My Convertible Life

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: A Simple Thing

When TLC Book Tours contacted me about writing a review of an upcoming book, I'll admit I had two immediate thoughts:
  1. Yay! I love getting a free book.
  2. Oh. The book will probably be crap.
I realize that second thought wasn't really fair, but honestly I figured no one would be sending me a fabulous book for free. A fabulous book would sell plenty of copies without any help from my little blog, thus no one would need to mail me a copy. So my expectations for Kathleen McCleary's new novel, A Simple Thing, were very low.

Turns out, I was pleasantly surprised. On the spectrum between Nicholas Sparks (I'm sorry if you're a fan, but the books are terrible) and Lee Smith (sure I have a North Carolina bias, but she's awesome), McCleary falls neatly in the middle. This book might not get taught in anyone's English class, but it's a worthy contender for a good beach read.

The novel, McCleary's second, is centered around Susannah Delaney, a mother so desperate to protect her children (one from her own destructive teen tendencies and the other from bullies attacking his quirkiness) that she leaves her husband and home behind to take the kids to an off-the-grid life off the coast of Washington state. Parallel to Susannah's story runs the present and past of Betty Pavalak, a 50-year resident of the island with her own tale of marriage, motherhood and secrets.

I read the book in about a 24-hour period, thanks to some free time during a visit to my parents' house with the kids -- but also because it's a very readable, engaging story. The balance of story-telling between the two women -- both their separate lives in the past and their increasingly connected lives in the present -- keeps things moving along in a way that makes the book hard to put down. I actually found Betty's story more interesting than Susannah's -- she's a stronger character, if you ask me -- but the book is ultimately about Susannah (and her kids, her husband, her mother).

Parts of the book tended toward the predictable and there are a few pieces of the plot that are overly convenient, but McCleary thankfully avoids some of the cliches and traps that you'd expect in, say, a Sparks novel (again, apologies to the fans). Truthfully the most painful part of the book for me was thinking about Pippi while watching Susannah attempt to parent her rebellious teen-age daughter -- my daughter is only four, but I am already very, very afraid of what lies ahead. And I just don't think I have what it takes to move across the country to a remote island without my husband in order to get Pippi to make good choices.

I don't want to give away too much of the story -- it's a quick read and you want to leave the surprises ahead -- but I do want to share a quote from the book that really struck me. It's something that a character tells Betty at one point and then she shares it later with Susannah:
"Don't confuse guilt and shame. It's okay to feel badly about something you've done. But don't let it make you feel badly about who you are."
Now you totally want to know what she did to feel badly about, right?

You can learn more about Kathleen McCleary at her website and you can read what other bloggers have to say about the book by checking the TLC tour schedule. (I've resisted the urge to read other people's posts so as not to color my own -- but I'm sure I'll be peeking now that I'm done writing.) McCleary will also discuss A Simple Thing on Book Club Girl on Air on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m. ET.

Full Disclosure: TLC sent me a free advance copy of this book. How cool is that? But they didn't pay me for this post, I get no kick-backs from anyone purchasing the book, and all the opinions included here are my own. Because what kind of a book nerd would I be if I weren't honest about my opinions of books? Seriously, people.


  1. I'm glad this one pleasantly exceeded your expectations!

    Thanks for being on the tour.


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