family

Review: NO TIME TO BLINK by Dina Silver

No Time to Blink

by Dina Silver

Published by Lake Union Publishing
283 pages
Genre: women’s fiction
4.5 / 5

My Review:

Late in this book, there is a moment that will overwhelm you with its emotional impact. And in this moment, Dina Silver proves how smart of a writer she is. She does not tell you what’s said between two characters. She shows you. She depicts their actions, letting you see, from a distance, how these two people interact, revealing to you their feelings. It is a powerful moment, one that Silver imparts with poignant – but minimal – detail.

That’s what makes this book so remarkable: Silver’s ability to tell a story largely through showing.

The two women at the center of the book each are forced to react to their circumstances without knowing why they are in the positions in which they find themselves. They do not know why their husbands behave as they do, yet they have to decide how they will respond. And that’s life, isn’t it? We never have all the answers, yet we have to make decisions based on what we know at the time.

Ann Marie’s story begins the book, and Silver immediately plunges you into a mystery focused on her about which Ann Marie is unaware: “I can’t believe you’re the little girl.” Silver then takes you into the perspective of Catherine, Ann Marie’s mother. You learn about her privileged upbringing in Greenwich, Connecticut, and her passionate, whirlwind romance and quick marriage to Gabriel, a Lebanese man who soon takes her back to his homeland. Through Gabriel, Silver shows – again, shows – cultural differences, borne both of time and place. You understand that Gabriel represents freedom to Catherine, even as you hold your breath, knowing that something terrible will happen. Meanwhile, Ann Marie struggles with the demise of her marriage. All the while, Silver builds to an emotional crescendo, one that will leave you grabbing for tissues.

There are moments in this book that are fraught with anxiety and tension, and there are moments that are sweetly beautiful and even romantic. Silver lets some things remain a mystery, which makes the impact of what you do know all the more powerful.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. Catherine and Ann Marie are stronger than they realize. And when they feel themselves showing weakness, they are best served by Catherine’s adage: “Put your pearls on and fake it.”

 

Blurb:

He knows the one thing that would destroy me would be to separate me from my daughter…

Catherine Clarke defied her family’s expectations when she married Gabriel, a handsome Lebanese businessman. After moving to Gabriel’s homeland and welcoming a baby daughter, Catherine knew she had to acclimate herself to the strange new world. Yet both her husband and her surroundings became more volatile and threatening than she could have ever imagined.

When Gabriel forbids her to return to the States, Catherine devises a plan to deceive him, but she vastly underestimates how far he will go to punish her. And after her daughter, Ann Marie, is abducted and taken deep into the mountains of Beirut—protected by family, culture, and law—the only thing on Catherine’s side is the fierceness of a mother’s love. She’s prepared to move heaven and earth to find her child.

Told from alternating points of view—that of a daughter whose past is a mystery and of a mother with painful secrets to share—this profoundly moving story of impossible risks will resonate with anyone whose love has no boundaries.

About the Author:

Dina Silver is an author, a wine drinker, a lover of cheese fries, and an excellent parallel parker.

She is the author of SIX books: No Time To Blink, The Unimaginable, Kat Fight, Finding Bliss, Whisper if You Need Me, and One Pink Line, which was chosen as a 2012 Top Title by IndieReader and was a finalist in their 2012 Discovery Awards.

Dina lives with her husband, son, and twenty-pound tabby cat in suburban Chicago where she also works as a realtor. When she’s not writing books or selling homes, she’s likely watching Netflix or wandering the aisles of her local grocery trying to decide what to make for dinner.

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Review copy provided from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

Review: SHE REGRETS NOTHING by Andrea Dunlop

She Regrets Nothing

by Andrea Dunlop

Published by Washington Square Press
400 pages
Genre: women’s fiction
5 / 5

My Review:

It takes tremendous skill to populate a book nearly entirely with unlikable — truly despisable — characters and still make it a riveting page-turner. Andrea Dunlop has done just that.

You may think you will like Laila, but you won’t. Oh, sure she starts off as some sort of Forever 21-wearing Midwestern innocent, but give her ten minutes of realizing that she is a member of an obscenely rich New York family, and she sloughs off her discount duds for a sense of entitlement. Some of my favorite moments were when other characters point out her brazen desire to climb up in the social (and financial) ranks.

You will find Nora and Leo, Laila’s twin cousins, entertaining, and you may even develop a fondness for them. While they, too, are entitled, they were born with it and to it. Neither can hold down a job (neither wishes to, which perhaps is the point), which causes them no concerns whatsoever. There were a few moments when I felt for Nora, but then she would say something ridiculously meanspirited, and my empathies would evaporate.

You won’t like the twins’ parents, either, and although you never actually meet him, you are smart enough not to like their grandfather.

There are, however, two characters you will love and who earn your love. One of them is Liberty, the twins’ elder sister and an heiress who thinks like a career girl. She is too good for these people, and she’s too good to realize that. Dunlop’s pacing impresses because she knows when she needs to turn the story over to Liberty. If you spend too much time in Laila’s and Nora’s heads, you will find yourself overcome with irrational anger.

