I bought this book because it had some very good reviews on Amazon and it was described as being spell-binding. I like books which captivate me and really draw me into the world inside the author's head and this one sounded like it would do that. I am sorry to say that I didn't find this to be the case at all with this book and I actually found it rather patronising, tedious and boring which surprised me seeing as there were so many positive reviews about it.
The book tells of Mary-Beth who is seen as an 'average' mother of three and wife to Glen. It talks about her life and how she goes about it; working in the day, picking up her children from various clubs in the evenings, talking to her daughter about boyfriend issues and so forth. There is nothing particularly exciting about her life; she worries that her son is depressed, that her daughter is growing up, her other son is coasting through life... She thinks about the people she employs and has quite an ordinary life really.
Then something happens which changes her life forever making it far from ordinary. She is suddenly thrown into a new world completely and is forced to build a new life for herself. The story takes a different turn as she begins to build this life and deal with what has happened.
The whole concept of the book sounds quite good, there is a lot of scope with what the author could do with this story, however, it just does not flow.
I found the book quite confusing. It is told in first person by Mary Beth so she may say how she was sitting outside the drum teacher's house waiting for her son and then recall an event from a few days' previously. I found it hard to know when we were talking about her 'present' and when we were talking about a few days previously. This happened throughout the whole book; one minute it was Thanksgiving and then she was suddenly describing the events and feelings at Halloween and then I wasn't sure when she was talking about Thanksgiving again. This kind of writing made me very confused and resulted in it being difficult to actually engage with as I never knew where I was up to.
There was also a lot of information which wasn't relevant. I understand that the author was trying to set the scene for the first half of the book by describing the rather dull, ordinary life of Mary Beth but sadly it was just that; dull. I don't want to read about someone just driving to drop off a child and then waiting to pick them up again, or leading a dull life... it just made me lose interest in the book and wish that she would hurry up and get to the point. The lead up to the event was just far too long it was the whole first half so it was not enjoyable.
The part of the book which described the event was about thirty pages long and was the only bit of the book which really kept my interest and I actually found myself drawn in. Sadly though after this the book returned to a rather slow-paced dull read.
I do not need a book to be full of action to be able to enjoy it but I do need it to be captivating. The style of writing just didn't enable me to be captivated by it, I couldn't relate to the characters, I found the dialogue between them very unbelievable and really could not be drawn in by it.
The characters were one dimensional as far as I am concerned. I know the author was really trying to describe Mary Beth's life in great detail but it didn't result in me feeling as though I knew the character at all, it was all just disjointed.
I am disappointed with this book. I did keep thinking it would get better considering the amount of positive reviews about it but sadly that never happened. I would not read this book again and I certainly won't be recommending it to anybody. I cannot even find any more words to make this a length review I'm afraid!
Mary Beth Latham is contemplating her average, ordinary life where every day is more of less the same. Would things be better if life were more exciting, varied, newsworthy? Is that a legitimate thing to hope for? They say to be careful what you wish for, and Mary Beth never comes right out and says this is what she wants, but there are hints to this effect.
As we first get to know her she is a mother of three and a wife of one, who fills her days landscaping other people's gardens and decorating the Christmas trees of those too busy or lazy to do it themselves. By the end of the book more than one thing in that sentence has changed, and for Mary Beth life is barely recognisable as the predictable if slightly mundane passage of time it once was. The image on the front of the paperback edition says it all: a broken snow globe with a house inside, the shattered glass giving you an idea of the magnitude of the troubles that will shatter Mary Beth's own life.
This is not a flitty piece of chick lit (though I don't mean that in a derogatory way as I enjoy that genre). Instead, it is a substantial, chewy, sink-your-teeth in story that starts off so ordinary and ends up so, well, extraordinary. I was lost in it from the first chapter and went from reluctantly putting it down to having to have it prised from my hands towards the end. If we'd not been travelling this week I could have devoured it in a day. The writing draws you in like honey attracts flies, and keeps hold of you in just the same way. Though a character flawed in many ways, there is little chance of not identifying with and rooting for Mary Beth and the same goes for her family, because if you take away all the stuff around the edges, this book is about just that: family and the complex relationships that bind its members. It is about parenting, motherhood in particular, and about treading the fine line between codling your offspring for life and giving them the freedom they need to grow.
It's been a long time since I balled my eyes out at a book but from about mid way through this one had me sniffing repeatedly and by the end the pages were wet and I was in no fit state to be seen in public. The writing is so honest, the emotion so raw, and the pain so real that your heart breaks as if it's happening to you rather than some fictitious creation. It is a heart wrenching read that will stay with me for a long time, and is a true reminder that bad things can happen to good people.
The book left me gasping for breath and utterly spellbound, and though the twists and turns are perhaps not the common ones you might find in some books, at no point did I question their probability or authenticity. This is a book of two parts, the 'before' and 'after', but there is no preparation for what is coming and it's as shocking for the reader as it is for the characters. If you look back afterwards, there are some signs but they are deeply hidden and, again like the characters, something you would think nothing of at the time.
If I had one criticism, it would be a minor one to do with how the aftermath of the family's tragedy is dealt with. It may just be the way Mary Beth tries to deal with things, because we only really hear her perspective, but it seemed to me like it would have been a bigger deal and there would have been more of a prolonged reaction that is indicated in the book. While for the most part I was content to focus on the family with only the most minor interactions of their friends, I did feel like the character of Deborah needed further exploration at this point.
I read the back of this book which I believe has been revised since the US release as other reviewers have commented on the spoilers within it. I don't know what that one said, but I do know that the image I had from reading the back of the UK edition did not entirely prepare me for the story that lay ahead. It hints at a problem concerning one character which really is not the focus of the story at all, so I would simply suggest taking this with a pinch of salt, and keeping an open mind as you read.
This is the first book that I have read by Anna Quindlen but it certainly won't be the last and I am very grateful to the publishers for this introduction to such a stellar author.
This book was published in the UK in May 2011. At the time of writing Amazon has the paperback new for £3.99 including delivery. No Kindle version is available yet.
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk