Book Review: Commonwealth

Book Review: Commonwealth

“Isn’t that what everyone wants, just for a moment to be unencumbered?”

As I mentioned in my August Favorites blog post, I recently finished reading Ann Patchett‘s novel Commonwealth, and thoroughly enjoyed the read. Today I am going to give you all a glance at what the story is about, and what I liked about it.

In a nutshell, Commonwealth is the story of an unconventional blended family, including six step siblings who form a lasting bond with each other through shared summer vacations spent at their parents and step parents’ homes, and their shared resentment towards their often negligent parents. For a book that follows the lives of so many characters (the six children, four parents, and other family members and significant others that appear throughout the story), each character is surprisingly well-developed. The more you read, the more you get to know each of these people and understand who they are and where they’ve been.

The story spans a total of five decades of time, jumping between the present and the past with each chapter, sometimes jumping within a single chapter. For some, these jumps in time may be a bit too much. I will admit I was confused at times, and it was difficult to keep each character and storyline straight in my mind. (“Wait, whose parent is this again? Who is this person married to?”) However, for me this made the story more interesting, and I enjoyed the challenge of keeping track of everything in my head. It was also fun to read about the characters as children, and then find out where their life went as an adult.

Commonwealth really picks up pace when one of the daughters, Franny, begins an affair with a well-known author, and tells him the stories from her childhood, which he proceeds to use as the inspiration for his newest bestselling novel which he names “Commonwealth.” Though he always claims the story is not based on Franny’s life, it’s clear it is, and the book has a negative impact on her siblings, mainly her youngest step brother, Albie, who learns painful things about his childhood through reading the novel.

Overall I thought Patchett’s book was a sharp and realistic portrayal of family ties and the struggles people face throughout life. Though the story is fairly realistic, it still has the level of drama and slight exaggeration needed to make an enjoyable read. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys strong character development and intriguing life stories, as well as books that span multiple decades of time.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read this book, or any of Ann Patchett’s other novels. If not, what was the last book you read and loved?

Book Review: Mrs. Poe

Book Review: Mrs. Poe

“I find that the thoughts spoken between the lines are the most important parts of a poem or story.”

Welcome to my latest book review. Today I will be talking about a novel called Mrs. Poe, by Lynn Cullen. As always, I like to recommend another book review for you all to read in case you want to get another opinion on the novel. Book Riot wrote a good one, which you can check out here. But first, read on for my take on the book below.

One of the quotes on the cover reads “Vivid…Atmospheric….Don’t miss it.” I think those first two words are the perfect description of the book. Lynn Cullen does a great job of writing in a way that lets us imagine the places and people in the story, as if we are there ourselves. Set in New York City in the 1840’s, there are plenty of beautiful dresses and lavish dinner parties filling the pages, which I think would make this story into a great play or movie.

Mrs. Poe follows the life of Frances Osgood, a poet trying to make a name for herself, and her forbidden romance with one Edgar Allen Poe (maybe you’ve heard of him?) Throughout the novel you hear about other well-known writers from that era, as well as fun facts about them which was interesting to read. I felt like I learned a lot while still enjoying the story, which is difficult to accomplish in a work of fiction.

While it took some time to pick up, the plot definitely thickens towards the middle of the book when suspense and intrigue starts to build due to Poe’s wife, who appears to have caught on to the affair between Poe and Osgood. Without giving anything away, small details and coincidences start to appear which makes the reader wonder if Mrs. Poe is plotting something terrible, or just a crazy, jealous wife.

Lynn Cullen clearly did a lot of research to make sure everything that happens in this fictional story could have happened in real life, even if we have no way of knowing if any of it actually did. She combed through all of the letters and poems written by Poe and Osgood, and about them, to get inspiration and find historical facts she could use for her book. I think all of this hard work paid off, as the story feels extremely realistic while still giving us the excitement that is often lacking in true stories.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys period pieces, as well as stories that offer a lot of detail and descriptions with which to let your imagination run wild. I would also recommend it to any literary enthusiasts out there, as you will likely learn a thing or two about some of your favorite writers from that time.

Thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments if you’ve read this book, or what the last book you read was. I am always on the lookout for something to add to my must-read list!