Burying the Honeysuckle Girls – Book Review

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls – Book ReviewBurying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter
four-stars
Published by Lake Union Publishing on April 26th 2016
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 310
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Synopsis:

Don’t let that bright and serene cover fool you — Emily Carpenter’s debut novel “Burying the Honeysuckle Girl” is a dark and riveting mystery filled with betrayal, scandalous family secrets, and political intrigue. At the heart of the novel are four generations of women, three of whom all mysteriously died when they turned 30 years old after being committed to Pritchard, a hospital for the mentally ill. The fourth generation is Althea Bell, who is the protagonist of the novel. Haunted all her life by the circumstances surrounding her mother’s premature death, and by the idea that she could suffer a similar fate, Althea has turned to drugs to ease her pain and calm those fears.

When the novel opens, Althea is returning to her family home in Alabama to visit her father after a year-long stint in rehab. As soon as she enters the home, she is met with open hostility by her brother, Wynn, and his wife. It is crystal clear that Wynn, who is running for political office, wants nothing to do with Althea, the black sheep of the family. Driven by those political ambitions, Wynn has plans to get rid of Althea so that there’s no way she can embarrass him while he’s on the campaign trail. He informs Althea that because she is clearly still sick and because of the history of mental illness in the women in their family, he has made plans for her to continue her therapy – with an extended visit to, of all places, Pritchard. Desperate to keep Wynn from imprisoning her against her will and equally determined, especially as her own 30th birthday approaches, not to suffer the same fate as her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, Althea sets out to discover the truth of what really happened to each of them when they reached the age of 30.

My thoughts on Burying the Honeysuckle Girls

Overall, I thought this was an entertaining read. Carpenter grabbed my attention right away with the face off between Althea and her brother Wynn in the opening scenes. Wynn is clearly such a power hungry jerk that I couldn’t help but root for Althea to beat him at his game and come out on top. I always love a story where there’s an underdog to cheer for.
Aside from being the underdog, Althea is truly just a likeable character in general. She definitely has her flaws and her weaknesses because of all of the emotional baggage she has carried with her all these years, but she gets stronger and stronger throughout the novel as she moves closer to the truth. She is also very resourceful and proves that she can be a badass when the situation calls for it, especially when she realizes what she is up against – namely, the fact that there are some folks who have a lot to lose if the truth gets out and so are determined to stop Althea – no matter what.

“Burying the Honeysuckle Girls” also appealed to me because of its fast, beat-the-clock pace that Carpenter has created and the many twists and turns the story takes as Althea frantically races around Alabama piecing together her family’s history. Althea runs into obstacles at almost every turn – missing death certificates, missing grave sites, very few people who are actually willing to talk to her, as well as too many people who are clearly under Wynn’s thumb.

This was a real page turner for me because there were so many questions that I wanted answers as I followed Althea’s investigation: Will she solve the mystery before her 30th birthday? What will happen to her if she doesn’t? Why was 30 the magic number for whatever happened to them? Were the women in her family really ill at all? Or maybe it’s actually Wynn that’s mentally unstable? Carpenter even manages to successfully weave in a hint of possible supernatural activity that further shrouds the women’s family history in mystery and makes it an even more intriguing puzzle to piece together. I don’t want to give anything away since this is a mystery novel, but I will say that what Althea discovers is more shocking than anything I could have possibly imagined.

Overall, I’d say this is a very solid effort for a debut novel and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good mystery. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a hell of a ride!
Thanks so much to Netgalley, Emily Carpenter, and Lake Union Publishing for allowing me to preview this great read!

Rating: 4 stars

four-stars

About Emily Carpenter

EMILY CARPENTER, a former actor, producer, screenwriter, and behind-the-scenes soap opera assistant, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Auburn University. Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, she now lives in Georgia with her family. BURYING THE HONEYSUCKLE GIRLS is her first novel. You can visit Emily online at emilycarpenterauthor.com.

Coffee & Book Pairings Meme

I’ve been seeing this fun meme floating around for a while now, most recently at So Many Books, so I thought I’d give it a go as well since coffee and books are basically two of my most favorite things in the whole world.

Image created at canva.com

Image created at canva.com

Black: A series that’s tough to get into but has hardcore fans.

