Author: Sarah Jio
Genre: general fiction, historical fiction
Published: November 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
New York Times bestselling author Sarah Jio imagines life on Boat Street, a floating community on Seattle’s Lake Union—home to people of artistic spirit who for decades protect the dark secret of one startling night in 1959
Fleeing an East Coast life marred by tragedy, Ada Santorini takes up residence on houseboat number seven on Boat Street. She discovers a trunk left behind by Penny Wentworth, a young newlywed who lived on the boat half a century earlier. Ada longs to know her predecessor’s fate, but little suspects that Penny’s mysterious past and her own clouded future are destined to converge.
Sarah Jio is a five (soon six)-times published writer, and though her stories are engaging and cleverly constructed, they can also feel emotionally manipulative and predictable. I have a love-hate with each of the three books by this author I have read; I want to love them, but it's impossible to ignore the mass-produced feel they present. I find that there is obviously a formula at work with Jio's novels (the correlation of the present and past storylines, a mystery that ends up involving both characters), but, for some reason, I always end up liking the characters she creates. I keep coming back to see what stories she has written, but I stay for the people she defines so vividly.
The characters are what bring me back, but I was halfway sold on Morning Glory when I figured out this was a basically a murder mystery/romance set in a houseboat community. It definitely is an original setup and the inclusive feel of "Boat Street" really works in the favor of the mystery air. The secondary cast members don't do a lot but hang out and have secrets and mysterious pasts, but their overall addition is one of complicity and willful silence. You don't get to know the Toms and Lenoras even as well as Naomi and Gene, but you know they're all hiding something on Boat Street.
Morning Glory focuses on the dual lives of Penny, a housewife in the 1950s, and Ada, a widowed former magazine editor in 2008. At times this story felt a lot like the American version of Marian Keyes' Anybody Out There? but without the humor and a lot more infidelity. By which I mean, both these women have incredibly sad storylines (see: emotional manipulation) with heartbreak and loss, but I really grew to like both of them, Penny especially. They're quite different from one another in most ways, but the ways Jio finds to connect them work.
I could have done without the mystery, but it really does end up being central to the plot and tie everything together. I enjoyed this, but it can be so frustrating, when meeting the new character of Alex for the first time I already know what role he will play in Ada's life. It's boring when I meet Penny and realize "hey, Ada's gonna figure out a mystery about you" because I've read two books by this author before and all of Jio's novel proceed alike. There is no element of surprise -- even when the mystery is solved, even when the epilogue is read.
Like her other novels, Jio's latest is a mixed bag for me. I always want to like her books more than I actually do, but I feel comfortable with rating this latest one three out of five. There were some good points, there was some formulaic plotting, and excellent characters.
So, I rationalize thus:
1 star: plot/plot execution/mystery element
2 stars: characters/character interactions/writing