Hilderbrand and Macomber Spell Summer

Summer reads, summer breeze, summer love.

     Summer, to me, means endless hours out on the porch with a good book in my hand. Moscow mules and page turners, my parents reading nearby. I try and get as much family time in during the summer because, as a teacher, my profession allows me some down time over the summer season. Summer means key lime pie to ring in the fact that I’ve made it another year on this planet and, thankfully, these past few birthdays (as well as my upcoming one) I have plenty of reasons to celebrate. 

     Nothing spells summer quite like a good read from Elin Hilderbrand and Debbie Macomber. Both of these authors have a simple way of capturing the attention of this reader with their endearing characters and easy going story lines laced with a tinge of genre. Somehow, I always manage to feel connected to the topics discussed within the pages of their novels and I eagerly anticipate a new release from these authors around this time of year. 

     ‘Summer of 69’ by Elin Hilderbrand was, in my opinion, unlike any other book I’ve read by this author. Reflecting on both her success as a writer and the fact that the passage of time has brought her into her fifties, Hilderbrand decided to write a novel that was a tribute, in a sense, to her childhood. This book takes you back to 1969, when the Vietnam War was raging, Americans were protesting the senselessness of it all, and women were confined to the kitchens and living rooms. While Hilderbrand remained true to her typical setting of the Nantucket Island, little else in this novel reminded me of previous works. Through the voices of three daughters and their mother, the reader comes to appreciate what life was like for a woman in 1969. Stepping into new territory with this fantastic historical novel, Hilderbrand continues with the tradition of shadowing a family full of complex characters. Blair, the oldest daughter struggles to maintain her dignity as she navigates the waters of marriage and rapidly learns that the plans she had for her own career are perhaps not going to pan out the way she’d intended. Kirby, the rebel child within the family, is haunted by a mistake made in her recent past. Eager to escape the humiliation of her own inner demons, takes a job on Martha’s Vineyard and finds herself embroiled in both politics and race while there. Thirteen year old Jessie is coming into womanhood, quite literally, while feeling out of place in her own skin and incapable of discussing with anyone what’s running through her mind. The mother figure in this novel, normally the character in Hilderbrand’s novels who holds all the seams together, is in a depressed fog as she worries about her son, Tiger, who is fighting in the Vietnam War. Mixed in with this fear is a tense relationship with her own mother and the sense that her past is going to come back to bite her in the most vulnerable of places. 

      Beautifully written, ‘Summer of 69’ was a book I could not set down and one I read late into the night. ‘Window On The Bay’ by Debbie Macomber is a slightly more simplistic read but, at its core, there’s a story worth reading. Now that I’m in my late twenties, I can look back and reflect on my college days. My relationship with my mother has always been a relatively strong one and I know that my going off to college was difficult for her. Therefore, the story line of Jenna in ‘Window On The Bay’ was one that I instantly could tie myself to. Jenna, a single mother, has been putting her dreams on the back burner quite willingly throughout the duration of her children’s childhoods. But now that her youngest daughter, Allie, is off to college, Jenna finds herself determined to tick of some things on her bucket list. Falling in love with a doctor she works with? Well, that was never quite in the plans. But her relationship with the surgeon becomes complicated by both of their pasts, as well as, both of their present day circumstances. Her daughter Allie, it seems, is not adjusting to college life the way that Jenna had hoped she would and this also places a strain on Jenna’s relationship with Rowan. Meanwhile, Jenna’s best friend Maureen- also a single parent- has decided that remaining single for the rest of her life is what fate intended. As a librarian, she can have all the relationships that she wants with the men in her books. But when Logan, a real life man, walks into her life every Monday to ask for a new book recommendation, Maureen finds herself starting to change her own mind about staying single. In true Macomber fashion, the reader is reminded about what is most important when it comes to matters of the heart. 

*Thanks to Book of The Month, I was able to read Summer of 69 early. Summer of 69 releases June 18th. And a special thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine books for my advanced reader copy of ‘Window On The Bay’ which releases July 16th

The Dutch House

Storytelling at its finest- a true masterpiece you will not be able to walk away from.

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Collins for this complimentary copy of ‘The Dutch House’ in exchange for my honest review. 

