Going to join the chorus here: what in the what is happening with this ending?! (That's it: no spoilers.)
I mean, I spent the vast majority of this novGoing to join the chorus here: what in the what is happening with this ending?! (That's it: no spoilers.)
I mean, I spent the vast majority of this novel wondering if/when something of interest was going to happen. Emma is a shell with no particular personality; Dominic is the stereotypical Awesome Single Dad who everyone agrees is, you know, ridiculously good-looking. That was addressed approximately 200 times, just so it really sank in.
And when something compelling finally did happen? Well, I couldn't respond with any sort of human emotion, given I'd spent hundreds of pages with an engaged-but-not-actually-engaged couple as bland as day-old toast. Emma and Dominic fall almost instantly in love and then talk about how in love they are with no plot to this dull novel beyond incorporating their two lives together (easy, given their next-door neighbors) and bringing Dominic's young son, Jesse, into the fold.
Boring, trite, uninspired. I listened to it on audio, read by the author, and Jane Green's "American dude" accent is . . . well, grating, to put it mildly. I was also annoyed by all the quotes that were so wholly unrealistic for an American man that I would snicker. To myself. In my car. Case in point? When Emma shows up to a barbecue and Dominic exclaims, "Oh, you made it! I'm so pleased!"
Like a thirty-something bro would say he's "pleased"? C'mon with this nonsense.
I did finish it, so . . . there's that. But in my defense, I was going to incur a library fine for having this long audio (12 discs) past due, and I wanted to at least complete the story. In hindsight, not sure why I bothered....more
Knowing she won’t be able to see her daughter get married, Beth leaves behind “The Notebook”: her guide to how she envisions her youngest child’s weddKnowing she won’t be able to see her daughter get married, Beth leaves behind “The Notebook”: her guide to how she envisions her youngest child’s wedding day, right down to the menu and napkins. Jenna chooses to follow her mother’s wishes to the letter — right down to the menu, napkins and tent suggestions. It’s the least she can do, she thinks.
As her extended family descends on the family estate on Nantucket, the Grahams and Carmichaels must find a way to get along as new details about their own relationships come to light. Will everything come together to form the perfect day Beth imagined for Jenna?
Filled with enough characters to fill a train car, Beautiful Day would have been a simple, pleasant enough read if I’d been able to keep track of who all these people were. We have two large families — the bride’s and the groom’s — with a trunk full of issues each.
While it was entertaining, I was lost in the midst of this ensemble and unable to connect to anyone in particular. Jenna was pretty annoying, honestly. Beth’s words in The Notebook open each chapter, and I eventually found the extremely specific details to be grating. It just all felt . . . very melodramatic. I mean, we’re talking about a posthumous wedding guide, though, so I guess that’s to be expected?
Regardless, I enjoyed Hilderbrand’s easy-breezy setting and writing style — nothing too taxing; easy listening for my drives. My lukewarm reception to this one hasn't stopped me from reading more of her work....more
Jennifer Weiner’s Who Do You Love is a comfortable, fairly predictable read following two young lovers over the course of three decades. Their chanceJennifer Weiner’s Who Do You Love is a comfortable, fairly predictable read following two young lovers over the course of three decades. Their chance meeting at a hospital sets them up for a lifetime of serendipitous encounters, only some of which seemed realistic. It’s really a story about first love.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I feel the need to extol my love for Jennifer. She creates characters that make you feel, and her stories always suck me in with their casts of relatable — if occasionally frustrating — characters. She has a powerful ability to tap into the inner lives of women, and I greatly admire her ability to produce novels that really stick with you.
So why didn’t this one work for me?
It comes down to narrative voice. Rachel’s sections are told in first-person, allowing us to really get to know her, while Andy’s are third-person omniscient. While I could begin bonding with Rachel, I always felt removed from Andy . . . physically and mentally. His sections lacked soul. I felt as if we were going through the motions — all tell, no show — and couldn’t get excited about his victories nor mourn his failures. I wanted to, but there was just something . . . missing. The only time I really felt anything? When he’s interacting with Mr. Sills, a neighbor who takes Andy under his wing.
