Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

9781250069795_0272eTruly, Madly, Guilty will be released on July 26, 2016.

This is a story of a simple backyard cookout between three families, neighbors and friends, – 6 adults, 3 children, and dog. What could possibly go wrong? From the very beginning of the story, it’s clear to the reader that something very bad happened at the party, but the reader doesn’t find out exactly what happened until close to the end of the book. The backstory and the events leading up to the “bad thing” unfolds through the perspective of three very different women – Erika, Clementine, and Tiffany.

Erika is a younger, happily married woman who came from a less than stellar childhood, but thanks to her best friend Clementine, she made it to adulthood. Erika and her husband, Oliver, love children and adore Clementine’s girls. Erika has a secret, though, and when it is discovered, her relationship with Clementine starts to fizzle.

Clementine is a cellist, wife to Sam, and a mother of two girls. She feels pressure from her job and an upcoming major audition that she really wants to nail, but also from every day interactions as a mother and wife during a very busy/hectic time. Ever since the “bad thing” that occurred, her marriage has become less than stable and is threatening to crumble.

Erika’s neighbor, Tiffany, is what I would picture as a desperate housewife. A former dancer with a body that would stop traffic, Tiffany is married to Vid and his larger-than-life personality. They have a teenage daughter, a huge estate, and enviable lifestyle (at least from the outside looking in.)

The story begins two months after the devastating event which caused a ripple effect for these three women and their families. Clementine and Erika are asking themselves, What is we hadn’t gone? while Tiffany and Vid try to live with a crushing guilt, reliving the moment over and over and wondering how it could have been prevented.  

This book had me intrigued from the very first chapter. I had guessed a few scenarios of what I thought had happened at the cookout, but I was wrong. When the whole story of what happened was revealed, I felt much differently about the characters. In the beginning I judged them for their actions, but when I found out what they had been going through for two months, I realized that I was way off base. This story serves as a great reminder to all that it only takes a second for something tragic to happen, even in the most innocent of moments.

I would highly recommend this book, as with all of Liane Moriarty’s books. She has a knack for hooking the reader and taking them on a wild ride, twisting and turning frequently before coming to a lurching stop at the truth.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

9780804141260_86189Vinegar Girl will be published on June 21, 2016.

Vinegar Girl is a quick read, and a humorous, modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic, The Taming of the Shrew. Kate Battista, the shrew of the story, is a young woman living under the same roof as her teenage sister, Bunny, and her scientist father who spends much of his time at his prized lab working on a grand project which he feels will bring him to riches and fame. Kate spends her days gardening, keeping the house, and waiting on her father and Bunny’s every whim. She feels a bit out of place at home, and also at her work, where she is an outspoken preschool teacher, recently placed on a probation for her forthright behavior which some parents find offensive. She doesn’t have much interest in men, other than a crush on a fellow preschool teacher who doesn’t really pay her much attention.

Dr. Battista is on the verge of a major scientific breakthrough and he needs all the hours his staff can spare. All is going along as normal, until Dr. Battista realizes his research assistant, Pyotr, is a few months from being deported back to his home country. Suddenly Kate becomes very important to her father’s plan for success.

You’ll have to read to find out how Kate handles both her father’s pressure and Pyotr’s awkward, but endearing advances. Anne Tyler has written a comical, enjoyable modern retelling readers will surely enjoy.

Falling by Jane Green

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Falling will be released on July 19, 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group. I’ve been a fan of Jane Green’s quick witted humor and true-to-life family drama ever since reading one of her early novels, Jemima J. Falling is sure to be a summer hit, and a great beach read.

This story was engaging, romantic, and enjoyable. I loved the characters, because they felt so real. Both Dominic and Emma have had their share of stress from family and work life. Emma meets Dominic when she moves from the hustle of New York to quaint Westport, Connecticut and rents a house from him. Convenient for her, Dominic’s house is right next door. As Emma starts fresh, exploring her passion for interior decorating and enjoying a slower pace of daily life, she gets to know Dominic and his young son. She finally starts to feel at home, a feeling she has never really felt before, not even while she was growing up in a well-to-do British home. Dominic is a great father and faithful friend. He falls hard for Emma. But, this isn’t your average love story where the ending is tied up in a neat little bow. The story is both touching and tragic. Even so, you won’t be disappointed.

