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Fiction Review – Nine Perfect Strangers

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

Nine Perfect Strangers

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Review by: Mirah W (mwelday)

 

Liane Moriarty is one of my favorite contemporary authors. I have read all of her books and look forward to each new story she has to tell.  Her latest, Nine Perfect Strangers, was quite a read.

Nine people make their way to spa resort for a 10-day retreat that is supposed to change their lives.  Each person is coming to Tranquillum House for different reasons, including escape, grief, depression, marriage troubles.  Waiting for them at Tranquillum House is a secretive staff led by mysterious and charismatic Masha.

What begins as an interesting mystery and captivating read in the first half of the book goes off the rails in the second half and just can’t seem to get back on track.  In the first half, Moriarty slowly introduces the characters and why they made the decision to go to Tranquillum House. Like peeling back an onion, layers and layers of character development take place and then the plot seems to become far-fetched and it was difficult for me stay engaged.  I could see where the divergence from what was expected could appeal to some readers, but I thought it was too drastic of a shift.

I am conflicted about giving this book a rating.  It started out so great, full of interesting characters and I wanted to know more about them.  I felt like this was going to be another 5 star book by Moriarty.  And then I felt like the twist took things in a weird direction that didn’t really seem to fit with the first half of the book.  I would say if a reader enjoys off-the-wall plots, this might be one to read.  If a reader likes more streamlined plots, I would recommend Three Wishes (you can see my review here).

 

 

 

Fiction Review- Your Perfect Year

Friday, January 17th, 2020

Your Perfect Year: A Novel

Your Perfect Year by Charlotte Lucas (translated by Alison Layland)

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

I recently received news that would impact my career and I was feeling a bit discombobulated. It wasn’t news I was wanting, and I found myself going through the stages of grief over the change…and not necessarily in the correct order. I was angry one day, in denial the next, just all over the place.  I went to find a book that I thought could give me a new perspective on things.  I found Your Perfect Year.

A bestseller in Germany, Your Perfect Year is about how we can get so stuck in our routines and expectations that we fail to see what is happening around us.  Jonathan has been living a regimented existence without any joy. Hannah has been thrown for a loop with her boyfriend’s recent decisions.

One day during a punctual and structured outing, Jonathan finds a daily planner complete with activities for every day of the next year.  Why was this diary left for him?  And how can a diary written for someone else really make a difference to him?  Jonathan tries to find the real owner of the diary but when he finally admits to himself that maybe he needs some change in his own life, he decides to embark on a new life using this diary as a guide.

I am giving Your Perfect Year 3 out of 5 stars for ‘I liked it’. I found the characters a bit difficult to connect with, but the storyline was a good one. I am not sure how much of my lack of ‘spark’ was a translation issue (originally written in German) or a story/character development one, but I still liked the book and the overall theme.  Sometimes life deals us uncertainty and confusion and how we react can truly change our lives. This was the message I needed during my own time of confusion and frustration with the changes being thrown my way. If you’re in the same boat, go on this adventure with Jonathan and see the difference an open mind can make.

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Leaving Time

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

Leaving Time: A Novel

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I have long been a fan of Jodi Picoult. Her take on current social and ethical dilemmas make for heartbreaking and heartwarming fiction. I recently read Leaving Time and I was, once again, struck by Picoult’s ability to create a story that captivated me.

Jenna has been searching for her mother Alice for years. Alice was an elephant researcher and disappeared in the wake of a tragic and mysterious event at the elephant sanctuary where she worked. Jenna joins online chat groups and forums and searches Alice’s journals for any clues to explain her disappearance. Jenna refuses to believe her mother would abandon her without a word.

On Jenna’s journey for the truth she joins forces with two others: Serenity, a psychic, and Virgil, a private detective. The three of them slowly pull back the layers of family drama that led to the tragic event leading to Alice’s disappearance. But in true Picoult form, when the truth is revealed I was left stunned with the outcome and precision and depth of the story.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Picoult novel and this was just the right one to reintroduce me to one of my favorite writers. Complex relationships and grief impact each of the characters in compelling ways and I found Leaving Time a truly enjoyable read. I give Leaving Time 5 out of 5 stars for heart, emotion, and imaginative story-line.

