Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted

I finished this novel on the bus this morning, but there was only one problem: I couldn’t ugly cry.

I was sitting in the aisle seat next to someone because there were no empty rows available, and with only about forty pages left, I hesitated to open it.  Knowing that it was an Emily Giffin novel, and that I always end up crying towards the end (and, more importantly, hadn’t cried yet), I knew that it was a gamble, but I also NEEDED to know the ending.

Giffin’s last couple novels departed a bit from her usual storytelling style, but with her powerful new novel, All We Ever Wanted, she brings it back home – and this is truly one of her GREATS (it may even surpass my up-til-now fav, Love the One You’re With).  As a fan of her novels for many years (I’ve read ALL 9 books and gone to 3 signings), I’m already waiting in anticipation of two years from now when her next novel will (fingers crossed) be out.

In All We Ever Wanted, Giffin deals with complex issues of truth, values and family – the lengths that you would go to protect someone you love while also staying true to yourself, the truth, and your values.  Told in three different voices, the novel follows: Nina Browning, a woman who grew up in a middle-class family, married into Nashville’s elite, and whose son may be behind a scandal; Tom Volpe, a single and overprotective dad trying to do the best by his daughter (also Giffin’s first ever male narrator); and Lyla Volpe, Tom’s teenage daughter who, after one drunken night at a party, finds herself the subject of a social media scandal.  Who’s telling the truth?  Who’s lying?  Questioning themselves and their relationships with those closest to them, Nina, Tom and Lyla are thrown together as they search for a way to live truly meaningful lives.

Just published this week by Ballantine, this is a novel that you DO NOT want to miss.  And, as I warned my boyfriend this morning, I will be rereading the ending over the weekend so that I can properly cry.

 

“Maybe he’s thinking about his younger self—and what Nina saved me from all of those years ago.  But maybe, I hope, he’s simply thinking about his mother—and how she somehow managed to save him too.”

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Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted. Ballantine Books 2018.
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Sophie Kinsella’s My Not So Perfect Life

Have you ever had a really bad day but posted a pic onto social media to make it seem like your day had in fact been great? We’ve all been there. During my recent trip to Europe I was suffering from a sinus infection, and although I did push myself to see everything, I felt miserable for a good portion of the trip. I made multiple trips to the pharmacy for medicine, cried because at one point I could barely swallow, and drank less French wine than I had hoped for, but of course, that wasn’t what I showed to the world. Just like Katie Brenner, the main character in Sophie Kinsella’s newest novel only chose to show the good, I did so as well (of the pics I did post, there are very few close-up pics of me) – but not to the extreme that she takes it.

In My Not So Perfect Life, we follow Katie, a young twenty-something country girl as she tries to make it the branding industry in London. Her boss is all over the place, her commute is a nightmare, and her room in the apartment she shares with two other people is so tiny that she has to keep her clothes in a hammock above her bed (horrible!). But, if you looked at her Instagram account you would never know. Her social media alter ego goes to the best restaurants, has days and nights on the town, and overall, leads a perfect, enviable life. There are a few reasons why Katie does this, but the main one is that she wants to make her father proud and not have him worrying about just how not perfect her life really is. She doesn’t want to disappoint him or be pitied by him. And just as it seems her life is starting to become what she anticipated it to be (making new friends at work and a possible love interest), Katie gets fired and, after a ton of job searching, is forced to return home, where she tells lie after lie to her father. As in all Kinsella novels, Katie eventually has to confront her situation and fess up to all the lies that she told.

I think that Katie’s story is my favorite of (what I’ve read of) Kinsella’s so far. Her story is very relatable to anyone starting out in an industry from the bottom up: the meager salary, the long commute, the not-so-great apartment, the wanting to make people think that your life is all put together. In a way we’re all like that last one, all hoping that one day our lives will reflect exactly what we put on social media, even though in reality, we know that no one’s life is ever actually perfect. Katie’s story is also one about growing up, and accepting yourself for who you are. I feel that, as we get older, we get more comfortable with ourselves and we’re less likely to hide who we are or apologize for it.

