(This review contains no Spoilers!)
Emma Straub's new novel, THE VACATIONERS, is a quirky, enjoyable read that though it has a good amount of family angst and problems, was not at all full of knuckle-biting, full on drama. The story centers around a Manhattan family, the Posts, and their two-week vacation in Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain. On the trip are Franny and Jim Post, their daugher Sylvia, who just graduated from high school, her older brother Bobby and his girlfriend Carmen who live together in Florida. Also on the trip is Franny's close friend Charles and his husband Lawrence. They'll be staying in a house owned by one of Charles' friends.
Early on we learn there is something going on with Franny and Jim's 30-something year marriage, but that isn't divulged right away. Hints are dropped and conclusions are made by the reader. Sylvia, the only child still living at home, knows what's happening and just wants to start her new college life in the fall. Bobby and Carmen don't know what the trouble with his parents is but they do have a hidden agenda for coming on this trip with Carmen being the driving force and Bobby feeling very uncomfortable about it. Charles and Lawrence are at a point where they are ready for the next step in their lives but it brings a lot of uncertainty and they aren't quite yet ready to tell anyone, even Charles' best friend, Franny, who thinks Charles tells her EVERYTHING. With all of these diverse personalities and complicated issues, this family vacation is full of surprises and realizations. Hopefully they can all get through it.
I was looking for something a little different when I chose this book. I wanted an entertaining summer read that was fun but also had a good story. The Twitter-verse was buzzing about Emma Straub and her new book and I was looking for my next audiobook. After sampling the narration, I knew this was exactly what I was looking for.
The Post family, though flawed, is a great family. One thing I liked right away was that the story was told by different family members, giving a broad knowledge of all their personalities and their perceptions. My favorite was Sylvia in all of her young, sometimes naive knowledge, and the innocence of not yet living life on her own yet. Honestly, I liked all of the characters and they liked each other, though there were some issues.
The Posts were in beautiful Mallorca for two weeks so Straub broke down the chapters by days. There was a different chapter for each day and I thought that was a great idea for the theme of this book. There wa such great ebb and glow with this novel. I literally breezed right through it in a matter of a few days. The house in Mallorca sounded so fabulous, I just wanted to be transported there so badly, I think I lived vicariously through them.
I've never read anything else by Emma Straub but I can easily say that I did like her writing style. Listening to this book was was much like sitting down with a group of friends and chatting. I'm positive that the printed version would be a quick, easy-flowing page turner. Her writing is not complicated its straitforward and to the point.
This character-driven story was full of complicated issues and conflicting personalities but I was pleasantly surprised their weren't more actual arguments. These are mature, intelligent charterers and even when punches were being thrown, it wasn't awful, just surprising, like 'Wow! I can't believe he actually did it!' I really enjoyed this story and the people in it and because its only 301 printed pages, I think its a great book for summer and I think its going to be a big hit this season.
As you well know, narration can make or break an audiobook and for me, Kristin Sieh did an awesome job. To be honest, at first I wasn't sure, but soon her somewhat raspy voice won me over. I thought it was especially conducive to Sylvia's character, though she did an amazing job with all of them, even the minor characters with thick accents. Ms. Sieh completely pulled me in and made me forget I was being read to and put me right into the story. That is the mark of a great narrator!
Overall, I think THE VACATIONERS would be a great book to take on your summer vacation or to the beach. Its fun, light and a little quirky but underneath all that is a meaningful story about family, change, and the bonds of love that keep people connected.
THE VACATIONERS (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Emma Straub (@emmastraub)
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: May 29, 2014
Length: 6 Hrs 39 Mins
Printed Length: 301 pp
Jun 19, 2014
Jun 13, 2014
In her twenties, still unmarried and living at home, Sarah became more and more convinced that slavery should be abolished, which caused obvious problems for the family. Eventually, she made the decision to leave her family home and move to Philadelphia to live with a Quaker family she had met some years before. Since Sarah had secretly taught Handful to read when she was younger, Sarah was able to keep in touch with Handful over the years. Soon, Nina, too, had become active in the fight against slavery and she joined her sister.
Though Handful was enslaved, she dreamed of the day she would be able to buy her freedom and finally live the life she felt she deserved. She sewed quilts and clothing to sell and saved every penny to put towards her freedom. Many miles north, Sarah and Nina did their part in spreading the word about the injustices of slavery, along with the rights of women to have a voice. Though their lives were completely different, Handful and Sarah were fighting the same battle, which was very costly in different ways for each of them.
