The Best of Adam Sharp

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Thank You to St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an advanced copy of Graeme Simsion’s novel, The Best of Adam Sharp, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- Twenty years ago, while working in Australia, Adam Sharp met Angelina Brown, a vivacious soap-opera actress. Adam and Angelina had a short and intense relationship, which ended when Adam’s work took him to New Zealand.

Now, over twenty-years later, Adam is living in England and his marriage is on the rocks. His wife, Claire, has a major career opportunity that might require her to relocate to the United States, and Adam isn’t sure he should follow. In the midst of his marital crisis, Adam receives an email from Angelina, whom he had lost touch with years ago. Although Angelina is married with three children, she begins a flirtatious email exchange that plunges Adam down the rabbit hole of nostalgia. Angelina invites Adam to spend a weekend with her and her husband, Charles. This weekend seems like a bad idea, a very bad idea: but can Adam resist his past?

LIKE- I’ve read Simsion’s The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect, and I’m a fan of his writing. He’s fabulous at creating memorable characters. The Best of Adam Sharp is a character drive novel. It is a riveting emotional drama, one where the stakes are enormous and it feels like everyone is bound to lose.

Nostalgia is at the heart of The Best of Adam Sharp. Adam and Angelina meet prior to the internet being a big deal and when they part, they don’t have an easy form of communication. It’s a contrast to todays technology and social media, where it is easy to keep in contact with people from your past. Prior to Angelina reconnecting, Adam only has his memories of her. He has a hobby as musician and he links songs to memories. He met Angelina while playing the piano and singing at a bar: Angelina joining him on stage. They connect through music and the  lyrics become a form of secret communication that takes on a huge importance. I think most readers will be able to relate to this form of nostalgia, where we look at the past with rose-colored glasses and where we put certain moments on a pedestal ( good or bad memories), allowing particular fragments to take on a deeper meaning. The further the distance, sometimes leads to less perspective.

The first half of the novel is about the nostalgia and the romance, but the second half takes a rather dark turn, when Adam decides to stay at the country house in France with Angelina and Charles. Angelina and Charles do not have a happy marriage and they have brought Adam into their troubles. The moral of the story being, while it is possible to reconnect with your past, be careful that the boundaries are clear, and that your past, doesn’t endanger your present or future.

 DISLIKE– The second half of the book left me feeling funny about both Adam and Angelina. Character likability is certainly not a requirement for me to enjoy a novel, however it helps. I liked both Angelina and Adam, when they were nostalgic for their past, but when they crossed the line into a bizarre and rather uncomfortable scenario with Angelina’s husband, I was left with a bad taste for both of them. I wasn’t sure what to think about Charles. It’s realistic that under the circumstances he would be a little hostile or conflicted, but it was hard to respect his character, even in the end. The story included a bit of erotica, which was surprising. I’m not prudish, but under the circumstances of the novel, it was highly uncomfortable to read. I guess what I’m saying is that I felt “squirmy” while reading the second half, which is what I think Simsion set out to do.

RECOMMEND– Yes. Simsion is a wonderful storyteller, who writes about complex emotions and relationships. The Best of Adam Sharp made a deep impression on me.

The Trophy Child

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Thank You to Grove Atlantic for providing me with an advanced copy of Paula Daly’s novel, The Trophy Child, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Ten-year-old Bronte Bloom, is overworked and stressed-out. Her mother, Karen, keeps Bronte on a tight schedule, shuttling her between various lessons and tutors, accepting nothing less than excellence. She insists that her daughter is gifted and exceptional, but even if that isn’t quite true, Karen believes that it’s nothing that can’t be fixed by pushing her daughter to work harder, or by hiring more qualified teachers.

Bronte isn’t an only child. She has an older teenage brother named Ewan, who is a slacker, and rather than finding a job or attending college, he spends his days playing video games and smoking pot. He is Karen’s son from a previous relationship, although the name of his father is a mystery. Bronte’s older half-sister, Verity, has moved into their home. Verity’s mother has multiple sclerosis  and was moved to a nearby live-in care facility. Verity and Karen do not get along. Verity is fiercely protective of Bronte, whom she feels is being pushed too hard. The family patriarch, Noel Bloom, stays on the periphery of the madness going on in his own home. He is unhappy in his marriage, yet afraid to take on the force that is Karen.