I might be the only person on the planet who thinks this, but I’m going to go with George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. I’ve read two of the books so far but have had the third sitting in my TBR pile for over a year now. It’s a love/hate thing with me. The story is amazing, but it just wears me out that every time I become attached to a character, they seem to almost immediately meet with a gruesome end. It’s emotionally draining

game of thrones


Peppermint Mocha: A book that gets more popular during the winter or a festive time of the year.

My peppermint mocha is book called The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. There’s something magical about this book and I think about it every time it snows.

snow child


Hot Chocolate: Favorite Children’s Book

Too many favorites to count – Charlotte’s Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to name a couple, but the one guaranteed to give me warm fuzzies just thinking about it is Winnie the Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner. A. A. Milne’s characters, especially Eeyore, have remained sentimental favorites all my life.

Winnie the Pooh


Double shot of Espresso: A book that kept you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

I’m going to go with Bram Stoker Award winner Phoenix Island by John Dixon. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first picked up this book since it isn’t typically the type of book I read, but I was interested in it because a television show I liked at the time was based off of it. Boy, what a ride it turned out to be! An action-packed adrenaline rush from start to finish!

phoenix island


Starbucks: A book you see everywhere.

I don’t come across too many people who read in my daily life so I can only go by what my bookish friends online are reading and everyone seems to be talking about A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. I haven’t started this series yet but look forward to doing so soon.

court of mist and fury


Read more

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

New WoW

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which encourages fellow bloggers to spotlight upcoming releases that we’re excited about.

This is my first time participating and I’m happy to report that the upcoming release I’m most eagerly anticipating is actually coming out next week!

Modern Lovers
By Emma Straub

Modern-Lovers-covera

Publication Date: May 31, 2016

From Amazon:

From the New York Times‒bestselling author of The Vacationers, a smart, highly entertaining novel about a tight-knit group of friends from college— and what it means to finally grow up, well after adulthood has set in.

Friends and former college bandmates Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe have watched one another marry, buy real estate, and start businesses and families, all while trying to hold on to the identities of their youth. But nothing ages them like having to suddenly pass the torch (of sexuality, independence, and the ineffable alchemy of cool) to their own offspring.
Back in the band’s heyday, Elizabeth put on a snarl over her Midwestern smile, Andrew let his unwashed hair grow past his chin, and Zoe was the lesbian all the straight women wanted to sleep with. Now nearing fifty, they all live within shouting distance in the same neighborhood deep in gentrified Brooklyn, and the trappings of the adult world seem to have arrived with ease. But the summer that their children reach maturity (and start sleeping together), the fabric of the adult lives suddenly begins to unravel, and the secrets and revelations that are finally let loose—about themselves, and about the famous fourth band member who soared and fell without them—can never be reclaimed.

Straub packs wisdom and insight and humor together in a satisfying book about neighbors and nosiness, ambition and pleasure, the excitement of youth, the shock of middle age, and the fact that our passions—be they food, or friendship, or music—never go away, they just evolve and grow along with us.

This one just sounds like it’s going to be such a fun read and one that I can really relate to so I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

What books are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Book Review: All the Bright Places

Book Review:  All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
five-stars
Published by Knopf on January 6th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Library
Goodreads

Synopsis & Review:

With its realistic and honest portrayal of someone living with a mental illness, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is one of the most moving and thought-provoking novels I’ve ever read. I finished reading it a couple of nights ago and have been trying to gather my many thoughts about it ever since in hopes of doing justice to not only how beautifully written this story is, but also to how important it is because of the major issues that it highlights such as mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it, as well as teen suicide and bullying.

At the center of All the Bright Places are Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, two high school seniors who on the surface appear to be complete opposites. Theodore (or Finch as he is called by pretty much everyone) is bit of an outcast, often referred to as a freak or weirdo by his classmates. He spends most of his free time either writing music or fantasizing about death, in particular all of the possible ways he can end his own life. At the opposite end of the social spectrum is Violet, who is attractive, popular, and a member of the cheerleading team.

This unlikely pair becomes connected in the novel’s opening scene which takes place on the ledge of the school’s bell tower. Plagued by an unnamed condition which he says makes him “sleep” for weeks at a time, Finch has climbed up there to contemplate what it would be like to commit suicide by jumping off the tower. He decides this would probably not be his preferred method, but as he turns to leave, he unexpectedly encounters Violet, who has apparently been having suicidal thoughts of her own. We then learn that Violet has recently suffered a tragedy that she can’t seem to get beyond – the death of her older sister and best friend Eleanor. Because she feels like she is just drowning in her grief and unable to move forward, Violet is having suicidal thoughts.

