Tag Archives: adult

Review: All the Summer Girls

51qeoz7vyzl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Recap: Nothing like a broken-off engagement and pregnancy, a cheating husband and being fired after your life’s become overrun with drugs and alcohol to start your summer. But that’s the way the summer begins for three high school best friends who grew up together and in recent years have mostly grown apart. Kate, Vanessa and Dani had already planned to go away for the weekend for Kate’s bachelorette party. Now that she’s no longer about to become a misses, the three decide to go away together anyway and keep it close to home: the Jersey Shore, the place where they spent all their summers together growing up.

But for the three of them, the Jersey Shore brings up bad memories of the last time they were here together, back during college when a tragic night lead to the death of Kate’s twin brother — a loss from which none of the girls ever truly recovered. Anxiety builds as the secrets of their lives — pregnancy, cheating, addiction — keep finding ways to creep into this home away from home that holds another big, aching secret. Eventually that anxiety must break, and break it does.

AnalysisAll the Summer Girls has just the right ingredients for a great summer beach read — romance, friendship, scandal, secrets and of course the beach setting. Meg Donahue brings it all together, forcing the reader to wonder what she would do any of these characters’ positions. Female friendship is complicated, and this novels dives deep into those murky waters, especially as it details the relationship between Vanessa and Dani, which is so severed, one wonders if it can even be repaired at this point. Sometimes girlfriends truly do just drift. Other times, secrets keep them separated. And still other times, girlfriends remain friends despite all the secrets, all the time that’s passed, and all the little things that annoy each other. The bonds prove strong in this novel.

While Donahue brings it all together, it does feel forced. Vanessa’s obsession with her ex-boyfriend is unwarranted since it seems to be nothing more than an eight-year-old summer fling. Not only that, but there’s a lot of build to a rather anticlimactic and uneventful plotline in the end. Dani discovering some of the things she learns on this trip also seems to make it a perfect time for her addiction to only get worse. Instead, she fights it off which is empowering and impressive, but in my opinion, unlikely under the circumstances. I’ve read several books about female friendship and all their secrets coming out over the course of a summer. It’s a common trope in “chick lit,” but I’ve seen it done better elsewhere.

MVP: Dani. Though her life is more of a mess than any of the other three girls, she’s the one that pulls through the best. She doesn’t freak out. She doesn’t cause a scene. She just deals with it. She decides ultimately that she needs to make some changes, and she does it, no questions asked, no hesitation, and that is impressive.

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Review: The Tenth Circle

circle-500Recap: Trixie Stone’s life and that of her parents turn upside down when she comes home from a party, telling them her boyfriend, Jason, just raped her. Trixie’s father, Daniel, reverts back to the days before he was married, bursting with anger, ready to rage. Trixie’s mother, Laura, is full of guilt, wondering if this ever would have happened had she not had a recent affair with one of the TA’s from the college-level literature course she teaches.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, Jason, an all-star hockey player and student, is found dead days later, after seemingly jumping from a bridge in town. But it soon turns into a murder case, and since the whole town knows about the alleged rape, they are quick to blame Trixie. The question of whether Trixie’s assault was actually rape is replaced by the question of who killed Jason? And unfortunately, the Stones don’t come across as being particularly reliable sources of information.

Analysis: Jodi Picoult is very Jodi Picoult with this novel, weaving the stories back and forth between the perspectives of Trixie, Daniel, Laura, Jason and the detective working the case. Interestingly, she also uses illustrations to show a different interpretation of what’s happening.

The novel is heavily influenced by the symbolism and story of Dante’s Inferno. It’s Laura’s favorite book to teach, and it just so happens to be what she’s teaching when her life starts to fall apart. Together, all the characters seems to be stirring around in their own form of Hell. Daniel is an comic strip writer and illustrator, so he uses his wife’s love of with Inferno to create a comic strip named The Tenth Circle. There are only nine circles of Hell, but Daniel’s personal Hell runs deeper, so he adds a layer. His comic strip winds up being semi-autobiographical and centers on a middle-aged man who must fight his way through ten circles of Hell to save his daughter. Those images are used throughout the book as a metaphorical story within the story.

