Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam

Rich and PrettyRich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam
Published by Ecco

From the publisher:

As close as sisters for twenty years, Sarah and Lauren have been together through high school and college, first jobs and first loves, the uncertainties of their twenties and the realities of their thirties.

Sarah, the only child of a prominent intellectual and a socialite, works at a charity and is methodically planning her wedding. Lauren—beautiful, independent, and unpredictable—is single and working in publishing, deflecting her parents’ worries and questions about her life and future by trying not to think about it herself. Each woman envies—and is horrified by—particular aspects of the other’s life, topics of conversation they avoid with masterful linguistic pirouettes.

Once, Sarah and Lauren were inseparable; for a long a time now, they’ve been apart. Can two women who rarely see one other, selectively share secrets, and lead different lives still call themselves best friends? Is it their abiding connection—or just force of habit—that keeps them together?

Everyone had been raving about this book for quite some time when I finally decided to pick it up. I figured I’d be able to relate to this novel as I’m about the same age as the characters and understand what it is to be friends with a person for such a long time that while your interests may differ over time, shared history keeps the friendship alive.

Unfortunately, I was wrong about my being able to relate to the novel. I just could not understand or sympathize with these characters in any way. I didn’t like either Sarah or Lauren and it was almost a chore to read about them. I also didn’t get the friendship – for the most part, they didn’t seem to even like each other, much less be close enough to be considered best friends. WHY they kept this “friendship” alive for so many years, when it seemed to be a hassle for either of them to even consider spending time with the other person was so beyond me. It made the entire book feel inauthentic.

One thing I can say about the novel is that I enjoyed the writing style and did have some interest in seeing where things turned out for these two women. Ultimately, it was a let down, but I didn’t HATE the journey I spent with it. I couldn’t get past my feelings on the characters and my lack of understanding their motivations for things but I did finish the novel, so that’s something. Overall I was disappointed by this novel but I can see why some might have enjoyed certain aspects of it.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Published by PanMacmillan Australia

From the publisher:

Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child.

So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes.

Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.

Okay, so Liane Moriarty can do no wrong. Every time I read one of her novels I find myself saying, “now THIS one is my favorite of hers!” only to remember that I keep saying that … turns out they are all pretty awesome, including What Alice Forgot.

What is interesting about this novel is that Alice is almost an unreliable narrator, a thing I like a lot in books, but her unreliability is far from intentional. In fact, throughout the book it is clear that she’d like very much to be a reliable source on her own life, but that simply isn’t possible, what with the amnesia and all. What this does to the reader is forces you to get to know Alice through the eyes of people who know her as well as what she’s telling you about her thoughts and feelings and find a way to sort of pair those two things together to come up with a complete picture of this character who doesn’t even know herself. It was strange and interesting and made the novel a ton of fun to read.

I liked her so much, though! As I continued to read the novel and piece together aspects of her life and personality, I continued to like her more and more. I continued to feel empathy for her situation and hope desperately that things would work out in her favor – although what that meant exactly was unclear for most of the book.

Moriarty does an amazing job at giving the reader hints and clues throughout a novel that slowly get at the real picture of what’s going on without revealing too much, too soon. She excels at this particularly in What Alice Forgot, because since Alice doesn’t remember the big events that made up her life for the past ten years, neither does the reader have that information. Slowly, as Alice remembers things and as her family fills in the details, the reader gets to fill in the gaps right alongside her. There were frustrating moments when I just wanted someone to TELL me about a particular person or situation, but I loved that because it truly got me inside Alice’s head and I understood exactly how she felt – the immense frustration at not knowing your own life, can you imagine? Moriarty did this SO well.

I really loved What Alice Forgot. Moriarty crafted an intense, compelling and ultimately heartwarming story featuring a flawed but very real and wonderful character in Alice. I will continue to be here for whatever Moriarty wants to deliver.

The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

The Things We Wish Were TrueThe Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Published by Lake Union Publishing
Review copy provided by SheReads

From the publisher:

From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.

Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.

During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?

