Dear Emma by Katie Heaney

Dear EmmaDear Emma by Katie Heaney
Published by Grand Central Publishing

From the publisher:

Harriet, the author of her college newspaper’s pseudonymous student advice column “Dear Emma,” is great at telling others what to do, dispensing wisdom for the lovelorn and lonely on her Midwestern campus. Somehow, though, she can’t take her own advice, especially after Keith, the guy she’s dating, blows her off completely. When Harriet discovers that Keith has started seeing the beautiful and intimidating Remy, she wants to hate her. But she can’t help warming to Remy, who soon writes to “Dear Emma” asking for romantic advice.

Now Harriet has the perfect opportunity to take revenge on the person who broke her heart. But as she begins to doubt her own motivations and presumably faultless guidance, she’s forced to question how much she really knows about love, friendship and well-meaning advice.

This book was so much fun! It was almost a one-sitting book for me, which almost never happens these days. And the ONLY reason I didn’t finish it in one sitting was because I had to stop reading to cook dinner and hang out with my husband. I promptly finished reading it the next morning, so a two-sitting book it ended up being. But still – a two-sitting book almost never happens lately, either!

I’m not going to lie and say that Dear Emma deals with subjects in any depth or is something to be taken seriously – it’s basically a few girls in college thinking and talking endlessly about their problems involving schoolwork and boys. BUT IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. I liked all of the characters, but truthfully the only character the reader really gets to know is Harriet, as the entire book is told from her first-person point of view. And so much of what happens is Harriet thinking over a situation to DEATH. But that’s what happens when life is: class, studying, watching TV, drinking, sleep, repeat. With a tiny bit of work thrown in there for some people. I think that Heaney captured the college experience, for most people, incredibly well and I think many college students will relate to the book. I also think many people who have been in college will relate to the book in a nostalgic manner.

Personally, I both related to the book and did not relate at all. I related because I also went to college in central Illinois (ISU, which is a school they refer to in the book several times) so location-wise the book felt extremely familiar to me. I didn’t relate because the characters in the book are all relatively privileged when it comes to their financial situations and I did not have that experience. When I was in college, I worked multiple jobs at once in order to pay tuition, housing, food, etc. – I simply didn’t have the parental support finance-wise that the girls in the book enjoy. I never really had the experience of waking up on a Sunday at 10:30 a.m. with nothing to do but watch TV all day because I had a job to go to most mornings if I wasn’t in class. But as I said – I enjoyed the book a lot! Just because my college experience was different from the one portrayed in the book doesn’t make it anything other than different.

Hmm, I’m realizing I don’t have a ton more to say about Dear Emma. Just that I liked it a lot, will definitely read more from this author, and it was fun. Did I mention I almost read it in one sitting? Oh yeah, I did. Anyway – fun book! Read it if you like this kind of thing.

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

9780812993844Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
Published by The Dial Press, an imprint of Random House

Lottie is happily in love with her boyfriend and just KNOWS a proposal is around the corner. When the “important question” he asks her over a special meal is not THE question, Lottie gets fed up with the whole situation and gets in touch with an old flame, Ben. Ben and Lottie had a pact to get married if they each were still single at thirty, so since her boyfriend won’t marry her, Lottie jumps at the opportunity to marry Ben. Lottie’s sister, Fliss, and Ben’s business partner, Lorcan, are both horrified at the marriage and concoct a crazy plan to sabotage their wedding night so they can’t consummate their marriage – thereby giving them the opportunity to get an annulment, which Fliss and Lorcan are sure they will want when they realize what an awful mistake they have made.

Wedding Night was a book club pick that I would never have picked up otherwise. I do enjoy chick lit from time to time, but I read a Kinsella novel several years back and did not enjoy it, which caused me to never want to read another one. However, I must say that I enjoyed this book a lot more than I expected to and was sad when I couldn’t make it to the book club meeting because I wanted to hear how everyone else felt about it.

This novel was honestly pretty silly – the lengths that Fliss was willing to go to in order to sabotage her sister’s love life were crazy, but also hilarious. It seemed like just as she was out of luck, she would come up with another insane plan that would actually work, leaving Lottie and Ben angry, frustrated, but with no clue that it was Fliss who was behind all of the crazy stuff that happened to them.

While the ending was quite predictable and the majority of the novel was incredibly unrealistic, I did enjoy Wedding Night quite a bit. It was a quick, fun read that kept me entertained when I was having trouble focusing on any other book. If you like chick lit type reads, Wedding Night is a great choice, And now I have to admit that I DO like Sophie Kinsella’s writing and will look into some of her other books when I need this kind of novel!