When Bronte goes missing for a day, the Bloom family is in a panic. Bronte has been so sheltered, that they fear she cannot survive on her own. When she returns the following day, happy, unharmed, and unwilling to talk about her disappearance, the Bloom’s are left feeling perplexed. Karen faces a public backlash for her parenting style and is even accused of giving Bronte a reason to run away. The backlash is so intense, that Karen gets harassing phone calls and written death threats. Karen vanishes a month later, her car found abandoned with splattered blood. Could Bronte and Karen’s disappearances be linked? Was Karen attacked for being too much of a “Tiger Mom?”

LIKEThe Trophy Child has two separate elements going on: It’s a family drama, but it is also a murder mystery. I preferred the family drama to the suspense/mystery elements of the story. As a drama, we have a blended family struggling to make it work, and that dynamic is compelling.

At the start of the story, we don’t know if Verity is an unreliable character. When we meet her, she is in trouble for choking her step-mother in a blind rage, and her private school is threatening to expel her, if she doesn’t attend therapy sessions. However, we quickly learn that Verity is incredibly protective of Bronte and through Karen’s rigorous demands of her younger daughter, she was physically hurting her. Yes, Verity was enraged, but Karen was also acting in an extreme manner. Verity is actually incredibly mature for her age and compassionate of others. Not only does she try to help her younger sister, but she is kind to her half-brother, Ewan and his mentally handicap friend, who is a frequent visitor to the house. Verity visits her mother, sneaking her in marijuana, which calms her mother’s tremors. She is even patient with Karen’s bullying parents, who accuse her of potentially harming Bronte and Karen, when each goes missing. Verity takes this all in stride, even though her life has been nothing but upheaval with factors out of her control. This makes her even more sympathetic than Bronte, and it’s hard to beat the sympathy factor of a abused child!

I love the setting of the Lake District in England. Having visited there ( it’s magical), I could easily picture the village and the houses. I could see Lake Windermere, which is the setting ofa pivotal scene in The Trophy Child. I have such good memories of my visit there, that I was delighted to revisit it in this story world, even if murder and shady characters were involved!

I’m intrigued by the helicopter parenting/tiger mom thing. I have step-children, but they do not live with us, so I don’t really have parenting experience, and my mom, although she pushed me, definitely didn’t fall under this category. I liked how Daly played with the backlash that Karen receives. Clearly, Karen thought that she was doing the best thing for Bronte, but she could not see or admit to the negative ways it was affecting her daughter. Certainly, Karen was extreme and doing Bronte harm, but Daly adds another layer of the community members being judgmental regarding her parenting, and the idea that you never quite know what is going on in someone else life.

DISLIKE– I’m on the fence about the murder mystery and the character of detective Joanna Aspinall. I didn’t find the budding romance between Joanna and Noel to be compelling or necessary. I kept expecting that this would have a large repercussion on Joanna investigating the disappearance of Karen, but other than a slight internal conflict, i.e.- she knew she should mention it to her boss, nothing came of it.

The very end of the story, in which the crime is finally resolved, felt like a very big coincidence. Too many pieces of the puzzle slid together neatly. Although the twist played out as far as me not realize the story would head to that conclusion, I didn’t feel that the twist was satisfying.

I think part of the problem with the crime aspect of the story, is it lost momentum when Bronte returned home and the mystery of her disappearance was quickly eclipsed by the disappearance of Karen. We do learn what happened to Bronte, but it doesn’t come until the end of the story, and it doesn’t have much of a link to Karen’s disappearance, other than it put Karen into the spotlight.

RECOMMEND– No. The Trophy Child was a quick read. Daly has a knack for writing family dynamics and conflict. I would be inclined to seek out other books that she has written, but The Trophy Child was an uneven read.