 

 

Fiction Review – The Sometimes Sisters

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

The Sometimes Sisters

The Sometimes Sisters by Carolyn Brown

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I read The Sometimes Sisters on a whim. I’ve never read anything else by Carolyn Brown even though she is a rather prolific writer with 90 novels. I was a bit unsure since it was labeled as contemporary romance fiction and I don’t read much romance, but I decided to give it a chance since the story sounded complex.

The ‘Sometimes Sisters’ are Tawny, Harper, and Dana.  Dana shares a father with Tawny and Harper, but their lives have been very different and their relationships with one another are strained.  Raised separately, the three sisters find they have little in common and each sister bears resentment for the others. Their only opportunity to spend time together was during the summers when they were younger and they would spend with their grandmother Annie.  It has been years since they have all seen one another and none of them have visited their grandmother Annie regularly in recent years, for fear of disappointing her with what has happened in their lives.

Now their grandmother has passed away and the sisters are back at Annie’s Place to help run the small lake resort, café and store.  Guiding them through their grief and teaching them about the business is Uncle Zed, the best friend and business partner of their grandmother.  Through their grief, each sister confides in Uncle Zed about why they stayed away and why they have a hard time opening up to the other sisters.  There are tears, arguments, misunderstandings, and heartaches along the way but will the sisters find a way to live together to keep their grandmother’s business?

I liked the overall story of The Sometimes Sisters and the romance (thankfully) was secondary to the plot.  I liked the characters but did find it a bit disappointing how their stories were revealed in a rather formulaic way. Some plot points were rather predictable and I think there were missed opportunities that could have offered more depth. The dialogue was a bit stilted and just didn’t seem to have a natural flow.  Not being squarely in the romance column made this book more enjoyable for me but I think there were missed chances to take this novel to the next level of complexity with the characters. I’m settling on 3 out of 5 stars for ‘I liked it’ since The Sometimes Sisters was enjoyable even with its faults. This is not a book I would read multiple times but I am willing to read another book by Brown.

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Where the Crawdads Sing

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

Recently a friend recommended Where the Crawdads Sing and since I was coming off a high of reading another great book (Searching for Sylvie Lee, you can find my review here), I was anxious for another great summer read. I ordered Where the Crawdads Sing so I could read it before I saw my friend during a visit last month and we could talk about it together.  And there was so much to talk about!

I relish great books that I feel like I can’t put down. You know the kind…the books that when you are not reading, you are thinking about the characters and need to know what happens next. I read Where the Crawdads Sing very quickly because I had to know what was going to happen, how it would end, and how the characters would fare.

Kya is known as the Marsh Girl. In her small NC town, she is an outsider. Raised in a shack on the marsh, her mother and siblings leave when she is just a small girl. With an alcoholic and abusive father, she survives by hiding amongst the trees and grasses of the marsh. She befriends Jumpin’, the man who runs a small store and gas station on the marsh where she can exchange mussels and smoked fish for goods. Kya spends her life on the marsh, growing up, finding beauty in the nature around her, and also finding love. When Chase Andrews is found dead, the Marsh Girl is seen as the most obvious villain. Kya and Chase do have a complicated history, but would she kill him? I won’t go into the story any further here, I don’t want to give anything away.

Owens has created a gem with this book.  Owens has also given me one of my favorite characters in recent memory. Jumpin’ is such a wonderfully created character, full of love, wit, and loyalty. His quiet strength and being on the periphery of Kya’s life, but also the stabilizing center for many years, makes him such a memorable character. HIs warmth and kindness provide a much needed balance to the derision Kya receives from most other people.  I would love a novel to learn more about Jumpin’, his family, and his struggles in the same time and town as Kya.

In a strange way, this novel to me is reminiscent of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. I know that might not make a lot of sense, but Where the Crawdads Sing it is a Southern story of someone who is learning about herself while also just trying to get through every day while being misunderstood, even persecuted. I truly loved Where the Crawdads Sing and highly recommend it. It is even better if you read it with a friend so you can talk about it together; trust me, you will want to talk to someone about this book!

