Book Review: All the Murmuring Bones by A. G. Slatter

Title: All the Murmuring Bones
Author: A. G. Slatter
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication date: March 9, 2021
Length: 337 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the Mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.

A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.

The beautiful writing in this unusual book creates a spell that’s darkly magical yet feels frighteningly real. There are strong fantasy elements, but at its core, All the Murmuring Bones is the story of a young woman desperately seeking a way to break free from the burden of her family’s terrible, ancient bargains.

Miren O’Malley, at age eighteen, lives in the crumbling mansion of Hob’s Hollow located on a cliff overlooking the sea. Once, the O’Malley family was rich and powerful, but that was long ago. Now Miren lives in the decaying ruin with her elderly grandparents and two equally elderly servants. Miren has been raised on tales of mer folk and the people who bargain with them, but how much of that is just family lore?

When Miren’s grandfather dies, her grandmother wastes no time in arranging for Miren to marry a wealthy cousin — he’s not a “real” O’Malley of the original bloodline, but he’s still family, and he has reasons of his own for wanting the marriage. Miren, however, is horrified and wants only to break free. After further loss, the walls seem to be closing in, and Miren finally makes her escape, determined to find the parents who abandoned her so may years ago.

I won’t give away more of the plot, but suffice it to say that Miren’s flight from her angry, vengeful cousin is full of danger and wonder, and she meets strange allies along the way before finally reaching her destination. But even there, more dangers await, and there’s a mystery to unravel that further threatens Miren’s freedom and even her life.

I was, well, spell-bound by this intricate tale of bargains and magicks — the more so because it’s also a tale of family dynamics and manipulations. Miren herself is a terrific character, raised to be obedient, yet unable to just go along with the horrible future she’s being sacrificed to for the sake of the good of the O’Malley family.

There were some elements that I felt needed further explanation, and the drama that unfolds once Miren’s journey finally leads her to her destination isn’t entirely satisfying — but overall, I loved the overarching sense of wonder and dread that mingle together throughout the narrative. I picked up a copy of this book over a year ago — I’m glad I finally read it!

Book Review: The Vibrant Years by Sonali Dev

Title: The Vibrant Years
Author: Sonali Dev
Publisher: Mindy’s Book Studio
Publication date: December 1, 2022
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Kindle freebie
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When sixty-five-year-old Bindu Desai inherits a million dollars, she’s astounded―and horrified. The windfall threatens to expose a shameful mistake from her youth. On an impulse, Bindu quickly spends it on something unexpected: a condo in a posh retirement community in Florida.

The impulsive decision blindsides Bindu’s daughter-in-law, Aly. At forty-seven, Aly still shares a home with Bindu even after her divorce from Bindu’s son. But maybe this change is just the push Aly needs to fight for her own dreams.

As Bindu and Aly navigate their new dynamic, Aly’s daughter, Cullie, is faced with losing the business that made her a tech-world star. The only way to save it is to deliver a new idea to her investors―and they want the dating app she pitched them in a panic. Problem is, Cullie has never been on a real date. Naturally, enlisting her single mother and grandmother to help her with the research is the answer.

From USA Today bestselling author Sonali Dev comes a heartfelt novel about three generations of hilarious, unconventional, ambitious women who embark on a shared journey of self-discovery. Join the Desai women as they come together to embrace the hijinks and heartbreak of facing their greatest fears to finally live their most vibrant lives.

Having read and enjoyed Sonali Dev’s Rajes series, which riffs on Jane Austen’s novels while also introduces a large, dynamic Indian American family, I was eager to grab The Vibrant Years when Amazon offered it as a free First Reads book in November. Seeing that this is Mindy Kaling’s first book club selection (Mindy’s Book Studio) made me even more keen to read it.

In The Vibrant Years, we follow three generations of interesting women as they navigate work, love, and family. Bindu inherits money (although she hides the true source from her family) and decides to break out of her steady, modest life as a widow and grandmother and become “vibrant”. She moves into a fancy senior community and becomes the belle of the ball, attracting both eager suitors and the envy and cattiness of what she refers to as “the coven” — the women of the HOA who watch and criticize her every move.

