The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen – Book Review

The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen
Published by Washington Square Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

**In the interest of full disclosure, I was a one-time beta reader for the first 75 or so pages of this book. I don’t believe that in any way changes my opinion of the finished product, as is evidenced by comparing my review of The Best of Us to my reviews of Pekkanen’s previous books.**

One advantage of making friends with that brilliant yet painfully awkward guy in college is that someday when he’s filthy rich, he might just invite for on an all-expenses paid trip to a private villa in Jamaica for his 35th birthday. Tina, Allie, and Savannah have been friends since college when they – particularly Allie – befriended Dwight. Now they are in their mid-30s and haven’t always kept up with one another as well as they would have liked. They all have their own problems these days, though.

Tina and Allie are both mothers, although Allie seems to have an easier time with her two older children than Tina does with her herd of young ones. At Tina’s house, chaos reigns and she feels as if she hasn’t had a good shower or a decent night’s sleep in years. Allie may appear to have a perfect house, family, and marriage, but she has recently discovered that her birth father and his father both died of Lou Gehrig’s disease and doesn’t know how to tell her husband about her fears. Savannah is happy without children, but she is also going through a painful divorce after her husband cheated on her. Pekkanen focuses on the women in her stories, so we don’t as much insight as to where Dwight is emotionally, but we do get to know his wife, Pauline, and she is stressed out about her inability to have a child.

One of the things I love most about Pekkanen is the way she writes about women in different stages of life, with the different relationships that make their lives what they are. In The Opposite of Me it is a young woman connecting with her family, particularly her sister; in These Girls it is the power of female friendship, and in Skipping a Beat it is the dissolution of a marriage. In The Best of Us, Pekkanen manages to cover family, marriage, friendship, and life with children, and do nearly all of it with her characters on a couples’ vacation in Jamaica. The dreams, goals, and fears of each of women on the trip bring them into occasional conflict with one another, enough conflict to keep The Best of Us interesting, but not so much as to become melodramatic.

Dealing with children, marriage, health, and friendship, The Best of Us is another winner from Sarah Pekkanen. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Edelweiss.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth – Mini Book Review

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth
Published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

From the publisher:

Eighty-year-old Dora, the narrator of a story that began a half century earlier, is bonding with an unlikely set of friends, including Jackie Hart, a restless middle-aged wife and mother from Boston, who gets into all sorts of trouble when her family moves to a small, sleepy town in Collier County, Florida, circa 1962.

With humor and insight the novel chronicles the awkward North-South cultural divide as Jackie, this hapless but charming “Yankee,” looks for some excitement in her life by accepting an opportunity to host a local radio show where she creates a mysterious, late-night persona, “Miss Dreamsville,” and by launching a reading group—the Collier County Women’s Literary Society—thus sending the conservative and racially segregated town into uproar. The only townspeople who venture to join are regarded as outsiders at best—a young gay man, a divorced woman, a poet, and a young black woman who dreams of going to college.

Okay, so, longest title ever. I have to say, the title actually sort of prejudiced me against Miss Dreamville before I even started. For one thing, it makes the book sound almost sickly sweet. Well, Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society is definitely sweet, but it is not at all saccharine. Dora is a wonderful narrator, full of vim and vigor, as well as heart.

Jackie is, of course, the center of the novel. She is after all the catalyst for the change in Collier County. Even so, Miss Dreamville is not a Yankee coming down to save and enlighten backwards Southerners. Jackie is certainly the instigator of the literary society, but because she wants to make friends and have something to do in her new town. The group she gathers is mostly comprised of misfits and outcasts, but each of the characters in this book has something to teach her (or his) new friends, Jackie included.

