Category: The Bestseller Code 100 (page 2 of 6)

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Analysis of Olive Kitteridge

Let’s analyze Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout from a writer’s perspective. The discussion began February 13, 2017.

This post contains spoilers.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

This title won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009, so you would think it would be easy to review from a writer’s perspective. Obviously, it was chosen as the best novel written that year. I should be gushing about the writing. So why am I having so much difficulty?

One reason may be the novel is:

olive-kitterage-literary-fiction

Literary fiction has its own pace. To use an analogy, literary fiction is a slow drive through the countryside on a Sunday afternoon. The pace is slow. It meanders. It looks at the pretty scenery.  The car (plot) occasionally encounters some bad weather or a pothole or two,  but all in all it is a leisurely trip.

Compare that to a genre fiction, such as mysteries. In mysteries you don’t know where you are going, but you are usually traveling along at highway speeds, so you’re going to arrive in a reasonable amount of time. You are probably going to have some near misses and perhaps encounter some real danger to keep you alert.

Thrillers are the opposite of literary fiction. In a thriller the plot charges like a race car in a fight for its life. The events occur at a lightning fast pace and your adrenaline is flowing. The scenery may be reduced to a blur, with your focus directed to what’s ahead.

The bottom line is that sometimes you want to be in a race car and sometimes a Sunday drive is what you need. For whatever reason, I didn’t enjoy traveling in the car with Olive Kitteridge.

Plot/Structure

Unlike the rest of the novels we’ve read so far, this novel is organized into 13 short stories. As to be expected with literary fiction, the story does not proceed chronologically, but jumps back and forth in time.

Character

The main character is a woman named Olive Kitteridge. During the first part of her life she is a school teacher. She is curmudgeonly. She treats her husband Henry badly — for no apparent reason — and clashes with her son. In short, she has all the flaws of a real person.  Many readers will find her a difficult character to like, to identify with, or to root for.

Setting

Olive Kitteridge lives in the small town of Crosby, Maine. From the very first line, it is apparent that the author lives in Maine and has a strong connection to the state. The handling of the setting was outstanding.

 

maine-olive-kitteridge
Public domain photo via Visual hunt

Themes

Themes are usually well-developed in literary fiction, and this novel is no exception. The theme of suicide reoccurs throughout the short stories. There’s also a theme of how people struggle with love and relationships.  Another theme is loss, such as loss of youth and loss of Olive’s son when he moves to California, etc.

My Personal Comments About Olive Kitteridge

I know how difficult writing a novel is and usually I try not to be too hard on an author if he or she makes a few mistakes.  Because this novel has received so many accolades, however, I don’t mind being honest about not liking it. Specifically, although other reviewers have commented on the profound emotional impact of the stories, I felt manipulated. There were too many artificial constructs and convenient coincidences. For example, the scene in the hospital rang completely false to me. Stopping at  a hospital to use the bathroom when they were only 15 minutes from home was moderately contrived. Keeping her there for an exam was illogical and unrealistic. To have men with guns show up to steal drugs on top of it was so flimsy it made me roll my eyes. Yes, random bad things do occur in real life, but to me it all happened to set up a confrontation. I was unable to suspend my disbelief. I could see the author’s hand under the puppets.

Good thing I’m not a member of the Pulitzer Prize committee.

Have you read Olive Kitteridge? What did you think?

Join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is 92. One Day by David Nicholls (2009) – Discussion begins February 27, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is next on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  You can read Roberta’s kick-off description here.

This post contains spoilers.

Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009.  It was reviewed with phrases such as “Perceptive, deeply empathetic,” (O: The Oprah Magazine); “Glorious, powerful stuff,” (USA Today); “gutsy emotional punch,” (Entertainment Weekly); and “Mesmerizing,” (Tampa Tribune).   And, it was liked so well that it was made into an HBO mini-series.  Mesmerizing?  Really?! Did they read the same Olive Kitteridge that I read?

Olive Kitteridge consists of a series of short stories involving the residents of fictional Crosby, Maine.  The stories span twenty-five years and each story introduces new characters; however, in each story Olive Kitteridge herself makes an appearance.  Olive is a retired middle-school math teacher who is married to the town’s pharmacist, Henry.  Olive and Henry have one son, Christopher, who appears in a couple of the thirteen chapters.  Olive is a very difficult person to like.  She’s gruff, abrupt, and emotionally volatile. In some of the short stories we see glimmers of more positive characteristics, but throughout the book, Olive rarely takes the high road in any situation and rarely sees the positive in any situation.

