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.

The Great Alone – Review

** This review (and the book) will contain possible triggers regarding domestic abuse and violence **

“It’s like his back is broken, Mama had said, and you don’t stop loving a person when they’re hurt. You get stronger so they can lean on you. He needs me. Us.”

So we meet the Allbright family. Ernt and Cora, along with their daughter Lenora, or Leni for short. They find themselves struggling to forge a life in a country torn apart by war and in the midst of social change. Ernt is broken, not adjusting back into everyday life after returning to the States from a POW camp in Vietnam. And while women are burning their bras and marching for change, Cora still can’t get even a credit card without her husband or fathers signature. Cora and Leni need Ernt.

When he receives a letter from the father of a man he served with, offering them land and a home on a piece of property in remote Alaska, Ernt is convinced this is the second chance he needs. That in the great expanse of Alaskan wilderness he will find the peace he is searching for and be able to finally take care of his family. Cora, desperate for the man she feel in love with to return, readily agrees. What they can’t sell, they pack the rest into their VW bus and head North.

“The last frontier was like her dad, it seemed. Larger than life. Expansive. A little dangerous.”

Summer in Alaska is a bit magical. Light that never quite fades, the beauty and majesty of Alaska captivating, enthralling, bewitching. Hannah captures the essence of this lush landscape in her words, and you feel the hope the Allbright’s feel in their first months in Alaska. They are welcomed into the tight community, and the constant work is good for Ernt to help keep his demons at bay.

But, we know, all magic comes with a price. And that price is Winter. As the days grow shorter, and the weather tightens it’s grip, making the world smaller, Ernt has to face the demons he’s been running from.

“Terrible and beautiful. It’s how you know if you’re cut out to be an Alaskan. Most go running back to the Outside before it’s over.”

We get this novel mostly from the perspective of Leni. Spanning her youth from 13 on, the majority of the book is spent in her teenage years. We see her parents toxic relationship entirely from her point of view, which makes it feel maddening and heart breaking. She understands and doesn’t understand. She is confused, not just what her father is going through, and why he behaves the way he does, but why her mother dances this dance as well.

This narrative is heartbreaking because we go through each tumultuous up and down with Leni. We feel her confusion. We feel her heartbreak. We feel her anger and her rage and her deep sadness. Our heart breaks with her over and over and over again.

The Great Alone is a slower novel, building into each explosive moment with quiet ease. In this way, I think Hannah does an excellent job showing how slowly these violent situations can grow. How they can start small, each explosion a little worse, and a little worse. How that makes it hard to see the violence for the truth of it. And by the time you do, it can be too late.

Showing us this slow escalation through the eyes of Leni gives us the tragic view of a child. How things can go from stable and sure, to unstable and unsure at a moments notice. Leni can only try to understand what she sees and hears from her mother, and those answers aren’t always satisfying, to her or the reader. But, she loves her mother, and as a child, she is trapped in the decisions of her parents and has to sort them out as best she can.

“But was she supposed to be trapped forever by her mother’s choice and her father’s rage?”

We also have the added element of PTSD, though the name wasn’t around at the time. This is also a slow descent into madness for Ernt as well. We don’t begin with a violent man, but time and choices wear him down. I don’t think this was done to evoke sympathy for Ernt, but perhaps to show how tangled these situations can be for the people woven into them.

Writing domestic abuse isn’t easy. Since we are getting this narration through Leni’s eyes, we don’t get full explanations. We get glimpses into understanding. Excuses and half explanation in conversation with her mother. We see how love and hate can become mixed, and how difficult it can be to really untangle when love becomes too toxic to save.

“Someone said to me once that Alaska didn’t create character; it revealed it.”

Hannah uses the actual setting of Alaska almost as another character in the book. She shows that living in this harsh, rugged environment can be incredibly beautiful, with descriptions so gorgeous they make you ache. Her prose is lyrical and wondrous, showing the beauty that can be both breathtaking and deadly. She brings Alaska alive and shows us that it is a changing, demanding, living thing.

