I used to be adamant about my distaste for Romance novels. I knew them as the Harlequin Romance novels my mom used to devour alongside Junior Mints on a quiet Sunday afternoon or the bodice rippers one of my friends used to have her nose buried in during high school lunches. I thought they were an inferior literary genre– simple, formulaic, and full of smut, which I did not want to read; in hindsight, I think that perspective was deeply rooted in internalized misogyny. Then a few years back, I read the Flat Share by Beth O’Leary, and my appreciation for Romance literature started to blossom. I’m still learning my preferences when it comes to the genre, so my experience is hit and miss, and unfortunately, my most recent venture into the genre with Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade was a big miss.Continue reading Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Years ago, I read Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, and what I remember most about it is how mediocre I thought the story was, and after reading through summaries of her other novels, largely formulaic:
- Girl experiences some kind of hardship and withdraws from the world
- Girl falls in with a new crowd
- Girl meets a handsome teenage boy and starts to feel human again
- Girl and boy have a misunderstanding and experience a falling out
- Girl and boy makeup at the end and live happily ever after
So, considering my previous experience with this author, it’s strange that by the end of my first library visit in months, one of the books I borrowed was The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen. And even more surprising? I devoured the book in just a few sittings.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon is one of those books that have been on my TBR list for ages, but I couldn’t remember why. That happens you know – forgetting why I put a book on my wish list? Or that I even put a book on my wish list at all. That started happening once I became a book blogger. I get bombarded with book recommendations from other bloggers that sometimes I lose track. It’s especially bad because I’ve been a part of the book blogosphere since 2011, so that’s a lot of books that have made it onto my radar. Has that happened to you?
I will even admit I forget what Everything, Everything was about– just that it was a contemporary that was supposed to be an emotional read, and it came highly recommended. I didn’t even bother to read the synopsis when I bought it! I just saw that it was on sale, so in my cart it went.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Released: September 2015
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.
But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.
Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.
The first thing that stood out to me was the formatting of the story. I thought I was going to dive into a heavy novel with beautiful and emotional prose, but instead Everything, Everything has short, two to three page chapters, and it includes some epistolary storytelling in the form of instant messages, emails, and homework assignments. The formatting was engaging and perhaps an effective way to show how isolated Madeline was. Through her e-mails and instant messages, readers catch a glimpse of what is inside her head while also seeing how she tries to connect with the people around her though limited those opportunities they may be. The formatting also happened to be the story’s downfall. The story addressed some heavy subject matter like mental health, physical abuse, chronic illness, death, and isolation, that I wish was explored further in prose.
I appreciated the relationship between Madeline and her nurse, Carla, who seemed to treat Madeline as though she was a normal teenager despite growing up in a bubble. This relationship feels more like a mother/daughter relationship compared to the relationship Madeline has with her own mother. There is conflict and some bickering between Madeline and Carla as Madeline tries to push her boundaries. But of course, the two love each other, and that comes through too.
Her relationship with her mom, on the other hand, seemed sterile and a touch unrealistic. The two get along too well, and the two don’t seem to have a history of conflict despite being cooped up with each other for so long.
The fast-paced relationship between Madeline and Olly, the dreamy boy next-door, also seemed unrealistic. I liked the bond the two formed. And despite Olly’s bad-boy appearance, he was kind and gentle and fun. But, their relationship seemed to move too fast considering how limited their interactions were. And Madeline seemed incredibly mature about everything despite her lack of socialization with people her age. She would probably argue that it’s because she’s read so many books. But, I don’t care how well-read someone is– relating to other teenagers, especially when hormones are buzzing, is easier said read than done!
The plot twist left me wanting more. Although, to call it a twist is inaccurate (for me). I wasn’t surprised the story took the turn that it did. I already had my suspicions after reading the first few pages.