Small Town Lives

The small town lives that author Elizabeth Strout presents are sad, depressed, and lonely – lives filled with jealousy and adultery.  Only rarely are we given glimpses of love, hope, faith, happiness.  I have spent the majority of my life living in small town America and it saddens me to think that people reading Olive Kitteridge will believe that fictional Crosby is representative of small town life.  Yes, people in small towns can be petty and it is impossible to avoid the rumor mill.  Adultery does exist, as does suicide, another running theme throughout Olive Kitteridge.  But my experience is that small town America is also filled with hopeful, helping, optimistic, and loving people.  It is possible in small town America to live a good and happy life, positively affecting those around you and bettering the world.  Olive Kitteridge shows us none of that.

It was only the very last chapter that I felt made the book possibly worth reading.  In the last chapter, Olive overcomes her fears and loneliness to reach out to another, admitting that she needs love, even admitting to herself that she squandered the love she had with her husband Henry.  Only in the last chapter did I feel there was any real character growth.  Maybe it took twelve chapters to show us the true Olive, warts and all, so we could appreciate her choice in the final chapter?  For me, it wasn’t enough.

 

What did you think of Olive Kitteridge? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. Olive Kitteridge landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

 

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

_________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 92 on the list, One Day by David Nicholls (2009) – Discussion begins February 27, 2017.  This books is classified as Contemporary Fiction.

#BestsellerCode100: Number 93 Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listOlive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. This title won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO mini-series.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Olive Kitteridge* by Elizabeth Strout

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Book Blurb:  Olive Kitteridge lives in the small town of Crosby, Maine, where she touches the lives of those around her and is also changed by their presence.

To give you an idea what the book entails,  check out this trailer from the HBO miniseries.

 

 

Have you read Olive Kitteridge? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

Have you written about Olive Kitteridge? Feel free to add a link to your review here.

Join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is 92. One Day by David Nicholls (2009) – Discussion begins February 27, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: The Girl Who Kicked Wrap-Up Poll

Time to wrap up the discussion of our latest novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larson . The conversation started here.

Note: Post does not contain spoilers.


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

We are reading these books because they were picked by the computer algorithm in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers as the best of the bestsellers.  Do you agree with the computer that this book should be on the list?  Why or why not?

 What was your final opinion of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest?

Do you agree with the computer that this novel is one of the best of the bestsellers?

 

You can also join us on social media:

___________________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 93. Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout (2008) – Discussion begins February 13, 2017.

Note: Olive Kitterage won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of The Girl Who Kicked

For my writer’s review of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larson I’m going to take a different tack than I used for some of the other books. For this title, I’m going to discuss more about the author and how the book came about.

Note:  this post may contain a few spoilers.

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

As you may know, we have been reading through the list of the 100 bestsellers picked by the computer algorithm as revealed in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers. Book number 94 on the list, Hornet’s Nest is actually the third in the Millenium trilogy featuring flawed genius Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist.

Summary: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest starts where the second (The Girl Who Played with Fire ) left off, with Lisbeth headed to the hospital with a bullet in her head. She’s been accused of murders she didn’t commit. Will she survive long enough to be able to prove her innocence?

Writing Discussion:

The story behind the trilogy is almost as amazing as the books themselves. Stieg Larsson was a Swedish journalist who wrote the novels in the evening as a break from his day job.  He wrote three novels and then sold them to a publisher. A short time later, in 2004,  he passed away. The publishers put out the first book in Swedish in 2005. It was a huge hit. It was translated into English and became a worldwide bestseller.

Much of the criticism of the books relates to the writing. At the face of it, what Stieg Larsson does as a writer often flies in the face of the “rules.” For example, he writes largely from the omniscient viewpoint, when first-person and tight third-person point of views are more popular. Some of the dialogue exhibits “talking heads,”  which is when two people talk back and forth without action or even labels to identify who is speaking.

Example “Talking Head” Dialogue:

It’s about one of your patients, Lisbeth Salander. I need to visit her.”

“You’ll have to get permission from the prosecutor. She’s under arrest, and all visitors are prohibited. Any applications for visits must be referred in advance to Salander’s lawyer.”

