Posts Tagged summer reading
With or Without You by Caroline Leavitt. Algonquin| August 4, 2020| 288 pages | $26.95| ISBN: 9781616207793
The way you expect your life to be isn’t often the way it ends up being. Societal pressures and outside influences affect decision-making. People change over time and sometimes love relationships don’t work anymore or just don’t fit. Why do some people languish in relationships that aren’t particularly satisfying anymore? When do you just let go of a relationship, even if you’ve been in it for a substantial amount of time?
Stella and Simon, both 42, live in New York, have been together for 20 years and don’t have any children. An RN, Stella wants a stability and a family. Simon, a musician, still dreams of success and fame in the music industry. Stella and Simon have different personalities and demeanors. Stella is strong, independent, organized, goal-oriented. Simon is laid back and not super responsible. He lives the musician lifestyle— he’s laid back and frequently takes drugs.
“She had given up things for him before. After their first year together, she’d left her job as an RN because it was so exciting to travel with him. And then being on the road got old, or maybe just she did. But by the end of her second year touring with him, she began to feel the need to be a nurse again. It was like a physical pull. She missed having a community of doctors, nurses, and staff that she saw every day.”
It had almost been out of character for Stella to fall in love with Simon— “He came over to see her the next night, and the next, and suddenly there she was, responsible Stella with both feet firmly planted, Stella who never missed a shift, who read books and adored classical music, falling heedlessly for a rocker with an impulsive lifestyle and a way with words, simply because he cared so much about her, Iike no one ever had before.”
As someone who has tried to make relationships work with people who don’t have the same values as me or who don’t have a compatible personality or aren’t going to learn and grow over the years, I found myself deeply connected with this novel. As a music journalist I’ve had many encounters with musicians. I understand the charisma and the draw involved. Someone you might not look at on the street becomes 10x more attractive on stage playing an instrument and/or singing. As a middle-aged woman, I completely comprehend wondering how time flew by and why aren’t I more fulfilled in my life?
On the eve of the start a tour that he hopes will catapult his stagnant music career, Simon convinces Stella to take drugs with him and she falls into a coma for two months. Simon can’t make it out on tour and his band mates find a replacement. He doesn’t know what to do with himself now that he’s no longer in a band. The coma completely transforms Stella. She’s now an artist with a remarkable ability to draw portraits in which she’s able to capture a person’s innermost desires and feelings. While Stella was in the coma, Simon got close to Stella’s best friend. Do Stella and Simon choose loyalty or independence?
At turns melancholy, amusing, relatable and infuriating, With or Without You is a thoughtful novel about choices, identity, self-worth in relationships and careers and remaining true to yourself. It’s about questioning everything that makes you happy and what you should do vs. what truly fulfills you. It’s a complex and unique read.
The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai. Avon Books| August 6, 2019| 386 pages | $14.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-287809-0
“’It’s a terrible feeling. When you ghost someone, you’re saying, I don’t care enough about you as a human being to even tell you I don’t want to see you again. How humiliating is that?’ She tried to keep her smile intact, but she feared it was turning a little feral.”
I don’t read a lot of romance but I have extensive online dating experience so this novel interested me—the title and the bright pink cover immediately pulled me in. I don’t have that many romance novels sent my way. Rhiannon is an online dating app creator and a fairly typical romantic lead trope: she’s beautiful and smart and successful in business but not doing that well with her personal life. She uses online dating apps to hook-up with guys when the mood strikes. Two years ago, she met Samson, a former NFL player, and they had amazing sex, he’d asked her out again, but then proceeded to ghost her. I’ve also been ghosted many times and it hurts. It’s disrespectful. It’s unusual to run into the person who ghosted you.
“On the rare occasions she was itching for a hookup, Rhiannon chose her conquests carefully, men who appeared to be far away from her world in both distance and work. Samson had looked big and eager for sex and they’d been almost 250 miles north of her home base in L.A. Just her type.”
Rhiannon and Samson are at the same professional event. He’s the new face of old-school dating website Matchmaker. Rhiannon runs Crush. The panel is called Slow Dating vs. Swiping. I’ve done both with varying degrees of success. Rhiannon wants to buy Matchmaker and it’s not going to be easy to deal with Samson. They agree that they have amazing chemistry. It turns out that Samson’s aunt owns Matchmaker. Rhiannon definitely doesn’t want her relationship with Samson to affect her business. She wants to earn the company on her own merit. Rhiannon and Samson start a marketing series where Rhiannon, who runs the newer dating app Crush, coaches Samson and other Matchmaker clients. It all seems a bit unusual as they’re competing companies. But I didn’t dwell on it too much. They needed some way for the two to work regularly together. While Rhiannon and Samson have obvious physical chemistry, they find themselves connecting intellectually as well. Samson might be a jock but he’s also somewhat of a geek.
