I bought this book a few months ago as part of The Works' 3 for £5 deal. As I ended up spending £25 or £30 I have been slowly working my way through the pile!
What first attracted me to this book was the plot. The story focuses around a group of parents who are left at a bit of a loose end after their children go off to university. The plot sounded interesting to me and something different to your usual chick lit which often focuses around younger women looking for love.
The book begins by introducing us to Clover. She is in her 50s and is mother to Ben and Holly. Holly has just finished sixth form and Ben has been off on a gap year and finished last year. Therefore they are both heading off to university this year. Clover is proud of her children and also proud of herself and her husband George for making it to this point. However, she is a little wary of the future as she will miss her babies.
Laura is mother to Jamie who is the same age as Holly. He is off to Gwent to study law, something that Laura is very proud of. However, she is a very protective mother and therefore is worried about her life after Jamie has left. She and Jamie's father are married and still together but the relationship is over. Tim had an affair some years back and since then they have just been together out of convenience.
The best friends are both worried about their future and feel that they are at a crossroads in their lives with no idea which way they want to go. What will they do now their children have flown the nest?
It is difficult not to immediately warm to Clover. She is a lovely character who is a wonderful mother and would do anything for anyone. She reminded me very much of one of Trisha Ashley's main characters and was a typical mother hen, caring for those around her.
Laura on the other hand took a bit more effort to love. From the opening of the book she seemed very short and snappy with her husband and was very overbearing when it came to Jamie, to an extent where she was smothering him. However, Laura is very upset that Tim betrayed her and cannot forget it so this does explain some of her behaviour.
The pair have another friend Alice who is quite the opposite of Clover. She is a successful businesswoman who works very hard to produce turnovers in their millions. She is always jetting off around the world leaving little time for her daughter, Lola. I found it quite easy to dislike Alice and she certainly didn't fit in with the other mothers.
The book focuses primarily on Clover and Laura and how they cope with no longer having children to care for and be there for. Each chapter tends to begin by changing which person we are viewing. I liked this because if putting the book down it was very easy to pick up when I began reading again.
I believed that the plot flowed very well and it was interesting. Initially I was a little concerned it might be a little slow now the women saw their lives as relatively empty however I found there was always plenty going on and as soon as I got about a quarter of the way through the book I was anxious to keep reading to learn about what would happen next.
I found the writing style very laid back and informal. It really felt as though I was there with the women viewing their every move. The style actually made me feel really relaxed and after reading a few chapters I felt noticeably refreshed.
I thought the book was the perfect length and I felt that everything was looked at in a good amount of detail but was not overly informative. The ending was done very well and with one mystery I was guessing right up until the end.
The books author is Nina Bell.
It was published in 2011.
It has 384 pages.
Currently both kindle and paperback can be found on amazon for around £5.
I really enjoyed this book. The plot was interesting and attention grabbing and I loved settling down with it for half an hour. Recommended for all fans of fiction.
With their children all off to university (most from the same school year, plus an erroneous one who took a handy-for-the-sake-of-the-story gap year), it's all change for the parents in this book - for Clover and George, and Laura and Tim, and Alice. Though some of the fathers are present, as you'd expect this is a tale told mainly from the eyes of the mothers. Clover and Laura have been friends forever, while Clover and Alice's relationship is more recent. As for Laura and Alice, well they really don't get on, making life a little tricky at times for Clover, stuck somewhere in the middle.
The book starts with the children's graduation from high school and their last summer at home, building up to results day. It should be, if not frantic then at least a busy, bustling time, but the story is extremely slow to get going and this really put me off. Though the two page prologue is mysterious, when the time moves back to a year before, it takes ages for the story to get going. There is a lot of detail but it reads as extremely self-indulgent and the sort of thing you'd only be remotely interested in if you knew the people involved which, this early on, you just don't. I also thought there was excessive jumping back and forth, a rather crude attempt to fill the reader in on the characters' backgrounds with this information shoehorned in quite abruptly in places.
I didn't click with the style because it thought it was needlessly wordy and dramatic in places that could have been punchier and less over the top. The narrative did little to add to the story, or endear the characters to me, and just seemed to waffle on:
"Laura and Tim lived in an immaculate eighteenth-century yellow brick farmhouse on the slope of an idyllic valley. Their view consisted of fields, a half-timbered black and white medieval cottage, two barns, a herd of rare-breed cattle and a wood. Inside, their house was tastefully painted in shades of blue, terracotta and off-white with a Shaker kitchen and smart cream sofas . Two miles away in the raggle-taggle village of Pilgrim's Worthy, Clover and George lived at Fox Hollow, an extended Victorian cottage with a front door painted the grey-green of lichen."
This sort of description really didn't help move the story on, and had quite the opposite effect on me, bringing everything to a halt in my mind. Fine if you're reading a profile in Country Living, less so in a story that is supposed to be building momentum. I was also far from sure what the travel blogs were supposed to add.
