Tag Archives: women’s fiction

Review: True Colors

511drsbgj0lRecap: Winona, Aurora and Vivi Ann Grey have been three peas in a pod since childhood, sisters brought especially close together after the death of their mother when they were young. But as they hit their 20s and they started to go their separate ways, tensions grew between them. Winona remained single but excelled in her career. Aurora started a family, acting as the peacekeeper in the family. Vivi Ann remained a beautiful free spirit, inheriting the talents of her mother: riding horses. Vivi Ann is her father’s favorite as he grows increasingly depressed and ornery over the years after the loss of his wife.

But then Vivi Ann meets Dallas, an Indian in their world of cowboys and ranches. Hired as a ranch hand on their farm, Dallas feels immediately connected to Vivi Ann, and she to him. But she’s already engaged to “the perfect man” Luke Connelly, who just so happens to be Winona’s high school crush. Vivi Ann’s decision followed by  a murder in the town that involves her family sends the story off into the stratosphere and the Grey family spiraling .

Analysis: Like other Kristin Hannah books, the story is told through the eyes of each of the sisters, each chapter revolving between points of view, helping to paint a brighter picture of each character. Aurora, the girls’ father and Dallas remain the most underdeveloped as the story really focuses more on the oldest (Winona) and youngest (Vivi Ann) sisters.

After the scene it set initially, the book seems to move in one direction but then makes a stark turn around a third of the way into the book with the murder plot. For a story about sisters who have lost their mom, have a disconnected father and have a stranger enter their lives, it felt a little unnecessary to throw in any more drama. That said, the book really moves initially and slows down in the middle to end. There’s a period in which a long time passes in the book and the story seems to drag because of it, then rushing into a neatly wrapped up ending.

I really enjoyed the book while reading it and loved the story. I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Winona and Vivi Ann too — a sister relationship that no one would understand but sisters. I just wish both the amount of time that passed in the lives of the characters and the literal number of pages it took me to get there were a bit more concise.

MVP: Winona. At times she was pathetic and extremely bitter, but of all the sisters, she still seemed to be the one who most had her life together. She may have been defiant at times, she’s a woman who knew what she wanted.

Get True Colors in paperback for $10.

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: All the Best People

30687885Recap: There are secrets abound between four women of three different generations in a small town in Vermont. It’s 1972, and Carole is a mother to twin sons and a daughter and wife to an auto shop owner. But suddenly her days are filled with more people than just those who she lives with; she starts hearing voices, hallucinating, wondering if she’s becoming “crazy,” just like her mother was.

The book flashes back and forth between Carole, her “crazy” mother Solange, her sister Janine, and her daughter Alison. We learn how and why Solange went “crazy,” why the relationship between Carole and her sister Janine is so complicated, and why Alison is struggling to grow up in a world full of women who seem as though they haven’t quite figured things out yet.

Alison doesn’t fit in at school and instead spends time crushing on her teacher. Aunt Janine is also crushing on the same teacher, as she works to find a new husband after hers died. Carole, meanwhile, is dealing with the voices, visiting her mother, wondering if she’s suffering from the same disease. All the Best People delves into the complexity of women, their relationships with men and each other and the constant struggle they endure between heart and mind. As the story continues, secrets are revealed to the reader and ultimately each other that help explain why they are the way they are and what that means for their future.

Analysis: It’s hard to write a true “recap” of a book like this because the plot of the novel comes from these four women living their everyday lives, truggling together, yet separately. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman or maybe it’s because I have trouble keeping my attention on one storyline at all times, but books formatted like All the Best People always work for me. It always helps to get in the minds of each of the main characters. Each character in this novel is so complicated, especially Carole. The way author Sonja Yoerg writes Carole’s chapters as she gets sicker and sicker is great; the writing parallels the symptoms of the character’s disease and helps us to better understand what she’s going through.

MVP: Carole and Alison. I’ve already explained why Carole is great, but Alison is brilliant. She’s completely aware of and in tune with everything going on in the world around her, no matter how young and “naive” she is. She’s the child in this story, but it’s clear in many ways she’s smarter than the adults around her.

Get All the Best People now in paperback for $8.82. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $11.99.

