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.

Author interview: Leigh Himes

Leigh HimesOver the long weekend I started reading The One That Got Away by Leigh Himes and was quickly swept up by the fun and imaginative storyline and fashion-focused descriptions. I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to ask Himes a few questions about her debut novel and I’m excited to share the interview with you all! Enjoy!

Congratulations on your debut novel, The One That Got Away! Can you give us an overview of the story?

Thank you, Samantha! ‘The One That Got Away” is the story of a young, married working mother struggling to make ends meet in a blue-collar suburb of Philadelphia. After a fight with her husband and a particularly grueling morning with her kids, she sees a photograph of a man she almost dated in Town & Country magazine, and is filled with regret. But with the help of a magical Marc Jacobs bag, she gets a chance to see what life would be like married to that man: a dashing Kennedy-esque blueblood running for Congress. At first, she is dazzled by this fourteen-karat world of luxury and privilege—not to mention her doting, handsome husband—but soon begins to notice troubling clues about the woman she had become. Ultimately, she must discover which marriage is real, just how much she is willing to sacrifice, and who she really wants to be.

What inspired you to write this story?

Just like Abbey, I saw a photograph in a magazine of a man I almost dated years before. Though I certainly have no regrets, I couldn’t help but wonder about the choices we make in life and how our spouse changes—or doesn’t change—who we become. I remember sitting in my kitchen and showing the photo to my husband, and we talked about how it would be a great set-up for a novel. A few weeks later, I started writing and couldn’t stop.

A pivotal moment occurs in the story that causes Abbey’s life to shift course. What does Abbey learn from this event? 

Abbey learns so much! Not only about herself as a person, but as a wife, daughter, friend, and mother. In many ways, at 37, she finally grows up!

To be more specific, one of Abbey’s flaws is that she a little bit of a “giver upper.” I think that happens to a lot of working parents… you are so exhausted and overwhelmed, you just start shutting down (or blaming others). So Abbey’s experience not only gives her perspective, but it teaches her that no matter what you wear or what family you married into, life is about fighting every day to be your best self… and helping the people you love do the same.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? What has it been like to write and publish your first book?

Though I wrote every day for fifteen years as a publicist, this was the first fiction I’ve ever written so I can’t say I have a process! And I had nothing to lose, so I didn’t impose any deadlines or rules on myself. However, I did have a rough outline and it was detailed enough to provide a road map but not so detailed that I wasn’t able to discover new twists and turns along the way. That proved to be fortuitous because a lot of my favorite scenes and characters came to me as I was writing.

I’m also a big reviser. I hate looking at a blank page so I would rush through the first draft of every scene or chapter and then go back and revise, sometimes every word. I had a full-time job and small children at home, so it was more important for me to make progress and see the pages fill then have a “perfect” first draft.

As for publishing, the scariest thing is putting something so personal out into the world. Now that publication is finally upon me, I can’t help but feel like I’m standing on stage in my underwear. But as far as the publishing industry, that’s not scary at all, mostly because there are so many dedicated professionals—from designers to editors to marketing experts—who guide first-time novelists. It’s a wonderful industry; it’s made up of book lovers, after all! (So, if you’re thinking of diving in, go for it!)

But what’s been most fun is connecting with readers all over the country and hearing their takes on Abbey, Alex, and Jimmy… and their own stories of “the one that got away.”

What are you currently reading?

I am reading “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah and have found it’s worth all the hype. It’s so tragic, but I still don’t want it to end! I just finished the brilliant but very R-rated “Coup de Foudre” by Ken Kalfus, a fictionalized version of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal. I also loved “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert, and am hoping she will write more historical fiction. I even dragged my kids to the real life estate outside Philadelphia where the book is supposedly set, and as they played in the frog pond, I walked around the grounds imagining Alma and her mosses.

Major book haul from the library sale!

Book haulI love the library. The aisles of books, the audiobooks for on-the-go listening, and even the occasional DVD, fill me with happiness. The Seattle Public Library held it’s biannual book sale, hosted by The Friends of the Seattle Public Library, and I walked away with one of the largest book hauls I’ve ever gotten. When each book was only $1 or $2, I couldn’t resist! My haul includes stories that I have already read, a couple books I already own, and many books on my TBR list. Here’s the haul:

  • People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks
  • Love Water Memory – Jennie Shortridge
  • The Alphabet House – Jussi Adler-Olsen
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
  • Luckiest Girl Alive – Jessica Knoll
  • The Third Angel – Alice Hoffman
  • The Dressmaker – Rosalie Ham
  • Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties – Renee Rosen
  • Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
  • The Secret Life of Violet Grant – Beatriz Williams
  • The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman
  • Wicked – Janet Evanovich
  • The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
  • Spring Fever – Mary Kay Andrews
  • Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  • After the War is Over – Jennifer Robson
  • The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton
  • Faithful Place – Tana French
  • Still Life – Louise Penny
  • The Butterfly and the Violin – Kristy Cambron
  • The Secret Keeper – Kate Morton
  • The Other Boleyn Girl – Philippa Gregory
  • The Orphan Master’s Son – Adam Johnson
  • The Good Girl – Mary Kubica
  • The Bat – Jo Nesbo
  • Who Do You Love – Jennifer Weiner
  • Still Alice – Lisa Genova
  • Nineteen Minutes – Jodi Picoult

Now that I’ve got these great books on hand, I just need to schedule a month-long vacation to read them all!

