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The three titles I picked for my November 2016 delivery were The Mothers by Brit Bennett, Rich And Pretty by Rumaan Alam and The Trespasser by Tana French. I really loved both The Mothers and Rich And Pretty, but I didn’t really like The Trespasser.
by Brit Bennett
Published: October 11th 2016
Nadia Turner is a high school girl who shines in her Southern California community for her excellent grades and her beauty. After her mother’s untimely suicide, when Nadia is still in high school, Nadia’s life takes an unexpected turn when she initiates a relationship with Luke Sheppard, the local pastor’s son and a former high school athlete. After Nadia unexpectedly becomes pregnant, the choice she makes will change her destiny and that of the people around her.
What I Liked
The strength of the female protagonists. Aubrey and Nadia have both been faced with extreme trauma in their young lives and during the novel’s arc, and yet Bennett does not portray them as overwhelmed and defeated by this trauma. They finish high school, Nadia goes on to college and they are able to construct relatively healthy lives for themselves by putting time and effort into their objectives. I found this to be a very positive message in the novel. Considering what Nadia and Aubrey have been through, it would have been easy for Bennett to show them struggling to move past their traumatic experiences, depending on others for financial support and losing their drive to move forward. I felt that Nadia and Aubrey’s characters were those of two young female survivors who didn’t have perfect lives by any means, but who were still able to carry their burdens forward with them, rather than be smothered by them.
The portrayals of key life decisions and their consequences. The decision that Nadia ends up making about her teenage pregnancy follows not only her but also Luke and eventually Nadia’s best friend Aubrey into their twenties as they try to establish lives from themselves as adults. Though Nadia is not saddled with the responsibility of a child, her life is forever changed by its absence and by the thoughts that plague her of the alternate destiny she could have experienced. The novel is really focused on those formative years between sixteen and twenty two, when some people finish high school and others don’t, some get scholarships and others don’t, some attend college and others don’t. Nadia, Aubrey and Luke’s paths are influenced not just by their own decisions but also by those of their parents and the community around them.
The way in which Bennett shows different kinds of love in the novel. There’s obviously the puppy love between Nadia and Luke at the beginning of the novel, but Bennett also explores what that morphs into once they hit obstacles and also later, when Nadia and Luke reconnect as adults now in their own separate relationships. There’s the love between Nadia and Aubrey through the friendship they nurture as relative outcasts in their community, which is tried throughout the novel but ultimately stands the test of time. There’s also the love between Nadia and her father, a man she’s always struggled to connect with when her mother was present, and whom she eventually gets much closer to through life’s circumstances. And obviously, there’s the motherly love that gives the novel its title, in all its various manifestations – from Nadia and Aubrey’s moms, who do not seem to love them enough to be there for them, to the love of Luke’s mother, the wife of Pastor Sheppard, who does the unthinkable to protect her son.
What I Didn’t Like
There was nothing specific I didn’t like about this novel, but I had the overall feeling that though the book was really good, it wasn’t great. I think the story presented the chance to delve a little deeper into the pain of the characters and the complexity of their inner thoughts, but ultimately I was left feeling like this chance was missed. The characters were developed and realistic, but they could have been taken further and could have felt even more raw to the reader.
A moving and thought-provoking story about loss, the different kinds of love we find throughout our lives and the consequences of the choices we make as young adults.
Rich And Pretty
by Rumaan Alam
Published: June 7th 2016
Sarah and Lauren have been friends since high school, and their relationship – like all friendships – has morphed through the years. At the beginning of the novel, Sarah and Lauren are in their early 30s, but aside from that could not be more different from each other. Sarah is engaged, on the fast track to everything which women are expected to want at her age – marriage, a house in the suburbs and children. Lauren instead is single, career-driven and unwilling to let go of her independence. The novel is an exploration of the way in which Sarah and Lauren’s friendship has changed as they’ve both grown up into their adult selves and have made very different choices along the way.
What I Liked
The realistic portrayal of the inner lives of women. I felt that Rumaan Alam was spot on in the way in which he had Lauren and Sarah interact, and even more importantly in the way in which he wrote of their inner feelings. Maybe it’s because like Lauren and Sarah I’m in my early thirties and I therefore was in the perfect position to relate to their characters. Lauren especially was similar to me in many ways – like her I’m single, jealous of my independence and focused on my career. I often found myself realizing over and over throughout the novel that Lauren’s thoughts mirrored my own – whether she was being overly harsh toward herself and others or whether she was showing more perspective on her life. I was able to relate to the protagonists deeply and I felt that in doing so, the novel allowed me to explore some of my own thoughts and feelings about this time in my life and its very specific pressures.
The friendships. Sarah and Lauren’s friendship and their relationships to other female characters in the novel also reminded me of the various kinds of friendships I’ve had with women in my life. There are the childhood friends you’ve grown apart from, the ones you still hang out with out of habit, the ones with whom you’ve forged a completely new and entirely different relationship in your adulthood. There are the ongoing tensions, often about the same interpersonal issues that are rehashed over and over. There are spoken or unspoken jealousies, competition, but also selfless gestures, support and real trust. I felt that Alam was able to capture all the various nuances of female interactions, not even just between friends of the same age but between mothers and daughters or younger and older women as well.