I was taken aback by the twist of fate near the end of the story. It goes to show that one truly never knows how many days they have to spend with another person, which is all the more reason to cherish each and every moment spent together.

 

The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

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This is a heartbreaking, raw story of mental illness and how it can systematically unravel the bonds between a family. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the story, but it was so much more than a young adult coming-of-age story. Of course, there is some young romance and dating involved, but poor Cassie was forced to grow up so early in her life, and was therefore wise beyond her years. For these reasons, the plot is more mature than some young adult novels, and adults would enjoy it as much as teens.

I won’t reveal too much of the plot because you will enjoy it much more learning the story as I did – in bits and pieces of Cassie’s past as she remembers them, discovering moments that have been hidden or repressed in her own memory.

Cassie was placed in a mental institution by her mother, out of the blue, and against her will at the age of 15. She spent two and a half years there, with no support from her family and most everyone believing that she was lying. Even the therapist assigned to her, Dr. Meeks, didn’t believe her or support her. When she turns 18, she emancipates herself and leaves the institution to attend college at her mother’s alma matter. Her only regret is leaving the only true friend she has ever had, James, behind at the institution. Readers get the truth behind why Cassie was at the institution in snippets and flashbacks of her life and tumultuous relationship with her mother. At times, it is hard to read, to imagine what Cassie went through all her life. Once I read the full story of what all happened to her, when she finally revealed it to Liz, near the end, tears streamed down my face.I felt so horrible for Cassie, yet so proud of her ability to carry on and try to find herself. This is a beautiful story, and a unique look at mental illness and perception. Not everything is as it seems.

I was intrigued by the title of this book, and after reading it, I couldn’t think of a more fitting title. Drowning doesn’t always have to be in the literal sense of drowning in water. Unfortunately, as young Cassie is well aware, she spent most of her life drowning.

This is a debut novel and it packs a huge emotional punch. I’ll not be forgetting Cassie or her story any time in the near future. I hope Kletter writes many more stories. I highly recommend this book, if for nothing else but a reminder to everyone to have compassion and empathy for others.

Fans of We Were Here, Everything, Everything, and All the Bright Places will surely enjoy this novel.

Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand

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Here’s to Us will be published on June 14, 2016 by Hachette Book Group.

Deacon Thorpe, celebrity chef and well-known bad boy with a healthy appetite for living life to the fullest, has passed away unexpectedly at his summer cottage in Nantucket. Left behind are two ex-wives, his widow, and three children (one from each marriage). The only connection between Laurel, Belinda, and Scarlett is their love and devotion for Deacon, even after his many faults, addictions, and poor decisions. His three wives couldn’t be any more different. Laurel was his high school sweetheart, Belinda is a high-profile actress who won him over with money and glamour, and Scarlett was the younger, bombshell nanny which he couldn’t resist.

Deacon’s will designates that the whole family gather at the Nantucket cottage to spread his ashes at sea, which brings us to the story. His family, along with his best friend, Buck, begrudgingly head for Nantucket to spend the weekend together. As if the story needed to be livened up even more; Buck has always had his eyes on Deacon’s first wife, Laurel. There is also a bit of drama going on with each of Deacon’s adult children, Angie and Hayes. Throwing these headstrong, grieving family members together in cramped quarters (with a lot of wine and whiskey, of course) makes for some interesting confrontations, to say the least. As memories of Deacon are shared and secrets are uncovered, tensions run high and some surprisings things occur. The plot moves along rather quickly, all taking place during one weekend, with flashbacks to the past mixed in to give readers background information on each of the women’s relationships with Deacon.

Sound like a crazy plot? It is! But, as always, Elin Hilderbrand makes it work oh so well, with just the right amount of humor, drama, romance, and cat fights. She has created the recipe for a great romantic drama which readers will absolutely love until the very last page. Another really cool addition to this book are the actual recipes that are included, such as Deacon’s famous Fluffy White Champagne Cake with Champagne Candied Strawberries and Clams Casino Dip, to name a few. As with all of her novels, Elin set this story in her hometown of Nantucket, causing readers such as myself to long for the quaint streets and beautiful beaches. I would love to visit Nantucket some day and catch a glimpse of some of the places mentioned in her novels. I loved this book, and I can’t wait for it to be released this summer.

Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

9780062425430_2354bFamily Tree will be published on August 9, 2016 by William Morrow. This is a perfect romantic story for Fall, set mostly in Vermont during maple sugar collection season. Finishing it on the first day of Spring made me long for Fall a bit.

Anna Rush Harlow is living in Manhattan, enjoying married life and her successful career. She is the producer of a hit cooking show starring her celebrity chef husband, Martin. She is unexpectedly surprised and ecstatic when she realizes she is pregnant. However, her life changes in the blink of an eye when there is a freak accident on the production set. A year later, she wakes up from a coma a divorced woman who has lost everything she built her life on in Manhattan. She moves back home with her mother, older brother and his wife, and her nieces and nephews on the family’s maple sugar farm in Vermont. As she tries to pick up the pieces and move forward with a plan in life, she realizes that the place she couldn’t wait to get away from when she was young might just be the place she is happiest. It also happens that Fletcher, her former love still lives in their hometown and is also divorced. Is it too late for Fletcher and Annie, or will they be able to get past the hurt they caused each other when they were younger and life’s plans got in the way?

The story switches between present day after Annie’s accident to when she first met Fletcher, her college years, when she first met Martin and started the cooking show, when she and Fletcher rekindled the flames years later, and finally to her marriage with Martin. Through the flashbacks, readers get to know the real Annie, smart as a whip, fun-loving, and dedicated to her lifelong dream and love of cooking.

Much of the story is heavily centered on family, forgiveness, and second chances. The ending is a little predictable, but I loved the story so much that I didn’t really care. Readers will feel like they are working alongside Annie and her brother as they harvest the maple sap, boil it, and make Sugar Rush, their famous maple syrup. Food and cooking play a big part in the novel as well, as many mouthwatering dishes are prepared and described in detail. I really loved this book, and I know you will too. Fans of romance, contemporary women’s fiction, and regular fiction rejoice – this novel has a little something for everyone.

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

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The bad news is that we have to wait until June 28th for this beauty to be published! The good news is that it is totally worth the wait! I love, love, LOVE this book. I’ll try to do it some justice with my review.

First Comes Love is filled with highly relatable family situations and candid conversations among the characters. The characters are likable, despite their flaws. They seem real, and Giffin goes a wonderful job of making them come to life. At times, the scenes are hilarious, while at others tender and heartfelt.

The story begins as the family is approaching the 15 year anniversary of Daniel’s tragic and untimely (at the age of 25) death due to an auto accident which was of fault to no one. Each character’s outlook on life and circumstances for the past 15 years demonstrate the different ways loss & grief can affect relationships between siblings, spouses, parents/children, and even best friends.

Sisters Meredith and Josie are about as opposite as can be, with regard to their personality and life choices. Yet, their tumultuous relationship is refreshing, as it proves that they can put love first despite their differences and overcome some major rough times. They likely wouldn’t have a thing to do with each other, save for Josie’s love for her younger sibling Meredith’s 4 year old daughter, Harper. Meredith is a high profile lawyer and busy mother, living with constant stress and strain in her marriage to Nolan, her late brother Daniel’s best friend. Josie is a 1st grade teacher, life of the party, but worried about finding “the one” because she is getting closer to 40 and has always wanted to be a mother.

Nolan & Meredith’s marriage is particularly true-to-life, because in reality no marriage is perfect. Marriage takes work by both parties, whether the parties love each other or are “in love,” or both. Giffin makes a point that with social media, everyone seems even more worried about keeping up appearances and appearing perfect in front of the world. It is mentioned by one of the characters that everyone assumes that everyone else has the perfect life and marriage, when in reality most everyone struggles at some point – and that’s ok. Life wasn’t meant to be perfect. It’s meant to be lived. Much of the beauty found in life is revealed in times of tragedy and struggle. Everything about this book is relatable, which makes me love it more.

Emily Giffin has a knack for realistic fiction and she slams a home run with this one. I truly loved The One & Only (released May 2014), but I enjoyed this story so much more because of the message it sends – love truly does come first.

I already miss these witty characters, and wish I could spend more moments in their lives. I want to be there for Josie and Gabe, but also for Nolan and Meredith as they are all about to experience a major life change when the story comes to an end. Sequel, please?