Finch, his own thoughts of suicide momentarily forgotten, does everything he can to talk Violet down to safety. He then dedicates himself to helping Violet overcome her thoughts of suicide. Although she is initially reluctant to even associate with Finch because of his reputation as a ‘freak’, Violet finally gives in and agrees to work with him on a school project which requires them to journey around their home state taking in its “natural wonders”.

The bulk of the novel focuses on the relationship between Violet and Finch as they work on this project and really get to know one another. Their journey together is an emotional roller coaster – it will make you laugh and it will bring you to tears, but what they find along the way is that they can draw strength from each other as they each battle their demons. Finch really pushes Violet to start working through her grief and seeing that her own life is worth living, and Violet helps Finch in that he can let his guard down around her and just be himself. As he focuses his attention on Violet, he becomes more and more determined not to let the ‘sleep’ take him again.

What I loved about All the Bright Places:

I think what makes All the Bright Places such a powerful read is that by having Violet and Finch tell their story, Niven takes us directly into the minds of these two troubled teens. We experience firsthand exactly what Finch and Violet are feeling as they think about killing themselves and what goes through their minds as they struggle just to exist from day to day. We’re seeing what Finch and Violet have been trying so hard to hide from their parents, friends, teachers, and counselors. It’s raw and unfiltered emotion and it will definitely make you think twice when you look at someone and assume that you know what they’re going through when you really have no idea what’s going on in their head or how much they might be struggling even though they’re trying to put on a brave face.

I also loved that Niven makes Finch the voice for those who are afraid to seek help for mental illness because they fear being labeled as “mentally ill”. He’s such a likeable and relatable character that we as readers desperately want him to get the help he needs, but at the same time, he makes us see why it’s so hard to do so. Finch embodies the fear that if diagnosed, in the eyes of others, he will become that diagnosis and nothing more:

“Moody Finch. Angry Finch. Unpredictable Finch. Crazy Finch. But I’m not a compilation of symptoms. Not a casualty of shitty parents and an even shittier chemical makeup. Not a problem. Not a diagnosis. Not an illness. Not something to be rescued. I’m a person.”

Finch even takes this a step further in the sacrifice that he makes for Violet, even when he barely knows her. When he talks Violet down off that ledge, he lets everyone believe she is the one who saved him rather than the other way around. He knows firsthand how crippling labels can be and he wants to protect her from that. So he takes on the label that would have otherwise have been given to her. He’s the suicidal one, not her. It’s a touching gesture.

‘All the Bright Places’ is such an important book because it shines light on the very problematic issue that a person would contemplate suicide rather than seeking medical help for mental illness. That should not be the case at all and it’s something we as a society, starting with our young people, need to address.

This is also a book that I wish had been around when I was teaching high school because of the way it spotlights the potential consequences of bullying. Because the characters in ‘All the Bright Places’ are so easy to relate to (Didn’t we all go to school with a Roamer, the guy who just lives to build himself up by putting others down?), I think this book could start a much needed dialogue in schools to educate students about the power of words. In this day and age when teen suicide rates are so high and school shootings are so prevalent, you just never know if your words are going to be the ones to push someone over the edge.
Read more

five-stars

About Jennifer Niven

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Niven has always wanted to be a Charlie’s Angel, but her true passion is writing. Her most recent book, All the Bright Places, is her first novel for young adult readers and tells the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die. All the Bright Places was the GoodReads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction of 2015, and named a Best Book of the Year by Time Magazine, NPR, the Guardian, Publisher’s Weekly, YALSA, Barnes & Noble, BuzzFeed, the New York Public Library, and others. It was also the #1 Kids’ Indie Next Book for Winter ’14-’15 and SCIBA’s Young Adult Book of the Year, as well as being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and longlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. As of today, the book has spent over thirty weeks as a New York Times bestseller, and foreign rights have sold to forty territories. The movie rights have been optioned with Elle Fanning attached to star and Jennifer writing the script. As a companion to the book, Jennifer has created Germ, a web magazine for and run by girls (and boys) — high school and beyond — that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in between.

