Review: The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

nestAbout The Nest

• Hardcover: 368 pages
• Audio: 11 hours
• Published: March 2016 by Ecco
• Source: Purchased (Audible Audiobooks)

Goodreads DescriptionA warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the future they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.

This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.

My Thoughts

The Nest is a book about unlikable characters. It introduces us to the Plumbs – privileged siblings on the brink of losing everything. They’re set to inherit their father’s money, which has been locked in a trust for years – except, one of the siblings, Leo, has to go and screw everything up. All of a sudden, there’s not much money in the nest egg (i.e., the nest), and all the plans each sibling has rested on the money are called into question.

I was really excited to read The Nest when it came out. After all, it sounded just like it had the kind of horribly awful yet endearing characters Emma Straub writes about….characters who are so terrible, yet so human, you can’t cast them aside. Characters you may not like, but who you can identify with, even as you think, “I’d never do that.” (Yes, yes you would. It’s ok.)

Sadly, that wasn’t the case with The Nest. 

I listened to about a third of the story before admitting to myself that I just didn’t care about the Plumbs. None of them. Sure, I could have finished the audio book – after all, I’d invested a fair amount of time already. But why? Did I need or want to know whether the Plumb siblings got their money, whether they all ended up hating each other, or whether all was forgiven in the name of family? No, actually. I didn’t – and still don’t – give a damn.

I think therein lies the difference in The Nest and in either of Emma Straub’s novels – The Vacationers or Modern Lovers. In both, Straub creates characters with next to no redeeming qualities. They’re self-centered, pathetic, pitiful characters….but Straub presents them in a way that makes them likable. You want to hope for them, cheer for them, find out what happens to them. The characters in The Nest don’t quite hit the mark in that regard – whether that’s the story or the qualities they do and don’t possess, the Plumbs just weren’t characters I cared anything about.

I imagine it’s incredibly difficult to create a character so flawed and horrible that your readers still want to root for, so I’m not knocking Sweeney’s novel. I think there’s promise there, and I hope she tries again. I’d give her another shot, even if The Nest fell slightly short for me….because I think if she can work out the kinks, she’ll be one of a handful who can write this type of story incredibly well.

2 stars

Blog Tour: All Summer Long by Dorothea Benton Frank

About All Summer Long

• Paperback: 400 pages
• Published: March 2017 by William Morrow (Reprint; originally published May 2016)
• Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours

Goodreads DescriptionFilled with her trademark wit, poignant themes, and rich characters, the perennial New York Times bestselling author returns with a sensational novel that follows the travels of one couple though a tumultuous summer.

Dorothea Benton Frank’s magical stories take us deep into the heart of her beloved Carolina Lowcountry. In her novels, this lush landscape comes alive in all its vibrancy and color. She ignites all of our senses with her vivid descriptions of landscape and atmosphere. In her novels you hear the ocean washing the shore on different islands so profoundly that you can nearly hear the sea gulls squawking, too.

This is a story of people whose lives are changing—a southern gentleman returning home to lead a more peaceful life and his talented New York wife who is not quite sure she is ready to make the transition. They are moving north to south, fast pace versus slow pace, downsizing. And while they are doing this, they are getting glimpses into other people’s lives over the course of a summer, holidays that will amuse, shock and transform them.

This irresistible story is home to captivating characters as funny, complicated, and real as our best friends—husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, friends and family who wrestle with the complexities, pain, and joys familiar to us all.

Finally, we’ll come to recognize the face of love, the kind that deepens and endures but only because one woman makes a tremendous leap of faith. That leap changes them all.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Dorothea Benton Frank

New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank was born and raised on Sullivans Island, South Carolina. She resides in the New York area with her husband.

Find her on the web at www.dotfrank.com, or like her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

My Thoughts

All Summer Long is the story of Olivia and Nick, and the turns their lives take. Olivia is an interior designer (jealous!), and Nick is her adoring, recently retired university professor husband. They live in New York, but long ago when they first got married, Olivia promised Nick they could retire to Charleston, South Carolina, where Nick grew up. Needless to say, South Carolina is a bit of an adjustment for Olivia, who’s used to living in luxury – and whose clients are too. Olivia is determined to take her business with her, but a series of problematic clients has left her and Nick in a bit of a financial mess. Nick doesn’t know, and Olivia doesn’t have any intention of telling him. (We all know how THAT is going to end.)

