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Recommendation: The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries

by Nicola Kraus & Emma McLaughlin

“ ‘And he doesn’t care what you’re wearing or what you’ve brought him.

He just wants you there. Wanting him.

And time is running out. He won’t love you unconditionally that much longer.

And soon he won’t love you at all.’ ”

There are a few books in my expansive library that I deem “go-to’s,”

What I mean by that, is I can pick them up any time I need a break from life and quickly get lost in their world, if only for a few minutes. They are stories that I enjoy reading over and over and never really tire of; they have characters that I admire and can relate to, and they are easy to throw in my purse for those random moments of quiet that I experience while sitting at basketball practice or guitar lessons.

The Devil Wears Prada. Chances, by Jackie Collins. Pride and Prejudice.  Something Blue, by Emily Giffin.

And, The Nanny Diaries. All of these fit into my “go-to” category.

The Nanny Diaries chronicles a period of time in which Nanny, our main character, cares for the child of a rich and well-established upper class family in New York. With 4-year old Grayer almost  in her complete charge, Nanny certainly has her work cut out for her. Between a special diet that his mother deems appropriate (and one that does not include chicken nuggets or mac and cheese) and a social schedule that would leave the typical adult exhausted and overwhelmed, Nanny feels as if her feet never leave the ground. And the constant hustle and rigamarole of rules is only the tip of the iceberg; Grayer acts out and is a bit socially awkward, both as a result of his neglectful upbringing and his life of privilege.

It isn’t hard to see why the young boy behaves the way he does once the reader meets his parents; Mrs. X has no concept of compassion or affection and spends most of her days spending money or hibernating in her own space as she shuts out reality. Mr. X is a businessman who has no interest in his son or his wife, preferring the company of younger women, a fact that he does not try too hard to hide. In an effort to combat her lack of control in most areas of her life, Mrs. X is belittling and cruel to her staff, placing unrealistic expectations upon their overly laden shoulders and firing them on a whim. She chooses to focus on ways to quench her own need for personal power rather than trying to connect in any way with her son, unless of course, there is a photo-op involved. In fact, that only way that Mrs. X knows how to communicate with Grayer is with attempts at molding him into what she believes a perfect little boy should look and behave like. But instead of immersing herself in the grooming process herself, she simply delegates it all to an already flustered Nanny. It doesn’t take long for Nanny to feel as if she is in over her head, especially as the requests begin to get more extravagant and all the more strange.

” ‘I’m going to flick the light on, Grayer. Close your eyes.’ He turns his sweaty face into my neck. The light is blinding after being up for so long in the dark and I have to blink a few times before I can focus in on the gleaming silver of the faucet. I grip his body as I lean over to turn on the shower and then sit down, balancing on the edge of the tub with him on my lap. When the water hits our legs he really begins to cry.

‘I know, sweetie, I know. We are going to sit here until this wonderful steam makes your chest feel good. Do you want me to sing?’ He just leans against me and cries and coughs as the steam fills the bright tile around us.

‘ I . . . want . . . my mommmmmm.’

He shudders with the effort, seemingly unaware that I am here. My pajama pants soak in the warm water. I drop my head against his, rocking slowly. Tears of exhaustion and worry drip down my face and into his hair.

‘Oh, Grove, I know. I want my mom, too.’ 

Nanny takes the abuse from the Xes, especially as she needs the money and she sees how much Grayer needs her. A budding relationship with a hottie from Harvard who lives in the same building as the Xes helps to reinforce Nanny’s desire to keep her job. As the story progresses, Nanny begins to believe that she is the only true source of light and love in Grayer’s life, and this proves true; she is his only sense of stability in a world wrought with chaos. In crucial years where Grayer should be cuddled and adored, he is ignored and chastised, causing him to run to his Nanny more often than not. Eventually this circular pattern of abuse from his mother, perpetual distance from his father, and acute affection from his nanny leads Grayer to view Nanny as more than just a caretaker — he begins to see her as a true mother figure.

Unfortunately for Grayer, this bond does nothing but further enrage Mrs. X and makes her spin out of control, causing her to fire Nanny without allowing her to say goodbye to the young child, devastating them both and causing irreparable damage. As a final farewell, Nanny uses a Nanny-Cam to leave a message for the dysfunctional Xes.  Beseeching them on behalf of their son, she pleads a case for Grayer and his need for love and tenderness throughout the rest of his formative years. The effects of the tape and of Nanny’s sudden departure will have a lasting effect on all parties involved, although perhaps not as she had initially intended.

” ‘Frankly, Nanny, I just don’t feel that your heart’s in it anymore and I think Grayer can sense that, too. We need someone who can give Grayer their full commitment, don’t you agree? I mean, for the money we’re paying you, with the new baby coming, we should  really have someone more professional.’ She stands. ‘I’ll give you a hand, so you don’t wake Grayer.’

She follows me toward the stairs. I walk up ahead of her, frantically running through scenarios that might give me a chance to say good-bye to him. She comes behind me into the small room and stands between our beds with crossed arms, watching me carefully as I hastily stuff my things into my bag, awkwardly moving around her in the cramped space. 

Grayer moans in his sleep and rolls over. I ache to wake him. 

I finish collecting my things in her shadow and sling my bag up over my shoulder, mesmerized by the sight of Grover’s hand in a tight fist flopped over the side of the bed, the Batman Band-Aid sticking out beneath his pushed-up pajama sleeve. 

She gestures for me to walk past her to the door. Before I can help it, I reach out to smooth the damp hair off his forehead. She grabs my hand an inch from his face and whispers through clenched teeth, ‘Better not to wake him.’ She maneuvers me to the stairs. 

As I start down ahead of her my eyes fill with tears, causing the stairs to pitch beneath me and I have to grip the banister to steady myself. ‘

The Nanny Diaries is followed up by the sequel, Nanny Returns, which I did not like nearly as well as I liked this first installment. In fact, I do not recommend Nanny Returns at all, as I feel that it was a vanity book published solely to capitalize on the popularity of The Nanny Diaries. A movie was also made featuring Scarlett Johansson as Nanny, and it’s okay, but of course not nearly as good as the book.

I loved all of the little tidbits of humor in The Nanny Diaries and appreciated the behind-the-veil look at the life of a New York nanny to a wealthy family. Becoming attached to the child in your care is something that I’m sure is very easy to do considering the amount of time that full-time nannies spend with their charges, and when those children grow up or other circumstances change and the bond must be severed, I can only imagine how difficult it can be to move on to another family and begin the process all over again. As a mother myself I have no idea how to set boundaries on love for the children in my care, and I can see how attached Grayer must have gotten to Nanny, and how it must have truly injured his heart to have her ripped so thoughtlessly from him after all she provided for him.

I give The Nanny Diaries 4.5 out of 5 stars and while I understand that it is not critically acclaimed, I also appreciate that not all books have to be, to be considered good reads. While I definitely enjoy epic novels that take me weeks to get through, I also like fun and easy books that keep me turning the page; The Nanny Diaries is certainly a book that fits into that category. I recommend that a few tissues are kept handy for the ending.

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Recommendation: The Carrie Diaries

The Carrie Diaries

by Candace Bushnell

“ In life, there are only four kinds of girls:
The girl who played with fire.
The girl who opened Pandora’s Box.
The girl who gave Adam the apple.
And the girl whose best friend stole her boyfriend. ”

As a diehard fan of the HBO series Sex and the City (btw, I’m a Charlotte!) I was skeptical when writer Candace Bushnell decided to grace Carrie aficionados with a prequel. If you’ve ever tried to sit down and read the Sex and the City novel that the television series was loosely (and I mean loosely) based upon, you may have found it difficult to navigate and a bit thick in the middle. I’ve never been able to make my way through it in its entirety. Bushnell, the blonde bombshell behind some of television’s most beloved women characters is a New Yorker herself; her columns at The New York Observer magazine paved the way for her creative footsteps to stomp all the way to the bank in Christian Louboutin stilettos as she transformed her column into a itinerary for piloting your way through the City’s dating scene. While the characters of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, Charlotte, and of course, Mr. Big, are pure fiction, it’s not hard to see the similarities between the trendy literary protagonist and the smartly-clad woman who penned her.

I picked up The Carrie Diaries soon after it was first published, deciding to give it and the writer another try. Carrie Bradshaw is a woman that nearly every female in America can relate to — she’d rather store sweaters in her oven than ever actually cook, she will always find an excuse to have a cocktail with a girlfriend, and she can be terribly insecure when it comes to men and relationships. I’d always been curious as to how the Carrie that we saw in the Sex and the City series came to be, and so the prequel in print piqued my interest.