After the twist was revealed, I thought “Oooh! Here is where things get juicy!” But there was no juice, and I was left feeling thirsty. The plot twist opened up more opportunity for conflict between Madeline and her mom, but the story didn’t go there. Madeline…just sort of ignores her mom and continues on with life, and the ending just sort of fizzled along.
Overall I appreciated Everything, Everything. The characters were likable, and the plot, though predictable, was new and refreshing (or, at least I haven’t read anything like it). The blend of prose and Epistolary storytelling made for an engaging and quick read– perfect for cluster feeding nursing sessions at two in the morning– but I don’t think the formatting allowed the reader to explore some of the heavier themes beyond the surface.
Warning: this post contains spoilers.
Dark Companion by Marta Acosta is book #2 in my READ ALL THE LIBRARY BOOKS challenge, and like my initial reaction to Sign Language by Amy Ackley, when I pulled Dark Companion from the shelf, I was once again disappointed. In fact, I hadn’t even openly declared that I was trying to read all of the books in the YA section of my library at this point, so I almost gave up on the project in that moment. The book cover featured a young woman wearing a white gown in the middle of a spooky forest; between that image and the title, it screamed paranormal romance or paranormal fiction, which is a genre that has me hightailing it in the other direction faster than if it were a plate of brussel sprouts.
I chose to persevere though, and in the end…I’ll still run from PNR faster than if it were a plate of brussel sprouts.
Released: July 2013
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Orphaned at the age of six, Jane Williams has grown up in a series of foster homes, learning to survive in the shadows of life. Through hard work and determination, she manages to win a scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy. There, for the first time, Jane finds herself accepted by a group of friends. She even starts tutoring the headmistress’s gorgeous son, Lucien. Things seem too good to be true.
The more she learns about Birch Grove’s recent past, the more Jane comes to suspect that there is something sinister going on. Why did the wife of a popular teacher kill herself? What happened to the former scholarship student, whose place Jane took? Why does Lucien’s brother, Jack, seem to dislike her so much?
As Jane begins to piece together the answers to the puzzle, she must find out why she was brought to Birch Grove and what she would risk to stay there..because even the brightest people make terrible decisions when they are offered the things they desire most.
Admittedly, for the first half of the novel, I thought Dark Companion was going to be a solid, four-star kind of novel. I thought it was going to be the book that changed my mind about paranormal fiction. So what if I thought the main character, Jane, was kind of uninspiring? So what if I thought Lucien and Jack, potential love interests, were worse then Edward Cullen (how?!)? It takes place at a friggin’ boarding school, which is one of my favorite settings ever! Plus, Acosta wrote one of my favorite secondary characters ever– Mary Violet (or MV). MV is hilarious and clever and vibrant, and all I wanted to do was read a book about her. Of course, there simply is no denying that Marta Acosta’s writing is beautiful either, and she captured the atmosphere of a gothic novel so perfectly.
Yet the exclusive Birch Grove Academy has a dark, cult-like secret. One that I wasn’t on board with.
I thought Dark Companion was going to be a vampire novel because there are these subtle clues that some of the characters in the novel have a certain fascination with blood. They like their steaks rare (Did I say “rare”? I mean “basically raw”), and they practically start salivating when people get paper cuts. And yet, vampirism would have been preferred to the twist that was presented (even though I can’t stand vampires. Exhibit A. Exhibit B. Exhibit C.) A genetic disorder plagues Lucien and his family (who run Birch Grove), that makes them both incredibly pale and incredibly thirsty for blood. And Jane was invited to Birch Grove Academy because her blood is exactly what Lucien needs. When it is revealed to Jane that she was selected to be Lucien’s companion, she’s both freaked out (because this means he will drink her blood), but also kind of thrilled because it means she gets to be with Lucien forever and she totally has the hots for him. Except, their relationship ends up being just as creepy as you think it will be. Lucien is overwhelmed by literal bloodlust, and he tries to seduce Jane every time he wants to feed. It boggled my mind that this novel was marketed as a YA novel, especially considering in a previous scene, Jane returned to a friend in the slums and learned all about BDSM and “blood play”. All of this just made me feel so uncomfortable, and all I wanted to do was take a hot shower and scrub myself clean with a loofah made of steel wool. Ick.
