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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!

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Recommendation: Me Before You

Me Before You

by Jojo Moyes

“ …I told him a story of two people. Two people who shouldn’t have met, and who didn’t like each other much when they did, but who found they were the only two people in the world who could possibly have understood each other. ”

Sometimes I wonder how publishing houses feel when they give a hard pass to a book and it ends up becoming a national bestseller. Do they have regrets? Is it just a drop in the bucket? Does it even bother them at all, considering how many novels are pushed out each year by countless houses? Does someone get fired? Yelled at? It intrigues me.

Jojo Moyes wrote Me Before You in 2012, after a multitude of other novels that garnered reasonably good numbers and critical acclaim, as well as a few awards. Previously a journalist of more than a decade, she decided that full-time novel writing was her future. But when she brought Me Before You to her longstanding publishing house, they passed, and so she moved along and sold the book elsewhere. Subsequently, the romance novel featuring a quirky girl in bumblebee tights  and a wheelchair-bound boy with hair that’s too long sold over six-million copies in countless countries and ended up in Hollywood as a film starring two impossibly good looking actors.

Makes you wonder, right?

I’ve read a lot of romance novels. I’ve read the quickly turned-around and recycled babble of Harlequin authors. I’ve read the slightly more scandalous authors like Lori Foster and Patti Berg. I’ve read 50 Shades.  I’ve read historical romance, contemporary romance, sci-fi romance, teen romance. I just like to read, so no genre or author is off limits (unless you ask me to read Ayn Rand. That’s a hard no). But even with all of my reading, I still found Me Before You unique.

If I had to compare this book to work by another author, I would say it is most like a Nicholas Sparks novel. But even then, it’s not. Nicholas Sparks always ends up killing off the characters we fall in love with in some tragic, heart wrenching way that can almost always be avoided. I think Sparks needs some serious therapy, and maybe needs to buy a puppy or something. He seems very unhappy. He just can’t let his characters have a happy ending. The Notebook? Okay, I’ll give him that one. But I have literally stopped reading so many of his books because I could see what was happening. . . the main character was going to die, after falling in love, and then you know, his heart will be cut from his chest and go to save his teenage love’s son or something. Me Before You is kind of like that, but also so unique that it’s difficult to compare it to anything else. There is such an undercurrent of humor and sweetness, and even though you know what is going to happen – there is just no getting around it – you are okay with it. Yes, you cry, but you are okay. What happened needed to happen. And you can enjoy the book for what it is, not feeling ripped off as you finish the final pages and find everyone dead – either literally or just on the inside.

Louisa Clark doesn’t have it easy, but you won’t hear her complain. She comes from solid stock, and they all stick together.

The cafe she has spent years working in is closing up shop, and the loss  finds her at the doorstep of the Traynor residence, anxiously pushing through an interview for a job that she doesn’t really want – but needs. She has a family to help support and the Clark’s are all in it together. Being a caretaker is very low on her list of dream jobs, but it’s better than the other prospects, and so she accepts the offer and is grateful for the adequate pay.

But when she meets Will, her moody, strange, and sometimes downright insufferable ward, Louisa’s mind starts to backtrack. She is usually so adept at maintaining the pep in her step and has a positive attitude that is beyond reproach, and Will’s bad temper is starting to rub off on her. She doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like him. But she does need the steady work.

Will was a larger than life personality before a freak motorcycle accident took his body. He is now a shell of his former self, passing his time with a cynical attitude and plenty of music and film. He’s not much of a people person anymore, being not only bound to a wheelchair but also in the unusual space of being rather vulnerable emotionally. As a quadriplegic, he is completely dependent on other people for every single aspect of his bodily life. He in turn, finds the entire situation depressing and humiliating, leaving him full of enmity towards everyone and everything.

At first, Louisa’s bubbly persona only seems to irritate Will further and she finds herself questioning her abilities for helping him. He has a physical therapist who does the majority of the grunt work, and she knows she is there mainly to lift Will’s spirits and provide him with quiet companionship. But after she overhears his parents discussing Will’s plans to end his life in six month’s time, she becomes determined to change the inevitable outcome. She reaches into the depths of her resolve and patience, and vows to make Will’s life better and a as full as she can.

“ ‘Just hold on. Just for a minute.”
“Are you all right ?”
I found my gaze dropping towards his chair, afraid some part of him was pinched, or trapped, that I had got something wrong.

