel, (to be savored), which will linger in your mind and heart. While deeply engaged with the intimate storytelling of parents Bill and Penny, and their children: Robert, Rebecca, Ryan, and James, (characters so rich and nuanced), I began to question, "what does it mean to be a good sibling? , a good father? , a good mother"? There are several themes throughout "The Children's Crusade" which are worthy to examine in discussion. Its an excellent book-club pick! If you had 3 children -each with their names starting with the letter R --why might you name your 4th child with a name that starts with the letter J.? How might being lonely in a marriage manifest for the children? "The Children's Crusade" is an honest depiction of a family. It ends up being thought-provoking! Spectacularly wonderful and real!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Dysfunctional family. A mother who wants to be a recognized artist and is self involved. A father who is a pediatrician, and thoroughly involved with the children, but no so much with their mother. Four children of various ages trying to figure out a way to get their mother involved in their lives. This is the Children's Crusade. I think you have to be in the mood for these generational type novels. Plus Ann Packer can really write and tell a story. It is a very slow paced novels but we do get a thor Dysfunctional family. A mother who wants to be a recognized artist and is self involved. A father who is a pediatrician, and thoroughly involved with the children, but no so much with their mother. Four children of various ages trying to figure out a way to get their mother involved in their lives. This is the Children's Crusade. I think you have to be in the mood for these generational type novels. Plus Ann Packer can really write and tell a story. It is a very slow paced novels but we do get a thorough understanding of the family and its members. What I found interesting is how, even into adulthood these four children retained much of the personalities that they exhibited when younger. How many of the scars they carried over from their rather different upbringing and how many of their decisions was based on this. Yet, there were many surprises when they overcame their childhood and made decisions that did not benefit themselves. An interesting reading on family dynamics and how their roles are carried on.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dianne

    Family drama that starts out very slowly and has an old-fashioned, almost stodgy feel to it at first but then morphs into something rich and compelling. If you had told me during the first third of this book that I was going to give it 4 stars, I would have laughed at you. The book alternates between chapters that set the “family stage” – snapshots of the Blair family dynamics over the years, starting in the 50’s – with chapters that focus on the individual players, primarily the four Blair child Family drama that starts out very slowly and has an old-fashioned, almost stodgy feel to it at first but then morphs into something rich and compelling. If you had told me during the first third of this book that I was going to give it 4 stars, I would have laughed at you. The book alternates between chapters that set the “family stage” – snapshots of the Blair family dynamics over the years, starting in the 50’s – with chapters that focus on the individual players, primarily the four Blair children and their unique personalities. The character studies are very well done and it is interesting to see all the individual points of view – how the children view each other and themselves as they grow up and become adults. Birth order factor seems to play a big part here. The missing voice for me is the mother’s. She is the most complicated and the least explored. It is easy, and probably likely if you have children yourself, to paint her as a cold, unfeeling villainess but not everyone is cut out to be a mother. I would have liked to have known more about what was going on inside her head. This book would be an excellent choice for a book club discussion – it seems to especially hit home with people who have children. Lots to think about here.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina A well-written family drama about a cold, distant mother and a nurturing father, making every effort to compensate for his wife's withdrawal from the family and into her "art". It explores the interrelationships between the four children of the family and between each of the children and their parents. I was reminded (somewhat) of the wonderful novel, "Ordinary People", although that story “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina A well-written family drama about a cold, distant mother and a nurturing father, making every effort to compensate for his wife's withdrawal from the family and into her "art". It explores the interrelationships between the four children of the family and between each of the children and their parents. I was reminded (somewhat) of the wonderful novel, "Ordinary People", although that story broke my heart.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    3.5 stars if I could . We all have our family history and maybe secrets or resentments or loving moments that shape who we are as adults . Ann Packer's family saga introduces us to the Blair family - Bill and Penny and their four children . The book is structured with narratives in third person telling of their childhood days and these are interspersed with narratives from the points of view of all of the children as adults . This alternating between past and present gives us an idea of the thing 3.5 stars if I could . We all have our family history and maybe secrets or resentments or loving moments that shape who we are as adults . Ann Packer's family saga introduces us to the Blair family - Bill and Penny and their four children . The book is structured with narratives in third person telling of their childhood days and these are interspersed with narratives from the points of view of all of the children as adults . This alternating between past and present gives us an idea of the things that are now affecting them as adults. From the beginning something seemed missing from the relationship when Bill and Penny marry - is it passion or love or a lack of understanding of who they were ? It seemed like they married only to marry and before we know it they have four children, the last of whom wasn't planned . It doesn't take long to realize there are problems in this marriage . That is evident from the early chapters. There was also something missing from Penny's distant relationship with her children. Even as children they know something is not right and it was so telling that the children decide they need to go on a crusade " to think of things that Mom will want to do with us ." As adults they definitely recognize that their mother was less than "warm and watchful," yet their father was loving and caring . It was understandable that Penny was overwhelmed as a stay at home Mom and wanted something more in her life , her art . I may have found her a little more likable had there been a few tender moments with her children and that she sought her dreams at the expense of her children, especially the youngest , Jamie . The characters , other than Penny , are developed to the extent that I felt I knew this family and for me the impact was on how these siblings cared about each other. It was easy to like them and care about them . I finished the book with ambivalent feelings about both Bill and Penny . However , it's solid story , well written and thoughtful with a satisfying ending with possibilities for healing . Thank you to Scribner and NetGalley.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vionna

    The writing in this novel was very flat and the story seemed to drag along with no excitement. The Blair characters were not particularly inspiring and were one dimensional. All in all a mundane novel with no redeeming qualities

