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.

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

Tana French’s The Trespasser

“That feeling…it lives inside of you somewhere deeper and older and more real than anything else except sex, and when it comes rising it takes your whole body for its own. It’s a smell of blood raging at the back of your nose, it’s your arm muscle throbbing to let go the bowstring, it’s drums speeding in your ears and a victory roar building at the bottom of your gut.”

 

Ever since reading her debut novel In the Woods, Tana French has been a long standing favorite of mind. I have read all of her novels, and for the most part, have loved every single one of them – although, her third novel, Faithful Place is still my number one favorite.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of French’s novels is how she takes a secondary character from the previous one and creates her next story around them. You get to know more about that character, see them in a different light, and your feelings about them change – sometimes.

In The Trespasser, however, she pairs the same two detectives and puts them in the forefront once again. The murder seems to be your basic lovers’ quarrel, but as Moran and Conway get deeper into the case, they soon realize that the evidence and prime suspect doesn’t line up. The victim, the suspect, the murder squad…nothing is as it seems.

As with all of French’s novels, she brings you along for the ride with the detectives as they try to solve their case. The theories that they believe you believe, until a new theory arises, and a new one. French keeps you holding on with her beautiful descriptions until the very end, when you come to realize who it was all along.

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The Trespasser, Tana French.  Viking Books, fall 2016.

Thomas Mullen’s Darktown

The 1950’s in America was a time for great change in the South. It was the start of desegregation. African Americans were finally permitted to move out of the ghetto and into nicer neighborhoods. The U.S. Supreme Court declared black and white segregated schools to be unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Ed.

Thomas Mullen’s upcoming novel, Darktown, takes place right around this time period, in 1948, nearly four decades after the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906, and as the Jim Crow era was starting to wane. It centers around the integration of black officers into the Atlanta Police Department, the power struggles and racism that accompany it, and the lengths to which the white officers would go to get the black officers off the force, but also the lengths the black officers would take in order to find justice. There’s a lot of secrecy that takes place in the novel, a lot of police brutality by officers who feel that they are untouchable. But no one is really untouchable.

Black officers Boggs and Smith are rookies on the force, as are the other six black officers that they work with. They’re both war veterans, although Boggs has never experienced combat. Boggs, being a preacher’s son and growing up in a well-to-do part of Darktown, always does the right thing, even if he wants to do otherwise. On the other hand, Smith and his family were directly affected by the riots, and he is not above getting his hands a little dirty every once in a while. There’s a camaraderie between the two, and, while they do judge the other on occasion, they always have each others back.

White officers Dunlow and Rakestraw have a very different relationship. Dunlow, the senior officer of the two, has no problem frequenting the local brothel, making deals with the bootleggers, letting people off the hook, and beating black men in Darktown for no reason. Rakestraw, not yet seasoned, disagrees with the way Dunlow polices. Unlike Dunlow and the rest of the white officers, Rakestraw does not share the opinion that black officers should be kicked off the police force. He also feels that they shouldn’t be restricted in their duties, that they should be allowed to police their own neighborhoods.

When a young black woman with connections to a congressman is found murdered, and it becomes evident that the case is not going to be handled the way it should be, Boggs and Smith take matters into their own hands, determined to solve the murder despite the consequences, and with an unlikely ally. As they start to uncover the truth, they also uncover corruption in the department that goes much higher than they could have imagined.

With a tone that is reminiscent of HBO’s series The Wire, this novel is anything but predictable, and at times had me gasping in shock. It’s a great lesson into the history of our country, showing us how far we have come, but also, how far we still have to go in order to really rid ourselves of racism and the fear that it still instills. It also begs the question, how far would you go, how much would you be willing to sacrifice in order to find the truth.

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Darktown by Thomas Mullen.  37INK.  September 2016.

Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go

A debut psychological thriller marketed as the next Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train from Berkley, Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go is a novel that demands your attention. With so many people talking about a HUGE twist, I was intrigued. And, when an advanced copy landed in my inbox, it quickly moved to the top of my reading list.

The novel opens on a rainy afternoon, as a mother and her son are crossing the street in front of their house. The boy slips out of his mother’s grasp and, in one life-shattering moment, is hit and killed by a car that turns and quickly flees the scene. Leaving the mother in the street huddled over her child’s lifeless body.

But who was behind the wheel?