Olivia and Nick are madly in love, and while I found a lot of their dialogue borderline campy, I did enjoy reading about two characters clearly devoted to each other. I would have liked more background information on them, but it wasn’t strictly necessary – the book is about moving forward, really.

I also thought Frank did an admirable job describing the setting – both New York and South Carolina. I could feel the hustle and bustle of New York City, I could feel the breeze coming off the coast, and I could practically taste the salt in the air. And, I liked reading about the personality of Sullivan’s Island, where Olivia and Nick end up living.

That said, this book just wasn’t for me. I had a hard time initially getting into it – I took it camping, and just could not make it past 35 pages. I’m going to blame that on my frame of mind, and the fact that I was trying to read a book about a coastal town while huddled under a blanket in the mountains. I gave it another shot when I got home, but I still couldn’t get invested, and eventually abandoned it. I didn’t like Olivia, and while I had nothing against Nick, he struck me as sort of….flighty. I needed more from him to counter Olivia’s snobbishness.

This was my first foray into the world of Dorothea Benton Frank. I’ve always seen rave reviews about her work, so I’ll probably pick up one of her older books some time and give it a go – possibly Sullivan’s Island, the first in her well-regarded Lowcountry Tales series. I’d be interested to know if All Summer Long ties into the series at all – anyone know?

 

Check out the rest of the Blog Tour stops below, and show your fellow readers some love!

Tuesday, March 7th: The Book Date

Wednesday, March 8th: A Bookish Way of Life

Thursday, March 9th: The Book Bag

Friday, March 10th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Monday, March 13th: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog

Monday, March 13th: Show This Book Some Love

Tuesday, March 14th: Chick With Books

Tuesday, March 14th: Bookish Realm Reviews

Wednesday, March 15th: Broken Teepee

Thursday, March 16th: Bookshelf Fantasies

Friday, March 17th: Stephany Writes

Tuesday, March 21st: Cait’s Cozy Corner

Wednesday, March 22nd: Fearless Creative (that’s me!)

Thursday, March 23rd: Back Porchervations

Monday, March 27th: Jathan & Heather

Tuesday, March 28th: Wining Wife

Wednesday, March 29th: The Geeky Bibliophile

Friday, March 31st: Good Girl Gone Redneck

 

Huge thanks to TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for including me in this tour! 

Review: Single Malt Murder by Melinda Mullet

singlemaltAbout Single Malt Murder

• Series: Whiskey Business Mysteries (#1)
• Kindle Edition:
 300 pages
• Published: March 2017 by Alibi
• Source: Netgalley

Goodreads DescriptionAbigail Logan never expected to inherit a whisky distillery in the Scottish Highlands. But in the first novel of an engaging new series blending fine spirits with chilling mystery, Abi finds that there are secrets lurking in the misty glens that some will go to any lengths to protect . . . even murder.

When Abi inherits her uncle’s quaint and storied single malt distillery, she finds herself immersed in a competitive high-stakes business that elicits deep passions and prejudices. An award-winning photojournalist, Abi has no trouble capturing the perfect shot—but making the perfect shot is another matter.When she starts to receive disturbing, anonymous threats, it’s clear that someone wants her out of the picture. But Abi’s never been one to back down from a fight.

Arriving on the scene with her whisky-loving best friend, Patrick, and an oversized wheaten terrier named Liam, Abi seems to put everyone in the bucolic village on edge—especially her dour but disturbingly attractive head distiller. Acts of sabotage and increasingly personal threats against Abi make it clear that she is not welcome. When one of Abi’s new employees is found floating facedown in a vat of whisky, Abi is determined to use her skills as an investigative journalist to identify the cold-blooded killer and dispense a dram of justice before he strikes again. But distilling truth from lies is tricky, especially when everyone seems to have something to hide.