Bindu’s daughter-in-law Aly is a journalist with a local TV station who just can’t seem to get her big break. Despite landing the biggest interview imaginable for the station, her boss wants the more relatable (i.e., whiter) reporter to actually carry out the interview. Aly fights for herself and her career, while also worrying about her daughter and resenting her ex-husband, who never truly supported her professional goals and dreams.

Aly’s daughter Cullie is a tech whiz who, at 25, is the creator of the world’s most successful mental health app, but is now at risk of having her vision compromised by the funder’s pursuit of even more money. Her only hope of saving the app she believes in so strongly is to give the funder something new to profit off of, but her attempt to make a better dating app seems to be headed for failure.

As the story progresses, we get tantalizing hints of Bindu’s hidden past. Something significant happened when she was seventeen — but her enraged parents forced her into a very different life of domesticity and devotion to being a wife and mother rather than risk any hint of shame or scandal. Bindu has never talked about her past, but certain reminders continue to pop up, and it seems like the past won’t remain forgotten for much longer.

The Vibrant Years is perhaps more heartfelt and serious than the synopsis implies, but the promised “hijinks” definitely play a part too. The book neatly balances some truly awful (and hilarious) dating situations with the inner lives of the three main characters, adding humor to heartbreak and loss and self-doubt. (I’m not sure I’ve ever read about dates quite as bad as these… )

Bindu is really the star of the book, a truly “vibrant” woman who gives herself freedom to finally live her own life at age 65. She refuses to be the meek grandmother she seemed destined to remain, but instead puts herself out into the world with bold colors, independent choices, and a fiery defiance that is awesome to behold. There were times in the story when I wished the story of her teen years was told more sequentially, to give us time to really invest in it and see it unfold, but by the end of the book, it’s clear what happened. The revelations are powerful and emotional.

I felt less invested in Aly and Cullie, but still enjoyed their character development, their struggles, and their determination to achieve their goals and also fight for their chances at personal happiness. The dynamics between the three women are not always smooth and peaceful, but their love is unconditional. When’s the last time you read a book about such a loving bond between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law? I really liked the strong and unconditional connection between all three characters. No matter the challenges, their love and support gets each of them through the worst days and helps them find hope.

Overall, I really enjoyed this family story. Each character is memorable in her own right, and the love between the three is what really makes The Vibrant Years shine.

Shelf Control #346: Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Black Rabbit Hall
Author: Eve Chase
Published: 2015
Length: 400 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

For fans of Kate Morton and Sarah Waters, here’s a magnetic debut novel of wrenching family secrets, forbidden love, and heartbreaking loss housed within the grand gothic manor of Black Rabbit Hall.

Ghosts are everywhere, not just the ghost of Momma in the woods, but ghosts of us too, what we used to be like in those long summers …

Amber Alton knows that the hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, her London family’s country estate, where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless. Not much ever happens. Until, of course, it does.

More than three decades later, Lorna is determined to be married within the grand, ivy-covered walls of Pencraw Hall, known as Black Rabbit Hall among the locals. But as she’s drawn deeper into the overgrown grounds, half-buried memories of her mother begin to surface and Lorna soon finds herself ensnared within the manor’s labyrinthine history, overcome with an insatiable need for answers about her own past and that of the once-happy family whose memory still haunts the estate.

Stunning and atmospheric, this debut novel is a thrilling spiral into the hearts of two women separated by decades but inescapably linked by the dark and tangled secrets of Black Rabbit Hall.

How and when I got it:

I added the e-book to my library several years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I remember seeing promotional material for this book and thinking it looked good, and then saw it featured while browsing at the library and was drawn to the dark and mysterious cover. I didn’t actually borrow it at that time, but when I saw a Kindle deal for it, I grabbed it.

I’m intrigued by the synopsis. Why would the clocks always be different? What actually happened at Black Rabbit Hall? Why does it have a different name 30 years later, and what happened to the family who used to live there? So many riddles to untangle!

