Sunday, November 6, 2016

Book Review: The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson

 The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness

by Maddie Dawson


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.Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (October 25, 2016)

Three women, three lives, and one chance to become a family…whether they want to or not.

Newly orphaned, recently divorced, and semiadrift, Nina Popkin is on a search for her birth mother. She’s spent her life looking into strangers’ faces, fantasizing they’re related to her, and now, at thirty-five, she’s ready for answers.

Meanwhile, the last thing Lindy McIntyre wants is someone like Nina bursting into her life, announcing that they’re sisters and campaigning to track down their mother. She’s too busy with her successful salon, three children, beautiful home, and…oh yes, some pesky little anxiety attacks.

But Nina is determined to reassemble her birth family. Her search turns up Phoebe Mullen, a guarded, hard-talking woman convinced she has nothing to offer. Gradually sharing stories and secrets, the three women make for a messy, unpredictable family that looks nothing like Nina pictured…but may be exactly what she needs. Nina’s moving, ridiculous, tragic, and transcendent journey becomes a love story proving that real family has nothing to do with DNA.

“Dawson (The Opposite of Maybe, 2014, etc.) is a generous storyteller, creating characters who are both complex and unexpected while being wholly relatable.” Kirkus Reviews

“Maddie Dawson has been a longtime favorite writer of mine because she has the gift of tapping into the emotions and complexities of a woman’s heart and effortlessly combining tension with joy. She’s done it again with The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness. Put it on your list of not-to-be-missed fiction.” —Marybeth Mayhew Whalen, cofounder of She Reads and author of The Things We Wish Were True

“Like authors Liane Moriarty and JoJo Moyes, Maddie Dawson is one of those gifted writers who spins seemingly comic, romantic tales that tackle our most universal longings for love, connection, and family. In her newest book, she delivers the story of two sisters given up for adoption. Their journey to discover each other and the mother who gave them up is by turns heart-wrenching and laugh-out-loud hilarious. I loved every witty sentence.” —Holly Robinson, author of Chance Harbor and Beach Plum Island

“Maddie Dawson has done it again. Witty, warm, and full of insights into life’s maddening complexities, her novels should come with a warning label: May cause tears, laughter, or all of the above.” —Sarah Knight, bestselling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck

“In this heartfelt novel, Dawson (The Opposite of Maybe, 2014) weaves together the stories of three very different women who are bound by blood, delving deeply into the true meaning of family.” —Booklist



My Rating:




Favorite Quotes:


Even after I finally took the plunge and got married, Dan and I lasted just six months after the wedding, and then one night he took me out to dinner and told me he'd met Julie, and that she had the magic sauce he'd been looking for, so surely I could see that he had to leave, didn't I, because even though he really, really, really like me, and maybe would always love me at some level, it wasn't the level that really counted with his shadow side and his mystical side and the side of him that wanted to turn vegan and loll about in hot tubs.  He said all this as well as some other crap you simply can't believe someone would actually say to you out loud, especially someone you love.  Loved at some level.


I was far from being the only adopted kid in my circle.  For reasons I've never understood, our quiet little Catholic neighborhood in Bernford had tons of them.  Five on every block, at least.  It was as though there'd been a Give Your Baby Away decade, and unplanned-for kids had been handed out randomly to strangers in town.


I actually had cried so much my eyelids were chapped.  There ought to be a special cosmetic for that.  Grief-Erase, they could call it.


Don't try to make friends with me over My Little Pony.  Have some respect for yourself.


I wanted nothing more than to reach over and start pummeling her right there and then.  Yes, while I was driving.  After that wave passed, I then wanted to slam on the brakes and push her onto the side of the road and drive away, cackling.  Ha ha ha, teenaged girls!


She was one of those women who looked like she was in full control, always aware of which pocket of her eight-pocket L.L. Bean vest she last placed her self-confidence in. 



My Review:


The Survivors Guide to Family Happiness was a pure delight, a feast of words, a banquet of wit, and an engrossing read.  I adored every fascinating character, each well-chosen word, and every single one of the myriad threads that were cleverly woven into a beautiful tapestry of a tale.  It was phenomenally well-written from multiple points of view.  I was enthralled by the rich layers that effortlessly constructing the story with amusing observations, witty insights, and the insider anecdotes used to present the rather serious life transitions that each character was bringing to the story, as well as the multiple revelations brought on by the unraveling of a thirty-three-year-old secret.  And I just love unraveling deep dark secrets.  The writing was clever, emotive, crisp, and extraordinarily engaging.  I frequently smirked, chortled, and loudly laughed aloud, but there were also emotionally stirring scenes that squeezed my heart.  The pacing of the story was ingenious with the crafty Ms. Dawson doling out tasty morsels to whet my appetite yet kept me hungry, curious, and anxious for the undoubtedly delectable main course to be served, while I also enjoyed savoring each nugget as it came along.  And I was more than sated by the satisfying conclusion, although I always desire more with a story this exceptional.  Maddie Dawson must have a magical pen as she is a mega wordsmith and currently has top-billing of my list of favorites.

Empress DJ



About Maddie Dawson

Maddie Dawson grew up in the South, born into a family of outrageous storytellers. Her various careers as a substitute English teacher, department-store clerk, medical-records typist, waitress, cat sitter, wedding-invitation-company receptionist, nanny, day-care worker, electrocardiogram technician, and Taco Bell taco maker were made bearable by thinking up stories as she worked. Today she lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with her husband. She’s the bestselling author of four previous novels: The Opposite of MaybeThe Stuff That Never HappenedKissing Games of the World, and A Piece of Normal.

Connect with Maddie

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