Following Jenna Gray – a woman who leaves her life behind for one in a remote Welsh town – and the officers investigating the boy’s murder, I Let You Go is a brilliant novel that leaves you on the edge of your seat until the final page. As the police come closer to finding the driver, we see Jenna trying to move on from a past that keeps resurfacing.

The novel is at once heartbreaking and satisfying, and the HUGE twist that they promise comes along in the middle of the novel and does not disappoint. I was left speechless with my jaw on the floor, desperate to keep turning the pages and not stopping until I had reached the conclusion.

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Berkley 2016. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go

Georgia Clark’s The Regulars

What if you had the chance to correct all of your flaws, would you take it? In Georgia Clark’s debut novel, The Regulars, she explores the idea of becoming perfect (beautiful) as three friends struggle with being in their early twenties and deciding what they want to do with their lives. But there’s a catch. In order to be ‘pretty,’ they could end up sacrificing the most important thing of all. What would you sacrifice to be ‘pretty’?

Evie, Krista and Willow are trying to make sense of life in New York City. Trying to find the perfect jobs, the perfect relationships, and just have enough money to pay their monthly bills. Evie is a copywriter working for a magazine that caters towards materialism, beauty and sex as power. She wants to empower women and educate them that look aren’t everything. Krista dropped out of law school to try to make it as an actress but has not been successful. Willow is the daughter of a movie mogul who is tired of living life in her father’s shadow. She has a hard time getting close to anyone, including Evie and Krista, and will unexpectedly disappear from time to time. After losing her agent, Krista is sitting at a bar mid-day when she runs into an old acquaintance who, sensing Krista’s mood gives her Pretty. Pretty is a magic potion that makes anyone who takes it gorgeous. After much debate, all three girls end of taking the potion. They all become beautiful, confident women, unrecognizable as their own selves. But are they?

As I was reading, I found myself thinking about what I would be willing to give up to become perfect. If I would be curious enough to take the potion (probably?!), and if so, if I too would become addicted to it like the characters here were. What I found to be really interesting was that, Evie, Krista and Willow all realized that they were lacking the same thing: confidence. It was the potion that enabled them to gain confidence in themselves and try the things that they were most scared of, and it was the confidence that they eventually retained once the effects of the potion finally started wearing off. As a shy person, I identified with the lack of confidence that the characters had. I still sometimes have trouble mustering the courage to speak up for myself, but I’ve found that that’s the only way to actually change a situation. And it’s definitely the only way to get what you want. I found myself laughing at some parts and cringing at others, thinking what the hell were they doing. All in all, I feel that it’s a great lesson to anyone, that if you just dig deep inside yourself, you can allow yourself the confidence to do anything.

 

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The Regulars by Georgia Clark. Emily Bestler Books. Aug 2016.

Karin Tanabe’s The Gilded Years

In Karin Tanabe’s newest novel, The Gilded Years, she weaves truth with fiction as she tells the story of Anita Hemmings, the first black student to attend Vassar College.

After successfully passing as white at Vassar for three years, and keeping distance between herself and her classmates, Anita enters into her senior year with the same plan in mind. That is, until she meets Louise “Lottie” Taylor, a member of a very prominent New York family, and her new roommate. Lottie draws Anita in with her infectious personality and the two become fast friends. But when Anita starts to let down her guard, Lottie discovers her secret threatening everything that Anita has worked so hard for.

As a child of the 80s, it’s hard to imagine living in a time where racial segregation existed – even though I know that it did exist. It’s also hard to imagine having to go through life pretending that you are someone else, just to get something as simple as an education or a job. I think what makes this story so powerful is that Anita Hemmings did exist. And she did pass as white in order to be able to attend Vassar College.

What would you do if you were living in a time period where the color of your skin hindered you from doing normal, every-day activities? What if we didn’t have these freedoms that we take for granted? These freedoms that our ancestors had to fight for. Not only is this a beautifully written novel (I’m SUCH a Karin Tanabe fan), but it also makes us aware of how far we’ve come, and appreciate the things that we have. I cannot wait for her next novel!

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Karin Tanabe’s The Gilded Years. June 2016 WSP

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s One True Loves

“I think that perhaps everyone has a moment that splits their life in two. When we look back on our own timelines, there’s a sharp spike somewhere along the way, some event that changed you, changed your life, more than others. A moment that creates a Before and an After…Maybe it’s something wonderful. Maybe it’s something tragic. But when it happens, it tints your memories, shifts your perspective on your own life, and it suddenly seems as if everything you’ve been through falls under the label of ‘pre’ or ‘post.’”

