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!
“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.
Normally, I’m not one to read memoirs, or nonfiction of any kind, even if the subject is interesting to me. I feel that they are hard to hold my attention and therefore strictly read fiction. Then I heard about Andi Dorfman’s book and, being a fan of the Bachelor/Bachelorette, I HAD to get my hands on it – and, since it was being published in-house, it only took a few emails and a short walk to obtain a pre-pub copy.
I started reading it, put it down, read three or four novels, than picked it back up. It seemed fitting that I finish it by the time the new season of the Bachelorette premiered, which is exactly what I did. For those of you who are fans of the show – even if you didn’t love Andi’s season – this is a MUST read. Not only are you given a behind the scenes look at the show, but you also get a glimpse at life after the show, beyond the interviews and public appearances.
If you will remember, Andi ended up choosing former baseball player Josh Murray over the season’s villain, Nick Vail, and everyone’s (then) favorite farmer, Chris Soules. I say then favorite, because Chris went on to become the next Bachelor, and turned out to be much more of a playboy than I had expected – but I digress! As I was never a fan of Nick or Josh, I was Chris all the way, so you can imagine my sadness at her final choice. There was just something about Josh that I didn’t trust; he was too perfect, too polite, too southern. It felt like a façade to me and I was disappointed that Andi couldn’t see that.
When news of their split surfaced, I wasn’t all that surprised. And, not to give anything away, but while reading It’s Not Okay, I found my self equally as unsurprised by the behind-the-scenes aspects of their relationship and his behavior that ultimately was the breaking point for them.
Andi fell in love and got her heat broken, something that most of us has experienced at one point or another in our lives. Though it’s been quite a while since mine was last broken, I still can remember the pain and agony that I endured. I wanted to crawl into bed next to Andi and pass a bottle of wine back-and-forth with her, because I felt for her.
She fell in love. She got her heart broken. She survived.
“No matter how bad it gets, no matter how tumultuous and painful the end of a relationship can be, no matter how much you think your life is over and you are forever damaged, there comes a moment when you find that the storm has finally passed. The sunshine has dried up all the rain, and you, my friend, have survived. It’s the moment where you look at the scar that care from heartbreak, and see it not as a scar of weakness but as a scar of resiliency and strength. It’s the moment when you finally realize that maybe, just maybe, it is okay.”
There are two types of people in the world: the ones that allow themselves to be defined by past experiences, and those who use their hardships as a way to strengthen themselves and rise above. In Amy Hatvany’s latest novel, Somewhere Out There, we see both types, as two sisters who were torn apart when they were young are reunited as adults.
When Jennifer got pregnant as a teenager, against her mother’s wishes, she decided to move in with her boyfriend and keep the baby. Little did she know that he would kick her out. That she would become homeless. That she would have a second child. And that she would end up in prison. For shoplifting food at a grocery store. For her children.
Natalie Clark never knew her birth mother. She was too young to remember her. She didn’t even know that she was adopted until she had to do a family tree project for school. Now that her own daughter has to do the same, Natalie musters the strength to ask her parents the questions she was always too afraid of, finding out that she has a sister that she never knew existed. Natalie feels betrayed by her parents’ actions and immediately goes about trying to find her long lost sister.
The last time Brooke Walker saw her mother or little sister, she was four years old. She moved from one foster home to the next, eventually growing up in a state facility, while her baby sister was adopted. Brooke lives in a small studio and works as a waitress. She doesn’t have any friends, and seems to only date emotionally unavailable men. Brooke never lets anyone get close to her. She keeps herself at a distance from everyone that she comes in contact with, preferring to feel nothing than to get hurt. She blames her mother abandoning her and her sister for never trying to find her.
When Brooke and Natalie finally reunite, Brooke is cautious and keeps her distance. Even when she starts to let her guard down, she isn’t able to completely open up and trust her sister. Natalie wants answers to why their mother abandoned them, but Brooke is hesitant. After digging, Natalie finds out more than she could have imagined, leaving herself heartbroken for both the little girl that she had been and for the pain that her mother – Jennifer – had gone through.
Natalie and Brooke eventually meet Jennifer, but are their relationships ones that can be repaired? There were many moments in the novel that I found myself in tears…mostly for the chapters with Jennifer. Yes, her children went through a lot, having lost their mother and each other, but what Jennifer had to deal with was truly heartbreaking. How do you come back from a loss like that? Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes, even if you want to, even if it is presented to you, it’s not enough. Natalie was able to use her losses as strength, something that Brooke has a hard time doing. But what about Jennifer? Will she be able to find a way to let her daughters back into her life, or will it break her?