I do like grim, gothic stories, and nothing beats a decrepit old mansion with a secret past! I don’t know anyone who’s actually read this book, but I’m interested enough to want to hold on to it and finally give it a try.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison

Title: Such Sharp Teeth
Author: Rachel Harrison
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: October 4, 2022
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Paranormal/contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A young woman in need of a transformation finds herself in touch with the animal inside in this gripping, incisive novel from the author of Cackle and The Return.

Rory Morris isn’t thrilled to be moving back to her hometown, even if it is temporary. There are bad memories there. But her twin sister, Scarlett, is pregnant, estranged from the baby’s father, and needs support, so Rory returns to the place she thought she’d put in her rearview. After a night out at a bar where she runs into an old almost-flame, she hits a large animal with her car. And when she gets out to investigate, she’s attacked.

Rory survives, miraculously, but life begins to look and feel different. She’s unnaturally strong, with an aversion to silver—and suddenly the moon has her in its thrall. She’s changing into someone else—something else, maybe even a monster. But does that mean she’s putting those close to her in danger? Or is embracing the wildness inside of her the key to acceptance?

This darkly comedic love story is a brilliantly layered portrait of trauma, rage, and vulnerability.

After really enjoying last year’s Cackle, I knew I needed to read more by Rachel Harrison. And maybe this would have been a more natural fit for a Halloween read, but no matter the timing, I had a blast reading Such Sharp Teeth.

In this fast, biting (yes, I said it!) tale, Rory moves back to her hometown after many years away to be with her twin sister Scarlett during her last months of pregnancy. Rory has had a seemingly great life in Manhattan — a successful corporate career, a partying, free-wheeling lifestyle, great clothes, uninhibited and uncommitted sex, and the best of New York’s dining and nightlife at her fingertips.

Back in their small town, Rory stumbles into an old flame from her high school days, someone she never hooked up with at the time, but always felt a spark with. But moments after meeting Ian again, Rory gets into a car accident and its attacked by something fierce and horrible in the woods. She distinctly remembers the horror and pain of the attack, yet by the next day her wounds have barely left a scar.

Over the next few weeks, Rory notices scary changes in her body, a non-stop craving for meat, enhanced senses, and other weirdness even more frightening (and disgusting). At the same time, she finally connects with Ian and enjoys their explosive chemistry together. As the next full moon looms closer and closer, Rory is more and more certain about what’s happened to her — but what does this loss of control really mean for her and for the people she cares about?

Honestly, I just loved this book. Rory is a fantastic character, full of bravado and guts and intelligence, a very caring and devoted sister, but also carrying the burden of an earlier trauma that affects her ability to trust and to forgive. This is a woman who has earned her rage, and her werewolf transformation finally gives full power to the anger and need for destruction that she’s been burdened with for so many years.

While the descriptions of Rory’s experiences are often pretty icky and/or violent, there’s also humor and sass in her conversations and outlook. I love her relationship with Scarlett, and this conversation (with a very pregnant Scarlett) captures so much:

“What’s it like?” she asks. “Being a werewolf?”

I swallow. “You really want to know?”

“Yeah.”

“The bite was excruciating. And after, it leaked this silvery goo. My new blood, I guess. It was weird and gross, but honestly, it was also kind of fascinating that my body was doing this weird, gross thing.”

“Relate,” she says.

There’s so much subtext here about women and pain, women and bodily autonomy, women and rage. The author doesn’t hit us over the head with a hammer — instead, all of this informs Rory’s experiences as she emerges from the attack’s aftermath into a new version of herself.

When you’re sad, you cry. When you’re happy, you smile, you laugh. But what do you do when you’re angry? Not just mad, but filled with this ugly, consuming rage?

And the thing is, women aren’t allowed to be angry. Nobody likes a mad woman. They’re crazy, irrational, obnoxious, shrill.

In Such Sharp Teeth, a young woman who was instructed to ignore or control her anger gets actual claws and fangs as an adult, and finally is literally forced into giving vent to all the pent-up rage and frustration and power she’s hidden away and or shunted into self-destructive behaviors.

There are things beyond our control. My body. My body is beyond my control. This is the truth. The truth of me. What if I can’t control myself in this form because this is what I really am? What if this is what I really want?

