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After the End

⇒What is your life’s crossroad and which new beginning will you choose?⇐


After the End is my second #Julybrary book. I’m celebrating libraries in July by checking out all of this month’s reads from my local library shelves!


Author: Clare Mackintosh

(4.31 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Adult Contemporary

Published June 25, 2019by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 390

#Aftertheend. #Julybrary


Over the last few months we have learned that hope is one side of a seesaw balanced by despair; too quickly tipped from one to the other.

Before I begin this review, I have to warn that it may inadvertently contain spoilers. I’ll definitely try my best to keep them out, but in case I miss something, just know that you’ve been warned.

Like 90% of other reviewers of After the End, I found it incredibly hard to make it through this book. It isn’t a happy story. Period. But I’m sure it also wasn’t an easy story to tell – especially by an author who had to make this terrible decision irl.

Here’s the book blurb: “Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. They’re the best friends lovers– unshakable. But then their son gets sick and the doctors put the question of his survival into their hands. For the first time, Max and Pip can’t agree. They each want a different future for their son. What if they could have both?”

Sometimes you only know for certain if you’ve made the right decision once you’ve made it.

Within a few pages of the very first chapter of this book, I knew it was going to be a rough read for me. Riddled with personal triggers which acted as emotional landmines throughout nearly all 400 pages, it both started and ended in uncertainty. This story has some serious triggers for sensitive readers: cancer, kids with terminal illnesses, and other triggers that I can’t even mention without spoiling some parts of the plot.

There were many times when I considered not finishing this book. It was, at times, difficult to turn the next page. Dylan’s condition was heartrending, and his parents’ predicament was one no parent should ever have to face. But my difficult decision was to keep reading, and I managed to do it, but not without being deeply affected.

Turns out you can hate what someone’s doing, yet still love them so much it hurts.

Once I was able to separate myself from the story (cancer is a strong trigger for me), I was able to better appreciate the flow and artistry of this difficult story. And then, when the court decision is made and the author introduces two alternate realities along two different timelines, the complications only intensify.

If you’ve read anything by Clare Mackintosh before, I can tell you that this book is not like any of those. I don’t understand why Goodreads lists it as a thriller– it is more like a slow burning emotional suspense novel. The decision of life and death hovers over the entire first half of the book, and little or nothing can be more suspenseful than that.

In the second half, the suspense comes in with Max and Pip making decisions that will take them into the next phases of their lives. Neither portions of the book are comfortable to read and at times I felt my inner reader screaming at both of them. But, here again, is a decision that no one can say is the right one unless you’re living it.

But when you stand at a crossroad you cannot see each destination, only the beginnings of the paths that will lead you there. All you can do is choose one, and walk, and hope that someone will walk with you.

OK, so let’s address the elephant in the room– why only 3.5 stars? It is, by no means, a bad book. It’s beautifully and sensitively written. Even in the midst of horrible circumstances, Mackintosh gives all her characters meaningful and unique personalities and perspectives.

But the hard parts of the book never let up and the ending doesn’t bring the relief or closure that I felt I needed as I closed the back cover. Not every reader feels this way, and I think it’s definitely proof that this book affects everyone very differently.

It’s possible to look without seeing. To act without feeling. You just have to close your heart for a while.


Clare Mackintosh

Clare Mackintosh spent twelve years in the police force, including time on CID, and as a public order commander. She left the police in 2011 to work as a freelance journalist and social media consultant now writes full time. She lives in North Wales with her husband and their three children.


Featured

Save the Date

How good are you at finding the best little beach read? I found mine, but it turns out I could read this little gem anywhere!⇐


Author: Morgan Matson

(3.81 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / YA / Romance

Published June 5, 2018by Simon Schuster

Format: Paperback

Pages: 432 (Paperback)

#SavetheDate


It seemed like the second you tried to tell someone why you loved someone else, it took the luster off it, like pinning a butterfly down in a case—it never quite captured it.

Every year my family goes to the beach. We look forward to it all year long and we often start packing long before the week of the trip. This year was no exception. The clothes, the swim gear, the travel-sized toiletries – all that is important, but the most vital thing is Which Books Should I Bring! 

This is a really hard decision on any regular day, let alone on a day when you will be spending time near surf and sand with nothing but lazy hours in front of you. This is prime reading time people! And the last thing you want to do is waste those hours with a book you don’t really enjoy.   

Thankfully, I made an excellent choice in this perfectly paced little romance that also shared some spicy little family drama and more than one (OK a lot!) of truly comedic slip-ups. Save the Date couldn’t have been a more perfect vacation read. It was an easy read with fun (and funny) characters that were easily introduced and remain unforgettable. Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect. … Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.

You don’t get to freeze the picture when you want it. It would have been living in the past and eventually, you just start doing the same jokes over and over again.