  7. 5 out of 5

    Larry H

    I'd rate this 4.5 stars. Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. "Children deserve care." So is the motto of Bay Area pediatrician Bill Blair. When he finished serving in the Korean War, he left his Michigan home and decided to pursue a degree in pediatric medicine in San Francisco. While on a leisurely drive into the Portola Valley one day, he came upon three acres of wooded land which he was so taken by, he purchased it on a whim I'd rate this 4.5 stars. Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. "Children deserve care." So is the motto of Bay Area pediatrician Bill Blair. When he finished serving in the Korean War, he left his Michigan home and decided to pursue a degree in pediatric medicine in San Francisco. While on a leisurely drive into the Portola Valley one day, he came upon three acres of wooded land which he was so taken by, he purchased it on a whim. Of course, he had no money to actually build on the land, so he just visited it from time to time. When he meets shy Penny Greenway, he finds underneath her calm demeanor a reservoir of passion and yearning, and they plan a life together, one in which they will build a house on Bill's land and raise three children. And although the house works out as planned, they wind up having four children, which upsets Penny more than she's willing to let on, and ultimately, being a wife and mother isn't enough to satisfy her, and she seeks the opportunity to become an artist, without much worry about what that might do to her family. Years later, Bill and Penny's children are grown, with the three oldest still living near their childhood home, while the youngest, James, the hyperactive "problem child," has never settled down. Yet James' return to his hometown unsettles the stable lives of his siblings—Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; and Ryan, a schoolteacher—and unearths old resentments among each of them, and raises questions about the state of their parents' relationship when they were growing up. James is still the one no one can contain or control, he is still the one easily dissatisfied and mercurial, yet he desperately wants to belong, whether among his siblings or in the community where he lives. Ann Packer's The Children's Crusade is a tremendously well-written, intriguing, and emotional look at family dynamics, and how the decisions adults make while parenting have the potential to cause ripples in their children's lives for years to come. It's also a story of regrets, unfulfilled wishes, fears, things unsaid, and both the power and peril of memory. "I remembered my memory of the moment, because after so long that's what memory is: the replaying of filmstrip that's slightly warped from having gone through the projector so many times. I'll never know what actually happened and what distortions I added." The book shifts between present day, looking at each of the adult children, and key moments in their childhood and Bill and Penny's marriage. Packer does a great job developing her characters and drawing you into their lives. The majority of the characters aren't completely likeable, but you feel for them, and you want to know what happens to them even after the book has ended. Packer's The Dive from Clausen's Pier remains a book that has stuck with me years after I read it, and I've always been a fan of her writing. While The Children's Crusade moves slower than that book, it's still a rich, complex story that I enjoyed tremendously. See all of my reviews (and other stuff) at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....

  8. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    this novel, about this family, made me anxious. the kids were loved well by their father and all but ignored by their mother. it is a complicated story about ordinary lives and explores the degree to which we are influenced by our childhoods. the troubled kids grew into uneasy adults. it was disquieting. i read the last sentence and felt i might burst into tears. the characters are flawed and their experiences and observations are heartbreaking. i found myself thinking about my role as a mom and this novel, about this family, made me anxious. the kids were loved well by their father and all but ignored by their mother. it is a complicated story about ordinary lives and explores the degree to which we are influenced by our childhoods. the troubled kids grew into uneasy adults. it was disquieting. i read the last sentence and felt i might burst into tears. the characters are flawed and their experiences and observations are heartbreaking. i found myself thinking about my role as a mom and looking over the past few years through a different lens.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Esil

    Thank you the the publisher and Netgalley for an opportunity to read an advance copy of The Children's Crusade. This book is set in Palo Alto from the 1960s to the 2000s, and tells the story of Bill and Penny and their four children over a period of four decades. The story is told primarily from the perspective of the four siblings, recounting their childhood and reflecting on how their childhood, relationships with their parents and each other affected them. It took me a while to get into The C Thank you the the publisher and Netgalley for an opportunity to read an advance copy of The Children's Crusade. This book is set in Palo Alto from the 1960s to the 2000s, and tells the story of Bill and Penny and their four children over a period of four decades. The story is told primarily from the perspective of the four siblings, recounting their childhood and reflecting on how their childhood, relationships with their parents and each other affected them. It took me a while to get into The Children's Crusade, but it slowly grew on me, to the point that I must have spent the last hour of reading with a steady stream of tears running down my face. It's not that the book is overwhelmingly sad or dramatic -- but I found the characters, their relationships and their inner struggles very affecting. By at least mid way through, they felt like real people. One weakness for me was the mother Penny's emotional absence during the siblings' childhood. It is central to the story, and plays an interesting role at the end, but it feels somewhat unexplained which is a weakness because it is the theme around which all that works well in the novel is organized. And what works well is very powerful -- the strong and compensating love Bill the father has for his children, the unique and powerful personalities of each of the children and how they evolve into adulthood, and the strong bond between the siblings with all of its love and frustrations. It's hard to describe the story, because it's not so much a book with a story but a book that explores a family dynamic, and does it very well. I was not familiar with Packer's writing before reading The Children's Crusade but I will be looking for her previous books.