While I enjoyed seeing the interesting ways in which Rachel and Andy’s lives intersect, I found Rachel to be a pretty uninspiring heroine. We’re introduced to her as a young girl struggling to get out from under her parents’ anxious gazes, and I thought there was real potential there. Instead, Rachel spends much of the story projecting herself as a whiny sorority girl who doesn’t feel good enough for the Famous Andy Landis. And that got old.
Who Do You Love is not a bad story, but it’s not Weiner at her best. This was a different sort of novel for her: no elaborate cast of female characters; no exploration of friendships or sisterhood. We do get her trademark family dynamics, but it wasn’t enough to save the plot for me. I liked that she was trying something new, but I probably would have enjoyed this story more if it had been told exclusively from Rachel’s point of view. It lacked . . . sparkle. Pizzazz. Not heart, exactly, but warmth.
Will I come back to Jennifer? Absolutely. But if you’re new to her work, I would recommend Good In Bed or All Fall Down instead....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
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
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
What I love best about Jane Porter also happens to be what most punches me in the gut: her work really, really draws you in.
You’re not reading about tWhat I love best about Jane Porter also happens to be what most punches me in the gut: her work really, really draws you in.
You’re not reading about the action, kindly removed from the situation with a cool beverage in an ivory tower; you are all up in the drama, standing sticky in the middle of the muck when things get serious. If you’re looking for an engrossing read you simply cannot put down (and who isn’t?), The Good Wife is awesome. But it will also keep you up and reading compulsively.
This is the third in Porter’s Brennan Sisters series, and suffice it to say I'm emotionally invested in this complicated, realistic and loving clan. Picking up The Good Wife, which focuses on sister Sarah, felt like reuniting with family.
I don’t know who I adored more: Sarah or Lauren. Though they initially live in different parts of the country and are marching into different battles, the two women are remarkably similar, too. I like that Porter doesn’t focus on the Brennan family to the detriment of every other character in the novel, rendering anyone peripheral to the background; anyone introduced in The Good Wife is real and interesting and totally flesh-and-blood, making it a dynamic and personal reading experience.
And it did feel personal. When Sarah hurt, I hurt; when Lauren hurt, I really hurt. It’s a testament to Porter’s skill that she has me so deeply involved with her characters that I can barely tolerate parting with them. It’s been a long time since I got hooked on a series, and the Brennan Sisters books have definitely done that for me. Though sometimes the attention to detail felt exhausting, I still can’t help but marvel at the way Sarah and Lauren’s lives were brought so beautifully to life for me.
If you haven’t read anything by Porter, do yourself a favor and start with The Good Woman. Meg has a big role in this one, too, and the impact of events won’t be the same without gaining your own history with the characters. Porter’s third installment is heartbreaking and thoughtful and touching, and I highly recommend The Good Wife — and the series....more
To say Susan Wiggs’ The Apple Orchard was different than I’d anticipated is an understatement — but in a good way. I went into this 400-plus-page bookTo say Susan Wiggs’ The Apple Orchard was different than I’d anticipated is an understatement — but in a good way. I went into this 400-plus-page book expecting some romance set against a sparkling California backdrop — and Wiggs delivered on that front. But I was also treated to some mystery and some history . . . all while a burgeoning love affair simmered just beneath the surface.
In short: delicious.
So we have Tess Delaney, a purveyor of fine goods — a woman in San Francisco who specializes in finding lost treasures and returning them to their rightful owners. Save a flighty mother who dodges in and out of her life, Tess has no real family . . . and has always longed to forge a connection with others, though she isn’t sure how. When news arrives that she has a grandfather and half-sister living in nearby Archangel, Tess hightails it out to an orchard for answers — but only discovers more questions along the way.
Though lengthy, it’s hard not to get sucked into The Apple Orchard – a story brimming with entertainment and intrigue. I never became as emotionally invested in Tess’ life as I would have liked, but I was able to enjoy my first Wiggs novel as pure entertainment. It was very involved, but it never felt too heavy. I was surprised at the depth of the characters and the far-reaching twists in the plot — many of which spanned decades.
