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Moonlight in Odessa: A Novel Hardcover – September 1, 2009


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This darkly humorous debut explores the world of eastern European mail-order brides and the men who finance them. Daria, a savvy, warmhearted but standoffish secretary in Odessa, Ukraine, fears that her boss will fire her after she refuses his sexual advances. So to keep him busy (and to keep her job), she sets him up with her shallow friend, Olga, who promptly turns on Daria. Fearing imminent unemployment, Daria takes a second job at Soviet Unions, an Internet dating service that connects Western men with available Ukrainian women. As Daria, who is fluent in English, bridges the language gap between the women and foreign men, she wonders if she will ever find true love. The endearing and forthright Daria is the perfect guide through the trickery and sincerity of chaotic courtships and short-order love. Meanwhile, her own romantic life swirls between a sweet suitor in California, a Ukrainian gangster and her manic boss. The teetering dance between humor and heartbreak burns through this tale that takes place at the intersection of love and money, East and West, male and female. (Sept.)
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Review

“[A] spirited debut… Charles’ transatlantic saga explores the dichotomy between Eastern and Western cultures, as well as the assumptions and sacrifices people make in the hope of a better life.” —Booklist

"Charles paints a tender, bittersweet portrait of Ukraine and Odessa.... A lively, entertaining debut—chick lit with edge." —Kirkus Reviews

"This darkly humorous debut explores the world of eastern European mail-order brides and the men who finance them... The endearing and forthright Daria is the perfect guide through the trickery and sincerity of chaotic courtships and short-order love... The teetering dance between humor and heartbreak burns through this tale that takes place at the intersection of love and money, East and West, male and female." —Publishers Weekly
 
"Charles's first novel vividly contrasts life in Odessa, a city whose citizens are impoverished and sometimes prejudiced but nevertheless proud, with the materialism and isolation of life in America." —Library Journal
 
"In her debut novel, Janet Skeslien Charles pulls off a couple of feats. First, the Montana native manages to write convincingly like a Ukrainian who’s tackling the English language. Perhaps more impressively, she crams fascinating cultural and historical information into what might otherwise be merely a diverting beach romance. It’s like sneaking vitamins into a chocolate shake... this could be a gooey and overwrought story, but Daria’s sharp humor and keen insights into human nature make her a winning narrator. In fact, all of the characters are well-drawn, complex and interesting... It all goes to show that the romantic beach-read formula needn’t be silly, or even formulaic; in the right hands, it can be instructive." —Bookpage

“In a comically touching travelogue through the international romantic wasteland, Janet Skeslien Charles brings you Daria, a part-time electronic matchmaker who is only one set of dentures short of gorgeous. A heroine for the twenty-first century Ukraine—or as close to the twenty-first century as you can get in the Ukraine—she’s street-smart enough to outwit several flawed suitors but can’t fend off the lure of the American dream as she fails to recognize the one unwavering global truism: Sometimes people aren’t entirely honest on the Internet.”  —Dave Boling, author of Guernica

“This is a delicious novel - wise, witty, wonderfully written  – and its narrator, street-smart, tender-hearted Daria K, a pleasure to spend time with. If I ever get to Odessa, I hope Daria will be there to show me around." —Vivian Gornick, author of Fierce Attachments and The Men in My Life

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596916729
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596916722
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,141,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Janet Skeslien Charles grew up on the plains of Montana. She spent two years in Odessa, Ukraine, as a Soros Teaching Fellow. She taught English, French, and Creative writing for fifteen years, first in Ukraine, then in Montana, and finally in France.
'Moonlight in Odessa' is her first novel. It was chosen as a top ten debut novel by Publishers Weekly and as book of the month by National Geographic Traveler magazine.

Customer Reviews

The character of Daria was very well developed and likable.
Utah Mom
Reconciling the mythic true love with the often harsh reality of real life can be kind of a pain-at the very least.
Lilly Flora
I think had the story just jumped in it wouldn't have been nearly as good.
Jennifer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Girl Friday Reader VINE VOICE on June 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First thing, Moonlight in Odessa has no resemblance to Desperate Housewives. What Moonlight in Odessa is however, is a bittersweet tale of post-Soviet Ukraine, love and marriage, and the beacon shone by American for prospective immigrants. From page one, our narrator Daria, is engaging and resilient. She has to be, for Odessa is a pretty colorful city full of people who do what they can to make it. Not quite Russia, yet not at all Occidental, the setting is rendered in such loving detail I kept flipping back to read the author's biography to see if she was from this area--and I still wonder since it gives only the scantest detail of her life.

