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Book Review: The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan

I adored Lian Dolan’s first two books. They were smart, funny, light, and warm – and the kind you want to reread. When I saw that she had a new book out, I jumped on the chance to read it. The Sweeney Sisters was everything I’d hoped for, with the strong character development I appreciate from Lian Dolan.

I received an advance copy of the book from William Morrow Books via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.  All opinions are my own.

The Book

Book Review: The Sweeney Sisters by Lian DolanThe Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan
Published by HarperCollins Publishers on April 20, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Women, Family Life, Siblings, Friendship
Pages: 304
Buy on Amazon

An accomplished storyteller returns with her biggest, boldest, most entertaining novel yet--a hilarious, heartfelt story about books, love, sisterhood, and the surprises we discover in our DNA that combines the wit of Jonathan Tropper with the heart of Susan Wiggs.

Maggie, Eliza, and Tricia Sweeney grew up as a happy threesome in the idyllic seaside town of Southport, Connecticut. But their mother's death from cancer fifteen years ago tarnished their golden-hued memories, and the sisters drifted apart.

Their one touchstone is their father, Bill Sweeney, an internationally famous literary lion and college professor universally adored by critics, publishers, and book lovers. When Bill dies unexpectedly one cool June night, his shell-shocked daughters return to their childhood home. They aren't quite sure what the future holds without their larger-than-life father, but they do know how to throw an Irish wake to honor a man of his stature.

But as guests pay their respects and reminisce, one stranger, emboldened by whiskey, has crashed the party. It turns out that she too is a Sweeney sister.
When Washington, DC based journalist Serena Tucker had her DNA tested on a whim a few weeks earlier, she learned she had a 50% genetic match with a childhood neighbor--Maggie Sweeney of Southport, Connecticut. It seems Serena's chilly WASP mother, Birdie, had a history with Bill Sweeney--one that has remained totally secret until now.

Once the shock wears off, questions abound. What does this mean for William's literary legacy? Where is the unfinished memoir he's stashed away, and what will it reveal? And how will a fourth Sweeney sister--a blond among redheads--fit into their story?

By turns revealing, insightful, and uproarious, The Sweeney Sisters is equal parts cautionary tale and celebration--a festive and heartfelt look at what truly makes a family.


My Take

The Sweeney Sisters did not disappoint. Compared to her other stories, I felt this story dug deeper and was more complex when it came to relationships and emotions. The four sisters were very different in temperament and behavior, and what flowed from that. This story has a lot of heart.

The story is told from the perspective of a trio of sisters – and the fourth they discover only after their famous author father dies. His death left a mess – of secrets, finances, and a mysterious missing manuscript they need to find.

Dolan crafts vivid characters in the sisters. Each has very different personalities, and unsurprisingly, each is facing some sort of personal crisis beyond what their now-deceased father has dropped on them. The sisters deal with the secrets of and disappointments in their father, a spouse, careers, and each other in different ways as well. As you would expect, this all sets up some familial conflicts.

The sisters’ have strained relationships with each other. Their lives are messy. And, in some manner, I found them all a bit unlikable at the start. However, as they let down their walls, reexamine their pasts, confess their jealousies and their secrets, and let us see past their exteriors, Dolan reveals her skill in crafting real and faceted characters.

The smart, quick humor I expect from Dolan balances the heavier moments. It does have some predictable moments, but the fast-paced plot meant I didn’t linger. While it took me a much longer time to warm up to flighty, irresponsible Maggie, her character shows a lot of growth by the end.

The Sweeney Sisters is a story of relationships, what makes a family, finding oneself, and it all comes together with a satisfying conclusion.

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