My Thoughts

Oh my word, Single Malt Murder has so many things going for it just from the description alone. Scottish Highlands. (Outlander, anyone?!) Whiskey (though it’s spelled whisky in this which drove me batty). Adorable dog. About the only thing that would have made me want to read it more would have been two dogs.

In Single Malt Murder, we meet Abi, an award-winning photojournalist who’s just inherited a whiskey distillery from her uncle Ben. The distillery happens to be in Scotland (Abi lives in London), so she packs up her wheaten terrier Liam and her best friend Patrick and heads over to check it out. She quickly finds out that women aren’t exactly welcome in the whiskey business – it’s an old boys’ club if you’ve ever seen one – and starts getting threatening notes and packages. Then, a body is discovered in one of the malt tanks. It’s looking more and more like someone doesn’t want Abbey Glen (the distillery) to survive.

I really like Abi. She’s a lot more methodical and rational than a lot of cozy protagonists – she doesn’t cause trouble, she doesn’t really make anyone mad at her, and she has a knack for drawing out information in a way that feels natural. Must be that investigative journalist bit. She takes her time before drawing too many conclusions, and thinks outside the box and questions everything, rather than just pouncing on the first clue she uncovers. It’s refreshing to read a cozy and agree with most everything the main character is doing. I’ve read plenty of others where I’m shaking my head, thinking something along the lines of, “Come on, now, think. That makes no sense, don’t chase that red herring.”

The rest of the characters were likeable enough, and you’ve got your relatively standard cast of cozy characters. Liam the dog doesn’t have much presence, which made me a little sad, and I also thought Abi was a bit careless with him (she lets him run loose when a building is on fire). That’s just me being a crazy dog mom though.

As for the rest of it, Mullet has an impressive vocabulary. I really appreciated the care she took in writing the story – she truly made her words count. I even learned a new word – sybaritic, which means fond of luxury or self-indulgent. Isn’t that a great word? And who would have ever expected to learn new words in a cozy mystery? Not me, that’s for sure.

I’d have liked a little more description of the setting, and while Mullet did try to explain the distilling process, I had a hard time following it. Part of that might be the complexity of distilling, but I kept thinking back to how Joyce Tremel describes beer brewing in her cozy series, Brewing Trouble. While also complex, Tremel does a great job dumbing it down enough to grasp, and I think Mullet would benefit from a similar approach.

Single Malt Murder is the first book from Melinda Mullet, and will be released tomorrow, March 21st. This is definitely a series I’ll continue reading!

Thanks to Alibi/Random House and Netgalley for the ARC!

Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

lincolnbardoAbout Lincoln in the Bardo

• Hardcover: 306 pages
• Audio: 7 hours
• Published: February 2017 by Random House
• Source: Purchased (Scribd Audiobooks)

Goodreads DescriptionThe captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War

On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body.

Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humor, pathos, and grace.

My Thoughts

Lincoln in the Bardo is another one of those books I’ve seen EVERYWHERE for the last couple of months. At first, I was mildly intrigued, but the more exposure it got, the more I wanted to read it. Funny how that works. I was sold when I heard the audio version has 166 different readers. Yes, you read that right: 166. Each character in the story is voiced by someone different, making it a completely ground-breaking recording. Saunders gathered quite the cast – he’s got famous authors, actors, musicians, but he’s also got his family and friends, as well as folks from the publishing house. It’s quite the feat, and quite the experience, and I knew I absolutely had to listen to the book (rather than read it).

I won’t beat around the bush; this book gave me a hard time. I actually had to go into a bookstore to LOOK at the book to figure out what was happening. It’s written in a strange format, little snippets of thought/speech/etc., but the switching back and forth in the audio is incredibly distracting until you get the hang of it. It also took me a good 5 chapters before I realized that “op cit” isn’t a last name, but a way to indicate the previous line is taken from a longer selection of text that was previously cited.  Yeah.

