BookBrowse Reviews Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall

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Sweeping Up Glass

by Carolyn Wall

Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2008, 278 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2009, 336 pages

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A tough and tender debut novel set in Depression-era Kentucky

Fifty-three BookBrowse members reviewed this book, with forty-seven rating it 4 or 5 out of 5 stars – one of our highest First Impressions ratings to date. This is what they say…
Sweeping Up Glass definitely 'swept me up' from the very first page (Linda G). Set in 1938 rural Kentucky, the novel is narrated by Olivia Cross, a woman of strong character and a life full of hard work and incredible loss. As the story goes back in time, we learn more about Olivia and the people that inhabit this small community during the coldest winter on record (Beth P). The book presents a true picture of life in the south during the Depression, but it's more than just a picture of the South. It's a mystery and a deep look into Olivia's life and thoughts. It isn't a page turner like many mysteries - instead it offers a slow immersion into Olivia's thoughts and daily life (Susan R).

You will fall in love with the unusual cast of characters, share their loves, losses and pain, and eventually be swept into a fast paced race to a conclusion that you cannot possibly have imagined (Beth P). If you're a fan of character driven books such as Ava's Man, Cold Mountain, and Bel Canto, then you're guaranteed a good read here. Each character is finely defined and the secrets that they keep from each other come out as slowly as the molasses comes from the jar in the winter (Patricia M). Although a little slow to get started, the development of the characters requires this leisurely pace and adds to the drama of the story. Full of interlocking themes of love for humans, animals, and the land, and hate in all its guises and complexities, it offers a multi-faceted look at the human condition, its challenges and joys, and the ultimate battle between good and evil. While the themes aren't new, the story is compelling, surprising, and enjoyable (Sheryl R).

The writing is smooth, the characters gritty and real and the embedded secrets are deep. When I started this book I was hooked, but I didn't expect the last 100 pages to be so full of twists and turns and so action packed! Towards the end I was reading so quickly I had to force myself to slow down and absorb it all. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good story and who cheers for the underdogs (Angela S). Mystery lovers, as well as lovers of literary fiction, will both enjoy this well-written tale. I also think it's a great choice for book clubs, lots of 'hidden secrets' and issues for discussion (Linda G).

On the other hand…
A shift occurs when the mystery unfurls, and the book becomes littered with implausible coincidences that try a realistic reader. One wishes the story could have been told without the mystery, or the mystery written in more believable terms (Shirley S). As engaging as it is, Olivia’s voice cannot compensate for this novel’s awkward plotting. The action in the final third of the book feels contrived, loaded with convenient coincidences and overly dramatic scenes. This final section, which reads like a thriller, is out of character with the pacing and style of the first two-thirds of the book. Although the rest of the book didn’t live up to the initial promise of the first chapter, Sweeping Up Glass is an enjoyable and worthwhile read (Gwendolyn G).

The Last Word
This is a powerful story of a woman caught between history and her own difficult family relationships (Mary Ellen B), full of surprises, interesting characters and a range of emotions (Susan S). If you like a mystery, love story and little bit of history, this is your book. Book clubs will have quite a few things to discuss after reading this hard-to-put-down debut (Terrie S).

Judging books by readers, not covers
Sweeping Up Glass was originally published by independent publisher Poisoned Pen Press in August, 2008. Poisoned Pen received such overwhelming raves from their pre-publication readers that they sold the rights to Bantam (a division of Random House) before the book went to press. Poisoned Pen retained the rights to publish 1000 copies of a special hardcover edition, with their original cover design (shown left). Specializing in mysteries, they had marketed the book as such, but when Bantam bought the book, they redesigned the cover, and presented the paperback edition as a literary novel, with suspenseful undercurrents.

This review is from the August 12, 2009 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



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