I read this book over two months ago so please forgive my short but sweet thoughts on it. This is Whalen’s grittiest novel to date and I absolutely loved every second I spent with it – these characters were realistically flawed in the best possible way, their interactions rang true to life for me, and WOW was there drama. This community is extremely fractured, it is a total mess, and the people who live in it have some serious issues. Everything is intertwined, everyone knows everyone and has a history, many have secrets, and all of it just comes together so well. Many of the twists and turns surprised me but, for the most part, all felt natural and entirely feasible.

Whalen weaves such a complicated and intricate web of characters and situations that are all related, but the cast of characters never feels overwhelming or too much here. It all just works together seamlessly, her storytelling is perfection, and I truly could not put this book down. As I said, it’s been a while since I finished the novel but the characters have found a place in my head and in my heart and I would absolutely read another novel set in this same fictional neighborhood.

I have to add as a sidenote that I have met Marybeth in person a few times and she is an absolutely kind, funny, warm, incredibly sweet person. I received this book for review as part of the SheReads blog network that she co-founded. The fact that I’ve met Marybeth did not affect my feelings of the book – this is for sure her best novel that I’ve read and had I not enjoyed it I just would have skipped talking about it.🙂

Highly recommended!

Mini-reviews – catching up

Relish: My Life in the KitchenRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Published by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

This is an adorable food-themed graphic memoir that was super enjoyable to read. Lucy Knisley basically takes the most pivotal moments in her life and relates them to what she was eating, cooking, or learning to make at that time. I really loved the experience of reading this book – not only is it a heartwarming memoir, but the illustrations are great and Knisley includes several of her tried-and-true and family recipes, as well. Overall I just really enjoyed it and will definitely be looking for more from this author.

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Published by Flatiron Books

The basic gist of this one is three couples, of varying degrees of friendship, get together one night for a barbecue and something disastrous happens. The book details the personalities and relationships of the characters before the big event, and then goes into depth on how it has a ripple effect on each one of the characters for quite some time after. I have really loved all of Moriarty’s novels and this one was no exception. The way she is able to create tension amongst a group of people and the way she is able to make even the most vile of characters sympathetic and relatable are two talents that she has that very few authors share with her to this degree. I was definitely kept on the edge of my seat throughout this novel and continue to be impressed with her writing and ability to craft a well-paced, unputdownable story.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Feyre is nineteen years old and her life revolves around finding food for her family and staying safe from the faeries that once ruled the world she lives in. When she kills a wolf in the woods, who turns out to not be a wolf but a faerie, she is collected by Tamlin, another faerie, to give her life in exchange for the one she killed. Once she gets to his estate, she finds herself falling in love with him and subsequently doing everything in her power to protect Tamlin and his world from the dark power that threatens to overtake it.

That was a cliffnotes version of a summary of this book – a book that I liked a LOT. I don’t read a ton of fantasy (almost none, actually) but this one really worked for me. The main element of the book that I loved was getting to know the characters – Maas did an excellent job making Feyre an incredibly believable character that I could really relate to. And Tamlin drew me in with his fiery, dark personality – I loved the two of them together. Plus, their chemistry was seriously hot. This is NOT a book for young teens – there were some pretty intense sexy times happening here. Anyway – I really liked this book and definitely will get to the sequel.

Sweet Disorder (Lively St. Lemeston, #1)Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
Published by Samhain Publishing

Romance is a genre that I’m just getting into and Rose Lerner is an author recommended to me by the lovely and brilliant Jenny at Reading the End. I am happy to say that I did like this one and it is a good example of feminist romance – the type of romance that I would like to read more of, for sure. Something I appreciated about the plot of this one is that both main characters’ actions were motivated by helping their families, and there was a lot of character development of not only the main love interests but their family members as well. Both Nick and Phoebe were drawn to each other, but both knew that their being together would go against everything they needed to do to take care of their families. In the end, obviously, it’s a romance novel – there’s a happily ever after. But the getting there was quite enjoyable and I really liked the journey these characters took.

Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma

Why We Came to the CityWhy We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma
Published by Viking

From the publisher:

December, 2008. A heavy snowstorm is blowing through Manhattan and the economy is on the brink of collapse, but none of that matters to a handful of guests at a posh holiday party. Five years after their college graduation, the fiercely devoted friends at the heart of this richly absorbing novel remain as inseparable as ever: editor and social butterfly Sara Sherman, her troubled astronomer boyfriend George Murphy, loudmouth poet Jacob Blaumann, classics major turned investment banker William Cho, and Irene Richmond, an enchanting artist with an inscrutable past.

Amid cheerful revelry and free-flowing champagne, the friends toast themselves and the new year ahead—a year that holds many surprises in store. They must navigate ever-shifting relationships with the city and with one another, determined to push onward in pursuit of their precarious dreams. And when a devastating blow brings their momentum to a halt, the group is forced to reexamine their aspirations and chart new paths through unexpected losses.

It’s been quite a while since I finished Why We Came to the City but I have to tell you, this is one novel that has truly stuck with me. While on the surface it’s a novel about a group of friends experiencing life post-college, halfway through the book it turns into something completely different, something that I won’t spoil for you because it took me by complete surprise and changed the entire feel of the novel for me.

The characters are the center of the novel and they were so bright and shiny, each in their own way. I loved getting to know them as individuals and within the context of their various relationships with each other. Their friendships were complicated and through their interactions with each other, Jansma really got at the intricacies and variances within their personalities. I definitely can say that Irene stuck out to me as the brightest star, the one around whom everyone else revolved, but each character was certainly unique and unforgettable.

As I said, it has been a few months since I finished this book but the emotional impact it made on me has really stayed with me. The fact that it’s been a while since I read the book and I can still feel the way this novel made me feel at the time should say a lot about how much it affected me emotionally – let’s just say, a LOT.

I would definitely recommend Why We Came to the City. Yes, it’s a book about a group of friends living their post-college lives, a genre I’ve recently discovered I like and want more of, but it’s truly so much more than that. Even if this niche genre isn’t your thing, I definitely think there’s a lot within this novel to digest and discuss. Highly recommended.

Update … on a few things

Friends, I cannot possibly thank you all enough for the outpouring of love and support I received on my last post. Things are settling down quite a bit but there are still many things up in the air life-wise. One HUGE relief has been that I got onto a new team of cardiologists, two individuals who specialize in exactly what my congenital heart condition is, and their diagnosis of my situation is that I don’t have to have open heart surgery just yet. They want to closely monitor me and do a barrage of test every six months, but as of this very second, I am cleared to avoid surgery for the next six months. I cannot possibly explain what a tremendous relief that is – yes, I know that eventually surgery will happen for sure, but to not have to deal with it at the same time as all of this other stuff is majorly freeing and has led to a huge sense of peace for me. At least for now.

As far as the divorce is concerned, it has been filed and that situation is basically done, at least in every legal sense of the word. The next big thing on my list of stuff that is stressing me out is the fact that we cannot seem to get any traction on selling our house. We’re now looking at lowering the price, possible rent to own situations, or even just finding renters for a year. The not selling the house is putting on pause a whole bunch of other financial things that need to fall into place for the two of us to officially go our separate ways, so that is definitely stressful. Add to that living with one’s ex – not the most fun of situations even in the best of circumstances, and honestly with how well we are getting along I know that my situation is probably as good as I could possibly hope for. But it’s still hard, and I’m ready to transition my life to the next place it’s headed, and that transition has to wait until I can physically transition to a new place to live. Please cross fingers and toes and pray for me if you do that sooner than later this house will move and I can begin planning the next steps of my life.

Other than that, I am surprisingly good! My level of distraction from life has prevented me from reading, for the most part, but I am enjoying time with friends as much as I possibly can and really trying to transition my life emotionally to wherever I am going to go from here. It has been interesting, to say the least, but I know I am going to be in a good place when all is said and done. I am hopeful that I will start reading on a more consistent basis again soon, and maybe reviews will come with that? We shall see. I do have a backlog of books that I could talk about, if I can get up the gumption to do so.