“Some secrets never die. They’re just locked away.”
These days, my reading list has become more diverse as I’m branching out, picking up books that I never thought I would, and loving them. There are a few genres that I keep going back to, ones that time and again prove to me why I love them so much. Nothing beats the feeling that you have when you get caught up in story and its characters and can’t let it go, obsessively drinking in each and every word. These are not always easy to come by, but once found, make me remember why I fell in love with books to begin with.
From the moment I read the description of Holly Seddon’s debut novel, Try Not to Breathe, I knew what kind of novel that it would be to me, that it had the power to stay with me – and I was not wrong. It centers around Alex Dale and Amy Stevenson, two women that have lost everything due to very different circumstances who come together to solve a 15-year old crime.
Alex is an alcoholic who threw away her husband, unborn child, and journalism career because she could not put down the bottle. Her days generally beginning with her waking up in urine-soaked sheets and ending a few hours later when she turns off her phone, unplugs her computer, and starts on her first of many glasses. Every time she starts craving a drink, I wanted to leap into the pages and pour it all down the drain, or at least for someone (anyone?) to realize the shape that she was in and force her to get help. But as much as I want to feel bad for Alex, I have a hard time doing so, because I feel like she doesn’t even try – in the beginning at least – to get past her self-destructive habits.
Amy, on the other hand, has no control over what happens in her life, because she has spent the past fifteen years in the hospital in a vegetative state after a horrific crime left her broken on the grounds of a neighborhood park. Except her mind is still intact, and she is reliving the experience over and over again, wondering if it is real or imaginary. In a way, I found it a bit comforting that, even though Amy’s mind was still working, she was not really aware of the state that she was in. Imagine if she was? How terrifying it would be to not be able to talk or move or communicate your thoughts with anyone. I can’t even begin to understand the agony of it all.
Although it seems to be totally accidental that Alex stumbled upon Amy at the hospital – she had been there doing research on a freelance article she was writing – it turned out to be the best thing for the both of them. By making the decision to write Amy’s story and try to solve the crime, Alex is transported out of her small world and finally has a cause worth living for. Even though Amy doesn’t completely understand what is going on, she does come to rely on Alex’s visits. As Alex gets closer to solving the case, her and Amy form a unique friendship, one that helps both of them to finally move on.
“Obsession is territory with which I’m well acquainted. Its coarse rub, its barbed spike, its musty spoiled sourness. The line between love and hate is paper-thin, and when you love someone and it turns to hate, there’s an inverse relationship between the two.”
Do we ever really know ourselves? Do we ever really know anyone? In the days where we live on social media, we are well aware that everything we put onto the internet is locked there forever. But just how much truth can actually be found? In T.R. Richmond’s debut psychological suspense novel, What She Left, we follow a professor as he tries to piece together the life and mysterious death of one of his former students.
Through letters, emails, blog posts, text messages and news articles, the story of Alice Salmon starts to unfold, a twenty-five year old woman whose career in journalism was starting to buzz, and whose love of university-day partying could not be completely outrun, no matter how hard she tried. Alice was a woman who was still figuring out her life and plan her future. But who was she, and what really happened to her? Anthropology professor Jeremy Cooke attempts to find out by contacting friends and family members, and researching her social-media-persona (aka stalking).
There’s a lot that can be said about this book. Take the character of Alice. Through multiple perspectives (including her own), she comes across as someone who is not in complete control of her actions, jumping to conclusions too quickly, giving into peer pressure, and a little needy. But would she have jumped into the river on a snowy February night and ended her life? With so many different points of view, who, if anyone can be trusted? Everyone is hiding secrets, even Professor Cooke, whose obsessive attachment to Alice and declaration of sticking to the truth tends to waiver at times.
If you are looking for a good thriller with a fresh, modern take, this is your book. It is formatted a bit differently than I was used to, but that actually adds to the tone and story. What She Left will grab your attention right away, leaving you guessing until the very end – and stay with you long after you’ve finished the novel.
Growing up, war was a subject that interested me, particularly the Vietnam War. I was fascinated by it because of the fact that it wasn’t a war, because of the way the battle was fought, because of the politics and hardships that the veterans had to face afterwards.
