Book Review: Lost Lake – Sarah Addison Allen

Lost Lake coverTitle: Lost Lake
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
ISBN: 9781250019806
Pages: 304
Release Date: January 21, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Magical Realism
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

Kate has been sleepwalking through life in the year since her husband died, content to let her pushy mother-in-law run things and make decisions for her and her eight-year-old daughter Devin. But when she finally wakes up and takes stock of what’s happening, she doesn’t like the passive woman she sees. When Devin finds a postcard from Kate’s great aunt, Kate remembers the summers she used to spend at her aunt’s summer cottages. The two decide to take a road trip to see if the resort is still there and to escape from life, just for a little while.

Snapshot Review:

Lost Lake is a heartwarming story of a woman finding a new lease on life after her husband’s death. Kate certainly isn’t in a good place when the novel begins, so it’s good that she and Devin get away together. Lost Lake, the name of Kate’s great aunt’s resort, is the perfect place to recharge after a difficult time, but it’s facing its own challenges. Allen fills this novel with memorable, unique characters, each of whom has something they must overcome. Add to that a richly described setting and Allen’s trademark touches of magic, and you’ve got a sweet novel that’s fully entertaining.

Other books by Sarah Addison Allen:

The Girl Who Chased the Moon
The Peach Keeper
The Sugar Queen

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Book Review: Before Ever After – Samantha Sotto

Title: Before Ever After
Author: Samantha Sotto
ISBN: 9780307719874
Pages: 304
Release Date: August 2, 2011
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Magical Realism
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

Shelley has everything she’s ever wanted out of life when she receives devastating news – her beloved husband, Max, has been killed.  Three years later, Shelley still hasn’t gotten over his death, when something amazing, yet impossible happens: a man shows up at her doorstep claiming to be her dead husband’s grandson.  It’s impossible – Max would have been just a boy when this man was born – but something about his story intrigues Shelley, and they set off to find out the truth about Max.

Review:

Before Ever After is a novel that defies expectations as you read it.  While at the beginning, it seems to be a women’s fiction novel about a young widow coming to terms with her husband’s death, it becomes apparent very quickly that the book is much more than that.  To be honest, the paranormal twist the novel has caught me off guard, to the point where I almost abandoned it because it was so strange.  I feel like if I had been more aware of the fact that there were some magical aspects to this book, I would have enjoyed it much more, which is why I wanted to warn the reader about it without spoiling too much of the plot.

The book is mainly told through flashbacks, which worked well.  It helped the reader get to know Shelley and realize that, from the beginning, there was something different about Max.  They met through a tour Max hosted, a trip across Europe where he related little known stories and helped his tourists to really see the places they were visiting.  This tour sounded really wonderful and Sotto’s descriptions were exceptionally done.  It’s a book that will give anyone reading it a bit of a travel bug, as readers will want to visit the places that Shelley sees and experiences.

Once I finally let go of all my expectations about Before Ever After and really settled into it, I enjoyed it.  Sotto’s writing style is fresh and engaging, and I love how she handled descriptions – they are vivid, but the book does not become bogged down by the details.  Additionally, the historical interludes that Max relates are fascinating.  In just a few short pages, Sotto reveals so much about the characters and their histories.  Indeed, all the characters in this novel are well developed.  It’s clear that Sotto cared about each and every one of them and wanted the reader to know them as well as she did.

I do wish I had known about Before Ever After’s paranormal aspect before reading it; I would have approached the novel differently and been able to fully appreciate it.  But once I let go of my preconceived notions and tried to fully experience it, I’m glad to say I did see the beauty of this book.  It’s well-written, engaging, and as long as you’re in the mood for something unexpected and different, it’s a great novel to pick up.

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Book Review: Little Black Dress – Susan McBride

Title: Little Black Dress
Author: Susan McBride
ISBN: 9780062027191
Pages: 320
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Magical Realism
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

Evie’s main regret in life is that she has been estranged from both her daughter, Anna, and her sister, Toni.  The only comfort she has is the little black dress she inherited from her sister – one that will show the wearer their future.  When Evie has a stroke, Toni returns home with many regrets, and with the help of the dress, tries to uncover the secrets her mother has held for so long.

Review:

Susan McBride’s novel revolves around two women: Evie and Toni.  Evie has so many regrets from the course of her life, and unfortunately, it seems as though Toni is turning out the same way.  Toni isn’t happy with her relationship with her mother, but has done little to change it.  After Evie has a stroke, it appears as though it might be too late.  As Toni begins to immerse herself in her mother’s life and affairs, she gains a new appreciation and understanding for what her mother has been through.  It really is wonderful character development, as the reader falls equally in love with Evie and Toni.