“Yes, yes I know. I thought we could cut through all the red tape in this case…”

{{Pages 170-171. Continues for another 27 lines without a single dialogue tag.}}

He also spends a lot of time in the character’s heads, showing their thoughts.  And speaking of characters, like fellow journalist Joe Klein in Primary Colors, Larsson packs in many, many characters. At one point there were four different teams investigating the murders, each with more than a handful of people. The reader needs a game card to keep them all straight.

 

sweden-barn-writer

Photo of Swedish barn via Visualhunt.com

But Whose Words?

Alas, it is unfair to  criticize Stieg Larsson as a writer after reading the English translation because it might not reflect his original words. It turns out the translator, Steven T. Murray, was so unhappy with how the British publisher interfered with the translation that he insisted the books be published under a pseudonym, Reg Keeland. See more about why Murray chose a pseudonym in an article at Southwest Writers. Fascinating!

Conclusion:

Regardless of the writing or who is responsible for it, Stieg Larsson created characters who are spellbinding and he is a fabulous storyteller. Although some parts of the narrative are dark and disturbing, the ending is one of hope. In my opinion, this is the best book from the list we’ve read so far.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. The first book was originally published in Swedish as Män som hatar kvinnor or Men Who Hate Women. When it was translated, it became The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Given one of the themes in the books is the empowerment of women, what do you think Stieg Larsson would have thought of the name change?
  2. There have been a flurry of “Girl” books lately, such as Gone Girl and Girl on a Train.  Do you think the publishers are trying to cash in on the popularity of Stieg Larsson’s books?
  3. What do you think about writing axioms, such as the one to avoid “talking heads”? Are they important or are they meant to be broken?

Related:  If you enjoyed the books you might also enjoy this satire piece from The New Yorker, “The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut” by Nora Ephron.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 93. Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout (2008) – Discussion begins February 13, 2017.

Note: Olive Kitterage won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest by Steig Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, by Steig Larsson, is next on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  You can read Roberta’s kick-off description here.

This post contains spoilers.

Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Stieg Larsson first introduces us to Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (check out my review at Musings, Mischief, and Mayhem), where Lisbeth and Mikael team up to solve the mysterious disappearance of 16-year-old girl more than forty years ago.  The Girl Who Played With Fire continues the saga, with Lisbeth eventually confronting her father, the terror of her childhood, with disastrous consequences.  In The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, Larsson pulls the various story lines from the preceding books together for a thrilling conclusion.

When I first saw this book on our list, I knew I would be reading all three books in the trilogy for a couple of reasons:

  1. I hate reading books out of order
  2. To compare the three books to figure out why only the third book showed up on our list

Each of the books in this trilogy became bestsellers, so why did the computer “kick out” this particular book as the best of the best and not the first two in the trilogy?

After reading all three books, I believe the answer is in the level of human interaction that Lisbeth achieves in this third book.  More than one character throughout the books made the observation that Lisbeth might be autistic.  She has extreme difficulties making and maintaining friendships and in sharing personal details about herself with others.  Partly this is a learned response – during her childhood, authorities repeatedly ignored her statements and requests.  Even worse, there was a government group that conspired to incarcerate her in a mental institution as a preteen in order to protect the identity of her father.  But even Lisbeth knows she’s different; she just doesn’t view friendships and social norms the same as others do.  She expends great energy, time, and expense in the first two books protecting her personal privacy to the point of anonymity.  Yes, that’s partly due to safety issues, but also because that’s how she prefers it.  Even those closest to her have learned they will never really know anything personal about her.

Personal Crisis → Growth?

In The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, though, Lisbeth undergoes a trial by fire that brings her to a personal crisis.  She must decide whether to take the advice of others, to rely upon others, to resolve her legal issues.  Without their help, it’s certain that she will end up incarcerated in a mental institution for the rest of her life.   Only with their help does she have a chance to be free.  And then when she achieves that legal freedom, Lisbeth goes through more personal conflict before she ultimately admits to herself that she has friends, that she needs friends, that she wants friends, and opens herself and her life up to them.

Larsson’s trilogy is Lisbeth Salander’s story, and it is in this third, and final, book that we see real character growth in her. Without this growth, even though the series wraps up nicely, we would not care as much for Lisbeth.  If she continued her solitary life, continued to ignore and block out of her life those who helped her, all she went through in the three books would have been pointless.  She might as well have allowed those conspiring against her to lock her back up.  Instead, Larsson allows Lisbeth to open the door to a potentially more fulfilling life.  And that, I believe, is reason enough for book three to make the 100 Books List.

