First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

First Comes LoveAs the title implies, this book is about love and how it is at the core of everything we do. First Comes Love is bestselling author Emily Giffin’s most recently published novel. I really enjoyed reading Giffin’s book, Something Borrowed, a few years ago along with the movie adaptation staring Kate Hudson, so I was excited to pick this one up too.

When the Garland family loses their golden boy on a cold, dark winter night, their world shatters. The two sisters, Josie and Meredith, have never been close and are pushed even further apart by this loss. While Josie lives life to the fullest and unapologetically, Meredith keeps a calm control over her perfectly ordered life. 15 years later they are approaching the anniversary of Daniel’s death and with it, tensions rise and secrets threaten to emerge….Although Daniel has passed, he is still very present in each of their lives.

Throughout the book, the two sisters are pretty awful to one another, each one geared to expect the worst of the other. It’s almost like they each make an effort to hurt the other as much as possible and then feel extremely guilty afterwards. Sometimes their nastiness was hard to read, but as the book went on, their relationship changed as well.

First Comes Love 2Even though First Comes Love touches on dark and intense issues, it’s told in a light tone, making it a good choice for summer reading. I enjoyed the story and was especially intrigued by the complex relationship between the sisters.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Sweetbitter by Stephanie DanlerSweetbitter by Stephanie Danler is gritty, raw, intense, illustrative, and completely full of feeling. I didn’t really know what to expect when starting Danler’s debut novel, but I can assure you that I finished it feeling like I wanted to read it again.

The story begins when Tess is making the move to New York City from somewhere vaguely implied to be the middle-of-nowhere-USA without looking back. Unlike so many others who migrate to NYC, she doesn’t come with an agenda. She isn’t pursuing a career in acting, singing, or painting; she just feels a pull towards the city.

Tess gets a job in a high-end restaurant and as she’s brought on for training, we’re taken on her whirlwind journey to become a part of the fast paced and unforgiving environment. She has this strong drive to belong, but at first she seems so pliable and I felt myself rooting for her to get her sea legs and find her way.

The book is filled with lavish descriptions of food, wine, booze, drinking and partying. As can be predicted in a consuming environment, Tess falls for the mysterious bartender and becomes the mentee of mature woman who gives her an education in wine and other life lessons. It turns out that these two have a powerful connection that Tess will eventually have to face if she wants either of them in her life.

I wasn’t sure about this one at first because the flow felt a little choppy, but it quickly won me over. It felt real and bare. It’s definitely a character driven novel (rather than plot driven) as the story follows Tess through her first year working at the restaurant.

This is one of those books that I filled with post-it notes because so many phrases stuck out to me. Here are a few of my favorites:

 “People got together through alcohol and the process of elimination.” 

“’It’s a dangerous game, isn’t it? The stories we tell ourselves.’”

“Sometimes my sadness felt so deep it must have been inherited.”

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler 2“’I’m sick of that,’ I said. ‘Young, young, young that’s what I get, all day every day. But I know your secret.” I lowered my voice and pushed myself towards him. ‘You are all terrified of young people. We remind you of what it was like to have ideals, faith, freedom. We remind you of the losses you’ve taken as you’ve grown cynical, number, disenchanted, compromising the life you imagined. Now me? I don’t have to compromise yet. I don’t have to do a single thing I don’t want to do. That’s why you hate me.’”

I absolutely recommend Sweetbitter and am looking forward to seeing what Stephanie Danler comes out with next!

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Modern Lovers Modern Lovers by Emma Straub is authentic and honest and full of coming-of-age truths. Last year I read Straub’s bestselling book, The Vacationers, and I really didn’t like it. Despite this, I wanted to give her new book, Modern Lovers, a chance and I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed it.

The story focuses on a group of friends who were in a band together during college as they face middle age in New York City. Seeing that their children are on the brink of adulthood puts there own lives into focus and a series of fiascos ensue.

