Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler

The Overdue Life of Amy BylerThe Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kelly Harms’s first novel, The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane, had me laughing out loud and almost crying with understanding; her second novel, The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay had me falling in love – mostly with the small Minnesota town but this, her third, lacked, in my opinion, the plot development of those other two novels. Still, it got me thinking, which seemed to be the whole point.

Amy Byler, the central character of The Overdue Life of Amy Byler is a dedicated librarian raising two children on her own after her husband went on a business trip to Japan and decided to stay there, abandoning his wife and their life.  Three years later he returns asking for a chance to get to know his children.  Amy has all kinds of reactions to his return but when their children decide (reluctantly) to give their father a chance, she is left with a week to herself and an opportunity to visit NYC and take a little time for herself.  When her husband asks for more time, the real adventure that is her #momspringa begins.

Amy is another of Harms’s lovable, relatable, recognizable characters and the supporting characters are well-rounded and endearing (even, at times, John). But there seemed to be little more to the story than a character you rooted for (and, pretty often, wanted to be!) and a couple of interesting ideas – #momspringa and Flexthology (not quite sure that was the name of the reading program Amy wanted to introduce in her school but it was a neat idea). I enjoyed reading The Overdue Life of Amy Byler because I liked Amy but the whole thing often seemed like an extension of the fictional article at the center of her New York adventure. What story there was, was fun, sometimes funny yet predictable (not necessarily a bad thing). Maybe I would have appreciated it more if I were a mother or wife (not that I couldn’t use a 3-month break from the every day!)

While I may not have been able to appreciate the Amy’s particular turmoil, there are other novels about single motherhood (or all motherhood for that matter) and the conflicting emotions that come with it that I also enjoyed despite never having been in their shoes.  I enjoyed Not Perfect by Elizabeth LaBan and I highly recommend One Plus One by Jojo Moyes.  If you enjoy Harms’s style, I would also recommend reading her other two novels, especially The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane which is one of my favorite reads of recent years.

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Historical Fiction, Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit

Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit (Kopp Sisters, #4)Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some things never change and some things change all too slowly. That’s the message I got from the latest installment of Amy Stewart’s brilliant Kopp Sisters series. In Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit Constance is unwillingly caught in the middle of a contentious political campaign as every move she makes in her job as the sole female deputy in Hackensack, NJ in 1916 reflects on the Sherriff’s run for Congress as well as the candidate looking to fill his position as Sherriff. In the midst of it all, she works to help her inmates as well as a woman committed to the asylum by her husband. It is a time when ALL of the power belongs to men with little understanding of women’s unique issue and even less desire to understand them. It is also a time of mounting fear and suspicion as World War I rages in Europe and the US debates whether to join the Allies. In spite of the 100+ years that have passed, some of the themes seem all too familiar.
As ever, Stewart seamlessly blends history with fiction while staying true to her richly developed characters. There is a bit more politics and a bit less chasing bad guys than in the first two books but the story is fantastic, leaving you wanting to know what happens next. Luckily, the fifth book in the series is due out next year!

I know that by now I’m repeating myself but I LOVE these books so if you enjoy empowering stories about strong women and historical fiction, read the entire series and get hooked like me.

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Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: The Late Bloomers’ Club

The Late Bloomers' ClubThe Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

It has been some months since I’ve read a novel that spoke to me as deeply as this one. As in her first novel, The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller makes the small town Vermont setting come alive with her descriptive style.
The Late Bloomers’ Club isn’t all walks through ancient orchards or morning rushes at the Miss Guthrie Diner. It is a story about family, sacrifice, coming to terms with the past, and allowing yourself to see the beauty around you even when you feel like you’re stuck in a rut from which you’ll never emerge. It also has a sweet romance and some lovable, complex characters. And a few familiar faces from the earlier novel.  If I had one complaint, it would be that the happy and hopeful ending was a bit rushed. I very much enjoyed returning to Guthrie and finding a kindred spirit in Nora.

If you enjoy The Late Bloomers’ Club, definitely read Miller’s other novel, The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, but I would also recommend one of my favorite reads from last year, The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane.

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Historical Fiction, Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: If You Leave Me

If You Leave MeIf You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I received this ARC of If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim, I expected an account of life during and after the Korean War truce with the three main characters, Haemi, Kyunghwan, and Jisoo, representing the Korean experience. I suppose, in many ways, they do – the young man returning from war determined not to struggle again and impatient for reconstruction, the soldier running away from his past and struggling to find his place in the new world, and the girl who is now a woman searching for meaning in her new role after working and surviving the horrors of war.
Yet the novel is essentially a story about three people dealing with a reality that is a far cry from how they imagined their life turning out, whether because of the war, or the decisions they made, or political influence. The story almost could have taken place anywhere and any time. Especially for Haemi, who, like so many women, is strong, headstrong, and full of life and manages to stay true to herself through upheaval and unimaginable horrors only to lose herself in the mundanity of life.
Though I felt disconnected from the setting thanks to the very western language and the universality of the story, Haemi’s tale seeped into my soul leaving me feeling increasingly discontented and maudlin as I neared the end of the story. This, I feel, is a testament to Kim’s talent as a writer and character creator.

If you enjoy the historical and cultural elements of If You Leave Me, you may also enjoy Amy Tan’s epic The Valley of Amazement.  If it is Haemi’s unique story that appeals to you, try Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn about another young woman 

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Chick-Lit, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: Mr. & Mrs. American Pie

Mr. & Mrs. American PieMr. & Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this hilarious, big-hearted novel.
It is 1969 and Maxine has made a picture perfect life working her way up the Palm Springs social ladder until her husband drops a bomb at a most inopportune moment sending Maxine into a meltdown of comically epic proportions. It is a time and place where women are still thought of as little more than props to a man’s success leaving Maxine with few options especially after the scene she made. She moves to a new city but with few practical skills and little life experience outside of the pageant scene, Maxine is learning to work with what she’s got, pulling a tavern owner with his own secrets and two self-reliant children into her wake. Maxine is crude, manipulative, and selfish, but under the aqua-netted hair, flamboyant style, and delusions, beats a heart of gold which slowly (sometimes too slowly) but surely emerges through her machinations. In her soul, Maxine is a wounded little girl who surrounds herself with strays like herself.
Maxine’s schemes and larger than life personality make for some hilarious moments and wicked inner dialogue but taken alone she can be a bit much. Chuck’s all-American, boy scout naivete is the perfect antidote to Maxine’s brashness, giving the narration some much-needed balance. I could easily see how some readers may tire of Maxine without the break provided by Chuck’s and Robert’s viewpoints.
The story, while hysterical, is also thought-provoking. What constitutes the perfect American family? How have those ideals changed since 1970? How about the roles of women? And what about their rights when it comes to marriage and divorce?

If you enjoy Mr. & Mrs. American Pie, you may also enjoy Kathy Hepinstall’s The Book of Polly, which also features a strong, eccentric, feisty female lead in Polly.  

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