If you’re anything like me, it may take you quite a long time to decide on a book to read while you’re on vacation. I made a special trip to the bookstore to pick this one up specifically for this trip. I wanted something light and funny with just enough depth to hold my attention without being frivolous and silly. Save the Date hit the nail on the head on every point.

And, no, it’s not a new release, so I felt that I could choose it on its own merits instead of feeling led along by the masses all grappling for the next new and shiny shelf bauble.  And although I didn’t finish my book while actually sitting on the beach (it ended up raining for most of the time) I found that it really didn’t matter. Save the Date became a book that is good on or off of the sand. I got totally sucked into the Grant family drama and my only regret is that it ended a little too quickly!


Morgan Matson

Morgan Matson grew up in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut. She attended Occidental College in Los Angeles but halfway though a theater degree, she started working in the children’s department of Vroman’s Bookstore and fell in love with YA literature.


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The Dinner List

⇒When you invite your 5 people to dinner, what will you have to apologize for, or forgive?⇐


Author: Rebecca Serle

(3.64 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / Romance

Published September 11, 2018by Flatiron Books

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 276 (Hardcover)

#TheDinnerList #DinnerList


Companionship. Let me sit with you in silence. Let me hold your hand and understand.

Waaaay back in 2015, I tried my hand at modern-day journaling. You’ve seen it on Pinterest and Instagram: bullet journaling, wreck-this-journal, etc. I wasn’t consistent with it, but the few pages I finished are pretty creative, even if I do say so myself.

One of those pages is titled “Last Supper Guests” and lists 12 people I would want to share a dinner party with and why. Get it? 12 people, Last Supper. Hey, I didn’t make it up. My list include Neil deGrasse Tyson (because I have exactly 1.2 million questions for him about the universe), Kelly Clarkson (because I just know that we’d be great friends), chef Bobby Flay (because, hey, somebody’s gotta cook. BBQ, please!), author Janet Evanovich (so we could sit and hash out how her characters Stephanie and Ranger can end up together), Criss Angel (because a magical evening deserves the mindfreak of magic), and the absolute best background music by Norah Jones.

That is the premise of Rebecca Serle’s The Dinner List. 20-something Sabrina Nielson spreads her young adult wings in NYC and learns a lot about love and sacrifice in a city that takes no prisoners. When she finds herself at her own 30th birthday dinner table surrounded by five people – some of whom couldn’t possibly really be there – it seems that it’s finally time to face some hard truths.

There are flowers and there are gardeners. Flowers bloom; gardeners tend. Two flowers, no tending. Everything dies.

I can imagine any university Lit professor having a field day deconstructing and analyzing this book. Not that it’s heavy or complicated – quite the opposite, in fact. It’s meaningful and relevant in relatable and extremely familiar ways. We’ve all wondered “what if?”, or what we’d say to such-and-such person if we ever saw them again. Well, The Dinner List gives main character, Sabrina, just such an opportunity.

Serle cleverly unveils Sabrina’s last 10 years through insights into each guest’s character and their contributions to her life. As we seamlessly jump from her improbable dinner party to past events that have led up to this night, we learn why these particular guests are there and why Sabrina needs each of them in order to move into the next decade of her life successfully.

Our problem wasn’t us together, it was us in the world – a world that demanded we reconcile its reality with our romance.

Picking five people to share an all-important meal with is a monumental task. For my journal, I listed 12 and I still struggled! Plus, my list isn’t designed to help me answer some existential question – I just planned on having a party!

OK, back to the book… This is a very fast read, one that can easily be done in a day, but don’t rush through it! There is great meaning in these pages, and you don’t want to miss any of the insights shared via these uniquely honest characters. The highs and lows feel genuine and I love how Serle doesn’t wait until the end to throw a monkey wrench into the whole works.

Although it is, ultimately, a love story, The Dinner List is so much more than that; it’s a life story. And I’m so glad I got to read it without being graded on how adeptly I could suss out its meaning!


Rebecca Serle

Rebecca Serle is an author and television writer who lives between New York and Los Angeles. Serle most recently co-developed the hit TV adaptation of her young adult series Famous in Love, now on Freeform. She loves Nancy Meyers films, bathrobes, and giving unsolicited advice on love.


Featured

The Paper Wasp

⇒RELEASE DAY REVIEW! “No one wants the truth. We don’t want to live with it… We long for fabrication, hallucination, false catastrophe. We hunger – all of us – for the distorted mirages…” –The Paper Wasp

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Grove Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Lauren Acampora

(3.47 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / Thriller

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: June 11, 2019, by Grove Press

Pages: 304 (Kindle version)

#ThePaperWasp #PaperWasp


We were fortunate to dwell in dreams as long as we did. It’s easier to linger with a partner.

There were a lot of HAGS in my high school yearbook. And just recently, I looked in my daughter’s 5th grade yearbook, and there are a lot of HAGS in there too. And, no, I’m not a mean girl because I’m not talking about anyone’s appearance, LOL. HAGS meant Have A Great Summer back in my day, and the kids are apparently still using it today.