The other character you will love is best not revealed in a review. Suffice it to say that Dunlop is a smart, canny writer who knows that Liberty needs an ally, and this story needs to end on a hopeful note.

The ending, by the way, is PERFECTION. I loved that Dunlop never tries to redeem these people. They are who they are, and no amount of wishful thinking will turn them from entitled brats into tolerant, generous humans.

This book is perfect for book clubs. Dunlop gives you a lot to discuss and debate, and you will devour her storytelling. I loved this book so much. If you give it a chance, which you should, please come back and let me know your thoughts.

Blurb:

Named a “Must-Read” by Town & Country * Elite Daily InStyle

In the tradition of The Emperor’s Children and The House of Mirth, the forgotten granddaughter of one of New York’s wealthiest men is reunited with her family just as she comes of age—and once she’s had a glimpse of their glittering world, she refuses to let it go without a fight.

When Laila Lawrence becomes an orphan at twenty-three, the sudden loss unexpectedly introduces her to three glamorous cousins from New York who show up unannounced at her mother’s funeral. The three siblings are scions of the wealthy family from which Laila’s father had been estranged long before his own untimely demise ten years before.

Two years later, Laila has left behind her quiet life in Grosse Point, Michigan to move to New York City, landing her smack in the middle of her cousins’ decadent world. As the truth about why Laila’s parents became estranged from the family patriarch becomes clear, Laila grows ever more resolved to claim what’s rightfully hers. Caught between longing for the love of her family and her relentless pursuit of the lifestyle she feels she was unfairly denied, Laila finds herself reawakening a long dead family scandal—not to mention setting off several new ones—as she becomes further enmeshed in the lives and love affairs of her cousins. But will Laila ever, truly, belong in their world? Sly and sexy, She Regrets Nothing is a sharply observed and utterly seductive tale about family, fortune, and fate—and the dark side of wealth.

About the Author:

Andrea Dunlop is an author and social media consultant based out of Seattle, WA with over a decade of experience in book publishing.

She began her career as an in-house publicist for Doubleday (Random House) where she worked with bestselling authors such as Tina Brown, Jonathan Lethem, Linda Fairstein, and many others.

After moving back to Seattle in 2009, she took over as publicity manager for Kim Ricketts Book Events promoting a wide range of cookbook and literary events with authors such as Laurie David, Rene Redzepi, and Steven Johnson. Next, she spent five years with editorial and book production firm Girl Friday Productions as their executive director of social media and marketing, working with both traditionally and self-published clients and spearheading the company’s marketing efforts.

In February 2016, Andrea released her debut novel, Losing the Light (Atria), and is currently working on a second novel for the publisher, due out in 2017. In addition to her writing and social media work, Andrea is an accomplished speaker and has presented at book and publishing conferences nationwide including The San Francisco Writers Conference, The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Conference, The Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference, and many others.

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Review copy provided from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

Review: WITHOUT MERIT by Colleen Hoover

Without Merit

by Colleen Hoover

Published by Atria
384 pages
Genre: YA; romance; coming of age
4.5 / 5

My Review:

When you settle in with a Colleen Hoover book, you know that you will experience three things:

  1. You will laugh, particularly at things you think you shouldn’t find hilarious;
  2. You will cry. A LOT. A whoooooole lot, even at times when your heart is full of joy.
  3. You will emerge from this book feeling altered somehow, as if you both better understand the world and are also more confused by it.

In other words, reading Colleen Hoover’s books is akin to living a paradox.

Without Merit introduces you to Hoover’s quirkiest cast to date: the Voss family and their associates. You have patriarch Barnaby Voss, whose agoraphobic ex-wife lives in the basement of the repurposed church the Vosses inhabit while he current wife lives upstairs with his family, which consists of oldest son Utah, youngest son Toby, and identical twin daughters Honor and Merit. Two more people come to live with the family, but you need to read the book to find out about them.

Merit narrates this story, and it is hers to tell. She is quirky in her own right, but, at seventeen, she can’t quite see how her quirkiness contributes to her family. She lacks, as her new friend (and the possible boyfriend of her sister) points out, perspective.

As Hoover shows, you must acknowledge that perspective differs from person to person, and no one’s perspective is more correct than another’s. In order to understand each other, we need to understand our varying – sometimes contradicting – perspectives. For instance, Merit buys trophies. Her perspective is that they represent validation she does not receive within her family, but someone else’s perspective may be that Merit is a little nuts.

Perhaps the greatest lesson in perspective comes within the various romances Hoover develops. The romances – platonic and otherwise – within a family, both with established and new additions. The romances of a girl trying to ease the sufferings of others. The romance of self-discovery. And the romance of a girl trying to figure out her place with the guy who understands her perspective better than she does.

I loved this book so much. I loved the Voss family, I loved how ostracized they felt within their family, not to mention within the community. And I loved how Hoover showed that varying perspectives make a family, rather than break it.

