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
Told through a series of emails and notes, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is flat-out delightful. Intelligent. Unique. A story I was truly sad to see endTold through a series of emails and notes, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is flat-out delightful. Intelligent. Unique. A story I was truly sad to see end with memorable people who felt like friends by the close.
It's hard to do justice to how funny Bernadette is -- and to be honest, I saw much of myself in her. Though I’ve been able to stave off agoraphobia so far, I’m quite happy to take care of most tasks online. Bernadette is a really fantastic, multifaceted character -- as is Bee, her hilarious daughter. I loved them both.
It’s hard to explain Where’d You Go, Bernadette except to say it was an enchanting, entertaining, wholly different novel about family and love with madcap adventures and crazy humor -- one I enjoyed from start to finish. Even months later, I can vividly recall many passages and scenes.
If you can get your paws on the audio version, I highly recommend it. Narrator Kathleen Wilhoite does an outstanding job as the many folks populating this great story, and I loved her interpretation of Bee. Though I’m sure I would have had a grand ol’ time with the print version, too, listening to the story was a true pleasure....more
Though this book is a light, breezy, easy read with a murder mystery and sassy Aunty Lee at its core, it hasn't kept my attention. I picked it up andThough this book is a light, breezy, easy read with a murder mystery and sassy Aunty Lee at its core, it hasn't kept my attention. I picked it up and put it down countless times and, after reaching the 100-page mark, just decided to move on....more
More inspirational than informational, Roberts’ Everybody’s Got Something is her recollection of where she was before, during and after her 2012 transMore inspirational than informational, Roberts’ Everybody’s Got Something is her recollection of where she was before, during and after her 2012 transplant — and reads as a “thank you” to the friends, family, coworkers and viewers who bolstered her during a tremendously difficult time.
As she prepares for her transplant and its required isolation, Robin must also come to grips with another pain: the grief of losing her beloved mother, Lucimarian. The love shared between her close-knit family — including Sally-Ann, her bone marrow donor — is the backbone of Robin’s story, and many chapters feature snippets of childhood and the many lessons her mother and father shared with their children.
Though Everybody’s Got Something lacked some of the candor I’d expect given Robin’s difficult situation, I respect her so much as a person and appreciate that she wanted to focus on the positives: the bond her illness further cemented with her family and girlfriend, Amber; the overwhelming, soul-restoring support she received from colleagues, friends and viewers; the strong faith that got her through the darkest of her days.
Robin’s struggles seem to have been buffed clean, smoothed of their most jagged edges — but this is her story. If it’s varnished, I understand . . . and appreciate that, more than anything, Everybody’s Got Something — a popular saying with her mother — is exactly what it purports to be: a reminder that we all face challenges, but need not be defined by them. Readers facing health crises may find it especially comforting.
If you like Robin? Well, you’ll like her book. She’s sincere and humble — and just a darn likeable person. I finished the memoir grateful for her returning strength and hopeful that the future will be a bright one....more
Jennifer Weiner’s All Fall Down is arguably the grittiest of her works to date. Don’t get me wrong: Allison is still the funny, strong heroine I’ve coJennifer Weiner’s All Fall Down is arguably the grittiest of her works to date. Don’t get me wrong: Allison is still the funny, strong heroine I’ve come to expect from one of my favorite authors, but it deals with some pretty complex and frightening issues. That’s what makes it so startling: Allison is an Everywoman. She has her problems, sure, but they’re nothing beyond the scope of what many women deal with every day. She admits this herself.
But her manner of coping . . .
In spending time with All Fall Down, one can’t help but realize we’re all addicted to something. Beyond obvious issues like alcohol and drug abuse, how many of us haven’t zoned out with a bag of cookies? Or an hour on Facebook? Or a Zulily shopping spree (free shipping until midnight!)? We all have our coping mechanisms, our ways of tuning out the stresses of the day to finally find some measure of peace.
