Friday, June 1, 2012

Group Review: The Secret of Joy

Summary: IS THE HALF SISTER THAT REBECCA STRAND HAS NEVER MET SHORT? TALL? RICH? POOR? PRETTY? FUNNY? MARRIED? LONELY? HAPPY?...Rebecca is about to find out. The New York City paralegal thought nothing could shake her life off its fast track -- which includes her handsome lawyer boyfriend and their extravagant condo. The shocking revelation that she even has a half sister comes from her dying father, in a hospital bed confession of a long-past summer affair...and now the dad she adores has one last wish: would Rebecca deliver a cache of letters he never sent to his other daughter, Joy Jayhawk, in a tiny coastal Maine town? But when Rebecca arrives in Wiscasset, with the life-changing letters stashed in a leather box, nothing goes as she imagined -- and Joy Jayhawk is less than thrilled to meet her. Joy already has her own life, her own family, and her own business: she runs a bus tour for singles, a matchmaking excursion that's brought lovers together, healed broken hearts, and changed lives. Rebecca joins the singles tour in the hopes of unlocking a door into Joy's life and forming a relationship with the only family she has left. But as she spends more and more time with Joy and the women who dub themselves The Divorced Ladies Club of Wiscasset -- and starts a flirtation with a seriously hunky local carpenter -- Rebecca realizes it's her life and heart that are ready for healing and change...and that sometimes, you just have to go along for the ride.

Alice's Review:  I really liked this book.  It was sweet and a great example of a perfect summer read but with a little bit of substance.  I haven’t read a Melissa Senate novel since See Jane Date back when I was heavy into Chick Lit.  I’m happy to see that she hasn’t lost her touch creating likable female leads.

I really liked Rebecca although in the beginning I wondered if she was another one of those perfect female characters who passes gas that smells like roses.  Thankfully, Ms. Senate gave her a slightly desperate quality that made her annoying yet endearing.  I will say I loved her tenacity.  I also loved that she didn’t force the situation into what she wanted, she hung back, didn’t give up and let the cards fall where they may. 

I also liked Joy a lot.  I liked how cautious she was.  She wasn’t as desperate for this new found sister relationship as Rebecca was.  In all fairness to Rebecca, her situation was very different.  Joy was established, secure in her current relationships. Rebecca was floundering, lost, lonely.

There were many things that Ms. Senate did well.  She was thoughtful in giving Joy troubles that were indirectly related to issues with her birth father.  Another thing Ms. Senate she excelled at was creating a perfect setting in Maine.  More than once during the novel, I wanted to hop in my car and drive up for a whoopie pie at Mama’s.  I wanted to find my own perfect little yellow house.  I wanted to look from my own Mr. Theo Grander and a cute little mutt named Charlie.  Ms. Senate truly transported me there.  It was a great escape.

I would recommend this novel.  It’s touching, funny with a great cast of characters.  I believe Ms. Senate does it again.

Final Take:  4/5

Jenn's Review:  This book was my pick, and though I don't read a lot of Contemporary Fiction, I was just so smitten with Melissa Senate's The Love Goddess' Cooking School that I decided I wanted to try something else she'd written.  While I would say this book does not speak to me the way The Love Goddess' Cooking School did, I still found it enjoyable.

Part of the reason that I didn't like it as much may have something to do with the fact that I had a hard time liking Rebecca.  She was so needy and clingy... my own personal reaction to that is to want to backpedal quickly, much like Joy.  However, I didn't find Joy that easy to identify with either.  I wanted to shake them both several times over at more than one point.  I was also surprised at what little empathy I had for the Bitter Ex's club, and not just because I'm happily married.  Prior to meeting my husband, I had similar relationship horror stories to all of the club and there are two things I learned.   First, you have to be happy as one before you can be happy as two.  Second, the old 'fool me once' adage stands because I may be able to forgive, but I am never able to forget.  Unfortunately, instead of evoking empathy the Ex Club angered me; I was frustrated with the whole of them for giving third and fourth chances and for not valuing their own worth.  I think the only character I really connected with was Theo.  By the end of the book, I learned to like Rebecca but her lesson was long and arduous, for both of us.

All that aside, there are some wonderful gems of advice and great relationship questions tackled in this book.  When is enough enough?  When do you give up?  When do you close the door?  When do you try harder?  Melissa Senate declares, you are the only one who knows what's right for you, and you must follow your instincts.

In the end, it is Melissa Senates wonderful ability to weave a story, even if it is a frustrating one, that wins the day.  Though The Love Goddess' Cooking School is still on my list of all time favorites, I will be more selective in picking up another novel by Melissa Senate.  This is not at all a reflection on her, but on my lack of interest in the Contemporary Women's Fiction genre overall.  However, if she writes more Food-lit I'll be the first in line.

Final Take:  3.75/5

Julie's Review:  The Secret of Joy is a delightful book with a message that always bears repeating: how to find joy in your life. Although the title of the book has several meanings, which I thought was very clever. You know how when you start a book and you can kind of tell or feel where it will go but you are ok with that? This was my experience with The Secret of Joy. I was happy with the ending and couldn't really imagine anything else.

While Rebecca thinks this trip is about discovering her long lost half-sister, it's really about her figuring out what she wants and doesn't want in her life. It's about her taking control of her life and living it, not just functioning in it. I will admit that there were times when Rebecca got on my nerves. I wanted to shake her and tell her that this isn't just about her. It's about Joy and letting her process all of this. Joy might be closed off and have a wall built up around her but Rebecca is no better in many ways. A lot of times I thought that Rebecca was a "bull in a china shop" because she would just stick to her guns regardless of the situation.

That's not saying that I didn't like Rebecca because I did. She is a very caring and thoughtful individual. She wants to help people and doesn't like to hurt any one's feelings. Although that last point can make her indecisive.

The Secret of Joy is filled with wonderful supporting characters. Maggie is a hoot and Ellie needs some serious self-confidence and a backbone. Joy is complex and that makes her interesting to try to get to know. She is having trouble in her marriage but it's really about Joy's inability to open up to her husband. I can't even talk about Theo without getting stars in my eyes. I'm sure he has faults but Ms. Senate didn't explore them.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel. All of the characters grew and learned something about themselves and each other. Some of the revelations were ground breaking and some were not but hey, that's life.

I have Melissa Senate's The Love Goddess' Cooking School on my TBR pile and I know that I'll move it a little closer to the top after reading this novel.

Anyone looking for a good, solid summer read can definitely pick up The Secret of Joy. You might even finish it in one visit to the beach or pool.

Final Take: 3.75/5

Have you read The Secret of Joy?  Come discuss it with us at Goodreads!


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