Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Summer Reading List: Kubica and Hilderbrand

Two books this week!

In Pretty Baby, we meet Heidi Wood, a do-gooder with a heart of gold.  The kind of woman who always drops money in the panhandler's cup, who rescues stray animals, who goes out of her way to make the world a better place.  Even still, her husband and daughter are shocked when she one day shows up with a girl, Willow, and her baby, Ruby.  Over the course of the book, Willow's story is unraveled as is Heidi's own painful past.

I read Kubica's The Good Girl last year so I knew what I was getting into: a psychological thriller that I wouldn't quite be able to put down.  On that count, I was right.  That said, I just . . . I don't know how I feel about this book.  I gave it three stars on Goodreads but wish I could have given it 3.5.  It deserved more than three, less than four.

My main issue is that I really didn't like the character of Heidi.  In the beginning, she's okay but as the book carries on she comes across as more and more selfish and unlikeable.  Her daughter, Zoe, is twelve and going through the pre-teen stage where she hates everyone and everything and as I got to one point in the book I realized that I felt sorry for Zoe because Heidi was her mother.  The character of Willow is sympathetic as her story unfolds through the book yet you don't really know if you should pity her.  There is some interaction between Heidi and her husband, Chris, that I felt was unnecessary for the book and basically just fodder to add extra pages. 

One thing I really didn't care for about the book is the description of Willow's early home life.  The book was published in 2015 and we're lead to believe, by descriptions Google searches and Facebook pages and the like, that it takes place in recent times.  However, there's mention of Willow's mother with her "beehive hair-do" and singing Patsy Cline songs.  I don't know if the author is just unaware of what things are like in rural parts of the United States (spoiler: rural communities may be a little behind New York and LA but not DECADES) or what she was trying to portray.  As someone who grew up in a rural community, it just really rubbed me wrong. 

One more thing: the back of the book carries the quote from NPR, "It's the perfect setup - but the twists you expect aren't the ones that arrive."  And, eh, no.  Just as with The Good Girl, I figured out the twists.  Though I was left wondering from time to time if I ACTUALLY had it figured out.

All in all, the book is a lot like Room.  It's gripping, it's thrilling, a real page turner.  But also definitely not one that I can say I "love."

The Love Season introduces us to Marguerite Beale, a reclusive former chef, whose world is rocked when she receives a call from her 19-year-old goddaughter, Renata.  She hasn't seen her since the death of Renata's mother, Candace, 14 years earlier.  The girl is on Nantucket with her fiancĂ© and wants to visit with her "Aunt Daisy."  The entire book takes place in just a little over 24 hours -- with a lot of reminiscing and remembering the past as well.  Renata wants answers, to talk about her mother, and Marguerite is who she has to turn to.

I . . . I'm glad this wasn't the first Hilderbrand book I read.  It was a re-read for me but, honestly, I didn't remember any of the details at all.  That's how little of an impression the book left on me the first time around. It's not Hilderbrand's best . . . it may even be her worst.

The character of Marguerite is such a pushover that it's hard to feel sorry for her.  You kind of want to grab her by the shoulders and scream, "SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP!"  She experiences a great deal of guilt and grief over her friend's death and she wallows in it for the entirety of the book.  "The Love Season" title is pulled from a quick quote in the book and it would've been better titled "The Guilt Season."

The character of Renata seemed poorly developed and her fiancĂ©, Cade, goes from being such a great, awesome, wonderful guy to kind of being an asshole to her.  Cade's parents, particularly his mother, are a rich, snooty Nantucket stereotype.  Basically, there are just so many things in this book that Hilderbrand is better than resorting to.

And one more tiny gripe -- The Beach Club was Hilderbrand's first novel and, in it, we learn that The Beach Club is owned by Bill Elliot, who inherited it from his father, and ran by Mack Peterson.  Mack even makes a reappearance in The Blue Bistro -- where he's still managing the Beach Club.  However, in The Love Season The Beach Club is owned at one point by Daniel Knox.  It's a tiny gripe and there are no overlapping characters, these are obviously two very different and stand alone books.  But I wish Hilderbrand had named the club owned by Knox something a little different.

Two stars for this one . . . and it's painful for me to do that to a Hilderbrand book!

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