I love the way Picoult intertwined all these other subplots with the comic strip. I also loved that The Tenth Circle (the novel, not the comic strip) takes place during the winter in cold settings, emphasizing a contrast with Hell.

The problem with the book is its ending. It’s fairly anti-climatic and predictable with one very obvious line foreshadowing the answer to the “whodunit” in the murder case. It also ends, more or less, with the climax and no resolution. During the middle section of the novel, I couldn’t put the book down. After all that build, the ending felt disappointing for a story otherwise so well told.

MVP: Daniel. He must face his past to save his future, and while the metaphors and symbolism are heavy and obvious, they work. He does what he must to save his family, and while he has a dark side, he keeps it in check.

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Review: The Hopefuls

28007954Recap: It’s one thing to move to Washington, D.C. to support your husband’s work. It’s another to then move to Texas for a year to support him as he runs a campaign for his frenemy. But that’s exactly what Beth does in this scandalous political novel. Beth has always known of Matt’s dream to run for office. But it still comes as a surprise when, after years of living in New York together, he becomes serious about moving to D.C. She follows suit, but hates her new city — too full of pomp, circumstance and pompous politicians and their wives. Not to mention, it’s closer to his family in Maryland, including her mother-in-law with whom she does not get along.

But in due time, Matt and Beth become friends with Jimmy and Asheleigh. Matt and Jimmy work together, and Asheleigh is epitomizes everything a politician’s wife should be. Despite their being complete opposites, Beth and Asheleigh become inseparable, as do Matt and Jimmy. But Jimmy always seems to be one step ahead of Matt in his career, and soon Matt’s friendship also becomes partially built on envy.

After several of Matt’s job prospects fall through, Jimmy asks him to run his campaign for a position available in his and Asheleigh’s home state of Texas. So they all move there, with Beth and Matt taking the Dillons up on their offer to live in their house. One can only imagine the stress, the exhaustion and the changes that develop after months of campaigning. Matt spends little time with Beth. Asheleigh seems distant. Jimmy is aggravated with everyone. But as some relationships sour, others start to bloom anew — and therein lies even more problems than the ones that have to do with politics.

Analysis: Just in time for the 2016 election, The Hopefuls dives into the inner-workings of D.C. politics in the most delectable way. It includes the honest political hard work of The West Wing, the simmering desire of Scandal, and questions about these couples’ pairings a la House of Cards. What makes this a standout is that it’s not about the President, but about some low-level White House employees, trying to make it big. As inundated as pop culture is with political drama — both real and not — we’ve yet to see a story about a person at the start of their political career and not at the peak.

Jennifer Close (Girls in White Dressescover equally the political aspects of the story and their effects on relationships. I love that the story is written from the perspective of Beth, both because she’s a woman in this world and because she’s completely uninterested in the universe of politics. Usually in this kind of story, the women are vicious and want to be a part of the political landscape as much as their significant others. It was a refreshing new angle on what could have been a redundant tale.

The Hopefuls felt like it could have been a sequel to Girls in White Dresses, focusing on one of the characters from that novel. Close’s writing here feels a little more mature, subtle (in a good, smart way) and relevant. The ending here is a little sad, a little lost, but in D.C.’s world of young hopefuls, I imagine there is plenty of sad and lost to go around.

MVP: Beth. Yes, she’s the protagonist and no, she doesn’t always make the best choices, nor does she seem particularly motivated. But she puts up with a lot, and at the end of the day, she’s still the most likable of all the heinous — yet amusing! — characters in this book.

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Review: Baggage

91vkke5j99lRecap: Anna Ray has a secret. For years, she’s carried it around with her, and every on February 17th, she relives the same traumatic incident from her childhood that she can’t talk about. And then she relives the other traumatic incident from her adulthood — the day her husband killed himself. Those two deaths have permanently cursed February 17th for her, only to be made worse when yet another person she knows well dies on the very same date.