Jane eventually comes to her senses and realizes this relationship is absolutely crazy and toxic and ends up falling for Jack, Lucien’s brother, instead. Neither of the love interests are particularly decent, but at least Jack doesn’t want to drink Jane’s bodily fluids.
Dark Companion was a disappointment, but I still find myself optimistic about this challenge. This is especially odd because the next book in line is Halo by Alexandra Adornetto, and I’ve intentionally avoided YA novels featuring angels as the main character. I’m not keen on innocent and pure main characters and forbidden love.
Sometimes I choose library books with reckless abandon. I choose them at random and hope for the best. For example, the moment I plucked Sign Language by Amy Ackley from the library stack…I was disappointed. The book cover seemed to indicate that the novel I held in my hands was going to be some generic contemporary YA novel. This is a genre I tend to avoid because I have a hard time relating to the characters, and sometimes I find their actions/reactions to be unbelievable. However, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Open Road Summer by Emery Lord are exceptions; I adored these two novels. On top of that, Sign Language dealt with a topic that I wasn’t entirely sure I was prepared to read about because I was already dealing with it in my own life– grief and a parent battling cancer. I did struggle to immerse myself into the novel at first, but by the end I found Sign Language to be wonderfully written and emotional story.
I had a hard time getting absorbed into the story because I struggled to accept how Abby North, the main character, reacted to the news of her father’s cancer. At first, she wouldn’t call her father’s ailment what it was– cancer. It seemed like she was ignorant and unaware of what was happening, which didn’t make sense because twelve-year-old kids know what cancer is. Then I realized. this was her “denial stage”, and the author was essentially using the 5 steps of grief as framework for the novel. The moment when Abby finally acknowledges that her father has cancer and it is terminal changed everything for me. I recall reading this novel in bed at 2AM with a flashlight tucked under my chin, and I’m fairly confident I wept through the entire second half of the novel.
Aside from coping from the loss of her father, Abby still has to deal with everything else that comes with being a teenager– falling in love, a family that feels like its falling apart, moving away, finding a place in the world. She feels lost, and she feels angry that her father is not around to guide her through adolescence. She doesn’t always make the best decisions, sometimes she pushes friends and family away, and every time, it felt like my heart was breaking for her.
Sign Language by Amy Ackley is a perfect example of why I wanted to challenge myself to READ ALL THE BOOKS. It’s a novel I would have ignored either because of something vain, like the book cover, or because I don’t often like contemporary fiction, but in a way, it’s a story that I needed to read.
(Also, fun fact, according to her bio, the author is a Michigan native, and she lives two towns over from where I live. What if I bumped into her at a restaurant and didn’t even realize?! NEAT!)
Sign Language by Amy Ackley
Twelve-year-old Abby North’s first hint that something is really wrong with her dad is how long it’s taking him to recover from what she thought was routine surgery. Soon, the thing she calls “It” has a real name: cancer. Before, her biggest concerns were her annoying brother, the crush unaware of her existence, and her changing feelings for her best friend, Spence, the boy across the street. Now, her mother cries in the shower, her father is exhausted, and nothing is normal anymore. Amy Ackley’s impressive debut is wrenching, heartbreaking, and utterly true.
About a month after publishing a blog post about how I was nervous to start reading Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris, a reader pointed out that a fair amount of time had passed and I still hadn’t written a review for the novel; she was curious about what I thought of the book. The truth is…it took me nearly a month to read the novel, and it was a pretty grueling experience.