With the publication of her first book, The Ice Master, Jennifer became a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writer. A nonfiction account of a deadly Arctic expedition, The Ice Master was released in November 2000 and named one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, and translated into multiple languages, including German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Danish, and Icelandic. Jennifer and The Ice Master appeared in Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, Talk, Glamour, The New Yorker, Outside, The New York Times Book Review, The London Daily Mail, The London Times, and Writer’s Digest, among others. Dateline BBC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel featured The Ice Master an hour-long documentaries, and the book was the subject of numerous German, Canadian, and British television documentaries. The Ice Master has been nominated for awards by the American Library Association and Book Sense, and received Italy’s esteemed Gambrinus Giuseppe Mazzotti Prize for 2002.

Jennifer’s second book, Ada Blackjack — an inspiring true story of the woman the press called “the female Robinson Crusoe” — has been translated into Chinese, French, and Estonian, was a Book Sense Top Ten Pick, and was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the Top Five Arctic books.

Her memoir, The Aqua-Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town, was published in February 2010 by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and was optioned by Warner Bros. as a television series.

Her first novel, Velva Jean Learns to Drive (based on her Emmy Award-winning film of the same name), was released July 2009 by Penguin/Plume. It was an Indie Pick for the August 2009 Indie Next List and was also a Costco Book of the Month. The second book in the Velva Jean series, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, was released by Penguin/Plume in August 2011, and the third book in the series, Becoming Clementine, was published in September 2012. The fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde, is available now.

With her mother, author Penelope Niven, Jennifer has conducted numerous seminars in writing and addressed audiences around the world. She lives in Los Angeles.

Source: www.jenniferniven.com

Question: What are your Must-Read YA novels?

As much as I love to read, books designated as Young Adult (or YA) are ones that I’ve vastly neglected in recent years. Why? I don’t really have a good excuse other than my own misguided belief that as a person who is closer to “middle aged” than to young adulthood, I was just too old to be reading anything classified as YA. I’ve thankfully kicked that belief to the curb and am now embracing the more enlightened philosophy that regardless of how it’s labeled, if a story sounds like it might interest me, I’m damned well going to read it!

ya books

That said, what this post is about is me looking for a good starting point as I delve into YA. So far I’ve read a few books by John Green (Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars) and have loved them. I’ve also read the Divergent series and thought that was pretty good. Of course I adore the entire Harry Potter series and am currently very much enjoying Jennifer Niven’s ‘All The Bright Places’. What to read next though is the question, so I’d love to hear from my fellow readers as to what you would consider to be Must-Reads for anyone new to YA. What are your favorites?

Comment below and help me get started. Thanks in advance!

Book Review: The Girls

Book Review:  The GirlsThe Girls by Emma Cline
five-stars
Published by Random House on June 14th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis: Girls—their vulnerability, strength, and passion to belong—are at the heart of this stunning first novel for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.   Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction—and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.

My review:

Set in California during the late 1960s, Emma Cline’s debut novel The Girls tells the story of fourteen year old Evie Boyd, an average, ordinary teenager who has become disenchanted with her life. Her parents are recently divorced – her dad has moved on and is now living with a new girlfriend, while her mom is desperately searching for love again and is constantly bringing men home. The revolving door of men starts to create friction between Evie and her mom, and so Evie starts spending less and less time at home. In addition to her troubles at home, Evie also has a falling out with her longtime best friend, Connie, and is left feeling very much lost and on her own.

Lonely and desperately wanting to connect with someone, Evie meets and is immediately infatuated with an ultra cool and attractive older girl named Suzanne. Suzanne tells Evie all about how she and a group of others live on a ranch together outside of town and about a man named Russell, who loves and takes care of them all. Seduced both by Suzanne and by the idea of this wonderful ‘hippie-esque’ family Suzanne describes to her, Evie jumps at the opportunity to hang out at the ranch and meet Russell.

This begins a journey that takes Evie down a dark and potentially dangerous path because that happy, hippie family is actually a cult and Russell is its Charles Manson. Yes, Russell takes care of his girls, but he also frequently has them do his bidding. The acts committed are fairly harmless at first: the girls dumpster dive for food because they don’t have enough money to feed themselves and they also occasionally break into homes. Once she is part of the group, Evie is persuaded to start stealing cash from her mom whenever the opportunity arises and bring it to Russell. But then as with Manson, that bidding eventually takes a violent and deadly turn. Russell is a singer-songwriter wannabe and has been angling for a record deal with this guy named Mitch. When the record deal never materializes, Russell is furious and sends his girls over to Mitch’s house to send him a message that neither he nor anyone else in their community will ever forget.