  10. 5 out of 5

    ☮Karen

    The Children's Crusade is the story of Bill and Penny Blair and their four children. They'd agreed to have three kids, the 3 R's -- Robert, Rebecca, and Ryan -- but the fourth one came along to Penny's chagrin, and somehow was named James. James was as different from them all as his name implies, and they all know it. He's the elephant in the room no one wants to discuss. This spans several years from when Bill and Penny are first married to when the children are in their thirties and forties. Ro The Children's Crusade is the story of Bill and Penny Blair and their four children. They'd agreed to have three kids, the 3 R's -- Robert, Rebecca, and Ryan -- but the fourth one came along to Penny's chagrin, and somehow was named James. James was as different from them all as his name implies, and they all know it. He's the elephant in the room no one wants to discuss. This spans several years from when Bill and Penny are first married to when the children are in their thirties and forties. Robert and Rebecca become doctors like their father; Ryan, such a great character, a teacher. James struggles to find himself, something their mother did as well once she stopped having babies. I don't fault her for that, just how she went about it. Mother of the Year she will never be. A very good character study of this family, and an excellent audio rendition.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sheryl Sorrentino

    The Children’s Crusade is a rather murky saga about a rather ordinary family living in pre-and post-Silicon Valley, the “hook” being that the mom, Penny, wasn’t especially “maternal,” and the fourth child, James, wasn’t particularly wanted and hence became the straw that figuratively broke Penny’s parental back. At least that’s my take on it. Though I enjoyed the familiar California setting, as some reviewers aptly pointed out, nothing of particular note happens in this story. The goings-on are a The Children’s Crusade is a rather murky saga about a rather ordinary family living in pre-and post-Silicon Valley, the “hook” being that the mom, Penny, wasn’t especially “maternal,” and the fourth child, James, wasn’t particularly wanted and hence became the straw that figuratively broke Penny’s parental back. At least that’s my take on it. Though I enjoyed the familiar California setting, as some reviewers aptly pointed out, nothing of particular note happens in this story. The goings-on are all pretty “lightweight.” The story shifts between the kids’ childhood and the present day, and I found the childhood chapters to be rather dry. That, combined with the flitting points of view (following no rhyme or reason that I could discern) made it impossible for me to connect to any of these characters. I liked the dad best, even though he was somewhat detached, because he obviously cared deeply for his kids. The mom, Penny, is portrayed as rather unlikeable, but she is the more interesting character study in that she poses questions about the oddball psychology of an “artist.” I found myself wondering, what makes someone a true “artist” (as opposed to a slacking, self-centered F-up)? And is being an “artist” utterly incompatible with parenthood (or, in this case, motherhood)? It almost seems to me that if this family were more genuinely supportive of Penny’s creative aspirations, and less tied to expectations about how family life should be, there might have been a different outcome. Although, as far as families go, the actual outcome didn’t seem all that terrible or noteworthy to me. Which makes me ask, what exactly is the point of this story? I suppose the expectations placed on Penny as a mother of four children, and her falling short of those expectations (because she’d rather be out in her shed pasting cellophane noodle wrappers to backer-board—or whatever she did out there) made her a terrible mother, especially to James. Bill (the father) was a pediatrician who supported the family financially and hence could not pick up the domestic slack. James (the “problem child”) was an interesting character, but it seemed to me that he acted the way many “normal”-if-rambunctious boys do (though by today’s standards, he’d be labeled “ADHD” and put on some type of medication). James grows up to be the “black sheep,” the odd man out—a drifter who cannot find his footing and is always somewhat “lost” in life. But even James wasn’t so outlandish a character as to be particularly engaging. So what if he didn’t have a career? So what if he moved from place to place? Must we all be cookie-cutter followers down the path of college-marriage-family? Or, like Penny, was James’s problem simply a matter of him deliberately failing to live up to his family’s expectations? I usually like stories about dysfunctional families. The Children’s Crusade was mildly entertaining but a puzzling read. Maybe it just went over my head. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a complimentary copy.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

    I loved The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer. It's a book that is satisfying on so many levels. The writing is first rate and the characters and their interactions interesting. Themes are picked up and explored and resolved (if I had any criticism of the book, it would be how neatly things are resolved but it makes for a very happy reading). The crusade of the title has two, complementary, meanings (which I won't reveal since it makes for some very nice moments in context). The book tells the sto I loved The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer. It's a book that is satisfying on so many levels. The writing is first rate and the characters and their interactions interesting. Themes are picked up and explored and resolved (if I had any criticism of the book, it would be how neatly things are resolved but it makes for a very happy reading). The crusade of the title has two, complementary, meanings (which I won't reveal since it makes for some very nice moments in context). The book tells the story of the Blair family, Penny and Bill and their four children (three of whose names begin with an R and the fourth, an after-thought, does not, something of great significance for him). The book begins and ends with the land the father Bill purchases after returning from the war. This is where he builds his home, his family, his life. Bill is a pediatrician as well as a devoted father whose mantra is (to paraphrase) "children deserve care." The book is told in chapters that alternate between the voices of the four children and views centered on inanimate spaces (such as the mother's studio and the father's house). The parents' voices are not represented but Bill seems more expressed than Penny. For me, the story hinges on the wife/mother/artist Penny. Unable to cope with the arrival of an unplanned fourth child, the rambunctious, needy, James, she withdraws both emotionally and physically. She begins to develop her art, unsupported by her husband as she was unsupported in her childhood by her family. Despite all odds, she stays with her art. Which would be admirable, except she's a pretty bad mother. She is unable to balance her art and motherhood; she hardly seems interested in so doing. Feeling neglected by her husband, she withdraws from not only him but her children as well, overwhelmed by their needs. My responses toward Penny were conflicted. On the one hand, I felt for her children who were emotionally abandoned by her. They were lucky enough to have an emotionally present father but it was painful to see them cope with a mother physically there but so completely emotionally absent and clearly unable/unwilling to meet their emotional needs. On the other hand, I was almost despite myself, moved by her commitment to her art, her ruthlessness to pursue it even in the absence of external validation or support. This is a wonderful story of a family, rich in characters and emotions. I read it in two sittings, unable to walk away from the Blairs and their struggles. I strongly recommend it as a well-written portrayal of family life in the United States (the story mostly takes place in California) in the late 20th century.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Taryn