Fresh-faced highschooler Carrie Bradshaw only cares about a few things: her best friends (thick and thin, right?), writing (even though she just got rejected by the writing program she was dying to get into), and besting that insufferable “popular girl,” Donna LaDonna. But for Carrie, the perky little blonde in a sea full of Amazons, life is a balancing act. She is desperately trying to maintain her deep friendships with her besties as they muddle through life as teenagers, dealing with losses of virginity, glaring unpopularity, and sexuality confusion, and she’s attempting to set herself up with a writing career but can’t seem to get her footing under her. Things at home are strained and uneasy; she’s the oldest of three girls and all three are coping with the death of their mother, while her father can’t seem to sort out his own grief and provide the support Carrie so desperately needs. She feels as if she doesn’t end up fitting into the perfect box that everyone has set up for her, that she’ll be failing everyone. And the arrival of a boy from her past, the smart and perfect Sebastian Kydd, doesn’t help matters. Carrie finds that the crush she had on him at 12-years old is still going strong from the moment he first saunters into the high school cafeteria.

” I can barely breathe. Me — and Sebastian Kydd. It’s really happening. 

After a while, he raises his head and looks at me. He’s so close I can see the tiny flecks of dark green around his irises. He’s so close I could count them if I tried. 

‘Hey,’ he says. ‘You never asked why I didn’t call.’

‘Was I supposed to?’

‘Most girls would have.’

‘Maybe I’m not most girls.’ This sounds kind of arrogant but I’m certainly not going to tell him how I spent the last two weeks in an emotional panic, jumping every time the phone rang, giving him sidelong glances in class, promising myself I would never, ever do any bad thing ever again if he would only talk to me the way he had that night at the barn. . . and then hating myself for being so stupid and girlish about the whole thing.”

Her rivalry with popular princess Donna LaDonna is ongoing and obnoxious, and as Carrie and Sebastian grow closer, weird pranks keep happening and Carrie is sure Donna is behind them —  she’s sure Donna is wrought with typical high-school-girl jealousy and is trying to bring Carrie down. Despite warnings that all may not be as they seem with the attractive and alluring Sebastian, Carrie continues to plough on ahead with their relationship. She struggles to hold on to her virginity, wondering why she is practically the last of the people she knows to still be in possession of hers, and as the relationship between she and Sebastian heats up, it’s definitely hard to maintain her innocence. Putting herself first is not easy, but Carrie has goals and aspirations to get herself out of the little town she’s grown up in, and she can’t let a boy hold her back — no matter how good he looks in blue jeans.

Leaning on her friends has always been something Carrie has depended on, but unfortunately for her, she has to learn the hard way that sometimes even those who seem closest to you can deceive you. In fact, it’s those closest to your heart who can do the most damage. Carrie learns that Sebastian and one of her best friends, Lali, are having an affair behind her back, and Carrie takes her feelings of anger and heartache and pushes them into her writing, churning out anonymous articles for the school paper that reflect her emotions. The articles are well-received and afford Carrie the confidence to try again at getting into the writing program of her dreams. Twisting betrayal into a chance of a lifetime, Carrie teams up with someone unexpected and begins to walk into her new life. . . in high heels.

” I have this theory: If you forgive someone, they can’t hurt you anymore.

The rain rattles and shakes. We pass hollow buildings scrawled with graffiti, billboards advertising toothpaste and hemorrhoid cream and a smiling girl in a mermaid outfit pointing at the words, “CALL ME!” in capital letters. Then the scenery disappears and we’re going through a tunnel. 

‘New York City,’ the conductor calls out. ‘Penn Station.’

I close my journal and slip it into my suitcase. The lights inside the car flicker on and off, on and off, and then black out altogether. 

And like a newborn cild, I enter my future in darkness. “

The Carrie Diaries is a YA geared book that is best left for readers ages 15 and up, as it deals with teenage sex and sexual choices. I commend Bushnell for her addition of a sexually confused young man, Walt, who is one of Carrie’s inner circle. Walt is gay and uses his girlfriend to cover his true nature up, fearful of rejection from his parents and general society. The entire plot revolving around Walt and his choices is brave and truth-telling, and very relevant to the time period of the novel. Readers will get a surprise at the end of the book, as Carrie jets off to meet one of the women who will end up being a co-star in her future life in New York City, sharing pink cocktails on rooftops and gossiping about men. Fans of Carrie Bradshaw’s older character will appreciate her witty internal musings as a teenager in The Carrie Diaries, and will see how her core belief system about men and friendships began.

I give The Carrie Diaries 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to any lover of Sex and the City. Readers can also enjoy the sequel, Summer in the City; things pick up directly after Carrie leaves home to begin her writing career in the Big Apple. Both of these are perfect for a summer day spent poolside or at the beach. And if readers are so inclined, they can find both seasons of The Carrie Diaries adapted television show on Netflix.

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Review: The Endless Autumn

The Endless Autumn

by Annabelle Knight

” Either way, it didn’t matter to her anymore, she felt a new lease of life burn inside her; a thirst for excitement swelled within as she contemplated all the possibilities that lay before her. “

To the outside world Autumn has everything: she’s a cheerful little blonde with a stud of a boyfriend (who, after pounding of the pavement as an aspiring actor, is now enjoying the fruits of his labor as a regular on a popular television series), she has a cushy job as an administrator with a successful agency while working for an understanding boss, she can lay claim to several loyal and fabulous friends, and she has the most supportive parents in the world.

Except, that’s all on the outside. If truth be told, it’s all a facade. On the inside, Autumn is insecure and left wanting. She harbors dreams of becoming a respected journalist but can’t seem to make her way steadily through the intricate and difficult coursework required. She can’t afford to jet off on expensive and exciting holidays like her best friend David, nor is she impressively put-together and full of the flawless beauty of her other friend and colleague, Rosa. Her job is actually a combination of frightfully boring afternoons peppered with staggeringly overwhelming tasks, and her boss is a bit strange. And her boyfriend, while seriously good looking, never seems to have any time for her.

She’s in a rut and it’s beginning to take its toll. She’s becoming snappy and surly, projecting her insecurities upon everyone around her and acting out in childish ways. If you look for something hard enough, you can almost always find it; so when she finds a text on her boyfriend’s mobile phone. . . a succinct “Are you alone?” that comes through at an unGodly hour from a private number, she immediately is put on the defensive. Surprised to find that she can’t see any other correspondence because it appears Ben has put a lock on his phone, Autumn lets her imagination get the better of her. Troubled and off-put, Autumn tries to find solace in her friends and her normally supportive parents, but she finds brick walls instead.

After further and insistent investigation, Autumn puts together evidence that points not only to Ben cheating on her, but also that his salacious and underhanded extracurricular activities involve one of her closest friends, Rosa. She can’t believe they’ve been carrying on behind her back, all while she’s been confiding in Rosa and asking for advice. So while Ben and her friend are meeting in what they believe to be secret, Autumn takes the opportunity to pack her bags and head to her parents house, seeking solace and sympathy — and putting a firm end to the chapter of her life that included Ben.

” She had mourned the loss of her romantic relationship and the loss of her friend. But as the people she loved most in the world rallied around her offering her the unconditional love and support, she began to realise that her world neither bean nor ended with Ben Wood or Rosa Dawson. Her world as it stood now was only just beginning. This prospect excited Autumn, albeit with a little apprehension. She could do anything and she could go anywhere. She realised with relish that she could be anything she wanted to be and in any capacity. She still wanted to be a writer, but why stop at women’s magazines? Why not the only women’s magazine she cared about, Wow magazine, wasn’t a complete pipe dream, was it? Maybe she’d get a job on The Edge and write Ben a lovely, painful, long-winded death. She had chuckled at this thought, liking the idea immediately but knowing that in her heart of hearts scriptwriting was not what she wanted to do. She was no longer restricted by the cosy little lifestyle she had created with Ben, or what that just an illusion as well?  “

It doesn’t take long for Sarah and Richard to begin tiring of their daughter’s mopey and increasingly self-destructive ways.  After she’s fired from her job and becomes seriously tight-lipped about how she’s now making monetary ends meet, Autumn’s parents become even more concerned. They are alarmed with the amount of alcohol Autumn is imbibing, her lack of interest in anyone but herself, and her strange predilection for bizarre catastrophes (including, but not limited to, the sketchy circumstances surrounding her ex-friend’s fall down a flight of stairs). What they don’t know is that while she’s been staying out all night and sleeping all day, Autumn has become wrapped up in a membership club that caters to the sexual fantasies of the nauseatingly rich and famous, and that Autumn is not only working for the owner, but she’s also participating as one of the delectable “courses” that the clients can bid on to fulfill their carnal desires.

But again, Autumn is dismayed to find that the glamorous position she’s taken may look appealing to outsiders but that the reality is, she’s being taken advantage of and is in a situation that seems impossible to get herself out of. To make matters worse, she discovers that she may have blown up her perfectly happy life and irreparably severed relationships for nothing, and she is sinking deeper and deeper into a hole she’s not quite sure she will ever find her way out of. Can Autumn figure out a way to reclaim her life and do it on terms that won’t force her to further compromise her integrity, or will she be stuck in this miserable situation forever?

The Endless Autumn is the debut novel from relationship and sex expert,  the Bardot-esque Annabelle Knight. The British blonde bombshell has certainly called upon her competence in the complicated arena of lovemaking, connections, and body language, and the result is a racy novel full of imaginative encounters and a brutally honest account of the evolution of one young woman’s life. The character of Autumn is written with a fair amount of relatable and honest flaws and the stumbles (and falls) she experiences while trying to navigate through life are cringeworthy —  but real. Knight portrayed a girl that most women can find on the inside of themselves if they are completely honest — someone who is insecure almost to a fault, someone who doesn’t recognize their own self-worth, and someone who has no real idea how to achieve their goals without leaning on someone else. Autumn truly must be brought down to rock bottom before she can begin to build herself up and she learns one of life’s greatest lessons — not all that glitters is gold.

