Chevy Stevens’ Never Let You Go

A twisty suspense novel that explores the dark side of love and obsession.

Chevy Stevens’ Never Let You Go follows Lindsey Nash who, eleven years ago took her young daughter and escaped from her abusive husband Andrew’s grasp.  That same night, Andrew is arrested on unrelated charges and sentenced to ten years in prison.  Now, Lindsey has made a new life for herself; she owns her own business and takes care of her teenage daughter, Sophie.  When Andrew is released from prison, odd things start to happen and, despite Andrew’s claim that he’s reformed, Lindsey is convinced that he is behind everything, slowly plotting his revenge.  But, is Andrew the one behind the threats, or has someone else been waiting in the wings to make their move?  Told through Lindsey and Sophie’s perspectives in the present and past, Stevens weaves a chilling tale that makes you question every relationship you have and have ever had.

As someone who is an avid reader – and particularly of this genre – I’ve read a lot of stories that revolve around the main character running away to protect herself, or falling for the wrong person, or befriending the wrong person.  This one has it all, but somehow Stevens has a way of making it seem fresh and new.  Every character is flawed which makes all of them relatable – the mother who would do anything to protect her child; the husband with abandonment issues who became violent; the teenager who overshares and under-shares, desperate to hold on to relationships with both parents.

For someone who was in an abusive relationship and claims to have a hard time trusting anyone, Lindsey naïvely lets her guard down more often than not.  In the span of the novel, not only does she date two different men (Greg and Marcus), but she also talks freely about her past, sometimes divulging more details than she should.  She’s in constant contradiction to herself, one minute in a state of fight-or-flight and the other completely content.

We don’t know a lot about Andrew or what he went through in the past that causes him to act abusively, though he does admit to Sophie that his violence stemmed from severe abandonment issues.  I went back and forth on my feelings about Andrew, sometimes I believed that he really had changed and felt sorry for him, and other times I was convinced that he hadn’t.

And Sophie just seems like the typical teenager that you love to hate.  The one who is trying to become her own person and learning how to trust her gut, even if that means not always listening to the authority figure in her life.

At times dark and moody, Never Let You Go is a MUST read for suspense novel lovers.

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Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens. St Martins Press 2017.
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Wendy Walker’s Emma in the Night

“We believe what we want to believe. We believe what we need to believe. Maybe there’s no difference between wanting and needing. I don’t know. What I do know is that the truth can evade us, hiding behind our blind spots, our preconceptions, our hungry hearts that long for quiet. Still, it is always there if we open our eyes and try to see it. If we really try to see.”

A gripping new psychological thriller from the bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten – in the vein of S.J. Watson and Tana French – following a psychologist’s desperate search to find a missing woman three years after her disappearance.

When Emma and Cass Tanner disappeared three years ago, the only clues they left behind were Emma’s car parked in the beach parking lot, and her shoes discarded in the sand. After a thorough investigation by the FBI and local law enforcement, no new information was discovered and the case remained unsolved – until three years later when Cass surfaces at her mother’s door in the early morning hours. Alternately narrated by Cass and Dr. Abby Winter – the FBI forensic psychologist who worked the original case – we are given the details of what happened to the girls on the night of their disappearance, and where they’ve been all this time. But something isn’t right: the facts don’t add up. How much of what Cass is saying is actually true? As Abby sifts through the truths and the lies, she uncovers something far darker than anyone could have imagined…but is she too late to save Emma?

Abby is one of those characters that, when a job hits too close to home, either falls completely apart or stands on the brink of falling apart. It’s why I loved Rob Ryan from In the Woods and Elliot Stabler from Law & Order SVU. She has become an insomniac who never sleeps, and an alcoholic. She doesn’t remember what happened in cases six months ago, but she still remembers every last detail of Emma and Cass’s disappearance. Characters like Abby, characters that become so emotionally invested in a case that they eat, breathe, and sleep the facts, they are the ones that seem the most real.