Pub Date: September 24, 2019 

      Anne Patchett delivers another powerful novel, full of rich characters and strong underlying messages about what it means to navigate through life in this chaotic world we are living in. Touching on how impactful buildings and things can be to our everyday existence, Danny and Maeve have developed an unbreakable (and somewhat unhealthy) relationship with their childhood home. ‘The Dutch House’ has become a landmark in both of their minds, serving to represent both their happiest and most tragic memories. A symbol of all that they have lost, this house that has been stripped from their inheritance ends up being one of the driving forces keeping them glued together. 

     At its core, ‘The Dutch House’ is also a beautiful tribute to siblings who manage to stand together through the thick and the thin. Despite, or perhaps in spite of, the age gap between Maeve and Danny, they have come to rely on one another for both emotional support and moral boosting. Smart, capable Maeve is continuously underestimated in a world still very much inclined to favor the man. Meanwhile, Danny’s emotional growth became a bit stunted at the loss of their father when he was still at a malleable age. The future path that had been carved out for him (inheriting the family business in addition to the Dutch house) is suddenly removed from beneath his feet by the woman their father married after their mother disappeared. Both siblings must face moving through life in the aftermath of the unexpected cards fate has dealt them. 

      Beautifully written, Patchett has proven once again that she is a masterful storyteller. Anyone who enjoyed ‘Commonwealth’ will eat this book up. Characters that tug at your heart, a plot that makes you ponder what truly matters in life, and the power each chapter has of resurrecting nostalgia within the reader of what they once loved. ‘The Dutch House’ is a must read- pre-order this now and curl up in the fall with a strong cup of tea or coffee becasue you’ll be in for a long, delightful read. 

The Secret of Clouds

     ‘The Secret of Clouds’ by Alyson Richman is the kind of novel that haunts you but in a beautiful kind of way. Richman essentially dares you with her exquisite words to not be grateful for what you have, as you dive into the world of a sick little boy whose heart condition prevents him from ever fully leading a normal life. Imagine not being able to leave the confines of your house because one little sniffle could result in a trip to the hospital. As the reader is drawn deeper into the world of this charming little boy, they quickly take note of the fact that Yuri does his best to be happy with the cards fate has dealt him, painfully aware of how heartbroken both of his parents are over his condition. 

     Katya, his mother, would do anything to reverse the hands of time to change her son’s destiny. Immigrants from Ukraine, she had come with her husband to America precisely to ensure that her future children would have the best of opportunities. The Kiev that they walked away from had been grim, chemical filled, and antisemetic. She couldn’t have predicted that the week of inhaling chemical laced air as a result of a factory accident would lead to her giving birth to a son with a grave heart condition. All she wants is for Yuri to be able to laugh outside with friends, play baseball, and attend school…..but this is constantly at war with her motherly instinct of preservation. 

    Enter Maggie Topper, the main narrator of this story, who is a sixth grade English teacher at the public school in the district where Yuri lives. She’s asked to serve as Yuri’s private language arts tutor and the bond these two form ends up being undeniably unbreakable. As a teacher myself, I kept thinking as I turned each page of the book that this was why I taught. To be able to positively influence the mindset of a young student is to feel success. Additionally, it’s the lessons we as teachers learn from our students that lead to us making incredible discoveries about ourselves. Richman weaves a tale of heartache and self discovery as she navigates between the outlook of adults vs the outlook of children. You come to remember, as an adult reader, that even a life laced with tragedy is easier to face when you possess the type of goodwill and innocence that only exists in the mind of a child. Richman gently chides us adults for losing that sentiment somewhere along the way and, through Yuri, urges us to consider finding a way to somehow resurrect that childhood naïveté. The world, as it turns out, could end up being a far more pleasant and tenable place

That’s What Frenemies Are For

If you can make it in this concrete jungle, you can make it anywhere.

Thank you NetGalley and Random House for my complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. 

Pub Date: July 30, 2019 

     Growing up in New Jersey, and receiving a private school education, image was ever present. My parents worked hard to ensure that I maintained a humble personality in the midst of a materialistic world, but that didn’t mean I was oblivious to the charms of wealth. Being so close to that concrete jungle known to most as New York City, I was no stranger to the impact keeping up with the Rockerfellers had on the average person. In a city teeming with life, being somebody meant having a certain address and being in possession of the type of profession that enabled you to spend an unlimited amount of money on….things. 