Husband and Wife by Leah Stewart

Husband and Wife by Leah Stewart
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins

Sarah Price is perfectly content with her life – working full-time so her husband, Nathan, can write fiction for a living and being mommy to their two young children. Sure, her life at thirty-five isn’t exactly what she had pictured ten years ago, but she’s mostly happy with the way things have turned out. Until the fateful day when Nathan delivers shocking news – his new novel, Infidelity, is not exactly fiction, but a mirror of his own life as he’s recently had an affair. Untethered and betrayed, Sarah must figure out how she got into this wife/mom role in the first place, why she gave up on her own dreams in favor of her husband’s, and if she can ever begin to forgive Nathan and possibly keep their family intact.

I’ve been hearing great things about Leah Stewart’s books for some time now, and when I learned that she’s going to be at the upcoming UCF Book Festival I decided it was high time I pick up one of her novels. Ultimately I am happy I read this one. It was reminiscent of books by authors like Jennifer Weiner or Emily Giffin – novels I like to call smart chick lit. The perfect book that is easy to read but has plenty of heart, great characters, and deals with serious subjects.

In this case, cheating and the possibility of divorce are the most obvious themes running through the novel, but Stewart brings so many insights to the subject of marriage itself to the table here. Sarah is a character wrestling with the fact that she turned into such a different person after getting married and having children from who she was before, and this is a fact that she didn’t realize until Nathan cheated. This rang so true to me – who hasn’t made compromises or changed their dreams partly due to their spouse and/or children? If you can tell me your life is exactly as you pictured it ten years ago I’d call BS for sure – I think we all divert our paths as we grow and change and mature. In Sarah’s case, she was left questioning the diversions her own path had taken as she began to understand that she made incredible sacrifices for the sake of her family and had to wonder if her husband even realized that to be the case. So many of Sarah’s musings throughout this novel felt so authentic to me and I really felt a camaraderie with her – even though I have never been in her exact situation.

I also loved that Husband and Wife dealt with the reality of infidelity, of the fact that when you have a marriage and a home and children and someone cheats, you don’t just automatically leave them and move on with your life. Sarah truly struggled with the decisions she had to make upon learning of Nathan’s infidelity – marriage isn’t something you can toss away because of one transgression. Yes, some people do make the choice to divorce after one person cheats, and that’s a perfectly fine choice to make, but it’s not the obvious nor easy choice in most cases. Stewart doesn’t shy away from the fact that this is a messy situation with real-life consequences, and she shows the awful, gut-wrenching decision-making process that Sarah (and Nathan) had to go through.

And I liked the characters! Sarah, especially, is incredibly well-drawn. She is a great mother who makes a million mistakes a day. She works hard at her job but isn’t terribly ambitious. She is a loving wife who can be unkind to her husband at times. She is a true friend who calls her friends almost never. Basically, she is a person who mirrors the reality of many women’s lives. I saw myself and many of my close friends in her and I appreciated her character, with all her flaws, that much more for it. I even sympathized with Nathan, even though I hated what he did. Stewart created in Nathan this incredibly flawed guy who, at the core of his being, did still desperately love his wife and was deeply apologetic about what he had done. I despised his actions but could still empathize with his character, which says a lot about the quality of Stewart’s writing.

Have I explained with enough detail how much I enjoyed Husband and Wife? I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s one of my favorite books ever, but I truly appreciated so much about this novel and am very much looking forward to reading more of Leah Stewart’s books. For lovers of the women’s fiction and chick lit type novels, this is a must-read!

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

Emily Giffin Where We BelongWhere We Belong by Emily Giffin
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan

Marian Caldwell is living the life she’s always dreamed of – she is thirty-six, lives in a swanky New York apartment, has an extremely successful career, and to top it all off, a completely satisfying relationship. But when Kirby Rose suddenly shows up at her door one day Marian is forced to revisit the past she’d attempted to forget about. Kirby is a happy teenager, but has always felt out of place in her family, and is desperate to learn more about the birth parents who gave her up eighteen years ago. With the introduction of Kirby into Marian’s perfect life, the two women must come together to forge a bond, and to discover the one thing missing in each of their lives.

Emily Giffin is one of those authors who I always come back to for the same type of read, and am never disappointed by what I find between the pages. I like to think of her as “grown-up” chick-lit as the themes are similar to chick-lit; however the writing is incredibly good, the dialogue is smart, and the characters are so well-drawn I feel that I could know them in real life. AND she always dives quite a bit deeper into the issues in her novels than one would typically find in chick-lit. Where We Belong fit the exact mold I was hoping Giffin would deliver, and I truly loved every minute I spent with Marian and Kirby as they got to know each other, and in turn, themselves.

