Novels that feature women facing a crossroads in their lives make for interesting stories, and this month I have five good ones to review.
Michelle Huneven follows up her last deeply moving novel, “Blame,” about a woman who spends time in prison after killing a mother and her young daughter while driving drunk, with another brilliant book, “Off Course.” In 1981 we meet Cressida, who has come to stay in her parent’s rustic cabin in the California Sierra Mountains.
Cressida is there to finish to her dissertation in economics, but malaise sets in and she ends up falling in love with a married man. She loses her way, and can’t find her footing in either love or her career. Huneven excels in creating unforgettable characters, and I found myself thinking about Cressida months after finishing this astonishing novel. I also loved the setting of this isolated mountain community.
Laura Dave’s novel “Eight Hundred Grapes” is also set in California, in the wine country of Sonoma. We meet Georgia, wearing her wedding dress and driving from L.A. to her family’s vineyard nine hours away. She has just found out that her fiancé has a young daughter he has not told her about.
|Eight Hundred Grapes|
She runs home to find that her brothers have a serious issue between them, her mother is dating another man and her father is selling the vineyards he has put his whole life into to a hated corporate entity.
Georgia’s fiance follows to convince her that he loves and wants to marry her. Meeting his lovely daughter gives Georgia something to think about, as does meeting the girl’s mother, a hot British actress who wants to rekindle the flame.
Learning about running a vineyard and harvesting the grapes was extremely interesting, especially as there are so many in our area. And I liked that we weren’t really sure what Georgia would decide to do until the very end.
Melissa DeCarlo’s debut novel, “The Art of Crash Landing,” starts off strong, as 30-year-old Mattie finds herself pregnant and homeless after she leaves her boyfriend. She gets a letter from a lawyer telling her that she has an inheritance from her grandmother. She heads to the small town of Grandy, Oklahoma, where she finds out things about her dead mother that she didn’t know, including why her mother left home suddenly at 17.
|The Art of Crash Landing|
I especially enjoyed the small-town feel of this novel, getting to know the Grandy residents, like the librarian, her snarky niece and the wheelchair-bound lawyer who help (and hinder) Mattie in her quest. The humor and humanity shine through in this delightful debut.
Patricia Park’s “Re Jane” takes us into the world of Jane Re, a Korean-American who lives with her uncle’s family in Queens, where she works at their small grocery store. Jane’s mother died when she was young and her father was an American soldier she never knew.
Feeling like an outsider in her family (being only half-Korean and not looking like everyone else, and treated like Cinderella), Jane gets a job working for a Brooklyn family as a nanny to their adopted Chinese daughter, and finds herself drawn to the father.
Jane runs away to South Korea, where she ends up with her mother’s family and gets a job teaching English. She loves spending time with her aunt and even finds a great boyfriend, but Jane still doesn’t feel like she completely belongs in South Korea. Will she stay or return to America?
Park does an amazing job dropping us into these disparate worlds of Korean-American Queens, yuppie Brooklyn and South Korea. Her complicated relationship with her uncle is so well-done, and just when you think he doesn’t care about Jane, he shows another side.
“Re Jane” is a clever retelling of “Jane Eyre,” and I recommend it to anyone who loved that story.
Stephanie Clifford’s “Everybody Rise” has an Edith Wharton-type quality to it. Evelyn has been raised by her mother to want to be a part of high society, something she herself could not attain. She sends Evelyn to a fancy private school in the hopes that Evelyn will impress the “right people.”
Although Evelyn initially rejects her mother’s attempts, she is seduced by the lifestyle and finds herself falling deeper into debt as she works hard to become one of the “beautiful people” with disastrous results. Evelyn is not a character you always root for, but she sure is intriguing. “Everybody Rise” is one of the best novels of the year.
If you read
“Off Course”: B+
“Eight Hundred Grapes”: B+
“The Art of Crash Landing”: A-
“Re Jane”: A-
“Everybody Rise”: A