      Reading, ‘That’s What Frenemies Are For’ by Sophie Littlefield, I nearly felt as though I was home. The entire core of the novel revolves around the dire consequences of desperately wanting to fit in with an elite group of people that, in all actuality, is full of insecure individuals competing to have the top title. Julia Summers had what she thought was the perfect life……how many times does this type of novel start off with a seemingly strong female character insisting that she has it all. Naturally, not ver far into the plot, Julia discovers that her life is not nearly as picture perfect as she’d thought it was. In addition to her husband working longer hours in the face of rumors circulating that all is not as ‘above board’ as it should be within his line of work, Julia is feeling left out of the popularity ring after a summer spent in solitude in the city. 

     Becoming irrelevant in a place like New York is the greatest fear that the women in this novel have, and Julia is determined to claw her way back up to the top of the social pyramid. But she ends up making a rookie mistake that the wealthiest of people tend to make all too frequently- she assumes that anyone whose budget rings in at a certain number is vulnerable and eager to receive help from the elite. Befriending Tatum, a young woman who appears to be having immense difficulty building her brand as a spin instructor at a top fitness club in the city, seems the perfect ‘win-win’ situation for Julia. Her friends returned from the Hamptons with a frustrating tendency of leaving her out of social outings, and Julia knows that she must do something drastic to be considered worthy of emulating once again. Being responsible for launching the success of Tatum, Julia is convinced, is going to be her golden ticket back into the upper crust. Yet, as she takes Tatum under her wing, Julia begins to notice that perhaps Tatum isn’t nearly as vulnerable as she’d initially believed her to be. Furthermore, the amount of gossip spreading about her husband and finances appears to be multiplying instead of receding. 

     Littlefield does a brilliant job inviting the reader to have exclusive insight into what it means to be on top. You’ll find yourself rooting for Julia, even as she so clearly has her priorities all mixed up. Out July 30th, ‘That’s What Frenemies Are For’, the reader will be reminded of what happens when you underestimate the underdog.

Rochelle Weinstein Subtly Stuns

The story that makes you wait to love it is the story truly worth loving.

Thank you to NetGalley for this complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Pub Date: October 15, 2019

     This is the first novel by Rochelle Weinstein that I’ve read, and I’m still attempting to decide how I feel about it. ‘This Is Not How It Ends’ is the kind of tale that leads the reader to contemplate their own love stories. Haven’t we all latched onto a significant other whom we believed was the perfect fit for us at the time, only to discover that perhaps we’d judged the scenario all wrong? The predicament that Charlotte finds herself in is a love story as old as time- the love triangle. Phillip, the seemingly perfect husband in waiting, has been eclipsed by his dearest friend, Ben. Perhaps most perplexing of all is the fact that Charlotte continuously is pushed in Ben’s direction by her fiancé. 

     At the start, this is a book that toggles between two time frames, taking the reader through the process of the before and after of locating true love. But what if true love is ignited between someone whom you hadn’t intended to fall in love with? What happens when the man of your dreams turns into precisely that- someone you should only have ever been with in your dreams in the first place? Philip and Charlotte have a whirlwind romance that rapidly leads to her uprooting her entire life to follow him to Florida. She, the quiet and literary English teacher, paired with a man who appears larger than life to those around him. Rarely in the same place for any given length of time, Philip leaves Charlotte to her own devices and her own devices leads her directly to Ben. 

     Weinstein coaxes the reader into a pregnant pause, into an elongated moment where we ponder the trajectory of our own love lives. What would have happened if we’d stayed with the person whose love morphed into an unrecognizable nightmare? Or, slightly more terrifying, what if we had rocked the boat of fate and left the comfort of complacency for something……stronger? The potential for being truly brilliant, there was something lacking in the delivery of the plot in the first half of the novel that proceeds to dissipate during the second half. Overall, it’s a book I would recommend with the caution that it’s not one of those narratives that hooks you directly from the start. Instead, you must patiently give the novel by Weinstein time to utterly charm you. 

Happy Pub Date to ‘How To Not Die Alone’!

