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Moonlight in Odessa: A Novel Paperback – August 31, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“[A] gutsy heroine…rising above its chick-lit trappings, Charles's novel probes her narrator's painful discoveries.” ―New York Times Book Review

“[A] darkly humorous debut…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

“Charles paints a tender, bittersweet portrait of Ukraine and Odessa. Best of all, she doesn't oversimplify difficult choices and hard decisions or resort to cardboard villains…A lively, entertaining debut--chick lit with edge.” ―Kirkus

“[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

“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, even the initially sleazy boss. 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

“Three places occupy the heart of Janet Skeslien Charles's effervescent debut novel, Moonlight in Odessa: Odessa, the cosmopolitan Ukrainian Black Sea port; the U.S.; and a place that has no geographical boundaries but is sought by virtually everyone--the metaphorical land of Love…Charles movingly evokes the hills, valleys, oceans, and forests of this elusive territory. By the end of her tale, I felt deeply drawn to an Odessa I've never known and a San Francisco I've known for decades--and that third place, whose boundless byways exert still an irrepressible allure.” ―National Geographic Traveler

“Daria, the whip-smart narrator, leads an engrossing tour of the collisions and collusions of money, sex, power, and romance she encounters… it is Charles' moving exploration of the intricate sacrifices of male-female relationships that resonates as the novel's emotional core…the richness of Charles' imagination and the breadth of her narrative ambition make up for much of the shaky ground. The forgiving reader will be rewarded in spades with a satisfying and original ending, an admirable fidelity to place, and a set of wholly realized, achingly human characters.” ―Bust

“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 poignant and original first novel whose author already shows herself well able to handle an intriguing plot and create totally vivid characters. By the way you'll learn so much about Odessa that, even if you never have, you'll think you've been there. And someone ought to copyright the name Soviet Unions for a Russian matchmaking agency!” ―Anton Gil, author of the Huy the Scribe mystery series and Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim

Moonlight in Odessa reveals the mesmerizing world of post-Communist Ukraine, both its lawlessness and its old-fashioned allure, as the bright and beautiful Daria pursues her dream of finding husband, child, and house in America. Author Janet Skeslien Charles, with a masterful hand, leads the reader into the labyrinthine journey of her heroine Daria, through the sex and commerce of email-order brides to a land of rednecks in central California. Ms. Skeslien Charles is a keen observer of both worlds, the European and the American, Ukraine and the United States. The choices that Daria must make become the readers' choices. Moonlight in Odessa is a suspenseful page turner and an enlightening story about love and truth, corruption and deceit.” ―Susan M. Tiberghien, author of One Year to a Writing Life

Moonlight in Odessa is a shimmering marvel of a novel. In this geopolitical romantic comedy, Janet Skeslien Charles deftly balances caustic wit with generosity of spirit, a breezy style with an incisive vision of East-West relations and the eternal Cold War between men and women. A sheer delight.” ―Jake Lamar, author of Rendezvous Eighteenth and Ghosts of Saint-Michel

“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

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608192326
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608192328
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,097,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Welcome to Odessa, the humor capital of the former Soviet Union. OK, that's a joke, in a way. But meet Daria, a young woman with an engineering degree. She speaks English fluently, and understands the prevailing system in Odessa of bribes and "facilitation." But in their depressed economy, the only work that she can find is as a secretary at a foreign shipping and import company.

That's how Moonlight in Odessa starts, and though author Janet Skeslien Charles makes some valiant stabs at portraying our heroine here as a fully-developed and interesting character, she gets close and then it seems to fall flat. Odessa is a city caught up in power outages, high unemployment levels, food shortages, and unbridled corruption. Yet through the author's eyes we also see a city filled with animated, often peculiar, and sometimes fascinating characters, and that's what keeps this debut novel going.

But back to Daria, who is trying to support herself and her much-loved grandmother. She has an edgy relationship with David, her boss, who drops some not-so-subtle hints that certain types of favors of the intimate kind are part of the job. She manages to put David's advances off for months and then re-directs his desire to Olga, her childhood friend and neighbor, who then shows a new nasty and manipulative side. Daria is also attracted to Vlad, an appealing yet dangerous mobster.

After a particularly uncomfortable encounter with David, Daria becomes concerned about her job security, and she begins moonlighting at a "dating service" intended to match Ukrainian women with American or European men.
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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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