The fourth band mate from all those years ago, Lydia, broke apart from the band and found fame before dying in her 20’s. Now, just as the remaining band members are on the verge of mid-life crises, a production studio wants to create a movie of Lydia’s life, which in turn unearths some old secrets from their college years that they might not be ready to face…

Here are a few of the quotes that stood out to me:

“Choices were easy to make until you realized how long life could be.”

“There was nothing about youth that was fair; the young hadn’t done anything to deserve it, and the old hadn’t done anything to drive it away.”

“Andrew wanted to cry, thinking of all the things he’d deprived his son of, just because he hadn’t thought to do them.” 

“Urgency was for younger people…”

“Timing was everything – that was more and more obvious the older you got, when you finally understood that the universe wasn’t held together in any way that made sense.” 

Modern LoversI like to think of Modern Lovers as a coming-of-age story for multiple generations. It’s definitely a good book and I recommend it for the summer!

Author Interview: Beatriz Williams

Beatriz WilliamsThroughout this blogging experience, there have been some very special moments that stand out. This is definitely one of those moments. I have been lucky enough to interview my favorite author, Beatriz Williams, and I am thrilled to share our Q&A with you all!

1. Your latest novel, A Certain Age, releases later this month. Can you tell readers a bit about the story?
A Certain Age is a retelling of Richard Strauss’s enchanting opera Der Rosenkavalier, set in Jazz Age New York, in which a Manhattan society goddess sends her younger lover to investigate the family of her brother’s fiancée, only to have him fall in love with the young lady himself. It’s all about class and money and the bittersweet passing of time, and especially about the transformation in Western culture in the years following the First World War. Of course, it’s about love and scandal too, as well as being a really personal, moving depiction of three people in love, and I had a wonderful time turning these musical characters into fully-fledged people on the pages of a book!

  1. One of the reasons why so many readers have loved your books (including myself) is because of the enchanting characters and their relationships. Where do you find the inspiration for your characters?
    I’m inspired by just about everything, really, although I rarely start with actual people. In the case of A Certain Age, I began with Strauss’s fascinating characters—a beautiful woman conscious that her prime is nearly over, a dashing younger man, a charming ingénue—but they took on their own form once I set them into this story. Octavian in particular veered away from the young aristocratic gentleman of the opera; I kept his age around twenty, but I made him a First World War aviator bearing all kind of scars from his time in France, because that was one of the ideas I wanted to convey: how so much of the Twenties was really a reaction to the horrors of this apocalyptic war.
  1. How do you do research for novels that are set anywhere from the 1910’s to 1960’s all across the United States and Europe?

Well, I always start with something I know—a family story, a news item, a historical event—and I read a few books on the subject and the period, if I haven’t already. But the point of any novel should be the story that’s being told, and I try to invest not in million tedious details but in a few precious ones that convey a certain world to the reader. It’s in the dialogue, it’s in the thoughts rattling around in their brains, it’s in the way they interact with each other. So I find the most useful research is reading books written at the time and films made at the time. Historical facts are really the easy part. Anyone can Google the price of a subway ride in 1922!

