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.”

Unknown.jpeg
Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted. Ballantine Books 2018.
Advertisements

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)!

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

Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You

“’Imagine if,’ she repeated. She’d liked the sound of the words when he said them. They sounded so much better than almost.”

A page-turning psychological suspense debut in the vein of Mary Torjussen’s Gone Without a Trace, about the consequences of secrets not shared.

We all have secrets, but how can you ascertain those that are harmless from those that have the power to destroy? While on a family vacation, Violet returns to the hotel room to find her husband, Finn, and their son, Bear, gone, and only her belongings remaining. A week later, Finn shows up with Bear at their friend Caitlin’s house demanding she help him hide, blackmailing her with a secret from her past. Told through the eyes of three narrators – Violet, Finn and Caitlin – Almost Missed You keeps the reader on the edge of her seat until the very end. What does Finn have over Caitlin? Will Violet get Bear back? And, most importantly, why did Finn run?

Although Violet does in fact love her son and is distraught over Bear’s disappearance, it’s sometimes hard to feel empathy towards her, as she is naïve and doesn’t seem to have much depth. She pushes away Grams and prefers to drink vodka alone. Violet believes that her and Finn’s love story was nothing short of magical and it’s not until she finds out the truth about his past that she starts to question the man that she married from the one that she first met on the beach all of those years ago.

Throughout the novel, Caitlin is very much in the fight or flight mode. On the one hand she feels for her Violet and wants to tell her that Bear is safe, but on the other, she’s worried that the life she had made for herself is going to completely fall apart. Perhaps Caitlin should have told Violet about Finn’s past. Maybe if she had, the outcome would have been different, but she was Finn’s friend first and it was not her secret to tell.

Surprisingly, my favorite character was not Violet or Caitlin, but actually Finn – not what you would expect given his actions, but I felt that he was the most real. He made mistakes, but he actually let himself feel things. He wasn’t scared of the pain: he wanted to feel it. Everyone kept talking about how he and Violet were meant to be, how the way they met and then found each other again was one in a million, but the truth was that Finn was still living in the past and their relationship never stood a chance.

At times heart-wrenching, Almost Missed You shows that there is always more than one side to a story…sometimes there is three. And that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can never really know a person.

almost missed you
Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You. 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.

Unknown
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.

IMG_5988
Sophie Kinsella’s My Not So Perfect Life. February 2017 The Dial Press. Penguin Random House.

Georgia Clark’s The Regulars

What if you had the chance to correct all of your flaws, would you take it? In Georgia Clark’s debut novel, The Regulars, she explores the idea of becoming perfect (beautiful) as three friends struggle with being in their early twenties and deciding what they want to do with their lives. But there’s a catch. In order to be ‘pretty,’ they could end up sacrificing the most important thing of all. What would you sacrifice to be ‘pretty’?

Evie, Krista and Willow are trying to make sense of life in New York City. Trying to find the perfect jobs, the perfect relationships, and just have enough money to pay their monthly bills. Evie is a copywriter working for a magazine that caters towards materialism, beauty and sex as power. She wants to empower women and educate them that look aren’t everything. Krista dropped out of law school to try to make it as an actress but has not been successful. Willow is the daughter of a movie mogul who is tired of living life in her father’s shadow. She has a hard time getting close to anyone, including Evie and Krista, and will unexpectedly disappear from time to time. After losing her agent, Krista is sitting at a bar mid-day when she runs into an old acquaintance who, sensing Krista’s mood gives her Pretty. Pretty is a magic potion that makes anyone who takes it gorgeous. After much debate, all three girls end of taking the potion. They all become beautiful, confident women, unrecognizable as their own selves. But are they?

As I was reading, I found myself thinking about what I would be willing to give up to become perfect. If I would be curious enough to take the potion (probably?!), and if so, if I too would become addicted to it like the characters here were. What I found to be really interesting was that, Evie, Krista and Willow all realized that they were lacking the same thing: confidence. It was the potion that enabled them to gain confidence in themselves and try the things that they were most scared of, and it was the confidence that they eventually retained once the effects of the potion finally started wearing off. As a shy person, I identified with the lack of confidence that the characters had. I still sometimes have trouble mustering the courage to speak up for myself, but I’ve found that that’s the only way to actually change a situation. And it’s definitely the only way to get what you want. I found myself laughing at some parts and cringing at others, thinking what the hell were they doing. All in all, I feel that it’s a great lesson to anyone, that if you just dig deep inside yourself, you can allow yourself the confidence to do anything.