What did you think of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

 

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

_________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 93 on the list, Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout (2008) – Discussion begins February 13, 2017.  This books is classified as Literary Fiction.

#BestsellerCode100: Number 94 The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

This post does not contain spoilers.

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  This title is the third in a trilogy featuring flawed genius Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist. In the second book, we learned more about her background. The Girl Who Kicked starts were the second left off, with Lisbeth in the hospital with a bullet in her head. She’s been accused of murders she didn’t commit. Will she be able to recover and prove her innocence?

Have you read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Related posts upcoming in the next two weeks (links will be added):

  1. Book beginnings post discussing the beginning sentences of the first two books in the trilogy
  2. Book beginnings, a discussion of the first line of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
  3. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  4. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  5. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey about whether this book is one of the best of the bestsellers.

Have you written about The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest? Feel free to add a link to your review here.

 

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 93. Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout (2008) – Discussion begins February 13, 2017.

Note:  Olive Kitterage won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

#BestsellerCode100: Darcie Chan’s The Mill River Recluse Wrap-Up Poll

Time to wrap up the discussion of our latest novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan. The conversation started here.

Note: Post does not contain spoilers.

The Mill River Recluse: A Novel* by Darcie Chan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

We are reading these books because they were picked by the computer algorithm in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers as the best of the bestsellers.  Do you agree with the computer that this book should be on the list?  Why or why not?

 What was your final opinion of The Mill River Recluse?

 

Do you agree with the computer that this novel is one of the best of the bestsellers?

 

Join us on social media:

______________________________________________________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 94 on the list, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson (Originally published in 2007) -Discussion begins January 30, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: A Writer’s Review of The Mill River Recluse

Today we have a review/analysis of The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

The Mill River Recluse: A Novel* by Darcie Chan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Mary McAllister is a widow who lives in a white marble mansion on a hill outside of the town of Mill River, Vermont. Past circumstances have left her with severe social anxiety — among other issues — and she has been a recluse for many years. Father Michael O’Brien is her only friend and confidante. As the story progresses, we learn why Mary is trapped in her own house, and what other secrets are being kept in this seemingly quiet community.

If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to visit Karen’s review of this book first. She makes some good points.

 

Photo of a house in Vermont by Mariamichelle via Visualhunt.com

Path to Publishing

The story behind the book is just as heartwarming as the book itself.

The Mill River Recluse is Darcie Chan’s debut novel. She explains her experiences writing and publishing it in “A Letter for the Author” in the back matter.  Many authors will be able to relate to her trials, if not her successes.

After finishing the manuscript for her first novel by writing evenings after work for two and a half years, she found an agent who tried to sell it to traditional publishers. As with many, many first novels, no one was interested and so she put it away in a drawer. (Writers call these first novels “trunk” novels – the ones that sit in a trunk somewhere.)

After several years, Darcie Chan decided to publish her novel as an e-book. She expected only to sell a few hundred copies to her friends, but she set up her social media platform and waited. In a short period of time a major website that promotes e-books reviewed it and her sales took off. Before long  she hit the New York Times Bestseller list. Eventually, Ballatine Books published it in paper form. The rest is history.

Where It Breaks the Rules

Not only did The Mill River Recluse break the rules of publishing, but it also breaks many of the so-called rules for writing.

Genre:

First of all, it doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre. For example,  as Karen pointed out, it has been identified as a psychological thriller, but it really lacks the hard-driving pace and level of conflict of a thriller. It has the softer pace of a mystery, although it doesn’t fit all the requirements of a traditional mystery, either. It has some romantic elements, but they aren’t extensive enough to qualify it as a romance or even romantic suspense. It’s not clear where it fits.

Have you read the book? What genre(s) do you think describe(s) it?

Character Arc:

Another so-called writing rule Darcie Chan breaks is that the characters, particularly the main character, should grow and change throughout the book (called a character arc.) Mary’s major change, which occurs right before she dies, is she lets her daughter Daisy into her life. It isn’t clear, however, this was truly a change. She might have taken in Daisy at any point if she had recognized her earlier.

The fact Mary doesn’t grow substantially is probably due to how Darcie Chan tells the story. The beginning of the book starts with Mary’s death and the rest of Mary’s life is revealed through a series of flashbacks interwoven with scenes from the present. The flashback plot structure can make it difficult to develop a traditional character arc.

