She Regrets Nothing – Review

“Liberty had always been plagued by the sense that her immense privilege meant that she owed some substantial debt. But what exactly she owed, and to whom, was never clear.”

She Regrets Nothing is a coming of age tale set in the world of mass privilege and wealth. The story centers on the Lawrence family, divided nearly twenty years ago with a scandal no one will talk about.

When Liberty Lawrence, finds out they have a cousin living in Michigan, she tries to find out more about their history. And why they have never reached out to the family. But when Laila’s mother dies, leaving her an orphan, Liberty decides enough is enough and works to close the chasm in the family once and for all.

“She was reminded by meeting her cousin that you only had so much time with people, only so many chances to make things right. Holding grudges — as her father had obviously done with his brother — was never worthwhile.”

Laila Lawrence was raised not knowing the wealth her grandfather built in New York. She knew nothing of the lavish lifestyle of her cousins or the comfortable trust fund given to each of them. When she finds out she can’t help but feel that she is being denied her right to her share. She becomes determined to fight her way into the family, whether they welcome it or not.

Her refusal to give up on what she sees as her fair share, threatens to open the scandal that cut her father out of the family in the first place, along with potentially setting off a string of new scandals in her wake.

“Laila’s foremost skill seemed to be burning bridges so thoroughly that there would be no hope of return — perhaps this was her way of daring herself to keep going.”

This book is dripping full of privilege and entitlement. It would be difficult to write the story in a way that didn’t have it. The idea that Laila feels she is owed, with little knowledge of the reason behind why she has been cut out, screams nothing if not entitlement. The decisions she makes paint her in a not very flattering light, one screaming of social climber and a ruthless one at that.

That’s not to say that Laila is the villain of this book. Nearly everyone in the book could be a villain. Certainly none of them are innocent, or unblemished with their own biases that wealth has afforded them. Which makes this book a delightful and intriguing look at that darker unspoken side to wealth.

Dunlop does a fantastic job painting a vivid picture of not just the Lawrence family, but their friends and acquaintances. It’s difficult to really sympathize with any of them, short of Liberty, but even she carries with her a biased view of the world. She loathes the very money that paved the road to her independence, but anyone looking in can see that she wouldn’t be who or where she is without the money. A fact that she seems blinded to.

“It was a rich woman’s paradox: she didn’t need the money, so she didn’t chase it and was therefore followed by it everywhere.”

The fact that Laila is exactly like the rich people who look down on her is irony at it’s finest. She is just as calculating, and willing to act on her impulses and whims as they are. It’s just that she doesn’t have the pillow of wealth to protect her from the consequences and judgment like they do. Which is simply a fascinating look at how we forgive the wealthy for some horrific behaviors and then condemn the poor for behaving in the same manner.

While the book primary focuses on Liberty and Laila, there is a rather interesting examination of men and women. The roles they play, and how wealth drives the power between the genders is raised throughout the plot. There are multiple examples of how differently men and women view marriage and their role within it. While these women have much more power than the average housewife becomes questionable as each back story is revealed and explored.

Woven into this dissection of gender, is the topic of sex and beauty. Laila is clearly the young, vixen-like woman who uses her beauty as a type of currency. Again, she does this with scorn, when Nora, tries to do the same and is forgiven her efforts since she is not as beautiful but infinitely more wealthy. The conversation on beauty and how it is perceived, used and scorned is fascinating in each female characters. Liberty, conversely, is also beautiful, but sees her beauty as a liability and not an asset. But again, her wealth protects her from connotations of spinster or stuck up, and makes her enigmatic and mysterious.

“Betsy often spoke this way of Laila’s looks, as though they were a thing separate from her entirely, something that Betsy had handed down to her and that she now had a responsibility to use properly.”

There are two scenes, separated in the book, that really strike home for me the very dichotomy of Laila and Liberty and how unfairly one is viewed. They both involve sex, and without giving too many details, I found both of these encounters to be somewhat similar, but Laila’s I’m sure is met with more scorn and blame than Liberty’s. These were both powerless women being used by powerful men, yet one is more sympathetic than the other.

“How easily we’ll look past a person’s fatal flaws if their beauty is striking enough.”

This book is full of these dissections and conversations, which are very #richpeopleproblems. There is an elite tone throughout the book that is impossible to ignore, and if you get caught in that scandalous yet superficial plot, it would seem that this book is frivolous and meaningless. However, this book highlights the problems inherent in our society by focusing in on one family. We are more forgiving of wealth, and scorn those seeking it. We are more likely to hold a woman more accountable for her beauty if she uses it in any way that we view as inappropriate. We excuse ruthlessness in a man and condone it in women. We forget the privilege some people are born with and become complicit in their entitlement.

“She found it wearisome how these Manhattan kids congratulated each other so much for winning a hundred-yard dash they’d begun at the ninety-yard line.”

She Regrets Nothing is dark and devious. It is full of delicious scandal. Everything about each character is appalling yet fascinating. This book is for anyone who wants to peel back the shiny veneer on wealth and expose it for all it’s hypocrisy. The ending will shock you and yet is highly satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed this ride.

