Monday, November 20, 2017

The Excellent Lombards - Jane Hamilton

Summary: "This is the book Jane Hamilton was born to write... [it is] magnificent." - Ann Patchett, New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth 

"Everything you could ask for in a coming-of-age novel-- funny, insightful, observant, saturated with hope and melancholy." - Tom Perotta, author of Little Children and The Leftovers

"Tender, eccentric, wickedly funny and sage...gives full voice to Jane Hamilton's storytelling gifts." - Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank and Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Mary Frances "Frankie" Lombard is fiercely in love with her family's sprawling apple orchard and the tangled web of family members who inhabit it. Content to spend her days planning capers with her brother William, competing with her brainy cousin Amanda, and expertly tending the orchard with her father, Frankie desires nothing more than for the rhythm of life to continue undisturbed. But she cannot help being haunted by the historical fact that some family members end up staying on the farm and others must leave. Change is inevitable, and threats of urbanization, disinheritance, and college applications shake the foundation of Frankie's roots. As Frankie is forced to shed her childhood fantasies and face the possibility of losing the idyllic future she had envisioned for her family, she must decide whether loving something means clinging tightly or letting go. A new classic from the author of Oprah's Book Club picks A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth*Includes Reading Group Guide* (summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I really enjoyed this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect, really. I mean, when I pick up books to review, I often have some inkling that I’ll like them—I’m not ridiculous enough to saddle myself to something I know for sure I won’t enjoy. That happens, of course, but for the most part I know what I like. So I wasn’t surprised when I found out I liked it, but I was surprised by the kind of book it was. Many of the quotes used to describe the book compared it to something like To Kill a Mockingbird. Now, even though I enjoyed this book, I just think that you can’t ever be To Kill a Mockingbird. By the very nature of that book—the one SO MANY people list as their favorite and undoubtedly one of the most popular and best books of all time—cannot just be topped willy nilly. I’m telling you right now this book is not that book. But it is a fun coming of age novel with a really fun main character.

One of the things I loved about this book was the main character, Frankie. Right off you know she’s not a reliable narrator, which I think is actually a fun twist from the normal omniscient or even future-telling narrator. Frankie, however, is just a young girl complete with weird stories from her childhood that she misinterprets in weird ways. Here’s what I mean—I’m sure that you and your siblings have some weird stories of stuff that happened. Looking back, you can see that it was probably pretty normal and had a very reasonable explanation, but as children, something normal was just interpreted as just so outside of your realm of experience or just so wrapped up in the magic of it all that you just can’t help but think that it somehow defied all logic and possibility. My sisters and I have tons of memories like this—we’ll tell stories of some adventure we went on or some neighbor we encountered or some game we invited and inevitably something crazy happened that we still talk about. As a parent myself now I can totally see how a kid can interpret something very normal as something very strange. This book is full of that. And I loved it! Hamilton does an excellent job of creating a character that is very believable in this way. As Frankie gets older she continues to be believable—she is moody, she is unpredictable, her tumultuous inside is often not clearly interpreted by those on the outside. It’s pure character development gold. Even though I may not be like Frankie in many ways, I could easily find myself relating to her and understanding her and easily accepting how authentic she was as a character.

The story itself is charming and evokes a strong time and place, which I really enjoyed. The setting is as much a character as the humans in the book, and I love reading about places that create a weight and substance in the lives of those who live there. Hamilton does a great job of creating characters both human and non-human that evoke nostalgia and familiarity, even though I’ve never lived in this place or time. I just felt a warm connection. When things were bad and hard I felt that, too. It was easy to get wrapped up in the lives of these very ordinary people.

I thought the writing in this book was great. It was fluid and poignant without being too stodgy. It was beautiful but still believable that a young girl would exist and speak within the story and the writing. The writing made for a quick, enjoyable read. I happened to be on vacation when I was reading this book and I read it in pretty much one day, which I love to do with books that I am enjoying.

I think this is a book well worth the time it takes to read it (it isn’t very long, that being said). It’s not a riveting adventure story or a deep literary read that will keep your mind churning late into the night, but it was a lovely character-driven book that fulfills something I find that many books fail to touch within my soul.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language but is clean

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