I went into reading Dead Until Dark with skepticism. I’ve never developed a fondness for novels about vampires, and I suspected this novel was mostly smut, yet I was pleasantly surprised in the first few chapters. I was impressed by the character of Sookie Stackhouse and how vivid her voice was. She seemed like a down-to-earth and simple southern girl who had an insatiable curiosity about vampires. She also had a peculiar gift that allowed her to read the thoughts of others, which…okay…I wasn’t that impressed with. It was a little too Bella Swan for my taste (and yes, I realize Dead Until Dark was published first), though I was willing to overlook it.
And then everything changed following her first roll in the hay with Bill, the vampire. Sookie Stackhouse? Surely her name is really Mary Sue!
- She’s the most gorgeous girl in Bon Temps, Louisiana, which she and everyone in Bon Temps constantly remind the reader about. I guess the only reprieve the reader gets is at least Sookie doesn’t try to convince you she’s just mediocre looking despite an excess amount of male attention.
- She refers to her magical ability, which allows her to read the minds of those around her, as a “disability”. Gross.
- Said magical ability is a result of her not-so-human status (which is actually revealed in later novels, I just accidentally found a spoiler).
- Spoilers also tell me of a love pentagon? A love hexagon? Just no.
- She’s abstained from any romantic and sexual relationships because of her mind reading ability, so naturally her first sexual encounters, with a vampire of course, reveal she’s actually a sexual beast. Who doesn’t come out the gate swingin’ though, amiright? (Just kidding. The answer to that question is “NO ONE”).
- She essentially has a minimum wage job, but she doesn’t ever have to worry about money because a giant “nest egg” has been willed to her. On multiple occasions. This allows her to take all the time off from work that she needs with no consequence. That and her boss is in love with her. How convenient.
There was a mystery in this book too that became quite muddled after Sookie lost her V-card. I mean, it was a compelling murder mystery at first, but then the story morphed into this weird relationship power struggle between Bill and Sookie. Bill was a bit of a wet blanket unless bedroom activity was involved, and Sookie was excessively stubborn by refusing her gentleman caller unless bedroom activity was involved. I forgot about the mystery until the last couple of chapters, which in all fairness, wrapped up nicely.
In the end, while I didn’t hate Dead Until Dark, it definitely didn’t impress me. I sort of wish I could have my month back to trudge through a different novel.
Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris
Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She’s quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn’t get out much. Not because she’s not pretty. She is. It’s just that, well, Sookie has this sort of “disability.” She can read minds. And that doesn’t make her too dateable. And then along comes Bill. He’s tall, dark, handsome–and Sookie can’t hear a word he’s thinking. He’s exactly the type of guy she’s been waiting for all her life….
But Bill has a disability of his own: He’s a vampire with a bad reputation. He hangs with a seriously creepy crowd, all suspected of–big surprise–murder. And when one of Sookie’s coworkers is killed, she fears she’s next….
Pardon me. I’m just feeling a bit emotional right now. I’ve officially finished the final installment of the Mistresses of Versailles series by Sally Christie– the Enemies of Versailles. I know I’ve dedicated a fair amount of blog space to this genius series already, but allow me just one more post (at least this quarter because I know the Enemies of Versailles is going to be mentioned again in my 2017 wrap up post).
My love for this series was so unexpected because it was entirely out of my comfort zone. I only dabble in historical fiction, and I try to steer clear of any books that could be described as “steamy”. Yet, here I am, consuming these books faster than Victoire consumes her cordial. These books are vibrant and full of life and personality. They’re hilarious. And, tucked in between
bed sheets pages of scheming mistresses and unfaithful kings, there is actually a lot of substance, whether it’s the surprising depth of the characters or…well…the socio-economic structure of 18th century France, the fall of the House of Bourbon, how brothels work, and the French Revolution.
The series as a whole was consistently well-written and engaging, but the Enemies of Versailles was perhaps my favorite novel of the trilogy. In the Sisters of Versailles and the Rivals of Versailles, there were several narrators. While the shift between the many narrators made the novels seem fast-paced, I did find the flip-flopping to be confusing at first. I also found some narrators more compelling than others. But the Enemies of Versailles only had two narrators– Comtesse du Barry, the king’s official mistress, and Madame Adelaide, the king’s daughter.