Thank you BookSparks and Atria Books for sending me a copy to read, review and promote for #WRC2018.

Woman Last Seen In Her Thirties – Review

“I spent the first few weeks after Adam’s bombshell waiting for him to wake from this nightmare he had dreamed up for us both and realize the only compassionate, logical thing to do was to come back.”

There are a million things Maggie Harris worries about on a given day. Identity theft. Falling air conditioners. The IRS. You know, things every middle aged woman worries about. The one thing Maggie never even considered was that her husband of nearly thirty years would leave her. Until he did.

In trying to find out why he left, and more importantly, who she is without Adam in her life, Maggie realizes that she doesn’t really recognize the woman she’s become. When Adam makes it clear that he isn’t planning on coming back, she decides to find the woman she last knew.

Deciding to go to Rome by herself, uproot her life to a small town for a brief period and a new career, along with joining a divorce support group and even getting back into dating, Maggie finds that she can not just survive without Adam, but thrive. Obviously that’s when disaster strikes.

Faced with a fork in the road, Maggie has to decide if which direction her new life will take her. And if she’s willing to risk losing the new woman she worked so hard to become.

“The best-laid plans can change at any minute. That’s just the way life is. So I try to enjoy whatever I have while I have it.”

This book was a fast easy read. I enjoyed it, but there wasn’t anything shocking or breathtaking for me. It was fairly predictable, which doesn’t make it bad, just not jaw dropping.

It is sprinkled with plenty of life lessons and sound advice. But there were quite a few times when it felt too predictable. There wasn’t really anything that stood out as shocking or surprising in Maggie’s journey. Of course she was sad, and then angry, and then determined. Of course she found herself. Of course she dated. Even her final decisions with Adam were expected.

Everything came together really easily, with not a lot of obstacles in Maggie’s path. I know that her emotional turmoil was more the struggle, but again, that was just a little too easy to really count as struggle. She wasn’t facing abject poverty, didn’t have to get a job working minimum wage to survive, etc. So her struggle had a tinge of privilege to it. Not to mention, there is really no push back or drama with Adam. He basically does whatever she wants, (outside of staying married to her), so again, where is the struggle?

Perhaps being a child of divorce, in a society where divorce is more the norm than long marriages, I just didn’t really relate to Maggie. I’ve read more interesting characters that really had to struggle with serious consequences facing a divorce, so this felt, I don’t know, normal? Bland? She was blind-sided and had to find herself. Nothing deviating from most divorcing middle aged women these days.

Part of my difficulty in relating to Maggie is also that she just isn’t very strong. Adam basically cold heartedly walks out, and while I understand Maggie needs to get through the grieving process, she never really lets go of needing a man. Even if it isn’t Adam. Which is fine. Lots of women feel this way, and I am sure older women feel that maybe more than younger women, but I don’t relate to her. It would have been a much more interesting story if she didn’t need to go through the typical rebounds. And if she stopped dealing with Adam.

This is a good book for taking to the beach or on vacation. It’s not fluff, and it isn’t difficult to follow, so it’s an enjoyable but easy read. It’s a book about a woman finding herself. She has the luxury to be able to do that, so if you’re looking for a profound struggle, this isn’t the book. But, if you are looking for something straightforward to read, something that has a good moral and characters that feel like they could be your neighbors, this is a good book for you.

Thank you NetGalley and Bloom Review Crew for sending me a copy to read and review!

Learning To Fall – Review

“As if conjuring my dream, the earth shook.”

The opening line of Learning To Fall reads as an omen. The earth shook and then Brynn’s world shook, leaving her to desperately try to hold on to everything she has ever known and loved.

Learning To Fall is a stunning debut novel that sweeps you into the world of horse show jumping. But to say that this is just a book about show horses is selling this exceptional book short. This book is about finding yourself when life seems determined to rip you apart.

Brynn Seymour is months away from graduating from a national prestigious veterinary program. She is focused on being able to provide a stable life for herself, and more importantly, her family. Horses have been in her blood, but her father’s dreams of winning the illustrious Million Dollar Gold Cup have always felt more like dreams than reality.

The day the earth shook, Brynn lost her father in an accident. With that loss, came the reality that his dreams were built on a far shakier foundation than she ever imagined possible. Now, she struggles to go to school, run the family business and desperately try to keep the ranch from being auctioned off piece by piece.

But the world of show horses is cutthroat, and as her competition begins poaching clients from her, Brynn realizes the only answer is to go after her father’s dreams herself. With the help of champion, Jason Lander, Brynn has to learn to let everything fall away before she can build back up.

“It’s not about losing control, it’s about giving up control. There is a difference.”

Clermont brings this competitive world into such vivid life, you feel as if you are there. Brynn is a very believable and real character. Even if you aren’t fighting to keep your family’s ranch out of debt, I think many women will relate to her. She isn’t just facing the outside pressure of her family’s financial situation. She’s also facing the internal fight over who she is and what direction she wants her life to go in. Show jumping may have been her father’s dream, but Brynn has to examine if it really is her dream as well.