  1. A Certain Age 2Although you have continued on with the Schuyler family, Julie Schuyler plays a role in A Certain Age, you haven’t published a traditional sequel. How do you let go of these captivating characters?
    My books tend to be made of several lines of narrative that weave together at the resolution, and the next book usually picks up some thread that didn’t get woven in. So I really feel that each book is complete as written, and if I’m going to tell another story, it’s got to start from scratch. The exception is coming up soon, however! My next book, The Wicked City,arrives in January, and it begins a series set in Prohibition New York, in which a straight-arrow enforcement agent teams up with a not-so-straight-laced flapper to break up a bootlegging ring. I was so fascinated by the story of Prohibition in America, but I knew it would take more than one story to convey all the many fronts and facets of this chapter in our history. So the Wicked City books will be released in winter, and in summer I’ll have my stand-alone novels. But they’ll all stay in the Schuyler world, with the addition of the Marshall family introduced in A Certain Age.
  1. You’ve written under the pen name, Juliana Gray. Why did you choose to publish under a pseudonym and then later decide to reveal this fact to readers?
    I was actually pretty up front about Juliana—we had a little teaser when the first one was published, which was only a couple of months after Overseas, but once both books were out we revealed the pseudonym. Since the first six Juliana Gray books were historical romance, however, we didn’t emphasize the connection—they are two different genres, and reader expectations are different, and we were conscious that some Juliana readers would hate the Beatriz books and vice versa! But the next Juliana Gray book, A Most Extraordinary Pursuit, kicks off a historical mystery series set in 1906, and while it’s more history-and-mystery focused than my Beatriz Williams books, it’s something I think both sets of readers will really enjoy. I loved bringing these new characters to life, and my publisher bravely allowed me to give my imagination completely free rein, so I couldn’t be more excited about this new series!
  1. I’m crossing my fingers here, but can we expect to see anything new published from you soon?
    See above!:)
  1. What are you looking forward to reading this summer?

I took home a wonderful collection of books from an event in Rhode Island with three other authors, so I can’t wait to get started on Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers, and Jen Lancaster’s By the Numbers, courtesy of Reading With Robin! And my dear friend Karen White’s new book Flight Patterns is fantastic.

 

 

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

A Certain AgeDazzling. Captivating. Smart. These are just a few of the words that come to mind when describing Beatriz Williams’ new book, A Certain Age.

Whenever I start a new book, I make predictions. Sometimes my predictions are right, but oftentimes they aren’t. In the case of A Certain Age, the guesses I made at the beginning of the book definitely shifted as Williams wove a story of intricate relationships and surprising twists.

The book revolves around two female characters during the roaring 1920’s in New York City. The story begins with Theresa, a mature high society woman, and she’s got a fun habit of talking to the reader directly as she shares her journey. She’s sophisticated, charming, guarded, and at times, a bit wicked. On the other hand, Sophie is on the brink of adulthood and she is passionate, innocent, and unguarded, the opposite of Theresa in many ways.

Sophie’s father is the inventor of a successful engineering solution that quickly propels their family into New York high society. With this new wealth comes the interest of many for Sophie’s hand in marriage, including Theresa’s brother Jay. Sophie soon realizes that the type of love she had always dreamt of (with a man that looks like Jay) might not be what she actually wants.

Each chapter begins with a quote from Helen Rowland, the journalist who wrote the column “Reflections of a Bachelor Girl” a century ago for the New York World. This was a perfect touch and I loved the sharp wit of this woman. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

  • “Never trust a husband too far, nor a bachelor too near.”
  • “In love, somehow, a man’s heart is either exceeding the speed limit, or getting parked in the wrong place.”
  • “The woman who appeals to a man’s vanity may stimulate him, the woman who appeals to his heart may attract him, but it is the woman who appeals to his imagination who gets him.”
  • “And verily, a woman need know but one man well, in order to understand all men; whereas a man may know all woman and not understand one of them.”
  • “When a girl marries, she exchanges the attentions of many men for the inattention of one.”
  • “Marriage is like twirling a baton, turn handsprings, or eating with chopsticks. It looks easy until you try it.”

Delicious, consuming writing! I cannot recommend A Certain Age (or any of William’s books) enough.

All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

All The Missing GirlsWhen I read the description of All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda, I jumped at the chance to review a mystery novel that’s told backwards. This writing approach is really unique and although I was a bit skeptical about how it could be executed, Miranda has done something really special here!

When Nicolette’s best friend Corinne disappeared one night, Nic fled from her hometown. 10 years later, Nic has moved on and is living in Philadelphia with a job, fiancé, and 4-year degree. As soon as Nic returns home to help her father, another girl named Annaleise disappears under similarly mysterious circumstances as Corinne. Nic is quickly pulled into a whirlwind chase to find the girl and comes face to face with the ghosts of her past. As the story winds backwards from Day 15 to Day 1, the night that Annaleise disappeared, we learn more about Nic’s history and the events that led to both Corinne and Annaleise’s disappearances.