Gotta say, I pretty much straight-up loved Rory, and I had such fun reading this book. Yes, it’s a werewolf book, but it’s also a sharp, spiky take on women’s lives, and I just couldn’t put it down. There are some scenes of violence and ickiness that make me want to offer a caution for the squeamish — it’s not gory on every page, but it’s enough that I wouldn’t recommend it if you can’t stomach some blood, guts, and body parts.

But if gore doesn’t bother you in your reading, then absolutely check out Such Sharp Teeth! Rachel Harrison is a terrific writer, and I can’t wait to read the other book of hers in my Kindle library, The Return.

Book Review: He Gets That From Me by Jacqueline Friedland

Title: He Gets That From Me
Author: Jacqueline Friedland
Publisher: SparkPress
Publication date: September 7, 2021
Length: 295 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

As a young mother with a toddler and a live-in boyfriend, Maggie Fisher’s job at a checkout counter in downtown Phoenix doesn’t afford her much financial flexibility. She dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher, options she squandered when she fled her family home as a teenager. When Maggie stumbles onto an ad offering thousands of dollars to women who are willing to gestate other people’s babies, she at first finds the concept laughable. Before long, however, she’s been seduced by all the ways the extra money could improve her life. Once she decides to go for it, it’s only a matter of months before she’s chosen as a gestational carrier by Chip and Donovan Rigsdale, a married couple from New York.

After delivering twin babies and proudly handing them off to the Rigsdales, Maggie finally gets her life on a positive trajectory: she earns her degree, lands a great job, and builds a family of her own. She can’t fathom why, ten years after the fact, the fertility clinic is calling to ask for a follow-up DNA test.

I bought this e-book on a whim (it was 99 cents!), interested to see where the story would go. And while it definitely held my attention, I would describe He Gets That From Me as only partially successful.

As the story opens, we meet Maggie, who loves her baby Wyatt and her boyfriend Nick, but struggles to make ends meet. She regrets walking away from the college education her well-off parents were providing, a decision made after a teen-age trauma that made her flee parental control and judgment. When she sees an ad for gestational carriers, i.e., women to act as surrogates for those who cannot have children on their own, she doesn’t take it particularly seriously… but she can’t stop thinking about it, especially how the money could get her life back on track and allow her to finally pursue the education she gave up on.

We also meet Donovan, a New York real estate broker in a happy marriage with his husband Chip. They’re well-off and well-established, but desperately want a family together. As they enter the surrogacy process, they’re oh-so-careful at every step, making sure they’ll be legally protected and being very cautious in choosing their potential gestational carriers.

In the early chapters of the book, we jump backward and forward in time, and so we learn that Donovan has had himself, Chip, and their twin 10-year-old boys tested through an at-home DNA testing kit to help the boys with a class genealogy project. Donovan and Chip each provided sperm to use with their egg donor’s eggs, and based on the boys’ physical traits, they’ve long assume that Teddy is biologically Chip’s and Kai is biologically Donovan’s. Until the test results come back — and show that Kai isn’t biologically related to either of his dads.

As Donovan essentially freaks out and looks for answers, the couple assume a screw-up at the fertility lab. Perhaps their embryos were switched with someone else’s? Donovan even investigates whether babies could have been switched at birth. But no — all options are a dead-end until Maggie’s DNA testing confirms the obvious answer. Kai is biologically her son. How is this even possible?

Superfetation. Per healthline.com, “Superfetation is when a second, new pregnancy occurs during an initial pregnancy. Another ovum (egg) is fertilized by sperm and implanted in the womb days or weeks later than the first one. ” Oh, dear. So while two embryos from the donor eggs and Chip and Donovan’s sperm were transferred to Maggie, only one took… and then she and Nick conceived another fetus naturally, ending up pregnant with two unrelated fetuses.

Maggie, of course, is horrified. She and Nick tried for years to have more children, but whether from carrying twins or from a subsequent car accident, she ended up with uterine scarring that affected her fertility. She’s wracked by guilt: She agreed to carry someone else’s children, not to give away her own child.

An inevitable showdown between the two families quickly comes into play. After meeting Kai briefly, Maggie is convinced that he belongs with his biological family, and she and Nick sue for custody. Meanwhile, Chip and Donovan are desperate to keep their family intact and to protect Kai from being uprooted from the only life he’s ever know.

