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.
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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

Partying Like Jay Gatsby

As many of you already know, The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. So much so that I have devoted a few posts to it. I was first introduced to the novel in college and have read it several times since. I went to the theater on the opening night of the 2013 film adaption and fell in love all over again. What’s not to love about Gatsby? The roaring 20s, richly extravagant parties, passionate dreams. In all of Gatsby’s dreaming, there’s a naïveté to him that I find endearing. The man from the wrong side of the tracks chasing after the woman that he’s convinced is the love of his life, throwing parties that exist only in your dreams. I would have given anything to go to one of his parties. And now I have.

About a month ago, my friend and I bought tickets to The Great Gatsby Party at NYC’s Capitale. Outfit preparations went underway immediately after. When the day finally rolled around, I couldn’t have believed that it was here. And. The party was amazing.

When you first walked in, you were greeted by two women on stilts in gorgeous silver gowns standing in front of a champagne tower. The men were in tuxes, bowties and tails. The women in beautiful headpieces and pearls. As a champagne girl, naturally I gravitated towards the champagne bar, but after trying the Gatsby punch, I found myself quickly gravitating towards that. There was a big band that played a mixture of modern and 1920s style music, performers that gracefully hung from the ceiling, and professional dancers that made me want to learn some of their 20s steps.

It was an evening of opulence and grandeur, of sparkles and black-tie. It was everything that you would expect from a Gatsby party to be. We laughed, danced, drank and left feathers in our wake. Shouldn’t we all party like Jay Gatsby?

 

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The Great Gatsby Party 2015 @ Capitale, NYC

Emily Giffin’s The One & Only

For her first novel with Random House, Emily Giffin’s The One & Only is, in some ways, quite a bit different from her other novels, revolving mainly around college football and the lives of those involved (directly or indirectly) in it. But, if you look beyond all of the sports discourse, you can see that, at its core, it is still a Giffin novel, just with love and relationships as a secondary focus instead of the main one.

The novel follows Shea Rigsby, a woman whose life completely revolves around football – something she has been passionate about since before she can remember. Her best friend, Lucy, is the daughter of famed college football coach Clive Carr, who not only is the head coach for Walker University – in the town of the same name that Shea grew up in – but also has been a role model and father figure to her due to her father’s absence. The Carrs are Shea’s second family, so when tragedy strikes them, naturally she empathizes and tries to do everything she can do to help them through it. But, with tragedy comes reflection; it’s what makes people reexamine their lives and make changes that they wouldn’t have done otherwise, and Shea is no different in that aspect. Maybe Walker isn’t everything. Shea makes big changes in both her personal and professional lives that, although seem to be the right paths for her, ultimately leave her wondering: what if everything she could ever want or need was there all along. What if Walker really was everything?

There is a major focus on football, but does it work for Giffin? Can her fans get passed the overwhelming assault of an emasculating sport or will they be thoroughly disappointed? Although I was slightly taken aback as to the sheer volume at which football comes into play in The One & Only, I think her writing stands for itself. What I love about Giffin novels is their ability to make me not only feel for and relate to the characters in the story, but also, their ability to make me turn inward and self-reflect. So many of us have aspects of our lives that we are not happy with, whether it be a job that doesn’t interest us, a love life that doesn’t challenge us, or just a melancholic feeling towards ourselves in general. Sometimes, changes have to be made in order for us to be happy, but often times, it’s just more a matter of changing our perception on things, as Shea experiences. Sometimes you need to take a step outside of yourself and your life to realize that everything you ever could have wanted has been there the whole time.

Sometimes you only get one shot. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury to think or wait or plan. Sometimes you have to reach out and seize your moment. Your best, last, or only chance.”

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Emily Liebert’s You Knew Me When

Once you’ve left, can you ever, really go home again? Emily Liebert attempts to answer these questions and others in her debut novel, You Knew Me When, a story about best friends, loves, and what happens when life gets in the way.

