BOOK REVIEW: THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

A dazzling, multigenerational novel in which the four adult daughters of a Chicago couple—still madly in love after forty years—recklessly ignite old rivalries until a long-buried secret threatens to shatter the lives they’ve built.

When Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that’s to come. By 2016, their four radically different daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator-turned-stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt when the darkest part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she’s not sure she wants by a man she’s not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects. Above it all, the daughters share the lingering fear that they will never find a love quite like their parents’.

As the novel moves through the tumultuous year following the arrival of Jonah Bendt—given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption fifteen years before—we are shown the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons’ past: years marred by adolescence, infidelity, and resentment, but also the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.

Spanning nearly half a century, and set against the quintessential American backdrop of Chicago and its prospering suburbs, Lombardo’s debut explores the triumphs and burdens of love, the fraught tethers of parenthood and sisterhood, and the baffling mixture of affection, abhorrence, resistance, and submission we feel for those closest to us. In painting this luminous portrait of a family’s becoming, Lombardo joins the ranks of writers such as Celeste Ng, Elizabeth Strout, and Jonathan Franzen as visionary chroniclers of our modern lives.


review
I have a hard time as it is to make my reviews short. Even when the books are short and sweet, with only a couple of main characters, and spanning a few months. The Most Fun We Ever Had is a 532 page book, about 6 main characters and spanning half a century. A piece of cake, right?

So, yeah. I’ll just diverge from my usual approach of writing reviews, to ensure that I don’t end up writing a novella myself while reviewing the book. Here I go.

Story

The novel is centered on a dysfunctional family. The story alternates between past and present. The past chronicles the whole history of the family, from the first meeting of Marilyn and David – the parents – to all the important events that shape up their family. This is a character-driven story. It’s the characters’ complex decisions and actions that take the story forward. I found parts of it gripping, and others hard to get by.

Characters

There’s only one word for describing each of the characters here – flawed. They have all at one point or another behaved selfishly, done terrible things and hurt others. I found David and Marilyn to be careless and irresponsible more than once. Wendy, the eldest sister, is the brashest and doesn’t hold back from punches. But she’s been dealt the worst among them all. And that made me dislike her the least among the characters. I found Liza horrible for the way she treated her boyfriend suffering from depression. Grace also annoyed me with her lies and immaturity

But it was Violet that I despised. This is a character who’s the most selfish and inconsiderate throughout the book. The way she treats Jonah – the son who she had given up for adoption right after his birth 15 years ago, and is again now back in her life – is just awful. Her insecurities about him hurting her family of a husband and two sons drive her to do some horrible things. The author does her best to redeem her in the end, but it didn’t work for me. In fact, it was only Jonah who I cared about and probably read the whole book for. If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably have DNF’d it.

Writing

Even though I wasn’t a fan of the characters, I did like the very realistic portrayal of sisterhood. The complicated feelings between sisters – love, loyalty, jealousy, entitlement, and above all forgiveness – are all very convincingly conveyed in the story. The writing was engaging but it wasn’t perfect by any stretch. The story touches upon some very serious issues like infidelity, mental health, alcohol abuse, grief. But the author treats them with very little respect and only uses them as plot devices or an afterthought.  And that was a big let down.

I find it commendable how the book is unapologetic about how realistic and humane its characters and their actions are. It’s not perfect. Real life hardly ever is. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it, does it?

P.S. I failed in my attempt to keep it concise. But I know myself well enough to be happy that the review wasn’t even bigger.


ratings

★★★☆☆

BOOK REVIEW : THE PLACE ON DALHOUSIE

‘You look the type to break your father’s heart.’
‘Yeah, but he broke mine first.’

When Rosie Gennaro first meets Jimmy Hailler, she has walked away from life in Sydney, leaving behind the place on Dalhousie that her father, Seb, painstakingly rebuilt for his family but never saw completed. Two years later, Rosie returns to the house and living there is Martha, whom Seb Gennaro married less than a year after the death of Rosie’s mother. Martha is struggling to fulfil Seb’s dream, while Rosie is coming to terms with new responsibilities. And so begins a stand-off between two women who refuse to move out of the home they both lay claim to.

As the battle lines are drawn, Jimmy Hailler re-enters Rosie’s life. Having always watched other families from the perimeters, he’s now grappling, heartbreakingly, with forming one of his own . . .