While the set-up is really engaging, I had some issues with the execution. For starters, I don’t truly believe that Maggie could think for one moment that removing Kai from his home would be in his best interest. They got from zero to one hundred in the blink of an eye. What about visiting and getting to know one another? What about simply spending some time together, finding a way to be in each others’ lives? Nope, it’s full custody as the first and only option.

Some ugliness comes into play that seems out of character for Maggie. While Nick expressed some hesitation about becoming a surrogate for a gay couple when the option first was under discussion, Maggie was adamantly opposed to Nick’s homophobia and in fact broke up with him for a while over it. She cared deeply for Chip and Donovan and was committed to helping them create their family. Yet in the court filings, one of the arguments for claiming custody of Kai was that it would be in his best interest to be raised by a “traditional” family. Where did this come from? That was never Maggie’s belief.

I was left very unsatisfied by the end of the book. Certain twists are revealed in the epilogue that I found hard to believe, and the outcome of the custody case (trying to avoid spoilers here) was again a very black and white, all or nothing situation. I couldn’t help feeling that in real life, good lawyers and therapists would have encourage compromise and exploration of the true best interests of the child, rather than moving forward with a winner-takes-all lawsuit as the only possible answer.

At under 300 pages, He Gets That From Me is a quick read. While the premise is certainly interesting, I was too often frustrated by inconsistent or illogical actions and decisions to give this more than a 3-star rating. I could see this book generating good book club arguments for sure!

Shelf Control #335: The Book of Speculation by Erica Swyler

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: The Book of Speculation
Author: Erika Swyler
Published: 2015
Length: 339 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon’s doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of “mermaids” in Simon’s family have drowned–always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon’s family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?

In the tradition of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, The Book of Speculation–with two-color illustrations by the author–is Erika Swyler’s moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

How and when I got it:

I picked up a paperback in 2016, and it’s been on my shelf ever since.

Why I want to read it:

As I’m writing this post, it occurs to me that perhaps I never even read the synopsis before today! The plot sounds kind of bonkers, in a really good way, but doesn’t seem in the slightest bit familiar. So, I’m thinking I may have grabbed this book at a library sale based solely on the cover. I mean, can’t go wrong with a book with books on the cover, right?

Now that I’ve read what it’s about, I’m much more interested in finally giving the book a try. Generations of circus mermaids? A mystery curse? Count me in!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Shelf Control #332: Mr. Flood’s Last Resort by Jess Kidd

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Mr. Flood’s Last Resort
Author: Jess Kidd
Published: 2018
Length: 352 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The spellbinding tale of a lonely caregiver and a cranky hoarder with a house full of secrets.

Maud Drennan is a dedicated caregiver whose sunny disposition masks a deep sadness. A tragic childhood event left her haunted, in the company of a cast of prattling saints who pop in and out of her life like tourists. Other than visiting her agoraphobic neighbor, Maud keeps to herself, finding solace in her work and in her humble existence–until she meets Mr. Flood.

Cathal Flood is a menace by all accounts. The lone occupant of a Gothic mansion crawling with feral cats, he has been waging war against his son’s attempts to put him into an old-age home and sent his last caretaker running for the madhouse. But Maud is this impossible man’s last chance: if she can help him get the house in order, he just might be able to stay. So the unlikely pair begins to cooperate, bonding over their shared love of Irish folktales and mutual dislike of Mr. Flood’s overbearing son.

Still, shadows are growing in the cluttered corners of the mansion, hinting at buried family secrets, and reminding Maud that she doesn’t really know this man at all. When the forgotten case of a missing schoolgirl comes to light, she starts poking around, and a full-steam search for answers begins.

Packed with eccentric charms, twisted comedy, and a whole lot of heart, Mr. Flood’s Last Resort is a mesmerizing tale that examines the space between sin and sainthood, reminding us that often the most meaningful forgiveness that we can offer is to ourselves.

How and when I got it:

I picked up the e-book edition of this book at some point in the last couple of years.

Why I want to read it:

I already had my eye on this author’s books (I have at least one other on my shelves that I want to read), and so I grabbed this one when I stumbled across a Kindle price break for it.

