My March Book Of The Month selections ended up being pretty solid choices for me. The weightier one among the three is literary fiction novel An American Marriage, while the other two are lighter reads that would fit well for a more escapist mood. Not That I Could Tell was a mystery that – despite a few less intriguing characters – held my interest well from start to finish. While The Wife Between Us is a thriller that fell a bit flat shortly after the big midway twist.
Read my full reviews of all three below and let me know in the comments what you thought if you’ve read them as well!
Book Of The Month is a subscription service that sends you one hardcover book per month out of five selections for a low monthly subscription fee. You can add 2 more titles to your monthly delivery for $9.99 each, and the price overall is very cheap for full-size hardcovers.
Book Of The Month is not paying me to promote their service. I just love it so much that I’ve turned my monthly deliveries into a feature on my blog 🙂 I do encourage you to try it though, because if you like hardcovers it’s a great deal. You can use my referral link to sign up if you’re interested in trying it. You’ll get a discount and I’ll get a free book when you join. Win, win!
An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones
Publication Date: February 6th 2018
Published By: Algonquin Books
Length In Hardcover: 308 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.05
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined.
Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
Structure and shifting POV. I’m a sucker for novels that are written with alternating points of view. In the case of An American Marriage, it’s particularly interesting to be able to see the story unfold from the three characters that are part of the love-triangle central to the plot of the novel. I also found the chapters in the first half of the book that are made up of letters that Celestial and Roy are exchanging to be very engrossing. I’m particularly partial to the use of additional artifacts and documents within a narrative – it breaks up the action and adds depth to the way in which the story is told.
Complex themes. I found myself pretty quickly starting to judge Celestial, Andre and their choices throughout the novel. It’s easy to see where the events that are happening to Roy will eventually take the other characters, but it’s still cringe-worthy to watch it happen for someone like me who values loyalty above all. Jones likely intended for different readers to have different reactions to the same set of choices made by her characters, while she explores themes of love, loyalty, friendship and marriage in controversial ways. She invites the readers to make up their own minds about whether they should be picking sides or just feel angered by the injustice that derails the characters’ lives.
Diversity and racial discrimination. Obviously this is a story about African American characters, centered in present-day African American culture and motivated at its center by the lack of justice African American’s face in the American criminal system. Roy’s entire life is turned upside down due to the discrimination he experiences when he’s believed to be guilty of a crime he didn’t commit as a result of the color of his skin. I felt that Jones’ writing really grounded the characters and events within this culture and discriminatory reality in way that kept me focused on the role of race and discrimination within the plot and the characters’ lives.
Simplistic in some parts. The reason for which I ended up giving the novel 4 stars rather than 5 is that, while it explores important themes and is beautifully written, there were parts that felt a little shallow and contrived. It was as if the author was trying to make the intended plot fit onto the characters and not fully exploring the ways in which they would have organically reacted to the situations they found themselves in. The ending in particular felt too neat and tidy for me. After all the chaos of the preceding chapters, in just a few minutes, everything is reversed again. It definitely didn’t feel realistic and was somewhat of a let-down compared to the way in which Jones carefully straddles the morally questionable situation she places her characters in prior to that point.
Significant novel that tackles important themes including racial discrimination, with a plot that centers on multiple moral quandaries and an ending that is maybe slightly too neat for the complexity that precedes it.
Not That I Could Tell
Publication Date: March 27th 2018
Published By: St. Martin’s Press
Length In Hardcover: 320 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.55
A group of neighborhood women gather in one of their backyards one Saturday night to drink some wine and by Monday morning, one of them is gone. Everyone knows something about everyone else in the quirky small Ohio town of Yellow Springs, but no one can make sense of the disappearance.
Kristin was a sociable twin mom, college administrator, and doctor’s wife who didn’t seem all that bothered by her impending divorce—and the investigation turns up more questions than answers, with her husband, Paul, at the center. As the police investigation goes from a media circus to a cold case, the neighbors are forced to reexamine what’s going on behind their own closed doors—and to ask how well anyone really knows anyone else.
Realistic. I liked the way in the novel focused on normal people in a relatively normal neighborhood and the relationships between them, but with an abnormal mystery at the core. This juxtaposition reminded me a lot of Liane Moriarty’s novels, and that’s definitely a good thing. I enjoyed most of her books and they have the same elements of relatable characters and real life happenings combined with some kind of enigma or crime. Strawser did an excellent job of portraying the suburban lives of her characters realistically in Not That I Could Tell, and expertly conveyed the way in which gossip and drama can spread house to house and parent to parent in that kind of setting.