Her cousin, Jeannie, has already flown in to stay with her for the week that haunts Anna so much. Now the two of them together become wrapped up in a murder investigation a professor at the college where Anna works. He just so happened to have had a crush on Anna and used to date Jeannie. Investigators won’t leave them alone, even as one of Anna’s students becomes a prime suspect in the case. But the date and the baggage of February 17th also won’t leave Anna alone, and ultimately she has to come to terms with what this all means for her.

Analysis: Author S.G. Redling does a good job of showing us how torn Anna and Jeannie’s characters are and how much baggage they really have. But with all that baggage, it was frustrating to me that the reader doesn’t learn exactly what happened in Anna’s past until the very end. I think it would have made the story’s climax more climactic had we had more insight beforehand. The details about that traumatic childhood incident also could have been explained more plainly — I found that section a little confusing and had to re-read it several times.

That said, Redling builds great suspense as the end of the novel nears, and it has a very Gone Girl thriller feel. The twist at the end is great mystery writing and exactly the kind of twist any reader hopes for. The relationship between Anna and Jeannie is also great, though I found it hard to believe that growing up, Anna never told Jeannie exactly what happened on that February 17th of yesteryear.

MVP: Jeannie. She’s a bit of a hot mess, like Anna, but she’s there for her. She’s a good role model for Anna and completely nonjudgmental, which is exactly the kind of woman Anna needs in her life.

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Review: The Nightingale

515p3orn1kl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Recap: Viann and Isabelle are two sisters at different points in their lives, who are both dealing with the same struggle: surviving in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. Just because they’re not Jewish doesn’t make things any easier. Viann and her daughter are forced to house a Nazi while Viann’s husband fights in the war. While she prays daily for her husband, she also must continue teaching students at school and being the primary support for her Jewish best friend and neighbor. She carries on with her duties while watching her hometown fall apart and witnessing death and destruction.

While Viann tries to get through each day, Isabelle decides she must do something and joins rebel group. She moves back to France to live with her father, with whom she has a tumultuous relationship. After months of passing notes between other rebels, she takes up an even greater cause: saving injured foreign soldiers by leading them through the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain.

The story goes back and forth between WWII and a time 50 years later, when one of the sisters considers returning to France for the first time since the war.

Analysis: As much as I love books, it takes a lot for one to make me cry, and The Nightingale had been sobbing, but not in a depressing way like My Sister’s Keeper, and not in a unnecessarily depressing way like One Day. The ending of The Nightingale was simply so perfect, so beautiful that it brought tears of joy to my eyes in the best way. These sisters suffered through so much and made so many sacrifices. Their lives didn’t go the way they wanted or expected them to, but the way they lived them was worth it in the end. Without giving away too much, it was just beautiful.

The mystery of which sister was telling the story 50 years later kept me turning pages as much as their own individual stories. Even the less interesting sections about Viann cooking dinner were still fascinating because of the greater issues going on around her.

I also loved that this was a Holocaust fiction novel about two non-Jews. It makes it obvious that even for the groups that weren’t targeted, there was still so much pain and anguish, and that’s not something we hear about too often when reflecting on Europe during WWII.

MVP: Isabelle. She received the least amount of love. Her family constantly pushed her away. She never received the support she needed or deserved. And yet, she showed more love, gave more support and exhibited more strength than any of the characters in the novel. She made life possible for so many people, and that cannot be ignored.

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Review: Walking Distance

51pmbjwq2bil-_sx322_bo1204203200_Recap: David and Lisa are having trouble conceiving. But on some level, they’re not entirely sure they even want a child. Frustrated with the crossroad in their lives, they decide to take time off, travel and search within themselves to learn what they truly want. But this is not a story about a trip to the Caribbean — though it does include one. This is a true story of how David and Lisa took a month to walk the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route to the shrine of the apostle, St. James the Great, in northern Spain.