Several publications have compared The Endless Autumn to 50 Shades of Grey but I have to disagree; Knight’s creative take on sexual writing is much more put together and advanced than that of Grey, and far steamier. However, The Endless Autumn lacks the relationship aspect that Grey is known for, as Autumn has no real connections with anyone outside of herself. But as this is at it’s core a mature “coming-of-age” story, it makes sense that the most important relationship should be between the main character and herself.

I give The Endless Autumn 3.5. out of 5 stars, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good transitional character. Readers should be advised that the sex portrayed in this novel is quite graphic, and because it does not begin until well into the second half of the book, readers might not be expecting it.

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Review: Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies

by Liane Moriarty

“Pirriwee Public School

. . . where we live and learn by the sea!

Pirriwee Public is a BULLY-FREE ZONE!

We do not bully.

We do not accept being bullied.

We never keep bullying a secret. 

We have the courage to speak up if we see our friends bullied. 

We say NO to bullies!”

I love it when I’m turned on to an author I have not previously read. The majority of the books I decide to read either come from a recommendation or from stellar cover art that catches my eye as I browse my local book store. As Big Little Lies premiered on HBO earlier in the year, I was bombarded with social media postings surrounding the new hit mystery-dramedy and asked many times – “Have you read this book?” My answer was sadly a resounding NO. Not only had I not read this book, but I had never read anything by it’s author, Liane Moriarty.

I have been a reader since I was a very young child, using books as an escape from a scarring childhood and bringing them on as lifelong companions into my teenage years and adulthood. I devour books like some devour cheesecake (not that I would know anything about devouring cheesecake. . .) but I also understand that many are not the same way. Reading can, for some, be an intimidating and daunting task. Most believe they don’t have the time to read or that reading is hard. One great thing about a good book is that it will sometimes be turned into a television show or a movie, and people always seem to have time for those. . .so it’s kind of like reading, only watching. I always hope that when someone sees a show that they really love, that they will go back and read the book. The book is always better. Always. Seriously, ALWAYS. The little nuances that you love about the characters are always magnified in books, and if you have seen the program before reading, then you have a wonderful visual image to prop up in your mind and help you move along. It’s like getting to know someone on a deeper level. It’s going on a second date. It’s just better.

I watched the HBO series before reading the book. I spent a weekend binging on the 7-hour miniseries after being hooked and intrigued after the first 15 minutes. I would have watched the show in it’s entirety regardless, but add in some Alexander Skarsgård? Even as a (really) bad guy? I’m all in. No questions asked. And I am happy to report that I enjoyed the series as much as I loved the book.

Big Little Lies chronicles the lives of 3 women over the span of a few months.

” ‘Oh, sure, sure. I’m not saying I didn’t have support. I had my parents to help me too. But my God, there were some nights, when Abigail was sick, or when I got sick, or worse, when we both got sick, and . . . Anyway.’ Madeline stopped and shrugged. ‘My ex is remarried now to someone else. They have a little girl about the same age as Chloe, and Nathan has become father of the year. Men often do when they get a second chance. Abigail things her dad is wonderful. I’m the only one left holding a grudge. They say it’s good to let your grudges go, but I don’t know, I’m quite fond of my grudge. I tend to it like a little pet.’ 

‘I’m not really into forgiveness either,’ said Jane. 

Madeline grinned and pointed her teaspoon at her. ‘Good for you. Never forgive. Never forget. That’s my motto.’ “

Madeline Mackenzie is my spirit animal is a 40-year old mother who doesn’t believe in talking on the phone in the car. She also doesn’t believe that anyone should have to put up with seeing their ex-husband and his (beautifully young) new wife on a regular basis, but unfortunately some things must be endured. With grace. Humility. And in designer footwear. She works part-time to save her sanity, but her life primarily revolves around her two young children with Husband #2 and her teenager with Husband #1. Madeline always tries to maintain an air of positivity and confidence, even when dealing with the minutia that dominates the schoolyard.  She never backs down from a squabble or a perceived injustice — in fact, a good catfight is what gets her blood flowing best.

” ‘Then, years later, I go to this barbecue for a friend’s thirtieth birthday. There’s a cricket game in the backyard, and who’s out there batting in her stilettos, all blinged up, exactly the same, but little Madeline from across the road. My heart just about stopped.’

‘That’s a very romantic story,” said Jane. 

‘I nearly didn’t go to that barbecue,’ said Ed. Jane saw that his eyes were shiny, even though he must have told this story a hundred times before. 

‘And I nearly didn’t go either,’ said Madeline. ‘I had to cancel a pedicure, and I would normally never cancel a pedicure.’

They smiled at each other. 

Jane looked away. She picked up her mug of tea and took a sip even though it was all gone. The doorbell rang. 

‘That will be Celeste,’ said Madeline. 

Great, thought Jane, continuing to pretend-sip her empty mug of tea. Now I’ll be in the presence of both great love and great beauty. 

All around her was color: rich, vibrant color. She as the only colorless thing in this whole house. “

Jane Chapman is a single mother to a beautiful and sweet little boy. She and Ziggy have moved around a lot but have finally settled on a charming seaside town that’s sure to chase all of her worries away. Jane is ready to begin her life with her son anew, but the demons of her past have followed her like a lingering fog. The darkness that shadows her begins to creep towards her son when he is accused of physically assaulting a little girl and fellow classmate on the first day of school. The girl’s mother, alpha-female Renata, makes it her mission to make things as difficult as possible for quiet and docile Jane. Madeline is quickly in her corner, taking up her cause as enthusiastically as she would if she were fighting over a pair of leather pants at a designer sample sale. The secrets that Jane carries are heavy burdens that sit right on her chest at all times . . . she will never be able to forget the abusive and humiliating circumstances surrounding the night Ziggy was conceived, and she is beginning to wonder if wicked behavior is genetic.

” Did she love him as much as she hated him? Did she hate him as much as she loved him? 

‘We should try another counselor,’ she’d said to him early this morning. 

‘You’re right,’ he’d said, as if it were an actual possibility. ‘When I get back. We’ll talk about it then.’

He was going away the next day. Vienna. It was a “summit” his firm was sponsoring. He would be delivering the keynote address on something terribly complex and global. There would be a lot of acronyms and incomprehensible jargon, and he’d stand there with a little pointer, making a red dot of light zip about on the PowerPoint presentation prepared by his executive assistant.

Perry was away often. He sometimes felt like an aberration in her life. A visitor. Her real life took place when he wasn’t there. What happened never mattered all that much because he was always about to leave, the next day or the next week.

How could they admit to a stranger what went on in their marriage? The shame of it. The ugliness of their behavior. They were a fine-looking couple. People had been telling them that for years. They were admired and envied. They had all the privileges in the world. Overseas travel. A beautiful home. It was ungracious and ungrateful of them to behave the way they did.

‘Just stop it,’ that nice eager woman would have surely said, disgusted and disapproving.

Celeste didn’t want to tell her either. She wanted her to guess. She wanted her to ask the right question.

But she never did. ” 

Celeste Wright has it all – stunningly good looks, a devoted husband with a limitless bank account, and two perfect twin boys. But while everything looks immaculate to the outside world, the people closest to her would be shocked if they could see what life is really like just underneath the surface. Celeste and her husband are participants in a very abusive relationship full of physical violence, nerve-wracking panic, and misguided guilt. Perry presents such a flawless picture to those around them that Celeste has to wonder if anyone would even believe her if she tried to genuinely seek help. She’s trapped in her glass house, wrapped in diamonds and furs that hide the bruises but don’t erase them.

All three of the women have children who are attending the picturesque and peppy Pirriwee Public School, and that is the common denominator that brings them together, but certainly not what keeps them them from drifting apart. Each of the women seems to take a piece of the other in an effort to complete themselves in some ramshackle way: Madeline craves the wealth and devotion Celeste is blessed with, Jane envies the confidence and general sparkle of Madeline’s loud life, and Celeste longs for a loving relationship and a quiet atmosphere much like the lives her friends lead. If the three women would truly be honest with each other, perhaps they would see that none of their lives are the faultless and exemplary facade perpetually on display.

The novel changes hands with point of view between the three women and is peppered with testimony from outsiders of their group within the community. Readers will soon discover that something nefariously criminal has occurred within the small confines of the elementary school crowd – a murder. But who has been murdered, by whom, and for what reason, remains a mystery until the end, shocking not only readers but also the town. The undercurrent of small lies turns into a tsunami of bigger ones, and no one is safe from the wreckage.

