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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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Review: Bond Girl

Recap: From the time Alex was a little girl and her father took her to his office on Wall Street, she knew she wanted to work there too. She studied for it. She interviewed for and got a job at one of the tops firms on “The Street.” But she didn’t know what being a “bond girl” was all about until the job began. There was the time her boss sent her a few boroughs away to pick up a 50-pound cheese wheel. There was the time she was called ugly at a work party. There was the time one of her coworkers ate everything inside the office vending machine in one day, and she had to babysit him. Sexism galore, Alex got through it all, learning the system and meeting a cute guy, Will, at work.

But nothing ever seemed quite right. Sure, she got paid well and was able to afford clothing, shoes and meals she never dreamed of purchasing on her own. But her relationship with Will never seemed real. He refused to talk to her on weekends, and she was never sure why. She got to hang out less and less with her friends since work took up so much of her time. And her boss was kind of a crazy person — demanding is an understatement. But when one of her clients started hitting on her to an uncomfortable degree, and when she finds out why Will is so distant, everything changes. And Alex had to ask herself — is this really what she signed up for?

AnalysisBond Girl is some light-fare chick lit, comparable to a Nanny Diaries or Devil Wears Prada in that it deals with a woman trying to get through the pain of dealing with a horrible boss. But Bond Girl is much more than that. In Nanny and Devil, those women work for women, employed in jobs that are typically held by women (nannies, fashion magazine employees). But Bond Girl turns that format on its head by throwing Alex into a male-dominated work environment. The added struggle of sexism thickens the plot and gives the novel the opportunity to make a social statement.

What’s better is that while Alex’s boss is demanding and especially hard on her, he’s ultimately a good guy. It’s easy to understand why Alex continues to work for him, and it’s refreshing to read a book like this in which the boss is actually likable. Alex, too, stays likable, which is an achievement in its own right for a book like this. Sure, she goes through some rough times — she cries, drinks with her girlfriends, complains. But she never becomes a horrible person like similar characters in similar books (i.e. Andy Sachs from The Devil Wears Prada or Nan from The Nanny Diaries). 

While the book’s ending may be a little open-ended — as most books in this style are — I finished it feeling confident she would be okay.

MVP: Alex. Of course it’s an obvious choice. She didn’t have much character growth or development, but she could have gone down the path of becoming unlikeable, and she didn’t.

Get Bond Girl in hardcover for $1.39.

Or on your Kindle for $11.14.

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Review: The Girl on the Train

Recap: Rachel rides the train two hours a day from home to her office in London. Much of that train ride is spent drinking, and most of it is spent thinking about, staring at, or creating a fake backstory for the people who live in a house she passes on her ride. Rachel has become obsessed with the attractive couple who lives there, not only because they’re along her train route, but also because they live down the street from her old house, where she once resided with her ex-husband.

Her ex, Tom, has since remarried and has a child with his new wife, Anna. But Rachel isn’t as estranged from Tom as he and Anna would like her to be. Rachel’s drunken days and nights have done nothing but lead to dozens of phone calls to Tom and countless embarrassing moments.

But one day, Rachel witnesses something while she’s on the train — a moment involving the woman with whom she’s obsessed. So when that woman goes missing the next day, Rachel realizes she might have a very important and useful clue. She reports it, and quickly finds herself completely wrapped up in the mystery. But with all her drinking and knowledge not more valuable than that of a girl on the train, investigators and those involved don’t know whether to trust her.

AnalysisThe Girl on the Train has been touted as “the next Gone Girl.” It’s a bestseller that has flown off the shelves in the last several months. It’s obvious why. Its similarities to Gone Girl are strong — chapters alternating between the perspectives of several different characters, unreliable narrators, and a suspenseful mystery, mixed with a fair amount of violence. But there are differences too. The end of the novel is sadder than Gone Girl, but better justified.

Ultimately, The Girl on the Train is a page-turner, even to the final pages. Just when I thought the story was over, it wasn’t. The book is full of twists and turns, and each character is more pathetic and crazy than the next. Even as we, as the reader, are inside the heads of several characters, they each have so many issues, it’s hard to tell what they’re actually thinking and where the story will actually go. Dark and twisty, The Girl on the Train is compelling and raises the question how well do you really know anybody?

MVP: Rachel. She is a hot mess. Most of the book, I cringed on her behalf, wondering why she couldn’t get it together. But I wanted her to be right, and despite her repeated failures and embarrassment, she’s never gave up, and resilience is commendable.

Get The Girl on the Train in hardcover for $16.17.

Or on your Kindle for $6.99.