They spend months studying Spanish and acquiring the appropriate footwear to prepare themselves intellectually, socially and physically for the very spiritual road ahead. The pilgrimage itself proves to be harder than expected. They must stop to go to the hospital. They drive, if absolutely necessary. Instead of camping or staying in hostels, they book nice hotel rooms. And while at times, they feel as though they’re cheating, it pays off when they make it to shrine. Their spiritual journey gives them the answers they were looking for: they do want children. The path propels them to come home and refocus their energy on the future — a new home and conceiving once again. And while a pregnancy finally happens for them, that, too, is not without difficulty.

Analysis: Similar to Eat, Pray, Love, author David Hlavsa takes us on his own personal international journey to find what he wants to have at home. Even having studied abroad in Spain, I never knew about the Camino de Santiago, which made his short and sweet memoir all the more fascinating. I understand why Hlavsa explains that friends and family thought he and his wife were crazy to take on this challenge; if someone in my family were to do it, I would also look at him like he had a few screws loose.

But Hlavsa explains his rationale in a way that made me understand why he and his wife had to do this. While the topic of the memoir is serious and sad, Hlavsa keeps the book charming, entertaining and humorous with sections about his wife’s inability to speak Spanish and their adventures with exotic food. The first half of the book is exciting as they make their way on the journey.

But when they come home, the book takes a dark turn as their pregnancy doesn’t go as planned. The ending and epilogue is ultimately satisfying, but to say parts of this book were difficult to read would be an understatement. That said, the memoir made me consider what I would if I were in his situation. It encouraged me to have serious talks with my fiancé about our future and where we stood if  we were to have trouble conceiving one day. A book that’s hard to read is worth it if it makes you think. And that’s exactly what Walking Distance did for me.

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Review: Inconceivable!

Recap: Everyone loves a good fairytale. That’s why when Hatty, a young college student from the South, meets an equally young, hot prince near where she’s attending school in Europe, she can’t stop thinking about him. Her reporting internship gives her more opportunities to run into Prince John, and those opportunities turn into dates, love and a proposal. It all happens very quickly — a period of just a few months. But in those months, they’re thrown their fair share of curveballs, including paparazzi masked as friends, an ultimatum leading to Hatty leaving her reporting career and…well…in-laws.

But the biggest curveball of all comes when, after about a year of marriage, Hatty is having trouble getting pregnant. All tests show both Hatty and John are perfectly healthy and fertile, but for whatever reason, Hatty’s periods continue to come. Then come the procedures to finally help them have a baby, but those, too, prove to be unfruitful. Now Hatty and John are faced with the possibility of a divorce forced by John’s royal family, since Hatty’s unable to produce a legacy. Will they stay together? Will the royal family pull them apart? Or will Hatty be able to finally get pregnant after all?

Analysis: Unfortunately, the only thing more inconceivable than Hatty is the entire plot of this novel. Infatuated yes, but no one falls in love and marries as quickly as Hatty and John did in the novel. And maybe this is the reporter in me, but for Hatty not to follow her career dream of being a reporter and not formally graduate from college is far-fetched to say the least. Not to mention her parents supporting her these decisions. Before Hatty and John had even been married a year, Hatty’s top priority became getting pregnant, which did not align with her initially career-driven character who never seemed to have a particular focus on children. I won’t go into the ending of the novel here because of spoilers, but suffice to say it is the most improbable part of the novel.

The novel was promoted as a story about a royal couple having trouble conceiving. I assumed the book would start with them already being married and trying to conceive. But the two trying to have a baby doesn’t happen until about halfway through the book, and by that point I already had a sour taste in my mouth about how the two fell in love and that Hatty left her career.

Not only was the “romance” rushed and forced, but Hatty became a less interesting character as the novel went on, and she became more controlled by the prince and royal family. It was disappointing that she gave up her future and career for a man — and rather antifeminist. Her character played even more into gender stereotypes when she became so focused on having a child at 22. I always wanted to know how the couple ended up, so I kept reading. But none of it seems real, and most of it had me rolling my eyes.

Inconceivable! debuts November 16th, 2015. Get it in paperback for 7.99.

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