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Review: The Tumbling Turner Sisters

Screenshot 2016-05-22 at 11.56.59 AMRecap: Winnie and Gert come from an already poor family, but they’re about to be poorer. Thanks to their father’s drunken mishap and hand injury, he can no longer work in the factory where he’s employed, and now they, their mother, their two other sisters and baby nephew must find a way to keep going and pay the rent. Their older sister, Nell is too busy caring for her baby and too depressed over the loss of her husband to help. Their younger sister is still in school. But their mother is all too resilient to let the family fall apart. It’s the early 1900s. The solution is easy. Become a travelling vaudeville act. And that’s exactly what the sisters do.

They practice their tumbling and find an agent who books them gigs throughout Upstate New York. Along the way, Winnie meets a wonderful man who, unfortunately for her mother and her bias, is an Italian immigrant from Boston. His younger sister and Winnie’s younger sister become close friends as well. But Gert, the voluptuous older sister, falls for a black man, a fabulous tap dancer who performs in shows with them. Their love is kept secret for fear they would get in trouble. But a racially-induced misunderstanding eventually forces him to leave the show and escape, leaving Gert in shambles.

And as The Tumbling Turner Sisters continue travelling, adding things to their act and becoming bigger and better, it becomes harder or even impossible for Winnie and Gert to keep in touch with the men they love. They are finally reaching a state of comfort financially and emotionally until one tragic event changes everything. The girls start to realize vaudeville may not be forever, but where will The Tumbling Turner Sisters turn next?

Analysis: A story about four sisters growing up, working together, encouraging each other and trying to find their way in life, The Tumbling Turner Sisters is like a vaudevillian version of Little Women — a correlation made just a little too obvious with the author’s mention of the American classic within her own novel, as Winnie attempts to read Little Women, but is bored with it.

I suppose by contrast, The Tumbling Turner Sisters is more exciting than Little Women (though I will always love that book), and the narration helps with that. Each chapter goes back and forth between narration by Gert and Winnie, clearly the strongest characters in the novel and women in the family, offering differing perspectives on their lives, the theater and the world between 1918 and 1920.

Author Juliette Fay also does such an excellent job of seamlessly including historical aspects of the early 1900s America with her descriptions of vaudeville life that it helps to touch on the social issues of the novel, including  women’s role in society, racism and the economy. The setting is just as big a character as any, making it glaringly obvious just how far we’ve come since then (Women can vote! And go to college!) and yet, how little has changed in terms of racism. Her writing really puts things in perspective.

MVP: Winnie and Gert. Though initially described as sisters who couldn’t be more different — Winnie, the brainy type who wants to be a nurse and vote for the next President  and Gert, the Becky-with-the-Good-Hair of the novel who is beautiful and always has a suitor — they are also the most determined and focused on their goals and their family.

Get The Tumbling Turner Sisters in hardcover for $16.16.

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: On Grace

Recap: Grace May is both dreading and greatly looking forward to her 40th birthday. The idea of turning 40 is overwhelming for any women in this day and age, but she has a plan. Now that her sons are both going to elementary school full-time, she plans to go back to work part-time. She also wants to get back in shape and make time to reconnect with her husband, Darren, who’s seemed somewhat distant recently.

But then she learns the reason Darren has been distant; he reveals to Grace that he cheated on her a few months back, just once with a waitress on a business trip. Then Grace’s plan for a new job falls apart, and major life-changing news comes down about her best friend, Cameron. In a matter of weeks, Grace’s plan and vision of turning 40 is slipping through her fingers. Everything is falling apart at once. And her inherent need to be perfect isn’t making things any easier. Can she handle it all and persevere? Can she do it if it means changing the kind of person she is and changing her attitude? Is 39-going-on-40 too late in life to make that change?

Analysis: Susie Schnall’s On Grace reveals the spinning mind of a modern-day 40-year-old woman and how difficult it is to balance all of the important things in her life: marriage, children, work, and friends. And for Grace, it’s all about “doing it with grace.” Taken from a first-person point of view, the reader sees the inner workings of Grace’s neurotic mind, and as neurotic as it is, it is completely and utterly relatable. Reading On Grace, I felt so much better about myself, knowing that there are other women whose minds spin and run wild in the way that mine does at times. I think it’s safe to say it’s a woman thing, and Susie Schnall does a nice job of portraying that.