    Ann Packer's latest novel is one of those excellent, nuanced character studies that allows readers multiple points of entry when it comes to understanding and relating to the complex people she's created. Your reaction to the novel hinges upon which characters you identify with and which ones you're frustrated by—and I have a feeling those opinions are going to vary widely from reader to reader. The Children's Crusade is about one family: Bill and Penny Blair and their four children, Robert, Reb Ann Packer's latest novel is one of those excellent, nuanced character studies that allows readers multiple points of entry when it comes to understanding and relating to the complex people she's created. Your reaction to the novel hinges upon which characters you identify with and which ones you're frustrated by—and I have a feeling those opinions are going to vary widely from reader to reader. The Children's Crusade is about one family: Bill and Penny Blair and their four children, Robert, Rebecca, Ryan, and James. The children's names (three R's followed by one lonely J) highlight the unfortunate family dynamic—the Blairs only planned on three kids, and James has been an outsider and a handful basically since birth. Bill is a pediatrician and a natural father, always patient and loving with the children. Penny is a housewife with thwarted artistic ambitions, constantly overwhelmed by her motherly responsibilities. The fact that it's so obvious, even to the kids, that their father is the better parent creates a fault line not just in the Blairs' marriage, but straight through the whole family. I related so hard to Penny, even as I recognized her selfishness, her inadequacy as a mother. I am certain that lots of readers will find her unforgivably narcissistic. But to me, Penny made a lot of sense. I have stood in a messy kitchen after a long day and felt like crying. I have ignored loved ones, people who needed my attention, because I was wrapped up in my own projects. I have recognized that playing with small children doesn't come naturally to me. Even as a kid myself, when I had friends over I'd eventually reach a point where I wished they would sit down, be quiet, and let me read. So I can't fault Penny for wanting a studio, a space of her own, and a little separation now and then from the hubbub of family life. It's just a shame she wasn't able to strike a balance between alone time and family time—and one could argue that Bill didn't make any effort to help her find and maintain that balance, either. The relationships between the four Blair children are also ripe for discussion. Ryan was my favorite, sweet and kind, his emotions always right on the surface. I can see how some readers would be totally put off by his touchy-feelyness, the same way his brothers occasionally are. But I loved how he assumes the role of peacemaker, always considering how the others feel. I also liked no-nonsense, cerebral Rebecca, with her fierce intelligence and big academic goals. Whiny, self-conscious Robert I had less use for, and James...well, James I'm still mulling over, and probably will be for quite some time. It's fascinating to me that a single book can be read and interpreted so many different ways, that it can inspire such a range of emotions depending on what personal experiences the reader brings to the table. I could probably write one of those self-important ten-page graduate-level English papers about it. Each character is so real and so complex. They gave me ALL THE FEELS, I tell you. I highly recommend you read The Children's Crusade, but I also urge you to find someone to read it with you, because this is one book that demands discussion. I can already tell that I won't be able to shut up about it for some time. This should be a fun weekend for Adam! With regards to Scribner and NetGalley for the advance copy. On sale April 7. More book recommendations by me at www.readingwithhippos.com

  14. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    Ann Packer has always been a favorite author so I was thrilled to get an ARC of her new book. It sealed her favorite author status with me. This is a story about the Blair family and the relationships between Bill and Penny, the husband and wife, their relationships with their four children, and the children's relationships with one another. I have read my share of family stories, but this one is unique because of the unique characters. For most of the book, I found myself disliking Penny, the wif Ann Packer has always been a favorite author so I was thrilled to get an ARC of her new book. It sealed her favorite author status with me. This is a story about the Blair family and the relationships between Bill and Penny, the husband and wife, their relationships with their four children, and the children's relationships with one another. I have read my share of family stories, but this one is unique because of the unique characters. For most of the book, I found myself disliking Penny, the wife and mother, who discovered (among other things) that she needed more from life, a career in art, to the detriment of her marriage and motherhood. I still didn't really like her at the end, but I had to begrudgingly given her some respect for having followed her dream and for her ability to finally impart some much needed wisdom to her youngest child, the child most hurt by her neglect. I adored Bill, the husband and father, but later on felt that he had basically neglected Penny, while pouring all of his love into their children. The children are all very different and interesting. Their caretaking of each other while Penny basically neglected them is remarkable. It's a complicated book to explain with complicated characters which is exactly why you should read it, besides the fact that it is beautifully written. Thank you NetGalley!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Gail Strickland

