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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Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway

All too often I find an author who writes a few great books and then goes downhill.  I’m not sure if it’s because they’re out of good ideas, bored with the genre, or just assume that their readers will continue to follow them no matter what and simply stop trying.

All that being said, I’m always impressed when an author continues to grow, whether they change genres or combine them, because then I feel like I can continue to read and enjoy – and Ruth Ware is one of these.  In her fourth novel, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, she continues to stay in the psychological suspense genre, but adds another layer to her writing which makes it all that much better.

After taking over her dead mother’s psychic reading booth and borrowing money from a loan shark, Hal Westaway’s life is anything but stable.  Just as she’s about to give up, she receives a letter regarding an inheritance from a family she never knew existed.  Despite the fact that she believes it to be some sort of mistake, Hal’s desperation gets the better of her and she sets out to collect.   Once in the midst of it, Hal realizes that nothing is what it seems, and this family and inheritance may very well be the death of her.

Filled with her signature twists and turns, you are kept guessing (and changing your opinion!) until the very end.  Fans of Ware’s previous works, The Lying Game, The Woman in Cabin 10, and In a Dark, Dark Woods will NOT want to miss this!

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The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. May 2018 @ Scout Press

When A Fictional Book Becomes Reality

When Carrie Bradshaw started reading Love Letters of Great Men in the first Sex and the City movie, everyone (including me) wanted a copy.  Originally created as a prop, disappointed fans did not have to wait long for the anthology to (magically) line booksellers’ shelves.  I have a copy and have probably opened it a half dozen times.  If a movie would do that, it’s no wonder than that a TV show would eventually follow suit.

In the fourth season of Younger, the publisher’s ex-wife comes to Empirical Press with an autobiographical novel about a woman who runs away from her husband and children to find herself.  Knowing that the book would cause a scandal if published anywhere else, they decide to publish it and the love triangle between Liza, Charles and Pauline (Charles’ ex) emerges.  Both the upcoming book AND the love triangle become the prominent storyline for the remainder of season 4/spilling into season 5.

Exactly two weeks ago Season 5 of Younger premiered.  And to coincide with the new season, Simon & Schuster published a real-life version of Marriage Vacation on the very same day.  (Side note: Younger is actually based on a 2005 book of the same name by Pamela Redmond Satran that S&S also published.)  And if you were wondering what all the hype was about with page 58, now it your chance to read it!

Set as a standalone novel, Marriage Vacation follows Kate Carmichael as she flies halfway across the world, leaving her family behind to clear her head and reconnect with the person she used to be.  At times both humorous and thought provoking, this is the perfect novel for the summer (even if you’ve never watched the show)!

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Marriage Vacation by Pauline Turner Brooks. June 5, 2018 Simon & Schuster.

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

Thomas Mullen’s Darktown

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.

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Darktown by Thomas Mullen.  37INK.  September 2016.

Karin Tanabe’s The Gilded Years

In Karin Tanabe’s newest novel, The Gilded Years, she weaves truth with fiction as she tells the story of Anita Hemmings, the first black student to attend Vassar College.

After successfully passing as white at Vassar for three years, and keeping distance between herself and her classmates, Anita enters into her senior year with the same plan in mind. That is, until she meets Louise “Lottie” Taylor, a member of a very prominent New York family, and her new roommate. Lottie draws Anita in with her infectious personality and the two become fast friends. But when Anita starts to let down her guard, Lottie discovers her secret threatening everything that Anita has worked so hard for.

As a child of the 80s, it’s hard to imagine living in a time where racial segregation existed – even though I know that it did exist. It’s also hard to imagine having to go through life pretending that you are someone else, just to get something as simple as an education or a job. I think what makes this story so powerful is that Anita Hemmings did exist. And she did pass as white in order to be able to attend Vassar College.