I also saw a lot of KITs (Keep In Touch) with phone numbers scribbled in either box-graphic or bubbly numbers in my yearbook. I only thought fleetingly about what would happen if I called any of those numbers today – some umpteen years after graduation. (What? I am NOT old!!!)

Who would be on the other line? When I graduated, there weren’t any cell phones (do not say a word!), so who would pick up? And those bright-eyed, hopeful kids who artfully crafted their phone numbers onto those yearbook pages beside silk-robed pictures – who are they now?

This is the premise behind The Paper Wasp: Reconnecting. You run into an old classmate at the grocery store while visiting your parents back in your hometown. Their face may be the same but they’ve gained 30 pounds and now have 3 kids and an ex-husband. Or you may see your 10th grade crush suited up on the cover of a business magazine – all glossy and handsome – and you think, what if…

Reconnecting is an iffy prospect. You never know what you’re gonna get. It could be the most fun you’ve ever had, or it could be what happens in The Paper Wasp. Here’s the Goodreads summary:

In small-town Michigan, Abby Graven leads a solitary life. Once a bright student on the cusp of a promising art career, she now languishes in her childhood home, trudging to and from her job as a supermarket cashier. Each day she is taunted from the magazine racks by the success of her former best friend Elise, a rising Hollywood starlet whose life in pictures Abby obsessively scrapbooks. At night Abby escapes through the films of her favorite director, Auguste Perren, a cult figure known for his creative institute the Rhizome. Inspired by Perren, Abby draws fantastical storyboards based on her often premonitory dreams, a visionary gift she keeps hidden. When Abby encounters Elise again at their high school reunion, she is surprised and warmed that Elise still considers her not only a friend but a brilliant storyteller and true artist. Elise’s unexpected faith in Abby reignites in her a dormant hunger, and when Elise offhandedly tells Abby to look her up if she’s ever in LA, Abby soon arrives on her doorstep. There, Abby discovers that although Elise is flourishing professionally, behind her glossy magazine veneer she is lonely and disillusioned. Ever the supportive friend, Abby becomes enmeshed in Elise’s world, even as she guards her own dark secret and burning desire for greatness. As she edges closer to Elise, the Rhizome, and her own artistic ambitions, the dynamic shifts between the two friends–until Abby can see only one way to grasp the future that awaits her.


Suddenly, amazingly, I was your closest confidante. I’d slipped back into your life as if I’d never left, as if we’d somehow awoken from a slumber party as grown women.

I went into this book thinking it would only be about an uncomfortable obsession between old friends. And it was that, at first. But then Acampora takes a swift left turn with the plot and we entered the black hole of platonic relationships – everything gets sucked inside.
With an undercurrent of Single White Female vibes, The Paper Wasp creeps slowly, but relentlessly toward a wildly obsessive and threatening middle, denouement, and epilogue.

Written in first person, there is no escaping the immersion into Abby’s steady “enlightened” decline concerning her recovered friendship and all that it means for her imagined future. These are murky waters and fans of good psych thrillers will enjoy treading them.

Who can tell what breath entered into me, after that, and told me what movements to make? I have as much a grasp of it as you do, Elise.

This book is socially awkward and satisfyingly creepy. Plus, it is a logophile’s absolute wet dream. So why only 3.5 stars? Because the story noticeably sags a bit in the middle. We leave sunny California (and most of our characters) for the relative obscurity of small-town Michigan to pick up some necessary plot points and it feels off-kilter, as if specific issues and connections are ultimately left unresolved. This action happens at a pivotal point in the story and it disrupts the forward momentum. Plus, I was looking forward to more of a tie-in with Abby’s prophetic dreams. They are often discussed, but never “explained” or explored deeply. That seems a waste.

Still, Acampora is a gifted writer and The Paper Wasp will keep you on your toes the next time you run into an old friend, classmate, or colleague. No, I’m not a famous actress, but from now on I am going to be very careful while responding to Facebook friend requests!


The Paper Wasp is available today at the following links:


Author Tour Dates

WEDNESDAY06/12New York CityThe Paper Wasp book launch
Lauren Acampora in conversation with Susan Choi
McNally Jackson Books
52 Prince Street
7pm

Lauren Acampora

Lauren graduated from Brown University, earned an MFA at Brooklyn College, and has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, Writers OMI International Residency, and the Ragdale Foundation. Raised in Connecticut, she now lives in Westchester County, New York, with her husband, artist Thomas Doyle, and their daughter.


Blog Tour | The Scent Keeper

⇒Blog Tour: The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister – An olfactory-charged coming-of-age story that will trigger your fondest and deepest memories. ⇐


Author: Erica Bauermeister

(4.19 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Publish Date: May 21, 2019 by St. Martin’s Press

Pages: 311

#TheScentKeeper

Many thanks to the author and St. Martin’s Press for providing a free copy of this book for my review. I received no monetary compensation and my thoughts are my own.