An unforgettable story about losing love and finding love; about the interconnectedness of lives and the true nature of belonging, from one of our most acclaimed writers.


review

Melina Marchetta has a distinct style of writing that when you read it, you just somehow know that it’s her. She can also evoke emotions effortlessly through her writing. Her stories also mostly always explore themes of family, particularly that of parents and children. There’s never only one primary plot line or one character arc that gets all the importance. There will be concurrent plot lines and characters, all connected with each other. The Place on Dalhousie is no different. We get to see the story from the perspective of three characters – the free spirited Jim, the rebellious Rosie and her step-mother Martha.

There is a lot going on with a lot of characters. Rosie is struggling with her parenthood and keeping her dreams on hold. She also has to share the house her father Seb built for her and her mother with her stepmother. But Martha and Rosie have a connection beyond this. Both their mothers lost their lives in the same week at the same cancer ward to breast cancer. Jim is struggling with his discovery of being a father all of a sudden, and laying roots when he never has before,  having been abandoned by both his parents. Martha is struggling with her grief for her husband, her love for the house he left behind and the potential of something more with friend’s elder brother Ewan who himself is struggling with a father who has Alzheimer’s.

There are appearances from characters from Melina’s previous books Saving Francesca and Piper’s Son, which all featured characters from Jim’s group of friends. I have a soft spot for this band of misfits. It was great to revisit them. Their friendship plays a big part in this book also. One thing I love about Melina’s books is that although there a lot of characters, each of them have a unique equation with another. She’s never lazy with her world-building. Here also, that is the case. All the characters are respectfully dealt with. Every line gives you a peak into a dimension. No words are wasted. I kept wishing for this book to never end. But it did. And now I don’t know how long I have to wait for another book by the author.


review

★★★★★


Links – Amazon | Goodreads | Book Depository

 

ARC REVIEW : WHERE THE FOREST MEETS THE STARS

In this gorgeously stunning debut, a mysterious child teaches two strangers how to love and trust again.

After the loss of her mother and her own battle with breast cancer, Joanna Teale returns to her graduate research on nesting birds in rural Illinois, determined to prove that her recent hardships have not broken her. She throws herself into her work from dusk to dawn, until her solitary routine is disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious child who shows up at her cabin barefoot and covered in bruises.

The girl calls herself Ursa, and she claims to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles. With concerns about the child’s home situation, Jo reluctantly agrees to let her stay—just until she learns more about Ursa’s past.

Jo enlists the help of her reclusive neighbor, Gabriel Nash, to solve the mystery of the charming child. But the more time they spend together, the more questions they have. How does a young girl not only read but understand Shakespeare? Why do good things keep happening in her presence? And why aren’t Jo and Gabe checking the missing children’s website anymore?

Though the three have formed an incredible bond, they know difficult choices must be made. As the summer nears an end and Ursa gets closer to her fifth miracle, her dangerous past closes in. When it finally catches up to them, all of their painful secrets will be forced into the open, and their fates will be left to the stars.


A little girl who claims to be an alien and two broken souls. And we have riveting tale by a debut author.

First we have Jo, a brilliant Ornithologist and a cancer survivor who decided to have both her breasts removed, and now feels alienated by almost all men around her. Then we have Gabe, who has his own demons haunting him, skeletons in his family forcing him to isolate himself from everyone else. And we have Ursa, who brings these two together in an unlikely friendship.

Let’s talk about the suspense first. For most of the book, we are kept in the dark about Ursa’s actual identity. She keeps claiming that she’s from a galaxy from Ursa Major. But her smartness and brilliance at such a young age doesn’t make her tales too unbelievable. What is actually her story? The author keeps you guessing until the very end. And she does a great job at it too.

The romance, now. It felt really organic. The connection between Jo and Gabe developed quite beautifully, through their growing attachment towards each other and to the little girl. There were parts where I felt frustrated with some of the decisions Jo and Gabe took. But I could understand that what compelled them to do these things. I was also not completely convinced by the whole  legal dealings in the story. But I didn’t even care. Because the writing had me completely captivated. All I cared about was these three characters get to live together happily after, because if there was one thing I was convinced about, it was their love for each other.

Glendy Vanderah makes a compelling debut with a story about family, friendship and survival. I definitely look forward to her future works.