I was automatically drawn to this novel for two reasons: the obvious one is my love of Southern Fiction and the other is that I'm a huge Sue Monk Kidd fan! Oh, and another reason is that it takes place in Charleston, South Carolina.
The story moved along nicely through the years without becoming slow. I also liked how the chapters alternated between Handful and Sarah's perspectives. Slavery is not a roses and sunshine subject and it it could have easily grown tedious or depressing, but SMK didn't allow that to happen. Not once did I get bored or want to move on already. I felt it was perfectly paced and highlighted the most significant events. I also appreciated the historical fiction element as notable events were incorporated and made the story even more genuine.
I didn't realize until after finishing and listening to the author's notes that Sarah and Angelina Grimke were actually real people and their story was true - save for the addition of the character of Handful. SMK became aware of the sisters while visiting a museum and was so intrigued by them that she decided to write a story around the two remarkable women. Knowing that just made the book even better for me.
There isn't much I need to say about the narrative performance other than to say it was FLAWLESS! Both Jenna Lamia (Sarah) and Adepero Oduye (Handful), were fantastic in their interpretations of these characters. This audio ranks right up with some of the best I've ever heard. I highly recommend the audio version if you are looking for a new listen. You will not regret choosing it.
THE INVENTION OF WINGS (Unabridged Version)
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: January 7, 2014
Length: 13 hrs 46 mins
Print Length: 386 pp
Jun 3, 2014
In SAVE THE DATE, Mary Kay Andrews introduces another original character living in Savannah. This time its Cara Kryzik, a florist originally from Ohio. Cara stumbled into owning her own flower shop when the previous owner, and Cara's boss, became ill and practically gave the business to Cara. The place definitely needed some TLC but Cara was up to the challenge and before long, she was the proud owner of Bloomers. Unfortunately, Cara borrowed a bit of money from her military father to get things rolling and now, many months later, he was breathing down her neck for the payback of his investment. The He didn't miss an opportunity to let Cara know how he felt about her business acumen, or lack there of, in his opinion. With her father threatening to pull his financial support, forcing her to move back to Ohio to live with him, Cara is more determined than ever to make this little venture of hers work. She believes her prayers have been answered when she is hired to not only do the flowers but basically plan the entire wedding of one of the wealthiest families around. With the money she'll earn she can make some much needed repairs to the shop and repay her father's loan. The only problem is, the lawyer bride couldn't seem to care less about the wedding plans as she's a workaholic and the overbearing stepmother of the bride is best buddies with a very successful, high-profile florist who recently took up residence in Savannah and is watching Cara's every move. Trying not to feel intimidated, Cara vows to make this wedding the the event of the season.
As if she doesn't have enough to worry about, her trusted employee, Bert, starts acting strangely and ends up quitting and her ex-husband starts lurking around. On top of all that, she meets Jack, a man she initially hates, then loves, then doesn't know what to make of him. Is he just another man who wants to control her? It seems the only one in her life who doesn't question her at all is Poppy, her beloved seven month-old puppy.
I am so pleased to say I loved this book. MKA is so good at developing interesting, original characters and Cara was a welcome addition to the previous Savannah residents she's already created in her earlier novels. Cara is another strong female character who I liked instantly. She's somebody you'd like to sip a glass of wine with. The supporting characters were equally as entertaining. Reading MKA's books always makes me long for a trip to that lovely city. It was interesting that the protagonist, although living in Savannah, wasn't a Southerner at all. I liked the idea of Cara being a transplant and how much she appreciated the old beauty of the city and made it her home.
The story itself was fun and kept my attention the whole way through. SAVE THE DATE is high on my list of Andrews' books. I also liked the mention of Bebe Loudermilk, one of her earliest characters. Mentioning that Cara would be doing the flowers for Bebe's wedding gave a sense of familiarity, after all, Savannah is a small town.
Also present in the book is the clever wit that we've come to expect in MKA's books. Even in a dire situation she can bring out some humor. But its not a forced sense of humor, its the natural way she writes and it makes me feel like I'm visiting old friends. That's what I love about Mary Kay Andrews. I will forever be a fan.
I'd like to thank Meg Walker at Tandem Literary: Publicity & Marketing and John Karle at St. Martin's Press for providing me an advance digital copy so I could brag about how much I enjoyed it today, the publication day! If you enjoy entertaining characters in a genuine southern setting you shouldn't miss this new release. It's the perfect summer read, no matter where you live!
SAVE THE DATE
Author: Mary Kay Andrews (@mkayandrews)
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Publish Date: June 3, 2014