Anyone who loves animals, and particularly horses, will enjoy reading this book. Clermont brings the horses to life as much as she does the people in her writing. Jett is one of my favorite characters, and though he can’t speak, (he is a horse after all), you can feel the warmth of his eyes, the softness of his ears, and the strength of his muscles in every scene he is in. You feel his pain, his calm, his joy. It isn’t just Jett that Clermont does this with, but every horse she mentions. They are as unique and identifiable as any other side character in the book and give the plot a much richer texture.

“Jett stared at me, his liquid eyes spoke of knowing, of understanding, a bond we’d shared for years. He didn’t care about his mane. What mattered was this. This unspoken love. If horses could smile, he’d be smiling now.”

The messages written into the plot are fantastic. Examinations of how fear holds us back in life, forces us to make decisions that continue to drive negativity into our lives. How we can let fear take over our lives completely if we let it. There’s a look at how to be yourself in a world that demands conformity. Of how difficult it is to do the right thing when bending rules and sliding by could yield greater short term results. It’s a much more difficult thing to stay true to yourself and what you believe.

Within these pages is a look at life and loss, love and heartbreak, forgiveness and guilt. This is a book that fully captures the essence of life, and the struggle that we all face in some form or another throughout our lives. We all have to face the idea of who we are versus who we want to be. Who we think we love versus who we really love. What love means, both in familial terms and romantic ones. And what we’re willing to accept, from others, from ourselves.

Learning To Fall is a title that wraps up so many ideas within three little words. Brynn must learn to fall in so many ways. She must learn to fall into the unknown, fall in love, fall off a horse, and simply fall into the current that is life.

“Accidents happen. We try, we stumble, sometimes literally. It’s part of life, to have problems and challenges, to deal with them and move on. We’ll never have no problems. Only new ones.”

This book will transport you. I read it in less than a day, the pages simply flying by. Each character is written to be complex, contributing to the plot but also giving it the same richness that people in our lives gives us. We never live life alone, and decisions or their consequences are rarely made in a vacuum. Clermont captures those layers in these pages. I ended the book feeling as if I were there, cheering, holding my breath, laughing and crying with them.

If you love stories about finding who you are, stories that mimic life in all the difficult and real ways, this book is for you. If you love horses or animals and enjoy a story where the animals are as much a heart of the book as the people, this book is for you. Whether you are familiar with the world of show jumping or not, by the end, you won’t be able to help falling in love with Brynn, Jason and of course, with Jett.

Thank you BookSparks for sending me this book to read and review!

Gridley Girls – Review

“Once upon a time there was a diary.”

Gridley Girls is a debut novel that reads part memoir, part fiction. The story is based on true events. Even though we get a look at a few aspects of the truth, we don’t know all of the truth versus the fiction. And because it’s based on true events, this novel read as a hybrid novel, with some pieces reading more as fiction and others more as a memoir. It’s easy to imagine that this was indeed very close to how the author grew up. Even if it isn’t, the writing is so distinct and full of personality, it feels as if you’re hearing her talk rather than reading a story.

Meg Monahan grew up in Gridley California. Like her parents before her, and their parents before them. She knows nearly everyone in the town. Secrets are hard to keep secret, yet somehow Meg is always the one people confide in, expecting that she keep their confessions safe.

“Mainly I just stay private. That’s hard for you to imagine since you live your life out loud, but it’s easier for us to be private.”

After she is chosen to be a peer counselor her freshman year, this confidence gets pushed to the limits as she receives information that is simply too much for her to handle on her own. It’s easier to keep a secret when it’s your choice. Meg finds that the expectation of confidence, combined with the heavier secrets, makes the burden that much harder to bear.

The novel is told through the eyes of an adult Meg, deciding if she can stomach uprooting her family to the unthinkable reaches of Minnesota, and a teenage Meg going through her freshman year of High School. The events that unfold during her teenage years all carry through and show their relevance to her adult life as the book progresses.

We are all shaped by the things that happen to us growing up. Tragedy and triumph alike can leave indelible marks and shape the adults we become. For Meg, these secrets that her peers trusted her with became nearly too much. When she confides in a trusted friend, and is overheard, that guilt follows her into adulthood.

“In my mind, I was out of control. Who was I going to tell next? My parents? The mailman? Nothing was stopping my giant mouth. My fears were ruling my life.”

This book is a hybrid in another sense. The pieces of Meg’s high school years are very fitting for a YA novel. Not just because she is an adolescent. But because there are some very good lessons and messages written within those pages. Topics like teenage sex, struggling to reconcile your religious beliefs with the reality of life around you, abortion, homosexuality, death and mental illness are all brought up and examined in a thoughtful way.

The messages aren’t preached to you, and they aren’t drilled down or overly dramatized. Some are more dominant than others, and not all of them have lessons learned or even closure written to them. But they are excellent conversation starters and serve to open the door for closer examination.

They hit home because they are told in first person, from the eyes of a teenage girl. Her reaction is what you would expect them to be: scared and confused. This allows for her to ask for advice, and to analyze her own thoughts to try and process how to feel. It was an excellent representation of how confusing adolescence can be.

It’s balanced with the adult years, and the lesson that life doesn’t always make sense once you reach adulthood. There are still struggles and tragedies mixed in with the good times and triumphs.

