Without Benefits by Nicole Tone – Beach Read With Soul

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Nicole is someone I got to know on Twitter when looking for critique partners. As we swapped first chapters, I soon realized her writing was exemplary and she had much to offer in terms of feedback and the craft of writing, something I could only aspire too. So, when I knew her first book was coming out this year, I signed up for an ARC.

I received my copy over the long weekend and I settled in after an exhausting couple of days with my Kindle in hand.

Emma. Connor. Owen.

Two men. One woman. Emma flees NYC after the September 11 attacks, leaving behind a city that she called home. Reinventing herself in Seattle, she is engaged to Connor when Owen from her past surfaces.

The story moves predictably and slowly. Tone takes her time weaving Emma’s college years with her current life (in her 30’s) alternatively. Just when we are about to get frustrated as to why it takes her so long to see what everyone else in her life seems to know, we get a peak into the kind of person Emma has evolved into based on what happened in her past.

Tone works on revealing each character, their motivations and their place in Emma’s life leisurely. Seattle and New York City come to life in this debut. The prose sparkles with understated emotions and beautiful imagery. She delves into relationships with a beautiful sensitivity. I loved the way Emma related to her sister Leah and their mom. There are moments in the book almost every woman will relate to.

Having said that, I would have found the book compelling with a stronger conflict. I kept waiting for a story to unfold until the very end only to realize that was all to the story.

Pick it up if you are in the mood for a beach read with soul.

The House We Grew Up In – Dysfunctional Much?

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I picked up The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell based on a recommendation on Twitter. The story starts promisingly enough with the eldest daughter of the Bird family arriving at the family house after her mom dies. Weaving back and forth over a period of 20 – 30 years, the story traces the Bird family as it disintegrates following the suicide of the youngest child on Easter Sunday.

I love books that takes a hard, gritty look at issues beneath the polished veneer. Most of these books also end with hope or redemption. However, Jewell puts together every conceivable dysfunction possible in a family and then ends the book on an all too predictable note. I do not ever recall feeling angry at a protagonist as I did with this book. At over 400 pages, the book could have cut 100 pages and would have been tauter for that.

Not my kind of book. Pick it up if you are in the mood for something that will make your life seem beautiful by comparison.

The Nightingale – A Riveting Read

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I bought this book after it was our book club pick for this month. It sat on my Kindle for over three weeks before I even looked it up. I had no idea what to expect as I skipped reading the synopsis or the reviews before buying the book.

I finished the book a day after I started reading with tears streaming down my eyes. Tears not because of the way it ends but for the powerful storytelling and a story that will stay in my head for years.

Hannah’s language is lyrical and evocative. The story starts in current day and slips effortlessly into the 1930s and 1940s. This is a tale of two sisters set in the middle of WWII. What makes this book unputdownable at 440 pages long is that the story hums along refusing to get bogged down by details. Yes, it about the war but it isn’t about bombs and being out in the trenches. It about the women left behind. The ones who trudge on through the days, weeks and years, carrying on running their homes, raising their children  despite the unspeakable horrors they witness. It is the story of courage – of mothers, of sisters, of friends and of neighbors. It is about what is worth fighting for when you have lost everything. Well, almost.

The magic of the story that Hannah spins is such that you are transported into the freezing winters of France, on to the sidewalks of Paris in its heydays and in the middle of rebels plotting to fight to the death. You are there, with Vianne, with Isabelle as they grapple with the questions of what is right and what they can do.

An absolutely lovely and thought provoking read. A book I know I will re-read in the years to come. A definite buy!

Before We Visit The Goddess – A Nuanced Read That Will Linger

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Before We Visit The Goddess by Chitra Divakaruni is a book I have been looking forward to since I saw the pre-release publicity on Twitter. I got it over the weekend from the library and savored it over the course of this afternoon.

The book opens ominously to jackals howling in the night and dives right into the life of Sabitri now penning a letter to her granddaughter Tara. As she mulls the kind of wisdom a grandmother can convey across generations and oceans, we are teased into her life and the life of her daughter Bela. Three women. Three generations. Three lives. The books jumps across time and continents and threads them together in piece that is compelling.

The language is evocative, the book plays like a series of montages spotlighting mom, daughter and grandmother. The other characters appear in and out, pay their role and bow out. You watch from the sidelines and ache for each of these women. The tropes are plentiful and before you worry that it might head to its cliched end, they morph and deliver something of value. You have the aging senior who needs a sitter, you have the visiting professor, you have the masseur boyfriend, you have the gay friend. Each of these characters are delightful making you wish they would linger on, yet the story teases you and playfully jumps on to the next scene.

At a time when novels tell you more than you want to know and spend agonizing hours on showing what the characters feel and do, Before We Visit The Goddess is crisp, leaping between plot points making you pay attention. A lot is left unsaid letting you the reader pontificate. It leaves glimpses of things that happened, the future that could be and lets you fill in the details.

This is a book that I may be tempted to read again or suggest as a book club selection. Definitely a keeper!