Book Review: The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman

Posted March 18, 2013 by Kara in Kara / 12 Comments

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: March 26th, 2013
Pages: 288
Genre: Adult Contemporary
Source: Edelweiss

Description from Goodreads:  A riveting and poignant novel of one woman’s journey to Bali in search of love, renewal, and a place to call home—perfect for readers of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and Alex Garland’s The Beach.

It starts as a trip to paradise. Sent on assignment to Bali, Jamie, an American adventure guide, imagines spending weeks exploring the island’s lush jungles and pristine white sand beaches. Yet three days after her arrival, she is caught in Bali’s infamous nightclub bombings, which irreparably change her life and leave her with many unanswered questions.

One year later, haunted by memories, Jamie returns to Bali seeking a sense of closure. Most of all, she hopes to find Gabe, the man who saved her from the attacks. She hasn’t been able to forget his kindness—or the spark between them as he helped her heal. Checking into a cozy guest house for her stay, Jamie meets the kindly owner, who is coping with a painful past of his own, and a young boy who improbably becomes crucial to her search. Jamie has never shied away from a challenge, but a second chance with Gabe presents her with the biggest dilemma of all: whether she’s ready to open her heart.

Review: When I first started reviewing books way back when (seriously, more than 2 years ago), I won a copy of another Ellen Sussman book: French Lessons. Well. That book made me fall in love with the author’s writing style. I don’t know what it was about that book that made me love it, but I did. One thing she did well was capture the essence of Paris in a really convincing and magical way. I feel that she did the same with Bali in The Paradise Guest House. But…that is pretty much where the similarities end for me. I didn’t fall in love with this book the way I did with the other one. That’s not to say it wasn’t good, because it was written well, but…it’s time to pull out the list again.

Why The Paradise Guest House Didn’t Wow Me:

~Here’s one you don’t hear often: it was too short! At only 288 pages, it felt like the surface of the 2002 Bali Nightclub Bombings was barely scratched. I wanted more. It felt like we rushed through what happened and why, and I was missing that emotional connection to the topic because of the length. I think maybe 50 more pages could have been used to build a little more plot and depth into the country, the terrorism, and everything that happened before, AND the aftermath.

~This kind of connects to the same point as above but with one difference. The characters. Again, I was missing that depth and I feel with a little more length to the narrative, I might have been able to care more. But…for such an emotional topic, it didn’t really tug at my emotions. I’ve read some other reviews and it seemed to resonate with other readers so maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t even feel the slightest bit sad. And that’s not good when there were characters in the book that had lost loved ones.

~Also, about the characters? Where was the development? Why were they so flat? Why did I feel like the writing was constantly keeping me at a distance? I tried to get close to them and understand their plight, but the detached writing style wouldn’t let me!

What I Did Like About the Book:

Obviously I liked it quite a bit or I wouldn’t have rated it 3 stars. So where did it excel?

~I think the storytelling was good. I think the author did a wonderful job of weaving past and present (though I liked the middle section a bit more than the beginning and end because it covered the bombings themselves), but I thought the story came together well and she was skilled at making it meld.

~I do like her writing style. She writes like she is writing personally for me. It’s a well-balanced combination of story, characters, and imagery designed to make you fall in love with the place she is writing about, which is great because Bali is definitely a character in this novel, and the only one I felt was properly developed. Bali has flaws, but it’s a beautiful place full of happy smiling people, gorgeous scenery, and fascinating culture and traditions. 

I don’t know if I would recommend this one because I felt it was lacking in a lot of areas. But I do think the author has a lot of talent, so I am conflicted. I am glad I read it, but nothing wowed me. I am on the fence. I can say I will read this author again, I was just disappointed by this particular book. It was still a good read though. It just wasn’t all that memorable for me and I know I will forget it in a few days. 

3/5 Dragons

12 responses to “Book Review: The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman

  1. Well, Kara, this is the first time i hear of the author. I like contemporary reads a lot, I don’t know why, but I always like YA Contemporary not Adult contemporary. Maybe it has something to do with ME being a teenager and understanding the characters more than the adult characters and their decisions
    Your reader,

  2. Ohhhh, now I know why you read this. The cover and the title really didn’t scream Kara to me, but it’s because of the author. The world makes sense again.

    Nightclub bombings? I legit just tilted my head like a confused dog. You are welcome for that mental image. I hate when books are too short. Like, you could have been good, but you didn’t have faith the reader could pay attention for that long. It’s such a shame.

    • It’s because of the author AND the setting. Indonesia, yo. That’s all up in Southeast Asia. 😉

      Yes. The 2002 Bali nightclub bombings. It’s a real thing. Done by a terrorist Muslim group. Because most of Indonesia is Muslim, but the island of Bali is mostly Hindu, sometimes there are religious attacks. 🙁

      And yeah, I just wanted more from this one.

  3. Amy

    It’s too bad that this book wasn’t quite for you, but I am glad that you like the authors writing. I am always disappointed when characters aren’t developed well. That’s a major thing for my enjoyment of a book. Great review Kara!

  4. Sam

    It’s a shame you didn’t like this as much as French Lessons, but I’m glad you enjoyed it well enough. The lack of character depth puts me off a little, I have to admit, though I am curious about the writing style. It’s great that you were still able to enjoy that aspect despite everything else. Brilliant review, Kara!

    • There’s nothing particularly special about her writing style, I just like her word choices and the way they flow. If I wrote books, I would write similarly to her, I think. Or at least try to.

  5. Oh this one is new to me! The cover is not really my thing though I would never have looked at it twice, and it sounds like I’m not missing much to be honest. 288 is great for YA but for an adult books it’s definitely on the short side. Even for YA it’s stretching it. Sounds like the author knows how to write they just need to develop the story better. Either way, great review, Karapoo! (Hey it rhymes! YEAH!)

  6. I haven’t heard of this book or author before but I have to say it sounds really interesting. It sounds really short, but if the author’s writing style is as gorgeous as you make it sound I would definitely consider reading it anyway. It’s too bad there wasn’t more depth though. And the cover is kind of boring. But anyway, fabulous review! <3

    • The cover is boring. Try French Lessons first though if you truly are interested. The author is great at weaving different characters’ stories together. It’s a skill not many have.

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