There’s excellent diversity in the characters–Rhiannon is black, Samson is Samoan, Rhiannon’s business partner is Asian-American and suffers from extreme anxiety and agoraphobia, her assistant, Lakshmi is of Indian descent. Storylines involve CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy)—Samson’s father and uncle suffered from it– and the #MeToo movement—Rhiannon was pushed out of her last company and her ex-boyfriend/ ex-colleague spread vicious rumors about her–adding depth to this romance. There are several steamy sex scenes. Will they or won’t they end up together? It’s all about the journey. They’re both good-looking and wealthy and incredibly likeable people and you end up rooting for them to be together. I definitely appreciated a strong feminist central character. I enjoyed the novel but it seemed a bit dragged out at times and lost my attention a bit at the end–maybe too predictable or not enough something there.
–review by Amy Steele
I received this book for review from Avon Books.
“At first I slipped the ring off before I left my apartment. Then I started wearing it all the time, even in front of Lonnie. I did it because I was bored. Because watching a baby is so repetitive. Because it thrilled me. Because it made me feel sick with worry. Because feeling anything is better than feeling nothing. Because I didn’t feel guilty. Because they had so much stuff and I had no stuff. Because it meant nothing to her and a lot to me. Because I wanted to prove to myself that this job didn’t mean anything to me. Because this job meant a lot to me. Because it was a test of trust. Because I wanted to know how far I could push her. Because I wanted to feel powerful. Because I wanted to feel powerful like Lonnie must have felt powerful, growing up, wearing this ring.”
This reminded me quite a bit of the film Single White Female. A wealthy couple on the Upper East Side hire Ella as a nanny. Ella and Lonnie are both 26-years-old but at vastly different points in their lives. The couple welcomes Ella to make herself comfortable in their home, to eat whatever she wants and sometimes to stay over. Broke when she accepted this position, it’s a welcome environment for Ella. Lonnie lives a charmed life to be sure. It’s seemingly perfect with her beautiful brownstone, handsome husband and young son. She says she’s a writer but Ella cannot figure out what Lonnie’s writing. Ella seems thrown off when she finds out that Lonnie’s having an affair. She can’t understand why. As Ella become increasingly obsessed with Lonnie and her unconventional lifestyle, she starts searching her belongings and reading her journals– “I had the sensation of stepping blinding as I listed the contents of her house’s hidden spaces. Of grasping at textures, trying to make out changes in light. I didn’t know what it was yet that I was inside, only that whatever I was immersed in was larger than my current understanding.” She enters a dangerous cycle where she’s extremely attracted to and repelled by Lonnie. Does she want to be Lonnie or be with Lonnie? How far will Ella go to destroy her or become her? While none of the characters are particularly likeable, it doesn’t matter because it’s an effectively languid, moody novel examining wealth and envy. It makes for a satisfying summer read. I didn’t rate it higher because it took me longer to read than I expected and the characters are ultimately rather forgettable.
–review by Amy Steele
I received an advanced review copy of this novel from Ecco.
The Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman. William Morrow| July 23, 2019| 352 pages | $26.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-23904-2
“Alive, I was Cleo Sherwood. Dead, I became the Lady in the Lake, a nasty broken thing, dragged from the fountain after steeping there for months, through the cold winter, then that fitful, bratty spring, almost into summer proper. Face gone, much of my flesh gone.”
“It was only when she started moving her things in that she realized while the apartment was charming, the neighborhood was decidedly mixed. Mixed on its way to being not so mixed. Maddie wasn’t prejudiced, of course. If she had been younger, without a child, she would have gone south to join the voter registration project a few years back. She was almost sure of this. But she didn’t like being so visible in her new neighborhood, a solitary white woman who happened to own a fur coat. Only beaver, but a fur nonetheless. She was wearing it now. Maybe the jeweler would pay more if she didn’t look like someone who needed the money.”
When Cleo, a young African-American woman is murdered in racially divided Baltimore, recently divorced Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz thinks she can solve the mystery. It’s 1966 and Maddie wants to have her own success apart from her wealthy ex-husband –“The infuriating thing was that her mother was right. Everything about Maddie’s post-Milton life was smaller, shabbier.”– She starts working at a newspaper where she’s relegated to answer questions for an advice column. She becomes romantically involved with an African-American police officer who provides her with inside information on Cleo’s case. She’s determined to figure out who killed young Cleo and to earn a better position at the newspaper. Maddie seems to be the only one interested in uncovering the truth about Cleo’s murder. Meanwhile, the ghost of Cleo has her own opinions about Maddie’s sleuthing. Author Laura Lippman effectively takes readers to the gritty streets of Baltimore in the 1960s through the vastly different and unique experiences of a black woman and a white woman.The novel alternates between Maddie, Cleo and a cast of characters (such as a bartender, a classmate, a patrolman, a columnist, a waitress) who may or may not know things about both women and the murder. As the novel progresses, we discover details about each woman. It’s a classic noir novel but also a strong psychological novel that examines what motivates women to make the choices they do, particularly in a white male-dominated society. Will Maddie’s own secrets end her journey of self-discovery, freedom and empowerment?
