Regina Calcaterra’s Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island is the sort of book you desperaRegina Calcaterra’s Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island is the sort of book you desperately wish were fiction. These horrible things can’t really have happened, can they? No “mother” could be so heartless. No “parent” could be so cruel. No system in place to help children could be so neglectful, and no children could really be forced to steal or starve to death in a lonely, worn-out hell.
This book is jarring. Gut-wrenching. Horrifying. Despite the obvious pain and difficulty, though, we know from the beginning that Regina not only survives her mother’s abuse . . . but thrives. That glimmer of hope — that small, tiny ray of sunshine in the distance — is what kept me motivated to turn the pages. Regina is a woman you come to know and love: someone you want to cheer on and support. Someone who needs that support.
Why read a memoir detailing such neglect? The power of Regina’s story — which is her siblings’ story, too. Even in her darkest moments, she never loses sight of the most important people in her life: her family. Though the system fails Cookie’s children in many ways, they never give up fighting for one another. And knowing that Regina goes on to become wildly strong and successful, brave and resilient, well . . . it makes it all worthwhile.
Though occasionally tough to read, Etched in Sand was impossible to put down. I finished the book in two sittings, desperate to make sure that Camile, Cherie, Norman, Rosie and Regina would somehow land on their feet.
Somehow, through it all, Regina’s first-person account does not come off as bitter — or even angry. Someone who has every right to be a fire-breathing dragon when recounting the horrible things she was forced to do, see and decide as a teen manages to tell her tale without malice. Regina’s writing strikes a delicate balance between factual detachment and impassioned storytelling, and I found that impressive. Crazy, even.
For much of the story, I felt focused on the idea of revenge . . . this hope that their mother would finally be forced to pay for what she did to them — either with jail time or mental anguish. Preferably both. In the process, I wanted her to repent and apologize. To be less of an unspeakably horrible monster, basically.
But real life doesn’t always work that way. By the close of Calcaterra’s powerful memoir, I was thinking more about forgiveness . . . and how important it is for the soul. Despite Cookie’s attempts to break them down and wreck them, her children found a way to move forward.
The best revenge, they say, is living well....more
Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You is easily one of my favorite reads in years. I whipped through it like crazy, simultaneously unable to part with it and absoJojo Moyes’ Me Before You is easily one of my favorite reads in years. I whipped through it like crazy, simultaneously unable to part with it and absolutely dreading having finished it. When I got to the pivotal conclusion (which I will not spoil, don’t worry), I was sobbing as though I’d just gotten word that my soldier was never coming home.
Lou and Will’s growing dynamic makes this story — and I really fell for Lou. She is so resilient, funny, strong-willed, independent . . . yet still vulnerable and searching, searching. When she meets Will, she’s initially afraid of him and his coldness — but desperately needs the money his parents are paying for his care. She’s not a nurse (Will has someone for that); she’s there for moral support. Companionship. Hired for her cheery disposition, Lou is determined to be a friend.
And she is. As they begin to trust one another, I felt my heart bursting as they set out on adventures like attending a concert or going for walks around a nearby castle. Though Will seems broken, physically and spiritually, he finds healing in Lou’s company. They complement each other perfectly, actually, and I loved the idea that love comes in many forms.
As I approached the last few chapters, I felt a gnawing pit open in my stomach. Though I was desperate to learn what was going to happen, I worried endlessly about both Will and Lou. There was a surprising amount of romance and sensuality in their interactions; their relationship became quite intense. I grew concerned that one or both would get hurt, but realized hurt is inevitable.
Hurt is inevitable. But we can choose how to build from that hurt, how to use that hurt to become something greater, something more . . . and though my heart absolutely broke for Lou, I could see her becoming the woman she is meant to be. The fighter, the dreamer, the do-er that Will encourages.
Me Before You is not a novel I’ll soon forget, and it has cemented Jojo Moyes as one of my favorite storytellers. I loved One Plus One, but this story? It’s one for the ages....more
Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies: the cure for the common reading slump.
This compelling, engrossing novel follows the lives of several Australian famLiane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies: the cure for the common reading slump.
This compelling, engrossing novel follows the lives of several Australian families with children in the same kindergarten class: quiet Jane and her son, Ziggy, running from a disturbing past; beautiful Celeste with her wealthy and perfect husband, Perry, who transforms after-hours — and hides that side from their twin boys; outspoken Madeline and Ed, who are parents to two youngsters with Madeline’s teen daughter in the mix.