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Review: Amazon Burning

Recap: When a traumatic and potentially life-ruining legal matter threatens Emma Cohen’s shot at finishing college, she takes a sabbatical — which isn’t really much of a sabbatical at all — interning for the newspaper her father works for during a summer in Rio De Janeiro. It starts out fun, but quickly becomes dramatic when a famous environmentalist is suddenly murdered.

She flies with her father to the Amazon to cover Milton Silva’s suspicious death and funeral. Along the way, she meets a good-looking photographer, Jimmy, but because of her ongoing legal battle in New York, she must keep her hands off. Emma decides to focus on the story of Milton Silva and — together with Jimmy — begins to investigate.

But the deeper they dig, the more they come across crime and suspicious activity. Add to that the craziness and chaos of Amazonian weather and and you’ve got yourself a crazy thriller-adventure with a little romance mixed in.

AnalysisAmazon Burning starts off strong. There’s a mysterious murder. There’s a college girl, with a secret of her own, working to uncover all the details. There’s a sexy man, a sexy location and a sexy summer season. But the story itself doesn’t exactly live up to the hype.

As Emma and Jimmy get deeper and deeper into their investigation, they open up, and we finally learn what Emma’s secret is. But their investigation doesn’t go as far as they’d like. They get closer and closer, but ultimately reach several dead ends. As it turns out, the biggest plan they coordinate winds up screwing up a federal investigation that’s going on at the same time.

As much I wanted to root for them, their inability to solve the case made it hard. Then I got to thinking — why would they even try to solve it? As a journalist, I understand the job of a reporter, and of course, were one to come across a case that they thought they could solve, that’s great. But more likely than not, reporters are following cases and  reporting on them, not solving them themselves. That’s the job of an officer or detective. The journalist aspect story seemed far-fetched, especially by involving a college student. And when Emma and Jimmy wind up failing anyway, it makes the story that much more unfulfilling.

Get Amazon Burning in paperback for $9.74.

Or on your Kindle for $4.99.

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Review: I’m Glad I Did

Recap: JJ Green comes from a family of lawyers, and she’s expected to become one as well. But as a 16-year-old growing up in New York City in the 1960s, she doesn’t want to be a lawyer; she wants to be a songwriter. She lucks out when she nails an interview and lands herself an internship at one of the biggest music publishing offices in the city. That’s when she makes a deal with her parents: if she writes and sells a song to be published by the end of her summer internship, her parents will have to let her continue on the songwriting path.

As her internship begins, JJ is quickly thrown into the real world and adult life — meeting Luke, a cute, older boy on the elevator and running into her estranged Uncle Bernie, who’s said to be involved in some illegal side activities. But things get real, real fast when she learns that one of her friends has died, and it just happens to be the same woman who recorded an amazing demo for JJ’s new song. The police rule it a suicide, but she knows there’s more to the story. Suddenly her songwriting summer is swirling with love and the mystery of murder. She wants to help solve it, but she also has to sell her song — big goals for one young girl in one short, crazy summer.

Analysis: “I’m Glad I Did” isn’t only the title of the book. It’s also the title of JJ’s original song. It’s also how I felt after having read the book. Yes, I am aware that those three sentences were a little hokey. To be fair, the book is a little hokey as well. But as a YA novel, it should be exactly that, and a lot of fun. The book had some dark undertones, dealing with interracial relationship in the 1960s, gambling, alcoholism, drug addiction, and death. But ultimately it was fun. This girl is living the dream — writing songs with a dreamy boy in New York City and solving a murder mystery. Is it a little far-fetched? Yes. But I put myself into the mind of a 14-year-old girl reading this book, and I couldn’t help but think JJ was awesome and living a pretty fabulous life.

What’s impressive about I’m Glad I Did is that it was written by Cynthia Weil, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter. She helped write classics such as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “On Broadway.” Knowing that, I trusted her take on what happens behind the scenes of the songwriting business in the 1960s. I had to imagine that at least some of the story came from real-life experience, and that only made the story more intriguing and exciting.

MVP: JJ. She’s a teenage badass. She stands up to her parents and works toward the career she wants. She stands up to police, insisting they continue to investigate the murder. For a girl who considers herself to be unconfident, she sure is ballsy. And it’s fun and empowering to see her succeed time and time again.