The mundane plot. I think this was a downside for many of the people who gave this book a low rating on Amazon or Goodreads. For me, it’s actually one of the aspects that makes this novel so successful. The book is really about nothing – if by nothing you mean several years in the lives of two relatively normal women. There are celebrations, promotions, romances, fights, memories, trips and conversations over burgers and cocktails at a bar. It’s definitely nothing out of the ordinary – one of them doesn’t turn out to be a spy or die under mysterious circumstances. But that is most definitely the point. Alam is aiming to capture precisely the mundane in his novel, but I find the mundane endlessly interesting because of its relatability. However, if you’re looking for explosions and evil scheming, probably skip this one.
What I Didn’t Like
Some cliche scenes. There were a few instances in the novel where I think Alam lost his touch in terms of keeping his portrayal of Lauren and Sarah realistic. They were small and isolated, but there were still instances in which he’d mention a habit, a brand or a gesture that seemed incongruous with my experience as a woman and like it may have come off of an old romantic comedy or an Internet search for typical female behavior. In these few instances I was reminded that the author of this novel is after all a man.
The lack of diversity in the characters. Most of the main characters in this novel are either white, affluent, or both. There’s isn’t much discussion about financial difficulties, racial discrimination or any of the less pleasant realities of life that could have added depth to the narrative. Sarah is not white, but her ethnicity is honestly barely brushed on, and because she’s rich and her father is a famous white man, it rarely comes to bear on the novel’s plot. Lauren, despite being single and living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, seems to barely struggle financially herself. I think there was the opportunity to delve into some deeper potential struggles for the characters, which Alam maybe shirked away from so that he could focus on the more nuanced struggles of personal interaction and inner dialogue instead.
A strikingly realistic novel about the complexity of a certain subset of modern female friendship that made me feel like the author was in my head, in a good way.
by Tana French
Published: October 4 2016
Antoinette Conway is a tough female detective in Dublin’s murder squad who is struggling to gain the respect of her squad team members. When Antoinette and her partner Steve are assigned to a case which looks like the run-of-the-mill domestic violence fare that they’re typically assigned to, they soon realize there may actually be more to this case than meets the eye. Antoinette embarks on a quest to discover who can be trusted, including whether she can trust her own instincts.
What I Liked
The plot. This is a solid murder mystery with a relatively complex plot that involves violence, deceit, potential stalking, interrogations and psychological games. The ending of the novel was surprising enough to make me feel like, despite my distaste for the writing and characters, reading it was not a complete waste of time. If you don’t mind crude language and a very negative protagonist, I think you’ll find The Trespasser provides decent thrills and twists. It has a plethora of 5 star reviews on Goodreads, so there are clearly those who appreciate French’s style of writing enough that it doesn’t stop them from enjoying the plot of the book itself.
What I Didn’t Like
The writing. I had never read Tana French before so I came to The Trespasser unprepared for the amount of slang and curse words that she includes in her dialogue and in her protagonist’s internal thoughts. The book is narrated from the point of view of Antoinette Conway, and I think that French went overboard in trying to make Conway seem tough and like one of the guys through peppering her speech and thoughts with way too many expletives. The amount of cursing didn’t seem realistic, and it quickly made the writing sound repetitive because French relies on the same 5 or 6 curse words throughout the novel. Based on the writing, I think I will be avoiding novels by Tana French in the future.
The protagonist. I didn’t like detective Antoinette Conway from the beginning and I found her characterization to be one-dimensional and overdone. French portrays her as a paranoid, aggressive woman who thinks every single person she encounters is somehow out to get her. There was no nuance to her character and she was a terrible person to everyone around her because of her defensiveness and tendency to second guess everyone else’s intentions. French tries to give Antoinette a backstory that will serve to partly justify her extreme personality, but even the backstory seems just thrown in as an afterthought to try to unsuccessfully add depth to Conway’s character.
The length. This book was 464 pages, and I would say at least 164 of them were superfluous. In some parts of the book, I found myself skimming paragraphs and I realized that even doing so, I wasn’t missing any of the action. In a tightly-woven thriller that is supposed to provide intricate clues at every turn, it’s not a good sign that you can skim over page after page and still be completely clued in. French goes way overboard in the time she dedicates to detailing Detective Conway’s ruminations after each suspect’s statement in an interrogation or after each phrase Antoinette speaks in a squad meeting. Did it mean this? Did it mean that? Could it be interpreted other ways? After pages and pages of this, I must confess I no longer cared to know. The novel would have been much more enjoyable as a fast-paced thriller if it had actually been fast-paced.
The decent plot did not make up for the shoddy writing, crude language and the slow pace for me. With many excellent reviews on Goodreads, however, if you’re already a fan of French’s writing you may still want to give it a shot.
Have you read The Mothers, Rich And Pretty or The Trespasser? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.
Here’s my Instagram image from when I received my November 2016 delivery from Book Of The Month.
So excited to receive my November 2016 @bookofthemonthclub delivery, with two recent super popular titles and one from last months that was recommended on @annebogel's podcast @whatshouldireadnext . #bookreview #bookblog #bookblogger #bookstagram #books #bookworm #booksarelife #reading #readingisfun #readingtime #readingisfundamental #readingissexy #ilovebooks #booklover #bookish #bookgram #bibliophile #bookofthemonth #thursdaymorning #thursdaymotivation
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