Yes, this is a Young Adult book, but its appeal cuts a wide swath. When you read it – as you should  come back and let me know your thoughts. What did you think of Merit Voss and her family?

Blurb:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of It Ends With Us and November 9 comes a moving and haunting novel of family, love, and the power of the truth.

“Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.”

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines, when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

Poignant and powerful, Without Merit explores the layers of lies that tie a family together and the power of love and truth.

About the Author:

I detest bios, but this is what Wikipedia has to say about me.

Colleen Hoover is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven novels and five novellas. Hoover’s novels fall into the New Adult and Young Adult contemporary romance categories.

Hoover published her first novel, Slammed, in January 2012. Since then, all her eligible works have become New York Times best sellers.

Colleen Hoover is published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. Colleen also has several self-published titles.

In 2013, Colleen’s third novel, Hopeless, was the first self-published novel to reach #1 on The New York Times, where it remained for several weeks. Hopeless went on to become one of the top 20 bestselling ebooks of 2013.

In 2015, Colleen’s novel CONFESS won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Romance. That was followed up in 2016 with her latest title, It Ends With Us, also winning the Choice Award for Best Romance.

Her novel CONFESS has been filmed as a series by Awestruck and is due to release this spring on go90. Katie Leclerc and Ryan Cooper star in the series.

Ugly Love is slated to begin filming in late 2017.

Colleen founded The Bookworm Box, a charity subscription service and bookstore, with her family in 2015. The Bookworm Box is a subscription service that provides readers with an exciting opportunity to receive signed novels in the mail each month from authors all over the world. All profits from the subscription service are donated to various charities each month. To date, The Bookworm Box has donated over $850,000 to help those in need.

Colleen’s next release is WITHOUT MERIT, a contemporary romance novel due to release through Atria Books in October, 2017.

Colleen’s current work-in-progress is an exciting revisit to a previous novel, not yet announced, due to release in early 2018.

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Review copy provided from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

Review: TO THE BACK OF BEYOND by Peter Stamm

To the Back of Beyond

by Peter Stamm

Published by Other Press
160 pages
Genre: fiction
3 / 5

My Review:

Oh, boy.

If I were to label this book, I’d say that it is an absolute must-read for a book club. Given that the demographics for most book clubs indicates that they are comprised largely of women, I would LOVE to be a part of a book club that read this one.

On the evening that his family returns from a Spain holiday, Thomas’s wife Astrid heads indoors after enjoy a glass of wine with him. While she is tending to their children and unpacking from the trip, Thomas walks to the gate on his property and … leaves.

Why does he leave, you ask? In this very slim, novella-ish book, Peter Stamm (whose birthday, I discovered through researching him, is the same as mine) doesn’t quite give you a clear answer. Perhaps there isn’t one. Perhaps it is nothing more than a general malaise, a sort of ennui that settles on married couples after a time.

Let’s be honest: who hasn’t thought of walking away from their life? Who doesn’t think about wandering countrysides, picking up odd jobs and meeting new people? Who doesn’t imagine a new life?

The difference between us and Thomas is that he does it.

Meanwhile, Astrid is at home, trying to understand what happens.

Astrid is the more intriguing character to me because of the decisions she makes after her husband leaves. She alone has to care for their home and children. She alone has to explain her husband’s behavior. She alone has to maintain their family.

Stamm has an interesting concept on his hands, and I am impressed that he doesn’t try to make you empathize with Thomas or even really like him. You will be as confounded as Astrid. The problem isn’t that you never really get the clarify you need as far as Thomas is concerned. Rather, the pacing occasionally bogs down, which is an issue in any book but perhaps more glaring in one this slim.

And then there is its ending.

For real. Read this one in your book clubs, and then come back and shout with me about the ending. I need to know if you are as frustrated as I am. Does the ending make you, too, wonder what the point of this book could be?

Blurb:

Man Booker Prize nominee Peter Stamm explores in his sixth novel what it means to be in the middle of nowhere, in mind and in body.

Happily married with two children and a comfortable home in a Swiss town, Thomas and Astrid enjoy a glass of wine in their garden on a night like any other. Called back to the house by their son’s cries, Astrid goes inside, expecting her husband to join her in a bit. But Thomas gets up and, after a brief moment of hesitation, opens the gate and walks out.

No longer bound by the ties of his everyday life–family, friends, work–Thomas begins a winding trek across the countryside, exposed as never before to the Alpine winter. At home, Astrid wonders where he’s gone, when he’ll come back, whether he’s still alive.

Following Thomas and Astrid on their separate paths, To the Back of Beyond becomes ultimately a meditation on the limits of freedom and on the craving to be wanted.

About the Author:

My earliest professional desires had nothing to do with literature. First I wanted to become a ship builder, later a professor, I do not know any more – and probably not at that time – what science. I never wanted to be a pilot, a cook and a photographer, and a time- recruiter and a criminal, and probably a lot more that I do not remember.

