It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

It Ends with UsIt Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
Published by Atria Books

Lily is twenty-three and has worked really hard for where she is in life – after growing up in an abusive home, she graduated college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. She isn’t looking for love, but when she meets gorgeous neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid, the spark is undeniable, and they have an immediate connection. She begins a tentative relationship with Ryle, but as she does this she can’t help but think of the boy she loved as a teenager, Atlas, a guy who helped her through some really tough times in life and who disappeared years ago. When Atlas reappears in her life, and Ryle gets wind of the relationship the two of them had as kids, Lily has to figure out if she has a place for Atlas in her life – and if Ryle is the right person for her after all.

It Ends With Us sounds like a typical love story – girl meets boy, girl falls for boy, boy from girl’s past shows up and disrupts this new relationship – but it’s so much more than that. You see, in this novel Hoover is writing about domestic violence, and it is visceral and real and so very heartbreaking. Having grown up in an abusive home, Lily always swore to herself that she would never allow herself to experience that type of relationship in adulthood, so she’s shocked when Ryle starts displaying that kind of behavior towards her. She is overwhelmed with grief and sadness at the fact that this person who she is so deeply in love with has the capacity to hurt her in this way.

At the same time the reader is getting to know Lily and Ryle, Lily begins reading her journals from high school from when she was in love with Atlas. Atlas was homeless and she began a relationship with him at first out of pity, but gradually the two fell in love, and when he was able to move to another state and live with an uncle, Lily was devastated. The way that these journals were put into the story really built a background of Lily’s past and showed the reader how amazing her relationship with Atlas was – although they were young, they truly loved each other and were incredibly supportive of one another. The reader can’t help but think, when Lily runs into Atlas, that she should leave Ryle and head straight into Atlas’s arms.

This book was frustrating at times and there were moments that I felt Lily was just not making good choices, but overall I felt that Hoover did justice to the issue of domestic violence and truly showed compassion and empathy for those who find themselves in this situation. There is an end note where Hoover explains that her inspiration for this story came from her own life and the way she connects her own personal experience to Lily’s story is fascinating and really heartwarming. I felt even more connected to the story when I read about how personal it was for the author to write about this topic and how difficult it must have been for her to treat the situation with the respect and empathy that she gave it.

While I didn’t love the ending, and I thought parts of the book were a bit cheesy, overall I really enjoyed It Ends With Us. Colleen Hoover is a solid author of these types of contemporary romance novels for a “new adult” audience and I will continue to read her books when I’m looking for this type of novel.

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A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner

A Fall of MarigoldsA Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner
Published by NAL

It’s been ten years since Taryn Michaels’ husband perished in the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City, and although she has attempted to put the pieces of her life back together, a photograph from that very day appears in a magazine and brings her right back to that moment. In the photograph, she’s wearing a scarf with a marigold pattern around her nose and mouth as she struggles to breathe through the smoke while running away from the collapsing towers. One hundred years prior to that, Clara Wood is a nurse on Ellis Island, repairing her heart from watching the love of her life perish in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire when she meets a young immigrant who has lost his wife on the ship over to America. All the man has left of his wife is a scarf with a beautiful marigold pattern, so Clara makes the choice to smuggle some of his belongings out of his late wife’s suitcase, a decision that will have lasting consequences for both of them.

A Fall of Marigolds is a story about two women, both struggling with a tremendous amount of grief and unsure of how to move past the losses they’ve had to face. Clara’s story takes up the majority of the novel, but Taryn’s is no less crucial to the story and just as heartbreaking. I really loved getting to know both women and loved how Meissner wrote both of their stories as separate but intertwined in a subtle way.

At first, Clara was a difficult character for me to like. She is very naïve and believes that she was in love with a man whom she barely knew, and believed with zero evidence to back up this belief, that he was in love with her as well. Watching people she worked with and was friends with literally die before her, either by being burned alive or jumping to their deaths, was incredibly traumatizing and she was deeply affected by that horrific experience. But still, it seemed as though she was unlikely to move on from that, and she almost clung to the immigrant she met who lost his wife, perhaps because they had a shared feeling of grief they were both dealing with. All that being said, I ended up REALLY liking Clara and rooting for her. I realized that she was simply the product of a sheltered home environment and almost no experience with men or dating, so she really couldn’t be held responsible for her naivety. She goes through some major emotional changes in the book and really grows as a person, not just with moving on past the death of the man she loved but also in her own ability to understand the world around her, I just loved her character development. By the end of the book I was pro-Clara all the way, and was so excited to see things start to come together in her life.