While Cass can be looked at with a skeptic lens, she is also the victim. She had to grow up way too soon. She had to learn how to lie and manipulate and play games to get things that we take for granted, without anyone to completely confide in. Cass is cold and calculating, but she acts that way because she has lost her ability to trust. At times she’s a bit unlikeable, but that gets overshadowed again and again by your ability to empathize with her.

What I love most about this novel is the same thing that I loved from her previous one: the psychology. Though psychological thrillers have become hugely popular in recent years, few people know how to do it right. A good thriller catches your attention, a great thriller grips you and doesn’t let go, but an exceptional thriller – though rare – forces you to slow down and absorb every last word, taking you to places far greater than you could ever expect. From the very first paragraph I could tell that Emma in the Night was one of those rare exceptionals. Walker’s descriptive prose is carefully crafted, and she keeps her cards close, not showing anything in her hand before you need it to be revealed.

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Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker. St Martin’s Press 2017.

Michelle Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband

A page-turning suspense novel reminiscent of Ruth Ware’s newly released The Lying Game, following three best friends – that met at college twenty-two years before – who must deal with the repercussions of a decades’ old secret that leads one of them to their death.

Aside from their living quarters, Kate, Jenny, and Aubrey – or, the Whipple Triplets, as they were aptly nicknamed – had nothing in common. Kate, who’s father was a Carlisle alumni, hailed from the privileged world of NYC’s Upper East Side. Jenny was born in Belle River, the town where Carlisle was located, where her parents owned a hardware store. And Aubrey, who was on scholarship, grew up in the slums of Las Vegas to a single mother who could barely afford to pay the bills. They were all running away from something, all trying to reinvent themselves. At first, their friendships seemed to bloom, but as is often the case with a close-knit group of adolescent girls, they soon were at odds over boys, going behind each other’s backs and at times engaging in silent competitions. Despite their antics, the three of them swore that they would always be there for each other (it was a love/hate bond)…until the end of their freshman year when something tragic causes them to part ways. Twenty-two years later, they are all married and have managed to move on with their lives when the past resurfaces.

These three women claim to be best friends, but underneath the surface they are more like frenemies, because they really can’t stand each other. Kate, Jenny, and Aubrey are all self-centered and care more about how they’re seen to the world and in their perspective lives, than anything else, but that’s part of what makes this book so interesting. None of the characters are really likeable, but your opinions of them constantly change. Sometimes they’re naïve, other times vindictive – what Campbell does is kid of brilliant actually, because there are moments where you do care, followed by moments where you don’t.

What I liked about this novel is that it really did keep me guessing as to who caused the death. Early enough on, we do find out which one of the frenemies dies, but the real mystery is who was involved in said death, which is not as black and white as you would expect. Campbell takes you on a rollercoaster ride – as soon as I was certain that I knew the answer, something new would be revealed that would completely change my opinion. You are really left guessing until the final page, and even then, the culprit is shocking.

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Michelle Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband. St Martin’s Press 2017.

A Little Paris in NYC

A few days ago, after watching an episode of Sex and the City, I was inspired to take a (second) trip to Paris – The Paris Theater, that is.

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The Paris Theater – a little Paris in NYC

Opened in 1948, and located just west of Fifth Avenue across from the Plaza Hotel, The Paris Theater is Manhattan’s LAST single-screen theater.  Specializing in mostly foreign and independent films, it is a great place to go for a quiet evening on the town, followed by a glass of wine at the Plaza or a stroll in Central Park.

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view from the balcony

I made it just in time to see Eleanor Coppola’s film, Paris Can Wait, starring Diane Lane, Alec Baldwin, and Arnaud Viard (the movie closes next week).  It’s a cute, airy movie about a director’s wife who decides to drive from Cannes to Paris with her husband’s business associate, making tons of stops and detours along the way.  I walked out of the theater wanting to drink copious amounts of French wine and drive through the countryside.  I sat on the balcony (read, ‘upper level’) and was pleasantly surprised by the comfortable seats and freshness of the popcorn (how hard is it to find fresh popcorn at the movies these days?!).  But, perhaps what I loved the most, aside from the fact that there is only ONE theater, was the logo on the carpeting that I noticed on my way out.

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ahhh, Paris

I will definitely be going back there again, and you should too!

Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You

“’Imagine if,’ she repeated. She’d liked the sound of the words when he said them. They sounded so much better than almost.”

A page-turning psychological suspense debut in the vein of Mary Torjussen’s Gone Without a Trace, about the consequences of secrets not shared.

We all have secrets, but how can you ascertain those that are harmless from those that have the power to destroy? While on a family vacation, Violet returns to the hotel room to find her husband, Finn, and their son, Bear, gone, and only her belongings remaining. A week later, Finn shows up with Bear at their friend Caitlin’s house demanding she help him hide, blackmailing her with a secret from her past. Told through the eyes of three narrators – Violet, Finn and Caitlin – Almost Missed You keeps the reader on the edge of her seat until the very end. What does Finn have over Caitlin? Will Violet get Bear back? And, most importantly, why did Finn run?

Although Violet does in fact love her son and is distraught over Bear’s disappearance, it’s sometimes hard to feel empathy towards her, as she is naïve and doesn’t seem to have much depth. She pushes away Grams and prefers to drink vodka alone. Violet believes that her and Finn’s love story was nothing short of magical and it’s not until she finds out the truth about his past that she starts to question the man that she married from the one that she first met on the beach all of those years ago.

Throughout the novel, Caitlin is very much in the fight or flight mode. On the one hand she feels for her Violet and wants to tell her that Bear is safe, but on the other, she’s worried that the life she had made for herself is going to completely fall apart. Perhaps Caitlin should have told Violet about Finn’s past. Maybe if she had, the outcome would have been different, but she was Finn’s friend first and it was not her secret to tell.

Surprisingly, my favorite character was not Violet or Caitlin, but actually Finn – not what you would expect given his actions, but I felt that he was the most real. He made mistakes, but he actually let himself feel things. He wasn’t scared of the pain: he wanted to feel it. Everyone kept talking about how he and Violet were meant to be, how the way they met and then found each other again was one in a million, but the truth was that Finn was still living in the past and their relationship never stood a chance.

At times heart-wrenching, Almost Missed You shows that there is always more than one side to a story…sometimes there is three. And that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can never really know a person.

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Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You. St Martin’s Press 2017.

Fashion. Paris. Vogue.

Ask anyone that knows me; I’m not the one to read memoirs or really any non-fiction easily. I find them dense and hard to get into, and I’d much rather get my info through a good Google search. I had the opportunity to read Joan Juliet Buck’s memoir, The Price of Illusion way before it was published, but my aversion to such literature kept me from it until about a month ago. I was having a conversation with the editor and the subject of fashion came up. He told me that if I loved fashion, I would LOVE this memoir. Much like how Joan turned down the position of Editor-in-Chief of Paris Vogue several times (three?), I had run out of excuses.

For those of you who tend to shy away from memoirs, I completely understand. They’re not your thing; they’re generally not mine either. But one thing I learned from working in publishing is that there’s always an exception (life lessons!). And sometimes you need to put down your prejudices, stop making excuses, and just read. Because that book that is not your genre, that book that is out of your norm…well, it just might surprise you. And, you might learn something.

Hands down, this memoir is fabulous, and it reads like a narrative. At times I had to reminding myself that it was non-fiction and that all of the characters are (were) in fact real people. Not only was Joan Juliet Buck the Editor-in-Chief of Paris Vogue for seven years, but she was the ONLY American to do it. Her life reads like a bit of a fairytale where fashion and Hollywood big shots intersect. From her producer father (Jules Buck) to her childhood ‘sister’ (Angelica Houston) to her friendships with Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, and the then unknown Christian Louboutin – Joan has lived an enchanting life. For all my fashion friends out there…you must read this. Immediately. And let me know what you think. And, since tonight is the annual Met Gala ball, it’s the perfect time to start!

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Joan Juliet Buck’s The Price of Illusion.  2017 Atria Books.

Amy Hatvany’s It Happens All the Time

“I want to rewind the clock, take back the night when the world shattered. I want to erase everything that went wrong.”

