Monday, March 25, 2013

Island Girls (Nancy Thayer)

There are some books that were just made to be thrown in a beach bag with your sunblock and towel.  Island Girls by Nancy Thayer is one of them, from the picture on the cover to the very implausible plot, to the wealthy, gorgeous characters.

Rory Randall has just died and stipulates in his will that his three daughters (from his three wives) must live together in his Nantucket house for a summer.  At the end of the season, Arden, Meg, and Jenny will be allowed to sell the house and split the money.  The three women have barely been speaking, due to a long-ago incident involving Justine, Jenny’s mother.  As the summer eases along, the women discover that their forced togetherness may not be so bad after all.

When Island Girls gets the moms involved, it becomes a little too unbelievable (literally) for my taste.  It’s like The First Wives Club in book form.  You can see that Thayer tried to impose a little substance into the material, but it succeeds more as a breezy beach book.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Flora (Gail Godwin)

Have you ever read a book waiting with bated breath for something to happen, and when something happens, EVERYTHING happens? Such is the case with Gail Godwin’s Flora

The title character is a simple-hearted but overly emotional woman who is asked to stay with a young girl, Helen, during the summer while Helen’s father goes off to do a job.  All we know at the beginning is that this job is somehow related to World War II, which is when this novel is set.  Helen is not keen at all on this, having just lost her beloved grandmother.  To make matters worse, her father forbids Flora from letting Helen see any friends or go anywhere due to a polio outbreak.  Helen is prone to jealousy and normal “tween” feelings, especially when the local grocery delivery man takes a liking to Flora. 

There is no outlined plot to Flora, so if you like your novels with tons of action, this is not the book for you.  In a nutshell, the reader is let into the fishbowl of Helen and Flora’s summer, which is interspersed with colorful characters and historically significant developments.  However, the main relationship, between Helen and Flora, isn’t fully fleshed out.  By the time something major happens (and believe me, you’re waiting a long time), it seems like an afterthought by Godwin.  Perhaps she wanted to lull the reader into a state of contentment, but for me, it just wasn’t enough substance.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Schroder (Amity Gaige)

Amity Gaige’s Schroder is an exquisitely written novel that takes the reader completely inside a confession to the main character’s wife.  From the beginning, you know that the confessor, Erik Schroder, is a very unreliable narrator, so from that point forward, you don’t know whether to believe anything he says. 

The novel begins with Erik as a young boy living in Boston, having recently immigrated into the country from Germany with his father.  On a whim, he impulsively changes his name to Eric Kennedy on a summer camp application, and from that point on, that alias is what he is known by (unbeknownst to his father).  He grows up, gets married to Laura, and eventually they have a daughter, Meadow.  The family is happy for awhile, but as often happens nowadays, they grow apart.  Eric is not happy with his child’s custody arrangement and so decides to take matters into his own hands by kidnapping her.  The reader believes that Meadow is perfectly safe in Eric’s hands, but Schroder gets more and more intense when she discovers this may not be entirely true.

Gaige’s choice to use Eric’s written confession to Laura as her storytelling method works incredibly well.  Schroder is very hard to put down, and even though Eric has been lying his whole life, the reader sympathizes with him, even through the abduction of his daughter.  However, I needed much more closure and confrontation at the end and wish that Gaige had satisfied these wishes.  I was left with more questions than anything, and that’s not how I like my books to end.  However, Gaige works wonders with words, making Schroder a totally worthwhile read.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society (Amy Hill Hearth)

I read Amy Hill Hearth’s debut fiction novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society, in record time, probably because I usually love “books about books.”  However, when I finished the novel, I found myself asking “Is that all?”  It seems like there could have been so much more, and while it was a quick read, it wasn’t quite a rewarding one.

Eighty-year-old Dora, the narrator, takes us back 50 years to Naples, Florida, when race relations were tense and there was a very definitive “Southern” way of life.  Dora works in a dead-end post office job and is just recently divorced (oh, the SCANDAL!!!).  One day, she meets Jackie Hart, who has just moved from Boston due to her husband’s job and is anxious to get a “literary salon” up and running.  The reader quickly gets to know the characters who show up to these meetings (especially through their reactions to the chosen books), including a woman who has just been released from jail for the murder of her husband.  Every single one of them has a secret (or secrets), and they all come out on the night of (what could be) a life-changing event.  The biggest secret of all, however, is one that the reader is made aware of early in the novel, but that is not revealed to the other characters until the end.

Hearth should be commended for writing an interesting story, but her characters are so engaging, that I would have loved to have learned more about them.  What happened to all of them between the time Dora’s remembrances stopped and present day?  The novel could have been much richer if Hill satisfied the reader’s curiousity, but it’s a good first fiction effort.