It’s been interesting to watch King Louis XV’s mistresses decline in social standing throughout the course of the series. The Sisters of Versailles were nobles. Madame Pompadour was bourgeois. And Comtesse du Barry, despite what the name suggests, was of even lower social strata and made ends meet through prostitution. Comtesse du Barry, like previous mistresses, was portrayed as an airhead at first, distracted by gilt and gems, but she later grows into her role at Versailles (thankfully not as maliciously as previous mistresses).
To give a voice to Madame Adelaide, the king’s daughter was also a fascinating choice. I suspect one of the reasons is to juxtapose France’s First Estate (the nobles) against the Third Estate (the commoners), as the tides of revolution lap at the gates of Versailles. But it also demonstrates how unnatural the royal family feels– like the queen and her children just simply existed in the background because King Louis XV had more important things to pay attention to (certainly not church sermons though). With the children being taken care of by wet nurses and tutors and whose marriages were treated as business deals and war strategies, it’s surprising they would even have any kind of attachment to their parents. And yet, Madame Adelaide seems to truly adore her father and not just because he is the King of France. Their relationship made me feel so sad though. I got the sense that Madame Adelaide wanted to have a real relationship with her father but couldn’t. Not only has she been constantly cast aside when King Louis XV preferred to dote on mistresses, she, like every other royal subject, had to request an audience with her father!
The Enemies of Versailles didn’t seem as fast-paced as the two previous novels, but there was more character-building and more world-building this time around. Christie’s challenge was to make readers care about these two women, who seem self-centered and too caught up in living in material excess (maybe kind of like the Kardashians). Because, inevitably, the novel ends at the beginning of great turmoil– the French Revolution. The final scenes of this novel, this series, when royalty is being beheaded and nobles are being tried for being spies for the old regime are some of the most emotional. Throughout this entire series, Louis, his mistresses, his family, the court at Versailles, heck! even church leaders are caught up in this gross obsession with wealth at the expense of everyone else. They’ve bankrupted their country and raised the deficit and yet, the government will not make any motion to reform taxes. People are suffering, and to make matters worse, the nobles don’t even recognize the damage they have done. There is this wonderful passage to capture this:
“Six hundred black crows breaching the walls of our palace. Who are these men? Nothing, their blood denuded of that essence that marks the noble races. The nobles have defended France, the clergy has prayed for France, but what have these men done? Probably they do some tasks that are important, but they are menial ones, and why should they have any glory or power for that?“
And yet, the final chapters are the most gripping. Despite their attitudes, I still hoped Madame Adelaide and her family could escape the revolution. I still hoped Comtesse Du Barry’s pleas wouldn’t fall on deaf ears as they dragged her to the guillotine.
I can’t praise these books enough!
The Enemies of Versailles (the Mistresses of Versailles #3) by Sally Christie
In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.
After decades suffering the King’s endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.
Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches inevitable revolution.
This novel was provided for free from the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison is so old that I remember seeing it at my elementary book fair…nearly twenty years ago. I also remember wanting to buy the book, but I was too embarrassed because the word “thong” was in the title, so I picked up something more prudent instead. It wouldn’t be for another two years before I had the courage to pluck Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal snogging from the shelf at a Barnes & Noble bookstore.
On the ride home, I read excerpts out loud to my mom about Georgia Nicholson dressing up as a green olive for a costume party followed by excerpts about Georgia accidentally shaving off one of her eyebrows, which made her look really surprised in one eye. My mom nearly had to pull the car over because she laughed so hard her eyes filled with tears.
During a recent library visit, I spied this book on a shelf, and I wondered if it was still as funny after all of these years. I’m not much of a reader, unless it’s Harry Potter, but I could resist. I brought this book home…and devoured it in one sitting.