Taryn, on the other hand, I rooted for from the very beginning. Her experience was not only traumatic, but she carried a ton of guilt along with her pain, as she was supposed to meet her husband in the Twin Towers that day (that’s why he was in the building in the first place). She felt that she played a role in his death; and what’s worse, she was pregnant at the time and didn’t get a chance to tell her husband he was going to be a father. While her sections of the book were fewer and shorter than Clara’s, her story was extremely compelling and I hoped desperately for some resolution to the pain and grief that she still felt ten years after her husband’s death.

Ultimately the way that Meissner brings the stories of these two women together is beautiful and gave just the right resolution to both of them. I really enjoyed the flow of this novel and how Meissner blended historical fiction with a contemporary story. This was my first novel by Susan Meissner but it will definitely not be my last.

Mini-Reviews: Last Books Read in 2016 part 2

Behind Closed DoorsBehind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Published by St. Martin’s Press

This book was one HELL of a ride. It’s about this couple, Jack and Grace, who appear absolutely perfect from an outsider’s view: beautiful home in the suburbs, both physically gorgeous and fit, they host the best dinner parties in town, and his affluence and professional success allow her to be a stay-at-home wife and perhaps mother in the near future. But it is obvious from the first few pages that things with the two of them are nowhere near the image they project for their friends and neighbors to see. Once the reader is clued in to what’s really going on here, the novel picks up the pace and I couldn’t stop turning the pages, desperate to find out what would happen with the insanity that I was reading about. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is one of those unputdownable books that everyone raves about for good reason. Read it!

Leave MeLeave Me by Gayle Forman
Published by Algonquin Books

Maribeth is the stereotypical working mother who spends absolutely all of her time on everyone else – between work, her kids and her husband she barely has time to make sure she eats, let alone takes care of her own health needs. So when she goes two days avoiding the pain in her body only to realize she’s been having a heart attack that entire time, after a few weeks of recovery during which she was still responsible for taking care of absolutely everyone except for herself, she does the unthinkable and leaves her family.

Okay, so I really liked this book even though I can say that it definitely had its issues. For me, I enjoyed getting to know Maribeth and I really felt sorry for her. There was very little appreciation shown by anyone in her family for what she sacrificed for them on a daily basis, and while I know that’s the plight of many women, working mothers or otherwise, it was taken to another level here, with her having to take all responsibilities back on herself just five days after having open-heart surgery. There were several things she needed to understand about herself, her past, and what she wanted for her future (and what she was willing to put up with in order to get it), and I enjoyed spending time on this journey with her. The one thing I will say that disappointed me was the ending – it was wrapped up just a bit too neatly for such a difficult situation. There were other things about the book that weren’t perfect, but overall I really enjoyed it.

Cruel Beautiful WorldCruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt
Published by Algonquin Books

Lucy is sixteen in 1969 when she decides to run away with an older man, one of her teachers, to live in an off-the-grid tiny home in rural Pennsylvania. As Lucy’s older sister, Charlotte, and their guardian, Iris, come to terms with Lucy’s disappearance (although they have no idea where she went or why), the three of them must learn to forge ahead in their new lives independently, while never losing hope that Lucy will reunite with the other two again in the future.

I thought this book was so phenomenal, it truly blew me away. Lucy’s decision to leave her family and home for the “security” of this older man had far-reaching consequences, not just for her own life, but for all the people who knew and loved her as well. The way Leavitt crafted this story, while it’s not intended to be a page-turner by any means, kept me on the edge of my seat, frantically wishing and hoping that things would turn out okay for Lucy, Charlotte, and Iris. Leavitt perfectly captured the unique balance of crushing loneliness and feeling like you’re on top of the world and can do absolutely anything that is so unique to certain teenage girls – Lucy struck this balance in such a way that she was the perfect target for her teacher to take advantage of, and he certainly did. Leavitt gave the reader the opportunity to get to know all of the major players, not just Lucy, giving an even more complete picture of what forces propelled Lucy throughout her life to make this seemingly insane choice. Also the writing – SOOOO good. I loved this book so much.

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.