After all, the German classes were my favorite at school, I liked to write essays at that time, and always thought about stories when I was bored at school or on free afternoons. I was Huckleberry Finn when we built a raft in the forest that never made it onto the water, and when I went to the block flute in the winter, I was a polar explorer, and often and on various occasions I was an agent secret mission.

My first preserved text is a recipe for Habermus, which I wrote in kindergarten, another early text a poem on Ferdi Kübler, a cyclist who once gave me an autograph card and a umbrella. When I decided to write as a profession I do not know anymore. All I know is that, on the 20th of the 20th, I had the idea of ​​a novel, which I had only a few years later.

I did not know how to become a writer, and if I had known that it would take fifteen years before my first novel appeared, I probably would not have continued. But writing was among the many other things I tried, the first occupation that never bored me, which always challenged me. I have never felt like I can achieve what I want to achieve.

I do not have to write, but I love writing more than any other occupation.

……………………………

Peter Stamm, born 1963 in Weinfelden, Thurgau. After an apprenticeship as an accountant he studied English Literature, Psychology, and Psychopathology for some semesters at Zurich University. Before and after the event, the author of the newspaper, the Tages-Anzeiger, The Weltoche, and the satirical magazine Nebelspalter. He spent some time in Paris, New York and Scandinavia. So far, he has published six novels, four collections of stories, three children’s books and several radio and stage plays. His books have been. For his entire body of work and his accomplishments in fiction, he was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize in 2013, and in 2014 he won the prestigious Friedrich Hölderlin Prize.

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Review copy provided from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

Review: THE HEIRS by Susan Rieger

The Heirs

by Susan Rieger

Published by Crown
272 pages
Genre: fiction
5 / 5

My Review:

This is one of those rare books which I wanted to re-read the moment I finished it. I wanted to dive back into Susan Rieger’s exceptional storytelling and immerse myself once again into the Falkes family.

Orphaned and left with the village vicar in England, Rupert lived the American dream. He created a life for himself out of whole cloth, having been christened with a new name, his surname now that of the reverend who rescued him. Rupert got himself into Cambridge and, using his financial bequest, took himself to America. He attended Yale law school and became a respected, ambitious attorney with a high-powered Manhattan firm. As the first heir in this story, Rupert took Father Falkes’s legacy and turned it into his own.

As the daughter of high society parents, Eleanor Phipps experienced none of the struggles that Rupert did. Hers were far more psychological and emotional, with her cold, judgmental mother and largely absent father. The heir to her mother’s disinterested parenting and her father’s prescient investment in McDonald’s, Eleanor took what she learned and became the sort of wife and mother she wanted to see and have as a child.

When Rupert passes away, he leaves his widow Eleanor and their five sons. His heirs want for nothing. The boys enjoyed top notch educations, with all five of them matriculating from Princeton. Thanks to their mother’s McDonald’s investment, they are financially secure. Perhaps the most important legacy their father gave them was the encouragement to pursue their hearts’ desires: “Rupert believed in his sons, and his belief in them was the greatest thing he gave them.”

Six months after his death, potential new heirs appear when Eleanor receives a letter from a woman who claims to have had a relationship with Rupert “for some years” through which she and Rupert had two sons.

The five Falkes brothers are outraged. Who is this woman, claiming such nonsense? Who is this man who was their father? Was he some sort of bigamist? Does the possibility of an affair and additional progeny negate everything they knew about him?

Only Eleanor seems to be unaffected. She is not ruffled by a possible mistress. She is not disturbed by the prospect of Rupert having had two children with another woman.

Moving back and forth from Rupert’s and Eleanor’s childhoods, Susan Rieger details a marriage and its legacies with hypnotic writing. She shows you how two people can marry for practical contentment with a healthy dose of lust. Using perspectives of the people in Eleanor’s and Rupert’s lives, she draws fully realized characters, people who make you care about them, and she invests you fully in her book. She takes the central mystery – is Rupert the father of these boys – and uses it as roots of sorts, allowing it to sprout a trunk, arms, and leaves.

Rupert’s last words to Eleanor are a prophetic, “Settle my just debts.” Susan Rieger asks what a man’s just debts are? What do we still owe when we die? To whom do we owe it?

Prepare to be mesmerized. Prepare to be utterly captivated. Prepare to not want to let go of Rupert and Eleanor Falkes and Susan Rieger’s writing.

Blurb:

Brilliantly wrought, incisive, and stirring, The Heirs tells the story of an upper-crust Manhattan family coming undone after the death of their patriarch 
 
Six months after Rupert Falkes dies, leaving a grieving widow and five adult sons, an unknown woman sues his estate, claiming she had two sons by him.  The Falkes brothers are pitched into turmoil, at once missing their father and feeling betrayed by him.  In disconcerting contrast, their mother, Eleanor, is cool and calm, showing preternatural composure.