As love interests, Tess and Dominic — the banker threatening to foreclose on Bella Vista, the sprawling family orchard — are an interesting pair. With little in common on the surface save their vested interest in Magnus, Tess’ ailing and newly-discovered grandpa, the allies work together on ways to save the Archangel property . . . including locating one rare, very valuable family artifact. The romantic tension between them crackled and popped, and I spent most of The Apple Orchard waiting for them to connect. You know, ahem — really connect. The results were not disappointing.
Alternating between present-day California and WWII-era Denmark, Wiggs does an admirable job of connecting so many characters across generations. One plot point involving the fate of the family treasure felt a little hokey to me, especially as far as Tess’ father’s fate was concerned, but that was a minor ripple in an otherwise enjoyable story....more
Meg Cabot’s The Bride Wore Size 12, the fifth book in her Heather Wells mysteries series, is a fun story that may not have had me reading compulsivelyMeg Cabot’s The Bride Wore Size 12, the fifth book in her Heather Wells mysteries series, is a fun story that may not have had me reading compulsively, but was an entertaining distraction. I read the first book — Size 12 is Not Fat — back in 2009, but never felt compelled to pick up the books that came after. I chose to reunite with Heather as a bride-to-be myself, and . . . well, it turns out I didn’t miss much.
But I don’t mean that in a super mean way. Just that Heather is still the Heather I remember: assertive but kindhearted, interesting but not ridiculously compelling as a narrator. She’s engaged to a private investigator, works with an assortment of unusual coworkers. I remember the first book being fun but not life-altering, though the details did come back to me all these years later. (Always a good sign.)
The “mystery” aspect — centering on the death of Jasmine, a popular coed — was . . . well, it was. I was curious about what happened to her, but we didn’t know enough (or anything, really) about Jasmine to make her death matter to us. Rashid, the son of a prominent Middle Eastern leader, comes with baggage — and it’s his partying and involvement on campus that bring the circumstances surrounding Jasmine’s death more attention. I was interested in Rashid and his story with Ameera, a fellow student, but I wished they’d gotten more screen time.
There was just . . . so much happening here. We have Cooper and Heather’s upcoming wedding; the mystery surrounding the student death; the popularity of a student news blog breaking stories Heather would rather not be breaking; the reappearance of Heather’s long-lost, no-good mom and former manager; Cooper’s interactions that ultimately turn unpleasant; and . . . well, now I have whiplash.
But I can’t say this book wasn’t a fun read. Despite some of its heavy subject matter, Cabot writes with humor and a light touch — all qualities I’ve always loved about her. If you’re new to the series, you could certainly start with The Bride Wore Size 12 and work your way back . . . but I’d recommend starting at the beginning. If you’ve spent time with Heather in the past but aren’t sure you want to scamper back into her world, your return will probably be an enjoyable one....more
Meg Donohue’s All the Summer Girls is a story of friendship.
Oh, it’s about more than that, too — like motherhood and substance abuse and grief and firMeg Donohue’s All the Summer Girls is a story of friendship.
Oh, it’s about more than that, too — like motherhood and substance abuse and grief and first love. But beyond those tiny, inconsequential little topics? It’s friendship. Sisterhood. The bonds of women — the marks we make upon each other, and how we flounder or thrive in the aftermath of loss.
A fateful night one summer eight years before drove a wedge between this once-inseparable trio: three friends who grew up visiting the same beach house each summer in Avalon, New Jersey. It took me about 30 pages to clarify who was with whom and what they were doing and where they lived, etc., but once I had the principle players down, I was hooked on Donohue’s latest. Her sophomore effort delved much deeper into her characters’ interior lives than How To Eat A Cupcake, which I really appreciated. And who couldn’t use a little literary vacation to the Jersey Shore? (Sans Snooki, of course.)
Almost a decade later, each woman is carrying a secret — or a half-truth — about one tragic night. Though Kate and Vanessa have moved jerkily forward, Dani is as broken as ever. Despite her messy edges (or maybe because of them?), Dani was my favorite character. An aspiring novelist and lost soul who wanders San Francisco like a ghost, Dani dances with too many personal demons . . . and I really felt for her. More than the others. When she reunites with Vanessa and Kate after losing her twelfth job in seven years (no small feat), we know her tough, somber exterior is just a mask.