After high school, my interest hit a new level when a good friend of mine joined the army as an officer. During his first few deployments, we would write letters and email. I was always interested in what was going on in deployment, what you don’t hear about. Always wanting to know the meaning or their seemingly endless acronyms. To this day I will still text him with random questions. And he, like a good friend, will always give me the detailed answers that I am looking for (even if I don’t completely understand what he’s talking about).
I’ve watched Full Metal Jacket, Good Morning Vietnam and Apocalypse Now, among other war movies. At my friend’s suggestion – when I asked what it was like to actually be there in the day-to-day – I watched the 2010 documentary Restrepo. Which, by the way is really informative and intense (it is a documentary after all), but definitely worth watching.
Youngblood was my first foray into war novels, and not too long into reading it, I asked myself why I had waited so long to pick one up. It follows LT Jack Porter as he is serving in Iraq for the first time. The war is over and the US military is there patrolling, going on peace-keeping missions and trying to keep the counterinsurgency at bay. As a LT, Porter has men that report to him, but when seasoned Sgt. Chambers joins their unit and starts disrupting Porter’s mission, he starts digging into Chambers’ past, finding whispers about his possible involvement in an unsolved scandal between a soldier and a local sheikh’s daughter. Desperate to get Chambers reassigned, Porter starts investigating the scandal, and as he gets deeper and more involved with the players, he ends up risking his own life and career to help them.
The plotline is intriguing and moves at a good pace. What I love the most about this novel though, is the atmosphere that Gallagher creates. As a US army veteran, he has first hand experience being deployed during peace-keeping times, where the day-to-day is much calmer and more mundane than you would realize. There is always a thread of IEDs and gunfire, always a threat of a riot or battle, but there is also a lot of downtime. While Porter would meet with informants, his men would play cards while they waited for him to return. There would be nights where they would have free time and go to a club near the main camp, days where they would be grateful to take an actual shower. There’s also a lot of comments about body odor and foul breath not just with the soldiers but the locals as well. All of this I found to be interesting, because not only are they things that I find aren’t frequently discussed, but also because it gives you a reality check of the little things that we have and take for granted, and a new appreciation and understanding of what the conditions are really like for the soldiers who serve.
What would you do if your best friend died, but the circumstances surrounding her death didn’t add up? Would you accept the outcome of the investigation, or would you take matters into your own hand and follow your gut? In her first stand-alone novel, He Will Be My Ruin, critically acclaimed author, K. A. Tucker takes us on one woman’s desperate journey to find answers and uncover the truth.
For Maggie, who has dedicated her life to helping others, nothing is as hard for her as flying to New York to pack up Celine’s apartment after her friend committed suicide. In that very apartment. Having known each other for practically their whole lives, Maggie thought that she knew everything that there was to know about Celine. But as she starts packing and examining her friend’s belongings, a darker side of Celine emerges, one that makes her question everything and everyone connected to her. And also her death. Could Celine really have killed herself, or was there someone else involved? The evidence points to yes, but Maggie’s gut says otherwise.
Through strategically placed chapters, we get a glimpse of Celine. We get to see her frustrations and fears play out first hand. We also see into her other life, the one that she tried to keep hidden from everyone that she cared about, but that was starting to unravel around her and threaten everything that she had worked for. People were starting to find out what Celine had been up to.
When the novel opens, we are already told that Maggie is with Celine’s killer, and that Celine’s killer is a man. We are also led to believe that Maggie will be his next victim, that she let him into her life and trusted him just as Celine had. The date is December 22nd, nearly a month after Maggie’s NYC arrival. But who can be trusted and who shouldn’t be? The answer is not always as clear as you would think. As Maggie juggles with different theories and ideas, I found myself doing the same, sometimes blindly following Maggie’s theories, while other times my mind would go off on its own tangent . I simply could not put the book down. Or stop thinking about who the killer was. Tucker takes us on a scary roller-coaster ride where there are no guarantees that the main character will come out alive that left me wanting more after I’d turned the final page.
“Once you show the world you’re different, you can never take it back.”
At once a sexy thriller and a story about sexual identity, Leah Raeder’s latest novel, Cam Girl, follows two best friends as they grapple with the aftermath of a tragic accident and what they really mean to each other.