And then there are the Blonde Bobs: the seemingly-perfect moms who hover and preen and dictate, lording over the “inferior” parents when they dare darken the door of their beloved school. Madeline is well-versed in their antics . . . and all too happy to show newbie Jane the ropes.
Interspersed with the narrative are snippets from an interview — and it’s clear something terrible has happened at the school’s Trivia Night. Terrible enough to leave someone dead. As readers, we don’t know what or who . . . but we do know when. And as we get ever closer to that fateful night, my heart began to pound.
What works so brilliantly in Big Little Lies is the wide, varied tapestry of characters we get to know and love. This is contemporary, domestic fiction that shimmers and shines; it’s engrossing, well-written, effortless to read. As I got sucked into Jane’s awful back story, Celeste’s current heartbreak and Madeline’s painful desire to connect with her daughter, I could think of little else. I didn’t want it to end.
But it did end . . . and what an explosive conclusion it was. I must admit to never guessing the twist, and the identity of the murder victim remained elusive until I literally gasped aloud during Trivia Night. My husband asked what was happening — but I shushed him, unable to fill him in with a little snippet. “It’s complicated,” I said.
It was . . . and it wasn’t. As Moriarty deftly unveiled many secrets, I was awestruck at her ability to throw me off while still leading me in the right direction the entire time. She got me — and she got me good.
With its glimpses into many marriages — some working, others not — and the families either trying to stay glued together or ripping apart at the seams, Big Little Lies will appeal to fans of domestic dramas and well-written contemporary fiction. I loved my time with Madeline, Jane and Celeste, and find myself thinking about them even after turning the final page....more
Now that Savannah is rooted in Manhattan society and earning her keep at Femme, the magazine which recently published her first work, she is focused oNow that Savannah is rooted in Manhattan society and earning her keep at Femme, the magazine which recently published her first work, she is focused on building a place within the Stone family — and discovering the truth about what happened to their father. When her search takes her to Washington, D.C., and into the complicated world of American politics, Savannah must decide whether to push harder than she ever has or turn back.
Filled with more mystery and depth than its predecessor, Independently Wealthy finds us acquainted with a much stronger, more empowered heroine with a clear goal: finding out the truth about the fatal accident that claimed her father’s life and a potential cover-up that could make headlines around the world. When investigators hit dead ends, Savannah snoops in Edward’s files to find connections others may have missed and leaves for Washington in the hope of learning the truth.
Given I’m from the Washington area, I loved seeing glimpses of my hometown as Savannah races among the political elite to confront the man she believes was instrumental in Edward’s death. We also see romantic development in several areas and a pretty dashing male lead — one I found vastly superior to Alex, quite honestly. In my book? Jack redeems himself tenfold.
What made Independently Wealthy really work for me were the growing family dynamics. Ned and Caroline, Savannah’s half-siblings, really became human in this second installment. In fact, where I once found Ned to be particularly insufferable, I actually started to like the guy. He is charismatic and snobby and cocky, but he’s a little lost, too. Each character seemed more vulnerable this time around — and I liked that we got to know them beyond the superficial.
Lorraine Zago Rosenthal has written two books with a sassy narrator who takes chances and goes big, and I enjoyed the time spent with the Stone family. As Savannah has grown so much between books one and two, who knows what could be in store for her down the line . . . I hope we’ll get a chance to find out....more
Lorraine Zago Rosenthal’s New Money is a light, entertaining story of a 24-year-old debutante set loose in Manhattan after a lifetime among Southern sLorraine Zago Rosenthal’s New Money is a light, entertaining story of a 24-year-old debutante set loose in Manhattan after a lifetime among Southern society. To say she is lost amidst a sea of dark-clothed, serious New Yorkers is an understatement — but once she flees the comfort of her mother’s home in South Carolina, she is determined to create a new path for herself as a writer . . . or maybe something else entirely.
Though I enjoyed Savannah’s story, success seemed to find our heroine a little too easily. After learning the identity of her biological father, a billionaire, Savannah hops a plane and steps straight into a sleek apartment overlooking Central Park with barely a thought of the mother she is supposedly devoted to — or the life she is leaving behind. Her whacky best friend temporarily turns Savannah’s new life into a sorority romp, and the tenuous relationship she is trying to build with her half-siblings is constantly under fire.
The set-up of New Money felt to be entirely tell with no show — a fact that surprised me. I didn’t feel I actually got to know Savannah until the end of the novel, when she was in love with a bartender and fighting to keep her new family’s name out of the press. We were told she is this strong, passionate, intelligent woman . . . but her scatter-brained actions didn’t always reflect that.