–review by Amy Steele
I received a copy of this novel from William Morrow for review purposes.
Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta. Scribner| August 2017| 320 pages | $26.00| ISBN: 9781501144028
It’s amazing sometimes that you read the right book at the right moment. In reading you might feel connected with and find solace in characters on the page. It’s comforting to read relatable characters. Although I’ve never been married and don’t have any children I felt a kinship with Eve Fletcher. She’s figuring out what she wants to do next. Me too. She’s taking a class. Me too. She works as executive director at the senior center. I’ve worked in elder care. An apt description: “It was hard sometimes, dealing with old people, having to cast out the unfortunate souls who could no longer control their bladders or bowels, trying to reassure the ones who couldn’t locate their cars in the parking lot, or remember their home address. It was hard to hear about their scary diagnoses and chronic ailments, to attend the funerals of so many people she’d grown fond of, or at least gotten used to. And it was hard to think about her own life, rushing by so quickly, speeding down the same road.”
After Eve’s son went off to college, she felt a bit adrift and disconnected. She’s looking for meaning. Eve enrolls in a gender studies class at the community college which is taught by a trans woman. Once she starts class she finds how much she enjoys being part of this intellectual experience and academic community. At night she scrolls though her Facebook feed “reminding herself that she wasn’t really alone.” She also finds herself hooked delving into porn. And why not? She’s exploring her sexuality. Her marriage ended after her husband met a woman through the Casual Encounters section of Craigslist.
As he’s effectively done in previous novels, author Tom Perrotta details the tragicomic trials and travails for Eve and those around her. On her family: “Her only real alternative was to drive down to New Jersey and spend a couple of days with her widowed mother and never-married sister, who were living together in the house where Eve had spent her childhood. She was overdue for a visit, but it was always so exhausting to see them—they bickered constantly, like an old married couple—and she just didn’t have the patience right now.” He provides biting and relevant commentary on suburban life– from its quiet moments to its meticulous homogenous appearance. Mrs. Fletcher contains several points of view: Eve Fletcher; Eve’s colleague Amanda; Eve’s son Brandon and Brandon’s classmate Amber. Perrotta excels at developing colorful, flawed characters in an amusing yet warm manner.
Amanda: “Without realizing it, she’d been part of a hipster reverse migration, legions of overeducated, underpaid twenty-somethings getting squeezed out of the city, spreading beyond the pricey inner suburbs to the more affordable outposts, like Haddington, transforming the places they’d once fled, making them livable again, or at least tolerable.”
Amber: “You were supposed to love the weekend, that all-too-brief window of freedom, your only chance to wash away the stink of boredom with a blast of fun. Use it to drink and fuck yourself into a state of blissful oblivion, the memory of which would power you through the work week that followed, at the end of which you could do it all over again, ad infinitum, or at least until you met the right guy (or gal) and settled down.”
Eve: “It had been like this all winter long. She found it difficult to relax after dark—couldn’t curl up with a book, or settle down long enough to watch a movie from beginning to end. She was full of nervous energy, a nagging jittery feeling that there was somewhere she needed to go, something else—something urgent and important—that she needed to do. But that was the catch: there was nowhere for her to go, and nothing to do.”
Definitely one of the best novels I’ve read this year. Perfect summer reading.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Scribner.
A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams. William Morrow| June 2016| 241 pages | $14.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-240353-7
My summer reading doesn’t vary all that much from my reading the rest of the year. Who are these summer readers? People who only read in the summer, on a beach, outside or on vacation? People who only want to engage in activities that do not require much thought? I read A Certain Age quickly. Now a few weeks later I cannot recall details without consulting the book’s jacket. I’m thinking that this then classifies as a beach read.
New Yorker Theresa Marshall falls in love with her much younger paramour Captain Octavian Rofrano who becomes enchanted with a young woman, Sophie Fortescue, engaged to his lover’s brother. Theresa won’t divorce her husband because she’s comfortable and they have an understanding. Sophie is one of new money. Author Beatriz Williams explains: “Money. They had loads of money now: exactly how much, Father wouldn’t say. Virginia had a better idea, but she wasn’t talking either. All Sophie knew was that her sister’s pocketbook contained five hundred dollars, a sum almost beyond the reach of her imagination a single year ago, and that these five hundred dazzling dollars represented no more than a crumb or two of the daily bread that was now theirs, thanks to the ingenious simplicity of Father’s pneumatic oxifying drill.”