    Just in case the horrible weather hasn't depressed you enough, here comes another novel to finish you off. Packer has written a novel of a dysfunctional family...every last one of them is self-involved and there's way to much psychotherapy babble that slows down the flow of the plot line. I know happy family stories don't win awards or make the rounds of book clubs, but I've just about had my fill of unhappy family stories for a while-I picked up a new novel today which was blurbed on the back a Just in case the horrible weather hasn't depressed you enough, here comes another novel to finish you off. Packer has written a novel of a dysfunctional family...every last one of them is self-involved and there's way to much psychotherapy babble that slows down the flow of the plot line. I know happy family stories don't win awards or make the rounds of book clubs, but I've just about had my fill of unhappy family stories for a while-I picked up a new novel today which was blurbed on the back as "a good old-fashioned vampire story" and until the temperature outside rises above my age, I'm sticking with the blood suckers and let the depressing families take care of themselves without my input. P.S. I finished this one while I was getting my 6th of 12 chemotherapy treatments, which MAY have affected how I feel about things. But I will say, if you loved "The Corrections" (Sonya??) you'll like this one. Personally, I thought Franzen's book was one of the worst ever published and used it for a doorstop for a while.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    The Children's Crusade, by Ann Packer Imagine, if you will, that Jonathan Franzen's excellent novel, The Corrections, had like able characters. Packer's novel is the story of a family: Bill, a pediatrician, Penny, a distracted, unhappy housewife, and their four children Robert, Rebecca, Ryan, and James. All slightly flawed and realistically rendered, the Blairs children struggle to keep their artistic mother tethered to the family unit. Highly recommended.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jan Ellison

    In elegant, unflinching prose, Ann Packer unfolds the emotionally intricate, sometimes harrowing story of a California family over five decades. This is a family saga to be savored and treasured.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cher

    3 stars - It was good. A well written family drama that alternates between present day (children are adults) and the 1950's (when the children were still wee little things). Many elements of family dynamics were explored, but what could have perhaps been the most fascinating was completely left out - that of the mother. I would have found the book more interesting if some of the chapters had been written from her point of view. ------------------------------------------- Favorite Quote: For every c 3 stars - It was good. A well written family drama that alternates between present day (children are adults) and the 1950's (when the children were still wee little things). Many elements of family dynamics were explored, but what could have perhaps been the most fascinating was completely left out - that of the mother. I would have found the book more interesting if some of the chapters had been written from her point of view. ------------------------------------------- Favorite Quote: For every child there was a defining age, a fixed reference point in relation to which his parents would always view him; whereas the child’s own truest self would always be the present one. First Sentence: Bill Blair received his discharge from the navy on a September morning in 1954.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer is a very highly recommended novel that delves into the complex dynamics of a dysfunctional family. Pediatrician Bill Blair bought the land for his Portola Valley, California home in 1954, before he was even married, before it was Silicon Valley. When he met Penny, he thought he had found the perfect wife to start his family with and build a home on his land. Four children later, however, Penny is overwhelmed and tired of being a mother. While Bill is devoted The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer is a very highly recommended novel that delves into the complex dynamics of a dysfunctional family. Pediatrician Bill Blair bought the land for his Portola Valley, California home in 1954, before he was even married, before it was Silicon Valley. When he met Penny, he thought he had found the perfect wife to start his family with and build a home on his land. Four children later, however, Penny is overwhelmed and tired of being a mother. While Bill is devoted to his family, Penny yearns for a different life and emotionally distances herself from her children and Bill. After leaving them emotionally, she removes herself physically, moving into a former storage shed so she can pursue her own artistic interests. The children are well aware of their mother's distance and discuss launching a "children's crusade" in an attempt to recruit her back to them, to return their love. The story of this family and the crisis that brings them all back together when drifter James shows up again is told through the memories of the siblings and their reflections on their life and growing up. Each sibling reflects on their childhood, looking back from the perspective of an adult and their recollections are as unique as each individual. Robert is now an internist, Rebecca is a psychiatrist, Ryan is a teacher, and James is still the problem child. As Rebecca, the only daughter poignantly says, "Or rather, I remembered my memory of the moment, because after so long that’s what memory is: the replaying of filmstrip that’s slightly warped from having gone through the projector so many times. I’ll never know what actually happened and what distortions I added." I thought The Children's Crusade was brilliant. Chapters alternate between the past and the present, four years after their father's death. Robert, Rebecca, and Ryan all live in the area, while James has wandered for years. With the family stories told through each individual's memories of the events in their childhood, the picture of the family dynamics is slowly revealed and made more complete as each sibling recounts a story, a memory, and a piece of the family's history. All of their memories are enlightening and sometimes heartbreaking. Packer is a remarkable, accomplished writer. She is able to capture complex family dynamics with empathy and compassion while still articulating the little quirks and personality traits that make them each individuals. The past does reflect on the present and all of our expectations and desires color our views even more. My only quibble is that Penny's actions are never quite explained, but, then, her self-centered egocentric actions are, perhaps, self-explanatory - simply a fact based on her choices. She wouldn't be the first individual to tire of the self-sacrifice involved in parenting. I can see where The Children's Crusade might resonate more with readers who come from a larger family and are a bit older. Personally, I have seen members of my family, all contemporaries of the characters in The Children's Crusade, go through some of the same personal reflection, with each individual, based on birth order and personality, seeing events differently. Rebecca's comment about memory being a filmstrip that is distorted and warped due to the many replays is powerful and this concept can explain some of the present day conflicts siblings can hold. Memories and resentments can be buried deep and stories distorted by each individual's recollections. The years and personal experiences add to and change the way you view events from the past. Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Scribner for review purposes.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Melinda