But what of the story as it develops? It does speed up, certainly. It's still not wildly fast paced, and there can be unpredictable jumps of weeks or months at a time - an example being in December when a chapter skips over 2 weeks with no mention of Christmas despite, from what I gathered about these families, that being an important time of year (at any time, but especially the year the kids are back from their first term of uni). What I thought really let the story down, however, was the characters who ranged from insipid to neurotic, with no nice normal people to balance it out. The pettiness between Alice and Laura seemed extremely adolescent and not in keeping with their personas of busy, successful business woman and comfortably kept housewife. But it wasn't just this interaction: I didn't warm to any of the women and found none of them role model material. If this is what life brings for empty nesters in their late 40s, remind me never to have children to start with. Equally, I think if I'd given this book to my mother when I left home 11 years ago, she would have had it in the charity shop bag after 2 chapters, denouncing it as nonsense. With teenage children of her own, perhaps the author needed to write this as a sort of therapy following the departure of her own brood, but I can't help but be glad my mother was a bit more sensible about these matters and not the clingy mess some of the characters in the book appear to be. I also thought it a bit over the top - they were leaving to go to uni which is what their parents all wanted, not eloping abroad or running off to join the circus.
Sometimes an ensemble cast can work well, but I truly believe there are too many main characters in this book, too much drama, too many finicky details to keep track of, never knowing which are even important for the future story. I also disliked the clear north/south bias which I'm not used to feeling so explicitly in British books.
Ultimately this book didn't win me over. It would have benefited from a faster start to get you hooked and slicker editing because though it's not excessively long, I thought it could have been tighter and told in fewer pages.
An earlier version of this review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk and you can find our more about the author at her website www.ninabell.co.uk
Clover Jones and Laura Dangerfield have been best friends since their children were born. Along with Clover's stylish, powerful friend, Alice, they share holidays, sleepovers, school runs and childcare. They're like one big family. But all families have their secrets. When the children leave home, Clover and Laura's lives and marriages change forever, and the old rules on love and loyalty no longer apply. And when Alice decides she wants what they've got, Clover and Laura have to find out who they really are. Without the children, can their marriages - and friendship - survive?
I've read most of Nina Bell's previous books and really enjoyed them - they are great family dramas and really draw you in when you're reading them which is what I love from a book. I have to say that when I saw the cover for her latest book The Empty Nesters I wasn't initially impressed - it looked a bit bland and didn't jump out at me like her previous covers had done at all. However, when I received a copy I thought it was actually quite nice and after reading it, I see how it fits in with the story too. As usual, Bell has delivered on her dramatic family dramas and although I felt this one was a bit of a slow burner at first, I soon found myself engrossed in it and not wanting to put it down!
What I really liked about this book was how the character's enabled you to really get involved in their lives and see what was going on between not only the group of parents, but the children too. Clover, Laura and Alice are the main three adult females in the book and all flawed in their own ways. Clover tries to rescue people too much, Laura is in a rut with her marriage and doing something she knows is awfully wrong, and Alice is being a bit too over-bearing with her daughter Lola, and also a big ignorant of what Clover is doing for her as a friend. I really disliked Alice, and couldn't find anything I liked about her at all - she's your worst nightmare of a friend and parent to be honest! On the other hand, I felt Clover and Laura were written as really good parents, and as a mum myself I could understand Laura's pain in letting her only child go away from her, I felt Bell really captured her pain.
The male characters are also very important in the book. We have Tim, Laura's husband who is about to go through a major period in his life which will make or break his marriage, George, Clover's husband who is being a bit secretive and leading Clover to be a bit suspicious about his activities and Duncan, a single dad who is new to the group. I felt Bell wrote her male characters to be just as important as the female ones in some respects, which is a nice thing in this genre since male characters sometimes take the backseat. I really enjoyed reading Tim's story, yes it isn't particularly nice to read about but I felt it was well covered and the reactions of both Tim and Laura to the issue were very realistic. I actually felt realism was felt throughout the book regarding the characters, their emotions and reactions to things that happened and that made it a very enjoyable read.
Although the adult characters in this book were much older than me, probably around double my age actually, I didn't find it hard to relate to the book at all, and you'll find this one you'll relate to very easily if you are a parent! My son is only 5 yet I dread the day he goes off to University, and so I felt I was really able to relate to Laura in this instance when I was reading. The younger characters were also very well written, although they didn't appear too frequently in the book. I felt Bell's writing was very easy to read and enjoy, and the third person narrative worked well for the multiple characters being used in the book. Her descriptions of not only people and feelings, but places, surroundings and the like allow the book to come to life in your head as you are reading. I did find the start a little slow if I'm honest, which is what knocked the book down from a 5 star to a 4 star, but I persevered and I am glad I did as I would have missed out on a really great book. I very much enjoyed reading it, and loved the revelations that are revealed as the book progressed, one involving Laura that I never saw coming at all until it was revealed! If you love books about families or dramas, then you are going to love The Empty Nesters, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
ISBN: 978-0751543667. Published by Sphere on 1st September 2011. Pages: 416. RRP: £6.99.
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitreviews.com
Thank you for reading.