Category Archives: Fiction

Hope Never Dies

Finished Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

This mystery thriller reunites Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama for a political mashup full of suspense, intrigue, and laugh out loud bromance.

Vice President Joe Biden is fresh out of the Obama White House and feeling adrift when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues. To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” re-teams with the only man he’s ever fully trusted—the 44th president of the United States. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

Part noir thriller and part bromance novel, Hope Never Dies is essentially the first published work of Obama/Biden fanfiction—and a cathartic read for anyone distressed by the current state of affairs.”

This is not the best book you’ll read this year, but there’s a really good chance it’ll be the most fun. It’s a complete delight and I’m pretty sure I had a goofy grin on my face the whole time I read it.

This book is incredibly campy (as naturally it would be) and I can almost guarantee you’ll laugh out loud multiple times.

I hope this becomes a series. I would love to spend more time with Amtrak Joe. (NOTE: We spend a lot more time with him than we do with Barack Obama. He’s definitely in there a not-small chunk of time, but Joe Biden is the narrator. So if you actively dislike Joe Biden—which I don’t see how, but whatever—be aware that he is in 100% of this book.)

Recommended.

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The Summer Wives

Finished The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams brings us the blockbuster novel of the season—a spellbinding novel of romance, murder, class, power, and dark secrets set in the 1950s and ’60s among the rarified world of a resort island in the Long Island Sound . . .

In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound as a naive eighteen year old, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. Although a graduate of the exclusive Foxcroft Academy in Virginia, Miranda has always lived on the margins of high society. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda is catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.

But beneath the Island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans–the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph Vargas, whose father keeps the lighthouse with his mysterious wife. In summer, Joseph helps his father in the lobster boats, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph has enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and has a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the Island for nearly two decades.

Now, in the summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same–determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather eighteen years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a naive teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice to the man she once loved . . . even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island.”

I’m not entirely sure how I felt about this book. Like all of Beatriz Williams’ novels, this is a compelling read that’s hard to put down. At the same time, though, I didn’t care about any of the characters. I didn’t like them but I also didn’t dislike them. Even though there are a lot of my favorite things (starcrossed lovers, family secrets, a character who’s a movie star), this book left me completely cold.

That said—I’m sure this book is going to be incredibly popular and I think a lot of people will absolutely love it. I’m just not one of them.

The Perfect Couple

Finished The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“From New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand, comes a novel about the many ways family can fill our lives with love…if they don’t kill us first.

It’s wedding season on Nantucket. The beautiful island is overrun with summer people–an annual source of aggravation for year-round residents. And that’s not the only tension brewing offshore. When one lavish wedding ends in disaster before it can even begin everyone in the wedding party is suddenly a suspect. As Chief of Police Ed Kapenash digs into the best man, the maid of honor, the groom’s famous mystery novelist mother, and even a member of his own family, the chief discovers that every wedding is a minefield–and no couple is perfect. Featuring beloved characters from THE CASTAWAYS and A SUMMER AFFAIR, THE PERFECT COUPLE proves once again that Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of the summer beach read.”

I will preface this by saying that I have only read a handful of Elin Hilderbrand’s novels but this one is my favorite by quite a lot. Picture the readability and gorgeous setting of her novels but add a Liane Moriarty-style plot. (So yes, you absolutely need this for your summer vacation.)

I had so many theories about how everything was connected and what happened to the maid of honor, but I kept getting proven wrong. This was a story I couldn’t stop reading and I love everything about it.

If you haven’t read her before, this is an excellent book to begin with. (Keep in mind, though, that as Randy said in Scream, “EVERYBODY’S A SUSPECT.” And pay attention to literally everything.) If Elin Hilderbrand is already your favorite part of summer, I’m sure this will become a favorite of yours, too.

Highly recommended.

Marriage Vacation

Finished Marriage Vacation by Pauline Turner Brooks. I received a copy through a contest.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In season four of Darren Star’s hit TV Land series Younger, the editors at Empirical Press are shocked and deeply moved when they read Marriage Vacation, an autobiographical novel by the publisher’s estranged wife, Pauline Turner Brooks. Knowing the book will cause a sensation, they decide they must publish it. Now you can read what the hype is about.