    Phew! You know all those jokes about having to get drunk or behave in some other such activity after spending too much time with your family? Well, that is how I felt after spending time with the Blair family. This is not to say that this is a bad book--there is actually much to recommend it--but I, personally, did not enjoy it. Admittedly, I'm not a reader who needs to enjoy a book in order to appreciate a book and, for the most part, I did appreciate this one. The best way I can think of to des Phew! You know all those jokes about having to get drunk or behave in some other such activity after spending too much time with your family? Well, that is how I felt after spending time with the Blair family. This is not to say that this is a bad book--there is actually much to recommend it--but I, personally, did not enjoy it. Admittedly, I'm not a reader who needs to enjoy a book in order to appreciate a book and, for the most part, I did appreciate this one. The best way I can think of to describe this book to someone is to think of an unfunny and dramatic version of Parenthood--the movie, not the TV show. Four adult children come together to deal with their childhoods under the shadow of their ever-present (but deceased) father and their absent mother. As is common with families, each child had a role--the oldest, the responsible and only girl, the treasured one, and the"bad" one and, as adults, they are all dealing with these roles. The drama in this book is very realistic and, because of that, very painful. I am sure that readers who enjoy family dramas will have more success with this title than I did. Each of the children are explored, both as kids and as adults, and that results in 4 thorough character studies. I found the oldest two children, Robert and Rebecca, the easiest to relate to. The youngest, James, was at least understandable by the end of the book. Ryan, however, never really gelled as a real character for me. My guess is that Packer was trying to play with the idea of gender with him--he is heterosexual, but very feminine. While I don't think there is anything wrong with that, I don't feel it was done in a way that was effective and I'm not sure why that is. It wasn't that he was or wasn't likable, he just seemed like a lot was put on him, but he didn't have the depth as a character to pull it off. The two people who were very problematic for me were the parents, Bill and Penny. We never really get to know Penny--there are a few passages that were told from her point of view, but mostly she was removed from the rest of the family. On the whole, I understand why Packer did this--the fact that Penny was not involved in her children's lives is an important element of the development of the children's characters. However, I wish Packer had committed to either telling more of the story from Penny's eyes or opted not to tell anything from her eyes. Then we have Bill. Honestly, Bill makes Cliff Huxtable look like Al Bundy on a bad day. Really, this guy is just too good to be true. And the fact that he didn't seem true to me was a big issue for me as it seemed to undermine the entire book. I kept wishing that there would be some kind of character flaw in this guy to make him human. I am the first to admit that family dramas can be hard for me as I find them intrinsically stressful. I know that there are many, many readers who are more interested in this than I am and I think that, if family drama is in your wheelhouse, this may be a good book for you. I also think that this would be an excellent book club selection as families always provide much fodder for conversation. However, if you prefer your family drama to be a bit--I don't know--lighter, you may want to approach this book with caution. I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bookworm

    Nope, it didn't work for me. I thought this would be a cool read: a story about a family told over the course of decades in California. Sounds great! It can work really well for me (We Are Not Ourselves) or maybe it won't (Everything I Never Told You), although the second one is really focused on a specific event than many years.   Not so much. I don't like non-linear stories, but it can work for me if an author is skillful in making the characters come alive. While I thought the book started off Nope, it didn't work for me. I thought this would be a cool read: a story about a family told over the course of decades in California. Sounds great! It can work really well for me (We Are Not Ourselves) or maybe it won't (Everything I Never Told You), although the second one is really focused on a specific event than many years.   Not so much. I don't like non-linear stories, but it can work for me if an author is skillful in making the characters come alive. While I thought the book started off REALLY well, focusing on how the parents met and the start of their courtship, then it quickly went downhill. The kids are introduced about after a time skip, and I immediately had trouble telling who was who (and for some reason found this part really boring).   Although I was willing to be patient with it and see if it would come together, this was not a good start. I'm not sure what the author was trying to do with the extended look of the children at this time, but I was totally not interested.   A disappointment overall. I'd skip it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alena

    Ann Packer tends to write about very sad people, or at least people who see happiness as outside their own existence. The Blair's of this novel are no exception. Both generations, to varying degrees, are on a crusade to be better people than their parents, or their siblings, or their idealized versions of themselves. It's all kind of pathetic to describe, but Packer handles these characters beautifully. I connected the the four children as both youngsters and adults, especially Robert and Rebecca Ann Packer tends to write about very sad people, or at least people who see happiness as outside their own existence. The Blair's of this novel are no exception. Both generations, to varying degrees, are on a crusade to be better people than their parents, or their siblings, or their idealized versions of themselves. It's all kind of pathetic to describe, but Packer handles these characters beautifully. I connected the the four children as both youngsters and adults, especially Robert and Rebecca, both filled with a desire to please but held back by the knowledge that it would never be enough. And James, poor James -- always too big for this world but never enough for his mother. Penny (the mother) was the only character I just despised. The author tried (a little too hard) to make me understand she ended up with a life for which she was never meant, but I could never get around to caring for her in light of her unbelievably bad mothering. I wouldn't say enjoyable, but I found it very engaging.

  23. 5 out of 5

    CC

    The writing was all telling and no showing. I didn't like any of the characters. The mother, especially, is a vacuum of non-love and selfishness. I didn't find any of the four kids (grown) interesting, either, as they never came alive on the page, and didn't feel real. It's all somewhat petty -- the writing, the characters. I did love the cover -- such a great cover. I didn't finish it, so I'm not counting it toward my overall book reading goal. Also, now I feel mean. Blah... WHERE ARE THE GOOD BOO The writing was all telling and no showing. I didn't like any of the characters. The mother, especially, is a vacuum of non-love and selfishness. I didn't find any of the four kids (grown) interesting, either, as they never came alive on the page, and didn't feel real. It's all somewhat petty -- the writing, the characters. I did love the cover -- such a great cover. I didn't finish it, so I'm not counting it toward my overall book reading goal. Also, now I feel mean. Blah... WHERE ARE THE GOOD BOOKS I SHOULD BE READING???