I can’t quite figure out what to make of the plot description! Based on the cute cover and some parts of the synopsis — “eccentric charms”, “twisted comedy” — it looks light and whimsical. But it also refers to darker secrets and a missing girl, and then there’s the bit about Maud being haunted by saints. Literally haunted? Like there are ghosts? I’m so confused.

When I look on Goodreads, I see other editions of the book that have a completely different (and utterly nonwhimsical) look to them:

I believe The Hoarder was the version published in the UK. Neither of these editions gives off warm or quirky vibes at all. Hmmm, what to make of it all?

The adorable look of the Kindle edition is definitely what initially caught my eye, so seeing that this book might not be what it seems give me very mixed feelings. At the same time, I really don’t want to start reading Goodreads reviews to investigate further, because I’m afraid I’ll out more than I want to know at this point!

Because of my confusion about the overall tone of the book, I’m a little hesitant — although I do think the general description of the storyline sounds intriguing!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Shelf Control #323: One Perfect Summer by Brenda Novak

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

A scheduling note for Shelf Control: I have a short trip planned for next week, and rather than schedule a Shelf Control post in advance, I’m planning to go easy on myself and skip a week! So, for June 22nd, I will not have a Shelf Control post up on Bookshelf Fantasies, but if you’re participating in the meme, please add your link to this week’s post so I don’t miss it!

Title: One Perfect Summer
Author: Brenda Novak
Published: 2020
Length: 464 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak comes a novel about finding family in unexpected places and the lifelong bonds that don’t need a lifetime to forge

When Serenity Alston swabbed her cheek for 23andMe, she joked about uncovering some dark ancestral scandal. The last thing she expected was to discover two half sisters she didn’t know existed. Suddenly, everything about her loving family is drawn into question. And meeting these newfound sisters might be the only way to get answers.

Serenity has always found solace at her family’s Lake Tahoe cabin, so what better place for the three women to dig into the mystery that has shaken the foundation each of them was raised on? With Reagan navigating romantic politics at her New York City advertising firm, and Lorelei staring down the collapse of her marriage, all three women are converging at a crossroads in their lives. Before the summer is over, they’ll have to confront the paths they walked to get there and determine how to move forward when everything they previously thought to be true was a lie.

But any future is easier to face with family by your side.

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition about a year ago.

Why I want to read it:

I mean… summer!!

Check out that cover! Doesn’t that just make you want to curl your toes in the sand and kick back with a fruity, slushy drink and a good book?

I did a Top 5 Tuesday post this week about books that make me think of summer, and when this one popped up as I was browsing through my Kindle library, I had to stop and ask myself why I haven’t read it yet.

There’s no particular reason why not — just time and moods, I guess. I’ve never read anything by this author, but I know she’s incredibly popular. I don’t necessarily go for books that get tagged (dismissively, in my humble opinion) as “chick lit” — but something about this synopsis really calls to me. In fact, I think it may have originally caught my eye after I did a home DNA test. (Mine came back with unsurprisingly not-surprising results. Still, it was fun to think about “what if” — what if some deep dark family secret suddenly comes to light?)

The book’s description of finding sisters suddenly and getting to know them sounds intriguing — plus, gotta love that Lake Tahoe setting!

This doesn’t sound like a heavy or serious read… and with summer just around the corner, I’m thinking one of my upcoming trips to visit family might be the perfect time to finally dig into it.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Book Review: The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner

Title: The Summer Place
Author: Jennifer Weiner
Publisher: Atria
Publication date: May 10, 2022
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When her twenty-two-year-old stepdaughter announces her engagement to her pandemic boyfriend, Sarah Danhauser is shocked. But the wheels are in motion. Headstrong Ruby has already set a date (just three months away!) and spoken to her beloved safta, Sarah’s mother Veronica, about having the wedding at the family’s beach house on Cape Cod. Sarah might be worried, but Veronica is thrilled to be bringing the family together one last time before putting the big house on the market.