This debut fiction novel by Owens gets 5 out of 5 stars from me for a beautiful coming of age story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Searching for Sylvie Lee

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

Searching for Sylvie Lee: A Novel

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

I am a big fan of Jean Kwok. I read Mambo in Chinatown in one day and thoroughly enjoyed Girl in Translation. Kwok creates characters who are strong yet vulnerable and makes them relatable to any culture. When I learned of Kwok’s newest release, Searching for Sylvie Lee, I knew I had to add it to my summer reading list. Kwok’s novel was also selected as the Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club selection for June and is a NY Times bestseller so there was a lot of buzz that encouraged me to read it!

Sylvie Lee is the oldest daughter of Chinese immigrants and, from the outside, it looks like she has everything together. She is college educated, leading an accomplished career, beautiful and married to a handsome husband. Her parents are extremely proud of what she has accomplished and her younger sister Amy adores her.  Sylvie spent her early years in the Netherlands with her grandmother and aunt’s family and when her grandmother is ailing, Sylvie returns to the Netherlands to see her grandmother one more time. When Sylvie’s family realizes she has gone missing in the Netherlands, Amy travels there to try to get answers and find Sylvie. In the process of her search, Amy learns a lot about herself and inner strength, but she also learns the secrets of Sylvie’s life and the truth of how she went missing.

Searching for Sylvie Lee is a intricate, poignant story about family secrets and family dynamics that impact every family member in a different way. I wasn’t expecting the range of emotions I experienced while reading this book. I had moments of anger, confusion, joy and sadness; it actually took me a few days to wrap my mind around all of the emotions and process them all. Kwok created a family that was damaged and loving at the same time. Some people hurt each other through their love and others wanted to support each other through love, and isn’t that such an accurate portrayal of real life? People do all kinds of things in the name of love, good and bad.

Kwok’s novel was emotionally deeper than I was expecting. I loved the complexity of the characters and how they were relatable in spite of that complexity. The way that Kwok reveals the story through the various characters’ voices is intelligent and engrossing, yet easy to read. I am giving this book 4 out of 5 stars. I really enjoyed it and the themes were deep and emotional. Kwok navigates the waters of family drama with heart and soul. I would highly recommend adding Searching for Sylvie Lee to your summer reading list!

While you’re on PBS, check out my reviews of Kwok’s Mambo in Chinatown (review here) and Girl in Translation (review here) on the PaperBackSwap Blog!  I would love to know if you also enjoy Kwok’s novels and your thoughts on any of her books!

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – The Double Bind

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

The Double Bind

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

The Double Bind begins with a very straight-forward account of a horrific attack on the main character Laurel Estabrook when she is out for a bike ride. Years later, having put the pieces of her life back together as best she can, Laurel now works at a homeless shelter and she has given up biking. She has removed herself from a lot of social activities and has insulated herself with limited relationships with family and close friend Talia. Laurel often dates older men, but she resists entering into a committed relationship with any of them.

Through Laurel’s position at the homeless shelter, she is tasked with sorting through photographs presumed to have been taken by a formerly homeless man, Bobbie Crocker, who Laurel had helped through the shelter. Katherine, Laurel’s supervisor at the shelter, hopes creating an exhibition with Bobbie’s photographs will help bring attention to the shelter and serve as a fundraiser for their efforts.

Laurel’s interest in Bobbie’s photographs soon take her down a path of mystery but is her interest turning into an obsession? Is Bobbie somehow connected to the horrific event that changed Laurel’s life forever? Did Bobbie’s alcoholism and mental illness cause him to confuse his own reality with fiction? Is Laurel losing her own grasp on reality in an effort to learn more about Bobbie?

Bohjalian weaves mysteries and secrets together in a way that the reader is never really clear on what is real and what is the result of mental illness. I thought the storyline was very interesting, but I did find myself getting distracted by the integration of the characters from The Great Gatsby. I know from the author’s acknowledgements that he is a fan of The Great Gatsby and has read the novel many times. I, however, did not like the Fitzgerald novel and could barely get through it once. The inclusion of those characters was frustrating and I had some difficulty putting that aside to stay focused on Bohjalian’s characters and story.

The Double Bind was well thought out and deftly delivered to not give away too much of the mystery too soon. The structure of the novel and development of the main character are my main reasons for giving this novel 4 out of 5 stars. I definitely recommend it for those who want a thought-provoking novel with emotional grit. I would also recommend Bohjalian’s novel Midwives.