Book review | The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan



Author: Lian Dolan

No. of pages: 464

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Published by: William Morrow 

Published on: 28th April 2020 

Format: Paperback 

My rating: ★★★★☆

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.

This book really touched my heart. A simple, raw and honest tale of three sisters who tries to welcome a unwelcomed secret into their lives after their famous father's death. The book starts off with 3 brief chapters dedicated to one Sweeney sister each, giving us a glimpse about their lives  and a quick snapshot of their individual reactions to the news of their father's death. The first three chapters are almost cinematic - giving us readers a tiny scoop about their lifestyle before delving into their stories. 

The author tactfully introduces other characters into the three Sweeney sisters' lives who have a significant role to play - in their past struggles, in their present which has been shaken up by their father's sudden demise, and in their future which would change significantly considering a new Sweeney sister and also in living this their late father's shadow. 

In a way, the author gives us a scoop about a famous literary figure's life. What it means to have a famous father, one who had nasty secrets to keep from the world, and one who had actually been a lousy father in private but a caring on in the public. The Sweeney sisters had always been fighting for their own individuality, but at the same time they were fighting to be the best daughters to both their parents. I loved how the sisters are such a force of resilience when it came to standing up against the adversaries that threatened to ruin the Sweeney name. It was a joy and a delight to read about the Sweeney sisters stand up for each other even when they had their differences; and it was always (and I mean always) diffused with humour and understanding for each other. 

The three sisters were always joined together by blood and love for each other, and it almost made Serena - the new Sweeney sister - hesitate into trying to make an effort to find her place amongst the sisters. What made this book stand out was that the characters emanated positivity. Serena really tried to understand each of the Sweeney sisters and stood up for herself when she felt unwanted, and the three original Sweeney sisters in turn tried their best to welcome her into their lives and sympathize with her even though they had their doubts. 

The book is not just about sisterhood and family. It's more than that. I loved how each of the three sisters had their own story and temperament, their own style to deal with things, and their quirks and persona. The author makes us see how these sisters grow and mature throughout the whole story, how their perception about their parents change bit by bit, and how their lives change as a whole in a favourable direction. 

I almost didn't want this book to end. It has the right amount of humour and drama, and I have just fallen in love with the Sweeney's house in Willow Lane. Reading this book made we crave for the sisterly bond that the Sweeney sisters and Serena shared with each other. 

As I already said, each of the Sweeney sisters possesses different characteristics from each other and this made the book more interesting and likable. The eldest, Liza is somewhat prude and a perfectionist, and being the eldest one she has taken it upon herself to be the caregiver of everyone else in the family, including her late parents. The middle daughter, Maggie, is carefree and loves to be the centre of attention, but the one who inherited the creative bug for her parents. The youngest is Tricia, the most mature one, taking care of all the legal issues concerning the family and the one who actually thinks before doing anything. And the newest Sweeney sister - Serena and a bit of everyone's quality, making her a part of the family. I loved how the author gave such defining personalities to the sisters and also the side characters, that they touch your heart and makes this book a bit more personal. 

I absolutely loved author Lian Dolan's style of writing. It's very poetic and dramatic; and considering that this book is about the daughters of a poet and a writer's, makes the book more fascinating. I love the way she sketched out the familial nuances, sort of private, as if you are peeking into the Sweeney family from behind a curtain. I loved the dialogues between the sisters, made it seem that they are a very real family with their inside jokes. Her writing lured me into the book and five or so chapters later I couldn't keep the book down. 

This book comes heavily recommended from me.


Lian Dolan is a writer and broadcaster, whose name is pronounced like “Liam” but with an “n.” She is the creator and host of “Satellite Sisters”, the award-winning and top-rated radio talk show she produces with her four real sisters: Julie, Liz, Sheila, and Monica. She also created the popular podcast about modern motherhood, “The Chaos Chronicles”, developed by Nick at Nite for TV. Lian is the author of two Los Angeles Times best-selling novels, Helen of Pasadena and Elizabeth the First Wife, and a regular columnist for Pasadena Magazine. A graduate of Pomona College in Claremont, she now lives in Pasadena, California with her husband and two sons. 


I received a copy of the book in exchange of an honest and unbiased review. 

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