Eleanor and Rupert had made an admirable life together — Eleanor with her sly wit and generosity, Rupert with his ambition and English charm — and they were proud of their handsome, talented sons: Harry, a brash law professor; Will, a savvy Hollywood agent; Sam, an astute doctor and scientific researcher; Jack, a jazz trumpet prodigy; Tom, a public-spirited federal prosecutor. The brothers see their identity and success as inextricably tied to family loyalty – a loyalty they always believed their father shared. Struggling to reclaim their identity, the brothers find Eleanor’s sympathy toward the woman and her sons confounding. Widowhood has let her cast off the rigid propriety of her stifling upbringing, and the brothers begin to question whether they knew either of their parents at all.

A riveting portrait of a family, told with compassion, insight, and wit, The Heirs wrestles with the tangled nature of inheritance and legacy for one unforgettable, patrician New York family. Moving seamlessly through a constellation of rich, arresting voices, The Heirs is a tale out Edith Wharton for the 21st century.

 

Buy Links:

About the Author:

SUSAN RIEGER is the author of the 2014 novel The Divorce Papers.  She is a graduate of Columbia Law School and has worked as a residential College Dean at Yale and as associate provost at Columbia. She lives in New York City with her husband, the writer David Denby.

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Review copy provided from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

Review: ALL THE SECRETS WE KEEP (Quarry Book 2) by Megan Hart

All the Secrets We Keep (Quarry Book 2)

by Megan Hart

Published by Montlake Romance
304 pages
Genre: romance
4 / 5

My Review:

When last we left off with Ilya, Niko, Alicia, and Theresa, in All the Lies We Tell, Alicia and Niko were a couple (despite his brother Ilya being Alicia’s first husband), and Theresa was desperate for Ilya to sell his ownership in the dive shop he co-owned with Alicia, who sold her majority. Megan Hart picks up shortly after Alicia departed for several weeks of world travels, but neither she nor Niko are the focus of this book. Rather, Hart devotes her attention to Ilya and Theresa, neither of whom were all that interesting in the first book.

What a difference a change of storyline makes.

The titular secrets are held largely by Theresa, with some belonging to her father and Ilya’s mother. Theresa struggles, though. She holds her secrets close to her out of shame and fear, as well as a sense of loyalty to her father, even though she suspects – as do you – that her loyalty is undeserved and misplaced.

Whereas the first book is about being honest with yourself, this one is about the destructive nature of secrets within a family. Sometimes what you choose to keep to yourself needs to be known in order to protect others. Theresa faces this, and she isn’t always sure how to process it. Ilya, on the other hand, just needs to grow up. Hart shows you his maturation as he realizes that he needs to let go of some of the pain he’s clung to the past twenty or so years.

Niko and Alicia fans will enjoy reconnecting with them, and those of you who suspected that Theresa’s father and Ilya’s mother were nothing but trouble will find yourselves vindicated. You also get the truth about Jennilynn, although not much of that will surprise you.

Since this is a Megan Hart book, you know you’re in for some hot sexy times, and Hart does not disappoint. You knew in All the Lies We Tell that Ilya and Theresa need to be together, so when they are together together, you won’t be surprised to see that they are scorching hot.

I enjoyed this duet. Then again, I enjoy most books from Megan Hart. I can’t say she left me with a craving for borscht, but I will admit to a heightened curiosity about Russian cooking.

Blurb:

Still stuck in his small Central Pennsylvania hometown, Ilya Stern is used to feeling like a disappointment. After his high school girlfriend, Jennilynn, drowned, he married her sister, Alicia, only to divorce a decade later. The business they started together is threatened by a luxury development—and Alicia has already sold her stake. Now that Babulya, Ilya’s gentle Russian grandmother, has died, there’s no one left who believes in him. Or so he thinks.

Theresa Malone was Ilya’s stepsister for only a year, until his mother threw her pill-popping father out of the house in the middle of the night, forcing teenage Theresa to follow. Now she’s returned for Babulya’s funeral—and to facilitate the quarry-development deal. As she tries to convince Ilya to sell, she realizes her feelings for him have ignited—from sisterly into something more.

Working together closely, Ilya and Theresa struggle to define their intense attraction. When the details of Jennilynn’s death surface, will Ilya and Theresa’s deep connection keep their hope for the future afloat—or submerge them once and forever in their tragic past?

 

Buy Links:

About the Author:

Megan Hart writes books. Some of them use a lot of bad words, but most of the other words are okay. After deciding at age twelve that she wanted to become an author, Megan began writing short fantasy, horror and science fiction before graduating to novel-length romances. In 2002 she saw her first book in print, and since then she’s published over 90 novellas and novels in genres ranging from horror to romance. She’s best known for writing erotic fiction that sometimes makes you cry. She can’t live without music, the internet, or the ocean, but she and soda have achieved an amicable uncoupling. She can’t stand the feeling of corduroy or velvet, and modern art leaves her cold. Find out more about her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Review copy provided from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

Review: THE PEOPLE WE HATE AT THE WEDDING

The People We Hate at the Wedding

by Grant Ginder

Published by Flatiron Books
334 pages
Genre: fiction
4 / 5

My Review:

Grant Ginder’s book wins the Best Title award, doesn’t it? And then there is that cover. Look at what that photo tells you. Hilarious, in an extremely discomfiting way.

