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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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.

 

 

 

Andi Dorfman’s It’s Not Okay

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.”

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It’s Not Okay by Andi Dorfman.  Gallery Books.  May 2016. Available now.

Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed

How do you go on living your life, knowing that there’s a part of you out there that is missing?

In Khaled Hosseini’s third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, he explores relationships that we have with ourselves and our families. How, one choice, one decision, has the power to not only change our lives, but theirs as well. How the people that are closest to us will go to great lengths in order to do what’s right, sacrificing everything they can, but also how sometimes people surprise you when you need them the most, destroying hopes that you never knew you had. Spanning generations, Hosseini takes the reader on a journey across continents, delving into the complex relationships of family and how things don’t always turn out the way you want them to.

Starting with siblings Pari and Abdullah, who are separated by extraordinary circumstances, we follow them and others through the aftermath, and witness the true power of love and how the loss of it can stick with you throughout a lifetime.

“It is important to know this, to know your roots. To know where you started as a person. If not, your own life seems unreal to you. Like a puzzle….Like you have missed the beginning of a story and now you are in the middle of it, trying to understand.”

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Morgan Matson’s Second Chance Summer (YA)

Every so often something comes along that really tugs at my heart, and Morgan Matson’s Second Chance Summer is one of those novels. Categorized as young adult fiction – perhaps because the protagonist is a teenager – the novel follows Taylor alternating narratives between the present day and events that happened five years in the past.

What would you do if a loved one was dying and you could do nothing to stop it? Would you run away from it, or would you have the strength to face it head-on? In Second Chance Summer, we see a family that appears normal on the surface, but underneath is struggling just to make it through each day.

On Taylor’s birthday, her parents sit her and her siblings down, and inform them that their father has just been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer, with only four months left to live. The family decides to go back to their summer lake house in the Poconos – which they’ve rented out for the past five summers – to have one last summer together and bond as a family while they still can; something that none of them are used to doing, as they are all closed off and rarely speak about their emotions with one another. Taylor, in particular, has a habit of running away from things that frighten her, love, friendship, anything emotional. Five years ago, she ran away from the lake house and the two people that she was closest to in the world. Will Taylor be able to face her past and her father’s rapidly deteriorating health, or will she do the one thing that is most natural to her? Will she run away?

Second Chance Summer is about many things, but I think the most prominent theme is time and how it runs out. Without warning. You can’t run away from time any more than you can run away from pain or heartache or the possibility of falling in love. Time doesn’t wait until you’re ready, it keeps moving, ticking away the hours. In one way or another, we are all guilty of running away from something or someone, but, like Taylor realizes in the novel, there are some things that, no matter what you do, you just cannot run away from. You have to stand still. And, by choosing to face it, you will become stronger.

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Emily Giffin’s Something Blue

In honor of the recent release of Emily Giffin’s seventh novel, The One & Only, of which I am eager to delve into, I took a step back to the beginning of her writing career and reread her second novel, Something Blue, the sequel to Something Borrowed (will she ever bring back those characters again?), which brings back the beautiful, but self-centered Darcy as she travels to London to seek the comfort of her friend Ethan and start a new life away from New York, away from her ex-fiancé, away from her former best friend, and really, away from everyone who didn’t agree with the way she was choosing to live her life. With her impending motherhood, will Darcy be able to change her life for the better, or will she stay stuck in her ways?

What I love about Giffin is that not only is she great at getting the chick-lit story right, but she’s also a good writer which you don’t see a lot in that genre. Even though her stories have a light air to them, they also possess great strength and always make me take a step back and examine certain things about myself, decisions that I’ve made or haven’t made. All of her characters grow in one way or another. Take Darcy for instance. In the first novel we see her in she is extremely self-centered. She’s that way too in the beginning of Something Blue, but eventually learns that life can’t always be that way, and that if she were to stay on the path that she was going, she would never actually be happy. It’s a hard lesson for anyone to learn, but a valuable one. I leave you with a quote from the novel.

“Love and friendship. They are what make us who we are, and what can change us, if we let them.”

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