The election. I don’t even want to talk about it. I am saddened and heartsick by the fact that this country is even more racist and misogynistic than I even dared to fear it was. I must have hope that we will figure out a way to recover as a country from this disastrous decision that was made but I don’t see how that’s possible at this point. I just … don’t even know what to say.

Anyway. Thank you friends, from the bottom of my heart, for being there for me emotionally during this difficult time. Things are looking up for me, for SURE, and I know that better days are ahead.

Now that I’ve spilled my heart and soul … what’s new with you, my lovely friends?

… And another month has passed …

… With basically zero blogging.

Okay, friends. I’m going to fill you in on the life stuff, the stuff that I alluded to that was really tough and I wasn’t ready to talk about. At this point, I’ve talked it to death with in-person friends and family members and even coworkers, so I’m coming to the part where I’m wanting to be open and be heard and have people, strangers even, comment on my situation. Because when you put stuff out there you have to know that people are going to comment on it.

The thing I was talking about last month is the dissolution of my nine-year marriage. The idea of separating from a person to whom I felt tethered to for so many years is insurmountable, feels impossible, yet it feels so right I can’t even explain it. The fact that I can have all of these emotions at once, that I can feel the need to stay with this person and figure out a way to make our life work together, yet also know for one hundred percent sure that there is no way we can do that, is confusing and scary and sad and frustrating.

But I’m doing it. Despite the intense, almost soul-crushing fear of what my new life might be like and how lonely I might be. Despite the overwhelming project of selling a home that we had built less than a year ago. Despite the fact that many people in my life don’t understand what could possibly have gone wrong and want to know why, and ask questions that I don’t really have good answers to. Because one thing I know for sure is that no one else has any idea of what actually is happening in someone else’s marriage.

About two months after making the final decision to initiate divorce proceedings, I was hit with something else – the congenital heart defect that I’ve had my entire life, that I’ve had corrected twice in the past, needs to be worked on again (basically it’s a valve replacement), and SOON. As in, I will very likely be having open heart surgery at some point before the end of 2016. As if I needed one more thing to worry about, to deal with, one more thing to keep me up at night with intense fear and anxiety.

But this isn’t something I can put off, nor is it something I can control. I’m trying, guys. I’m trying to let life happen and just go one step at a time and deal with what I have to deal with – to plan, to work towards my future, which apparently now includes a major surgery on top of what one could call an emotional surgery of a divorce.

So that’s what I’m dealing with. Those two major things are why blogging is not happening right now, nor is a whole lot of reading. I’m finding comfort in rereads right now, along with a LOT of time spent with friends, a few recent trips (one of which included a ton of family time, which I desperately needed), working hard at my job is actually helping a lot (a total distraction from life, which is perfectly fine with me), and I’m trying to take care of myself as best as I can.

Friends, thank you so much for listening to me whine about my problems. I know that I am lucky in so many aspects of my life and I continue to remind myself of that daily. I know that the hard things I am going through right now will pass, I will come out on the other side stronger than ever, with my entire life ahead of me. It’s hard now, but I know it will get easier. But that knowledge and certainty doesn’t make what’s tough right now any easier. I will get through it, though. I WILL.

I’ll take any love and positive thoughts anyone wants to send my way.

Thanks for listening.

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

First Comes LoveFirst Comes Love by Emily Giffin
Published by Ballantine Books
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing; Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes their family, their different responses to the event splinter their delicate bond.

Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter ends up in her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.

On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately, Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.

As the anniversary of their tragedy looms and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them, but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover they need each other more than they knew . . . and that in the recipe for true happiness, love always comes first.

I love books featuring sisters. I have a sister with whom I have a very complicated relationship. I love my sister a lot but we are very different people and that has caused issues between us over the years. As we’ve grown up, we’ve grown much closer and I am extremely grateful that I have her and I know she feels the same. But still – relationships between sisters are extremely complex, and what I’m saying is that I know firsthand just how difficult they can be. So I expected to love this book.