My Type-A side could relate to serious, steadfast lawyer Kate, and my tender side broke in half as she struggled with the end of an engagement and unexpected pregnancy (all facts revealed almost immediately, so no spoilers). She’s never come to terms with what happened in Avalon eight years ago, changing her family forever, and her fiance’s ultimatum that she come to terms with it was heartbreaking. And that her friends would declare A Kate is a Kate is a Kate felt, to me, like the highest kind of compliment. She’s loyal, honest and true.
The book is quick and fast and, dare I say it, an excellent “beach read.” I hesitate to use the term too often because we hear it all the time as soon as Memorial Day rolls around. Plus, you know, some readers dismiss “beach reads” as fluffy entertainment — and All the Summer Girls has real heart. I felt the ends were wrapped nicely without convenient “tied with a bow” packaging, and I appreciated the resolute — even hopeful — close. After the heartache, it was a balm.
With mystery, beautiful language and a gorgeous beach backdrop, Donohue’s story will appeal to fans of women’s fiction, novels on friendship and books laced with emotion and drama in equal measure. All the Summer Girls deserves that much-coveted spot next to your SPF 30 — or the spot on your nightstand to simply take you away....more
Centering on the dynamics between four very different women, Sarah Pekkanen’s The Best of Us is a novel that reads like a daydream. Seriously, the sceCentering on the dynamics between four very different women, Sarah Pekkanen’s The Best of Us is a novel that reads like a daydream. Seriously, the scenery of Jamaica and the private villa where the group convenes? If the descriptions of sumptuous meals prepared by a private chef and the sunny, perfect beach don’t get you, imagine the comfort and relaxation of having an entire estate to yourself . . . you know, until stuff starts to get real.
And get real it does. Each character packs their own brand of baggage, and readers can only lounge in their favorite armchair and let it all unfold. While I didn’t feel as emotionally invested in the characters as I would have liked, Pekkanen’s quick pacing and non-stop action kept me reading to the dramatic conclusion.
I felt like a fly on the wall in The Best of Us — in a good way, I reckon. There’s so much happening that, at several points, I had to concentrate on who was mad at whom and why and where and what. Verging on being afflicted with the fatal Too Many Characters-itis, it took me a solid 70 pages or so to really get everyone’s stories straight . . . but once I did, it all clicked.
Of the four women, my favorite character was actually Savannah, the newly-separated fiery friend who seemed misunderstood. Though her flirtations with certain members of the group were a little silly, I felt like I got to know her the best — and understood her better than Tina, for example. The only thing I really got about Tina? She’s a tired, stressed-out mom carrying more weight than she’d like, and she and her husband have no intimacy issues. (Perhaps that explains the four kids, no?)
More so than the others, Savannah was dynamic and interesting. As she struggles with her husband’s infidelity and whether to divulge the truth to her friends, I felt like she was the most fleshed-out member of this party. Pauline was a compelling character, too, but I could never really figure out if she truly loved Dwight or was just a hopeless gold-digger. I think it was both — but Dwight was so sweet and nice, I couldn’t forgive her for that. Until Dwight went and did something nasty, and then I was like . . . UMWHATIDONT’KNOWTHESEPEOPLEATALL.
At some point or other, everyone in the book let me down . . . but perhaps that was the point. Regardless of past or present grievances, the couples find a way to move past old hurts. Love isn’t superficial, or transient, or blind. And even with the myriad of issues everyone is facing, they’re taking their marriages seriously. They’re a real commitment. They’re finding their way back to each other . . . even if it takes a hurricane to do so.
Overall, fans of Pekkanen and women’s fiction as a whole will find an interesting, pleasant diversion in The Best of Us. Anyone seeking a bit of afternoon escapism might get lost in the sun and sand of Jamaica, and I appreciated the interesting dynamics between couples. While I didn’t enjoy this one as much as These Girls, it was a fun read....more