I inhaled, and fell into the fragrance like Alice down the rabbit hole.

Emmeline

When I was a little girl I lived in the mountains of North Carolina for a time. I thought the world was magical back then. I believed in fairies and mermaids and all types of supernatural things. It must have been that mountain air!

I remember things just smelling differently up there. The soil was blacker in the mountains than it is here in Georgia, and it had a tart, metallic smell to it; like iron. The air was less heavy, and the grass – whether cut or long – smelled tangy and sweet. I still remember all those smells so vividly in my memory.

I’m sure it’s like that for a lot of us. Certain smells trigger specific memories of places or events from our past. The smell of cinnamon and bread takes me back to my Meme’s pantry. And the smell of fried chicken makes me remember my Great Aunt’s kitchen on Friday nights. Smells are powerful that way, and The Scent Keeper is a story all about that very specific power.

Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world–a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination. -(from Goodreads)

I inhaled again, slow and deep, and felt the smells flood my head, so full and three-dimensional I could almost wander among them.

Emmeline

I will summarize this book first by saying that books like The Scent Keeper are why I read. They allow me to see the world through someone else’s eyes – the writer’s and his/her characters’. I experience my own world irl and then I can escape into any one of theirs at any given time.

And Emmeline’s world of scent-memory and discovery is one that I could have remained in much longer than the 311 pages allowed. This is a coming-of-age story told with an added dimension: smell. Everything in Em’s life is associated with aromas. There is a certain magical science that goes into the way her father catches the fragrances of life around him and stores them in tiny bottles in their hidden island cabin. She grows up with this magic being as normal and fantastic as the rest of the world around her.

I could feel myself turning into air. The fragrances of the scent-papers became my lungs, the blood in my veins. I found it easier and easier to lose myself in them.

Emmeline

If you are a fan of lyrical writing and story lines that drag you deep into other worlds, then this book will not disappoint. This is a fairy tale told for a modern age – complete with Google searches and skyscrapers. I went from not knowing what to expect in the first few chapters to expecting everything under the sun in the final ones.

It is a tale of adventure, a family drama, and a love story all wrapped into one. There is mystery and suspense, danger and violence, victory and celebration, but there is also tragedy and loss. My biggest takeaway from The Scent Keeper is that people are inherently both good and bad. Just when we think we have them all figured out, they show us something new.

Out there, in the midst of all that air, our scents wove together and had their own conversations. It was as if the more space we had, the less we needed it between each other.

Emmeline

I cannot encourage you enough to read this book. I don’t give 5 stars lightly or regularly. But I meant this one. I really appreciate this book for its poetry, its scenery, and its ability to transport me into a different space among strangers that became friends. And then to not only hear and see them, but to smell what they saw, held, ate, and touched too. It takes a certain talent to pull a reader into a story like that; Erica Bauermeister has that talent.


***I am so embarrassed that my blog tour is a full week LATE! Guess my new-school attempt at keeping an electronic calendar isn’t the best method after all. Sheesh. But I had to go ahead and post my review because this is a book that needs to be touched by many hands and read by many eyes. It is a quick read and is one of the few that I couldn’t drag myself away from. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and I hope the kind folks at St. Martin’s Press forgive me for missing my tour date. 🙂 ***


BUY IT HERE:


Erica Bauermeister

Erica Bauermeister is the bestselling author of four novels — The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, The Lost Art of Mixing, and The Scent Keeper. Her memoir, House Lessons, will be published by Sasquatch in the spring of 2020. She is also the co-author of 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She currently lives in Port Townsend, Wa with her husband and 238 wild deer.


Crazy Rich Asians

⇒There’s rich, there’s filthy rich, and then there’s Crazy Rich.⇐


Author: Kevin Kwan

(3.83 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Romance

Format: Trade Paperback

Published June 11, 2013by Anchor Books

Pages: 527 (Paperback ), 403 (Hardcover)

#CrazyRichAsians


This is Singapore, and the idle rich spend all their time gossiping about other people’s money.

Nick, Crazy Rich Asians

In elementary school we used to make cootie catchers. You know, the folded paper fortune teller games that would most definitely determine your future. In less than 30 seconds, you and your best friends could find out which superstar you would marry, what ultra-chic luxury car you would drive, and how many bedrooms your multi-million dollar mansion would have. These flippy, folded pieces of paper carried our dreams of being rich, and – for most of us – they are the closest we’d ever come to all that extravagance.

Reading Crazy Rich Asians is what it would look like if someone’s insanely decadent cootie catcher choices actually manifested in real life.

In Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel Chu discovers that there is more to her boyfriend Nick Young than she has discovered in the year that they’ve been dating – a few billion dollars more, in fact. Here’s the cover summary: When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor. On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.