What I loved so much about this novel is that, while on the surface it’s a book about a birth mother being reunited with the daughter she gave up for adoption, truly it is about so much more than that. Giffin explores many themes throughout the novel. I particularly loved how Kirby’s search for her birth mother caused her to really investigate the meaning of family – the family that raised her, as well as the birth parents who chose not to – and how her family could change and evolve over the years as the people within it grow and change.

While I kind of knew where the story was heading, that didn’t stop me from enjoying every minute of watching everything come together towards the end of this novel. No one has ever accused Giffin of surprising her readers with her endings, and that’s completely okay by me. Sometimes I need these happy books to put a smile on my face or remind me that life is not difficult all of the time – sometimes things really do turn out well. So yes the ending is predictable, but it was everything I was hoping for.

I love Emily Giffin and Where We Belong just added to that love. The characters in this novel are well-constructed, the dialogue is spot on, and the story is heartwarming while not being too saccharine sweet. Plus, it’s very coming-of-age in an adult way. I really enjoyed this one and will anxiously await her next novel.

The Singles by Meredith Goldstein

The SinglesThe Singles by Meredith Goldstein
Published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Bee Evans is getting married, and although her one wish for her wedding was that everyone would come as a couple, five people in her life have decided to come alone. Bee dubs Hannah, Vicki, Rob, Joe, and Nancy “the singles” and has a difficult time placing each guest at an appropriate table amid the sea of couples in attendance. Told from the perspective of each of the five singles, this novel is a witty and heartwarming take on life and love.

I thought this novel was really cute, and I definitely felt enamored with each of these five characters. Goldstein managed to pack a lot of information about each person into a somewhat slim novel, and I thought it was a testament to her talent as a writer that I ended up feeling close to each one of them when all was said and done.

What surprised me about this book was how smart the writing felt to me. Goldstein managed to draw me into these people’s lives and make me believe in these characters in not a whole lot of chapters. Everything was concise but detailed at the same time, although I know that’s hard to believe. These characters are incredibly flawed, but ultimately realistic in their flaws, and their weaknesses made them even more interesting to me as a reader. I wanted to get to know them better, understand them in ways I was unable to over the course of one novel. That’s not to say I didn’t feel close to them – as I said, I was surprised by just how close to them I felt – but that I would have loved even more time to spend with these characters.

The Singles was funny, too. While the end of the novel is a sort of train wreck for all characters involved, it was mildly hysterical watching them all get to that point, and throughout the novel there are many moments of witty dialogue between these people. All around, this book just kept me entertained in every possible way. I really enjoyed it.

So, yeah, I liked The Singles a lot actually. The characters drew me in and held my interest, I thought the writing was pretty good, and there were equal moments of hilarity and seriousness. If you like this type of thing – and I know many of you do not, but what the heck – give The Singles a try.

Skinnydipping by Bethenny Frankel

Skinnydipping by Bethenny FrankelSkinnydipping
Published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster

Faith Brightstone is determined to make it  as an actress, which is why immediately after college she packs her bags and moves to LA from her hometown of New York City. After spending time working in various jobs, none of which involve acting, and realizing her love interest is actually a married man, Faith lays her dreams of an acting career to rest and heads back to New York. Five years later, Faith’s landed a spot on a new reality TV show – a competition for employment with the legendary businesswoman and “domestic goddess” Sybil Hunter, Faith’s idol. As the crazy months of the show wind down, Faith realizes she may have found love in pursuit of success, and she may be forced to make a choice between her dream career and the love of her life.

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Bethenny Frankel. I’ve watched her on TV for years and I think she is hysterical, smart, and an extremely savvy businesswoman. So when I heard that she was planning on writing a novel, I knew for sure I’d read it as soon as I could get my hands on a copy.

Skinnydipping is a work of fiction, but anyone familiar with Bethenny’s own story will recognize much of it within these pages. It felt to me like a way for Bethenny to tell her story without having to write a memoir. And maybe she was able to add some fun details in and exaggerate others for effect. In fact, I watched Bethenny when she was on Martha Stewart’s Apprentice, which is obviously what she modeled the reality TV show in this novel after. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book – in fact, I liked it even more because I knew a lot of the stuff in it had to be based on reality – but it is to say that  anyone who believes that this is true fiction is kidding themselves.