Indeed, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging is still hilarious, in the laugh-out-loud sort of way, after all of these years. It’s also entirely possible that Georgia Nicholson is one of my absolute favorite characters ever written. Okay, so she is sometimes selfish and a total snot to her friend, but she is also brave and vibrant, and she goes after what she wants (whether it’s Robbie the Sex God or Dave the Laugh or Masimo). Plus, Georgia has such a strong and memorable voice.
After finishing the book, I immediately settled down to watch the movie adaptation on Netflix. If my memory serves me, the film is actually an adaptation of the first two novels in the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series. It was such a fun little movie, and I just loafed on the couch wearing a cheesy grin and giggling. Although, Robbie was not how I pictured him. The movie version of Robbie the Sex God had such a feminine sounding voice, which was really weird.
Also, I don’t recall if I thought about this as a teenager, but I certainly did during my recent re-read– I was kind of disturbed by the relationship between Georgia and Robbie. In the book, Georgia is only 14 but Robbie is just about to turn 18, and I found that to be totally creepy. (The film closed the age gap, so it didn’t bother me as much.)
Have you ever read Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging? Have kids these days heard of this series? (I mean, I have to suspect that they have because my teeny tiny local library has the series…)
Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
There are six things very wrong with my life:
1. I have one of those under-the-skin spots that will never come to a head but lurk in a red way for the next two years.
2. It is on my nose
3. I have a three-year-old sister who may have peed somewhere in my room.
4. In fourteen days the summer hols will be over and then it will be back to Stalag 14 and Oberfuhrer Frau Simpson and her bunch of sadistic teachers.
5. I am very ugly and need to go into an ugly home.
6. I went to a party dressed as a stuffed olive.
In this wildly funny journal of a year in the life of Georgia Nicolson, British author Louise Rennison has perfectly captured the soaring joys and bottomless angst of being a teenager. In the spirit of Bridget Jones’s Diary, this fresh, irreverent, and simply hilarious book will leave you laughing out loud. As Georgia would say, it’s “Fabbity fab fab!”
I’m calling it right now– The Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata will be one of the top five books I read during 2017.
Elise Faulkner is more at home in the waters of her beloved Lake Michigan than on land where her beauty queen mom is always on her back about her lack of a social life; her sister is dating the boy of her dreams; her favorite penpal–the one who wrote about mermaids in Ghana–has gotten married and ended their correspondence; and no one’s allowed to talk about her glamorous great-grandmother, the deep-sea wreck diver. Elise is biding her time with books until she can flee. But then crazy Chiara Hanover pops into her life, as does Miguel, a mysterious carnival worker whose dark future has been predicted by a gypsy.
Here’s the thing– the synopsis you’ll read on goodreads or the back of the book won’t do The Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata justice. The synopsis seems almost flippant with its talk of beauty queens and carnival workers and deep-sea wreck divers and mermaids (of course), but there is so much more gravity to this novel.
The Mermaids of Lake Michigan is a stunningly-written and poetic coming-of-age novel that takes place in the small, sea-side town of Grand Haven, Michigan during the 1970s. Life for Elisa Faulkner seems cookie-cutter-esque until she meets the Chiara Hanover, her neighbor’s vibrant and carefree granddaughter. They’re a bit of an odd couple at first, but Chiara breathes life back into Elise. It’s the small things at first– like influencing Elise to chop of her long locks and changing her wardrobe. Then it grows to skipping school and stealing away to the smoky clubs in Chicago with fake IDs to succumb to infectious, jazzy music. Along the way, Elise meets a young Romani man at a carnival, and he sweeps her off her feet with talk of destiny.
Every once in a while, readers also catch a glimpse of Elise’s childhood and her relationship with her mother. At times, readers see a pathetic vision of a mother trying to fit into the dress she wore when she was the winner of her local beauty pageant. They see her distant and depressed when she learns she is pregnant for a third time. They see her hiding a greyhound bus ticket that promised to take her far away from the family she helped build. And, it’s these visions that drive Elise to be impulsive– to follow her heart all the way from Michigan to Columbia, South Carolina. There she hopes to find love and destiny, but instead she finds longing and despair.