Slow burn mystery. So this could be a positive or a negative, depending on what it is you’re looking for. I can appreciate a good thriller as much as the next person, but I also loved the way in which the mystery in Not That I Could Tell was quieter and unfolded in more of a trickle than a series of baffling twists. You start off with a pretty mundane setting and just a hint of something wrong, and that feeling of foreboding and discomfort slowly builds into a crescendo all the way through to the end of the novel. It’s definitely a book that is more of a character study than plot driven and it worked for me.
Clara. You could argue there are technically two protagonists within the novel – stay-at-home mom Clara and news producer Izzy. I found Clara really likable and easy to connect with and felt pretty much the opposite about Izzy (more on that below). Clara came across as smart and pragmatic though wounded by some traumatizing events in her past. She has a strength of conviction that is clear throughout the narrative but becomes even more apparent by the end of the novel. This inner compass propels her to do the right thing even when it puts her own marriage in jeopardy or making her seem crazy to her neighbors. I found her character very compelling.
Izzy. The point of view within the novel shifts each chapter between Izzy and Clara. I definitely preferred reading Clara’s chapters as mentioned above. Izzy ends up seeming something of a mess – stuck in a past in which she resents her sister for an imagined slight and dwells far too much on her former love for a very secondary character that has little to no importance to the central plot of the novel. I suppose this background history is supposed to add to the depth of Izzy’s character, but it just made me dislike her. She seemed whiny and ineffectual, though by the end of the novel, her role within the actual mystery becomes more significant and I wasn’t quite as irritated by her.
Realistic characters and a relatable setting as a backdrop to an intriguing mystery plot – along the lines of similar novels by popular Australian author Liane Moriarty.
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
Publication Date: January 8th 2018
Published By: St. Martin’s Press
Length In Hardcover: 352 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.87
A novel of suspense that explores the complexities of marriage and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.
When you read this book, you will make many assumptions. You will assume you are reading about a jealous wife and her obsession with her replacement. You will assume you are reading about a woman about to enter a new marriage with the man she loves. You will assume the first wife was a disaster and that the husband was well rid of her. You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships. Assume nothing.
Psychological thriller. The Wife Between Us is a relatively solid psychological thriller. There’s a well-executed unreliable narrator and the reader is left unsure of who to believe throughout the book, wondering which character is sane and which is actually crazy. I felt genuinely surprised by the significant midway twist in the plot which turns what you believe until that point on its head. It’s not just a shift in action, but a shift in the very paradigm of who is whom within the narrative. Unfortunately, after that point, the novel falls into a more obvious and less exciting plot line.
Vanessa. The protagonist, Vanessa, is engaging and layered. She’s a bit of a mess but there’s a lot that the reader can find in her to sympathize with and she ends up feeling likable, even while you’re not sure if she’s being truthful or not. I found that Vanessa’s relationship with her aunt Charlotte made for interesting reading – it added some depth to Vanessa’s characterization and Charlotte was a likable character in her own right. I felt a need more of a glimpse at the end of the novel as to how Vanessa’s life turns out rather than just that of Richard. I think that would have tied her story together better for me.
The second half. For the first half of the novel, the reader is captivated by trying to figure out who is telling the truth and who is lying, who is the good guy and who the bad guy. It’s an intriguing start that pulls you in and keeps you guessing. There’s a pretty big reveal right at the middle of the novel, after which the plot devolves into a sadly run-of-the-mill cat and dog chase of a thriller, which ends up actually being far from thrilling. Much of the mystery is gone and with it the imaginative and original aspects of the novel I enjoyed in the first half. If the second half of the novel had held up to the promise of the first half, this could have easily been a 5 star read.
Richard and a few other characters. Vanessa’s ex Richard is supposed to be the big bad villain of the novel (depending on who you choose to believe). His characterization felt caricatured and hard to believe for me. Should you decide that he’s a sociopath (no spoilers), he still doesn’t feel realistic. Sociopaths do have confusing dual personalities, but this is taken to an extreme in Richard’s character that helps to muddy the waters about whether he’s good or evil but also feels like it pushes the boundaries of what can be reasonably believed. Aside from that, secondary characters like Richard’s sister Maureen and Vanessa’s friend Sam feel thrown in and barely there within the narrative.
An intriguing first half that lives up to the mysterious psychological thriller premise but is let down by a disappointing second half.
Have you read An American Marriage, Not That I Could Tell or The Wife Between Us? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.
If you want to read my previous reviews for my Book Of The Month deliveries here are links to my February 2018, January 2018, December 2017, November 2017, October 2017, September 2017, August 2017, July 2017, June 2017, May 2017, April 2017, March 2017, February 2017, and January 2017.
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