Robyn Harding’s Her Pretty Face

From the author of the bestselling novel, The Party, comes a chilling new novel of domestic suspense that revolves around two suburban women and the long-buried, dark secrets that they hold.

When Frances Metcalfe met Kate Randolph, she thought she had found a lifelong best friend.  Overweight and insecure, Frances prefers to hide in the background instead of standing up for herself.  Kate is everything that Frances is not: strong, beautiful, confident.  Kate makes Frances want to be a better wife and mother and homemaker.  Best of all, Frances’ troubled son finds a friend in Kate’s son, and stops being labeled as the outcast in the elite private school they attend.  But one of these women is not who she says she is, and her secret – once out – has the power to destroy everything in its path.

Can people ever really change, or are we all stuck in our past, constantly making the same mistakes and never learning from them?  Or, knowing that we’re making these mistakes but not caring enough to change, or worse, not wanting to change.  This is just one of many questions brought up in Her Pretty Face.  Like most of us, I would like to think that, under the right circumstances, everyone is capable of change.  Not just that.  That everyone is capable to want to change.  In the novel, we are introduced to two women – both running away from their pasts – who form a bond.  Neither of them share their secrets with each other, but they don’t need to.  They understand each other in ways that no one else could: the friendship they’ve always been looking for.  Some things are unforgivable, but are they really?  Can their friendship stand the ultimate test?

Told in three narratives, once you pick this book up, it’s difficult to put back down.  I carried it around in my purse for about a week, but read it in three days.  Out now from Scout Press, I cannot wait to see what Robyn Harding does next.

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Robyn Harding’s Her Pretty Face.  Scout Press.  July 2018
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Sandie Jones’ The Other Woman

Emily’s fiancé, Adam is the perfect man.  He’s strong, he’s attentive, and he’s good to his mother, Pammie.  But Pammie is a different story.  Undermining Emily at every turn she is the nightmare mother-in-law we all dread.  The only problem is that everyone else thinks that Pammie is the sweetest woman…  But if it’s not all in Emily’s head why is she the only person that can see it?

On first glance, Sandie Jones’ debut novel The Other Woman feels a bit like the JLo movie Monster in Law.  They both feature future MIL’s who lie and manipulate and genuinely make the woman feel crazy, but that’s where their similarities end.  Unlike in the movie – where Michael Vartan’s character is actually perfect – Adam is not the perfect man.  In fact, he’s not even likeable.  Every time that Emily tries to talk to him about what Pammie is doing he shuts her down, refuses to see the bad and makes Emily (and us) think that maybe it’s all really her.  So is it?

I started this book on my plane ride home from vacation and finished it two days later.  It was that good.  And the shocking end that everyone is talking about?  I never saw it coming!  It’s out in stores next week so everyone grab this one!

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The Other Woman by Sandie Jones. Minotaur Books. August 2018

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.

Chevy Stevens’ Never Let You Go

A twisty suspense novel that explores the dark side of love and obsession.

Chevy Stevens’ Never Let You Go follows Lindsey Nash who, eleven years ago took her young daughter and escaped from her abusive husband Andrew’s grasp.  That same night, Andrew is arrested on unrelated charges and sentenced to ten years in prison.  Now, Lindsey has made a new life for herself; she owns her own business and takes care of her teenage daughter, Sophie.  When Andrew is released from prison, odd things start to happen and, despite Andrew’s claim that he’s reformed, Lindsey is convinced that he is behind everything, slowly plotting his revenge.  But, is Andrew the one behind the threats, or has someone else been waiting in the wings to make their move?  Told through Lindsey and Sophie’s perspectives in the present and past, Stevens weaves a chilling tale that makes you question every relationship you have and have ever had.

As someone who is an avid reader – and particularly of this genre – I’ve read a lot of stories that revolve around the main character running away to protect herself, or falling for the wrong person, or befriending the wrong person.  This one has it all, but somehow Stevens has a way of making it seem fresh and new.  Every character is flawed which makes all of them relatable – the mother who would do anything to protect her child; the husband with abandonment issues who became violent; the teenager who overshares and under-shares, desperate to hold on to relationships with both parents.

For someone who was in an abusive relationship and claims to have a hard time trusting anyone, Lindsey naïvely lets her guard down more often than not.  In the span of the novel, not only does she date two different men (Greg and Marcus), but she also talks freely about her past, sometimes divulging more details than she should.  She’s in constant contradiction to herself, one minute in a state of fight-or-flight and the other completely content.

We don’t know a lot about Andrew or what he went through in the past that causes him to act abusively, though he does admit to Sophie that his violence stemmed from severe abandonment issues.  I went back and forth on my feelings about Andrew, sometimes I believed that he really had changed and felt sorry for him, and other times I was convinced that he hadn’t.

And Sophie just seems like the typical teenager that you love to hate.  The one who is trying to become her own person and learning how to trust her gut, even if that means not always listening to the authority figure in her life.

At times dark and moody, Never Let You Go is a MUST read for suspense novel lovers.

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Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens. St Martins Press 2017.