Working for a Los Angeles-based data company, Alice once had dreams of working in the film industry. Those ended catastrophically with a job and relationship in Mexico, one that, when she relates it, will break your heart. Even several years later, she can’t pull herself out of the abyss she sunk into. She’s in a relationship that’s going nowhere, her job isn’t much better, and her life is essentially as limp as her hair. So when her older, elegant, and too-perfect half-sister Eloise invites her to be a bridesmaid in her English wedding, Alice says yes.

She wants her younger brother Paul to come, too, but Paul has decided that he loathes Eloise. He’s also decided that he loathes his mother Donna, not to mention himself. The only person he doesn’t seem to despise is his partner, Mark, something you will find a bit ironic the further you get into the book.

Grant Ginder puts you into the perspectives of most of the characters in this book, particularly Alice, Paul, Eloise, and Donna. The more you get to know them, the more you start to wonder if perhaps they are the ones you’d hate at the wedding. These people are self-involved to an extreme. Even Eloise, whose altruism is delightfully self-serving.

I laughed so hard in parts of this book, and in others I wept. I wanted Alice to find her peace, Paul to recognize his folly, Eloise to be a little more self-aware, and Donna to realize that she did a good job and will be fine. Mostly, I enjoyed the way Grant Ginder tells this story. I loved how he drew his characters, I love how uncontrived it felt, and I love how much I grew to care about these people.

One point to make: the actual wedding is almost a non-event. I’d like to have seen more of how it played out, especially since I’d spent so much time with these people, getting to know them. Would I hate to be with them at a wedding? At the beginning, perhaps. But once the wedding rolled around, I wanted to sit at their table.

Blurb:

Relationships are awful. They’ll kill you, right up to the point where they start saving your life.

Paul and Alice’s half-sister Eloise is getting married! In London! There will be fancy hotels, dinners at “it” restaurants and a reception at a country estate complete with tea lights and embroidered cloth napkins.
They couldn’t hate it more.

The People We Hate at the Wedding is the story of a less than perfect family. Donna, the clan’s mother, is now a widow living in the Chicago suburbs with a penchant for the occasional joint and more than one glass of wine with her best friend while watching House Hunters International. Alice is in her thirties, single, smart, beautiful, stuck in a dead-end job where she is mired in a rather predictable, though enjoyable, affair with her married boss. Her brother Paul lives in Philadelphia with his older, handsomer, tenured track professor boyfriend who’s recently been saying things like “monogamy is an oppressive heteronormative construct,” while eyeing undergrads. And then there’s Eloise. Perfect, gorgeous, cultured Eloise. The product of Donna’s first marriage to a dashing Frenchman, Eloise has spent her school years at the best private boarding schools, her winter holidays in St. John and a post-college life cushioned by a fat, endless trust fund. To top it off, she’s infuriatingly kind and decent.

As this estranged clan gathers together, and Eloise’s walk down the aisle approaches, Grant Ginder brings to vivid, hilarious life the power of family, and the complicated ways we hate the ones we love the most in the most bitingly funny, slyly witty and surprisingly tender novel you’ll read this year.

 

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About the Author:

Just another writer in Brooklyn. Novels include The People We Hate at the Wedding (Flatiron, June 2017), Driver’s Education (Simon and Schuster, 2013), and This is How it Starts (Simon and Schuster, 2009). I also teach writing at New York University, where I make my students form connections between the essays of John Berger and George Michael videos. I like autumn, pets with deformities, and bourbon.

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Review copy provided from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

Review: TROPHY SON by Douglas Brunt

Trophy Son

by Douglas Brunt

Published by St. Martin’s Press
285 pages
Genre: fiction
3.5 / 5

My Review:

If you have ever wondered what life is like for an athletic prodigy, Douglas Brunt delivers a scathing reflection of just that.

The son of two Olympic athletes, Anton has been raised with one goal: become a tennis champion. His older brother lacked the drive and fire, so the burden falls to Anton. He’s okay with it, for the most part. He likes being outside, he likes the thrill of victory. If his father is perhaps a bit too intense, Anton explains it away by recognizing that his father just wants him to be successful.

Not that Anton doesn’t exact his pound of flesh. In one scene, he uses his skills to slam a ball directly at his father. He also moves out of his father’s orb, believing that he will be more successful without him.

Brunt tells you a lot about tennis. You learn how arduous the practices and preparations are, not to mention the constant travel. You watch Anton try to establish relationships in infertile conditions. You see him make mistakes and misjudgments. Yet you also hope that he will become his own man and achieve his goals. If Anton wants tennis success, then you want it, too. If he doesn’t, you hope he finds the freedom to make that decision.

Sometimes the tennis details feel a bit cumbersome. Brunt will place you within Anton’s relationships, only to remove you and put you in the middle of practice. I liked when we saw how bizarre Anton’s friendships are. Can you really claim someone as a friend if you’re paying them for a professional service? There is also the issue of performance enhancing drugs. What drives someone, especially someone as young as Anton, to feel the need to use them? Brunt nails that sense of desperation. I also liked how Brunt fleshed out Anton’s parents. Yes, his father is overbearing and almost cruel, but Brunt shows you what motivates a man to behave like that with his son.