“I guess that’s the whole point: the attempt to understand, the attempt to love. It’s when we stop trying to understand and stop trying to love that everything falls apart.”

This book is a very fun read, and at the end, First throws in a guide to seventies pop culture. This will be especially helpful to younger readers who may have no idea what actors, shows, music, or even general culture references are made during her teenage years. For those who do remember, this book will be a fun blast into the past.

Sometimes pop culture can be tricky to write into a plot without sounding out of place or forced, but First writes it in fluidly, making them part of the scenery and not overly obnoxious. It feels very natural, because it stems from Meg. Of course that’s how she would make sense of her world, because it is her world.

It did take me a few chapters to adjust to the writing style. It can feel a bit choppy, and you feel that while reading. Once I got to know Meg a bit, and realized that an adolescent girl who talks a mile a minute when she’s nervous probably would talk like that, it became more natural to read. Again, because it reads part fiction and part memoir, the fluidity of the writing does change a bit between chapters. It requires the reader to adjust to the tone of the chapter, and in part to the change between Meg as a girl and Meg as a woman.

Overall I enjoyed this book. There is a lot of humor in First’s writing, both as a teenager and as an adult. She tackles very real topics, not just about growing up, but the world at large. These make the book full of depth. I didn’t grow up in the 70’s, but even still, I felt a lot of nostalgia reading through her experiences. Any teenage girl, regardless of the time and specifics, all feel awkward, and scared, and overwhelmed, and confused during those years. She’s relatable and easy to identify with. Which I think makes this a good book to start conversations with teenage readers. Not to mention, just being able to ask your mom about some of these trends and references to pop culture will definitely start some good conversation, along with some memorable laughs, I’m sure!

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review!

Perfectly Undone – Review

“Dad always told me, “People should never forget where they come from,” as if it’s possible to erase it from memory. Maybe if I could forget my past, I’d finally get a hold on my future.”

Dr. Dylan Michels has it all. A fantastic job doing what she loves, the chance to further her career and her research to help save women, and an amazing boyfriend who is there for her no matter how hard she works. So, when he proposes, why does she go running into the rain?

We know up front that Dylan is obsessed with her grant research, and her career, because of her sister’s death. We don’t know how exactly she died, only that Dylan somehow feels responsible for it. And her entire family relationship is centered around this loss. She is distant from her mother, who also holds on to Abby as much as Dylan, but they can’t grieve together. Her father and brother share their grief, but only on the anniversary date, so while on the surface they seem close, it also feels more frail than it appears.

And then there’s Cooper. Her boyfriend of 9 years. The man who loves and her accepts her and is always rooting for her. Even when her life hasn’t settled into the one he hoped for. He has the family she wants, and couldn’t think of life without him. Which is partly why she drove me a little crazy.

Here’s the thing about Dylan: I didn’t particularly like her. Don’t get me wrong, I understood her, where her character was coming from, the determination to right a perceived wrong. But she drove me crazy. She was so unaware of herself and her actions. I found it maddening that she expected everyone to be so understanding of her actions, even when she did nothing to explain them, but then refused to give other people the same courtesy. I found her to be a little self-absorbed and very immature, the her hypocrisy made me want to throw the book more than once.

If turmoil and bad choices aren’t your thing, you’re probably going to be in for a disappointment. These characters are a symphony of poor communication. Of assuming that the choices you make in order to protect other people, or because you think you know what they’re thinking, are always the right choices. This dance of missed opportunities is done throughout the book in multiple relationships, and really drives home the important of being open and honest with the ones you love. There is a certain Shakespearean elegance, (or perhaps it’s more Greek tragedy), to the relationships and how they develop (or fall apart) in this novel.

In this regard, it struck me over and over, how unfair and immature Dylan was being. She listens to people complain about people behaving a certain way in their lives, and even has those same issues with others, but completely fails to recognize it in her own self. And, when it comes to one rough spot, albeit a very bad rough spot, she simply shuts down and freezes everyone out. It’s difficult to go into the specifics without giving away spoilers. But, I can say, for a character who is told how perceptive she is to the needs of her patients, it’s amazing how little she lacks that same ability in her personal life. Or rather, she has it, she just simply doesn’t want to face it.

“I realize I may have pushed things too far. Maybe I didn’t want to hear his side, because it would bring me to this moment: facing the ugly truth. I’ve always known I was keeping Cooper at a distance, but I hoped he didn’t notice.”

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s how we are in real life. We all probably have the most difficultly seeing how we truly behave with others. And it’s hard to face the ugly truths about ourselves. When things aren’t personal, we are able to relax and follow what we know to be right and true. But when our hearts get in the way, our heads seem to short-circuit.

Of course, unlike Shakespeare, or the Greeks, this story doesn’t end in tragedy, or, at least not the tragedy you expect. This story is more about forgiveness, and all that word encompasses. Forgiving others, but especially forgiving our selves. And I did like how the author led the conclusion of that forgiveness down several different paths for the characters. Sometimes forgiveness means letting go. And sometimes it doesn’t.