Katherine left home 12 years ago to pursue a career in the beauty industry. It had been a tough decision for her, leaving her best friend Laney and her boyfriend Grant behind, but it had been a once in a lifetime opportunity that she couldn’t pass up. All these years later, she is a top executive for one of the biggest cosmetic companies in the world, but she never heard from Laney or Grant again. Now, at the passing of an old friend and mother figure, Katherine is forced to go back to the ones she left behind and confront the issues of years past. Will their old bond be able to break through the wall that was built up between them, or is it simply just too late?

Are there some relationships that are strong enough to get passed years of hurt and regret? Can the bond of former best friends be tied back together once it’s been cut? They are questions that we’ve all wondered about at one point or another in our lives and ones that come up again and again in You Knew Me When. Our former best friends, people that we were once inseparable from, people that we now look back on with a mix of fondness and longing. Kind of like the one who got away but sans the romantic entanglement. What if you took a leap in a direction that your best friend couldn’t understand and ended up losing them in the process? Would you bury the longing in your heart and continue moving forward, or would you try everything in your power to get that friendship back?

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To Tattoo, or Not to Tattoo?

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you the same thing: I am not a tattoo girl.  Sure, I played around with temp tattoos when I was a child, putting them on with a damp sponge or cloth, as per the instructions.  But, the last couple times I did that, I remember wanting to get the temp off of me asap, going insofar as using rubbing alcohol to get it off, only to leave my skin pink and sensitive.  I’m the girl who has never done anything permanent to her body with the exception of getting her ears pierced once.  I could never have been okay with having multiple holes on my ears, and aside from that, the only other thing I had ever thought about doing was a belly ring.  I didn’t do that because I have a birthmark slightly above my belly button, and felt that that was decoration enough for me, and I am completely happy with my decision.

So, back to tattoos.  Other than the fact that they are permanent, and removing them is a painfully long and expensive process, another reason that has always stopped me from getting tattoos (other than just not liking most of them) is the needles.  I have a fear of needles.  When I was younger, my mother would take me to the doctor for a checkup, and when it got to the point where they would administer my yearly shots, I would run away, literally.  I would run out of the room as fast as my little legs could carry me.  I would run under the nurse’s desk and reception.  I would just run.  Of course, eventually I would be found, picked up and taken back into the room to get my shots, but I wouldn’t be happy about it.  Today I no longer run away from doctors, but I do always almost pass out while getting a needle or when having blood drawn.  I wish I wasn’t so squeamish, and I know that it is a mind-over-matter thing, but at my age, I still have not been able to master this.  I even have sat in while other people were getting tattoos, and got the same feeling in the pit of my stomach and had to turn away.  It’s kind of embarrassing, but I always warn people ahead of time.  Blood and needles are soooo not my thing. 

Why am I considering a tattoo all of a sudden?  Don’t worry, it’s not because I’m going through a mid-life crisis: I’m way too young for that!  I guess it is more of a, if you see something that you really like, then you allow yourself the possibility of changing your beliefs for this one exception.  I am a firm believer that nothing is written in stone, and that just because I’ve said for years that I dislike something doesn’t mean that I am never going to change my mind about it.  My friend Melissa and I were talking about this last week.  We both have been thinking about getting the same tattoo, in the same place.  We have a couple of reasons for this: we think that the area that we are considering is sexy and we both really love the symbol not just for the physicality of it, but also for its meaning: perfection, equilibrium, long lasting friendship or relationship.  Melissa and I both think that is beautiful.

Instead of running to the first tattoo parlor that we see, because I have been a non-tattooer for as long as I can remember, I went onto Amazon last week, found the symbol that we want and ordered it for us to try on together, as a sort of test run for the real thing – if we happen to do it.  The temp tattoos are a bit bigger than either of us would like to have – if we do decide to go permanent they would be significantly smaller – but I think that they are a great way to see if we really are willing to do this.  I think that I definitely am, but as I said before, I always hesitate to do anything permanent to my body, so I will wait and see.  When you have a bff who is as good to you as mine is, sometimes you end up doing things that you would never expect yourself to do…and have a blast while doing it.