I really like this writing approach and was completely gripped by the story even though it was revealed in a different sequence than usual.

All The Missing Girls 2I’ve realized that I definitely have different reviewing criteria for each genre. I really value character development and relationships in the books that I read, but I also look for shocking plot twists and complicated motives in mystery novels. All The Missing Girls is a cleverly constructed mystery novel that is easy to fall into!

Author interview: J.T. Ellison

JT Ellison social media headshot

Today I’m sharing an interview with an author who is not only talented, but also incredibly warmhearted. I met J.T. Ellison a few months ago when I read her book, No One Knows, and am so excited to welcome her to Dream by Day! Her latest novel, Field of Graves, releases today and to celebrate, we’re bringing you all a Q&A!

For readers who aren’t familiar, can you tell us a bit about the LT. Jackson series and Field of Graves in particular?

Sure! Field of Graves is the perfect book to jump in with, because it’s the prequel to the series. Homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson, with the help of her best friend, medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, is trying to stop a killer hell-bent on creating his own apocalypse. It’s set in Nashville and introduces all the characters in the books—most importantly, FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin. It’s the story of how Taylor and Baldwin met, how the team came together, a true origin story.

Taylor Jackson is a fabulous character to write. She’s the warrior goddess of Nashville, half cop, half rock star, and my own personal Athena. Sam Owens is her best friend, the lodestone of the series, the conscience, so to speak. They’re quite a pair. Add in Baldwin, and all sorts of mayhem ensues.

Why did you decide to revisit this series?

FOG, as we call it, was my first full-length novel. I landed an awesome agent with it, but it didn’t sell, so I put it in a drawer and moved on to the next book in the series, which did sell, and kicked off my career. Last year, I revisited it and realized it wasn’t half bad. I did a full editorial on it, and my publisher snapped it up. I’m thrilled it’s finally coming out.

Are there any characters in Field of Graves that came more naturally to you than others?

You’d think I’d say Taylor, but she was actually the most elusive. It took me quite a while to wrap my head around her. She’s an iconic hero—she’s not born in blood like so many crime fiction characters. She’s smart and intense and sees the black and white in the world, so finding her shades of gray was a challenge. I love them all, though. Baldwin is one of the easier ones to write for me. He’s so self-contained but so internally open, I really connected with him.

I loved reading your recently published book, No One Knows, and was shocked by the plot twist. What inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to stretch my wings, actually. I’d written eight Taylor books and three Sam books and I wanted to see if I could write a standalone. I had a crazy dream in which I lost my husband after a party at the Opryland Hotel, and Harlan Coben appeared in it and gave me career advice, and it all came together as No One Knows. Crazy, right?

You’re a well-established and bestselling author, do you have any advice for other writers?

Read everything, and write every day. It doesn’t matter if you have ten hours of uninterrupted time or 10 minutes, you simply must touch your story every day. This will help you develop a solid writing habit. While this is the best job on earth, it is still a job, and you have to show up for work every day.

Field of GravesWhat are you reading when you’re not writing these gripping novels?

Books to blurb, books for the show (A Word on Words, I’m the co-host) books you recommend… I’m currently in Victoria Schwab’s A GATHERING OF SHADOWS and DEEP WORK by Cal Newport. True confession, there are 640 books on my Goodreads TBR…. Yikes!

 Thanks so much for having me on the blog! This was fun!

Of course, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions, J.T.! I can’t wait to dive into Field of Graves and learn more about these badass characters!

 

About J.T. Ellison

New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes dark psychological thrillers starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the premier literary television show, A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens. Follow J.T. on Facebook or Twitter @thrillerchick for more insight into her wicked imagination.