Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reviews: A Hundred Flowers & The Cottage at Glass Beach

I confess...things have been a bit complex around here.  It isn't stuff that is really mine to talk about but I will say that it looks a bit better than first feared.  I'm hoping for, and physically need, a quiet period.

I'd gotten low in my bookstack but thankfully a few more freebies arrived recently.  Clearly this means I need to catch up on my reviews...

I won a copy of this book via Goodreads.  The story is set in Japan in 1957 and 1958.  It focuses on a family where the father has been taken away by government authorities.  We see the son grapple with not understanding where his father has gone, the wife try to continue with life while missing he beloved husband, and the missing husband's father consider his own role in the family history.  There is also a teen girl who has fled her own family and finds her way into the focal household just as she is about to give birth.   Several journeys take place as the boy heals after falling from an old, storied tree, the mother continues her work as a holistic healer, the teen confronts motherhood, and the grandfather seeks out his missing adult son.  In the background, the government is quelling thought that goes against official beliefs and forcing "re-education" on those who fell for a deceptive program that pretended to invite the expression of different ideals.

I enjoy books that have a historical element but aren't entirely about history.  I like books that focus on specific characters facing timeless issues while also revealing a bit about that moment in history.  I think the author does a good job at creating this sort of context.  However, I ultimately found the novel disappointing.  I don't need a book to wrap the ending in a big bow, but I didn't care for the way she ended the characters' stories.  I felt the characters were interesting but could have been developed a bit more.  Enjoyable, but not a stand-out for me.  3.5 stars, rounded down where forced to pick "full star" rating since it left me wanting something more. 

I received an Advance Reader's Copy of this book from the folks at Harper.  It takes what feels like an all-too-familiar event as its starting place with Nora fleeing the Boston area as the scandal of her politician husband's affair becomes public knowledge.  Nora takes her two daughters to the small Maine island where she lived until age five when her father moved her away after her mother mysteriously disappeared.  Nora finds guidance from an aunt (the missing mother's sister) whom she hasn't seen since she left the island.  The older of the two children, eleven year old Ella, is very angry at the world and takes it out on Nora.  Flowing through the novel are questions about what happened to Nora's mother and some mysterious male characters.

I wanted to enjoy this as a simple, "beachy" read but struggled to stay involved.  Some of the characters were interesting, but there were too many unrelated bits of drama thrown in.  Overall, very little of the emotion felt real to me.  There's a current of magic that felt very unsatisfying.  Many issues, especially surrounding the magical elements, go unresolved but, to be frank, I wasn't invested enough to really care. 

There are also a number of points at which the prose felt jumbled....not sure if they'll be resolved in the final copy but I haven't seen this extent of issues in other advance editions and some feel more like stylistic choices rather than grammar issues that could be easily resolved by editing.  Three stars, saved from 2.5 because I enjoyed the aunt's character.

1 comment:

Annabelle said...

I hope you get that quiet period!

Awesome that you get advance review copies of this stuff. I would be absurdly thrilled about something like that.