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!
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“Forgetting is an involuntary act. The more you want to leave something behind you, the more it follows you.”
-William Jonas Barkley
Can you ever, truly, break free from your past, or will it continue to haunt you for the rest of you life, loosening its grip only to tighten it once again? This question is addressed in Dolores Redondo’s international bestseller The Invisible Guardian, where a woman returns home to track a serial killer and confront her long buried demons.
In Basque Country, nothing is as it seems. There is a spirituality to the towns and people that encompass it, beliefs that have shaped the region for centuries. When Amaia Salazar left her hometown of Elizondo, she promised herself that she would spend as little time back there as possible. As a homicide inspector, Amaia seems to be very disciplined when it comes to her work life, but her personal life is a different matter. There’s a reason why she left Elizondo, and as parts of her past start to surface, we see Amaia lose herself deeper and deeper. Her behavior becomes erratic at times and you find yourself wondering if she’ll be able to hold it together long enough to solve the case.
Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the book – or, at least in my opinion – is when Amaia is sitting down with her sister Ros to read tarot cards in search of answers, and Amaia has a flashback to when she was younger and she was doing the same thing with her aunt. At the time, her aunt told her that “sometimes answers are not the solution to an enigma…sometimes the answers only generate more questions, more doubts.” It made me think about how often that is the case in real life. How, more often than not, we are plagued with uncertainty. And it is only when we surrender ourselves to the unknown and stop searching for answers that we are able to find the solutions to our problems. The clues to finding the serial killer are just under Amaia’s nose, but it is only when she stops trying to solve the mystery – and accepts her past – that she will start to see the path that’s laying in front of her.