But even having said that, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this story . . . I did! It was fun escapism that demanded little of me, which was perfect. It’s actually been a while since I read a story set in Manhattan, and Rosenthal’s descriptions of the city through an outsider’s eyes were fun. Her budding romance with Alex, a reformed fighter, was sweet and sweetly believable; her attempts to get to know her brother and sister were realistic and a little heartbreaking.
All in all, New Money was the first novel I’ve read in the burgeoning “new adult” category — and with a little romance, plenty of family dynamics and lots of rich-people-peeping to keep me company, it was a fun story with interesting characters that I enjoyed getting to know....more
Romantic, wistful and richly engrossing, fans of the beloved Miss Austen will delight in Syrie James’ well-researched, evocative story of the summer JRomantic, wistful and richly engrossing, fans of the beloved Miss Austen will delight in Syrie James’ well-researched, evocative story of the summer Jane is believed to have first fallen in love.
Based on the scholarly belief that Jane did, in fact, meet one Edward Taylor through her brother — and snippets of letters in which she mentions both Him and Bifrons, Edward’s actual home — James has constructed a lively, entertaining tale of the man who may have stolen young Jane’s heart. With generous and creative nods to future characters (especially Emma Woodhouse, intrepid but misguided matchmaker), Jane Austen’s First Love is a treat for fans of the author and historical fiction alike.
The way Jane falls in love with Edward was sudden but believable — a feat not easily accomplished. As a young woman with little experience away from Steventon (and her mother’s grasp), Jane is enamored to be passing time as she chooses — and in the company of new, exciting, accomplished people. In addition to being handsome and well-traveled, Edward is adventurous and kind. Though a bit of a daredevil with a reputation to match, he has no trouble questioning the status quo: unique in a society that places propriety above all else.
Jane comes from different stock, of course. Visiting Goodnestone for her brother’s engagement celebration, she and Cassandra are under immense pressure to behave well and not present as “country folk.” At 15, Jane is too young to actually be “out” in society . . . but her mother relents for the special occasion, allowing her to participate in the many events and balls held in honor of two sets of soon-to-be newlyweds (the sister of Edward Austen’s intended is also to marry). This new independence delights Jane — but it comes at a cost.
The early feelings of love and affection blossoming between Jane and Edward Taylor — the nerves; the excitement; the desperation to see each other again — are familiar to all of us. Indeed, it’s tough to read Jane Austen’s First Love and not feel transported back to your own first brush with romance. James does a remarkable job of drawing us into the easy banter and camaraderie the two share . . . but of course, we know the ending of the story.
Is it a spoiler to talk of the fate of a famous author who passed nearly 200 years ago? Austen fans know that, for all her exquisite explorations of the human heart, Jane herself never did marry — nor did her sister, Cassandra, after losing a fiance as a young woman. Jane passed at age 41 and left an enormous legacy that still has us talking, speculating and daydreaming centuries later.
Knowing the end of her romance with Edward Taylor even before it began did nothing to harm it; in fact, James beautifully demonstrates how reasonable it was that Jane could have fallen in love . . . but how, in the end, first loves are not always forever loves. What could have been a bittersweet ending was, instead, satisfying and realistic.
I loved my time at Goodnestone — and any time spent in the company of dear Jane is always well spent. Syrie James does a remarkable job of returning us to Regency England in the company of “characters” that actually feel like friends, with a story that felt both familiar and fresh. Jane Austen’s First Love will be a welcome addition to the shelves of Janeites everywhere — and those interested in a good love story will rejoice in it, too....more
When first we meet Susan, a young American woman studying in Hong Kong, we see her as eager and inexperienced — a lover of Chinese culture who is quicWhen first we meet Susan, a young American woman studying in Hong Kong, we see her as eager and inexperienced — a lover of Chinese culture who is quickly romanced by fellow student Cai, so handsome and sure. Through innocent, intellectual evening chats and patience, Cai courts Susan — and proposes very quickly. Susan, entranced and bewitched by him, agrees.
Here’s what really works about Susan Blumberg-Kason's Good Chinese Wife: Susan gets it. She gets that we may be reading her deeply personal story of a trouble marriage with a critical eye. She knows we may judge, we may disagree, we may shake our hands and wag our fingers. Maybe we’ll say “you should have known.” Susan understands we will not accept all of her choices. Why does she stay when it’s obvious she should run, run, run?
