REVIEW: SMALL HOURS, BY JENNIFER KITSES

 

In the vein of Richard Russo and Tom Perrotta, a gripping, suspenseful, and gorgeous debut novel–told hour-by-hour over the course of a single day–in which a husband and wife try to outrun long-buried secrets, sending their lives spiraling into chaos.

My Thoughts: Tom Foster and Helen Nichols had fled urban NY with their twin daughters, Sophie and Ilona, hoping to find a more peaceful life. They settled into small town Devon, but after Tom lost his job, and after the financial downturn, they found themselves scrambling, just to meet the bills and to work out their child care arrangements.

But both Tom and Helen were keeping secrets, and the darkness of their hidden selves and Tom’s secret life brought them to a crisis that could have unraveled everything.

Alternating narratives between Tom and Helen gave the reader a look at those secrets, and how each of them was treading water, headed “out to sea.”

The narratives flashed back to the past, too, revealing some of what led them to this point in time: this one long day that became a series of defining moments.

Miscommunication, misunderstandings, and outside stress led to the chaos they faced at the end of one long day. Small moments had escalated and now they would have to ask themselves what they would give up…and what they wanted to keep. Small Hours was captivating with engaging characters, so I could not stop reading. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: DAUGHTERS-IN-LAW, BY JOANNA TROLLOPE

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Anthony and Rachel Brinkley are enjoying their empty nest in Suffolk, especially since their three grown sons, Edward, Ralph, and Luke, stay in close touch. Edward is married to Sigrid, and they have a daughter Mariella. Ralph, who is often a challenge, now seems settled in nicely with Petra and their two boys, Kit and Barney.

But with Luke marrying Charlotte, Rachel is a little nervous. She suspects that Charlotte will not “fall into line” as nicely as the other two daughters-in-law.

She is right. Charlotte is used to getting what she wants, and she has some very definite ideas about how her new relationship with the in-laws will proceed.

But what Rachel could not have predicted would be the intense chaos that rises up during that summer, and how Sigrid and Petra seemingly step out of line, just as Charlotte is asserting herself.

Daughters-in-Law was a delightful family tale that reveals much of what often goes on behind the scenes in families, and shows the reader how one new addition to the mix can stir things up in unexpected ways.

I enjoyed this story, narrated from multiple perspectives, and at some point or another, found each character annoying, but in ways that made them seem real. Like people you might know. 4.0 stars.


CALL ME ZELDA, BY ERIKA ROBUCK

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F. Scott Fitzgerald and his lovely wife Zelda were legendary in their time. For the glitz and glamor of their lives, for their often chaotic behavior, and for the passionate yet stormy nature of their relationship.

Call Me Zelda is a story that began in 1932, in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, in the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic. Zelda was a patient, and Anna Howard, a nurse. The story is narrated in Anna’s first person voice, and we learn about the losses that have devastated her. How the ravages of war have hollowed out her very soul.

Almost as if the two of them were born to be connected, Zelda and Anna developed a close, almost symbiotic relationship that was mutually beneficial for a time, but then seemed to turn, until Anna was consumed by the needs of Scott and Zelda. Having a relationship with Zelda meant also having to relate to Scott, who proved difficult and challenging on the best of days.

Why was Zelda obsessed with finding her old diaries? Does her quest have anything to do with her assertions that Scott has “stolen” her writings and her ideas? That he has created his work from her life?

At one point in the story, there is a break between the Fitzgeralds and Anna, and only then is she able to start her own life over. To move past her losses.

And then there is a leap forward to post-WWII, when Anna is married to old friend Will, and has settled in with their three children: twins, Ben and Will; and Sara.

When Anna receives a letter from Zelda, years after Scott’s death and long since their last communication, all the old feelings of connection are stirred up. Will Anna take a final journey, at Zelda’s request, to search through the moments in Zelda’s past and find the diaries? And afterwards, what sad ending will finally close the chapter for the two of them?

An unforgettable tale that will stay with me, and which I enjoyed enough to award four stars. Recommended for those who love historical fiction and who won’t mind slogging through a lot of detail to reach the core of the story.