You can’t really blame your parents. They were born that way – it’s just not in their DNA to associate with anyone who isn’t from their class, anyone who isn’t born rich or royal.

Michael Teo, Crazy Rich Asians

My most coveted cootie catcher choices always included a Ferrari Testarossa (red, of course), a three-story mansion with a pool and stables, and two kids with sexy singer El Debarge. I never considered that a future like that would be considered small potatoes to these crazy, filthy rich characters in Singapore. The decadence and absurdly irresponsible spending only increases with every chapter. It’s a label-dropper’s dream come true!

So, if you’re not a billionaire (sadly, I am not), not really into fashion or labels (not me either), and you have no plans to visit Singapore or marry one if its rich bachelors or bachelorettes, why should you read this book? Simply because it was a really good read. Kevin Kwan gives his characters the attention they deserve by dedicating chapters to each of them in order to tell a complete story. They are each romantic, hilarious, arrogant, ridiculous, and tragic – giving the book a layered and engaging narrative throughout. I laughed, I got frustrated, I envied, I laughed again (I mean really, Kitty Pong?!). These are the types of reading experiences I really look forward to each time I pick up a new book.

Mark’s not white, he’s Jewish- that’s basically Asian!

Sylvia Wong-Swartz, Crazy Rich Asians

It is instantly apparent why Crazy Rich Asians was turned into a movie. Kwan makes every scene so visual. There is glitz and glamour depicted with such detail and color, presented in a way that never feels tiresome or long-winded. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing if that imagery matches the opulence of the world I built in my head.

Read this book for the romantic story of two young people falling in love and facing some hard truths. Read it for the vivid depictions of lavish lifestyles. Read it for the hilarious antics of the trashy soap opera-star fiancée and the neurotic clothes horse of a son for whom perfection is just out of reach.

I’ve had enough of being around all these crazy rich Asians, all these people whose lives revolve around making money, spending money, flaunting money, comparing money, hiding money, controlling others with money, and ruining their lives over money.

Rachel, Crazy Rich Asians

If I had a gripe about his book, it would be that reading it forces you into the next book and then the next. The ending isn’t the comforting conclusion where all loose ends are neatly tied. Instead, it’s a lurching race to get a few thing settled before the final page is turned. The questions left lingering demand a sequel. Good thing Kwan provided one in China Rich Girlfriend and a third in the series, Rich People Problems. While Nick and Rachel are romantic and cute, I want more of glamorous Astrid Leong’s story. I want to know how Eleanor Young is made to pay for her dirty deeds. And I want to know if Eddie Cheng ever gets the picture-perfect family he wants so badly. So, yes, I’m sucked into the crazy richness of the story and I want more Crazy in my life!

Kevin Kwan

Kevin Kwan was born and raised in Singapore. He currently lives in Manhattan. Crazy Rich Asians is his first novel. – Bio from book cover.


Blog Tour | The Girls at 17 Swann Street

⇒I am so excited to join the blog tour for The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib. What a great way to mark the very first blog tour for That New Book Smell! ⇐


Author: Yara Zgheib

(4.08 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Publish Date: February 5, 2019

Pages: 384

#TheGirlsat17SwannStreet #Girlsat17SwannStreet #17SwannStreet


They look androgynous, their skin hanging in loose pockets around fragile frames. Not women; women have bodies, sex, lives, dinner, families. The patients in this room are girls with eyes that are too big.


In middle school, the health teacher crowded us into a room, pulled down the well-worn screen at the front, cut the lights off and turned on the projector (yes, the projector!). The class was giggling with nervousness – expecting more gross-out pics of genital warts or scabies; health class gave us conversation fodder for weeks!

Instead, what we saw was an educational film on the types of eating disorders, their symptoms, and treatments. Almost from the first pictures the room was silent. No giggling. No whispering. No side-comments of any kind. The pictures were arresting. And horrifying. And sad. I remember that health class and its impact on me. I was skinny back then and could eat anything I wanted without repercussions (oh, the days!). It never occurred to me that there were people who saw themselves as overweight even when they were far from it, and that eating disorders were about so much more than eating.

I am not undernourished. I am starved for a meal I would not have to eat alone. For someone to love me and tell me that I am more than enough, as I am.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street is a diligent and careful representation of one young woman’s struggle through anorexia nervosa. Anna Roux moves to the United States from Paris with her husband, Matthias, and faces a new life in a new place without the familiarity of family, friends, and her budding career as a ballerina. As Anna attempts to find a place for herself in this new life, anorexia beckons her into what will eventually become a fight for any life at all.


Here’s the book cover blurb: The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound. Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears– imperfection, failure, loneliness– she spirals down into anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach-pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, who is always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day. Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.