It is that time when one married more often for money and position than love. The novel swings back and forth between the two women as the love triangle becomes increasingly more complicated. Theresa amuses with her attitude and general joie do vive. Author Williams writes: “Naturally I put the whole episode behind me and plunged into a relentless week of—well, of whatever it is I did, before the Boy and I became lovers. I visited friends, I read books, I swam in the ocean, I went to every damned cocktail party between West Hampton and Montauk Point. I believe I compete in a horse show—if memory serves—on my favorite mare, Tiptoe. We won second place over the jumps. The ribbon’s hanging in the stable somewhere.”
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from William Morrow.
Sweet Forgiveness By Lori Nelson Spielman.
Plume| June 2, 2015| 355 pages |$16.00| ISBN: 978-0-14-751676-3
An engrossing read that’ll keep you busy at the beach, during a quiet weekend in the woods or in a café drinking ice coffee. Whatever your summer plans, take this fast-paced, creative novel with you. It’s not predictable and contains wonderful, strong characters. It centers on New Orleans local news reporter Hannah Farr and the Forgiveness Stone craze, started by someone who bullied her in school. Hannah received the stones from the Forgiveness Stone creator Fiona Knowles but she’s yet to return a stone to Fiona or send a stone on to someone else.
When her job hits a low spot and she’s interviewing at a station in Denver, she decides that the forgiveness stones might make a good story and allow her to reconcile with her mother who she’s not seen in decades. For years, Hannah’s been involved with New Orleans Mayor who seems to have no desire to be with Hannah full-time. When Hannah decides to head home to see her mother as research for the story it sets many components in motion. Will she be able to come to terms with a dark secret in her past and move on to a happy and productive life?
“The first Monday in July, I load my suitcase in my trunk, struck again by the almost nonexistent footprint I leave these days. I still talk with Dorothy and Jade every day, but I have no job, no boyfriend, or husband or child to kiss good-bye or worry about. It’s both liberating and horrifying, knowing how easily I can disappear. I put the key in the ignition and buckle my seat belt, hoping to drive the ache from my heart.”
Hannah proves resilient and empathetic as she goes through much trauma in re-visiting her past. Her mom is happy to see her. Her mayor boyfriend fears ruining his own reputation and chances for election. He’s not interested in Hannah’s personal despair and makes that quite clear. Finally Hannah understands that he’s been using her as a showpiece, a date to bring around to charity events and political fundraisers. Perhaps he never truly loved her as she loved him. As Hannah faces fall-out from this relationship and her collapsing career at the news station when a segment about the Forgiveness Stones ends up going terribly amiss, she must pick herself up and reinvent herself in another capacity. It’s a quick read and you’ll instantly become invested in Hannah’s challenges and triumphs.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin Random House.
purchase at Amazon: Sweet Forgiveness: A Novel
Henna House by Nomi Eve [Scribner]
–It’s Yemen in 1920 and according to the Orphan’s Decree, any un-betrothed orphaned Jewish child will be adopted by the Muslim community. Adela leads a perilous life when her parents die and she flees with her extended family to Aden. The novel covers the traditions of the Yemenite Jews, to the far-ranging devastation of the Holocaust, to the birth of the State of Israel.
The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman [Ecco]
— Marjorie, discovers her grandfather Eli’s notebook– where he chronicled mystical secrets and enigmatic stories. Marjorie embarks on an odyssey that takes her deep into the past, from 18th century Europe to Nazi-occupied Lithuania, and back to the present, to New York City and her estranged sister Holly, whom she must save from the consequences of Eli’s past.
The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar [Harper]
–psychologist Maggie usually maintains an emotional distance from her patients. When she meets a young Indian woman who tried to kill herself, her professional detachment disintegrates. Cut off from her family in India, Lakshmi is desperately lonely and trapped in a loveless marriage to a domineering man who limits her world to their small restaurant and grocery store. Maggie can relate to Lakshmi because she’s married to an Indian immigrant. She treats her for free in her home office and the women become close friends.
An Italian Wife by Ann Hood [WW Norton]
–in turn-of-the-century Italy, fourteen-year-old Josephine Rimaldi gets forced into an arranged marriage with a man leaving for America. She gives birth to seven children and the novel follows Josephine and her children and grandchildren.
American Blonde by Jennifer Niven [Plume]
–In 1945, former pilot Velva Jean Hart is a war heroine. Now Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer promises to make her a star. They give her a new life story and a brand new name. As Kit Rogers she navigates movie sets, recording sessions, parties, staged romances and real-life romance, finding herself caught between a charismatic young writer and a mysterious musician from her past. When a friend dies mysteriously and the most powerful studio in the world launches a cover-up, Velva Jean goes in search of the truth— risking her own life, as well as her heart, in the process.