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Sophie Kinsella’s My Not So Perfect Life. February 2017 The Dial Press. Penguin Random House.

Tana French’s The Trespasser

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Holly Seddon’s Try Not To Breathe

“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.

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Try Not To Breath, Holly Seddon.
 Ballantine Books 2016

E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (YA)

“Silence is a protective coating over pain.”

The Sinclairs are always perfect. No matter what happens, they are a perfect, beautiful family. Nothing is ever wrong, even when the opposite is true. Problems just don’t exist…not for them. They believe that strength comes from burying issues and not dwelling on them. That having feelings makes a person weak. They have turned living in ignorance into an art form, and are content with such. But, is that really possible? Is that really the healthy way to live your life? There comes a point when you can no longer bury your pain. What happens then?

In E. Lockhart’s novel, We Were Liars, Cadence returns to Beechwood Island for the summer after a season’s absence due to debilitating migraines. Having no memory of the accident from summer fifteen (she is now seventeen), Cadence hopes that being around the Liars – Gat and her cousins, Johnny and Mirren – will enable her to learn the truth about what happened. There is only one thing standing in her way. The Sinclairs. Cadence is a Sinclair, and the Sinclairs have no problems. When everyone is refusing to talk about the accident, will Cadence stay in the state of not-knowing forever, or will coming back to Beechwood Island be the key to unlocking the memories that her mind (and everyone else) has tried hard to keep buried.

“Sometimes I wonder if reality splits…[if] there are parallel universes in which different events happen to the same people. An alternate choice has been made, or an accident has turned out differently. Everyone has duplicates of themselves in these other worlds. Different selves with different lives, different luck.”

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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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Tana French’s The Secret Place

“It hits her at the bus stop, in the cool-edged morning air. At first she thinks she actually is sick, that what she’s doing has called down some curse on her and now all her lies come true. She hasn’t felt it in so long and it tastes different now. It used to be vast and dark-bloody; this is metallic, this is alkaline, this is like scouring powder eating through your layers one by one. It’s fear. Holly is afraid.”

 

As a huge fan of Tana French’s work, I was extremely excited for the arrival of her fifth novel, The Secret Place, preordering it months in advance of its recent publication. For those who are unfamiliar with her work, I’d like to say that French is unlike most of the writers out there. Not only is her writing amazing, but her novels as a whole are as well. She has a way with language and story telling that is truly atmospheric and at times haunting. More than once have I gone to sleep after reading one of her novels and woken up in a fit of panic. They’re just that good. Although she tries a somewhat different approach in her newest novel that I am less than fond of, the core of her remains the same.

The Secret Place tells the story of a murder that happened at an all girls’ school, and the investigation of it a year later. Detective Stephen Moran is brought back as the main character (this time) who leads the investigation, as well as Holly Mackey and her father Frank – all of whom were in French’s third, and arguably best novel to date, Faithful Place. The novel opens with Holly paying a visit to Detective Moran at the Dublin police department where she produces a photograph that she found on a bulletin board at her school, St. Kilda’s. The photograph is of Chris Harper, the boy who was murdered on the grounds of St. Kilda’s the previous year. And there is a caption. It reads: I Know Who Killed Him. Moran brings the new evidence to Antoinette Conway, one of the detectives who had originally worked the case. Together, they return to St. Kilda’s in hopes of finally solving the murder…but are they too late?

How far would you go to protect your friends, knowing that they were somehow involved in a crime? Would you stay silent forever, or would you find a way to get it out in the open, to once and for all uncover the whole truth? These are the questions that circulate from beginning to end in The Secret Place, questions that ring true for many of us. We befriend others who we have things in common with, and, as our bonds deepen, our loyalties toward them increases as well. But…how far would you go? Some say that no line exists for true friendship, but that is just not possible. There is always a line. Told in alternating narratives between past and present, French weaves a tale of friendship where loyalty is so strong that it is the only thing that stands in the way of solving the murder.

 

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