Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway

All too often I find an author who writes a few great books and then goes downhill.  I’m not sure if it’s because they’re out of good ideas, bored with the genre, or just assume that their readers will continue to follow them no matter what and simply stop trying.

All that being said, I’m always impressed when an author continues to grow, whether they change genres or combine them, because then I feel like I can continue to read and enjoy – and Ruth Ware is one of these.  In her fourth novel, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, she continues to stay in the psychological suspense genre, but adds another layer to her writing which makes it all that much better.

After taking over her dead mother’s psychic reading booth and borrowing money from a loan shark, Hal Westaway’s life is anything but stable.  Just as she’s about to give up, she receives a letter regarding an inheritance from a family she never knew existed.  Despite the fact that she believes it to be some sort of mistake, Hal’s desperation gets the better of her and she sets out to collect.   Once in the midst of it, Hal realizes that nothing is what it seems, and this family and inheritance may very well be the death of her.

Filled with her signature twists and turns, you are kept guessing (and changing your opinion!) until the very end.  Fans of Ware’s previous works, The Lying Game, The Woman in Cabin 10, and In a Dark, Dark Woods will NOT want to miss this!

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The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. May 2018 @ Scout Press
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Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted

I finished this novel on the bus this morning, but there was only one problem: I couldn’t ugly cry.

I was sitting in the aisle seat next to someone because there were no empty rows available, and with only about forty pages left, I hesitated to open it.  Knowing that it was an Emily Giffin novel, and that I always end up crying towards the end (and, more importantly, hadn’t cried yet), I knew that it was a gamble, but I also NEEDED to know the ending.

Giffin’s last couple novels departed a bit from her usual storytelling style, but with her powerful new novel, All We Ever Wanted, she brings it back home – and this is truly one of her GREATS (it may even surpass my up-til-now fav, Love the One You’re With).  As a fan of her novels for many years (I’ve read ALL 9 books and gone to 3 signings), I’m already waiting in anticipation of two years from now when her next novel will (fingers crossed) be out.

In All We Ever Wanted, Giffin deals with complex issues of truth, values and family – the lengths that you would go to protect someone you love while also staying true to yourself, the truth, and your values.  Told in three different voices, the novel follows: Nina Browning, a woman who grew up in a middle-class family, married into Nashville’s elite, and whose son may be behind a scandal; Tom Volpe, a single and overprotective dad trying to do the best by his daughter (also Giffin’s first ever male narrator); and Lyla Volpe, Tom’s teenage daughter who, after one drunken night at a party, finds herself the subject of a social media scandal.  Who’s telling the truth?  Who’s lying?  Questioning themselves and their relationships with those closest to them, Nina, Tom and Lyla are thrown together as they search for a way to live truly meaningful lives.

Just published this week by Ballantine, this is a novel that you DO NOT want to miss.  And, as I warned my boyfriend this morning, I will be rereading the ending over the weekend so that I can properly cry.

 

“Maybe he’s thinking about his younger self—and what Nina saved me from all of those years ago.  But maybe, I hope, he’s simply thinking about his mother—and how she somehow managed to save him too.”

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Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted. Ballantine Books 2018.

When A Fictional Book Becomes Reality

When Carrie Bradshaw started reading Love Letters of Great Men in the first Sex and the City movie, everyone (including me) wanted a copy.  Originally created as a prop, disappointed fans did not have to wait long for the anthology to (magically) line booksellers’ shelves.  I have a copy and have probably opened it a half dozen times.  If a movie would do that, it’s no wonder than that a TV show would eventually follow suit.

In the fourth season of Younger, the publisher’s ex-wife comes to Empirical Press with an autobiographical novel about a woman who runs away from her husband and children to find herself.  Knowing that the book would cause a scandal if published anywhere else, they decide to publish it and the love triangle between Liza, Charles and Pauline (Charles’ ex) emerges.  Both the upcoming book AND the love triangle become the prominent storyline for the remainder of season 4/spilling into season 5.

Exactly two weeks ago Season 5 of Younger premiered.  And to coincide with the new season, Simon & Schuster published a real-life version of Marriage Vacation on the very same day.  (Side note: Younger is actually based on a 2005 book of the same name by Pamela Redmond Satran that S&S also published.)  And if you were wondering what all the hype was about with page 58, now it your chance to read it!

Set as a standalone novel, Marriage Vacation follows Kate Carmichael as she flies halfway across the world, leaving her family behind to clear her head and reconnect with the person she used to be.  At times both humorous and thought provoking, this is the perfect novel for the summer (even if you’ve never watched the show)!

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Marriage Vacation by Pauline Turner Brooks. June 5, 2018 Simon & Schuster.

B.A. Paris’ The Breakdown

Trust is one of the most important things in life, without it, your world can be turned upside-down.  But what happens when you don’t know who to trust?  With her sophomore novel (and next one, Bring Me Back out this month!), B.A. Paris joins the ranks of S.J. Watson and A.S.A. Harrison in her story-telling abilities, begging the question: can you even trust yourself?

The Breakdown opens with a torrential storm.  Cass is taking a shortcut home through the woods, the same shortcut that her husband, Matthew, has warned her against taking.  She notices a car pulled over on the side of the road and tries to see if the driver needs help.  She comes close to getting out of her car, but thinks better of it and continues on her way home.  The next morning, Cass wakes to find that the woman in the car was murdered.  She may be the only witness, except no one knows that she was there.