What would you do if you were living in a time period where the color of your skin hindered you from doing normal, every-day activities? What if we didn’t have these freedoms that we take for granted? These freedoms that our ancestors had to fight for. Not only is this a beautifully written novel (I’m SUCH a Karin Tanabe fan), but it also makes us aware of how far we’ve come, and appreciate the things that we have. I cannot wait for her next novel!

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Karin Tanabe’s The Gilded Years. June 2016 WSP

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.

T.R. Richmond’s What She Left

“Obsession is territory with which I’m well acquainted. Its coarse rub, its barbed spike, its musty spoiled sourness. The line between love and hate is paper-thin, and when you love someone and it turns to hate, there’s an inverse relationship between the two.”

 

Do we ever really know ourselves? Do we ever really know anyone? In the days where we live on social media, we are well aware that everything we put onto the internet is locked there forever. But just how much truth can actually be found? In T.R. Richmond’s debut psychological suspense novel, What She Left, we follow a professor as he tries to piece together the life and mysterious death of one of his former students.

Through letters, emails, blog posts, text messages and news articles, the story of Alice Salmon starts to unfold, a twenty-five year old woman whose career in journalism was starting to buzz, and whose love of university-day partying could not be completely outrun, no matter how hard she tried. Alice was a woman who was still figuring out her life and plan her future. But who was she, and what really happened to her? Anthropology professor Jeremy Cooke attempts to find out by contacting friends and family members, and researching her social-media-persona (aka stalking).

There’s a lot that can be said about this book. Take the character of Alice. Through multiple perspectives (including her own), she comes across as someone who is not in complete control of her actions, jumping to conclusions too quickly, giving into peer pressure, and a little needy. But would she have jumped into the river on a snowy February night and ended her life? With so many different points of view, who, if anyone can be trusted? Everyone is hiding secrets, even Professor Cooke, whose obsessive attachment to Alice and declaration of sticking to the truth tends to waiver at times.

If you are looking for a good thriller with a fresh, modern take, this is your book. It is formatted a bit differently than I was used to, but that actually adds to the tone and story. What She Left will grab your attention right away, leaving you guessing until the very end – and stay with you long after you’ve finished the novel.

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T.R. Richmond’s What She Left. Simon & Schuster January 2016.

Colleen Hoover’s November 9

“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.

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Colleen Hoover’s November 9. Atria Books.

Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive

When I first picked up Jessica Knoll’s debut novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, I didn’t really know that much about it other than the fact that it was part of my favorite genre.  It had been getting great press and was being compared to multiple books that I have read including Flynn’s Gone Girl (ok, I have still not read this one, but I saw the movie) and Harrison’s The Silent Wife ( you can read my post here A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife).  So, I decided to give it a shot.  And it was not at all what I had expected.

The book follows Ani FaNelli, a young woman who is striving to create the perfect life for herself.  She has a glamorous job working at a magazine and a handsome fiancé from a well-to-do family, but events that happened in her past keep finding their way to the surface and threaten the life that she has carefully pieced together.

While Knoll does alternate between the past and the present, for the most part, the story takes place in the past.  It is there where we learn of the private pain and public humiliation that Ani (TifAni back then) had to endure.  And while we do feel for her, there is something dark and sinister underlying throughout that at times makes you question just how honest the narrator is being.  But also, it makes you wonder whether it is possible for someone who went through as much as she did to go on living a normal life without unconsciously trying to sabotage it.

It’s always nice when there is a character that you like in a novel, one that you can somehow relate to.  Ani isn’t likeable.  In fact, none of the characters really were, but they were also more in the background.  In Ani, we quickly find a character shift.  In the beginning she is a strong, put together, successful woman, but that soon changes and for most of the novel she is just that scared, traumatized young adult who’s only ‘coolness’ is the façade that she passes on for reality.  Ani wasn’t likeable, but she is relatable.  There are many people out there who never show their true characters, who never let others in for fear of getting rejected or hurt or labeled.  Ani drives this story forward because even though you don’t care, you want to know what happened, you want to know what she went through and you want to know how it turns out.

LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE, Knoll - jkt