But the road to a wedding day usually comes with a few bumps. Ruby has always known exactly what she wants, but as the wedding date approaches, she finds herself grappling with the wounds left by the mother who walked out when she was a baby. Veronica ends up facing unexpected news, thanks to her meddling sister, and must revisit the choices she made long ago, when she was a bestselling novelist with a different life. Sarah’s twin brother, Sam, is recovering from a terrible loss, and confronting big questions about who he is—questions he hopes to resolve during his stay on the Cape. Sarah’s husband, Eli, who’s been inexplicably distant during the pandemic, confronts the consequences of a long ago lapse from his typical good-guy behavior. And Sarah, frustrated by her husband, concerned about her stepdaughter, and worn out by challenges of life during quarantine, faces the alluring reappearance of someone from her past and a life that could have been.

When the wedding day arrives, lovers are revealed as their true selves, misunderstandings take on a life of their own, and secrets come to light. There are confrontations and revelations that will touch each member of the extended family, ensuring that nothing will ever be the same.

From “the undisputed boss of the beach read” (The New York Times), The Summer Place is a testament to family in all its messy glory; a story about what we sacrifice and how we forgive. Enthralling, witty, big-hearted, and sharply observed, this is Jennifer Weiner’s love letter to the Outer Cape and the power of home, the way our lives are enriched by the people we call family, and the endless ways love can surprise us. 

Jennifer Weiner excels at depicting families in all their messy glory — day-to-day life, tensions, love, secrets, and joy — and making it all feel significant and real. In The Summer Place, we meet a large family through the eyes of each of its members, and learn how deeply secrets can run and how much damage they can do, even in a family fully of love and acceptance.

The Summer Place takes place post-pandemic. People are going out again, reuniting with far-flung family members they’ve only seen on FaceTime for two years, experiencing life outside the home and shaking off the long stagnation of quarantine.

For Sarah Levy-Weinberg, it’s a relief, but problems linger. Sarah spent the pandemic working from home alongside her endodontist husband, her stepdaughter Ruby and Ruby’s boyfriend Gabe, and her two younger boys — and the impact on her marriage has not been good. Sarah and Eli had been doing great, but something changed during these two years. Eli, once loving and attentive, has become distracted and cold, and refuses to talk to Sarah about why. It’s driving her crazy, and so are all those little habit of Eli’s that might not have bothered her so much if they weren’t stuck in the house together ALL DAY LONG.

Like his flipflops. Oh my, there’s something so real about the descriptions of Sarah being driven absolutely bonkers by hearing Eli’s slap-slapping footsteps as he paces while he works. I mean, who can’t relate to that sense of utter craziness brought on by someone else’s innocent but totally annoying habits?

When Ruby announces her engagement, the plot wheels are set in motion. The family will gather at grandmother Ronnie’s Cape Cod house for the wedding, and each person who’ll be there will be bringing secrets that they may or may not want to reveal to others.

The story is told through chapters from the points-of-view of most of the main characters, including not just Sarah, but also Ruby, Gabe, Eli, Ronnie, Sarah’s brother Sam, and more. We don’t know everything right from the start, but as the book progresses, we learn about each character’s past, the decisions that haunt them, the choices they regret, and the secrets and shame that they carry with them.

The plot is not terribly complex — this is a character-driven novel, and I enjoyed getting to know each of these people and their inner lives. We can judge characters’ actions or disagree with their choices, but through the lens of the point-of-view chapters, it’s impossible not to empathize and at least understand the reasons for what they’ve done and what they’ve hidden or given up.

There are perhaps too many coincidences in The Summer Place, which make some of the big reveals feel a bit contrived. How likely is it that these people, whose paths cross accidentally in the story, would have secret connections that go back decades? Not very… but it’s okay. Even if I had to suspend my disbelief in parts, I still really enjoyed how the various story threads were woven together to form a cohesive whole.

In each section of the book, there’s a brief interlude narrated by, of all things, the Cape Cod house itself. I’m not a fan of this kind of anthropomorphism, and thought it was a bit hokey… your mileage may vary. Thankfully, these interludes are short and don’t feel weighty, so they didn’t negatively impact my reading experience as a whole.