Allison’s method happens to be destructive, nearly costing her everything she loves and holds dear. Just because she doesn’t follow the “typical” stereotype of a drug addict doesn’t mean she isn’t one, and I found her path to acceptance realistic and heartbreaking. She’s a little damaged on the inside, but who isn’t? Her descent into dependence is gradual enough that she doesn’t notice, and that’s what made it so chilling.
Despite its heavy subject matter, I couldn’t help whipping through Allison’s story. The descriptions of her battles with Eloise, her sweet but spirited daughter, made my heart race; her recollections of growing up with an emotionally unavailable mother were so painful. As she reaches out to her husband and receives little support in return, I really hurt for her. And the scenes and memories of her dad had me in tears.
Obviously the stresses compound to the point that she’s relying on narcotics just to function day-to-day, and she can’t keep her secrets — all fall down — forever. As everything began to crumble, I wanted to help. Do something. I felt like screaming at the characters to see what was happening, and the critical juncture at which someone notices what’s happening came as a serious relief to me.
Fast-paced and engrossing, All Fall Down is another winner from Weiner. Unlike her other novels, which tend to follow a variety of women linked by a common thread, Allison is our sole focus — and that worked really well for me. I read this book on vacation and couldn’t wait to retreat to our cabin to get a few more snippets before bed. Satisfying and thought-provoking, it’s a story I won’t soon forget....more
Sara Shepard’s The Heiresses is fast-paced rich-people voyeurism at its finest. Manhattan addresses, fancy clothing, scandal, intrigue, mystery . . .Sara Shepard’s The Heiresses is fast-paced rich-people voyeurism at its finest. Manhattan addresses, fancy clothing, scandal, intrigue, mystery . . . and death. It’s basically a nonstop ride as delicious as settling in with your favorite candy, and its serious cliffhanger has me eager for more.
Though I initially feared this story of five powerful women would be stricken with a vicious case of Too Many Characters-itis, it didn’t take long to learn the quirks and foibles of the Saybrook heiresses. Each has a secret they’re guarding: a scandal that could break their famous family wide open. Though I can’t say I really loved any of the ladies, they were certainly entertaining to read about.
I bonded best with Corinne — a woman planning a wedding to the man she’s “supposed” to marry: Dixon, a preppy dude with a trust fund, square jaw and respectable family. Though her fiance was a bit of a caricature (just picture any polo-wearing jock in your life), I found her back story — and one-time love affair — very compelling. In the weeks leading up to her nuptials, Corinne held my attention as I wondered how she would deal with so many conflicting emotions. It was tough — but realistic, I think.
Poppy was a control freak, Rowan a mess. Aster was the stereotypical socialite bent on destroying her father for something he may or may not even have done, and Natasha was a bit of an empty shell. But compiled together? The Saybrook women were an entertaining lot, if only because they led such vastly different lives from my own. Mystery surrounds two unexpected deaths, and the bent of a blogger to expose their every movement keeps them on edge. As readers, we’re compelled to keep going if only to learn — Clue-style — whodunnit.
In the background are a bevy of relationships, lovers, complications and family troubles — as well as a family secret so dark it has the power to destroy them all. I sped through this story like lightning, invested in the plight of the Saybrooks and curious as to who was trying to wreck them (the options seemed endless).
Fans of women’s fiction, New York-based mysteries, contemporary fiction and wealthy family fiction will find The Heiresses to be a worthy addition to their beach bag this summer. I’m already looking forward to the next installment!...more
Ann Brashares’ The Here and Now the latest in a batch of young adult fiction with a dystopian angle . . . and, you know, it was pretty interesting. ItAnn Brashares’ The Here and Now the latest in a batch of young adult fiction with a dystopian angle . . . and, you know, it was pretty interesting. It’s no Life As We Knew It, but it’s certainly not terrible. Something about the story has me leaning toward ambivalence, though; I can’t pinpoint anything wrong with it, but it didn’t hold my attention the way I would have liked.
Prenna’s wit, intelligence and cunning carried the story for me, though. As it becomes apparent the elders aren’t exactly disclosing the truth to their “family” of sorts, I wanted Prenna to break away and do something bold — especially when we discovered something could be done. The suspense of finding out the significance of a date and the true identity of a friend kept the pace moving forward, and the story’s pivotal scenes were pretty compelling.