I did enjoy the book, though. It wasn’t written incredibly well and parts of it just seemed like a way to tell the reader how messed-up Hollywood is, but overall it held my attention. I liked Faith and (especially since I could only see her as Bethenny) I wanted success for her. I found myself caring about what happened to her and raced through the last third of the book. In the end, I was satisfied with it overall and it was a nice way to pass a lazy Sunday by the pool.

I definitely wouldn’t have picked this book up if it were written by anyone other than Bethenny Frankel. I would recommend this one for Bethenny fans as well as those who enjoy chick-lit. While not my usual fare, I did enjoy Skinnydipping.

The First Husband by Laura Dave

The First HusbandThe First Husband by Laura Dave
Published by Penguin

Annie is thirty-two years old and feels like she has it all. She loves her boyfriend of five years, Nick, a movie director, and has the perfect job with tons of travel, which is exactly what she wants. She has an amazing best friend and a she and Nick have a great apartment in Los Angeles. But one night, Nick comes home to tell Annie that he is done with their relationship, and wants to pursue another woman. Devastated, Annie goes into a local bar for a drink and meets Griffin, this amazingly down-to-earth chef who she quickly falls for. After a whirlwind romance, Annie and Griffin are married and living in rural Massachusetts. Unfortunately for Annie, her new life isn’t all roses and as she begins to question what exactly she signed up for, Nick reinserts himself into her life and she is forced to take a hard look at the choices she’s made.

I really enjoyed this book. I had been hearing great things about Laura Dave for so long now and now I can completely understand why – The First Husband is both smart and funny, entertaining with serious moments, and the characters are very well-developed and felt authentic to me.

I like that the premise of this book isn’t completely believable (most people don’t marry someone they’ve known for three months, especially immediately following a five-year relationship), yet Dave got me to believe it 100%. I was so invested in Annie that I didn’t even question any of the major plot points of the novel, because her choices made complete sense based on her personality throughout the book – that’s how real she felt to me. And I really felt for her – she was heartbroken over the loss of Nick, so I completely understood why she fell for Griffin, and later I completely understood why she began to question her choice to marry him.

The writing in this novel is smart, too. It’s chick lit bur much deeper than you normally think to expect from that type of novel. I flew through the bookl, but there were moments that would give me pause, would make me stop and think and really consider what Dave was saying with her writing or her characters’ actions. I loved that.

So, in conclusion – I really liked this one! I am happy to report that my first experience with Laura Dave’s work was a success and I’ll be reading more of her books soon!

Why I Love Singlehood by Elisa Lorello and Sarah Girrell

Why I Love Singlehood by Elisa Lorello and Sarah Girrell
Published by AmazonEncore
Review copy provided by the publicist

Eva Perino is happy to be uncoupled. She loves her work – she owns and runs The Grounds, a funky coffee shop in a college town – and she loves having the freedom to spend time with her friends and make her own rules. She’s so happy to be single that she starts a blog titled “Why I Love Singlehood.” However, once she learns of her ex’s recent engagement, she decides its time to at least dip her toe into the dating scene. So begins a journey through online dating, speed dating, and she even gets involved with one of The Grounds’ regular customers. It soon begins clear to Eva that she must decide who exactly she is and what exactly she’s looking for in a partner or this dating thing will never go her way.

I enjoyed Elisa Lorello’s two previous novels, Faking It [my review] and Ordinary World [my review] so I was more than happy to pick up a copy of this collaborative novel. I’m happy to report that Why I Love Singlehood is another fun, engaging chick lit novel with a ton of heart, just like Lorello’s other novels.

Eva is a character that most women will find easy to relate to. She’s had some bad luck when it comes to love – the relationship she thought would end in marriage didn’t work – but she’s not wallowing in self-pity. Instead, she’s looking to the bright side of things, enjoying the wonderful aspects of her life, and relishing in the fact that she can enjoy being single. I appreciated that she acknowledged that a person doesn’t have to be in a relationship to be happy, and that just because someone is in a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean they are happy – this is something most chick lit novels do not admit.

Eva’s foray into the dating scene provides many hilarious moments for the reader, and also some heartwarming ones. Some of her adventures were quite entertaining, and I must admit to really enjoying being along for this ride.

The ending of the novel was a bit predictable, but satisfying all the same. Eva does go through quite a bit of introspection and self-analysis before finally setting on the right guy for her, and while she does find something resembling love in the end, the lessons she learned about herself are a huge part of the resolution as well.

I’m happy to have picked up Why I Love Singlehood and would definitely recommend it for fans of chick lit type novels.