I give Big Little Lies 5 out of 5 stars, and I can honestly say that I loved this book. The humor was spot on – from the accurate descriptions of elementary school carpool and the ridiculous politics of the schoolyard, to the jealousy surrounding a young wife and an ex-husband, I was left chuckling more than once. I was particularly tickled by the exchanges between Madeline and her ex-husband; I could wholeheartedly relate. In complete balance to the humor, the darkness of the abusive relationship between Perry and Celeste was portrayed in a very interesting light; I truly felt as if the author did her research and due diligence. The voice of Celeste was as similar to a woman caught up in horribly abusive situation as it could be. Moriarty delved into not only the physical aspects of abuse but also the mental and emotional particulars, which are sometimes even more damaging than the bruises left behind. Readers might be interested in an interview given by Alexander Skarsgård, the actor who plays Perry, where he describes his take on the controversial character and his approach to the acting — found here.

The mystery and the way it was presented was unique and while I admit, I figured out who did what and to whom pretty early on,  that didn’t stop me from wanting to know the details. I also found that the show followed the book as closely as possible, with a few extra storylines that didn’t take away from the original manuscript. I am anxious to read more from the author and already have several of her books on my list, including My Husband’s Secret which comes highly recommended to me by several bookish friends.

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Recommendation: Weekend In Paris

Weekend In Paris

by Robyn Sisman

” People can be so frightened of failing that they do nothing, or choose something so dull they have no chance of shining. “

Not every book is meant to be meaty and award-winning, like the classic War & Peace. Not every book is meant to invoke deep and delicious feelings of unrequited attachment or passionate love at first sight. Not every book is meant to be the one that you grab off the shelf a hundred times until it’s literally falling apart from the spine on out.

Weekend in Paris, by the late Robyn Sisman, is not one of those books. But it is a fun, flirty, and whimsical tale of a young woman who rushes off to Paris to begin a lifelong transformation – and what girl doesn’t dream of that? It’s a book you can throw in your handbag before you hop in the car with your family and take a nice, long road trip. It’s a book you can giggle with and appreciate for it’s silly and fanciful nature. It reads easy and light, as most chick-lit books should.

Perky and youthfully optimistic Molly Clearwater has high hopes for herself. There have been a few wobbly moments since she made the move into trendy and exciting London from her small town, but she is keeping a clear head and moving forward. Sure, her boss, the ever grumpy and somewhat misguided Malcolm Figg, thinks (and often, actually says) that she’s nothing but a typical stupid secretary. He’s probably just feeding into the stereotypes about blondes, and Molly is sure that someday soon he will recognize her full potential and begin showing her some respect. She’s always been a very careful and cautious young lady, and her arrival into adulthood is no different. She plays by the rules and makes sure that all I’s are dotted and all T’s crossed, but that doesn’t stop her from dreaming that one day she could be more than just the reliably simple girl next door.

When Malcolm commands her to book a trip to Paris for a medical conference and insists upon her coming along for the ride, Molly is ecstatic. She’s never been to the glamorous city of fashion, food, and French kissing, and so of course she would be delighted to go – what girl wouldn’t? And all on the company’s dime as well! She cannot wait to begin a weekend full of enacting as much joie de vivre as humanly possible. If there is one place that you can let loose and reinvent yourself (if only for the weekend) – it’s Paris. Never mind what the gossip around the office about Malcolm is. . .she’s sure that he couldn’t possibly be expecting “a physical reward” for his allowing her to accompany him on his business trip.

 But unfortunately for Molly, that is exactly what Mr. Figg is expecting of her. When he makes a crass pass at her just before they are due to leave, she knows what she must do. He’s called her his “stupid secretary” one too many times, and she’s got to begin standing up for herself or else she just won’t be able to look at herself in the mirror.  With the false confidence she is so desperately holding on to, she decides that she has to begin behaving like the woman she wants to be, and the woman she wants to be wouldn’t take this sort of nonsense from anyone – let alone her boss.

Dear Mr. Figg,

Conscious as I am of the honor of working for Phipps Lauzer Bergman, the time has come for me to move on to a position where my talents will be more fully appreciated and deployed. I accepted this job under the misapprehension that its demands would be concomitant with my educational qualifications. Thank you for opening my eyes. I apologize for wasting your valuable time with my suggestions for improving the efficiency (not to mention the literacy) of the department. For my part, the time has not been entirely unprofitable, as I have been able to gather much useful raw material for my first novel. 

As of today I am formally resigning as so-called “Marketing Officer” and taking the holiday owed to me in lieu of notice. It will therefore not be possible for me to attend the Paris conference as planned, but no doubt you will manage perfectly well without the help of someone who is just “a stupid secretary.” 

Yours sincerely,

Molly Clearwater (BA Hons)

It was a magnificent letter, if she said so herself. Even Malcolm Figg would feel chastened when he read it. She had been right to stand up for herself. Definitely. To wait until Malcolm was temporarily out of his office, then gather her belongings, press “Send” and sweep out of the office for good was positively heroic. In a film, there would have been a “go, girl” music and the whole staff would have stood to cheer her exit. “

Ahhh, but Paris! A weekend in Paris! Should she throw caution to the wind and just go anyway? Everyone already thinks she’s going there so she won’t be missed (except, maybe, by her well-meaning, if a bit overprotective mother) and. . .well, she’s already got it all planned. Except now. . .she doesn’t have the “where to stay” part sorted. and the fact that she doesn’t know a soul there could be a problem but. . . why not? Standing at the train station with the Eurostar so close, her suitcase packed, and a ball of determination settled firmly in her stomach, Molly decides to be the heroine of her own story and take a chance on herself, and on the famed City of Lights.

Minutes into her ascent on Paris, Molly meets a loud and enchanting young woman who whisks her off to a party, where she is introduced to a motley crew of the most fashionable people she has ever met – literally. She is captivated by the impetuousness of her new friend, and is determined that some of Alicia’s wild spontaneity and overall fabulousness will rub off on her. It doesn’t take long for fresh-faced Molly to meet up with a darkly handsome French man and she instantly begins falling head over heels. Fabrice is dangerous and intriguing, and once she hops onto the back of his motorcycle, she is thrilled to find herself transformed from a run-of-the-mill secretary into a sexy and interesting woman of the world. Fabrice is an artist in a city full of dreamers and creative geniuses, and Molly surprises herself by allowing him to draw her, allowing herself to be swept up in the romance of it all. Paris has a way of casting a spell over those who let it.

” He propped the bike steady and climbed off himself. Molly felt his fingers flutter against her cheek as he undid her helmet and removed it. He smoothed back her hair carefully, a palm on either side of her head. ‘You know, Molly, you are very beautiful.’

‘No, I’m not,’ she whispered. 

‘I like your hair. And your little English nose.’ He ran a finger down it. 

‘That tickles.” 

‘And your smile,’ A knuckle brushed her mouth. 

Her eyelids drooped. She was melting, turning to butter. Then his lips were on hers, warm and searching. He pulled her tight and pressed harder, sliding his tongue into her mouth, tugging and twining until her head sank back in surrender and her body arched into his. “

But all spells must be broken and soon enough, Malcolm Figg reenters Molly’s life with all of the darkness and negativity of a heavy raincloud. She must enroll her newfound friends into a wildly intricate scheme to fully rid herself of him and in the process, finds out much more than she intended about herself and interestingly enough, about her past. Molly finds that in leaving home behind and jetting off to Paris that she has instead come full circle.  Molly’s  transition from the careful and curiously cautious Ingénue into a sparkling and truly confident bonafide woman means realizing (and accepting)  that she is extraordinary all on her own. Paris simply caused the magic that was already inside of her to wake up.

Weekend In Paris is the charming story of a young woman’s awakening and the steps she takes to reach it. Some experiences are full of silly comic relief, and some are filled with the dawning realization that things are not always as they seem to be. It is the quintessential tale of romance in the famed city of Paris and all of the excitement that it comes wrapped up in. I give Weekend in Paris 4 stars and recommend it to readers of Sophie Kinsella and Meg Cabot; and anyone who wants to skip town and reinvent themselves. . .if only for the weekend.

R.I.P 

Robyn Sisman 

08/04/49 – 05/20/16

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Recommendation: The Undomestic Goddess

The Undomestic Goddess

by Sophie Kinsella

As I sat down to make my recommendation today, I was having a hard time.

One goal with this year’s blog is to not repeat authors. That is already proving to be difficult; as I have weekly combed through my extensive library of over 700 books, looking for just the right title to recommend to my loyal readers, I have learned one very obvious thing – I get attached. By that I mean, once I have read a book and I enjoy it, I will then go out and buy every single book that author has written. And I particularly love series. I could spend nearly four months recommending Sookie Stackhouse novels for you. But I can’t do that because. . . I just really don’t want to repeat authors, with as many talented writers as there are out there.

So anyway, I sat down with a stack of Sophie Kinsella books and spent a good hour trying to figure out which one to recommend. I was originally going to fill the author’s space on my blog this year by reviewing one of her books that I have not yet read and desperately want to – Finding Audrey, the YA tale of a girl suffering from anxiety; something that is very near and dear to my heart. But I have so many wonderful authors already lined up for reviews, I decided I would fill my terribly lacking recommendation slot instead.

But which one to choose? Kinsella has written a whopping 25 novels (both as herself and under her nom de plume, Madeline Wickham) and I have loved so many! I mean hello – Shopaholic?! Remember Me?! Twenties Girl?! You see my dilemma.