Not liking the main character aside, I did enjoy this book. I find that books that make me really think and identify with what makes me uncomfortable are often some of the most satisfying books. I also find that people aren’t always likable, so why do we always expect that of the characters within our books? Even if I don’t want to be BFF’s with the characters in the pages, it made me think and feel and examine my reactions deeper than just the surface. And that’s worth reading.

This complexity makes it, I think, the absolute perfect book for the November book club pick. There is substance and depth to each of the characters. Not to mention, quite a few issues to keep conversation interesting; such as guilt, lies, secrets to just name a few.

If you’re interested, BookSparks is having an all day event with the author tomorrow! They will be updating their stories all day and having a Facebook Live chat with the author tomorrow at 10amPST/1pmEST. Join by clicking the links below!

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Thank you to BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review as part of FRC2017!

After Midnight – Review

“Alix knew she was in trouble.”

We open with that line, immediately pulling us into a story full of scandal and intrigue. Alix, blackmailed into impersonating her twin sister Lily, begins her misadventure by thinking Lily’s husband Nicholas to be an oblivious fool. Lily has assured her he pays no attention to her and will be completely unaware that she isn’t Lily. Alix agrees because she has to, and only hopes she can find the piece of paper hiding somewhere within the house that will free her of the ridiculous sham.

“It was not a dream that memory returned to her, but the deplorable act of the outrageous scheme that ensnared her.”

It’s difficult to unthread all the plots within this novel, without giving too much away. The base of the story, the blackmail, is very well done, and feels realistic when reading. It is easy to see the scandal Lily creates, the selfish person she is, and how she can corral Alix into participating in this scam.

“She was worse than a siren, simply devouring any man foolish enough to look at her.”

Nicholas, however, is far from dull, obtuse or unaware, and quickly begins to notice that things with his dear wife are not at all what they should be. It takes him quite awhile though to fully piece together what he thinks is happening. I really enjoyed how his disgust and contempt for his wife clouds his judgement and thinking. Not because it simply works to move the plot along, but also because I felt his struggle. What would it be like to live with someone you couldn’t ever trust, so much so, that you constantly second guess and are suspicious of every little thing they say or do?

“She turned to her minions and left him gazing after her in puzzled silence. He could barely stand to look at her, and yet he was as dazzled as if he had glimpsed the sun eclipsing clouds in her eyes.”

While impersonating Lily, Alix begins having nightmares, and her murky past starts to become somewhat clear to both us, and to Alix herself. Her uncle, Quentin, makes a journey to France in order to help uncover the secrets that Alix is desperate to remember.

There are a lot of side plots happening in this novel, and for the most part, they were easy to keep track of, and made the novel much richer for them. The one I didn’t quite understand was Robert’s role. I didn’t really understand role he played in the grand scheme of the novel, and within the specific plot he was written into. Most of the pieces with him felt unnecessary to me, and it felt like the pieces of the puzzle that he revealed, could have been more impactful through Quentin.

I also got frustrated with Quentin’s story. After all the time we spend with him, I felt like there still weren’t many answers of what actually happened that caused him to flee to England with his niece in tow, and live as a servant for two decades. It felt very vague, and everything in France wrapped up a little too easy for him to have been worried literally about dying if they came back.

The history, the touch of romance and all the scandal and intrigue made the book fun to read. I wanted to know what happened to Alix the entire time, and the pacing of that story unfolds nicely. I also really enjoyed Jenny, her maid. The relationship they develop, even knowing that Jenny has been in on it from the beginning, was quite lovely to read. In upcoming books, I hope that the tiny nugget of mystery that was written about why Jenny works for Lily comes out. That tiny detail drove me crazy. I wanted to hear more about that story!

“Times change.”

“And history remains.”

“It depends on who’s writing it.”

Overall, this book was very enjoyable. It ends rather abruptly, which felt less like a cliffhanger and more like hitting a brick wall, but there is a sequel coming June 2018, so at least there are answers coming! There are many, many things I need to know about. And if the book picks up where this one left off, I have no doubt that more scandal, mystery and intrigue is sure to follow!

If you enjoy historical fiction full of multi-threaded plots and mystery, this book is definitely for you. The added scandals of nobility make it even more fun to read! I look forward to reading the sequel next summer!

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review!

Today Will Be Different – Review

“Because the other way wasn’t working. The waking up just to get the day over with until it was time for bed. The grinding it out was a disgrace, an affront to the honor and long shot of being alive at all.”

Today Will Be Different is exactly the book I needed to read! The story about a woman, Eleanor Flood, struggling with her identity in so many ways. She is a writer, but she keeps avoiding her editor and pushing back the book. (minus the editor, SO RELATABLE) Excuses build, pressure mounts, anxiety looms!

The book opens with a mantra of all the things she will do differently. She will be present. She will make eye contact. She’ll spend time with her son and make effort with her husband. She will be kind to strangers and smile. There is more, but you get the idea. Her goal is to be the person she wants to be, not the person she generally is. Which is, quite frankly, a mess.