To find herself…she might lose everything.

By all appearances, Kate Carmichael had the perfect life: two adorable daughters, a pre-war town house on the Upper East Side, and a husband who ran one of the most successful publishing companies in New York. But when Kate attends the wedding of two of her oldest friends and reconnects with successful classmates from graduate school, she suddenly sees her life in a different light: the career she didn’t pursue, the dreams she’s locked away, the empty veneer of her privilege.

When the wedding weekend ends, instead of heading home to her husband and family, Kate gets on a plane and flies halfway around the world. She claims it’s just going to be for a week—two max—so she can clear her head, make headway with her writing, and shake free of the feeling that time is passing her by.

But just like Kate’s life, the adventure doesn’t go quite as planned. When it’s time to return, she finds herself trapped between wanting to be a good mother and partner and needing to find herself again.

This provocative and gripping novel asks: is a wife and mother allowed to have a midlife crisis? And, if she does, can she ever be forgiven? Marriage Vacation is for anyone who has ever fantasized about what it would be like to run away from it all.”

As you may know, I am a huge fan of the show Younger. When I found out that Marriage Vacation was going to become a real book, I was excited and nervous. I know in general that when books are tie-ins for TV, they aren’t always very good.

This book is actually surprisingly good. It’s a book I would’ve enjoyed if I had just encountered it randomly, with no idea it came from a TV show. It’s really fun. I also like the way it gave us more insight into Pauline. (As backstory, if you watch the show, you know Charles’ wife left him and their girls and was gone for a year. If you read the book, you see that there’s a little more to it than that. She was constantly talking to the girls and Facetiming; she planned to be gone for a couple weeks, a month at most, and it just kept getting pushed back. And she was doing good things in the world. She wasn’t just doing spa days and exotic travel.)

Pauline is a really polarizing character, but I always liked her. (Part of it is definitely because I’m a huge fan of Jennifer Westfeldt; I’m pretty sure it’s literally impossible to dislike any character she plays.) This book really cemented that.

Even if you don’t watch Younger, this is a super fun book. Grab some wine or a daiquiri and read it by the pool. You’ll have the best time.

Recommended.

All We Ever Wanted

Finished All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the riveting new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of First Comes Love and Something Borrowed, three very different people must choose between their family and their values.

Nina Browning is living the good life after marrying into Nashville’s elite. More recently, her husband made a fortune selling his tech business, and their adored son has been accepted to Princeton. Yet sometimes the middle-class small-town girl in Nina wonders if she’s strayed from the person she once was.

Tom Volpe is a single dad working multiple jobs while struggling to raise his headstrong daughter, Lyla. His road has been lonely, long, and hard, but he finally starts to relax after Lyla earns a scholarship to Windsor Academy, Nashville’s most prestigious private school.

Amid so much wealth and privilege, Lyla doesn’t always fit in—and her overprotective father doesn’t help—but in most ways, she’s a typical teenage girl, happy and thriving.

Then, one photograph, snapped in a drunken moment at a party, changes everything. As the image spreads like wildfire, the Windsor community is instantly polarized, buzzing with controversy and assigning blame.

At the heart of the lies and scandal, Tom, Nina, and Lyla are forced together—all questioning their closest relationships, asking themselves who they really are, and searching for the courage to live a life of true meaning.”

This is an incredibly timely novel but it’s also got a new slant: it’s told from the perspective of the parents (Finch’s mom and Lyla’s dad) and not the teens themselves. It was especially interesting to hear from Finch’s mom, because it’s clear that she struggles with loving and wanting to protect her son but, at the same time, being horrified at what he did (and with it seeming like he doesn’t fully get exactly why it was so wrong).

This novel also touches on class differences (Lyla is at the school on scholarship; Finch can have pretty much literally anything and everything he wants) and that’s also interesting. Finch’s dad believes that his money can get them out of any predicament (he tries to bribe Lyla’s dad to drop the matter and gives him $15,000.  It’s clear that he doesn’t think of that as a large amount of money…which I can’t even imagine, btw).

If you want your beach reads to be more than a guilty pleasure, check this one out.