On the other hand, Father O’Brien does change at the end, when he donates all his pilfered silver spoons to a charity.

The Ending:

Many genre novels exhibit some form of rising conflict and then resolution/denouement. Again, Chan doesn’t follow the norms. The end is not the resolution of a big conflict, but rather nicely wrapped up gathering of loose ends. The biggest conflict that directly involves the protagonist — between Mary and her husband — occurs at the middle of the book. The second most dramatic conflict centers on minor characters, and has no impact on the protagonist.

Character Development

A few other things stuck out for me about the characters, as well. First, Darcie Chan introduced most of her characters within the first few pages of the book, yet it was all done smoothly and naturally. I can tell you from experience, that is not an easy thing to carry off.

Secondly, Claudia (the teacher) is strongly developed for a secondary character. Her struggles to lose weight and keep it off felt realistic, immediate, and relatable. For example, who couldn’t relate to her hunger and anticipation for a few carrot sticks after class? She was also at the center of the second dramatic climax and that secondary plotline threatened to overtake Mary’s primary one. Given she had such a big role, I wonder if she will appear in a future book?

What did you think of Claudia as a character?

Conclusion:

Darcie Chan’s debut novel The Mill River Recluse took a less-traveled path to becoming a bestseller. Much of her story breaks with writing tradition, as well. Just goes to show that authors don’t have to follow the pack to pen a bestseller.

 

________________________________________________________________

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 94 on the list, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson (Third in a series, originally published in 2007) -Discussion begins January 30, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan

Let’s take a look at The Mill River Recluse: A Novel by Darcie Chan from a Reader’s Perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

Darcie Chan’s The Mill River Recluse: A Novel*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Mill River Recluse, by Darcie Chan, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.

Mary McAllister has lived alone for sixty years, rarely leaving her house or meeting with anyone other than her only friend, the parish priest.  From her house overlooking the sleepy Vermont town of Mill River, she pretends to herself that she is a member of the community.  But she’s not, and most of the residents of Mill River think of her as rather peculiar, if they think of her at all.  Everyone in this story has a secret to keep, some benign, some not so benign.  In the end, a feeling of real community is kindled once all the secrets are revealed.

So far, all the books we’ve read have been intense, evoking strong emotions from the reader – either you really liked or really disliked the book. The Mill River Recluse is the first book in this challenge that left me feeling rather disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong!  It is a nice read and leaves you feeling a little warm and fuzzy inside.  The small amount of violence is really rather subdued if you compare it to our previous book, The Last Child by John Hart.  I was left feeling like it could have been much more, though, than just a nice read.

Amazon lists The Mill River Recluse as a psychological thriller.  As such, it leaves a lot to be desired.  It seemed more like your run-of-the-mill episode of a seventies detective series, not much in the way of character development for the bad guy (so much for “psychological”) and certainly not much of a “thriller” in his actions.  He comes across more a bumbling fool than a terror.

By now you might be asking yourself why this book is on the 100 Books List.  I know I was.  So I pulled out my notes from The Bestseller Code and checked what the computer algorithm looks for when choosing a likely bestseller.

  • 3 or 4 central themes, with the most frequently occurring and important theme involving human closeness, followed by home, work, kids in school, and modern technologies.  The Mill River Recluse is 100% about human closeness, both at home and at work, and also include interaction with kids.  Checkmark on this one!
  • Plot lines with a regular beating rhythm.  The chapters in The Mill River Recluse alternate between the 1940s and present day, building the backstory of Mary while at the same time introducing us to those who live in present day Mill River.  Checkmark this one!
  • Style. The author should have an understanding of everyday language, i.e. working experience in journalism or similar field.  Darcie Chan worked in the legal field before becoming a successful author. Checkmark this one!

So maybe the computer did pick a winner.  The fact that this book was on the New York Times bestseller list for several months backs up the computer’s choice.  Just because I think this book doesn’t have the literary or emotional “heft” it should have to belong on the 100 Books List is the fault of my own expectations.  Obviously, a heart-warming, feel-good book can be a bestseller if it is well written.  After all, bestsellers aren’t all thriller / mysteries or literary adventures.

What did you think of The Mill River Recluse Child? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. The Mill River Recluse landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

 

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

_________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 94 on the list, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson (Originally published in 2007) – Discussion begins January 30, 2017.

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