When Vada Bergen and Ellis – Elle – Carraway met, their connection was instantaneous. Naturally, when Vada, a burgeoning artist, gets into grad school, Elle moves across the country with her. It is there that the lines of their friendship blur, there that they become so inseparable that they cannot (and do not) want to live without the other. It’s the kind of connection that has the power to change lives for both the better…and the worse, the kind of connection that has the potential to fall completely to pieces with the smallest puff of wind. They both intentionally hurt each other. Vada does it because she is scared about her feelings and trying to fight them, while Elle does it both because of Vada’s insecurities and her own. After the accident happens – and Vada is left permanently injured – they drift apart, although as we come to learn, they were drifting apart long before the accident actually occurred.
While attending a party, Vada meets a couple that takes her deep into the world of camming, where every night, she takes her clothes off for the cyber world, racking in tons of “tips.” But when new client, Blue, takes things to the next level, Vada is forced to confront herself and the past that she is running from, finally digging down to the truth of the matter.
I had a lot of feelings about the mysterious Blue. Was he there to cause problems? Were his intentions pure? And, just who was he? While we do eventually find out who Blue is, his identity is not really important. What is important is what Blue does for Vada. The demons that Blue is able to make her face. The love that Blue is able to make her confront. Vada is bisexual, but that’s not the real problem for her. Elle has always been her exception, but, being with Elle forever, publicly, is Vada’s real issue. Despite the fact that she is completely in love with Elle, loving Elle goes against her dreams of marrying a man and living happily ever after. She’s scared of going against the norms of society because she feels that once she does, she will always be seen as a label and not as anything else. It is through her relationship with Blue that Vada is able to realize that nothing else matters in life if you are not yourself, and that, by finally allowing the world to see the part of her she kept hidden, she is able to help others realize that they are not alone.
“What is art? We take reality, and we filter it through our eyes and minds and hands, and remake it. What comes out is both more and less true than what went in. It illuminates some part of reality just as it obscures other parts. Art is an imperfect impression of the world. As the self is an imperfect impression of the soul.”
“Her tears and my soul, they live parallel lives.”
It has been said that in order to grow as a person, you need to have experienced pain. Debilitating pain. Heart-wrenching pain. Pain from which the weak succumb to, and only the strong survive. Pain that changes your life. In Colleen Hoover’s latest novel, November 9, she explores the idea of life-altering pain and the affects that it can have on a person.
The day that Ben sat down at Fallon’s table, subsequently walking into her life, she had no idea of the connection that they shared, or of the impact that he was about to have on her. Fallon was still in the thick of grieving for her old life, the one that had been destroyed two years ago to the day, when she was severely burned in a house fire. Fallon is a complicated person, but then again, so is Ben. They both live in the past but in very different ways. Fallon holds a lot of blame towards the person that she feels is responsible for the fire. She also has a lot of self-pity. She has made the fire into her identity instead of it being a tragedy that she was able to overcome. Because it was a tragedy. Fallon didn’t physically die that night, but the person that she had been did, and she has been struggling to get herself back ever since. When she meets Ben, she is able to open up to him and trust him because he is the first one to look beyond her scars and actually see the person beneath. I felt her devastation when she learns that Ben was the person who started the fire, but also her compassion when she learns of what he went through with his mother’s suicide.
Ben has never been able to forgive himself for starting that fire; it’s something that he has held with him and constantly beats himself up about. He lives in his guilt and heartbreak over the injuries that he caused Fallon. Which makes complete sense that when he starts to write, all that he can come up with is the story of that night. With Fallon in his life, Ben is able to finally see beyond the fire. He is able to help her regain the confidence that she lost and start his own healing process.
Both Fallon and Ben are flawed, and neither of them knows how to deal with their emotions, which is why they constantly hurt each other. At the end of the novel, I found myself wondering if I could have been able to forgive Ben, if I would have been strong enough to let the anger go. At the same time, would I have run out on Ben and not given him the chance to explain himself? I don’t know how I would react, and I think that is one of the larger points of the story: how much of your reactions are based on instinct and survival versus how much you can actually control, and how to distinguish between the two. Ben didn’t think about his actions when he set fire to the car. It was only after the fact, when the fire quickly became out of control that he realized the impact of what he had just done. I feel like Ben was always going to forgive Fallon in the end, because deep down, even though he had finally started to heal, I don’t think he will ever completely forgive himself. Some things you can never truly let go of.
In the end, Hoover shows that you can still move on with your life even if you can’t forget the pain or the cause of it. Some pain stays with you…but that doesn’t mean that you have to stop living.