When everything falls apart in Grace’s life, weeks pass in the novel, proving that cleaning up the mess is no easy or time-efficient task. In an odd twist, however, the future of Grace and Darren’s marriage lies in the hands of Darren. That was my one issue with the book; in a book about women and how strong they must be, ultimately the final and most important decision made at the end of the novel is still made by a man. Ultimately, the future of their marriage was dependent on him. But in the end, Grace did have a happy 40th birthday, despite the unexpected, negative turns she had to take to get there.

MVP: Grace’s best friend, Cameron. As much as Grace has to deal with, Cameron has even more. She is easily the strongest woman in the novel, not only putting on a brave face and handling things matter-of-factly, but doing it with a positive attitude and outlook — something that everyone needs, especially in the most difficult of times.

Get On Grace in paperback for $13.50.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Esquire Publishing Men’s Fiction E-Books

Children’s fiction. Young adult fiction. Women’s fiction. And now, men’s fiction. Esquire is trying to define what men’s fiction is by regularly publishing a new series of e-books written by men, starting this month.

According to The New York Times, the first volume became available yesterday, including short stories by Aaron Gwyn, Luis Alberto Urrea and Jess Walter. The stories are only being sold in e-book format. Another volume will follow every few months. Another three pieces will be published in the June/July issue of Esquire.

The new fiction pieces coming to the publication are important, especially as Esquire continues to pull out of the recession. Julie Bosman explains.

David Granger, the editor in chief of Esquire, said he has lamented the loss of space that magazines devoted to publishing fiction. The New Yorker is perhaps the most visible home for fiction in the magazine world, but many other magazines have cut back.

”It’s a struggle, because especially during the recession, we lost so many pages,” he said. ”Fiction begins to feel a little bit of a luxury.”

Do you think the new publications will open people’s eyes to men’s fiction? How do you define men’s fiction?

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Male vs. Female Authors: The Double Standard

How likely is it that a man goes to a bookstore and purchases a pink book with a picture of a stiletto on it? Or a little girl on a farm? How likely is it that a woman goes to a bookstore and purchases a red book with bold, black typeface and some kind of faraway landscape? The fact of the matter is people really do judge books by their covers. And if that book seems remotely feminine and has a female author, a man will likely move on to the next shelf.

According to this important essay in The New York Times, “women’s fiction” consists of books that are written by women. But they’re not necessarily for women. And they certainly aren’t always “chick lit.” But many tend to lump women’s fiction and chick lit together — identifying these books as silly, quick reads about women and their romantic relationships with men as well as their friendships with other women. Essayist Meg Wolitzer uses Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot as an example of the exception to the rule — a book that has mainly feminine themes, but is written by a male. It’s been hugely successful, but women write books with similar content and themes all the time and don’t get nearly as much recognition. Is it simply because they’re women?

Furthermore, women’s fiction and chick lit are not the same. Women’s fiction can be as serious as any man’s book. And whereas a woman tends to be open to reading a book written by a man, men aren’t necessarily as inclined to read books written by women, as Meg Wolitzer explains.

Recently at a social gathering, when a guest found out I was a writer, he asked, “Would I have heard of you?” I dutifully told him my name — no recognition, fine, I’m not that famous — and then, at his request, I described my novels. “You know, contemporary, I guess,” I said. “Sometimes they’re about marriage. Families. Sex. Desire. Parents and children.” After a few uncomfortable moments he called his wife over, announcing that she, who “reads that kind of book,” was the one I ought to talk to. When I look back on that encounter, I see a lost opportunity. When someone asks, “Would I have heard of you?” many female novelists would be tempted to answer, “In a more just world.”

Wolitzer explains that women’s books are actually less reviewed, according to statistics gathered by a women’s literary organization called VIDA. She talks about the length of books, their covers, their jackets. But ultimately it all comes back to who has written the book. Wolitzer goes into incredible depth with this essay, and I urge you to read it in its entirety. While I often don’t think much about who wrote the book I’m reading, it’s something I’ll begin to consider now.

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