And then…because there’s nothing to guide you, it took me a little while to realize that there are parts of the text where the “characters” are GHOSTS. If I had a better vocabulary, I’d have gotten that from the title –  Bardo is a Tibetan word that means “transitional state.” In other words, it’s referring to spirits or souls of people who have died but haven’t quite moved on the the next phase – to Christians that would be heaven, to Buddhists, that’s to the next life. Once I figured that part out, the story started to make a lot more sense – you basically have parts where Willie Lincoln is talking to ghosts in the bardo, and then the other parts are real live people recounting how Abraham Lincoln is reacting to his son’s death.

Make sense? Good. Glad we cleared that up.

As for the audio experience, like I said, incredibly distracting and difficult to get the hang of. But, it also works…if you can hang in there. Eventually you get into the rhythm and you don’t notice the op cits quite so much. That said, I couldn’t listen to this one long-term…I tried while driving to Atlanta, and only made it about an hour before switching to something else. Thankfully it’s a short audio, so you can knock this one out fairly easily even in small batches.

All of that said – I realized halfway through that I just didn’t care about the story. I wasn’t interested in the ghost parts, which make up a lot of the story. The only parts I really wanted to listen to were when Willie and his father were together, and those were few and far between. The thought of spending another 4 hours on the book filled me with dread, so I gave this one up as abandoned.

I’m giving Lincoln in the Bardo an extra star for inventiveness. It’s a neat way to tell a story, and I think Saunders did a great job – it’s just not for me. I’m in the minority – this book seems to have a cult following. For those considering reading it, I do think the format lends itself better to print.

2 stars

Review: Puppies in the Pantry by Lucy Daniels

puppiespantryAbout Puppies in the Pantry

• Series: Animal Ark (#3)
• Paperback:
 144 pages
• Published: May 1998 by Scholastic
• Source: Gift

Goodreads DescriptionA film crew arrives in town and Mandy looks after some of the animal stars. Then Charley, their Labrador, suddenly disappears. Can Mandy and her friend James find the dog before something terrible happens?

My Thoughts

Guys. PUPPIES IN THE PANTRY. Seriously, just think about that title, look at that cover. And then….think about the fact that there are 70+ books in the series and everysingleone of them has an alliterative title. I’m telling you. Goat in the Garden. Kittens in the Kitchen. Tabby in the Tub. Hedgehogs in the Hall. This is, in fact, a real thing.

So I feel like we need a little backstory.

Back in….oh, October? November? Must have been November. Our book club was looking for a Christmas-themed book, and somehow stumbled upon the Animal Ark books. I want to say someone found Santa Paws, and that led us to Animal Ark (similar books and all). Anyway, we spent a good half an hour laughing hysterically at just the titles. And then, Allison realized she’d bought Puppies in the Pantry at the Scholastic Book Fair once (weren’t those amazing?!) and it got even more awesome. We had such a good time that I ended up giving myself an asthma attack laughing so hard.

We didn’t choose an Animal Ark book that month, but agreed we’d do a book swap for Valentine’s Day. We assigned ourselves a letter so we wouldn’t have to worry about duplicates (I mean, there are 70+ but I guarantee we all would have picked Hamster in a Handbasket or Pony on the Porch). And then, we swapped. I took home Puppies in the Pantry. Of course I was going to read it.

And can I just stop right here and say…..how I wish I’d known these existed as a kid. Nevermind that I was probably too old for them by the time they were published. Psh. They’re awesome. I’d have book-faired the crap out of these.

Puppies in the Pantry features Mandy, our Animal Ark heroine. A film crew comes to town, complete with animal stars, and Mandy’s mom is in charge of making sure the animals are healthy (she’s a vet). Of course, Mandy tags along, and gets to meet the animal stars. Terribly, one day Charley the Labrador goes missing, and it’s up to Mandy to find her!

In case you’re wondering, yes, the title is sorely misleading. This really should be called Lab on the Loose or even Lab on the Lamb. But I suppose neither of those tested well, so Puppies in the Pantry it is. Said puppies in said pantry are an afterthought, and while they do exist, have next to nothing to do with the story.

It’s a little difficult for me to objectively review this book. For one thing, the title. For another, the fact that there are SO MANY BOOKS in this series. For a third, it’s a kid’s book that took me roughly 45 minutes to read.

That said, I loved it, and I fully intend on reading as many more Animal Ark books as I can get my hands on.

3 stars