And with that, B.A. Paris’ masterpiece begins.  At first we believe Cass – her recollection of the events that she keeps replaying in her head seems plausible – but soon those thoughts start to take over her life.  She becomes increasingly forgetful and paranoid that you start to question the validity of her story.  Was she even there?  Did she murder the woman?  Is she sane?  Paris weaves the threads so tightly at times that you can’t tell fact from fiction.

What I love most about this story is that moment when the pieces start to fall together – it’s then that you realize just how deep it really goes.  And that sometimes, the truth is not what you think it to be.

 

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The Breakdown, B.A. Paris 2017 St. Martin’s Press.

Caite Dolan-Leach’s Dead Letters

A cat-and-mouse suspense novel following a young woman as she sifts through the chaos left by her twin sister – whose death is cloaked in mystery.

Nearly two years ago, Ava Antipova left her family’s failing vineyard in the Finger Lakes to learn about literature in Paris, but she was really just running away – from an absentee father who left when she was young, from a critical mother who was losing her mind to dementia, from her twin, Zelda, and the man who broke her heart.  After receiving an email from her mother about Zelda’s untimely death – she was burned alive in their barn – Ava leaves her life in Paris behind, returning to her family home to once again clean up Zelda’s mess.  Soon after she’s back, Ava starts receiving messages from Zelda, clues as to what really happened.  Convinced that her sister is still alive, Ava races against time to put all of the pieces together and in the process, rediscovers part of herself she thought had been lost forever.

When I first started reading Dead Letters, I had trouble getting into it and almost immediately put it down, but I’d been surprised by books recently, so I decided to give it a few more pages, and I’m so glad that I did.  Dead Letters isn’t just another suspense novel, and it isn’t at all paranormal either (I dislike anything paranormal).  The story isn’t about the ending, whether Zelda is in fact alive or dead, rather, it’s about the journey.  Ava was always running away from her problems, whether physically or mentally through alcohol – and what Zelda has done really forces Ava to reevaluate her life and discover her identity.  Despite the fact that she hadn’t spoken to Zelda in the two years she’d been living in Paris, Ava could never really see herself as anything other than one half of a whole.  Ava was the smart one, the reserved one, the one who cared too much about what others thought.  Whereas Zelda was the rebel, she was the drama queen, she never censored herself or her needs.

Dead Letters makes you think about yourself – the labels that you have kept, and the ones you have thrown away.  When we’re younger, we’re so much less afraid and more willing to take risks and try new things.  But, as we age, we pair down our personalities and interests, and focus on specializing a few traits rather than a ton.  Here, Dolan-Leach unlocks the door to our childhood so that we can, once again, rediscover our true selves.

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Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach. Random House. Paperback Edition Feb. 2018.

2018 – The Year of Positivity

Like most years, 2017 brought a mixture of both good and bad to my life.  It was the year that I traveled to 3 new countries – one of which I had wanted to go to for as long as I can remember – and a year where I lost people in my life – death, sudden-onset-bitchiness (sob), ghosting.  I always believe that each year brings us new lessons to learn and obstacles to face that allow us to keep growing and changing in ways that we would never imagine.  Lessons that we take with us and hold onto forever.

We choose the people we let into our lives.  And while we can’t always make them stay, we can make them leave if they’re influences are anything less than positive.  I think sometimes we forget that.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in other people’s worlds or problems that we forget that we have the power to stop interacting with them, to stop caring, to stop stressing.  We have a lot more power over our lives than we think we do.

As 2018 has already started on a positive note for me (see my last post on Single State of Mind and meeting Bachelorette alum Andi Dorfman), it is my intention to keep it that way.  So, I’ve declared this year to be “The Year of Positivity.”  Positive vibes only.  No negativity.  No drama.

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Andi Dorfman’s Single State of Mind

For all you Bachelor/Bachelorette fans out there, or single girls who are tired of the dating scene and feel like you’re all alone, this new memoir out by The Bachelorette alum Andi Dorfman is THE book for you.

In Single State of Mind, Andi continues to share her journey of life after The Bachelorette, after her broken engagement, AND after she packed her belongings and moved to NYC for a fresh start.  From searching for an apartment/apartment woes (seriously, who doesn’t have a crappy apartment or bad landlord story) to her sometimes hilarious dating stories (me, ALL the time) to her obsession with wine (ummm, do you need to ask? #winesnob), Andi really is just like you and me – mostly.  With a little fame wrapped in.

I had the pleasure of meeting Andi last week when she popped into my office to see her editor – we talked, she signed a book and took a photo with me.  I’ve met a few celebrities in my 3+ years in book publishing, but none were as down-to-earth and real as Andi was.  Love you Andi!

I don’t want to give anything away (because I WANT you to read it), but don’t worry, there’s a little Bachelor gossip in there as well. 😉  AND, since the new season of The Bachelor has just started, all the more reason to read!

Single State of Mind is out today.  Pick up a copy.  NOW!  You know you want to!

 

Single State of Mind by Andi Dorfman. January 2018. Gallery Books.

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.

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.