There is something to the theory that the Universe gives us what we need, and we see that theory shine as the day unfolds for Eleanor. First her son, Timby, says he is sick and the school makes her take him home. Determined to teach him a lesson, they end up going to her husband’s office, where his staff thinks they’ve been on vacation. They haven’t. She is forced to take Timby to a lunch she tried to cancel, only to find out that it was with a former colleague. And he doesn’t know that parts of her past were definitely, assuredly, and soundly put to rest in the past. Now Timby is asking questions he shouldn’t be asking, Eleanor still doesn’t know where her husband is, and nothing in her day unfolds anything like what she envisioned when she woke up.

“The world isn’t your friend,” Joe told Eleanor. “It’s not designed to go your way. All you can do is make the decisions to muscle through and fight the trend.”

I completely related to Eleanor. Not just with her sarcasm, or the way she really does try to make better decisions. It is a struggle sometimes to remember to be grateful, or to smile at strangers, or to remember the little things when the big things feel so big. It isn’t that you mean to fall in a rut with your marriage, or to get frustrated when your kid is being a kid. It just can happen sometimes. We all need reminders to help us stay on track. And when reminders don’t work, well, getting knocked with a hard dose of reality usually does the trick.

And that’s what this book is about. Eleanor has been in a rut. A big rut for a long time. But her husband was always the steady hand guiding her on the tightrope she felt balanced on. She knew him. She could rely on him. So, when he isn’t in the office, the giant flare of ‘what ifs’ force Eleanor into a full panic. Which, again, I think is completely understandable. Everything is fine. Until it isn’t.

While Eleanor scrambles through her day trying to solve the mystery of Joe, she is dragging along her third grade son, and the conversations these two had were amazing.

“Gee, I said. “I always thought you didn’t get my jokes.”

“I get them,” he said. “Most of the time they’re just not funny.”

Anyone who has had a child too smart for their own good can probably relate to that! The other thing I adored about this book, is this is all one day. It may seem that filling a book with the mundanity of a single day would be tedious and boring. Except, it isn’t. The brilliance in this, is of course, we’ve all had days like that. Maybe not in these exact circumstances, but I know I have had more than one day that seems to stretch into an eternity of disaster. We empathize with Eleanor more and more as the endless procession of he day just keeps unfolding, and she just tries to stay afloat.

The book sounds like it should be an eye-rolling romp through first-world problems. But the thing that makes it leap from tolerable to entertaining is that Eleanor completely admits to the ridiculousness of her life, and her problems. She is up front about why her life shouldn’t be as hard as she makes it. She is self-deprecating and full on admits that her problems are tame in nature to people with more serious obstacles in their way.

“If I’m forced to be honest, here’s an account of how I left the world last week “worse, worse, better, worse, same, worse, same. Not an inventory to make one swell with pride.”

This book may not resonate with everyone. I get that. We don’t all have mid-life crises looming or wonder how our lives landed in such different places than we aimed. It isn’t that life is bad. It’s just not how we pictured. It runs away with itself, and we can be helpless passengers. The trick is in admitting that we allow the train to derail. That we slip into the gentle comfort of mediocrity so that we can then blame the world for our misfortune or bad luck. Today Will Be Different gently nudges us into this realization that life is indeed what we make of it. That we cannot rely on the steady husband or the tenacious child to hold us afloat. That we must face the secrets of our past, and that we must choose the life we want to live. Of course, all of this is easier said than done.

It is easier to accept difficult truths through laughter, and this book, if nothing else will let you laugh. Eleanor is a character in every aspect of the word. And perhaps, through the people she meets, or the situations she finds herself in, you may also find that you can laugh at yourself as well.

Thank you Little, Brown for sending me a copy to read and review! I LOVED it!!!

Ocean’s Fire – Review

“Your beliefs shape the world we see. Change your beliefs, change your world.”

Ocean’s Fire follows the journey of Skylar Southmartin picking up the pieces of her life after her mother’s death. Choosing to stay closer to home to finish her degree, Skylar wants to figure out why the plan to resurrect her mother didn’t work. She did everything right, and still it didn’t work.

The good news is that her position at the local University reunites her with her childhood love, Argan, and their connection from childhood graduates to a far more adult relationship. Unfortunately, local rockstar, Joshua, also has an alluring connection to Skylar that she can’t seem to fight. To top it all off, there is a powerful force working to ensure a centuries long prophecy comes true.

“Everyone is capable of great love and great destruction. You feed one flame or the other.”

I am decidedly on the fence about this book. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the supernatural premise and mysticism that the author created. On the other, there were so many side plots and rushed character development that I spent most of the book very confused.

I’m not against romance, or love triangles, or even a steamy sex scene in books. However, they have to serve a purpose in driving the plot forward. The triangle between Joshua, Argan and Skylar just felt like it was there to write a few sex scenes (a few that bordered on abusive in nature), and nothing else. I understand what the author was trying to do with these characters and the tension, but I just didn’t feel it.

The pacing of the story also lends to the rushed feeling. We jump forward in time quite a bit, so we are told that dramatic things are unfolding, but we don’t really feel it. The emotional connection to the entire story, and specifically to Skylar’s struggle wasn’t there for me at all, which made the book feel very flat and one-dimensional to me. Insane things happen but rather than build into these discoveries, we are presented them in a sentence or two and everyone accepts it and moves forward. It’s a case of too much “telling” and not enough “showing”. We are told a lot, but the depth of emotion just isn’t shown so that we feel it along with the characters.