I was ambitious once. I was a dancer, a dreamer. I was loved. I was in love, I loved life. I once had books to read and places to see, babies I wanted to make. I want to want those again.

I have never struggled with an eating disorder. I do love bread and eat far too many sweets. My BMI is no where near where it should be, but the doctor says I’m average for my age just as long as I watch my cholesterol (always something). Often, I read this book while I was chomping on cheesy slices of pizza, morning fritters, or afternoon chips n’ dip – trust me, the irony was never lost on me.

But what Yara Zgheib has done with this book is made anorexia less like those scary pictures in the health film from middle school. She gave the disease a human name, and a face, and a heart. Anna is “anywoman”, with circumstances that lead to a life event that she feels she has no control over. And that could happen to anyone.

Sure, there are several reasons behind Anna’s descent into the disease; Zgheib comments on them (pressures from ballet and a bad boyfriend, loneliness), but she doesn’t turn them into excuses for Anna’s condition. She highlights, instead, Anna’s inner demons dealing with anorexia and how it affects every part of her life, and the lives of those she loves.

This is a very personal story, and you see that even through the writing style and format of the book. The dialogue is written in italics– the way inner thoughts are treated in other books. This is Anna’s story; this is Anna processing her own journey, and we are silent spectators whispering, “Keep walking, Anna. Keep walking.”

The world around me is obese, half of it. The other half is emaciated… Standards come in doubles, so do portions. The world is overcrowded but lonely. My anorexia keeps me company, comforts me. I can control it, so I choose it.

If I had had the time during my busy days to read this all in one sitting, I would have done so. It is an instantly absorbing read with thoughtful introspection into a disorder that is so easily misunderstood.

Readers will appreciate that Zgheib doesn’t make Anna into a hero or a martyr. She is so realistic in her triumphs and failures, and that makes her not pitiable, but identifiable.

How sad, the power of a piece of cream cheese.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street is about more than eating disorders. It is about making positive decisions to change and about the value of the people who support us in those decisions. It is about choosing to live your best life and celebrating all the tiny little reasons that it’s important to do so.

This is my first 5-star read of 2019, and I highly recommend it. It doesn’t feel good while you’re reading it, but with each pound lost and gained, I felt that I learned more about myself and my own journey in life.


The Girls at 17 Swann Street will be released on February 5th, 2019! I am just one stop on the blog tour, which runs February 1st – 10th.

Buy it here:

Yara Zgheib

Yara Zgheib is a Fulbright scholar with a Masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in International Affairs in Diplomacy from Centre D’études Diplomatiques et Stratégiques in Paris. She is fluent in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish. Yara is a writer for several US and European magazines, including The Huffington Post, The Four Seasons Magazine, A Woman’s Paris, The Idea List, and Holiday Magazine. She writes on culture, art, travel, and philosophy on her blog, “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea


Everything I Never Told You

⇒SHELF-DISCIPLINE SEPTEMBER is well underway with my fourth off-the-shelf read this month – a haunting story of one family’s unraveling after one member goes missing.⇐

by Celeste Ng

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(3.82 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published November 13, 2014, by Blackfriars

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary

Format: Paperback (Trade)

Pages: 292

#EverythingINeverToldYou #ShelfDiscipline #CleartheShelves #ReadWhatYouOwn

In September I committed to reading only (ok, mostly) books from the shelves in my house. I need to do this because books deserve to be read AND because, frankly, I don’t have room to buy/store any more books! 

Everything I Never Told Youdifferent has always been a brand on his forehead, blazoned there between the eyes. It has tinted his entire life, this word; it has left its smudgy fingerprints on everything.

Some readers classified this book as a mystery, but I think of it as exactly the opposite. The first line of the book is:

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

That’s the very first line. No opportunity for second-guessing or questioning. It’s right there. Spoiler Alert! And that’s how most of this book plays out. In fact, sometimes we know a little too much – things that would make the characters look better to us if we didn’t know. But that’s not what Celeste Ng is trying to do with this book. She wants us to see this family for who they are, and Lydia death for what it was. Was it all just a mistake? You decide.

And Lydia herself — the reluctant center of their universe — every day, she held the world together.

Lydia Lee is her parents’ favorite child. They don’t even hide that fact. Her mother wants her to be a doctor; her father wants her to be popular. When the Lees discover Lydia missing from their NW Ohio home, they soon discover that what they thought they knew about their beloved daughter couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Lees are a typical American family in the 70s/80s. There is a mom, a dad, two daughters, and a son. They live in an average house on an average street and they drive average cars. The father teaches and the mother takes care of the house and the children. Maybe not very exciting, but typical.

But the Lee Family is also atypical. They are a mixed Chinese-American family, and James Lee and his mixed children have been ostracized and criticized simply for not being white. Marilyn Lee is white, but she hasn’t escaped the claws of judgment and separatism either. As the only female in several math and science classes, she struggled to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor in a world that wasn’t quite tempered for that kind of ambition.

