Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Book Review: Finding Zelda by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Zelda Bowen #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong story mixing comedy and drama well
Cons: A few niggles along the way
The Bottom Line:
Bowen family
Goes through year of ups and downs
In start of series

Zelda’s About to Experience a Bunch of Bad Holidays

Several years ago, Sue Ann Jaffarian released a series of short stories about the Bowen family, focusing on middle daughter Zelda.  She decided that the story was really a novel instead of the connected short stories she was releasing, but finding the time to finish this while working on the novels she had under contract proved difficult.  Until now.  She has finally been able to release Finding Zelda, and it was worth the wait.

We first meet the Bowen family at Easter as Zelda and her two sisters, Norma and Bea, are arguing over who will wear the bunny costume that year for the kids.  Normally, that is something their father would do, but he has vanished without a word to anyone.  Even though the three women are grown, two of them with families of their own, his absence has repercussions in all of their lives and in their family overall.  As the year progresses, how will they deal with what happened?

Now, I know what you are thinking – this book sounds depressing.  Trust me, it isn’t.  Yes, there are some serious issues brought up and dealt with, and those scenes are handled appropriately.  However, there is plenty of comedy to help lighten the mood.  The Bowen family was painfully dysfunctional even before the father took off, and that just brought it to the surface.  And some of the scenes we get as a result are downright funny.  The comedy and drama are mixed well.

Sue Ann Jaffarian is best known for her mystery novels.  This isn’t a mystery.  Instead, it’s the story of a family.  No, this isn’t something I would normally read, but I read it because it was Sue Ann Jaffarian (and because I’d read the stories several years ago).  I’m so glad I did.  The further I got into the book, the more hooked I was.  I just had to know what would happen next to Zelda and how the family would react to everything happening around them.

It helps that Zelda is a strong main character, and extremely sympathetic.  I wanted her to figure out how to deal with everything going on in her life and become stronger as a result.  I found the rest of her family sympathetic at times and frustrating at others, which I think makes them real as well.  Because I came to care for the characters so much, I felt the effects of the story as I was reading.

I do want to point out that this book would be rated PG-13 if it were a film.  There is a smattering of four letter words and some discussions about the characters’ sex lives I could have done without.  However, these are minor aspects of the story so are worth noting only in passing.

If, like me, you read the Holidays from Hell short stories when they were released, you’ll definitely find the first half of the book familiar.  Sue Ann has beefed this section up, adding some scenes and events that had only been mentioned in passing in the original short stories.  And, honestly, it’s been so long that I could remember a few general events, but not all the details, so I was thankful for the refresher.  Once we got to the second half, it was all new material, and I was glad to finally see how everything that had been set up paid off.

Sometimes, when an author writes a book that takes place over many months, it can make for a rough read as the author tries to include too much.  That isn’t a problem here at all.  The changing months were all easy to follow, and we only checked in with Zelda during important scenes in the story, getting summaries of anything that might be important in the time period we were gone.

Originally, Finding Zelda was supposed to be a standalone novel, but Sue Ann has decided it is really a series, with more to come about Zelda’s life.  I’m quite curious the direction these books are going to take, and I will definitely be along for the ride.  I really enjoyed getting to know more of Zelda’s story.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

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