There were a lot of great moments in the book. And for those parts I was swept away into the reading. But there was just so much happening in this plot, it was hard to stay in that swept away feeling.

It’s difficult to give examples of what I liked and what I didn’t, because they are so mixed together and intricate to the plot, that I feel I would be giving away massive spoilers if I tried. I really think this is an example of why Stephen King famously says, “Kill your darlings”. There is a lot to process, in terms of plot, unnecessary characters and side interactions that don’t drive the overall story forward or help with individual character development. This book could have been so much better with those moments removed and the plot line tightened up so that we felt this tension and stress and more of the supernatural feel of the novel. Too much of it felt like a contemporary novel with the characters playing at mysticism, rather than actually being about the mysticism.

Ocean’s Fire is the first in a trilogy, and perhaps the second and final book will help develop the characters to be more in depth so that all the details in the first book make sense. I am curious about how the story progresses, and what happens next. Especially that with the ending we are given, who is good and who is bad seems a little undefined. I’m not sure if that’s to set up for future redemptions but would like to find out. I hope the original disaster that we are presented with gets more explanation too, as I really have no idea what happened there.

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending a copy to read and review.

Beneath The Trees – Review

“Once he got there, he ran. As if something real and living, something breathing fire, was chasing him. Now, months later, he realized that creature was not something he could outrun because it lived within him.”

Beneath The Trees is a unique women’s fiction novel with a conservationist twist. Colden is a young woman working towards her PhD in wildlife biology. She spends as much time as she can in the remote wilds of the Adirondack Mountains with her father and step-mother. Working on tracking beavers and moose is important, but not as exciting as Colden desires. She wants to do something meaningful and impactful. Something that stakes her reputation and launches her career.

This novel isn’t just about Colden though. We get glimpses of a young man living in the woods. He is hiding deep in the wilds, surviving on what he can hunt or fish, only stealing small items as he needs them. He has no desire to interact with humanity. He wants to hide and disappear.

The pieces with Brayden in the wild are brief, but incredibly compelling. Every single interaction with him has you wondering what he’s running from. And as we get a glimpse into this answer, we are heartbroken bit by bit for this broken young man. We begin to wonder at the significance of who he could be in Colden’s life. Or how their paths will cross.

I have to say, while I really enjoyed this novel, I didn’t care for Colden much. Colden reads a bit like a coming of age character. Except she is far older than a teenager. So, she comes across as very immature when she interacts with people.

“Her family was apparently more wealthy and educated but seemingly less sophisticated and worldly than his. She felt both beyond Drew and behind him in unfamiliar ways.”

Her money is mentioned several times. That she is uncomfortable with it, but also more than accustomed to the convenience of it is aggravating at times. She comes across as wanting to be both a humble country girl who wants to live a simple life, and also a girl who will use her money and stature to get what she wants.

Part of what made the novel enjoyable though, is that the author doesn’t seem to be disguising her privilege or her immaturity. It takes awhile, but both her dad and her step-mom do reprimand her and call her on her nonsense. It made the novel more real for me and I could appreciate that sometimes we do go through some petulance or throw a tantrum or three when trying to find our way in this world.

“Look, all you’ve seen of us is through the lens of a kid. Kids are all self-absorbed. And frankly, you’re still a kid. Sort of, anyway. You’ve had a very sheltered life. A wonderful, rich, engaging, beautiful, but sheltered life.”

It was nice to read parents who allow Colden space to make her own mistakes but also put a boundary up when she begins to spin too far out of control. Especially if the child is actually an adult. I also liked how in the course of discussions such as these, Colden is forced to see that she is very privileged. And that she hasn’t always behaved in admirable ways, or seen that privilege.

When dealing with the character of Larry and Liam, I was irritated in a different way with Colden. Both are written to be very different characters but tackle the same unfairness and inherent sexism in the workplace topics. I did like how the story line with Larry ended. I thought it was an extremely refreshing way to remind us that we should not throw stones and to stop being so judgmental. Liam was a little harder to understand.

Seemingly he was thrown in to be a love interest, or perhaps a triangle. But his story ended up being tied up a little differently. Without spoiling the story, again, we learn to stop jumping to conclusions and to be more understanding. But, his story line also is sort of a lesson on that inherent sexism women deal with.

Colden raises the issue of feeling left out of the “boy’s club” multiple times in the novel. But, she never actually does anything to talk about how she feels about this, or to try and stop this behavior. Even when it’s her father doing the apparent shunning. I did have a problem with this. She is upset that women are expected to stay quiet and not fight it.

“The standard way to keep ambitious women just a rung or two below where their skills would otherwise take them. Just brush it off; just ignore it-that’s what they’d say.”

Which is all true. My issue is that Colden does exactly that. She bristles at the implications of these notions, but then decides she needs a bath instead. It’s a bit maddening.

The pieces then with Brayden are shown in such vivid contrast to Colden. His life and story are stark opposites to Colden’s. He is running away from a horror of a life. The foster family that was supposed to be his salvation ends up being hell for him and his sister.