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let You GoThere aren’t many mystery novels that I want to re-read. For me, mystery books typically warrant a one-time read because the case has been solved. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh is one of the rare mystery novels that I want to re-read because the plot twist was that good and I connected with the characters that much.

The story begins on a rainy afternoon when a woman is walking her young son home from school. When he runs ahead to get out of the cold a car hits him out of nowhere. The child dies on impact and the car speeds off without a trace. Right from the start, with this dark and eerie prologue, this book consumed me.

There has been a lot of hype about a major plot twist in I Let You Go and to be honest I was a bit skeptical because many mystery books boast the same thing. I was VERY mistaken because when I got to the plot twist, I instantly thought OH MY GOSH WHAT WHAT OH WOW or something along those lines because I was so shocked!

I Let You Go The book was gripping and I really felt for the protagonist, Jenna Gray, and the pain she suffered from the accident. She is one of those characters that I found myself rooting for and I felt generally upset when she faced trouble.

I have heard from some readers that the beginning of this book is slow moving. I didn’t feel this way, but if you start the book and find yourself thinking that it’s too slow, I hope you’ll keep reading! It’s worth it.

I Let You Go is definitely going on my top pick recommendations list! Beware, some portions of the story are dark, but I believe that these contributed to the overall emotional aspect of the book and made it all that much more touching in the end.

I Let You Go What about you all? Do any of you re-read mystery novels?

 

Bookish Podcasts pt. 2

Dream by Day book reviewsI’m back with another round of bookish podcast recommendations! There are so many great podcasts out there and I’ve listed the ones that I’ve recently been listening to below. Enjoy!

Beaks & Geeks by Penguin Random House

I’m honestly bummed that I didn’t know about this show earlier because I love their segments! It’s informal and conversational with author interviews, writing tips, and upcoming book releases. I’ve listened to quite a few at this point (each clip is pretty short) including interviews with Ernest Cline, Charlene Harris, Beatriz Williams (my favorite author!!!!), Tana French, Fiona Barton, and Sylvia Day. I really recommend this one!

World Book Club by BBC World Service

This show features longer segments covering a range of stories from classics to contemporaries. I listened to a panel discussing The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a fantastic story loved by many around the world. The panel discussed the artistry in Fitzgerald’s language and the idea of reinvention. I thought it was really interesting when they discussed whether there are heroes in The Great Gatsby and if so, who can be categorized as one. This is a good show too.

Dream by Day book reviewsBooks & Authors with Cary Barbor

I enjoy the content of this show quite a bit. In an interview with Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven, the host asks questions about how the idea developed for this post-apocolyptic story. An aspect of the book that I really enjoyed was that it’s not enough to simply survive, but that art needs to have a place in life too. The podcast also hosts interviews with literary agents and editors as well, both of which I found to be really insightful!

What about you all? What are you listening to?

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The Nest There has been a lot of hype around Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel, The Nest, lately. With a gorgeous cover and a description boasting the scandalous affairs of a New York family, I’m not too surprised.

This book is a family drama examining the lives of the Plumbs. The four Plumb siblings are set to receive an inheritance, which they call “the nest”, when the youngest of the siblings, Melody, turns 40 on her upcoming birthday. When the eldest brother, Leo, causes a terrible accident, that trust fund is suddenly at risk. With the inheritance serving as a safety net, the siblings have each gotten into various messes and are depending on that money.

The Nest is a well-written book with complex characters and relationships. The story illustrates the ways that the characters transform, which I enjoyed. The book is told from many points of view including those of the four siblings and the people that they come into contact with. I counted at least 10 throughout the book, but despite the shifts in perspective the story flowed nicely. I particularly liked the portions of the book from Melody’s perspective because they were authentic and I could actually feel the anxiety and pressure she felt to be the perfect mother to her daughters.

The NestI liked this book. The reason why I didn’t love this book is because I didn’t especially connect with the characters. I felt for and was intrigued by them, but that was it. All in all, I do recommend this book as a good read, especially for those who enjoy a fast paced family drama.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

EligibleEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is a remaking of the classic Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, a story that I LOVE. Along with being a modernized version of the classic story, there is a play on the hit reality TV show The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, which is called Eligible in this book. I didn’t know what to expect with this one and I can happily say that I really enjoyed it!

Eligible mirrors the original Pride and Prejudice pretty well and stays true to the characters’ personalities, even using the same names to avoid confusion. It was a bit raunchy at times in a comical way, which I enjoyed and I was amused by the outlandish characters and their bizarre behavior. Filled with delightful surprises that I didn’t see coming (but were quite obvious after the fact) this is a fun read!

Some areas of the book were cheesy and a bit unrealistic as the plot was translated into the 21st century, but that’s to be expected with a retelling like this. For example, some portions of Darcy’s dialogue, which I really liked, seemed a bit too proper to flow naturally in a conversation today. Darcy can do no wrong in my mind though so it didn’t detract from the overall story for me.

While reading I was very aware of the narrator, which isn’t always the case when I read a story from the third person point of view. This is also how I felt throughout the original Pride and Prejudice though so the tone here matched nicely.

Eligible I definitely recommend reading the original Pride and Prejudice, or at least becoming familiar with the story, beforehand so that Eligible can have more meaning. I sped through this one and would happily recommend it to a friend!

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld releases on April 19, 2016.