In the same ranks as ‘Elinor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’, the reader will find themselves inexplicably drawn to this story.

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Group Putnam for my complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

Pub Date: May 28, 2019

     ‘How Not To Die Alone’ by Richard Roper is the type of novel that will pull at your heartstrings. There is a delicately brilliant way in which Roper exposes the deepest fear of the majority of humans. At the end of the day, regardless of the lies we might tell ourselves and others, we are afraid of dying alone. Yet, simultaneously, we have a paranoia of being accepted and, therefore, an inability of making the appropriate type of connections. I went into this novel hardly knowing what to expect, but as you get to know Andrew, you are hard pressed to feel anything towards him besides love. 

     Reminiscent of ‘Elinor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’, the reader is presented with a flawed and somewhat delusional narrator who is merely trying to rid himself of his lonely as he navigates life. It hardly seems to be a coincidence that Roper places Andrew into a profession that forces his character to question both humanity and mortality on a regular basis. When your profession is to pick up the pieces of the lives of those who have perished completely alone, it only serves to exacerbate your own fear that you will find yourself in a similar situation. Andrew chooses to feed himself and those around him lies about his happiness to cover up the abysmal truth- that he, in fact, has nobody. 

     But then Peggy comes along, an individual struggling with her own form of lonely. Married to a man who puts a bottle of alcohol before her every single time, she seems to take a job alongside Andrew as a last ditch effort to figure it all out. The subsequent friendship Andrew and Peggy form results in them both questioning and rearranging everything. 

     Roper’s writing is refreshing and beautifully strung together. The reader will find it impossible to put the book down and will also enter into their own inner dialogue about what it truly means to be happy in this one life we are given. 

Paris By The Book

Some stories just bring you back to a time and a place unbelievably dear to your heart.

     Traveling and books have always been meaningful to me. The history of the cities I’ve been too intertwined with the words in novels purchased at bookstores local to the area. When I was seventeen years old, my parents took me to Paris for the second time but this trip was to be a special one because my birthday fell on one of the days we would be in the city of lights. I was unbelievably excited and had a list of landmarks I wanted to visit during our six day stay. We’d come from London, my parents utterly exhausted by the castle itinerary I’d designed there. “If I never see another castle in my life, I’d be a happy man!” My father had stated on a ragged exhale. But I couldn’t hear him over the rush of enthusiasm pulsating through me. I was still so young, adulthood right around the bend but not quite there. Paris was mine for the exploring and I intended to relish every moment. 

     I love books because they take me back to certain memories and periods in my life. I consider myself well traveled; my parents never left me behind and, as a result, these eyes have seen five continents. Words have this amazingly intense ability to take catapult you back into time to a place of serene nostalgia. 

     ‘Paris By The Book’ by Liam Callanan was one of those books for me. As I finished reading this novel, sipping on a strawberry daiquiri at the home of a woman whose on connections to France are phenomenal, I was propelled back to that time we spent in Paris. Similar to Leah, the main character of this novel, I was searching for something that summer in Paris. Both of us were haunted by a better version of ourselves lurking right around the river bend. She also had my dream profession at the time- the owner of an Anglophile bookshop nestled on a cobblestone corner in Paris. Unlike Leah, I didn’t have a husband who’d gone missing or two teenage daughters to take care of, but I could relate to the pull Paris had on her all the same. 

     My twenty-seven year old self also connected to the character of the disappeared husband. Robert, the man Leah had fallen into a loving pattern with, was a writer whose enthusiasm for the craft of writing was often his greatest downfall. Always in search of that perfect story, successfully completing a novel evaded him at every turn. When he disappears, Leah assumes he’s simply gone off in search of inspiration and it wasn’t difficult for me to relate the benefit of travel to a restless writer’s mind. I’ve always personally felt recharged and better prepared to tap into my creative side after a trip abroad. 

     The characters in this book learn things about themselves through the landmarks of Paris and the books on the shelves of their Parisian bookshop. I would recommend this novel to anyone who has been to Paris, who loves the process of being inspired, who values family, and who would enjoy the magic of nostalgia brought on by the pages of a book. I won’t be turning eighteen in Paris this year but, in my mind, Paris is a constant reminder of how far I’ve come and how far I still have to go.