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    [4/5 stars] Our story begins in the 1950s, with Bill, just back from the war and well on his way to becoming a pediatrician. One day, he goes for a drive and comes across this sprawling and majestic piece of land, just outside of the San Francisco area. He is overcome with images of his future family and home, and impulsively purchases the land for later use. The novel continues with his marriage to Penny, and through the lives of their four children as kids up through adulthood. So I’m going to p [4/5 stars] Our story begins in the 1950s, with Bill, just back from the war and well on his way to becoming a pediatrician. One day, he goes for a drive and comes across this sprawling and majestic piece of land, just outside of the San Francisco area. He is overcome with images of his future family and home, and impulsively purchases the land for later use. The novel continues with his marriage to Penny, and through the lives of their four children as kids up through adulthood. So I’m going to put this out there right away. Anytime a book is described as a “family saga” taking place “over several generations,” I IMMEDIATELY want to read it. It’s one of those triggers for me, as I tend to really like those kinds of stories. The story is told in long-ish chapters, from various perspectives – from Bill, the father, the four siblings when they are young, and from each once they are adults. I found each sibling – Robert, Rebecca, Ryan, and James – compelling in their own way, and feel like I could read a whole book about every one of them individually. Robert, always trying to prove his worth; Rebecca, a bad-ass lady, but also thoughtful and kind; Ryan, creative and sensitive; and lastly, James, the family scapegoat. The story jumped around in time between chapters, and even within chapters, but was extremely easy to follow. Tiny little events and small gestures – misplacing a watch, for example – take on immense meaning and significance. These moments are revisited in several chapters throughout the story from different perspectives in such an engaging and clever way. I will say, this story reads very quickly, and I found myself finishing it in no time at all. I’m writing this review about a week after completing it, and many of the details have already gone a little fuzzy around the edges, but the overall feeling of the book remains with me – and that is one of contentment. There is nothing crazy, earth-shattering, or overly shocking about this story – it’s simple, not always pretty, but real, and I truly enjoyed reading it. For more, visit: www.bookishtendencies.com

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sheri

    Ahh...this might be one of the few five stars I have stumbled upon yet this year (and it is OCTOBER!). Packer's rendition of the Blair family is top notch. It is not quite up to Franzen's Corrections, but is similar enough in setting and development to get a nod in that direction. Packer manages to toe the line between showing and telling, her characters are all deep and deeply affecting and all true in so many ways. She develops the aphorism that there is nothing more boring than parenthood in t Ahh...this might be one of the few five stars I have stumbled upon yet this year (and it is OCTOBER!). Packer's rendition of the Blair family is top notch. It is not quite up to Franzen's Corrections, but is similar enough in setting and development to get a nod in that direction. Packer manages to toe the line between showing and telling, her characters are all deep and deeply affecting and all true in so many ways. She develops the aphorism that there is nothing more boring than parenthood in two different ways. Penny (coming of age in the late 1960s) is broken by the extra, unwanted baby and Bill manages to plod along to be the nuturing and maternal parent. The depictions of these two as they hurt and go on and eventually succumb to their own desires (Penny) and sink into their role as martyr (Bill) is so honest and accurate and real and true. Where is that link over which once we cross we cannot go back? In every relationship and with every person it is slightly different and yet, once crossed we all feel it and know that change is irrevocable. And then, as if the complex relationship between the parents is not ENOUGH, the great character piece has four (well, three and an extra...hah!) grown children with different and true and believable personalities and difficulties and reactions to their parents and their upbringing and relationships with each other. There were a few extra characters (the whole Daphne/Laurel drama I found to be a distraction) that were unnecessary, but ultimately I loved this book. I shall end with a few of my favorite quotes simply because Packer's language is just so fine: "Bill's first experience with a woman had taken place at a whorehouse in Yokosuka, a ten minute visit that had given him all the satisfaction of a trapped burp finally making its way up his esophagus and out of his mouth." "we compared notes on the physical sensations of exhaustion: the heavy limbs, the watery eyes, the sour taste in your mouth no matter how much you brushed your teeth, the faint hum emanating from your own head.Worst for me was the crawling skin, what a friend of mine called 'the furs' because to him it was as if you were beginning to sprout hair." "their temperament dictates how parents are with them....A feedback system develops from birth onward. You could argue that it starts before birth. The baby influence the parent who influences the baby who influences the parent....no two siblings have the same parents." "she had remarked that since he knew how often he did the wrong hing (she'd said something a little nicer than this, he couldn't remember what), he should always stop and think first. 'Always when?' he asked, and she said, 'Always always. Before you do or say anything.' Which was so useless that he disregarded it completely. It was like saying he should stop and think before he breathed."