 

IMG_2421.JPG
The Regulars by Georgia Clark. Emily Bestler Books. Aug 2016.

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.

one true loves
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid. June 2016. Washington Square Press.

 

 

 

Amy Hatvany’s Somewhere Out There

There are two types of people in the world: the ones that allow themselves to be defined by past experiences, and those who use their hardships as a way to strengthen themselves and rise above. In Amy Hatvany’s latest novel, Somewhere Out There, we see both types, as two sisters who were torn apart when they were young are reunited as adults.

When Jennifer got pregnant as a teenager, against her mother’s wishes, she decided to move in with her boyfriend and keep the baby. Little did she know that he would kick her out. That she would become homeless. That she would have a second child. And that she would end up in prison. For shoplifting food at a grocery store. For her children.

Natalie Clark never knew her birth mother. She was too young to remember her. She didn’t even know that she was adopted until she had to do a family tree project for school. Now that her own daughter has to do the same, Natalie musters the strength to ask her parents the questions she was always too afraid of, finding out that she has a sister that she never knew existed. Natalie feels betrayed by her parents’ actions and immediately goes about trying to find her long lost sister.

The last time Brooke Walker saw her mother or little sister, she was four years old. She moved from one foster home to the next, eventually growing up in a state facility, while her baby sister was adopted. Brooke lives in a small studio and works as a waitress. She doesn’t have any friends, and seems to only date emotionally unavailable men. Brooke never lets anyone get close to her. She keeps herself at a distance from everyone that she comes in contact with, preferring to feel nothing than to get hurt. She blames her mother abandoning her and her sister for never trying to find her.

When Brooke and Natalie finally reunite, Brooke is cautious and keeps her distance. Even when she starts to let her guard down, she isn’t able to completely open up and trust her sister. Natalie wants answers to why their mother abandoned them, but Brooke is hesitant. After digging, Natalie finds out more than she could have imagined, leaving herself heartbroken for both the little girl that she had been and for the pain that her mother – Jennifer – had gone through.

Natalie and Brooke eventually meet Jennifer, but are their relationships ones that can be repaired? There were many moments in the novel that I found myself in tears…mostly for the chapters with Jennifer. Yes, her children went through a lot, having lost their mother and each other, but what Jennifer had to deal with was truly heartbreaking. How do you come back from a loss like that? Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes, even if you want to, even if it is presented to you, it’s not enough. Natalie was able to use her losses as strength, something that Brooke has a hard time doing. But what about Jennifer? Will she be able to find a way to let her daughters back into her life, or will it break her?

Amy Hatvany
Somewhere Out There.  Amy Hatvany.  WSP 2016

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Maybe in Another Life

“Every second of every day, the world is splitting further and further into an infinite number of parallel universes, where everything that could happen is happening.”

Have you ever wondered about what would have happened if you had made a different choice? If you had chosen to follow your heart and not your head? If you had said yes to something, instead of no? How different would your life be? I would like to think that there are certain things that happen in your life that are supposed to happen, and that the choices that we make are just part of the process to get there, that their impact – whatever it may be – is not significant enough to change our destiny. But what if that isn’t the case, and certain choices really do change your destiny? In Taylor Jenkins Reid’s new novel, Maybe In Another Life, she explores the concept of destiny and the affect our decisions have on it.

When Hannah moves back home to Los Angeles after yet another failed relationship and mediocre job, she runs into her high school boyfriend, Ethan, while out celebrating with her best friend Gabby. At the end of the night, Hannah has to decide between going home with Gabby and staying out with Ethan. Such a simple decision, but one that ends up having a huge impact on her life, as we are shown both parallels.

It’s funny how a simple decision can be life altering. Simple, every-day decisions. We don’t think that the little things always matter and tend to take a lot of things for granted, but this novel makes you reevaluate things that you once thought of as insignificant. It makes you question your life and your choices. It makes you question whether or not you are living up to your potential – living out your dreams. This is what I love about Reid. She has a way of conveying emotions that stick with you long after you’ve finished the final page, and her words have the ability to alter your views on life and the way you live it.

Coming July 7, 2015

IMG_7351