There are two sides to every story, but which side of the story is actually true? Are neither of them wrong? In Amy Hatvany’s provocative new novel, It Happens All the Time, she tackles the issue of rape between two friends and the effects that it has on both of their lives.

Best friends since they were teenagers, Amber and Tyler have seen each other through some of life’s darkest periods. When Amber returns home for the summer after her college graduation, she and Tyler begin to spend a lot of time together. On the fourth of July, while at a friend’s house party, and after one too many swigs of tequila, Amber kisses Tyler. The next morning Amber accuses Tyler of rape. And life, as they both know it, will never be the same.

What I loved the most about this novel is that it is told in alternating points of view from both Amber and Tyler. It’s powerful and heart-wrenching at times more so I think, because of the way that it was written. Not only do we get to see her side of the rape and everything that happens after, we also see it from Tyler’s perspective. We witness the event through Amber’s eyes, how she changed her mind the last second and said no, and through Tyler’s eyes, how he was so drunk that Amber’s sudden no didn’t even register in his mind. Did Tyler not hear it? Did Amber not say it out loud?

As always, with a Hatvany novel, I spent a good portion in tears while reading this. Amy has a way of tugging at your heartstrings and this one is no exception. As much as you hate Tyler for what he did, you feel for him as well. We watch both Amber and Tyler’s lives spiral downward and feel helpless to stop it. Really, what can you do? What if you were in that situation? How would you react? Would you react? Would you have a lack of reaction, which is a reaction in itself? Even if Amber didn’t say it out loud, her body did; it stiffened and tried to fight back as best it could. What happened was not her fault. But, unfortunately, it’s not entirely Tyler’s either. In a way they both can be seen as victims.

It’s not black and white. There’s a lot of grey to this story, which is true in real life a lot as well, and a reason why it goes unreported. Books like this need to be written and read, for many reasons, but mainly so that victims realize that those feelings that they have – the ones Amber has – are real and justified and that they are not alone.

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It Happens All the Time, by Amy Hayvany.  March 2017. Atria Books

Sophie Kinsella’s My Not So Perfect Life

Have you ever had a really bad day but posted a pic onto social media to make it seem like your day had in fact been great? We’ve all been there. During my recent trip to Europe I was suffering from a sinus infection, and although I did push myself to see everything, I felt miserable for a good portion of the trip. I made multiple trips to the pharmacy for medicine, cried because at one point I could barely swallow, and drank less French wine than I had hoped for, but of course, that wasn’t what I showed to the world. Just like Katie Brenner, the main character in Sophie Kinsella’s newest novel only chose to show the good, I did so as well (of the pics I did post, there are very few close-up pics of me) – but not to the extreme that she takes it.

In My Not So Perfect Life, we follow Katie, a young twenty-something country girl as she tries to make it the branding industry in London. Her boss is all over the place, her commute is a nightmare, and her room in the apartment she shares with two other people is so tiny that she has to keep her clothes in a hammock above her bed (horrible!). But, if you looked at her Instagram account you would never know. Her social media alter ego goes to the best restaurants, has days and nights on the town, and overall, leads a perfect, enviable life. There are a few reasons why Katie does this, but the main one is that she wants to make her father proud and not have him worrying about just how not perfect her life really is. She doesn’t want to disappoint him or be pitied by him. And just as it seems her life is starting to become what she anticipated it to be (making new friends at work and a possible love interest), Katie gets fired and, after a ton of job searching, is forced to return home, where she tells lie after lie to her father. As in all Kinsella novels, Katie eventually has to confront her situation and fess up to all the lies that she told.

I think that Katie’s story is my favorite of (what I’ve read of) Kinsella’s so far. Her story is very relatable to anyone starting out in an industry from the bottom up: the meager salary, the long commute, the not-so-great apartment, the wanting to make people think that your life is all put together. In a way we’re all like that last one, all hoping that one day our lives will reflect exactly what we put on social media, even though in reality, we know that no one’s life is ever actually perfect. Katie’s story is also one about growing up, and accepting yourself for who you are. I feel that, as we get older, we get more comfortable with ourselves and we’re less likely to hide who we are or apologize for it.