I finally decided on a book that I picked up last summer off the clearance section at my local Half Price Books and devoured in less than a week (I had lots of reading time last summer, as my newborn nursed literally every two hours, for 40 minutes each time). This book kept me giggling, nodding my head in agreement, and generally smiling as I made my way through it.

So, today’s recommendation is The Undomestic Goddess, by Sophie Kinsella.

Samantha Sweeting is in denial that she’s a workaholic. Sure, she measures every single minute she spends in the office and catalogs her progress obsessively – she is paid by the six-minute increment, after all. No, she hasn’t taken a vacation in years – she can barely find time to get her nails done (and that’s only if her best friend bodily drags her away from her desk). Of course she spends 8. . .10. . .12. . .okay, 15 hours a day at work. She’s an attorney trying to make partner, and so it just makes sense that she spend most of her time trying to stay on top of things. And it’s not as if she has much to go home to anyway; in fact, she has nothing waiting on her at home (unless you count the nosy neighbor who lives down the hall).

” ‘Your job is obviously very pressured.’

‘I thrive under pressure,’ I explain. Which is true. I’ve known that about myself every since. . .

Well. Ever since my mother told me, when I was about eight. You thrive under pressure, Samantha. Our whole family thrives under pressure. It’s like our family motto or something. 

Apart from my brother Peter, of course. He had a nervous breakdown. But the rest of us. “

But sometimes all work and no play can make for a few careless mistakes. As Samantha realizes with growing dread that an oversight has cost her client upwards of £50,000, she goes into panic-mode. Instead of fighting, she chooses flight, and off she walks straight out of her office at Carter Spink, down to the station and eventually hopping on a train bound for nowhere.

Samantha distractedly unloads herself at the last stop makes her way through town in a daze, desperately running things over in her mind and trying to figure out what to do to amend the situation. Before she knows it, she’s pushing open a wrought iron gate and knocking on the heavy front door of an impressive country home. The woman who answers the door hurriedly ushers her inside, ignoring Samantha’s request for a simple glass of water, and instead tells her some surprising news – Samantha has got the job!

” ‘I’m very grateful, really.’ I manage a half smile. ‘You’ve been very kind, letting me trespass on your evening.’

‘Her English is good, isn’t it?’ Eddie raises his eyebrows at Trish. 

‘She’s English!’ says Trish triumphantly, as though she’s just pulled a rabbit out of a hat. ‘Understands everything I say!’

I am really not getting something here. Do I look foreign?

‘Shall we do a tour of the house?’ Eddie turns to Trish. 

‘Really, it’s not necessary,’ I begin. ‘I’m sure it’s absolutely beautiful –‘

‘Of course it’s necessary!’ Trish stubs out her cigarette. ‘Come on. . .bring your glass!’ 

What Trish and Eddie Geiger are looking for is really quite simple – they need a housekeeper. Someone to do the laundry, dust the mirrors, prepare the lunch, and especially. . . impress their friends and neighbors. Samantha seems so perfect for the job that they can’t help but hire her on the spot. Dazzled by her articulate conversation and very impressive references, they guide her down to her tidy living quarters and insist that she stay the night so that she may begin work immediately the next day. There is no way they can let this highly recommended and beautifully charming young woman leave – especially as she is so accomplished in the culinary arts.

Except, none of that is true. Samantha, overwhelmed by her desire to stay in the quiet, comforting home and hide from her problems has embellished her talents. . . more than a little. She has no idea how to properly make a baked potato, let alone a meal complex enough to be worthy of a five-star restaurant (unlike the Cordon Bleu-trained housekeeper before her).  Her reference is indeed a Lady, but Freya Edgerly is her best friend – not her former boss. And of course she speaks well – she’s British! But Trish and Eddie are just so nice, albeit a little eccentric, and she really has nothing left for her in London anyway. Hiding out in their home seems like the perfect solution to all of her problems.

Except the plan isn’t quite working as she’d thought it would. Sure, she’s got a place to hide, but she has no idea what she’s doing! Samantha is trying so hard that you really feel sorry for her when she fails again and again, but luckily for her – the resident gardener, Nathaniel, is more than willing to help Samantha with anything and everything she needs to learn. Not to mention, the one thing Samantha didn’t lie about was her tenacity and her smarts – two things that are imperative in job so complicated as the one that she signed up for. Eventually, life catches up to Samantha and she must decide which path she wants to spend the rest of her days walking down.

” I don’t know what’s happened. Brown bubbles are expanding out of my gravy saucepan, all over the cooker, and down the sides on the floor. It looks like the porringer in the story of the magic pot that wouldn’t stop making porridge. 

‘Get it off the heat, for God’s sake!’ exclaims Nathaniel, throwing his rucksack aside. He snatches up the pan and moves it to the counter. ‘What on earth is in that?’

‘Nothing!’ I say. ‘Just the usual ingredients. . .’

Nathaniel has noticed the little pot on the counter. He grabs it and takes a pinch between his fingers. ‘Baking soda? You put baking soda in gravy? Is that what they taught you at –‘ He breaks off and sniffs the air. ‘Hang on. Is something burning?’

I watch helplessly as he opens the bottom oven, grabs an oven glove with a practiced air, and hauls out a baking tray covered in what look like tiny black bullets. 

Oh, no. My chickpeas. 

‘What are these supposed to be?’ he says incredulously. ‘Rabbit droppings?’

‘They’re chickpeas,’ I retort. My cheeks are flaming but I lift my chin, trying to regain some kind of dignity. ‘I drizzled them in olive oil and put them in the oven so they could. . .melt.’

Nathaniel stares at me. ‘Melt?’

‘Soften,’ I amend hurriedly.

Nathaniel puts down the tray and folds his arms. ‘Do you know anything about cooking?’

Before I can answer, there’s the most almighty BANG from the microwave. “

What culminates is a hilarious and often cringing account of how Samantha begins to navigate her new life as a not-so-domestic goddess. Kinsella has a way of turning a phrase and painting a picture with rich description that leaves you chuckling and culminates in the endearment of the character(s) to you.

I give The Undomestic Goddess 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to lovers of Meg Cabot, Jennifer Weiner (although Kinsella’s subject matters are less serious than Weiner’s) and general chick-lit. It’s a book you can read quickly and enjoy as much as a slice of freshly baked chocolate cake.

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Review: Scoundrel In Disguise

Scoundrel In Disguise

by Shaela Kay

Sarah waved her hand impatiently in the air. ‘There is no such thing. None of the men I have discouraged are truly in love with me, and I am not in love with any of them.’

Amused, Rex sat back in his chair, contemplating her. ‘They have all been going about it wrong, have they?’

‘Going about what wrong?’

‘Making you fall in love with them.’ “

There are few things that I love more in a good book than a bad boy, especially when he is hiding a heart of gold.

Scoundrel in Disguise certainly lives up to its name, providing a charmingly witty rogue to fall in love with.

The young and bright Miss. Sarah Mendenhall is anxiously awaiting her first social season in London. The prospect of spending her afternoons strolling through the busy city admiring ribbons and hats through spotlessly clean shop windows  and spending her evenings being twirled around a dance floor and admired by a room full of handsome beaux has Sarah positively giddy. She’s dreamed of this since she was a child, growing up along the banks of India, the smell of sweet jasmine a hazy companion to her sharply detailed reveries. And so finally, with the time finally here, she becomes wrapped up in all that society has to offer. But she has made a solitary solemn vow not only to her companion and keeper, Lady Rockwell,  but most importantly to herself – she will not marry any time soon. She will instead focus on enjoyment and pleasure, soaking up everything London has to offer — no matter what man catches her eye.

Sarah throws herself onto the scene like an excitable puppy, barely able to contain her excitement even under the strict eye of her caretaker. Her endless amounts of energy and her broad smiles instantly capture the heart of London society — from the male persuasion, anyway. The females are of course wary, sensing sizable competition in the cheerful brunette, but Sarah is lucky to make the acquaintance of a shy and kind young lady, Rosemary Reed.  The two quickly become friends and confidantes, and even Rosemary is left in awe of Sarah’s ingenuity and outgoing nature. Of course there are a few rotten apples in every bunch, and Sarah has the poor luck of also becoming familiar with Peter Mills, a spoiled and snobbish young man full of derisive conversation and idle gossip. Peter taints Sarah’s splash into society only a tad, because as is befitting her bubbly and flighty personality, Sarah moves on to the next man on her dance card — doing her best to leave the negativity behind her.

” Across the room, Peter Mills leaned casually against the wall and watched the scene before him with amusement. Another young gentleman came and stood beside him, following his gaze. Turning to Peter, the gentleman smiled.

‘Is not Miss. Mendenhall the most enchanting creature you ever beheld?’ His voice betrayed his admiration, and Peter turned his lazy eyes upon him. 

‘She is certainly causing quite a stir in society,’ he agreed. He looked back towards Sarah, whose musical laughter could be heard across the large room. Her cobalt eyes were bright with excitement; she obviously enjoyed the attentions of her many admirers, despite her flippant regard for any of them. She turned her head and caught Peter’s eye just then, and he winked at her. 

