Monday, March 10, 2014

Sycamore Row VS The Husband's Secret: Dubuque Tournament of Books, round two

This week we'll be posting the judges' decisions for the second round of the 2nd Annual Dubuque Tournament of Books. To see an overview of the judges and contestants, check out this blog post. To see why Bethany selected The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty in the first round, click here. To see why Charleen selected Sycamore Row by John Grisham in the first round, click here.
Judge: Bethany
This one is rough for me to review because it's outside my normal genre preferences. I've read John Grisham before and can appreciate his storytelling abilities and his expertise of the legal system, but UHG, this one was drawn out for me. A bit forgettable too. I generally prefer my thrillers to come together like puzzles, with pieces finding their way together from all over the board; but this one felt very linear to me. I'd say the last 15 pages of the 447 pages were page turners. And the fact that I know the number of pages without looking it up, indicated that I referenced page 447 too many times while reading. A countdown... 200 pages to go, 100 pages, 75 pages to go... I wouldn’t say the book is boring, it just builds very slowly, with a lot of details. The mystery element was enough to keep me reading, and the end culminates in a very satisfying way.

On the pro side, it was a smart story with likable characters. I have to say I learned a lot about racism in the south, and racism in the 1980’s. It has impacted my world view and I’m grateful for that. If you're into legal thrillers, it was good. It just didn’t thrill me much.

My round 2 choice is The Husband’s Secret. To compare these two books with the same standard doesn’t quite seem fair. For me, The Husband’s Secret, was a simple, easy, and page turning-read. I identified strongly with the characters and the storyline felt relevant to me. Sycamore Row is a different world, set apart from me and I couldn’t relate on most levels. Sycamore Row is also bogged down with a mountain of details and information, which slows the pace down substantially. The pace alone was enough for me to prefer The Husband’s Secret. I require an enticing story to keep my interest, a book I don’t want to put down. I found that in The Husband’s Secret, and found the opposite in Sycamore Row. Don’t get me wrong, Sycamore Row is a smart novel, but just didn’t make my list of most enjoyable.

Judge: Charleen 
Cheap Thrills book blog  
I find it oddly fitting that Bethany describes the world of Sycamore Row as one she can't relate to, because I had mixed feelings while reading The Husband's Secret, and for similar reasons.

All three of the main characters are flawed in their own way, which is of course what makes them so real. Still, even though I sympathized with all of them at one point or another, I also felt at a distance from them, questioning rather than relating. Even in the midst of their new, life-altering circumstances, each of these women remains defined by her motherhood... but I'm not a mother. Could I identify more with their actions and their motivations if I were? I don't know.

That being said, I did find the story compelling, and it comes together very well in the end. I can't help but be impressed by the book as a whole, even if it wasn't my favorite.

Personally, my preference is still for Sycamore Row. The Husband's Secret, though enhanced by extraordinary circumstances, was a bit domestic for my tastes. However, Bethany brings up a good point: "I require an enticing story to keep my interest, a book I don't want to put down." I think most readers would agree with this, and while I quite enjoyed it, I can't argue against the fact that Sycamore Row was an easy book to put down (at least to a point). So, setting personal taste aside, I'll concede to The Husband's Secret.

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