But this Susan — our narrator — is older, wiser, accepting. She’s gazing back at her tumultuous first marriage with a new understanding, and she’s not apologetic about her past. In a matter-of-fact but warm tone, Susan recounts her time with Cai in a way that isn’t truly detached — but makes it clear she’s moved beyond their pain and differences.
At its core, Good Chinese Wife is about a woman who loves a man — one who doesn’t respect or support her. Though she is Jewish-American and he is Chinese, the fault lines in their marriage aren’t entirely due to “cultural differences,” as she once rationalizes. Yes, they hail from separate nations . . . and have entirely different traditions, different values. But as a new wife, Susan works hard to empathize and learn from her husband, accepting his quirks (if you could call a porn addiction a “quirk” . . .) and chooses to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Cai can’t say the same.
Good Chinese Wife is riveting. As outsiders, it may be easy to wonder Why? why? why? Susan would choose to stay with a man who repeatedly and blatantly disrespects her, both through his questionable relationships with others — male and female — and his verbal abuse at home. Cold, silent and brooding, Cai comes across as a dangerously unpleasant man . . . one subject to wild mood swings and threats.
But I got it. I got it. For better or worse, Susan fell in love with him — this tempestuous, mysterious person — and tried to make a life with him, but Cai proved to be someone on whom she could not depend. As they welcomed a son, I cringed at the stunts Cai would pull . . . and the detached, harmful way in which he interacted with his child.
For all the sad, angry moments, this isn’t a negative story — and there were times Good Chinese Wife really sparkled. Susan is incredibly endearing, and I loved the electricity in her voice when she talks about her beloved Hong Kong. Her love for her family is very clear, and she’s incredibly kind — and treated very kindly — by Cai’s parents in Hidden River, who love her and their grandchild as well.
Is Good Chinese Wife about an interracial, intercultural marriage? Yes . . . and no. Though some of Susan and Cai’s issues stem from cultural misunderstandings, of course, it’s far deeper than that. And this isn’t a cautionary tale. By the close, we know Susan bears no malice toward Cai — and having found happiness herself (not a spoiler — in the author bio!), she reflects on their time together in the 1990s very differently these days.
Absorbing, calm and wise, Good Chinese Wife was a memoir I devoured in just a few hours. I felt Susan’s all-encompassing love for her family — and often wanted to simultaneously hug and shake her. Though readers may question her decisions (sometimes I did, too), Susan bravely shares her story in the hope, I think, of inspiring others to stand up for themselves and their families. It’s a thought-provoking memoir, and one I recommend....more
It’s been a while since I sank into some good literary fiction. Honestly, with the chaos of the last year or so, I’ve favored neutral works or memoirsIt’s been a while since I sank into some good literary fiction. Honestly, with the chaos of the last year or so, I’ve favored neutral works or memoirs that may not demand as much from me as a reader. But it’s not fair to categorize The Book of Unknown Americans as a “tough read” — because in Henriquez’s hands, the tale digests so easily.
It’s impossible not to feel for Alma and Arturo, Maribel’s parents; as they flee their old life in Mexico, wanting to help and protect their injured daughter, they must abandon everything they know that is safe and familiar. The early moments the Riveras share at their dingy, anonymous apartment were heartbreaking. It’s impossible for me to imagine what it must be like, leaving behind a home filled with everything you love, everything you’ve built. And to come to a new country and community that may be hostile toward you — called an “outsider,” a foreigner, or worse — is gut-wrenching.
But Alma and Arturo are tenacious. They care. They try. Desperately wanting Maribel’s condition to improve, they tolerate the time she spends with Mayor and encourage her to form new relationships. Mayor was an interesting character in that he shares some of the Riveras’ experiences, but his own life in America is different. I didn’t bond with him the way I did with the Riveras, but I certainly felt with and for him throughout the novel.
Peppered between the unfolding saga of the two families are the stories of many more men and women, also immigrants who have arrived in the United States for one reason or another — and their personal narrations, sometimes only a few pages long, break up the ongoing narrative. I loved these glimpses into the lives of neighbors, coworkers and new friends. I recognized how responsible they felt for each other — even though they may have all arrived in the country as strangers. They’re Americans now.
This isn’t a love story, but it is a love story. From the blush of early love between Mayor and Maribel to the many sacrifices parents make for their children, the novel is a testimony to devotion and wanting more.
Though the subject matter is often difficult, the pay-off is so great. Henriquez spins a powerful tale filled with memorable characters, heartbreaking narratives and incredible depth. By the time I finished The Book of Unknown Americans, I felt nearly breathless; it was so intense, so moving, that I felt I’d barely come up for air. Highly recommend....more