Using the landscape of Alaska gives the entire book a visceral feel. You can feel how dangerous and beautiful Cora’s love for Ernt is in the very nature of where they live. How it can feel full of hope and light during the summer months. Yet it can be isolating and terrifying in the winter. How it can be simultaneously breathtaking and wondrous, but also cold and cruel.

The Great Alone takes us down a difficult journey. It is beautiful but painful, and there are many scenes that are incredibly hard to read. There is hope and redemption, but like living in Alaska, it takes work. You have to get through the cold, harsh winter to experience the magic of summer. This is a novel about love and loss, heartbreak and despair, resiliency and hope. It is a book that will stay with you and change you.

Thank you BookSparks and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a copy to read and review for #WRC2018!

Match Made in Manhattan – Review

“The more often you go on dates, the more you start to feel like you’re dating yourself.”

Match Made in Manhattan follows Alison on her fast paced introduction to the technology of modern dating. Through her profile on Match.com, we are introduced to various men via dating profiles, text threads, email chains and of course, the actual dates.

After Alison finds herself single, after two long-term relationships, she comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t really know how to date. After much encouragement from friends and roommates, she sets up a profile on dating site, Match.com. And while she finds herself with quite the roster of interested men, and interesting men, she isn’t sure she’s doing more than meeting friends rather than dating.

All that changes though when she meets Luke, a folk singer turned investment banker, who Alison finds absolutely irresistible. But the more Alison finds herself drawn in, the more he seems to keep her back. Will Luke end up being her Match?

While this book is more than a typical romcom, and has the very realistic glimpse into the online dating world, the book itself was sort of a miss for me. I laughed at some parts, and enjoyed the humor in going on some very wrong first dates.

“If I learned one lesson from Tom, it was that no matter what signal you think you’re sending out, it can, and probably will, get misinterpreted by the male species.”

However, I had a very difficult time relating to Alison, which made it difficult to really sink in and enjoy. I found myself rolling my eyes more than not, and not over the outlandish men, those felt real enough, but at Alison herself.

Match Made in Manhattan was a fast read, and for someone just wanting to laugh at the trials and tribulations of the modern dating age, this book will offer a humorous look into exactly that.

The next pieces could contain spoilers, so if you don’t want to read plot points, please be warned!!!

*

*

*

To start with, she signs up for Match a mere three weeks after her boyfriend of three years breaks up with her. I can relate to a lot of women in the world, but one who moves from two back to back long term relationships into online dating with barely time to grieve the relationship in between just isn’t someone I identify with. Throughout the book she moves that quickly, bouncing back from breakups to responding to emails within days, sometimes the same day.

And I didn’t quite get her entire dating philosophy. She wants to meet someone with long term potential before sleeping with them, fine, but holding hands? Kissing? I don’t know many people in their late thirties with quite that many issues regarding physical touch. So for me, she felt unreal. Alison and I would not be a Match.

The format of the book felt a little choppy to me when reading. Some pieces feel like the normal novel plot I’m used to, and then other times it felt like snapshots of profiles or dates that didn’t have a piece in the plot other than to showcase the bad or weird dates. Which was fine, but it felt a bit jarring at times, which pulled me out of the book.

Romcoms don’t have to end in wedding bells and happily ever afters. I appreciate the attempt at her finding her own way without the help of a website. But, and this is a big but, rather than seeming to come across as independent, Alison felt more superficial and emotionally stunted.

She misses every single clue Luke lays out for her, all the while whining that she isn’t sure he’s as committed as she wants him to be. She essentially wants him to do all the work, while she won’t even deactivate her Match account, AFTER HE ASKS HER TO. I mean, COME ON!

Fine, she didn’t read the signs, but even after, when it comes to finally reaching out to her year long texting buddy Greg, who clearly is interested, she decides that THIS is her most functional relationship and she doesn’t want to ruin it.

I don’t know. She felt terrified of actual emotional investment, which makes her really hard to like in a romcom environment. I would have been much more satisfied if she had been at some point forced to face her own issues in some way, and THEN went off by herself into the sunset to live a more emotionally healthy life.

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review as part of #WRC2018!