  26. 4 out of 5

    debra

    Read Diane S's wonderful review of this novel

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ti

    The Short of It: This novel has normal written all over it and yet it’s the most unsettling story I’ve read in a while. The Rest of It: The story opens with the promise of young love. Penny and Bill begin their lives together. He’s a doctor, she’s an artist and the home they buy holds the promise of happiness to come. They have four children, Rebecca, Robert, Ryan and James. All should be golden but that last child is not like the other children and his behavior and presence is a constant reminder The Short of It: This novel has normal written all over it and yet it’s the most unsettling story I’ve read in a while. The Rest of It: The story opens with the promise of young love. Penny and Bill begin their lives together. He’s a doctor, she’s an artist and the home they buy holds the promise of happiness to come. They have four children, Rebecca, Robert, Ryan and James. All should be golden but that last child is not like the other children and his behavior and presence is a constant reminder that you cannot control everything and for Penny, this proves to be too much. She moves out of the house and into a shed in the backyard. The shed, her “studio” becomes a home for her, a home away from her children and her husband and her responsibility as a mother. What makes this story so unsettling is how they all react to it. Bill seems to know exactly what is going on but is in denial. The children, old enough to know that things are not right, talk about a crusade to bring her back. But how do you bring back a woman who wants nothing to do with who she is? I had a really hard time with this one. Mostly, the subject matter is what did me in because the writing itself was really quite good. Penny, is a hard one to understand and Bill, oh man, I was so frustrated with Bill. As large families tend to do, they do come together in times of crisis but everyone seems to dance around James and all of his problems. As a reader, I didn’t feel as if we spent enough time with the children as children. They grow into adults quite quickly and so I was left with a sense of longing… lost childhood and all that. Penny was so elusive and odd and although I did manage to see another side to her towards the end, I felt that it came too late. I didn’t love this story but this isn’t the kind of story anyone loves. It’s frightening to see a family in this light and Packer does an excellent job of throwing it all under the microscope. No one in this novel stands out as a hero. Everyone is flawed and unflattering in some way. It’s a book full of faults and if Packer intended for it to be that, then she succeeded in a spectacular fashion. How do the events of our childhood shape who we are today? Lots to consider while reading this one. Overall, I didn’t care for the story or the characters in it but there’s something there that deserves to be pondered a bit more. For more reviews, visit my blog: Book Chatter.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I loved this book in so many ways. The novel spans fifty years. A couple marries, they have four children and who they become is a combination of each child's nature and their birth order and the way which their parents and their siblings welcomed them/or didn't. It's an ambitious book, each child gets a chapter in which they are the center of consciousness. Not all of the characters are likable, but they felt three dimensional to me, and understandable in certain ways. One character's therapist I loved this book in so many ways. The novel spans fifty years. A couple marries, they have four children and who they become is a combination of each child's nature and their birth order and the way which their parents and their siblings welcomed them/or didn't. It's an ambitious book, each child gets a chapter in which they are the center of consciousness. Not all of the characters are likable, but they felt three dimensional to me, and understandable in certain ways. One character's therapist says to her, "We never get over it." "What's that?" the character asks. "Having started out as children." Although there are some character relationships that drove me a little nuts, this is ultimately my favorite kind of book. Families obsess me. And this one is complicated and tender and crazy enough to feel real.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amy Rhodes

    This book did not work for me. It's a family story but I didn't care enough about the characters and felt their dramas were neither compelling or convincing. I had been swept up in Packer's earlier book (Dive from Clausen's Pier) but this one left me cold.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    With all the hype surrounding this book I truly expected something much more than what it was. First of all, the story moves at a snail's pace. It took quite awhile before the plot went anywhere. The story opens with the promise of young love. Penny and Bill begin their lives together. He’s a doctor, she’s an artist and the home they buy holds the promise of happiness to come. They have four children, Rebecca, Robert, Ryan and James. All should be golden but that last child is not like the other With all the hype surrounding this book I truly expected something much more than what it was. First of all, the story moves at a snail's pace. It took quite awhile before the plot went anywhere. The story opens with the promise of young love. Penny and Bill begin their lives together. He’s a doctor, she’s an artist and the home they buy holds the promise of happiness to come. They have four children, Rebecca, Robert, Ryan and James. All should be golden but that last child is not like the other children and his behavior and presence is a constant reminder that you cannot control everything and for Penny, this proves to be too much. She moves out of the house and into a shed in the backyard. The shed, her “studio” becomes a home for her, a home away from her children and her husband and her responsibility as a mother. What makes this story so unsettling is how all the characters reacted to Penny's strange behavior. I get it that Pennt just feels undervalued and doesn't want the life she is stuck with as a stay at home mother. However, it made me sick to think about how much the kids were affected by her behavior of literally moving out of the house and how confusing it must have been for the children. And how her actions obviously had a lifelong effect on them as adults emotionally and psychologically. I really didn't like how Bill seems to know exactly what is going on but is in denial and doesn't do much to make it better even though his personal motto is " Children deserve care." He seemed to give moe care and attention to his pediatric patients than his own children, even though he tries his best to orient the children on his own. Penny's behavior wasn't fully explained or analyzed which left me wanting to know more about why Penny felt and did what she did. The children, old enough to know that things are not right, talk about a crusade to bring her back. But how do you bring back a woman who wants nothing to do with who she is? I had a really hard time with this one. Mostly, the subject matter is what did me in because the writing itself was really quite good. Penny, is a hard one to understand and Bill, oh man, I was so frustrated with Bill. As large families tend to do, they do come together in times of crisis but everyone seems to dance around James and all of his problems. James definitely received the brunt of Penny's negativity which affected him from day one and he never felt accepted as who he was and took on the role of the troublemaker that his family dynamics set him up to be as a child and he continues to stay in that role well into adulthood, unable to break free of the role which he was cast in as a child. As a reader, I didn’t feel as if we spent enough time with the children as children. They grow into adults quite quickly and so I was left with a sense of longing… lost childhood and all that. Penny was so elusive and odd and although I did manage to see another side to her towards the end, I felt that it came too late. I didn’t love this story but this isn’t the kind of story anyone loves. It is ultimately sad and depressing, every character full of flaws relating back to childhood. It’s frightening to see a family in this light and Packer does an excellent job of throwing it all under the microscope. It’s a book full of faults and if Packer intended for it to be that, then she succeeded in a spectacular fashion. How do the events of our childhood shape who we are today? Lots to consider while reading this one. Overall, I didn’t care for the story or the characters. It just didn't live up to the hype. I own The Dive From Clausen's Pier so I will give Packer another chance but I hope that it the story is a bit more uplifting than The Children's Crusade. 2 stars.

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