What I loved about The Girls:

One of the things that fascinated me most about this novel is that even though it contains a mass murdering Manson-like cult, Cline crafts her story in such a way that the murders committed are really just a footnote. The primary focus of the novel is, as the title suggests, the girls.

Cline deftly uses two narrative perspectives to tell Evie’s story. The first, and main one, is fourteen year old Evie describing how she meets Suzanne and gets seduced into joining Russell’s group. This allows us to see the events as they unfold, to watch Evie’s obsession with Suzanne grow and see the lengths she will go to in order to please Suzanne, and, most importantly, it allows us to understand Evie’s motivations as these events are taking place. In her portrayal of young Evie, Cline perfectly captures all of the nuances of being a teenage girl – the volatile emotions, the vulnerability, the intense need to belong to a group and just fit in. Cline is so spot on with her writing that I felt like I could have been reading the diary of a fourteen year old. Heck, it could have been my own diary when I was a teenager (minus the murderous cult, of course!).

The second perspective Cline uses to tell the story is much more reflective and really helps to round out Evie’s story. Evie is still the narrator, but now she is much older and is looking back on herself when she was fourteen and thinking about what happened, what could have happened, why everything happened, etc. Again, Cline perfectly captures the inner workings of older Evie’s mind down to the almost giddiness that she still seems to feel at being associated, however loosely, with the now infamous cult. Even as an adult, Evie still feels their hold over her, Suzanne’s in particular.
Read more

five-stars

About Emma Cline

Emma Cline is from California. Her fiction has appeared in Tin House and The Paris Review, and she was the recipient of the 2014 Paris Review Plimpton Prize.

The A-Z of Books Tag

Now that I have a few reviews under my belt, I decided it was time to mix it up a bit and add some non-review posts to my blog. I came across this cool A-B of Books tag on Pretty Purple Polka Dots and again on Rather Too Fond of Books and decided I’d like to give it a shot as well so here goes!


reading 

 

Author You’ve Read the Most Books From

Toni Morrison.  When I was in college, I took a seminar that was exclusively devoted to Morrison’s novel. I read all 6 that had been published at that time and have read at least 4 more since then.   (Runner up, which is pretty indicative of how varied my tastes in reading, is J.K. Rowling with the entire Harry Potter series.)

 

Best Sequel Ever

I don’t know if I can pick a ‘best ever’ but I did really enjoy The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second novel in Stieg Larrson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.

 

Currently Reading

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman

 

Drink of Choice While Reading

Usually coffee, but occasionally a glass of wine when I read on weekends.

 

E-Reader or Physical Book

As much as I adore physical copies of books, I also love that with an e-reader because I can instantly download a new book any time of the day or night.

 

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated in High School

For some reason, only Harry Potter characters are popping into my head so I’m going to go with Ron Weasley. I do love redheads and he and I would have had a great time together snarking on Draco Malfoy and his goons.

ron weasley

 

Glad You Gave this Book a Chance

Emma Donaghue’s ‘The Room’.  I really struggled to get through the first 50 or so pages and almost gave up on the book because it was hard to follow the 5-year child narrator, but once I got used to the narration, this book quickly became one of my all-time favorites.

 

Hidden Gem Book

Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith.  I picked this book up mainly because I had heard it was set in my home state of Virginia. What an absolutely gorgeous piece of writing it turned out to be.  If you give this one a try, I guarantee you’ll fall in love with the character of Ivy Rose.

Fair and Tender Ladies

 

 

Important Moment in Your Reading Life

Reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ for the first time when I was in the 8th grade. That book turned me into the book addict that I am today.

 

Just Finished

‘The Girls’ by Emma Cline. It’s fabulous, by the way, my favorite book of 2016 so far.

 
Read more

Cynthia D’Aprix’s debut novel ‘The Nest’ is an engaging tale about the importance of family

Cynthia D’Aprix’s debut novel ‘The Nest’ is an engaging tale about the importance of familyThe Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
four-stars
Published by Ecco on March 22nd 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: A 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 Review: 

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel The Nest is, by far, one of the most talked about books of 2016 so far.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it has appeared on nearly every ‘Must-Read’ list I’ve read in recent months.  I was eager to see what all the hype was about so I purchased a copy and dove in.