The magical realism aspect of Little Black Dress is very well done.  The dress gives the wearer a small glimpse of what is to come, and it changes the life of everyone it touches.  I really loved how the powers of the dress were incorporated into the novel.  The magic didn’t define the novel; it merely shaped what was to come and provoked interesting questions about fate and destiny. 

The secrets in Little Black Dress are really at the core of the novel, and they’re what keep the reader hooked.  McBride takes her time uncovering them, giving the novel a steady pace that, while not rushed, is fast paced and keeps the reader guessing.  The question of what happened with Anna and how the dress has changed Evie’s life is an important one.  McBride makes sure that readers are well rewarded at the end of the book as it’s certainly an interesting revelation that’s worth the wait.

With The Cougar Club and now Little Black Dress, Susan McBride has proven herself to be a force in women’s fiction.  I’m eagerly anticipating her next novel, and am hopeful that she’ll continue to use a little bit of magical realism in it, as I love this touch in books!

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Book Review: The Other Life – Ellen Meister

Title: The Other Life
Author: Ellen Meister
ISBN: 9780399157134
Pages: 320
Release Date: February 17, 2011
Publisher: Putnam
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

Quinn Braverman has a great life, on the surface.  She has a loving husband and a beautiful son.  She also has another baby on the way.  But there is a darker side to Quinn’s seemingly idyllic existence – her mother’s suicide, her brother’s bipolar disorder.  Most of all, though, there is the “other side”, a portal through which Quinn can have all of her “what if” questions answered.  She knows that she exists on the other side of this portal and she can see what her life would have been like had she made different decisions.  Though she has never visited, circumstances conspire to make Quinn wonder whether the other life she has might be better than the one she’s leading now.

Review:

There has been a trend toward magical realism and fantastical elements within women’s fiction novels lately.  Books such as The One That I Want by Allison Winn Scotch and The Transformation of Things by Jillian Cantor provide a new dimension to the genre, allowing readers to vicariously do what they can’t in their own lives.  The Other Life is another of these books; the main character, Quinn, knows about the other side, though she’s never gone there.  When life becomes too difficult though, it’s easy for her to consider escaping to a place where she has none of these problems.

To be fair, though, Quinn isn’t really searching for an escape.  Instead, she is seeking understanding, something any reader can identify with.  She wants to know why her mother killed herself, why things with her unborn baby are difficult.  Knowing she is still with her ex-boyfriend on the other side, she wonders if she made the right decision by breaking up with him.  All of these questions and doubts make Quinn easy to identify with, something which might be difficult otherwise, considering how perfect her life appears to be on the surface.  The key to Quinn’s brokenness is her mother and she has to come to terms with that before she can truly live her own life.

The mechanics of the “other side” aren’t really detailed in the book, and as a result, the reader is left with a sketchy interpretation of how it works.  It’s fine for the purposes of this book, since the focus is on Quinn and her character development, but I couldn’t help but want to know more about what exactly was going on with these portals, how they worked, etc.  It’s one area of the book that might leave readers wanting.

The Other Life was an engaging read that will leave readers reflecting on their own lives.  The issues it discusses are timely ones, and it does address the “what if” question very well.  This book would make an excellent book club pick, as readers will wonder at Quinn’s decisions and question whether she is making the right choices for herself.  I definitely recommend this book for fans of women’s fiction.

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Book Review: The Transformation of Things – Jillian Cantor

Title: The Transformation of Things Author: Jillian Cantor ISBN: 9780061962202 Pages: 304 Release Date: November 2, 2010 Publisher: Avon A Genre: Women’s Fiction Source: Publisher Rating: 4.25 out of 5 Summary: Jennifer Levenworth has a life that many envy.  She doesn’t have a job and spends her time doing charity work with the other country […]

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Book Review: The Prince of Mist – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Title: The Prince of Mist Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon ISBN: 9780316044776 Pages: 224 Release Date: May 4, 2010 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Genre: Teen/YA, Mystery Source: Personal Copy Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: When Max’s family tells him they’ll be leaving their home because of World War II, he is devastated.  […]

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Book Review: Goddess for Hire – Sonia Singh

Title: Goddess for Hire Author: Sonia Singh ISBN: 9780060590369 Pages: 320 Release Date: June 29, 2004 Publisher: Avon A Genre: Chick Lit, Multicultural Fiction Source: Personal Copy Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: Maya Mehra has just turned 30 and is considered an old maid by her parents and relatives.  She still lives at home […]

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Book Review: Luka and the Fire of Life – Salman Rushdie

Title: Luka and the Fire of Life Author: Salman Rushdie ISBN: 9780679463368 Pages: 240 Release Date: November 16, 2010 Publisher: Random House Genre: Literary Fiction, Fantasy Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Luka and the Fire of Life is the story of Luka Khalifa, younger brother to Haroun of Haroun and the Sea […]

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