Monday, February 27, 2012

Review: "Willow Pond" by Carol Tibaldi

Title: Willow Pond
Author: Carol Tibaldi
Available: Amazon
Summary: "The Roaring Twenties crumble into the Great Depression, but Virginia Kingsley, New York's toughest and most successful speakeasy owner, is doing just fine. Now that the world is falling apart, bootlegging is a flourishing business, and she's queen of that castle. 

Then her infant nephew is kidnapped. Her niece, Laura, and Laura's philandering movie star husband, are devastated. The police have few leads, and speculation and rumors abound in the media circus that follows the celebrity abduction. 

Only one reporter, Erich Muller, seems to care enough about the child's welfare and the parents' feelings to report the case responsibly. Over the course of the investigation, Erich Muller and Laura fall in love, but their relationship is doomed to failure since he suspects her beloved aunt Virginia is behind the kidnapping. Laura, jaded when it comes to men, sides with Virginia.

But Virginia has figured out the truth, and she can't tell anyone for fear of losing her niece's affections and having the police ransack her life. So she pursues her own investigation, shaking down, threatening, and killing one petty crook after another during her search.

Little Todd's absence shapes everyone's lives. When he is finally found, the discovery will bring disaster for some and revelation for others."
Source: I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

Review: This review is going to be very challenging for me to write, because my opinions on the book are different in terms of different aspects.

Tibaldi is a good writer. The book is well done and pulls you through very well. I thought she captured the time period very well without going too far overboard on details. I'm a person who likes my settings described with only as much as necessary. I had a real The Great Gatsby feeling when I read it, which says a lot since I barely remember that book from when I read it in High School. So, in terms of this, the book is very good.

When I read the summary, I had expected a more taut, suspenseful time line to the narrative, which isn't what it has. It covered a longer span of time than I thought it would. That's not a criticism, as that's probably more realistic. It just surprised me, and the leaps of time could get a little distracting but not enough to pull you out of the story.

It did make it a little hard, though, because so many dramatic events happen that are really only glanced over, like Jenny, particularly towards the latter part of the novel. It seems like not enough treatment of those was given, and Virginia's efforts get almost dropped, it feels like, and I would have liked to have seen more of her in that latter section.

Here's where it did fall flat for me. Two points, mainly. One is reader preference, so others are likely to have very different but equally valid opinions. The other is more content related.

Content and structure: I found some of the character motivations to be kind of thin. They weren't made clear enough for me to understand why certain characters did certain things. Like Virginia. I liked her, but it wasn't made clear enough (in my opinion) why she didn't tell Laura about what she was doing. I see the reason in the summary, but that's not drawn clearly in the book. It felt like a plot device, which I understand it was, but I like things to make more sense.

Equally so, Erich's reasons for suspecting Virginia so early on. I understand that Virginia was part of the seedy bootlegging scene, but he never defined a motive: what would Virginia have to gain by being involved in the kidnapping? I could better understand his expecting she had somehow triggered it, like payback, but not his thinking she was directly involved. His animosity and certainty is so strong that she is involved, I would have liked to have seen more reason for it: at least some hint of what he thought her motive would be.

Okay, this next one is my opinion, which I realize this whole review is my opinion but this part isn't necessarily a fault in the book or the writing, but just reader perspective.

I didn't like Laura. As a mother of a small son, just a few months older than Todd when he was taken, I should have been able to hit more chords with Laura's character but I couldn't. She seemed to move on too quickly. While there were thoughts and emotions about Todd laced in, it wasn't enough for me. I didn't mind the falling in love so early with Erich, but it would have made more sense to me if there had been less going out, less "dating" and more "he was there for me" moments, like keeping vigils by the phone with her.

I realize that her reactions and actions may have been psychologically driven, coping mechanisms, a case could be made for it, but it's not how I would have reacted and so that made it hard for me to sympathize. Plus, her motivations for keeping certain big news to herself from Virginia and Erich felt thin to me. (Again, the motivation thing.) And her swaying certainty about her feelings for Erich frustrated me to no end. Her guilt over things, like falling in love while Todd is missing and about Jenny later on (you'll see when you read) also felt like token resistance, which given her history, should have been more pronounced.

So, with all of this, where do we end up? I wish I had a middle of the middle rating. I'm giving this book a 3.5 Fireballs, 'cause I can't give it a 3.75. I can't quite say I "really" liked it, because Laura drove me nuts and I wanted stronger motivations and more consistent treatment of dramatic events, but I can't say it's a 3, because I did enjoy it and I would tell other people to read it for an interesting flapper era and almost... "slice of life"/examination of a kidnapping's effects story. So, 3.5 Fireballs it is.

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