“I’m fine. I just…I don’t want to go in just yet. I just want to sit and not have to think about. . .I just. . .want to be a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress. Just for a few minutes more. . .’ “

She has some bumps along the way, mostly due to her inexperience with Will’s lifestyle in the wheelchair, but the pair find themselves growing closer. They take in a concert together, they watch horse races, and they attend a wedding. They slowly and organically find themselves confiding in each other, and Louisa learns all about how big Will’s life was before his accident. She listens with rapt attention as he describes places like Paris and the outrageous hobbies he used to have when he had control of his body. She has always lived in a very small world, feeling the burden of her family on her shoulders, and Will encourages her to get out and take risks. Louisa finds herself questioning her longterm relationship with her boyfriend, Patrick, as she begins to see him through new eyes – she sees how superficial and shallow he is, compared to the depth and thoughtfulness of Will’s attentions. Louisa sees more and more how hard it is for Will to sustain life. He is easily fatigued and susceptible to illness, and his frustrations at not being able to do the most simplest things (like button his own shirt or hold a woman he is kissing) breed sadness in her.

“ ‘You cut yourself off from all sorts of experiences because you tell yourself you are ‘not that sort of person.”
“But, I’m not.”
“How do you know? You’ve done nothing, been nowhere. How do you have the faintest idea what kind of person you are?’ “

Despite the hiccoughs in their relationship, of course, the inevitable happens. . . Louisa begins to fall in love. She doesn’t even seem to realize it’s happening until it’s too late and she can’t stop it. Will has already been there, just waiting for her and her feelings to catch up, but he’d never say a word because he doesn’t want her to live her life for him. He wants Louisa to live her life for her – for once.

“ I realized I was afraid of living without him.

How is it you have the right to destroy my life, I wanted to demand of him, but I’m not allowed a say in yours?
But I had promised. ”

Me Before You is a novel that will make you cry, so be prepared. But I promise it will be bittersweet tears. Will and Louisa couldn’t possibly spend an entire lifetime together, but the time they do have is special beyond measure.

I give this book 4.5. out of 5 stars, and I recommend reading the last quarter of it in private. You can read the rest of it by the pool once the sun finally comes out and we sail into summer, but leave the rest for when you are alone and can ugly cry in peace. It also has a sequel, Me After You, and the movie is a beautifully scripted adaptation that follows very closely to the novel.

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Recommendation: Something Blue

Something Blue

by Emily Giffin

” I ripped out a page and wrote: “Steps to Becoming a Better Darcy.” I thought for a second, replaying Ethan’s speech. Then I wrote:

1. Go to an ob-gyn in London and prepare for motherhood!

2. Be more healthy, i.e., eat better, no caffeine or alcohol

3. Find some new girlfriends (no competing with them!)

4. Let my family know that I’m in London and that I’m okay

5. Get a job (preferably a “do-gooding” job)

6. Stop buying clothes (and shoes, etc.) and start saving money!

Then, because something still seemed to be missing, I threw in a catchall:

7. Refine my character (i.e., be more thoughtful, less selfish, etc.) “

Emily Giffin is a Queen in the land of chick-lit, whether she likes the title or not. Face it – when your novel is turned into a movie starring Kate Hudson, you have to admit that your book is one of those that is thrown in a beach bag with sloppy dog-eared  page markers and smudged pages from greasy chip fingers. It’s a novel that will be passed around in a book club full of women drinking wine and spiked coffee on a lazy Saturday night somewhere in the MidWest, spending more time filling their glasses than speaking on the unforgettable nuances or unexpected plot twists of your latest story.  Giffin’s books are never going to go down in history as “the next Great American Novel” nor will they ever be on any high schooler’s required reading list. Women read Emily Giffin while taking a bubble bath or sipping on a glass of red wine on a Friday night as they try to get over the fact that “he who must not be named” (and no, I’m not talking about Voldemort) hasn’t called, all while trying hard not to accept that he’s just not into her. While some authors will fight against their books being labeled “chick-lit”, I have always thought it best to simply accept and embrace the title, as these books always seem to be bestsellers, extremely mainstream, and future film scripts.

Something Blue wasn’t the one turned into a movie, however. It was Something Borrowed, Giffin’s first published work. The story follows Rachel, a solidly good girl who plays by the rules until she finds herself in the ultimate taboo – in love with her best friend’s fiancee. And what’s worse, he is in just as much in love with her. Darcy, the best friend whose shadow Rachel perpetually falls under, has always gotten everything she has ever wanted – by hook or by crook. Her flamboyant and bratty personality dwarf her best friend’s dreams and accomplishments and you truly don’t feel sorry that Darcy is losing her man.  Dex (the fiancee) is the handsome and perfect-on-paper king to Darcy’s queen and while Darcy cannot wait to plan her perfect wedding, she’s having a hard time fitting in meetings with her wedding coordinator around secret sexual liaisons with Marcus, the groomsman she’s currently sleeping with.