So, on these shaky foundations, the Lee family balances their days at work, school, and home with no help or support from neighbors, colleagues, or friends. Reading about how alone this family is made me really appreciate how much support I get from friends, family and even my never-met associates on social media. Come on Lees, no friends? Really?

…she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.

This is my second Celeste Ng book. The first was Little Fires Everywhere and I rated it a high 5 stars. Everything I Never Told You is just as well written and intriguing. The characters are entirely fleshed out – like people you’ve met before, or seen in your class, at your job, or in your family. And their tragic story will make you sad, angry, bitter, sympathetic.

Everything… is not entirely about Lydia’s death, nor is it a whodunit. There’s no long drawn out search or big community coming-together rally to plea for Lydia’s return. It wasn’t that type of town and the Lees weren’t those type of people.

Instead, it’s a story of the character of a family with their own special set of trials and triumphs. It’s about lives overloaded with love, lives going unnoticed, and lives hovering somewhere in between. It’s a showcase of all the mistakes and all the second tries that happen behind closed doors.

It’s also a display of what love looks like in several different forms. How that love infiltrates the hopes, desires, and expectations we all have for those we care about. And it’s a journey of self-discovery for each and every family member. When the scales tip, each person is forced to reevaluate in order to try to restore the balance.

I rated Everything I Never Told You a strong 4 stars. The characters are flawed and the story isn’t sunshine and roses, but both truly draw you in. And for 292 pages, you are shuffling through an earlier century with them uncertain about everything that you thought you knew about the world too.

Brava, Celeste Ng, again.


About the Author

celestengWebsite

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Celeste Ng is the author of the bestselling novels Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere. Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize. Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

(Bio adapted from Goodreads)

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The Dinner

⇒SHELF-DISCIPLINE SEPTEMBER starts off for me with this dark dinner party of unlikely antiheroes.⇐

by Herman Koch
Translated by Sam Garrett
SmellRating4
(3.22 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published February 12, 2013, by Hogarth

Genre: Fiction / Adult Contemporary

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 292

#TheDinner #ShelfDiscipline #CleartheShelves #ReadWhatYouOwn

This month I’ll be finally committing to reading some of the books that I swear are more than colorful decorations on my bookshelves. I need to do this for my own sanity, and maybe one day I will be able to say that yes, I have in fact read most – if not all – of the books I own. What? A girl can dream!

The DinnerWhen people get a chance to come close to death without having it touch them personally, they never miss the opportunity.

Every month or so, my friends and I get together for a fun little dinner party. We prepare our own food and share it around a table that is overflowing with laughter, life stories, and goodwill. And, oh yes, wine. There’s always wine!

After reading this book, I am so thankful for those cheerful parties and each one of my affable friends.

Only one time did something run amiss at one of my parties – an uninvited person crashed the party and uneasiness threatened to suck all of the air out of my normally welcoming home. It was uncomfortable for a time, but my wonderful friends managed to salvage the night and we laughed about it later.

Unfortunately for the characters in The Dinner, the only laughing being done is somewhat sinister and there is absolutely no salvaging of this strange summer night in Amsterdam.

Unhappiness can’t stand silence – especially not the uneasy silence that settles in when it is all alone.

The story starts off harmlessly enough. Paul Lohman and his wife Claire meet his brother Serge and Serge’s wife, Babette, for dinner at a swanky restaurant. It’s not just a casual night out, there’s something they all need to talk about. A discussion about both of the couples’ sons needs to be had. But that’s not why Paul is annoyed. He seems to be bothered by… everything: The choice of restaurant, the waiter describing the food, even the guy who comes into the bathroom next to him. Claire is cautious too because Babette had been crying before they even reached the restaurant, and for other secret reasons as well. Serge, who is on the political trail to become the next prime minister is his usual confident and demanding self, with something else lying just under the surface. Uncertainty? Anger? Fear? Yes.

By the time dessert is served, the gloves have come off and their lavishly prepared dinner has become only a bothersome backdrop to a frightful new reality. One in which everything they each know is threatened by the actions of people that aren’t even present at the table.

Happiness needs nothing but itself; it doesn’t have to be validated.

The Dinner was not at all what I was expecting. Reading a book like this – one that defies your assumptions and charges down the road less traveled – is what most of us look for from this form of entertainment, right? But as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

This was definitely a dark path and the people I met upon it are not the sort you want to run into after the sun goes down.

I can say, thankfully, that I could not relate to any of these characters. They each had something dark and foreboding about them that made them monstrous in their own right – our unreliable narrator, Paul, the chiefest among villains. His unrelenting negativity and criticisms left a figurative bad taste in my mouth before their dinner had even begun. And Serge, his charismatic brother is the kind of smarmy politician that sours any event. Babette the weepy sister-in-law who constantly interrupts the meal with emotional outbursts may be the most normal out of them all because Claire, Paul’s wife, eventually reveals that her moral compass is dangerously off-kilter.