Sweeney hooked me instantly in the prologue with her dramatic and suspenseful description of a tragic accident that sets the rest of the events of the novel into motion.  While attending a family party, Leo Plumb, inebriated and high on cocaine, persuades a young lady named Matilda, who is working at the event, to take a ride in his Porsche. The ride, and the prologue, end abruptly when Leo loses control and crashes his car during an ill-timed sexual encounter.

The central storyline of The Nest deals with the fallout from this accident. Although both Leo and Matilda survive the crash, Matilda is left with a permanent disability that, of course, Leo is responsible for because of his reckless actions.  And yet, ironically, what has the Plumb family, particularly Leo’s three siblings, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice, distraught when the novel opens, is not what has happened to Matilda because of Leo, or even how could have possibly wrecked his own life.  No, what has them all  upset is that their mother has dipped into what they refer to as ‘The Nest’ to pay off Matilda and otherwise clean up Leo’s mess.

So why all the fuss about the so-called ‘Nest’?  The Nest is the Plumb siblings’ trust fund.  It was set up for them by their father years ago and was meant to be divided equally between the four of them when the youngest sibling turned 40.  Their father had intended that the Nest would simply be a modest sum to pad whatever fortunes his children should have already amassed for themselves by the time they had all reached middle age.  Because of some shrewd investing by the family attorney, however, the Nest had grown considerably in size and had promised a huge payout for each of the Plumbs — at least until their mother decided to raid it to help Leo get out of his scrape.

What we learn immediately about the Plumb siblings is that they have each been financially irresponsible over the years and so have grown to depend on the disbursement of ‘The Nest’ to bail them out of their financial difficulties.  Melody, the youngest Plumb sibling, is a homemaker who is stubbornly clinging to an upscale lifestyle that her family really can’t afford to maintain anymore.  She can barely manage to pay her mortgage but yet is still determined to send her twin high school age daughters to expensive private colleges.   Older brother Jack, an antiques dealer, is not faring any better.  He has gotten in over his head and is keeping his store afloat with a line of credit he has taken out against the beach house that he and his husband Walker own.  Walker, however, is unaware of the line of credit and so Jack has been living a life of secrets and lies in hopes that his share of the Nest would allow him to pay off the credit line so that Walker would never know what Jack had done behind his back.   Beatrice (Bea), the elder Plumb sister, is a talented writer whose career started out with a lot of promise but has since completely stalled out.  She is supposed to be writing a novel and has been living primarily off of the advance for her book, but after nearly a decade with no signs of a forthcoming novel, Bea’s literary agent is threatening to drop her.  When their mother and Leo burst their bubble that the Nest is going to save them, the Plumb siblings all panic and begin scrambling around trying to figure out how they’re going to hold their lives together if they can’t force Leo to pay them back their share of the Nest.  The irony here is that Leo apparently has been secretly squirreling away money for years in an offshore account and probably has enough to have pay off Matilda by himself in the first place, but most definitely has enough to repay the funds that were taken from the ‘Nest.’  Leo, however, doesn’t want to lose his own little nest egg, so he evades his family when they ask him how he’s going to pay them back and begins scheming to raise money to repay his debt.  Sweeney uses the Plumbs and their lost ‘Nest’ to very effectively satirize the elite and the money/status-obsessed.  How will the Plumbs ever survive if they have to live like the rest of us lowly non-trust fund babies?

Strengths of The Nest:

Character driven.  While the story in itself is a great one, what really drives The Nest are the characters and the ultra-realistic way in which Sweeney draws them.  They are the textbook definition of a dysfunctional family and I’ll admit that initially I had some trouble relating to them because of their obsession with how not getting the Nest has ruined their lives.  I wanted to yell at Melody for being so horrified that her children may have to attend public colleges instead of private ones and at Jack because OMG! He might have to sell his beach house without the Nest.  The more I read, however, the more I was able to get past the entitled, elitist exteriors and see how flawed and utterly human Sweeney has painted them.  I even started to see myself and my own family in the Plumbs and thus could more easily identify with their struggles and with their frustrations with each other and especially with Leo.  Nothing is more frustrating than having a loved one who is his or her own worst enemy.

Read more

four-stars