“His own agonies were nothing compared to the anguish of realizing that he had not been there for her… Guilt was so much harder to bear than shame.”

I will caution that while there isn’t any graphic descriptions or scenes of abuse, physical and sexual, the topic is raised in multiple areas. While it isn’t explicit, Saville doesn’t back away from the emotional trauma that abuse inflicts. We don’t read about the abuse, but we read plenty about what it feels like to survive and move on.

“I’m not recovered. Kida like what they say about addiction; it’s really more about being in recovery. For the rest of your life. You find ways to live with it. You can’t get over it.”

Even not liking the main character, there are enough characters with significant substance that make the book enjoyable. I loved Dix and Sally. Their relationship and the honesty in which they are presented is fantastic. You can’t help but love the steady and quiet love they share. Drew is also amazing. Even as Colden’s impressions of him are annoyed or confused, you can’t help but see an outgoing and enthusiastic man anyway. And of course, Brayden’s pieces give this novel balance and depth.

The pieces on conservation and the importance of protecting the environment are well written and incredibly important. It was brilliant writing to weave this important topic into such a heavy novel without coming across as preachy or superficial. We are instead submersed into both the beauty and harshness of the wilds. It is even more skill that we can also be thrown into the same beauty and harshness of academia. The transitions between the two are seamless and natural.

Outside of my frustrations with Colden, this novel was a great story. We don’t always like facing these tougher issues in life. They are hard and they aren’t pleasant. But being able to see someone’s story through different eyes is an important lesson. In that way, Colden is a gift, because she does exactly that. She lets us learn to change our perspective. To learn how to be sympathetic, and more aware of lives other than our own. The journey we go on with her, is well worth it.

Thank you Get Red PR for sending me a copy to read and review!

The Bad Dream Notebook – Review

“That’s what Americans are supposed to do. There’s no excuse for hanging on to negative emotions in this country.”

The Bad Dream Notebook is a novel about grief, loss, addiction and recovery. Erica Mason just lost her husband. Her daughter Mona just lost her dad. Chronic back pain turned out to be terminal cancer.

The book starts after John’s death, with Erica doing community service. Except, it isn’t her crimes she’s doing penance for. It’s Mona’s.

From the beginning, we get the sense of grief Erica is under. Her grief is not just for her husband. But for the daughter she lost as well. Mona is alive and kicking, but addiction has taken her away from Erica nonetheless.

“Living with an addicted child is a form of warfare leading almost inevitably to some form of PTSD.”

Its difficult for Erica to simply grieve for John. She feels guilty for the days leading to his death, as most people struggling with long-term illness do. Did she do enough? Did she make the right decisions?

Those emotions alone would be difficult enough to deal with. But you add in her daughter’s spiraling addiction, which triggers it’s own whirlwind of guilt and grief, and Erica is struggling to keep herself together.

“If one more person asked how she was feeling these blank, black days, she fantasized about turning on them like a wild animal, screaming.”

All of these emotions weigh heavily on Erica, and since she struggles to deal with them consciously, her subconscious takes over. In order to make sense of her dreams, she begins to keep a notebook. Sometimes written descriptions, sometimes fast sketches, but she keeps them in order to make sense of them.

We get the book not just through Erica’s memories and perspective, but we also get a few chapters via Mona. The transition from memory to present is a little jarring at times, and I did find myself having to backtrack and reread to figure out the timeline quite a few times. It could have been written that way deliberately, as a way to show the erratic nature of Erica’s mind and how seamlessly she slipped into memory versus staying in the present. If so, it does give us the jarring effect of how living with the stress of illness, both John’s cancer and Mona’s addiction can wreak havoc on everyone in the house.

We get a very really sense of the difficulty in having an addicted child. Erica displays very codependent behaviors. Some of these are surprising given her own experiences with addiction, but perhaps not so surprising. Mona is her only child. After losing her husband, the fear of losing her child and really becoming alone must feel so big and terrifying to Erica.

“That’s my girl. Mona Grey, their, liar, unemployed – unemployable – dropout, skin-and-bones nightmare of a daughter. Who I produced. My fault. My misery. My little girl.”

It’s true that both an addict and the people that surround them need to hit rock bottom before change happens. Dahl takes us through how bad life can get before that bottom is hit. For both Erica and for Mona. Because it isn’t just the addict that addiction impacts. It effects everyone around them. Dahl captures the horror and helplessness that fuels both of their negative spiraling emotions.

The Bad Dream Notebook is a very raw, emotional journey into the pain that many people struggle with every day. At times infuriating, at times heartbreaking, Dahl doesn’t try to sugar coat the emotions or decisions that both Erica and Mona make.

I did like how each chapter gave us a glimpse into some of the dreams that both Erica and Mona had. They are brief and give us more a feel of the nightmares rather than the details, which I really liked, since that’s how most people remember their dreams. In snippets and snapshots.

This book may be difficult for people who have either struggled with addition, or known someone close who has struggled. It may also be hard if you’re going through any kind of grief. But, this is a book that may also help examine your own internal thoughts and feelings. Sometimes reading a similar experience can help us not feel so alone.

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review as part of FRC 2017!