REVIEW: THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR By Sally Hepworth

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Publication March 6, 2018 By St. Martin’s Press

The small suburb of Pleasant Court lives up to its name. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbours, and children play in the street.

Isabelle Heatherington doesn’t fit into this picture of family paradise. Husbandless and childless, she soon catches the attention of three Pleasant Court mothers.

But Ange, Fran and Essie have their own secrets to hide. As their obsession with their new neighbour grows, the secrets of these three women begin to spread – and they’ll soon find out that when you look at something too closely, you see things you never wanted to see.

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Desperate Housewives meets Big Little Lies in this page turning domestic suspense drama! This is my first time reading Sally Hepworth but it definitely won’t be my last as I enjoyed every last page of this book. I have to say, I wonder if I enjoyed it so much because she tapped into the underlying thoughts I have as I take long nighttime walks in my neighborhood….what’s really going on inside all these houses? I can’t be the only one out there who waves at my neighbors, says hi here and there, gets together on each other’s patios in the summer but occasionally wonders how well I really know them.

Sally Hepworth has done a magnificent job of deconstructing the idiosyncrasies of suburban living and families, especially the lives of mothers with young children. Although my kids are older, I can remember those days so clearly and the way she weaved those details in with the secrets and drama of each family was perfection. The story revolves around the lives of four women – Essie, Ange, Fran, and Isabelle- and boy are they keeping secrets…big ones, little ones, and bombshells!

I had no idea what was happening and at one point I realized I needed to stop trying to figure it all out and just enjoy the drama. This book was so well paced that I felt like I flew through the pages, staying up late into the night to find out how it would all unfold. No spoilers here but I will say there were surprises galore!! Were a couple of them a little predictable, yes, but the others were superb…I love it when I can say I didn’t see that coming…or that. This would make a perfect book club book as well as a fantastic must read for your summer TBRs…if you can wait that long to read it that is:)

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley for my copy

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REVIEW: THE GREAT ALONE By Kristin Hannah

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Published Feb 6, 2018 By St. Martin’s Press

Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival. Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown. In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

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 I finished this book last week and while I typically try to write my reviews right away, I struggled with my feelings about this one so I’ve put it off for a week and I’m glad I did. If I would’ve wrote it immediately I might have focused too much on my feelings about the ending; however, with a little time and perspective I think I have a clearer understanding of why I feel so torn about parts of this book.

Enough vagueness, let me be more specific. The blurb, which I heavily edited from Goodreads (this is really all you need to know), gives you the bare bones of the story. What Hannah so brilliantly manages to do is to take that set up and place the reader right there in the Alaskan setting with the Allbright family. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was mesmerized by the Alaskan setting and the way the author was able to place me there….I literally couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I felt the cold, I saw the beauty. I’m not sure that’s ever happened to me before, where a setting has so completely captured my attention and made me feel the suspense and drama of the surroundings that are at once beautiful yet deadly.

Then we have the Allbright family and really I don’t know where to start with them. The level of dysfunction and domestic violence prevalent in their family dynamics was heartbreaking, yet infuriating, because as a reader it’s very hard to read about the details of the abuse that Ernt (a former POW) inflicted on Cora and then having a child, Leni, be witness to it and becoming the caretaker of her mom while trying desperately to not rock the boat with her dad…her life was truly “walking on egg shells” on a daily basis.  Add to that Leni’s struggles with her new life in the harsh Alaskan setting and here was a character I was rooting for and as a result I could. not. put. this. book. down! Was the domestic abuse over the top as many reviewers have discussed? In my opinion, no. Yes, it was very difficult to read but as someone who worked in social work, foster care to be exact, the domestic abuse cycle and trauma to Leni and Cora was (unfortunately) realistic to me.

In terms of another major aspect of this novel that I loved were the supporting characters. Hannah has crafted a small group of townspeople who inhabit the little Alaskan village and my absolute favorite was Large Marge. Seriously, I would’ve taken so many more chapters about Large Marge verses some of the extended storyline chapters toward the end. Hannah’s ability to craft secondary characters with intricate subplots is just superb.

This, however, brings me to my critique which honestly I feel torn writing about because overall I was captivated by this story.  In fact, I read the first 70% of this like a madwoman and then literally there was a shift, slight but there, in which the narrative began to feel bogged down with descriptive details in what felt like a much slower pace. Add to this some questionable character motivations and actions, one which felt like a glaring misstep that was put in to force the plot and you have my reasons for feeling so conflicted. I do question whether my expectations were too high, am I being too picky? Perhaps. I just read (and loved) The Nightingale in November so it was fresh in my memory, but unquestionably this is a completely different book, wonderful in it’s own right which needs and deserves no comparison to any other.