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier Women’s Literary Society is well-written and absolutely endearing. It is a quick read both because it is relatively short and because it is so easy to get lost in that you won’t want to put it down. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher via Edelweiss.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski – Mini Review

Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski
Published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Lucy Blooms’s life is falling apart, but at least it isn’t cluttered. She recently lost her job, and her teenage son’s drug addiction cost her both her boyfriend and the house she had to sell to fund his rehab, and now her son won’t even speak with her. To make things worse, Lucy is now bunking with her best friend’s preschooler. Really, the only bright spot in her life comes from her new potential job. As the author of a not-so-bestselling book on organizing called Things are Not People, the one thing she feels that she might be qualified to do is organize. Unfortunately, her new client isn’t so much a packrat as a hoarder, and a very difficult one at that.

Objects of My Affection is a very engaging book that is easy to keep reading. Although Lucy can be frustrating at times, she is generally a character who is very easy to relate to, and the story that Smolinski has crafted keeps the pages turning.

For more information, see my piece on Objects of My Affection for SheKnows.com.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Being Lara by Lola Jaye – Book Review

Being Lara by Lola Jaye
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins

At 30, Lara is finally fairly comfortable with who she is. Sure, she’s still terrified of commitment, and of getting too close to anyone, but she is finally secure in her identity, as the adopted daughter of Trish and X Reid, as a daughter whose skin tone is vastly different from that of her parents. No longer is Lara particularly interested in knowing anything about her birth mother, and never has she been curious about her birth country, Nigeria. All of this changes, however, when Lara’s birth mother, Yomi, shows up unexpectedly at her 30th birthday party. Now, for the first time, Lara is forced to think about her past and who she really is.

Despite the name, Being Lara is not simply Lara’s story. Much of the book is actually from the perspective of Trish and Yomi, Lara’s adoptive and birth mothers. These sections with their alternate viewpoints may just save Jaye’s book, because Lara is, at the beginning of the book in particular, a bit difficult to take. Actually, she’s more than just a bit difficult to take, and if she had been the only focus of the book, chances are good that I would have abandoned it in frustration. Despite her happy family and the fact that she seems to be well-adjusted, she is incredibly immature and naive, overly stuck in her ways, and about as proficient at romantic relationships as a teenage boy.  Obnoxious, and so flawed as to seem like a cliche instead of a living character. Luckily, her mothers’s stories – particularly Yomi’s story – add interest and give the reader something with which to sympathize.

Eventually Lara becomes more life-like and easier to relate to, but it does take time, making the reader exceptionally glad for the way that Yomi and Trish’s stories intersect hers. This is a book that is more concerned with plot than prose, and that does come through. Jaye’s writing is solid, but it fails to overcome any apathy the reader might feel towards the storyline or the characters. There is also – in the advance copy, a least – a continuity problem, wherein Lara and her best friend take a cab to her birthday party , and then Lara tears out of there in her own car after her birth mother surprises her. This may have been caught before the final, but as they took a cab for a very specific reason, it would have required some re-writing.

Although Being Lara is an interesting story with a satisfying conclusion, the first half in particular failed to impress me as much as I hoped it would.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson
Published by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette

From the publisher:

A GROWN-UP KIND OF PRETTY is a powerful saga of three generations of women, plagued by hardships and torn by a devastating secret, yet inextricably joined by the bonds of family. Fifteen-year-old Mosey Slocumb-spirited, sassy, and on the cusp of womanhood-is shaken when a small grave is unearthed in the backyard, and determined to figure out why it’s there. Liza, her stroke-ravaged mother, is haunted by choices she made as a teenager. But it is Jenny, Mosey’s strong and big-hearted grandmother, whose maternal love braids together the strands of the women’s shared past–and who will stop at nothing to defend their future.

You know, I had forgotten how much I like Joshilyn Jackson. I read her last novel, Backseat Saints about a year and 1/2 ago (although it appears that I may have somehow failed to ever review it). Why I have failed to read any of her backlist in the meantime, I have no idea. I have a feeling, though, that this is not a mistake I will be making for a second time. A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty is a gorgeously written and evocative novel of family and identity, of the things that bind us together, one that I really highly recommend.

For a full review, please read my piece in the SheKnows Book Lounge.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, at a trade show.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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