Sarah deliberately turned her head. “

But the impression Sarah has made on Peter is one that will follow her throughout the season, unbeknownst to her. For Peter, the activities of the season are nothing but boring traditions and tedious encounters with the same uninspiring women. Sarah has left him intrigued but not so much in the romantic sense, and when he finds out a secret that his old friend Jameson Rex has been fruitlessly attempting to hide, Peter sees an opportunity to exploit the young woman and provide himself with a bit of cruel entertainment. He seizes the moment and latches onto his Rex’s vulnerability, anxious to exploit and tarnish Sarah’s reputation.

Jameson Rex is a gentleman fallen from grace, and almost completely of his own doing. The whispers behind gloved hands and the assumptions made in mixed company have left him a man marked for exclusion. But if being included and free from scandal meant having had made a different choice, Rex would take the ostracism a hundred times over. High society has never meant anything more to him than shallow relationships and stiflingly polite airs. But with the threat of financial ruin on the horizon, and a household to provide for, Rex finds himself in a most inconvenient and wearisome position. He needs a wife. And a rich one at that. Leaving behind the only thing he loves, Rex has made his way into the city and used the last bit of money he has to procure a respectable place to live, where he prepares to engage himself with every eligible lady in town.

Rex is irritated and dismayed to find that his secret has already made its way into London and is circulating like wildfire. Yes, it’s true that he is the caretaker of a child.  Yes it is true that the child was born out of wedlock. A beautiful child. A perfectly sweet little girl named Caroline, who is the very epitome of everything good and pure that her mother possessed.  And while it was unfortunate for him that his uncle (the holder and distributer of the bulk of Rex’s financial means) found out about the child and cut him off monetarily, Rex has a plan. Find a suitable and financially flush wife. End of story.

” But Rex also knew that Peter Mills had connections that might help him. Among Peter’s varied acquaintance were many wealthy women friends — with as little desire to marry as he himself possessed. Women whose wealth and status in society meant that most people turned a blind eye to their actions. 

The thought that had formed in Rex’s mind as he first observed Peter Mills had filled him with abhorrence, but he knew that Peter could help him in ways that others could not. His stomach turned as he considered what he was about to undertake. Desperate times, he rationalized again. 

All this had passed in a moment, and Peter was still leaning forward, waiting for Rex’s reply. 

‘I plan to marry an heiress, of course,’ Rex said with forced calm. “

Regrettably for Rex, this is proving to be a problem. The women of London want hardly anything to do with him, given the scandal swirling around him like the coming breeze. Mothers are clutching their daughters close as if he is no better than a thief, no better than a. . . scoundrel. Following through with his plan is proving to be a difficult task, so when the rich Peter Mills comes to him with a proposition, Rex has no choice but to listen and accept.

The bet is simple : Rex must make Sarah fall in love with him.

The reward: five thousand pounds; a veritable fortune.

While Rex does find the bet to be rather uncouth and certainly not befitting of a gentleman, he is desperate. His little girl is counting on him and he cannot fail her. And so while he begins to woo the spritely and beautiful Miss. Mendenhall, he is working another plan behind the curtain. An old acquaintance is newly in town and she brings new prospects. But while Isabella is attached to an attractive fortune, she is also attached to spite, revenge, and jealousy — and Rex may have bitten off more than he can chew, especially as he is now balancing the two ladies.

Sarah finds Rex to be a perfectly reasonable friend and good man, regardless of what society is whispering about him. She’s heard the rumors and the insults masked behind good manners. Lucky for Rex, Sarah is a simple girl who always looks and tends to believe the good in people, even if it is to her detriment. She has no idea that there is an uncivilized undertone running through the veins of their budding friendship, especially since she enjoys her time with Rex so much. She finds herself looking forward to their driving lessons and her eyes search for his figure every time she enters a ballroom. But if she had fallen in love, wouldn’t she know it?

” ‘You do not believe I am dangerous?’

‘Not in the sense you mean.’

In two steps he was at her side, wrapping his arm around her waist and crushing her to his chest. She gasped, and he reached his other hand up, twisting his fingers into her hair. tipping her head back, he looked into her eyes. A wicked smile slid across his face, and he bent his head down. She turned her face away. 

‘Do you still think that now?’ he murmured, his breath tickling her ear. She trembled, but did not push him away. 

‘Mr. Rex, please — you are a gentleman!’

Rex laughed humorlessly. ‘That is not what I hear.’ “

When Peter Mills decides to up the ante on the bet and forces Rex into an even less desirable position than than the one he’s already in, Rex finds himself hesitating — the money is seeming less important when it comes up against Sarah’s feelings and reputation. Or rather, Rex is beginning to realize that his own feelings are leading him down a path that he did not intend, as he has regrettably found himself caught up in the spell that is Sarah Mendenhall.

But how could he ever expect her to love a scoundrel?

Scoundrel In Disguise is a proper historical romance written by author Shaela Kay. It comes after her first book, A Heart Made of Indigo, which follows the story and romance of Sarah’s brother and is set in India. While young Sarah is a supporting character in A Heart Made of Indigo, Scoundrel In Disguise is a standalone book, and I liked it better. I recommend reading the other if you enjoy the author’s style and are interested in learning more about Sarah.

 The historical references are well-researched and the romance is light and refreshingly full of morality, while the humor is witty and the characters are richly drawn. I really enjoyed this book and feel quite comfortable comparing it to the likes of Jane Austen; the time period is much the same and the romance is very similar. The story flowed brilliantly with almost no lull, and the character development was strong — especially for Sarah — who transformed from a silly and childish girl into an understanding and mature woman. Rex was dashing and full of wit, but I loved seeing his softer side. I am anxiously awaiting the story of Lady Rockwell; the author has teased a telling of the matriarch’s tale and I believe it would be a fine accompaniment to the world Kay has dreamed up.

I give Scoundrel In Disguise 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for anyone who loves a sweet romance with a twist of scandal.

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Recommendation: The Selection

The Selection

by Kiera Cass

” 35 girls. 

1 crown. 

The competition of a lifetime. “

There are few books that I have come across that have such beautiful covers as those of The Selection Series, by Kiera Cass. The series spans three books with an additional two in a spin-off series, along with one companion book full of novellas. All six books are undeniably lovely with vibrant colors and elaborately dressed young ladies.

It was the cover of the first book, The Selection, that made me pick it up off the shelf at Barnes and Noble a few years ago. It was the middle of summer and I was looking for a book to throw in my purse to read at karate lessons, gymnastics classes, and by the pool. I’d never really been into YA books until then, but the mysterious young lady in blue peeking over her shoulder at me pulled me in. And while I guess this novel is technically considered YA, it is my opinion that it is appropriate for mid-grade as well, appealing to ages as low as 10. The dialogue and subject matter are not overtly unique or high-end, but it’s an entertaining fairytale that young girls will swoon over.

The Selection’s plot is in short, a combination of the caste system and culling of The Hunger Games and the awkward and strange romance of The Bachelor. The time period appears to be set in the future, not quite dystopian, but with major faults.  Countries that are in creation in our modern day are now called by different names and are grouped together differently. The United States of America no longer in existence. The entire population is sorted into castes that each have their own way of life. Some are singers, some are actors, some are factory workers; it all depends upon your caste. There are a few hints as to what has happened to the former world, but a clear answer is never given. In any event, Caste 1 is the royal family, and their crown prince is in need of a wife.

Cue, the Selection.

America Singer is a member of Caste 5, set almost directly in the middle of the system. She is neither rich, nor poverty ridden. As a family of artists, her family has nearly everything it needs but not nearly enough of the things they want. Work is guaranteed but a few times per year, and times can definitely be hard with a family of seven. When news of the Selection breaks, her mother and younger sister May encourage her to enter, caught up in the hope that America could win and their situation could have forever stability. America is of the right age and has a quiet beauty; she’s also hardworking and talented. But the love she carries in secret for a boy in a caste lower than hers gives her severe pause. Only when Aspen, the sweet boy she’s known all her life, pushes her towards entering does she agree. He also sees the Selection as a step forward to a better life – for them both – as any young lady who participates will be rewarded with an immediate elevation of caste. For the people in America’s life, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime.

” ‘I think you should do it,’ he said suddenly.

‘Do what?’

‘Enter the Selection. I think you should do it.’

I glared at him. ‘Are you out of your mind?’

‘Mer, listen to me.’ His mouth was right to my ear. It wasn’t fair; he knew it distracted me. When his voice came, it was breathy and slow, like he was saying something romantic, though what he was suggesting was anything but. ‘If you had a chance for something better than this, and you didn’t take it because of me, I’ never forgive myself. I couldn’t stand it.’

I let out my breath in a quick huff. ‘It’s so ridiculous. Think of the thousands of girls entering. I won’t even get picked.’

‘If you won’t get picked, then why does it matter?’ His hands were rubbing up and down my arms now. I couldn’t argue when he did that. ‘All I want is for you to enter. I just want you to try. And if you go, then you go. And if you don’t, then at least I won’t have to beat myself up for holding you back.’