Koch tells a cheerless but magnetic story where something obviously ominous is hovering over the dinner table at all times. As we start to learn what that “something” is, it’s clear that the darkness isn’t only present at the table, but within these characters and their relatives as well. I was left searching for even one redeeming character among them all – maybe Valerie, the daughter/niece that is hardly mentioned? Maybe her autism gives her position that is apart from and above all the rest of them, so that’s why she has no place in the story (or at the table).

The Dinner is not humorous or endearing in any way. It was a very good read, but maybe not an enjoyable one, if that makes any sense. However, it did make me consider mental health issues much more seriously. By the end, I felt grateful for all the dinner parties I’ve been to that ended only with hugs, more laughter, and takeaway boxes.

Read an excerpt of The Dinner (courtesy Goodreads): HERE


About the Author

Herman KochHERMAN KOCH

Website

Herman Koch (born 1953) is an internationally bestselling author. The translation rights of The Dinner (2009) have been sold to over 55 countries, which is unprecedented for a modern Dutch novel. The Dinner has been adapted into several international stage plays and into a Dutch and Italian movie. The US movie adaptation of The Dinner released in 2017, starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney. Summer House with Swimming Pool (2011) and Dear Mr M. (2014) are international bestsellers as well.

His latest novel The Ditch is enthusiastically received upon publication, and already declared a ‘vintage Koch’.

(Bio adapted from Goodreads)


 

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We All Love the Beautiful Girls

⇒One boy makes a decision that ultimately affects all of his friends and family. The Butterfly Effect wreaks havoc in an affluent Canadian neighborhood.⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Grand Central Publishing, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Joanne Proulx

SmellRating4

(3.56 stars – Goodreads rating)

Release Date: August 28, 2018, by Grand Central Publishing

Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 336 pages (Hardcover)

#WeAllLovetheBeautifulGirls  #NetGalley

We All Love the Beautiful GirlsKnowing everything strips back to beautiful. Knowing everyone melts down to love.

Before I begin this review, I have to say that nothing in this book is at all what I expected. And even now, saying that, I can’t exactly pinpoint what I expected, but it wasn’t this novel.

BUT THAT IS NOT A BAD THING.

I think I was gearing myself up for another angsty love story with a dash of drama just to make a romance just a little bit more complication or impossible. There was a note of that, sure, but that was not what We All Love the Beautiful Girls was about.

Here’s part of the blurb:

One frigid winter night, Mia and Michael Slate’s comfortable world dissolves in an instant when they discover that their best friend has cheated them out of their life savings. At the same time, a few doors down, their teenaged son passes out in the snow at a party–a mistake whose consequences will shatter not just their family, but an entire community.

A simple enough premise. But that one night was just a single beat of butterfly’s wing that eventually became a hurricane that blew destruction into Old Aberdeen and changed the landscape there forever.

I smile. I pretend to be relaxed. I pretend to be fearless. I’m goot at it; I’ve been pretending to be fearless for months.

Michael and Mia begin to have marriage problems after their son, Finn, suffers a near-death experience. What follows is the story of the Slate family and their revelation of how love is measured between neighbors, friends, and family.

Joanne Proulx writes a beautifully poetic story about very ugly events in the affluent Canadian town of Old Aberdeen. We are immediately thrust into the middle of the life of a family with very little introduction, and it’s almost better that way. The characters seem to develop right before your eyes, even as you’re learning whose portion of the story you’re experiencing at the time.

Written from multiple points of view, Proulx uses subtle cadence changes and an editor’s nightmare – no quotation marks! – to distinguish the characters, but the action is linear, so it’s not confusing after you initially get your bearings.

The prose is visually elegant and descriptive without being excessively wordy. And it’s a quick read with action interspersed throughout and a steady progression toward…

AN ENDING THAT DID NOT SATISFY!

Maybe I am just a denouement junkie, but the epilogue didn’t satisfy my desire to know what becomes of the lives of these characters. But is that ultimately the mark of a good book – that you loathe leaving the characters behind?

Four beautiful stars for this elegiac account of a tortured family and their desperate grasp for normality.

*Possible Triggers: Rough sex, mention of sexual assault (not detailed), alcohol and drug use by minors, and scenes at a strip club.

Release day for We All Love the Beautiful Girls is August 28, 2018!
Get it here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound


About the Author

Joanne ProulxJOANNE PROULX

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Joanne Proulx’s first novel Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet won Canada’s Sunburst Award for Fantastic Fiction and was named a best debut by The Globe and Mail and Kirkus Reviews. A feature film adaptation of the novel will be released in 2018. A graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, Joanne lives, writes and teaches in Ottawa, Canada.

(Bio taken from Penguin Random House)



 

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