I hesitate to call this "chick-lit," though it bears a resemblance to the realistic and realistically humorous tales of Jennifer Weiner and Marian Keyes, only because the focus is less on Daria's journey than on Charles's opinions of marriage, mail-order brides and how foreigners view the United States. While greatly enjoying Moonlight in Odessa, there are a number of dangling threads Charles introduces out of the blue and/or doesn't tie up by the end of the book. But the writing is brisk and vibrant, and I found this book a quick, snappy read.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Central Illinoisian in Chicago VINE VOICE on July 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I ordered this book because of ongoing research I'm conducting into Russia, not because of an outright interest in the mail order brides, Odessa, or the daily life of a charming young woman with a bewildering, and deeply funny, series of problems to overcome.

I don't think that I'm this book's target audience (Male, 41, Father, Suburbanite, etc.) And yet, from the first few pages I found myself drawn to Daria's problems. The writer engaged me, making me care about the characters deeply, and when Daria found success, I felt happy for her, When she was betrayed, I felt for her.

I know Daria isn't "real", but there are certainly many people like her. If one of the reasons that you read novels is to step for a time into another person's life, and to gain an understanding of an alternative perspective, then "Moonlight in Odessa" is the book for you.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By E. Smith VINE VOICE on July 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I really enjoyed this novel! It was such a page-turner and I found myself not able to put it down!

Daria is such a well developed character. I actually cared what happened to her, I understood her and I found myself feeling sorry for her. At some points I wanted to shout at the book and tell her what choice to make! I was generally invested in the main character and in her relationships with other characters who were equally as well developed. That, to me, is the mark of a good novel.

The book itself is beautifully written, and is so descriptive of life in Odessa, but not to the point of being melodramatic or boring. I really enjoyed this novel and finished it in two days, unable to put it down. I'd recommend it to anyone!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. D. Mulhern VINE VOICE on June 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I really enjoyed this book and was compelled to read it in one afternoon. I thought the main character was very likable and I was genuinely interested in what happened to her as the book went on. I loved reading about life in Odessa. I did find the plot a little unbelievable; it was at times hard for me to imagine such an intelligent woman winding up in such a situation- but maybe that just illustrates how determined women are to achieve better lives for themselves. While the ending was very hopeful for Daria, I liked that everything was not wrapped up with a bow. To me, there were elements of "Pride in Prejudice" with the whole things are not what they seem premise.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By delicateflower152 TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Or, you may overlook what you have before you while you are gazing at the stars. This is precisely what happens to the protagonist of "Moonlight in Odessa."

Living in Odessa, Ukraine, Daria is an educated woman who dreams of moving to the United States. Employed by an Israeli shipping firm as a secretary, Daria actually functions as a liaison between her boss, David Harmon, and the intricacies of the local business, mob, and government entities. Initially, David is portrayed as a man more interested in sex than business; he eventually proves his friendship and, in the end, his love for Daria.

In order to supplement her income and to practice her English, Daria also works as an interpreter for a matchmaking agency where lonely American men can meet Odessan women. Daria begins an e-mail correspondence with Tristain, one of the men who is using the matchmaking service. The two eventually marry, but Daria learns that all is not as she was led to believe. Only after reclaiming her self-worth and acknowledging her mistakes does Daria find what she has been seeking - the freedoms America has to offer and the love of a good man (David).

While portions of "Moonlight in Odessa" are filled with wry humor and gentle wit, the book does not have a light theme. Rather, it is filled with the choices people make to gain what they wish for and with the consequences of those choices. In particular, I found the second half of the book oppressive in nature. I was distressed by Daria's restrictive and unhappy marriage to a controlling, insecure man. If you have known anyone or have been someone who has been in a similar situation, you will find yourself tensing up throughout that portion of the novel.
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