‘But I don’t love him, Aspen. I don’t even like him. I don’t even know him.’

‘No one knows him. That’s the thing, though, maybe you would like him.’

‘Aspen, stop. I love you.’

‘And I love you.’ He kissed me slowly to make his point. ‘And if you love me, you’ll do this so I won’t go crazy wondering what if.’ “

America is (of course) picked to join the formal group of Selection candidates and heads off to the castle for her extended stay with much trepidation. She is anxious about leaving Aspen behind and worried about fitting in. She’s never had fancy dresses, nor does she possess any refined skills; and the other ladies in the Selection have been culled from every caste from 2 to 8. She quickly befriends a sweet girl named Marlee and just as quickly, makes a frenemy with a higher-casted girl named Celeste.

Overcome with emotion and anxiety, America attempts to take solace in the castle grounds. The trees, grass, and flowers are nearly the only thing about the massive castle that seems the least bit familiar. But as she soon finds out, no one is allowed out of the castle proper without express permission, especially the Selection ladies. As she struggles to regain composure and push down her panic, she is met with a surprise – the handsome Prince Maxon. He escorts her outside and they share a few private moments together where she finds herself surprised to see that this process may not end up being as terrible as she’d initially thought.

All of the challenges, heartbreak, and frivolity of the Selection process is captured by cameras that are stream the footage to the outside world. Everyone in Illéa is anxiously awaiting each elimination, hopeful that their favorite will pass through to the next round. America and Maxon soon strike a deal – she will stick around to keep him company and help him make his final decision as long as he understands that he will never have her heart, and he will allow her to stay so that she may continue to send money and favors home to her family.

” ‘Wouldn’t it be much better for you if you had someone on the inside? Someone to help? Like, you know, a friend?’

‘A friend?’ he asked.

‘Yes. Let me stay, and I’ll help you. I’ll be your friend.’ He smiled at the words. ‘You don’t have to worry about pursuing me. You already know that I don’t have feelings for you. But you can talk to me anytime you like, and I’ll try and help. You said last night that you were looking for a confidante. Well, until you find one for good, I could be that person. If you want.’

His expression was affectionate but guarded. ‘I’ve met nearly every woman in this room, and I can’t think of one who would make a better friend. I’d be glad to have you stay.’ “

When Aspen, the boy from home, shows up unexpectedly, America is put in a terrible position. Having feelings for any other man while engaged in the Selection is considered treason, and she must choose which path to go down. Does she follow her heart? Or does she play the game?

The Selection is not a book that goes deep into any physical romance, so it is appropriate for most ages. It’s definitely a fairy tale and not written in an elevated form, so it is easy to grasp the concept and follow along. All in all, it’s a fun and quick read that any budding teenage girl would love to get wrapped up in. America is a strong and faithful girl with a great heart, and her love interests are positively dreamy. I give The Selection 3.5 stars (mostly because I am quite a bit older than the targeted audience).

The Selection is followed up by The Elite and The One. Several novellas have been compiled into The Prince and the Guard, and readers who enjoy America’s story will also enjoy The Heir and The Crown, two books that follow the Selection process of King Maxon’s daughter, Eadlyn.

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Recommendation: The Little Lady Agency

The Little Lady Agency

by Hester Browne

”Gentlemen! No Little Lady in Your Life?

Call the Little Lady Agency: Everything organized, from your home to your wardrobe, your social life to you.

No funny business or laundry.”

I have so many friends who claim they “just don’t have time to read.”

They go on and on about how much they admire the time I have to read and are jealous of  how many books I can plow through in a year. They cannot believe I have all of this “free time” on my hands to shop for books, read books, blog about books, etc. And they are the same friends who get overwhelmed in bookstores and are afraid of wasting time on a bad book, mainly because books are expensive.

I have a few suggestions for these friends:

  • Make time. You have it – you just gotta make it. A book doesn’t have to be read in a day, a week, or a month. It doesn’t even have to be read in six months. If you can dedicate 5 minutes a day to reading, then dedicate that. If you can dedicate more – then do it. We all have time, it’s just what you do with it. Set a reading goal and stick with it. If you put your devices down (laptop, mobile phone, tablet) for the last hour before you go to bed, studies show you sleep better anyway. So put the electronic device down and grab a book.
  • How do I personally make time? I read an average of a book a week, sometimes two, if the books are shorter. I set a personal goal of 50 pages a day. Most books are between 300-500 pages. I usually read more than the 50 pages, because I read all day. I read ten minutes here and five minutes there. I read while I’m nursing my baby to sleep. I read while I’m eating my lunch. I read while I’m waiting for my son to finish doing his hair in the morning and I’m sitting in my car alone, waiting to take him to school. I read in the bubble bath that I dedicate to myself every night. I read while my kids are doing homework, and I’m sitting near them for moral support. If you just carry a book around with you and stop telling yourself that you need an hour of complete silence to sit down and read, then I promise you that you can get through a book.
  • Don’t have time to shop for books? Amazon is your friend. Not only can you have books delivered to your door next day (same day, in some areas – like mine), you can browse the book section of Amazon based upon reviews, ratings, genre, and about 500 other parameters. Don’t have time to read the back and decide if it’s the book for you? Don’t worry, literally thousands of other people have already done it for you and have blessedly rated books so you don’t have to do the legwork. Don’t know where to start? That’s okay too – Amazon has several lists you can browse from on their main page in the Book Department, such as Best Books of April and Award Winners.
  • Books are expensive. Yes, they can be. Want that new bestseller? Chances are it’s only in hardback and will set you back about $20, even if you have a membership to the bookstore or find it on sale. And what if you don’t like it? What a waste of money, right? Well – that’s why we have libraries! And most libraries have wonderful websites set up where you can have books held for you online and they let you know when it’s available. All, for free! And if you have a Half Price Books near you, you’d be surprised at A) how many beautiful and bestselling books you can find for under $3 in their clearance section and B) just how often they mail you coupons. Sign up on their website to get paper coupons, or they can email/text them to you. A 50% off coupon on a book that is already 50% off can save you….a lot. AND they don’t limit what you can use your coupon on. So if you really want that $25 bestseller, it’s already marked down to about $20 at Half-Price, plus you can use a coupon, so you can take it home for about the cost of a lunch at Chick-Fil-A. Still finding books too expensive? Try the Half Price Books Marketplace website where you can find books listed for $1, with cheap shipping.
  • What if you don’t like the book? Easy, put it down and pick up another. There is no rule that says that once you start a book you must finish it. Give a book three chapters to hook you and if it hasn’t, then don’t waste any more time. Most professionals in the literary world are trained to only read the first three chapters before deciding to sign a book or not, so those words had better be good.
  • The books I like are immature. . . Don’t worry. You aren’t the only adult who likes YA books more than the ones your “own age.” Don’t ever be embarrassed about what you want to read. Just buy it, read it , love it, and join the fandom.

So stop saying you don’t have the time to read. I promise you – you do! I’ve read 17 books this year and I have five animals, three kids, a husband, and a partridge in a pear tree. You can do it.

Most of my friends are women and most of these women like fun and easy reads. The Little Lady Agency is one of those, and it completely fits the bill for a book that you can read a little bit at a time, and not find yourself confused when you pick it back up. Readers who like Sophie Kinsella and Meg Cabot will enjoy this trilogy surrounding an unlikely girl-for-hire named Melissa – AKA Honey.

“ There are many marks of a true lady but I believe that one of them is to walk with her head held high while her world falls apart around her. ”

No one takes Melissa Romney-Jones seriously. Not her father, the prominent member of Parliament, and not her uptight and snobbish co-workers at the estate house. She doesn’t quite feel as if she fits in anywhere unless she’s lounging at home with her flatmate or out on the town (albeit quietly, at a respectable restaurant at a respectable hour, and of course, with proper shoes on) with her best girlfriend. But when she loses her job (sigh, again) and needs to find a way to make ends meet, she is a bit lost. After an unusually fortuitous job interview, she finds herself wrapped up in something completely different than what she’d originally penciled into her day planner – and  she decides to take matter into her own hands by taking a real chance. . . recreating herself as . . . “Honey.”

Honey Blennerhesket, to be exact.

“ Appearances can be deceptive. Just because someone has a generous chest and a romantic nature doesn’t mean they’re EASY. ”

Honey can be all of the things that Melissa cannot. She can be everything Melissa wishes she could be. She’s got luxurious blonde hair (care of a meticulously placed wig) that men find super attractive. She can be no-nonsense and opinionated, and people will actually listen. She can be glamorous and confident, and she can let go and not worry about what others think. Honey is a woman that people – especially men – respect.

As the owner/operator of The Little Lady Agency, Honey expedites of the needs of men. Not sexually, of course, because Honey may be voluptuous and sexy, but she also has strict manners and high values. You never give the milk away for free, and all of that. She handles all of the other things that men just cannot seem to manage. She can take a dowdy and hopeless nerd and turn him into a well-dressed gentleman. She can keep the meddlesome mother off of a son’s back by pretending to be his girlfriend at Christmas parties and events. And she can make sure that a man’s home is decorated tastefully and subtly, all while making sure his dry-cleaning is picked up and he has the right reservation at the perfect restaurant. And even though there is a man or two who come through her program acting like complete immature lechers, Honey can handle almost anything.