The Summer Place exists in the same general world as That Summer, which I absolutely loved. To be clear, The Summer Place is not a sequel and is absolutely a stand-alone… but for those who’ve read That Summer, some familiar names and places will pop out.

The Summer Place is not as emotionally impactful as That Summer, which has much heavier themes and consequences (and which I really loved). Still, I did very much enjoy The Summer Place. The characters are relatable and feel grounded in the world we know.

Families are messy. Family members can be annoying. Lives aren’t always logical, and everyone, no matter how happy or successful, carries regrets and what-ifs and secrets they’d prefer to forget about. As The Summer Place shows, even families with messy and unpredictable connections and weird communication patterns love and need each other, and if that love is strong enough, bad choices and unintended consequences won’t keep a family from coming together and sharing life’s ups and downs.

And oh, the glory of a beach house in summer! Reading this book made me yearn for a slow, unscheduled summer of my own. Beach house, swimming, good food, good books… a relaxed appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. It feels very far away from reality for me… but it’s certainly nice to dream about!

Book Review: The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth

Title: The Younger Wife
Author: Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: April 5, 2022
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Thriller/contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

THE HUSBAND

A heart surgeon at the top of his field, Stephen Aston is getting married again. But first he must divorce his current wife, even though she can no longer speak for herself.

THE DAUGHTERS

Tully and Rachel Aston look upon their father’s fiancée, Heather, as nothing but an interloper. Heather is younger than both of them. Clearly, she’s after their father’s money.

THE FORMER WIFE

With their mother in a precarious position, Tully and Rachel are determined to get to the truth about their family’s secrets, the new wife closing in, and who their father really is.

THE YOUNGER WIFE

Heather has secrets of her own. Will getting to the truth unleash the most dangerous impulses in all of them? 

I could not put this book down… and yet now that I’m done, I really don’t know what to think!

As the book opens, we’re at the wedding of Stephen and Heather. They make a beautiful couple, and everyone is so pleased that Stephen has found love again after going through the pain of his former wife’s slide into dementia. And how lovely that he thought to include his ex-wife in this special day! But after the vows, something goes wrong in the next room. There’s blood and an ambulance…

And that’s just the prologue!

From there, we go back some months to Heather’s first meeting with Stephen’s adult daughters, Tully and Rachel. Heather is actually younger than both of them, and they’re prepared to hate her. They’re none too pleased with their father either, but they’re trying to be supportive. He’s done right by their mother, finding her a good nursing home and excellent care, making sure there’s no worry about finances… so why shouldn’t he have the opportunity for love once again?

As the story unfolds, we get chapters from Tully, Rachel, and Heather’s perspectives. No one’s life is as perfect as it seems. Rachel, a magnificent baker, has been dealing with a trauma from her teens for almost 20 years. Tully, a suburban wife and mother, has anxiety through the roof and very unhealthy coping mechanisms. And Heather certainly has not shared the true story of her family’s sordid past.

Each of the three women evokes sympathy in her own way. For Tully and Rachel, they’re dealing not only with issues from their pasts, but also grieving the loss of a beloved mother, mourning a bit more with each visit to the nursing home and the realization that the woman who was so central to their lives has slipped away from them bit by bit. Heather’s childhood was awful, but she’s built a fresh start for herself, even as the occasional doubts about her perfect new life creep in.

It’s hard to say much without giving away key spoilers, so I’ll proceed with caution. As I mentioned, I simply couldn’t put this book down, and finished it over two days of intense reading. Not that that’s surprising — Sally Hepworth’s book always bring out the compulsive reader in me! With short, sharp chapters and fascinating POV characters, The Younger Wife sucked me in from page 1 and just never let me go.

And yet… I felt oddly flat after the end. I really and truly can’t say more, but the resolution left me confused and weirdly disappointed. I need to go back and poke around in earlier chapters to see if I missed anything and reexamine how the pieces fit together.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, but perhaps with tempered expectations. Sally Hepworth is a terrific teller of tales, and she creates fascinating, memorable characters. The Younger Wife did not move and engage my emotions the way The Good Sister did, but that’s a very high mark to meet.

The Younger Wife is a fast page-turner, and I enjoyed the reading experience. Now I just need to think about that ending some more…