Love it I did not. I didn’t hate it but overall the novel just never fell into the groove for me the way all of Giffin’s previous books have. I have always really loved the way that Giffin creates complicated main characters who make bad choices and hurt people, but you as the reader understand their motivations and love them anyway. That was not the case in First Comes Love. These two women, Josie and Meredith, are SO unlikable that it’s almost funny. I honestly couldn’t care about either of them enough to want to sympathize with their situations. Nothing either of them did or said showed me that they were actually people I could relate to, people I could see myself in, people who were essentially okay humans just trying to get through life somewhat unscathed. Since I didn’t get any of that, the book overall fell really flat for me.

It’s disappointing because this is truly the only Emily Giffin novel I haven’t enjoyed. Which I guess is an okay thing – the woman has written like ten books and I’ve mostly loved all of them. So I guess she’s allowed to have one I don’t love every now and then. But still, quite a disappointment for me.

If you want to read Emily Giffin, please do! She’s actually quite an incredible writer. May I suggest you start with her first novel, Something Borrowed? Now THAT is a book about a good person making bad, hurtful choices but you love her anyway.

I’ve been MIA for over a month?

Wow, sorry guys. I did not intentionally disappear for over a month, but even before my sudden departure it was pretty clear that writing reviews had taken a backseat to something – okay, everything – else in my life. Typically I wouldn’t like to just go MIA without at least saying that I’d like to take a little break but that’s what happened.

I’m here. I’m back. I don’t know how much writing I’ll be doing but I am around, and I’ve been periodically checking in with some of you and leaving sporadic comments here and there.

But to be honest, there’s some personal stuff I’m going through right now that is really hard and really not stuff I want to talk about. And it’s such a huge distraction from the things I would like to be doing – reading, writing, etc. – that the blog and even reading in general has really gone by the wayside over the past couple of months. I WANT to read. I WANT to write about books. But my brain is all over the place these days and it’s been really hard for me to focus. I’m trying to get back into the mental headspace where things are a little more calm and I will be able to focus on reading and other things in my life that truly bring joy, but I’m not sure I’m quite there yet. Working on it.

So please forgive me if I post sporadically or not at all. There are several books I want to tell you guys about, and a few other posts I’ve been drafting in my head, but we’ll see if I can get myself together enough to make it happen.

I am here, though. Send good thoughts and peaceful vibes my way because right now, I need all the positive feelings and love I can get.

Thanks, friends.

The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen

The Perfect NeighborsThe Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen
Published by Washington Square Press
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

Bucolic Newport Cove, where spontaneous block parties occur on balmy nights and all of the streets are named for flowers, is proud of its distinction of being named one the top twenty safest neighborhoods in the US.

It’s also one of the most secret-filled.

Kellie Scott has just returned to work after a decade of being a stay-at-home mom. She’s adjusting to high heels, scrambling to cook dinner for her family after a day at the office—and soaking in the dangerous attention of a very handsome, very married male colleague. Kellie’s neighbor Susan Barrett begins every day with fresh resolutions: she won’t eat any carbs. She’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour. And she’ll stop stalking her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Gigi Kennedy seems to have it all together—except her teenage daughter has turned into a hostile stranger and her husband is running for Congress, which means her old skeletons are in danger of being brought into the light.

Then a new family moves to this quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac. Tessa Campbell seems friendly enough to the other mothers, if a bit reserved. Then the neighbors notice that no one is ever invited to Tessa’s house. And soon, it becomes clear Tessa is hiding the biggest secret of all.

The Perfect Neighbors was a fairly run-of-the-mill women’s fiction story about a bunch of women with secrets. To be honest, it felt very formulaic, like I’ve read this same story before, but with different character names and slightly different secrets. However, I did enjoy it and it certainly held my interest. I liked all of the women and was interested in figuring out how their lives would turn out, how these issues presented would end up resolving themselves.

I enjoyed the time I spent with this novel but in the end, I’m finding it somewhat forgettable which isn’t the greatest thing. I will keep this short and just say, pick it up if you like this kind of thing, otherwise it’s probably okay to give it a pass. It was a fun, quick read for me that won’t stick in my brain much longer.