What didn’t work for me was the uneven pacing. Otherwise, this is an interesting book to read.

Blurb:

A compelling, provocative novel about a father, his son, and the cost of early excellence in our achievement-obsessed society.

The third novel by New York Times bestselling author Douglas Brunt, Trophy Son tells the story of tennis prodigy Anton Stratis, from an isolated childhood of grueling practice under the eye of his obsessed father, to his dramatic rise through the intensely competitive world of professional tennis. Written with an insider knowledge of the tennis circuit, Trophy Son explores a young man striving to find balance in his life, navigating moral compromises, performance-enhancing drugs, and the elusive lure of wealth and celebrity. From Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to the off-court life of elite players, Anton finds exhilarating highs and desolate lows as he searches for an identity apart from his achievements.

 

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About the Author:

,Until 2011, Douglas Brunt was CEO of Authentium, Inc., an Internet security company. He now writes full time and is currently working on his fourth novel. A Philadelphia native, he lives in New York with his wife Megyn Kelly and their three children.

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Review copy provided from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

Review: THE SUNSHINE SISTERS by Jane Green

The Sunshine Sisters

by Jane Green

Published by Berkley
378 pages
Genre: women’s fiction
3.5 / 5

My Review:

Of all her acting jobs, motherhood was Ronni Sunshine’s least successful part.

For one thing, none of her pregnancies were planned. In fact, her last one, with Lizzy, cost her a potentially award-winning role. Her three daughters are not so much children for her to tend as props and, far more often, targets. Nell, the oldest, learns to keep quiet and retreat, something she puts into life-altering motion when she leaves home at the first opportunity. Middle child Meredith, the people pleaser, strives to do just that: please her mother. But Ronni finds her lacking, particularly when it comes to her looks. Meredith is a little overweight, something Ronni points out at every opportunity. Like Nell, Meredith leaves home as quickly as she can, only unlike Nell, she doesn’t move within an hour – she flees to London. The baby of the family, Lizzy, learns that the best revenge is to remain defiantly unaffected.

Now, with the girls in their thirties and early forties, Ronni has beckoned them home. Disease-ridden, she is not above using that as a means of manipulating her daughters into an extremely rare visit. One reason for the command: Ronni wants a documentarian to film her waning days, and she would like Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy to partake.

Jane Green treads familiar territory with the premise of this book: the remote, uninvolved mother; the three disparate and detached sisters; even a father who emotionally and physically abandons his daughters upon a remarriage. Despite the sense of cliché, Green gives her story some jolts of freshness, largely with Lizzy. She’s the only one who faces ugly truths about herself and sets out to do something about them. She is selfish, spoiled, and entitled, and once she realizes and accepts this, she recognizes that she has to change some things. Nell and Meredith neither face nor conquer such a dramatic shift, yet their familiarity feels comfortable. You’ve seen them before, but you welcome them again here. The men in this book fare poorly, largely because they are straight out of Central Casting, the most egregious of which is the girls’ father.

Despite the sense of unoriginality, this is an enjoyable book to read. Green uses the setting of Westport, Connecticut, quite purposefully, putting the Sunshine women close to healing waters. Yes, you will feel as if you’ve read this story before, but encountering it through the eyes of Jane Green makes it a wonderful summer read.

Blurb:

Ronni Sunshine left London for Hollywood to become a beautiful, charismatic star of the silver screen. But at home, she was a narcissistic, disinterested mother who alienated her three daughters.

As soon as possible, tomboy Nell fled her mother’s overbearing presence to work on a farm and find her own way in the world as a single mother. The target of her mother’s criticism, Meredith never felt good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Her life took her to London—and into the arms of a man whom she may not even love. And Lizzy, the youngest, more like Ronni than any of them, seemed to have it easy, using her drive and ambition to build a culinary career to rival her mother’s fame, while her marriage crumbled around her.

But now the Sunshine sisters are together again, called home by Ronni, who has learned that she has a serious disease and needs her daughters to fulfill her final wishes. And though Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy have never been close, their mother’s illness draws them together to confront the old jealousies and secret fears that have threatened to tear these sisters apart. As they face the loss of their mother, they will discover if blood might be thicker than water after all…

 

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About the Author:

Jane Green is the author of eighteen novels, of which seventeen are New York Times Bestsellers, including her latest, Falling Previous novels have included The Beach House, Second Chance, Jemima J, and Tempting Fate.  She will be debuting her cookbook, Good Taste, on October 4th.

She is published in over 25 languages, and has over ten million books in print worldwide. She joined the ABC News team to write their first enhanced digital book— about the history of Royal marriages, then joined ABC News as a live correspondent covering Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton.  A former journalist in the UK, she has had her own radio show on BBC Radio London, and is a regular contributor on radio and TV, including as well as regularly appearing on television shows including Good Morning America, The Martha Stewart show, and The Today Show.