Friendship Bread by Darien Gee

From the Hardcover editionFriendship Bread by Darien Gee
Published by Random House
Review copy provided by the publicist

One afternoon, Julia and her daughter Gracie arrive home to find a loaf of Amish Friendship Bread on their doorstep, along with a bag of starter and a note describing how to make the bread herself. Julia, still grieving from a personal tragedy, doesn’t have the strength to do most things on most days but in order to appease Gracie, she decides to make the bread. Soon she has four bags of starter to pass on, so she goes to the local coffee shop to pass on the bags and it is there she meets Madeline and Hannah, two newcomers to Julia’s small town of Avalon, Illinois, and the three begin a fast friendship. And pretty soon, everyone in town is baking Amish Friendship Bread and passing along starters to friends and strangers alike. Who knew that one loaf of bread could cause this much camaraderie and new beginnings in this small town?

Okay, so I was not expecting to like this book. Books that appear to be this saccharine sweet don’t usually work for me. I can’t remember if I agreed to review this book or if it was a surprise (this is terrible that I cannot remember, I am aware, and normally I keep much better track of these things) but I almost didn’t pick it up. Something, however, caused me to think I might enjoy it, so I finally buckled down with the first 50 pages. And after that, I was hooked.

Yes, Friendship Bread is an extremely sweet, uplifting novel. However, it deals with so many real issues, and the characters felt so much like real people to me, that I truly had trouble putting the book down. I ended up enjoying it far more than I could have expected. The novel isn’t really about the bread itself, but about the relationships and friendships that form because of the connections people make when they pass along the bread. I have to say that I was surprised by how much tough, real-life stuff Gee chose to examine in this book. The characters in this novel dealt with the death of a child, death of a spouse, infidelity, family conflicts, unplanned pregnancy, and more. The friendship bread served as a backdrop for the characters to examine their issues and heal from them.

I adored many of the characters in this book and really rooted for them. I would say that Julia is the character I most sympathized with, but her friend Hannah would be a close second. What was surprising to me was how Gee managed to create such fully realized, interesting characters while not devoting a ton of time to each one (as there were so many). I was very impressed by how involved I felt in each of their lives.

Friendship Bread really surpassed my expectations and I would definitely recommend it. While it is a sweet novel, it contains much more depth than you would think, and its characters had me at hello. I truly enjoyed this book and am so glad I picked it up.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

AttachmentsAttachments by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Dutton Adult, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by the publicist

Jennifer and Beth, best friends and co-workers, know that their company has a policy of no personal conversations using their employer-sponsored email accounts, and they also know that their email is being monitored to prevent them from using email for that purpose. However, they still have long conversations with one another over email about anything and everything going on in their personal lives. Lincoln is the internet security officer at their company, which basically means he’s responsible for screening all company emails to make sure people aren’t using them for non-work related purposes. In essence, he’s reading the vast majority of Jennifer and Beth’s conversations. At first he thinks he needs to report these women, and begins the process of doing just that. But soon he’s finding himself entertained by their conversations, and keeps reading them because they are making his job just a bit more fun and exciting. And furthermore, he’s developed quite a bit of a crush on Beth. By the time Lincoln realizes his feelings for Beth, it’s too late to introduce himself, as he can’t figure out a proper way to do so, but he’s dying to meet her in person. He decides he absolutely must follow his heart… no matter how awkward or difficult that might be.

There are so many things to smile about in Attachments. The concept certainly is clever and Rowell definitely executes it well. Her characters are fun, realistic, and real. The conversations between them feel very authentic and are reminiscent of similar conversations I’ve had with friends and co-workers over the years. And finally, the book is a quick, light read but with more depth than I had expected.

I suppose my favorite thing about Attachments would have to be the characters. It’s funny, because the reader gets to know Jennifer and Beth only through their email conversations, but I really felt that I got a sense of who they both are as individuals. I related to both of these women for different reasons, and as I stated, their conversations felt very authentic to me. The things they discussed over email were typical things that women discuss – relationship issues, family issues, etc. – and I could relate to having these same conversations with my own girlfriends. Lincoln, too, was a fully realized character and came to be the one I most rooted for. He was shy, insecure, but with a really good heart and deep down just wanted the opportunity to love someone and be loved back. I can relate to that (who can’t?) and I wanted so badly for him to find the love he was yearning for.

While I wouldn’t consider Attachments to be serious, literary fiction by any means, Rowell is a good, solid writer and her talent shows. Yes, the book is lighter in tone than some other books I’ve read, but it flies by and I found myself surprised with how much I was entertained by and enjoyed the novel. If you are a person who enjoys the more fun, lighter side of fiction from time to time, I would definitely recommend Attachments.