Get I’m Glad I Did in hardcover for $14.24.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: Girl Unmoored

Recap: Seventh grade is a tough time for most people. But it’s especially rough for Apron Bramhall. Her mother died of cancer. Her father is dating an awful woman. And to top it all off, her name is Apron and she has red hair and freckles. But then she learns her father is going to become a father again — this time with his girlfriend, who’s also the Brazilian nurse who used to care for her mom. At the same time, her best friend decides to become best friends with one of the coolest girls in the seventh grade. If she thought her world couldn’t get any worse, it did.

But Jesus helps her get through it — KIDDING! Well, sort of. After seeing the musical Jesus Christ Superstar with a friend, she learns the actor who plays Jesus is related to one of her neighbors. Suddenly she’s seeing this Jesus person all the time, and he always seems to rescue her — like when she accidentally slaps her grandmother at her father’s wedding and later falls on the concrete outside.

Soon this guy, whose real name is Mike, becomes one of her closest friends. He and his boyfriend, Chad, are florists and offer Apron a summer job. Spending time with them opens her eyes to a whole new world — a world of adults who have found true love, adults who make decisions and make them proudly, adults that show Apron the kind of person she wants to become.

Analysis: Girl Unmooreis a coming-of-age story about a young teenager who truly has become unmoored. But man, is she strong. It’s that strength that allows her to make the most of her situation and grow up. It seems that everything in Apron’s life is falling apart, and becoming friends with Mike and Chad is an unexpected way to deal with it. After all, they are older than her; she’s never met any gay people before, and ultimately she learns that Chad has a devastating secret. Becoming friends with this couple is not what one would recommend for dealing with the death of a parent, the end of a friendship, and a pretty horrible stepmother. But they’re her lucky charms, and the reader starts to realize that on the inside, Apron is much older than 13.

One of the best parts about this story is the way it’s told. Written in first person, each chapter acts as a bridge to the next. It never really feels like anything happens in each chapter individually. Then suddenly, you’re at the end of the novel and realized you’ve just read something great. The changes in Apron and the growth in her character are subtle, but they’re there. The book reads like a diary, and the development sneaks up on the reader.

MVP: Apron. In a novel that starts off with such an empty girl, Apron is full by the end — full with friends, love, and excitement for the future, instead of dread.

Get Girl Unmoored in paperback for $12.66.

Or get it on your Kindle for $7.69.

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Review: The House Girl

Recap: When young associate lawyer Lina Sparrow is assigned to a massive class-action case involving slavery, she at first, has no idea where to begin. The client her firm is representing is seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves — an historic case that, if won, would bring in millions for hundreds, if not thousands of slave descendants. It’s a tough case, but Lina is determined to win, and so begins the research. She must find the perfect lead witness, a slave descendant with a rich backstory that will tug at the jury’s heartstrings.

That’s when she decides to find a living descendant of Josephine Bell, a Civil War era slave from Lynnhurst, VA. Josephine’s owner, Luanna Bell, was an amazing artist, but according to legend, Josephine was the one secretly finishing Missus Bell’s paintings and sketches. A slave with an amazing talent, who never received recognition would make Josephine Bell’s descendants perfect for Lina’s case.

As readers, we delve into the stories of both extraordinary women, both on a mission — one, for the biggest success of her career, the other, for a chance at freedom. As their stories unfold, we learn more about their individual backstories and how their families have affected who they’ve become.

Analysis: Historical fiction mixed with modern-day storytelling, The House Girl switches back and forth between Josephine chapters set in Virginia in the 1850’s and Lina chapters set in New York City in 2004. Chapters devoted to only one person allows the reader to get a deeper reading of each woman. We learn about Lina’s mother who was killed when she was only four years old, and the broken, but still somewhat close relationship she has with her artist father, Oscar. We’re also given insight into the mentoring relationship Josephine was lucky enough to have with Missus Luanne Bell. Not to mention, understanding of her desire to escape slavery in the North.

The House Girl tells a truly beautiful story of two completely unrelated characters from different worlds and different time periods connecting in an unexpected way. The way author Tara Conklin is able to balance between fiction and historical fiction is impressive and keeps the book moving, as the reader desperately wants to learn how these two women end up.

At times, there are so many subplots, some seem to get lost in the shuffle. Not to mention, the ending feels a bit rushed and maybe even anticlimactic. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point isn’t to get the ending we’re expecting, but o understand that when Josephine gets her happy ending in a not-so-happy way, Lina realizes the happy ending we want for her, isn’t really the one she wants.

MVP: Lina. An incredibly focused, driven woman, she’s the only who seeks out Josephine and works to bridge their worlds together. Although it’s not appreciated, she does it, and finds her own happiness along the way.

The House Girl officially goes on sale today. Get it now for $16.97.

Or get it on your Kindle for $12. 74.

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