The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls by Emma ClineI’ve been eyeing the debut novel from Emma Cline, The Girls, for a while now. Striking is the first word that comes to my mind when describing this story. It’s powerful and intense with a surprising amount of insight into what it means to be a girl.

As a young teen living in northern California during the 1960’s, Evie Boyd wants to be accepted and noticed. When she sees a group of carefree girls who embody everything that she wants to be, she’s absolutely captivated.

Evie’s not only drawn to the group, but becomes nearly obsessed with one of the leaders, Suzanne, for her wild spirit. She quickly plunges into their group, which turns out to be a cult. Readers are brought along many of the dark moments that Evie goes through and what led some of the members to commit horrendous crimes.

The GirlsMy copy of this book was filled with sticky notes because so many quotes struck me. Here are my favorites:

“I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.”

“All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you – the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.”

“Girls were good at coloring in the disappointing blank spots.”

“Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love.” 

“Later I would see this: how impersonal and grasping our love was, pinging around the universe, hoping for a host to give form to our wishes.”

“That was part of being a girl – you were resigned to whatever feedback you’d get.”

“I’d always been aware of Peter, in the way I liked any older boy at that age, their mere existence demanding attention.”

I hope you all enjoy The Girls! I really recommend it.

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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.