★★★★☆


Publication Date: 1st March, 2019.
Source: ARC from Publisher (via Netgalley)

Links –  AmazonGoodreads | Book Depository


 

Book Review : The Piper’s Son By Melina Marchetta

The award-winning author of Finnikin of the Rock and Jellicoe Road pens a raw, compelling novel about a family’s hard-won healing on the other side of trauma.

Award-winning author Melina Marchetta reopens the story of the group of friends from her acclaimed novel Saving Francesca—but five years have passed, and now it’s Thomas Mackee who needs saving. After his favorite uncle was blown to bits on his way to work in a foreign city, Tom watched his family implode. He quit school and turned his back on his music and everyone that mattered, including the girl he can’t forget. Shooting for oblivion, he’s hit rock bottom, forced to live with his single, pregnant aunt, work at the Union pub with his former friends, and reckon with his grieving, alcoholic father. Tom’s in no shape to mend what’s broken. But what if no one else is either? An unflinching look at family, forgiveness, and the fierce inner workings of love and friendship, The Piper’s Son redefines what it means to go home again.


Melina Marchetta can never disappoint me. I would wax poetry about her writing if I could. If you haven’t read any of her stuff, you’re missing out!

Tom has had a rough year. He lost his uncle, his family got torn apart right in front of him and he has pushed away his friends and the girl he loves. Now, he’s forced to crash at his aunt Georgie’s home.

Georgie also hasn’t had an easy life. She had lost her birth-father to the Vietnam war. Then, a year ago she lost her brother to a bomb-blast. She was left shattered and her ex-boyfriend Sam stepped up to pick up the pieces. Sam broke her heart 7 years ago when she told him to take some time off from their 7-year old relationship and figure out his own life. He took that to mean casually dating (Ross & Rachel, anyone?) and got a woman pregnant. Yiikes. She never forgave him but she didn’t force her friends to pick a side. So, they still ran in the same circles. Now, she’s pregnant at 42. With a guy she still hasn’t forgiven .

Then there’s Dominic. The Pied Piper. Tom’s father and Georgie’s twin brother. The father and son were inseparable. Until Dom’s brother died. And he turned to alcohol to grieve. His wife told him to get his shit back together and moved back to her hometown to protect her younger daughter. Tom couldn’t leave his father but in the end Dom walked out on him after 2 weeks

This might all sound depressing and these relationships might seem dysfunctional but far from it. There’s so much love between these characters. They are all broken and looking to heal.

My favorite part about the book was Georgie and Sam’s relationship. The way she feels so ashamed about letting in the man who broke her heart. She feels guilty about being happy with the pregnancy, because it came at the cost of her brother’s death. Then there’s Sam who spent the last 7 years with the knowledge that he lost the love of his life but he could never wholeheartedly regret because he could never regret his son Callum. FYI, Callum is the cutest kid! I loved him. And I loved seeing the whole equation between him and Georgie.

I loved Dom and Jacinta. I loved how he dropped out of law school when she got pregnant with Tom so that she could finish her own law degree. I loved how she didn’t leave him for good. She called it tough love and told him to fix himself so that she could come back. I love how after he started recovering, they’d send each other love letters.

I loved the cozy little circle Georgie, Sam and Dom had. How, everyone lived near each other and the community was tight-knit. Lucy, Abe, Bernadette, Stani and Jonesy. They were all minor characters but still had their own characteristics and roles in their friends circle. I loved the political discussions these people had and although they disagreed and argued, their friendship did not waver. How real!

I loved Tom and Tara. He blew her off after what she calls a “One and a half night stand” because his uncle died right after. She told her friends who told everyone that he broke her heart .He spends the whole book wooing her back through calls and texts because she’s in Timor now. I loved how he is forced to work with his friends at a hotel and although he is a jerk to them at first, slowly he mends his fences with them.

In fact, this book is all about mending fences and healing. Melina has an amazing way of writing family dynamics and writing it in a real way. The relationships she writes don’t ever feel far-fetched or forced. The way she can insert humor in the regularity  of moments between families and friends? That’s purely brilliant. Her stories are driven by characters and their relationships. The Piper’s Son is no exception.

By the end of the book, I was left with a longing for an entire book about the start of Dom and Jacinda with Sam and Georgie’s story.


This book made me cry and laugh and just feel grateful for my people. I couldn’t recommend this book enough to people who love stories that feel real. Stories about families and friendships.


My Rating: ★★★★★