Together with writing books and blogs, she contributes to various publications, both online and print, including anthologies and novellas, and features for The Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, Cosmopolitan and Self. She has taught at writers conferences, and does regular keynote speaking, and has a weekly column in The Lady magazine, England’s longest running weekly magazine.

A graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, Green filled two of her books, Saving Grace and Promises to Keep, with recipes culled from her own collection. She says she only cooks food that is “incredibly easy, but has to look as if you have slaved over a hot stove for hours.” This is because she has five children, and has realised that “when you have five children, nobody ever invites you anywhere.”

She lives in Westport, Connecticut with her husband and their blended family. When she is not writing, cooking, gardening, filling her house with friends and herding chickens, she is usually thanking the Lord for caffeine-filled energy drinks. A cancer survivor – she has overcome Malignant Melanoma, she also lives with Chronic Lyme Disease, and believes gratitude and focusing on the good in life is the secret to happiness.

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Review copy provided from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

Review: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE by Elizabeth Strout

Anything is Possible

by Elizabeth Strout

Published by Random House
273 pages
Genre: fiction
4.5 / 5

My Review:

If you read Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton, then you will know the characters in this novel consisting of interwoven and connected short stories. If you have not read My Name is Lucy Barton, you likely will want to after you finish this one, because you want to read this book.

It opens with “The Sign,” which at times feels like a travelogue of Lucy’s Illinois hometown. A high school janitor, Tommy Guptill frequently let Lucy stay at the school long after hours because she had no other way to keep warm. A tragedy surrounds Tommy but it does not engulf him because he will not allow it to do so. Rather, he offers kindness and forgiveness to everyone he encounters, especially those who he senses need it dearly. I loved Tommy, and in kicking off the book with this story, Elizabeth Strout immediately immerses you in the people who cared for Lucy Barton until she left home.

Later in the book, Strout gives you the chance to get to know bed and breakfast proprietor Dottie, a woman with an almost uncanny ability to suss out the truth and whose heart loves so deeply and thoroughly that some will take advantage of it. I advise them not to do that, however, because for all of the love she bears, Dottie also can exact retribution.

Another story I liked was “Sister,” which tells about Lucy’s sister, as well as her brother. Lucy Barton fans will find this story helps you better understand some of Lucy’s decisions and motivations, just as it also is a beautiful – if not poignant – look at family.

Elizabeth Strout cannot keep her readers at arm’s length. She grabs you and pulls you in so closely to those people that their pains and sadnesses and successes and joys become yours. Even though this book, told much like Olive Kitteridge, does not follow a linear plot, it nonetheless accomplishes everything that Strout’s books do: it makes you care.

Blurb:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout comes a brilliant latticework of fiction that recalls Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity. Written in tandem with My Name Is Lucy Barton and drawing on the small-town characters evoked there, these pages reverberate with the themes of love, loss, and hope that have drawn millions of readers to Strout’s work.

“As I was writing My Name Is Lucy Barton,” Strout says, “it came to me that all the characters Lucy and her mother talked about had their own stories—of course!—and so the unfolding of their lives became tremendously important to me.” Here, among others, are the “Pretty Nicely Girls,” now adults: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband, the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. Tommy, the janitor at the local high school, has his faith tested in an encounter with an emotionally isolated man he has come to help; a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD discovers unexpected solace in the company of a lonely innkeeper; and Lucy Barton’s sister, Vicky, struggling with feelings of abandonment and jealousy, nonetheless comes to Lucy’s aid, ratifying the deepest bonds of family.

With the stylistic brilliance and subtle power that distinguish the work of this great writer, Elizabeth Strout has created another transcendent work of fiction, with characters who will live in readers’ imaginations long after the final page is turned.

 

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About the Author:

Elizabeth Strout was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire.  From a young age she was drawn to writing things down, keeping notebooks that recorded the quotidian details of her days.  She was also drawn to books, and spent hours of her youth in the local library lingering among the stacks of fiction.  During the summer months of her childhood she played outdoors, either with her brother, or, more often, alone, and this is where she developed her deep and abiding love of the physical world: the seaweed covered rocks along the coast of Maine, and the woods of New Hampshire with its hidden wildflowers.

During her adolescent years, Strout continued writing avidly, having conceived of herself as a writer from early on.  She read biographies of writers, and was already studying – on her own – the way American writers, in particular, told their stories.  Poetry was something she read and memorized; by the age of sixteen was sending out stories to magazines.  Her first story was published when she was twenty-six.

Strout attended Bates College, graduating with a degree in English in 1977.  Two years later, she went to Syracuse University College of Law, where she received a law degree along with a Certificate in Gerontology.  She worked briefly for Legal Services, before moving to New York City, where she became an adjunct in the English Department of Borough of Manhattan Community College.  By this time she was publishing more stories in literary magazines and Redbook and Seventeen.  Juggling the needs that came with raising a family and her teaching schedule, she found a few hours each day to work on her writing.

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Review copy provided from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.