Rachel and Dex fall in love – that real kind of love that comes around only once in a lifetime (if you’re lucky). They know it’s wrong. The readers know it’s wrong. I mean, stealing your best friend’s fiancee – no matter how annoying said best friend is or how willing said fiancee is to be stolen- is a big no-no in the world of girl code. But you root for them and you’re happy for them, and even though Darcy can be a pain in the rear, you hope she can find happiness too. I mean, if Rachel loves her, then you know that Darcy has some redeemable qualities.

Something Blue is where Darcy finds that happiness, in the most unlikely of places – in herself.

” I had nothing to say to that, so I just turned the tables right back on him and said, “I knew it all along.” 

This was a total lie. I never in a million years could have foreseen this moment. The shock was too much to bear. But that’s the thing about the sucker punch; the sucker element hurts worse than the punch. They had socked it to me, but I wasn’t going to be their fool too. 

“I hate you both. I always will,” I said, realizing that my words sounded weak and juvenile, like the time when I was five years old and told my father that I loved the devil more than I loved him. I wanted to shock and horrify, but he only chuckled at my creative putdown. Dex, too, seemed merely amused by my proclamation, which enraged me to the brink of tears. I told myself that I had to escape Rachel’s apartment before I started bawling. On my way to the door, I heard Dex say, “Oh, Darcy?”

I turned to face him again. “What?” I spat out, praying that he was going to say it was all a joke, a big mix-up. Maybe they were going to laugh and ask how I could think such a thing. Maybe we’d even share a group hug. 

But all he said was, “May I have my watch back, please?” “

Spoiled Darcy is used to having it all and not having to work too hard to get it. She lives a glamorous lifestyle in one of the most prestigious cities in the world and she is adored by men (whether they belong to her or not is beside the point). But when she finds out her best friend, mousey little Rachel, has stolen her fiancee and worse – that Dex is actually in love with Rachel over Darcy and is leaving her veritably standing at the altar, she finds her world shaken. She’s not necessarily sad to say goodbye to Dex; more like she is embarrassed to have had the tables turned on her for once. The fact that she’s losing her picture perfect man to a woman she has never deemed true competition is a hard pill to swallow. To compound the problem, Darcy finds out she is pregnant, and if she’s quite honest, she is not sure who the father could be. Unfortunately no amount of denial will change the fact that she is about to become Darcy with a forever Plus One.

After obsessing over Rachel and Dex and their relationship so much that she has exhausted everyone around her, Darcy decides to flee New York to London and crashes into the world of her childhood friend, Ethan. Her plan is to transition her sparkling and amazingly lavish lifestyle from one impressive city to another, but reality soon slaps her in the face. Darcy does everything she can to avoid the real world and impending changes in her life, including falling into another relationship with another wrong guy. She cannot resist trying to fix her problems with all her old tools of the trade and mistake after mistake begins to take it’s toll on her formally indomitable spirit.

Soon enough, Darcy finds herself surprisingly disturbed as she begins to see herself through Ethan’s honest eyes and realizes that she has to change herself from the inside out if she has any hope of being a decent mother. In the brilliantly charming writing style of Emily Giffin, Darcy is slowly transformed and redeemed – with a lot of laughs and some heartache along the way. Darcy has to find a way to move on from spoiled socialite to nurturing mother, a path that is difficult for even the most skilled of women. Putting someone else first when you’ve always been the star of your own life is a difficult role to commence, and Darcy is finally ready to finish something she has begun.

” As I looked at the picture of us, I thought about everything that had happened between Dex and Rachel and me, deciding again that the cracks in our relationships had been a breeding ground for deceit. Dex and I had cheated on each other because we weren’t right together in the first place. Rachel betrayed me because our friendship was a flawed one. I lied to her about Marcus because of the same negative undercurrent — the unspoken competition that can corrupt even the best of friendships. That had ruined ours. 

As much as I wanted to hold them responsible, I knew that I was not blameless. We were all accountable. We had all lied and cheated. But despite everything, I knew we were still good people. We all deserved a second chance, a chance to be happy. “

Something Blue is a great read for any lover of the chick-lit genre, and I suggest reading Something Borrowed first. There is also a prequel to Rachel and Darcy’s friendship before their tangled love triangle – The Diary of Darcy J. Rhone. But I will say, I enjoyed Something Blue much more than it’s counterpart – Darcy is obnoxiously snobby and full of herself, but the transformation is so endearing and I love it when you find yourself cheering for someone you previously didn’t think deserved it. I felt much more invested in Darcy than I did Rachel and the layers that had to be removed before she could truly find something pure and good in herself were fun to read.

” Love and friendship. They are what make us who we are, and what can change us, if we let them.” 

If you read Something Blue and enjoy Giffin’s writing, I also suggest Baby Proof – my favorite of her novels. It chronicles the lives of a couple who upon marrying, mutually agree that they will never have children. The husband decides to change his mind and the couple split, leaving the wife in a serious bout of contemplation about her future as a mother. . . or as a single woman.