“ My golden rule has always been to look on the bright side, no matter what. With all the complications in my life, I had to. Because if you can find three good things in any given situation, no matter how dire, I guarantee you’ll forget the rotten stuff. ”

Well, almost anything. A certain dashing American keeps calling on her for her services, and against her better judgement, she finds herself catching feelings. It feels like he might be too. . .but the trouble is, she can’t quite figure out if Jonathan Riley likes her for Honey or for. . . herself.  And at the end of the day, she has a job to do, and nothing will keep her from making her client happy.

The Little Lady Agency is charming and funny. And although the premise of the story is very close to that of a call-girl, Melissa’s character is always above reproach when it comes to her manners and etiquette. The author has kept everything clean and tidy; no foul language or sexually graphic scenes. The interactions between Honey and her clients are at times, downright hilarious and cheeky. It’s just a good ole’ chick-lit book, akin to the likes of Jane Austen in it’s feminine flair and wit. The characters are likable and not terribly cliche, and  as the story is told over three novels – you won’t get the ending you’re expecting out of this one.

I give The Little Lady Agency 4 stars and highly recommend it for a light and fun read. It is sure to leave you giggling and nodding your head as readers will find they can truly relate to Melissa’s (mis)adventures in dating (even if the men aren’t her real boyfriends). Her struggle to be her own woman and to build confidence in a world that so eagerly and voraciously tries to tear her down is admirable. Melissa is someone I would love to be friends with, grabbing a cocktail after a long week. She’s a good person, and continues to be one no matter what is thrown her way or how others try to put her down. I love how she finds that she is more like “Honey” than she originally thought and her evolution from timid girl to confident woman is paved with wonderful values and dreamy expectations.

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Review: The Heiresses

The Heiresses

by Sara Shepard

” The girls were the future of Saybrook’s Diamonds, and they had to act accordingly. They were to live their lives with the utmost decorum, smile for the cameras, speak several languages, hold many degrees, cultivate the art of conversation, and, most important, refrain from doing anything that might bring scandal upon the family. 

And yet they had. All of them. It had been a summer of secrets. Secrets that set them apart and made them tighten inside — secrets that they hadn’t even told one another. As they glanced around the sweeping cathedral, they each suddenly feared a bolt of lightening from above. They were the heiresses, all right, the sparkling princesses of a family that might or might not be doomed. But by Edith’s standards, they hadn’t been behaving like heiresses at all. 

And it was only a matter of time before the world found out.  “

It was a sultry and sticky summer night when Steven Barnett mysteriously died.

The waves lapped around his pale body and he was dressed all in white, as was befitting the annual end-of-summer bash at the Saybrook family mansion in Meriweather. The family compound off the coast of New York was full of anyone and everyone who wanted or needed to be seen, including the most famous of the Saybrook family legacy – the beautiful and glamorous heiresses.

However, that fateful summer changed the course of each of their lives. For some,  in more ways than one. And years later, when another mysterious death takes one of their own, the heiresses think back to that summer and have to wonder. . . is this the notorious Saybrook Family Curse at work, or is it something more sinister – like murder? Like. . . revenge?

Poppy Saybrook is the stylish and sophisticated President of Saybrook’s Diamonds, her sparkle and pedigree on par with the cut and clarity of the top-shelf diamonds her family’s company provides to the rich and famous. She has it all – the handsome husband, 1.5 children, a luxurious apartment overlooking Central Park, and the top spot at work. Even though her parents’ died in a plane crash and she is an only child, Poppy never feels lonely, not with her cousins and their troubles to keep her company. But things are beginning to feel frosty between the impossibly beautiful married couple, and Jason’s eyes are starting to wander.

” The kitchen was large and airy, with new marble countertops and Brazilian cherry cabinets. Poppy, dressed in a gauzy batik-print silk popover and skinny pants that made her legs look a million miles long, stood at the island, arranging the tray of chopped-up locally grown vegetables she’d bought at the Union Square farmer’s market, her twenty-month-old, Briony, balanced on her hip. “

Rowan Saybrook has known Jason for most of her adult life, meeting him during their mutual time at Yale. She’s a successful house attorney for the family business but goes home alone to an empty apartment, with only her duo of dogs to keep her company. Being single was never her plan, but the one man she wants is not available, and so she feels she has no other choice but to throw herself into work. . . until one evening, when she’s had too much to drink, and instead, throws herself into the arms of a forbidden man. When Rowan wakes up the next morning, she is horrified to find the much-married man she’s been pining over for years still in her apartment, especially when she finds out that the man’s wife has thrown herself off the balcony of her office onto the dirty and crowded streets of New York – to her death.

” Of course, in time those wee the girls who got steady boyfriends, while Rowan had just acquired a string of make-out buddies. She tried to change her ways, oping what she saw in the paired-up girls she knew, but becoming a softer, needier, whinier version of herself just didn’t work. And so she settled into the role of the quintessential guy’s girl. “

Corinne Saybrook is getting married.  She has the perfect, custom, Chantilly lace gown. She has the most impeccable location. She has just the right man to fit by her side. But when the catering company she’s had booked for months pulls out at the last minute and her fiancee brings in another chef, she is shocked to see a face from her past. A face she’s been trying to forget for more than five years, and a face that dredges up memories of a stolen summer, a broken heart, and a child given up for adoption. Corinne begins to watch as her flawless life garners crack after crack, and she is surprised to find that she doesn’t mind as much as she thought she would.

” Corinne pushed her dirty-blonde hair behind her ears. She’d been with Dixon since their sophomore year at Yale. Well, except for that one summer just after graduation — but Corinne had always liked a story with a happy ending, and she’d neatly trimmed that interlude from her personal history. “

Aster Saybrook couldn’t care less about her sister’s upcoming wedding. She has places to go and people to be seen with. She takes the job of socialite very seriously and makes it her purpose in life to spend as much of her family’s money as she can, her ostentatiousness rivaling that of fellow blonde heiress Paris Hilton.  When her father puts a stop to her incessant partying and forces her to get a job, she finds herself in the position of detective as much as a representative of Saybrook’s Diamonds. Aster becomes wrapped up in solving not one but two murders, and has to relive a summer she only looks back on with regrets.

” Aster teetered in on jet-black five-inch laser-cut booties. A hand-rolled cigarette dangled from her lips, the stench of tobacco overpowering the salon’s light floral scent. Her wet trench dripped puddles on the mahogany floor. Her fuchsia dress, also wet, clung high to her thighs. Though Aster would have still been striking even after a roll in a city Dumpster, there were circles under her large, luminous blue eyes, and her ice-blond hair was matted. She had a disoriented, used-up look about her. Corinne wondered if her younger sister had just emerged from a stranger’s bed after one of her typical all-night bacchanals. “

Natasha Saybrook renounced her title as heiress to the family fortune and struck out on her own, leaving her mark on the city in a very different way than her cousins. But why did she find herself so disgusted with the Saybrook’s Dimonds legacy? Too bad the cousins can’t ask her – Natasha is in a coma after a car violently and determinedly pushed hers off a bridge and she nearly drowned.

” But after Natasha disinherited herself from the family — never explaining why — she treated Rowan and the others like irritating pedestrians taking up the whole sidewalk on Fifth Avenue. “

With a nasty secret threatening to break the family and their illustrious business apart, the heiresses must get to the bottom of the mystery before it’s too late, bringing all of the skeletons out of the closet in the most public of ways. A nefarious website, The Blessed and the Cursed, is garnering heavy web traffic as the site chronicles every move the girls make, Gossip Girl style. The FBI agent in charge of the case is layered in lies and has a personal agenda. And a previously exiled red-head decides to reappear in the most powerful of ways, bringing the family together while simultaneously tearing it apart.

The Heiresses is an adult novel written by Sara Shepard, who is best known for her Pretty Little Liars Series for young adults; a series that has proven itself successful both in literary form and on the small screen, the latter of which is on its seventh and final season. I’ve never personally read any other of the other series by Shepard, but her bibliography is extensive, boasting four series and several other stand-alone books.

]I really enjoyed this novel, one that I picked up for $2 in the clearance section of my local Half Price Books. The story moved quick, and while I sometimes found it confusing as the point-of-view bounced back and forth between the heiresses in the beginning, they are all so vastly different that it didn’t take me long to catch up. The story was really fun and wild, reminding me a lot of Gossip Girl (the show, not the books. I’ve not read any of the novels).  This book would be great to read while on a road trip or vacation, as it moves along very quickly. It definitely falls into the chick-lit category, and I would save it for readers 18+ due to the sexual content.

I give The Heiresses 4.5 out of 5 stars – shaving off half a star only for the fact that I am seriously annoyed that the author has announced this is a stand-alone book and will not have a sequel – despite it being categorized as a “series” on the author’s website. It left off with one heck of a cliffhanger, and I am dying to know what happened! I can’t believe the author would leave her readers hanging like that – shame on you, Sara Shepard! I’m still going to hold out hope!