Any Man

Finished Any Man by Amber Tamblyn. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In her blazingly original and unforgettable debut novel “Any Man”, Amber Tamblyn brings to startling life a specter of sexual violence in the shadowy form of Maude, a serial female rapist who preys on men.

In this electric and provocative debut novel, Tamblyn blends genres of poetry, prose, and elements of suspense to give shape to the shocking narratives of victims of sexual violence, mapping the destructive ways in which our society perpetuates rape culture.

A violent serial rapist is on the loose, who goes by the name Maude. She hunts for men at bars, online, at home— the place doesn’t matter, neither does the man. Her victims then must live the aftermath of their assault in the form of doubt from the police, feelings of shame alienation from their friends and family and the haunting of a horrible woman who becomes the phantom on which society projects its greatest fears, fascinations and even misogyny. All the while the police are without leads and the media hound the victims, publicly dissecting the details of their attack.

What is extraordinary is how as years pass these men learn to heal, by banding together and finding a space to raise their voices. Told in alternating viewpoints signature to each voice and experience of the victim, these pages crackle with emotion, ranging from horror to breathtaking empathy.”

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this book. I read it in a few hours, unable to put it down. At the same time, it’s a horrible thing to read. (By which I mean it’s graphic and made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, which is obviously the point.)

The men in this are treated the way we treat female rape victims. (“Why were you there? Why did you invite this person over? Why were you drinking at a bar? Why weren’t you home?”) I’m wondering if this will cause anyone to reconsider the questions that we ask women. (I kind of doubt it; the people who need to read this are the people who would never read this.)

This book is well-written and thought-provoking, but it’s also intense and incredibly hard to read. We know what’s happened to these men, and it’s horrifying. Be very aware of all of this before you start reading it.

The Cabin at the End of the World

Finished The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Head Full of Ghosts adds an inventive twist to the home invasion horror story in a heart-palpitating novel of psychological suspense that recalls Stephen King’s Misery, Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, and Jack Ketchum’s cult hit The Girl Next Door.

Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.

One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”

Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.”

Some warnings: if you like books with tidy resolutions, this isn’t for you. If you like books that make sense and where nothing awful happens, this isn’t for you. And you should know going in that this book will infect you and also break your heart.

This is the third book of Paul Tremblay’s that I’ve read and each one has been amazing and horrifying. This continues the trend and I think it’s actually the most horrifying of the three. (I can’t tell if it’s the best of the three, but it’s the one that’s disturbed me most.)

The Cabin at the End of the World is a hard book to recommend. It’s definitely not for everyone, and again: horrible things happen. A lot of them.

But…it’s worth it.

Highly recommended (to the people who can handle it).

Providence

Finished Providence by Caroline Kepnes. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A propulsive new thriller about the obsessive nature of love when an intensifying relationship between best friends is disrupted by a kidnapping.

Growing up as best friends in small-town New Hampshire, Jon and Chloe are the only ones who truly understand each other, though they can never find the words to tell one another the depth of their feelings. When Jon is finally ready to confess his feelings, he’s suddenly kidnapped by his substitute teacher who is obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and has a plot to save humanity.

Mourning the disappearance of Jon and facing the reality he may never return, Chloe tries to navigate the rites of entering young adulthood and “fit in” with the popular crowd, but thoughts of Jon are never far away.

When Jon finally escapes, he discovers he now has an uncontrollable power that endangers anyone he has intense feelings for. He runs away to protect Chloe and find the answers to his new identity–but he’s soon being tracked by a detective who is fascinated by a series of vigilante killings that appear connected.

Whisking us on a journey through New England and crashing these characters’ lives together in the most unexpected ways, Kepnes explores the complex relationship between love and identity, unrequited passion and obsession, self-preservation and self-destruction, and how the lines are often blurred between the two.”

First, you should know that this is completely different from her earlier books. You and its sequel, Hidden Bodies, are incredibly creepy and darkly funny. This book has very little in common with them. It’s a little bit paranormal, but also more of a love story than her earlier books. (None of her books are in any way traditional love stories, but this is definitely more of one than “I loved this girl so I literally stalked her.”)

This is incredibly well-written and I wanted to know what would happen. I was curious to see if we would learn exactly what happened to Jon while he was kidnapped. That said, I still can’t say for sure if I really LIKED the book. (To be fair, like You, this isn’t really a fun, easy read. This book is dark and weird and creepy and really good.)