I knocked a star off my rating because I didn’t realize this novel took place in the 1970s for the first several chapters. Also for its use of the word “gypsy”, which is a racial slur, and its associated stereotypes.
I received a copy of this novel for free in exchange for an honest review as part of TLC Book Tours.
I may have over-committed myself this October. I had these grand plans to devour a collection of spooky novels and write all about them, but instead I found myself in a bit of a reading rut after abandoning three books back to back to back. I can’t decide if the books were particularly uninteresting to me or if I was just distracted. I did, after all, get married this month (more on that later though!). When I finally sat down to read The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson, I was certain my reading rut would affect my ability to appreciate the story. Sometimes negativity begets negativity, you know? But, that’s not what happened. In truth, I actually kind of loved The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness.
Newly orphaned, recently divorced, and semiadrift, Nina Popkin is on a search for her birth mother. She’s spent her life looking into strangers’ faces, fantasizing they’re related to her, and now, at thirty-five, she’s ready for answers.
Meanwhile, the last thing Lindy McIntyre wants is someone like Nina bursting into her life, announcing that they’re sisters and campaigning to track down their mother. She’s too busy with her successful salon, three children, beautiful home, and…oh yes, some pesky little anxiety attacks.
But Nina is determined to reassemble her birth family. Her search turns up Phoebe Mullen, a guarded, hard-talking woman convinced she has nothing to offer. Gradually sharing stories and secrets, the three women make for a messy, unpredictable family that looks nothing like Nina pictured…but may be exactly what she needs. Nina’s moving, ridiculous, tragic, and transcendent journey becomes a love story proving that real family has nothing to do with DNA.
It is entirely possible that Maddie Dawson’s cast of characters are my favorite for the year of 2016. They’re so…believably flawed. Nina Popkin is impulsive and a bit flaky as she mourns over the death of her adoptive mother, navigates a new relationship following a recent divorce that she’s not quite over, and tries her hand at parenting even though she’s convinced she is not capable of such a feat considering her biological mother abandoned her when she was an infant. Then, there is Lindy, Nina’s sister, who has a perfect life, or at least tries to portray she has a perfect life; she may have a successful business, great hair, and a coach purse, but she’s never felt more disconnected from her husband, and she has a disorder that compels her to count things, like the tiles between her chair and the door, and dear god, please let there be an odd number of tiles because odd numbers are lucky. The relationship between Nina and Lindy is strained at first because after 30+ years of existence, they just found out they are biological siblings, and while impulsive Nina wants everything to do with her biological family, prim and proper Lindy doesn’t appreciate the black mark on her birth record. However, through the course of the novel, Nina and Lindy grow from strangers to sisters, and it’s really kind of heart-warming.
Of course I can’t forget to mention Carter, Nina’s dreamy new boyfriend, who is about 20 years older than she is and kind of a distracted parent. His wife left him, and then she followed her dream of becoming a kale farmer (do people really dream of becoming kale farmers?). She left behind her daughter Kayla, who is a 15 year-old with blue hair and is hella angsty. But, Kayla’s got a heart of gold, she’s compassionate, and when it comes to animal rights, she is proud to take a stand (even if her methods leads to madness). She also left behind a son, who is graduating the top of his class but has zero interest in attending college even though he was accepted into freaking Vanderbilt.
And by the way, Lindy and Nina’s biological mom is now a chain-smoking vegan, who used to be a 1980’s pop icon. But…attaining dreams of stardom is not why she put her babies up for adoption. The true story is much more twisted and devastating.
The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness was just the book to pull me out of a reading rut. Dawson writes a character-driven story that is both dramatic and heart-warming, and her characters are well-crafted with impeccable chemistry. It’s hard not to root for them, to hope everything turns out better than alright.