 

I have a special place for Taylor Jenkins Reid novels in my heart. She has a way of conveying emotions that really pulls at your strings and allows you to feel everything that the characters do. I’ve thought this way from the beginning, ever since I was introduced to her first novel, Forever, Interrupted, knowing full well that it was going to be a tearjerker, but plunging in regardless. In her fourth novel, One True Loves, Reid explores the idea that a person can have more than one true love, as her main protagonist, Emma, is forced to choose between her new fiancé and the husband that she thought had died three-and-a-half years earlier.

Is it ever really possible to get over your true love? When Emma first lost her husband, Jesse, she thought that her life was over, and in many ways it was. The life that they had shared together ended the minute his plane crashed into the ocean. Not knowing what else to do, she quits her job and moves back to her parents’ home in Massachusetts to try and put the pieces of her life back together. It is there that she runs into her old friend, Sam, and after much soul searching, decides to give love a second chance. They become engaged and move in together, but as Emma knows, life is unpredictable, and you may not get the happily-ever-after ending that you hoped for. It is there, while leaving her father’s sixty-fourth birthday party, with her new fiancé in toe, that she gets the phone call that will change her life forever. Again. Jesse is alive. And he’s coming home. While Emma had spent the past three-and-a-half years trying to create a new life for herself and get over the devastation of losing the one person she loved most in the world, Jesse had been stuck on an island in the middle of the Pacific, trying to survive and make it home to her. But what about Sam? Where does he fit in?

When Emma and Jesse are reunited, it is clear that they still deeply love each other, but it is also clear that they both have changed in different ways. Emma is working at her parents’ bookstore, something that she had swore she would never do. Jesse has experienced so much pain that Emma couldn’t possibly begin to understand. He wants to pick up where they left off, travel the globe together with their work, move back to California, and as much as Emma is grateful that Jesse is alive and wants to go back to the way things were, she is not sure if that is something that she still wants. The life that she created with Sam is the exact opposite of the one she had had with Jesse: it’s grounded, stable. Emma questions her feelings for Sam and Jesse. She feels like she’s betrayed both men in a way: Jesse, for moving on and not wanting to spend the rest of her life heartbroken and alone, and Sam, for knowing that if she stays with him, she will never be able to give him her complete heart.

It doesn’t come down to love. There is no question that Emma loves both of them. But every love is different. You’re never the same person that you are with your previous love, nor do you love that new person the same way. It doesn’t negate one or the other. It doesn’t mean that you cared for one more than the other. It just means that you loved them differently. For Emma, what it comes down to is what she wants out of life. After losing Jesse, Emma became a different person, because there’s no way that you couldn’t lose the love of your life and not have it affect your fundamentally. “Do you ever get over loss? Or do you find a box within yourself, big enough to hold it?” How do you choose between the person who was ripped from your life too soon and the person who helped you come back from the dead?

For me, this was probably the most heartbreaking of all her novels. It’s hard to think that our true love can be ripped away from us without a moment’s notice. It’s devastating, really, to have built a life with someone and to have to start over. But what is equally devastating is the fact that you might be able to move on some day, or, if you were the person that was lost, that they can move on without you. Can replace you. That you can replace them. But you can never actually replace a person that you loved so deeply and lost.

Taylor came to my office the week after I read this manuscript, and I had the pleasure of discussing One True Loves with her. We talked about Jessie and Sam, and Emma’s relationships with both of them. We discussed the ending, and who Emma picks. I told her that I had been a little disappointed, because of who I wanted Emma to be with and who she ended up choosing. I was disappointed, but I understood. I knew he was the right choice, but in the end, I was still routing for the other guy. Out of the people who had read the manuscript thus far, I was the only one who had expressed that opinion to her, and Taylor had found that interesting, as did I.

So who does Emma choose in the end? There’s a point in the novel where Emma and Jesse spend a few days together at his parents’ cabin. It was also where they had had their wedding. It was the first time since his return that they really had a good chunk of time alone and were able to really open up and discuss all that they had been through. It is another moment in the novel that is fitting of the quote above, another moment that helps Emma to make the decision that she needs to make. The choice that she needs to make. It is possible to have more than one true love in your life, but you can’t have them at the same time.

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One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid. June 2016. Washington Square Press.