The Comfort of Lies by Randy Susan Meyers Published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Only five years ago, Tia was desperately in love with a man she was sure loved her back. When Nathan found out about her pregnancy, however, he left her, imploring her to get rid of the baby. Unable to bear aborting Nathan’s child, but also unable to imagine herself as a competent mother, Tia settled on adoption. Now, when the latest set of pictures come in from her child’s adoptive parents, Tia cannot help by think of Nathan, and the fact that he knows nothing about their daughter. On a whim, she decides to copy the pictures and send them to Nathan, where they intercepted by his wife, Juliette.
Juliette had, somewhat, forgiven Nathan when he confessed his affair, but learning that he has a daughter is more than she can handle. Desperate to see this little girl who is part Nathan, Juliette searches her out, and finds her adoptive mother, Caroline. Caroline is just as – or perhaps even more – damaged as Tia and Juliette; she is a deeply introverted person who glories in her research-based career. Interacting with a young child is simply not natural for Caroline, and although she loves her family, she worries that she is constantly failing as a wife and mother.
By opening with Tia announcing her pregnancy and Nathan immediately leaving her, Meyers makes her story immediately engaging, while also providing the perfect set up for the novel as a whole. Everything that happens in The Comfort of Lies stems from this very moment, and Tia’s subsequent decisions to have her baby and give her up for adoption. I loved the way Meyers brings all three women together through one act of infidelity and one little girl. She does not pretend that things will be easy between these women, but writes interactions tinged both with real emotions and with grace.
The Comfort of Lies is a beautiful book about the things that tear us apart and how they can bring us back together. Recommended.
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.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, narrated by Tara Sands Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Ballantine Books
Abandoned at birth, Victoria Jones has been a ward of the State of California her entire life. She has, of necessity, learned to be hard and guarded, expressing her feelings – typically of hate and misanthropy – through the Victorian language of flowers, taught to her by Elizabeth, the one women who was nearer than anyone else to being her mother. Now that she has aged out of her last group home, Victoria must learn to live life on her own. She finds she can make a living arranging flowers; her bouquets are imbued with meaning as she chooses flowers based on the hopes each customer has for the effect of the arrangement. Just when she thinks she is gaining stability, however, she is forced to both let down her guard, and remember in excruciating detail what went wrong in her life with Elizabeth.
Thoughts on the story:
Vanessa Diffenbaum has created in The Language of Flowers a beautiful and moving story that nearly gave me a heart attack more than once. Victoria is a worrying character, initially, seeming very hard and closed off, but it is not long before the reader is sucked into her life, experiencing her 18 years of pain, and the slim hope that she has for the future. Her growth is really, it happens organically and, although it experiences setbacks, it produces beautiful results. The language of flowers is woven perfectly into the story, enhancing both plot and character development, and giving the book an extra something special to really set it apart.
Thoughts on the audio production:
Narrator Tara Sands was perfect for this part. For one thing, she sounded age appropriate for Victoria, which is always something that worries me in audiobooks with young protagonists. More importantly, however, she was able to capture the contradictions in Victoria’s character, the fragility under her crusty veneer. For more information on the audio, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.
This was a beautiful book and an lovely audio production. Enjoy it in print or in audio! Highly recommended
I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.
After losing her daughter – and subsequently her marriage – in a tragic accident, Maya Lange moved across the country and began the Red Thread Adoption Agency, helping families adopt baby girls from China. None of Maya’s new friends, clients, or coworkers know about her loss, they simply know she is completely devoted to her job and to bringing families together with the little girls destined to be part of their family. The latest batch of families seeking new additions includes Maya’s good friend, Emily, who is desperate to make her marriage – which is her husband’s second – feel like a family, despite her sullen stepdaughter who wants nothing to do with her.
Instead of focusing solely on Maya, or solely on Maya and Emily, Hood gives roughly equal time to each family contemplating adoption, in addition to writing chapters from Maya’s point of view as she works to help these families bring home babies and works out her own painful personal history at the same time. I was actually somewhat worried when I discovered that so many characters were receiving sections from their own point of view and that each Chinese family whose daughter would find a new home would have their story briefly told as well. Often novels with large ensembles do not work well for me because they frequently seem to sacrifice good character and even plot development for too many points of view, and “The Red Thread” had only 300 pages to tell all of these stories.
My fear was totally unfounded.
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how she did it, but Ann Hood managed to evoke in me an intense emotional connection to the story she was telling and to the plights and lives of all of the families involved, even those Chinese families whose stories were given only a few pages. Maya’s story brought me to the point of tears more than once, and books very rarely make me cry (other than a few Harry Potter deaths, which still get me every time). Part it may have been that this is a highly personal story for Hood who also lost a child and went through the adoption process, but I think it is just as much the fact that she is a phenomenal writer whose backlist I now can’t wait to read.
The writing was gorgeous, the plotting was perfect, and the characterization was superb; it was emotionally engaging without being emotionally manipulative. I can very highly recommend this “The Red Thread.”
In rural India, Kavita Merchant’s first child is born a girl, causing her husband Javu to take the baby from her and give it to his brother to dispose of. Javu rationalizes that they need a son to help in the fields, and they would have to pay a dowry to get any girl married off, a daughter would be nothing more than a burden. Kavita does not accept this reasoning so easily, however. When her second pregnancy comes to term, she first hides her labor from him, and then demands to be given one night with the baby she has named Usha. Instead of allowing her second daughter to be killed as well, this newly delivered mother walks from her rural village to Mumbai in order to place Usha in an orphanage where she might have hope of a better life.
Meanwhile, in California Somer and her husband Krishnan are struggling with infertility. Krishnan was born and raised in Mumbai, coming to America only for undergraduate and medical school, until he fell in love with and married Somer, also a physician. After Somer repeatedly fails to get pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, Krishnan suggests that they might want to turn to adoption, and recommends that they use an orphanage his mother patronizes in Mumbai. Other than bringing home their precious Asha, however, their trip to India is somewhat of a disaster. Somer feels ignored and left out, that she doesn’t fit in, and this remnant of her time in India carries over into her life with her husband and child going forward, leads her to attempt to keep both of them away from India.
This was an incredibly moving book. I nearly cried for both Kavita and for Somer within the first 50 pages of the book: Kavita for the loss of her first daughter and the deep sadness of having to give up Usha; Somer for the pain of being able to have the child she wanted so dearly. Somer was a bit of a cold character for much of the middle of the book, which made her somewhat hard to connect to, but she felt very real to me, regardless. She was so afraid of losing what she had that she all but pushed it away for her.
I loved Gowda’s writing and got completely carried away with the story she was telling. Often Somer’s coldness would keep me from immersing myself fully into the book, but the emotional beginning to “Secret Daughter” pulled me in before I had a chance to get turned off by my lack of connection with one of the main characters. It let me see Somer as a real person whose motivations I could understand, even if i didn’t always agree with her behavior.
This was a fabulous story from a very talented debut author. Highly recommended.
This review was done with a book received from a friend.
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