The Here and Now takes place in modern-day America — more than half a century before a mosquito-born illness wipes out huge swaths of the population. On the whole, the world-building was . . . sufficient? Okay? I would have loved more details about future America, actually, but I suppose that wasn’t the real point. The plan was to prevent the awful future, even if that wasn’t initially the goal. So to hear tons about a ravaged world would probably have been pointless.
Billed partially as a romance, the evolution of Ethan and Prenna’s relationship felt pretty realistic. I saw Prenna as the cute kick-butt type — and Ethan, for all his quirkiness, definitely had the hunk factor going on. I loved that he was sharp and clever and always willing to help, and learning his fate really added to his impact for me. Their first-love fumblings felt true-to-life and sweet, and I loved how supportive they were of one another without falling into unabashed “But I can’t live without you!” cheesiness. I don’t do cornball. (Well, most of the time.)
Fans of young adult fiction with a healthy dash of dystopian disaster will find an interesting — if not entirely unique — tale in The Here and Now, which was a quick and easy read. Brashares has earned her spot with YA fans through the beloved Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, and her latest is worth a read. It didn’t rock my world . . . but was certainly an entertaining escape....more
Longtime New Yorker Sarah is uncertain about life in the country, but it’s off to the country they go. Giving up a high-powered but ultimately soullesLongtime New Yorker Sarah is uncertain about life in the country, but it’s off to the country they go. Giving up a high-powered but ultimately soulless marketing job in the city, she and her husband ship out to rural Virginia to start fresh — and maybe start a family — away from the bright lights they’ve come to know so well.
And . . . well, that’s it, basically. Zoe Fishman’s Driving Lessons centers on sweet, bland Sarah and how she’s given up a ton for her husband and isn’t sure she wants to be a parent but, hey, she’s going to consider it, anyway. Out of practice on the road, the title comes from her attempts — some successful, some less so — to get back behind the wheel and steer herself into a new destiny. You know, that sort of thing.
What worked for me? Many of Sarah’s reservations about motherhood and her fierce friendship with Mona, an ailing bestie back in New York, felt very realistic. I appreciated Fishman’s honest take on the pressure many women face at the prospect of starting a family when they’re still trying to pull themselves together. I thought the “Whatever works for you is right for you!” message was cool, and I felt Sarah handled and reacted to changing family dynamics well.
What didn’t work so well? Um . . . everything else, I guess. As a narrator, Sarah was just as dull as dishwater. Without any discernible personality, wants or needs, I was left trying to color inside her lines myself. She was a blank slate, lacking vivacity and imagination. She was just boring. I never connected with her or really felt I got to know her at all. Worse, I didn’t feel there was anything to know. No secrets or hidden desires. Just . . . nothing.
And it frustrates me! Because this could have been fun! The push/pull of transitioning from New York to Farmwood had potential, but it just never panned out. Plus? I find the whole “New York is the center of the universe” mentality to be a bit tired. There were some overtures to incorporate cute “Southern” characters into dispatches from Virginia, and I may have enjoyed the story more had we felt more of the dynamic of city slicker in the country — but even that may have felt overdone.
And what was up with Josh, her cardboard cut-out of a husband? He’s a professor, he wants to be a dad, and . . . that about sums it up, I guess. They leave Brooklyn because he takes a job elsewhere and thinks Virginia will be a better place to raise their future gaggle of kiddos, I suppose, and that’s it. His conversations with his wife seemed stilted at best and scripted at worse — and if I never felt I got to know Sarah, well. He really needn’t have been there at all.
Was it an easy read? Yes. Did I ever consider abandoning it? No, actually. It was light women’s fiction . . . emphasis on light. So light it could have been carried off by a summer breeze, friends. I love women’s fiction and character-driven stories, but nothing about it was gripping. Like, at all. Competently written but ultimately forgettable, Driving Lessons never really gained traction for me....more