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Sophie Kinsella’s My Not So Perfect Life. February 2017 The Dial Press. Penguin Random House.

Loading Yourself with Unreasonable Goals

This week I decided that I would get back into writing some posts for my blog. I hadn’t been on the site in a while, and when I logged onto it Monday morning, I found that I hadn’t posted anything since the end of December. I was shocked, and disappointed in myself. Then I took a step back and really thought about why I’ve gotten so behind. It’s not that I don’t have blogs ready to post, because I do even though I haven’t written any in a while. It’s more that I’ve been putting unreasonable goals onto myself.

Probably the best perk about working in publishing is access to books before publication. We get to read them far in advance, which, for someone (me) who has little patience when it comes to waiting for a book to come out (or waiting in general), is amazing. We jump on manuscripts as soon as they come in, compromising our preferred methods of reading (print over digital), and sometimes sleep, just to finally have it in our hands and be able to turn the pages. In the hallowed halls, we read and then rush over to our colleagues to either excitedly or upsetly discuss how much we loved or hated our newest conquest. The main characters’ joy become our joys, their fears our fears, their adventures our own. We are invested in these books: they are our world.

There is a downside to this as well though. For as excited as we get, we can only really talk about them amongst our colleagues: the outside world cannot share in our joy until the publication date. And by the time they are falling head-over-heals, as much as we’re bursting to share our thoughts with them, we’ve also already advanced to multiple favorites (hopefully) beyond them.

A second downside to this is my thinking that I need to blog about every single book that I read. Sometimes I’ll love a book and then try to force myself to write a review only to ditch it part of the way through (or all of the way) because I can’t figure out how to end it, or I don’t feel that it was written well enough. I found myself feeling like it was more of a chore than actually enjoying the process; I had lost the meaning of why I started this blog in the first place – which was because I love to write and share my thoughts. I don’t have to write about every single book I read, because let’s face it, I’m literally always reading. And that’s okay. We all have goals that we want to achieve, and that’s great, but, we have to be willing to admit when they’re unreasonable and need tweaking. For me. That’s this blog. So, with that being said, I’m going to give myself a break, breathe, and just have fun with this again. After all, we can all stand to treat ourselves a bit better at times.

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Wendy Walker’s All is Not Forgotten

“I heard a mumble then, a very quiet mumble. I looked at Jenny. Tears rolled down her face. Her mouth was dry as she whispered the word. Girl. Girl.

 

There’s a right time and moment to pick up a book. Sometimes, they have to be saved until we’re ready to experience them, until we’re in the right mindset in order to really appreciate and understand them the way that they were meant to be understood. Recently, I’d been indecisive, struggling to make a decision between the piles of books that I have at my apartment and my office. It had been three days since I finished the last book I’d been reading. Three days without reading is a rarity for me, unless I’m going through some personal turmoil. So, on that Friday afternoon, I stared at my stacks and picked up All is Not Forgotten. I had been holding onto an advanced copy for a long time – it pubbed this past summer – but finally, I was ready to read it.

Jenny, a teenage girl, is raped in the woods while music from a house party – one she’d been attending – blared in the background. At the hospital, she’s given a drug. Its purpose was to erase the memory of the event from her mind and enable her to live on as though the rape did not happen. But can your mind ever really forget? Narrated by Alan, a psychiatrist who works with Jenny to try and help her recover her stolen memories, we learn something that we already know: that the brain is complicated. And, while its capacity to retain memories and file them away is truly fascinating, there is still so much that is unknown.

So many novels on rape focus on the victim, which is why I thought it an interesting choice to use Alan as the narrator. He’s far enough removed that he can see what Jenny and her parents cannot. At the same time, he’s also invested…sometimes almost obsessively so. But it’s not until the novel ends that we really understand why. Not one of the characters is the person that they present to the world. Everyone is hiding behind a screen, terrified that they will be found out.

In the end, is Alan able to help Jenny recover that memory? And if so, will she be able to move on with her life?

 

“Jenny. Do you want to remember what happened to you that night in the woods?”

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All is Not Forgotten.  Wendy Walker.  St Martin’s Press 2016