The Smart One by Jennifer Close – Book Review

The Smart One by Jennifer Close
Published by Knopf, an imprint of Random House

Okay, so, I love Jennifer Close’s The Smart One. In fact, it was my Bloggers Recommend pick for April. First, a little about the book (from the publisher):

Weezy Coffey’s parents had always told her she was the smart one, while her sister was the pretty one. “Maureen will marry well,” their mother said, but instead it was Weezy who married well, to a kind man and good father. Weezy often wonders if she did this on purpose—thwarting expectations just to prove her parents wrong.

But now that Weezy’s own children are adults, they haven’t exactly been meeting her expectations either. Her oldest child, Martha, is thirty and living in her childhood bedroom after a spectacular career flameout. Martha now works at J.Crew, folding pants with whales embroidered on them and complaining bitterly about it. Weezy’s middle child, Claire, has broken up with her fiancé, canceled her wedding, and locked herself in her New York apartment—leaving Weezy to deal with the caterer and florist. And her youngest, Max, is dating a college classmate named Cleo, a girl so beautiful and confident she wears her swimsuit to family dinner, leaving other members of the Coffey household blushing and stammering into their plates.

As the Coffey children’s various missteps drive them back to their childhood home, Weezy suddenly finds her empty nest crowded and her children in full-scale regression. Martha is moping like a teenager, Claire is stumbling home drunk in the wee hours, and Max and Cleo are skulking around the basement, guarding a secret of their own. With radiant style and a generous spirit, The Smart One is a story about the ways in which we never really grow up, and the place where we return when things go drastically awry: home.

And here’s what I had to say about it:

Weezy’s parents always said that she was “the smart one,” but it is hard to feel brilliant when all three of your adult children have returned to live at home. In her sophomore novel, Jennifer Close creates a vivid and realistic portrait of a not always functional, but still loving, family and explores both the parent–child relationship and adult sibling rivalries.
Jennifer Karsbaek, Devourer of Books
Pre-order now: Indiebound | Amazon

Editor’s Pick – I just love Close’s ability to insert laugh-out-loud moments in a book otherwise filled with some very serious life events. It is this balance that makes her work truly special. – Jen

A few additional thoughts:

  • As someone who also loved Close’s debut novel, Girls in White Dresses, one of the appeals of The Smart One for me was that it seemed to be the next step in adulthood. In Girls, everyone was pretty much young and single and out on her own. In The Smart One, Claire starts in this place, but ends up taking a step that many would consider backwards: moving back in with her parents.
  • Weezy’s mother is wonderful and horrible at the same time. She says some pretty terrible things, but she is totally the elderly relative that you either have in your own family or have met at a friend’s family dinners. She is so life-like that you can’t help but laugh in recognition.
  • If you read Girls in White Dresses, know that this is a bit more of a conventional style. The point of view switches from character to character, but in a more traditional way, less jumping around.

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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Things We Didn’t Say by Kristina Riggle – Book Review

Things We Didn’t Say by Kristina Riggle
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks, in imprint of HarperCollins

Family isn’t always easy, and the Turner family has their own special problems. Michael Turner is trying to make things work with his live-in fiance Casey, but his mentally ill ex-wife Mallory doesn’t make that easy, particularly when Michael must worry about his three children every time they visit their mother for the weekend. Casey has demons of her own – the death of her brother, her recovering alcoholism – and is no longer sure that her love for Michael is enough. She’s ready to walk out the door, never to return, when she gets a call from the high school that Dylan, Michael’s middle child, attends, saying that he never showed up for school. Suddenly a complicated situation is made all the more complicated by a missing teenager, and the Turners must decide just what sort of family they really are.

Riggle is at her best when she is living inside the messy reality of modern families, and Things We Didn’t Say is full of some of her most deliciously flawed characters yet. All six of the major characters – Casey, Michael, Mallory, and the three children – narrate at least one chapter in their own voice. As opposed to her first book, Real Life & Liars, which also featured a family, but in which most character’s chapters were in the third person, each family member actually gets to narrate their chapters in first person, bringing the reader closer to even the least central members of the family. Particularly effective is one of Mallory’s chapters, her smug and destructive attitude practically oozes from the pages, leaving the reader feeling furious, and perhaps slightly contaminated by her bile.

Things We Didn’t Say is a fascinatingly intimate look at the lives of a single, ordinary family during a time of extraordinary crisis. It is rich and engrossing, a read that will captivate your very heart. I read almost the entire thing in two sittings, and would have easily sat long enough to read it in a single sitting, had my own life not intervened. Things We Didn’t Say is a beautiful book; highly recommended.

Disclaimer: Please note, I have spent some time in a friendly manner with Riggle at various book events, but this has in no way influenced the content of this review. I loved this book wholeheartedly because it is great book, and not because I occasionally chat with Riggle on Twitter.

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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The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore – Book Review

The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore
Published by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Hachette

Ginny and William Owens have been enjoying their quiet house, but they are thrilled when their daughter Lillian brings her young children for a visit. Even so, things don’t seem quite right, with no sign of Lillian’s husband Tom who, Lillian is hiding from everyone, recently cheated on her. Not that there is much chance to dwell, when their son Stephen and his pregnant wife Jane show up unexpectedly and are forced to stay when Jane is ordered to bed rest. As if the house isn’t crowded enough with five adults and two children, the Owens’s youngest child Rachel shows up, her life similarly in tatters.

The Arrivals could have easily been one long pity party, in some ways it was one tragedy piled on top of another. Money problems, infidelity, high-risk pregnancies, all happening to a single family in a single summer. And yet, the love of the family and the way they interacted, together with Meg Mitchell Moore’s gorgeous prose combine to create a cohesive and moving novel.

Certain passages of The Arrivals are just so beautiful and true that they beg to be read, reread, shared:

Thinking about it, her throat caught. She felt embarrassed for herself the way you feel embarrassed for a child who falls down while she’s running toward a playground. So much optimism, dashed. -p. 25

What is particularly admirable about The Arrivals is how so many periods of life were represented so realistically: there is the young family, the expectant family, the empty nesters, the young person unsure where to turn. The characters have some poignant things to say about the bittersweet nature of of parenthood as well:

“But parents these days, it is different, I know it is. There’s a certain level of…dissatisfaction that wasn’t there when I was first a mother. Nobody worried about living up to some absurd ideal. There was no idea. But no, I don’t know. It just seems like you’re all laboring under this belief that you can have it all. I know that sounds like a cliche, but really that’s what it is.” -p. 159

 

After she hung up, Ginny told Lillian that it took every ounce of whatever she had – willpower, fortitude – not to disobey him. She could not stop thinking, she told Lillian, of how he looked on his first day of first grade, waiting at the bus stop with his back curving under his navy blue backpack and his eyes big and scared beneath his baseball cap. Only twice in all of Stephen’s life, said Ginny, had she felt such a need to protect him – that day, and today. -p. 287

The Arrivals is beautifully written, a must read for people in all stages of life, for anyone to whom family is important. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Author’s agent.
* 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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