Proceed with caution, but definitely consider proceeding.

Jar of Hearts

Finished Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“This is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who’s been searching for the truth all these years . . .

When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong—one of the most popular girls in school—disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way. Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.

But fourteen years later, Angela Wong’s remains are discovered in the woods near Geo’s childhood home. And Kaiser—now a detective with Seattle PD—finally learns the truth: Angela was a victim of Calvin James. The same Calvin James who murdered at least three other women.

To the authorities, Calvin is a serial killer. But to Geo, he’s something else entirely. Back in high school, Calvin was Geo’s first love. Turbulent and often volatile, their relationship bordered on obsession from the moment they met right up until the night Angela was killed.

For fourteen years, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela’s death until Geo was arrested and sent to prison.

While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And what happened that fateful night is more complex and more chilling than anyone really knows. Now the obsessive past catches up with the deadly present when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong.

How far will someone go to bury her secrets and hide her grief? How long can you get away with a lie? How long can you live with it?”

I don’t know what it is about summer, but hot weather always makes me want to read thrillers. If that’s true for you, too, this is the book you need.

It is completely intense and you may think you see everything coming but trust me, you don’t.

This is my first Jennifer Hillier novel and I think it’s probably the best one to start with. (NOTE: I do want to read her backlist, and I think I actually have one of them already.) It’s so compulsively readable—good luck getting anything else done, so maybe start it early on a Saturday, if you have no other plans.

Highly recommended.

When Life Gives You Lululemons

Finished When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

New York Times bestselling author Lauren Weisberger returns with a novel starring one of her favorite characters from The Devil Wears Prada—Emily Charlton, first assistant to Miranda Priestly, now a highly successful image consultant who’s just landed the client of a lifetime.

Welcome to Greenwich, CT, where the lawns and the women are perfectly manicured, the Tito’s and sodas are extra strong, and everyone has something to say about the infamous new neighbor.

Let’s be clear: Emily Charlton, Miranda Priestly’s ex-assistant, does not do the suburbs. She’s working in Hollywood as an image consultant to the stars, but recently, Emily’s lost a few clients. She’s hopeless with social media. The new guard is nipping at her heels. She needs a big opportunity, and she needs it now.

Karolina Hartwell is as A-list as they come. She’s the former face of L’Oreal. A mega-supermodel recognized the world over. And now, the gorgeous wife of the newly elected senator from New York, Graham, who also has his eye on the presidency. It’s all very Kennedy-esque, right down to the public philandering and Karolina’s arrest for a DUI—with a Suburban full of other people’s children.

Miriam is the link between them. Until recently she was a partner at one of Manhattan’s most prestigious law firms. But when Miriam moves to Greenwich and takes time off to spend with her children, she never could have predicted that being stay-at-home mom in an uber-wealthy town could have more pitfalls than a stressful legal career.

Emily, Karolina, and Miriam make an unlikely trio, but they desperately need each other. Together, they’ll navigate the social landmines of life in America’s favorite suburb on steroids, revealing the truths—and the lies—that simmer just below the glittering surface. With her signature biting style, Lauren Weisberger offers a dazzling look into another sexy, over-the-top world, where nothing is as it appears.”

This is my favorite in the series so far. (I’m not sure if there will be a fourth installment.) I loved the idea that Emily is now basically Olivia Pope and that she’s working to take down this hideous person (that’s Graham, if the synopsis doesn’t make it clear).

My one problem (minor spoiler): For the entire series up to and including most of this book, Emily has been super clear about not wanting or even particularly liking kids. And then she gets pregnant accidentally and is soon so happy and excited about it. I think this is a little insulting, the presumption that every woman wants kids, even if they say they don’t.  (And I get that this is something that probably wouldn’t even bother a lot of people, so it definitely could just be a me thing.)

Even so, basically everything about this book is perfect for summer. It’s completely fun and is perfect beach-or-poolside reading material. It’s sort of a First Wives Club for the modern age, and I think that’s something most of us could get behind. (NOTE: only one character is divorce-bound, so the analogy is more to do with women banding together and kicking ass.)