Michelle Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband

A page-turning suspense novel reminiscent of Ruth Ware’s newly released The Lying Game, following three best friends – that met at college twenty-two years before – who must deal with the repercussions of a decades’ old secret that leads one of them to their death.

Aside from their living quarters, Kate, Jenny, and Aubrey – or, the Whipple Triplets, as they were aptly nicknamed – had nothing in common. Kate, who’s father was a Carlisle alumni, hailed from the privileged world of NYC’s Upper East Side. Jenny was born in Belle River, the town where Carlisle was located, where her parents owned a hardware store. And Aubrey, who was on scholarship, grew up in the slums of Las Vegas to a single mother who could barely afford to pay the bills. They were all running away from something, all trying to reinvent themselves. At first, their friendships seemed to bloom, but as is often the case with a close-knit group of adolescent girls, they soon were at odds over boys, going behind each other’s backs and at times engaging in silent competitions. Despite their antics, the three of them swore that they would always be there for each other (it was a love/hate bond)…until the end of their freshman year when something tragic causes them to part ways. Twenty-two years later, they are all married and have managed to move on with their lives when the past resurfaces.

These three women claim to be best friends, but underneath the surface they are more like frenemies, because they really can’t stand each other. Kate, Jenny, and Aubrey are all self-centered and care more about how they’re seen to the world and in their perspective lives, than anything else, but that’s part of what makes this book so interesting. None of the characters are really likeable, but your opinions of them constantly change. Sometimes they’re naïve, other times vindictive – what Campbell does is kid of brilliant actually, because there are moments where you do care, followed by moments where you don’t.

What I liked about this novel is that it really did keep me guessing as to who caused the death. Early enough on, we do find out which one of the frenemies dies, but the real mystery is who was involved in said death, which is not as black and white as you would expect. Campbell takes you on a rollercoaster ride – as soon as I was certain that I knew the answer, something new would be revealed that would completely change my opinion. You are really left guessing until the final page, and even then, the culprit is shocking.

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Michelle Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband. St Martin’s Press 2017.

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

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.

Wendy Walker’s All is Not Forgotten

“I heard a mumble then, a very quiet mumble. I looked at Jenny. Tears rolled down her face. Her mouth was dry as she whispered the word. Girl. Girl.

 

There’s a right time and moment to pick up a book. Sometimes, they have to be saved until we’re ready to experience them, until we’re in the right mindset in order to really appreciate and understand them the way that they were meant to be understood. Recently, I’d been indecisive, struggling to make a decision between the piles of books that I have at my apartment and my office. It had been three days since I finished the last book I’d been reading. Three days without reading is a rarity for me, unless I’m going through some personal turmoil. So, on that Friday afternoon, I stared at my stacks and picked up All is Not Forgotten. I had been holding onto an advanced copy for a long time – it pubbed this past summer – but finally, I was ready to read it.

Jenny, a teenage girl, is raped in the woods while music from a house party – one she’d been attending – blared in the background. At the hospital, she’s given a drug. Its purpose was to erase the memory of the event from her mind and enable her to live on as though the rape did not happen. But can your mind ever really forget? Narrated by Alan, a psychiatrist who works with Jenny to try and help her recover her stolen memories, we learn something that we already know: that the brain is complicated. And, while its capacity to retain memories and file them away is truly fascinating, there is still so much that is unknown.

So many novels on rape focus on the victim, which is why I thought it an interesting choice to use Alan as the narrator. He’s far enough removed that he can see what Jenny and her parents cannot. At the same time, he’s also invested…sometimes almost obsessively so. But it’s not until the novel ends that we really understand why. Not one of the characters is the person that they present to the world. Everyone is hiding behind a screen, terrified that they will be found out.

In the end, is Alan able to help Jenny recover that memory? And if so, will she be able to move on with her life?

 

“Jenny. Do you want to remember what happened to you that night in the woods?”

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All is Not Forgotten.  Wendy Walker.  St Martin’s Press 2016

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.

Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go

A debut psychological thriller marketed as the next Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train from Berkley, Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go is a novel that demands your attention. With so many people talking about a HUGE twist, I was intrigued. And, when an advanced copy landed in my inbox, it quickly moved to the top of my reading list.

The novel opens on a rainy afternoon, as a mother and her son are crossing the street in front of their house. The boy slips out of his mother’s grasp and, in one life-shattering moment, is hit and killed by a car that turns and quickly flees the scene. Leaving the mother in the street huddled over her child’s lifeless body.

But who was behind the wheel?

Following Jenna Gray – a woman who leaves her life behind for one in a remote Welsh town – and the officers investigating the boy’s murder, I Let You Go is a brilliant novel that leaves you on the edge of your seat until the final page. As the police come closer to finding the driver, we see Jenna trying to move on from a past that keeps resurfacing.

The novel is at once heartbreaking and satisfying, and the HUGE twist that they promise comes along in the middle of the novel and does not disappoint. I was left speechless with my jaw on the floor, desperate to keep turning the pages and not stopping until I had reached the conclusion.

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Berkley 2016. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go