REVIEW: THE PERFECT GIRLFRIEND, BY KAREN HAMILTON

 

Juliette loves Nate.

She will follow him anywhere. She’s even become a flight attendant for his airline, so she can keep a closer eye on him.

They are meant to be.

The fact that Nate broke up with her six months ago means nothing. Because Juliette has a plan to win him back.

She is the perfect girlfriend. And she’ll make sure no one stops her from getting exactly what she wants.

True love hurts, but Juliette knows it’s worth all the pain…

 

My Thoughts: The Perfect Girlfriend is narrated in the first-person voice of Elizabeth/Lily/Juliette. After her break-up with Nate, she has created a new life for herself, while keeping a close eye on him, planning for that time when they will be together again. Her obsession and her total focus dominate the pages.

She knows his schedule and regularly stops in at his empty flat when she knows he is on a flight somewhere. She manages to gain entry, and she knows his passwords so that she is able to check his online accounts.

Her behavior escalates alarmingly, and every new plan seems to bring her closer to a psychotic break, reminiscent of the “bunny boiler” of a familiar movie. Just when you think she can’t go to darker depths, she shocks us with the intensity of her actions. And yet she carries on with some sort of normalcy in her job as a flight attendant. She even earns a promotion as a safety ambassador.

As we turn the pages, numbed by the boldness of each move she makes, we learn bits and pieces of her childhood and adolescence…and the origins of her destructive behavior. By the end, I couldn’t stop reading, waiting for the stunning ending, wondering who she would target next. 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: THE PERFECT NANNY, BY LEILA SLIMANI

 

She has the keys to their apartment. She knows everything. She has embedded herself so deeply in their lives that it now seems impossible to remove her.

When Myriam decides to return to work as a lawyer after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their son and daughter. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic Paris apartment, stays late without complaint, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment, and suspicions mount, shattering the idyllic tableau. Building tension with every page, The Perfect Nanny is a compulsive, riveting, bravely observed exploration of power, class, race, domesticity, motherhood, and madness—and the American debut of an immensely talented writer.

My Thoughts: Perfection, or the appearance of it, is a theme in The Perfect Nanny. We see examples of the well-ordered world the nanny creates for the Masses family on a lovely Paris street. She makes their lives easy, with her tireless care, the cleaning, the dinners, and the willingness to stay late.

But beneath the façade, Louise is a complex mix of disordered thoughts, fantasies, fears, and intensity. Back and forth the story goes, offering glimpses of other lives the woman has lived, including one with a very troubled daughter.

As she slowly unravels before their eyes, Myriam and Paul try to sort through their thoughts and decide how to extricate their lives from hers. It should be simple, right? But Louise has so carefully inserted herself into their family that removing her seems impossible.

In the beginning, we know the ending. As we turn the pages, fear and curiosity keep us going, even as spending another minute in Louise’s mind seems too horrific to bear. A creepy tale of madness, obsession, and the power of routines, at times I wanted to stop reading. But like the Masses family, who could not rid themselves of her, I was unable to extricate myself from this character study of a fascinating and disturbing woman. 4 stars.

***

BOOKISH FRIDAY: “THE DOLLHOUSE”

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Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What better way to spend a Friday!

Today I am featuring a recent download.  The Dollhouse, by Fiona Davis, is a stunning debut novel that pulls readers into the lush world of New York City’s glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where in the 1950’s a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side-by-side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success, and where a present-day journalist becomes consumed with uncovering a dark secret buried deep within the Barbizon’s glitzy past.

 

 

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Beginning:  New York City, 2016

She’d forgotten the onions.

After all the preparation, the lists, the running out of work early to finish shopping and buy everything she needed for their special dinner, Rose had forgotten a key risotto ingredient.  She checked the pantry, but the basket was empty save for a few remnants of the papery outer layers.

***

56:  Darby wasn’t so sure.  The place was frightening, and she scanned the exits, wondering which was the quickest way out in case there was a fire or a fight.  All these people pressed together, in the smoke and darkness, made her heart beat faster and her mouth grow dry in panic.

***

Synopsis:  When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren’t: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn’t belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she’s introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that’s used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.

Over half a century later, the Barbizon’s gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby’s involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman’s rent-controlled apartment. It’s a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby’s upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose’s obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed.

***

What do you think?  Are you intrigued?  I like the dual time lines, and can’t wait to find out what the present day characters discover about the past.

***

REVIEW: CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD, BY CAROLINE LEAVITT

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Beginning in the late 1960s, in a town near Boston, at a time of both innocence and tragic world events, Cruel Beautiful World explores love, obsession, family ties, and what happens when one’s choices lead to loss, disappointment, and even betrayal.

Sixteen-year-old Lucy Gold was loved by her parents, and then when they died suddenly when she was only five, she and her sister Charlotte were taken in by Iris, an older relative, who cherished and gave them all she had to give.

So why was Lucy drawn into the web of her high school teacher William Lallo? How was he able to seduce her into a life on the run, a life in hiding?

What happens to Iris and to Charlotte after Lucy is gone?

Alternate narrators offer up bits and pieces of the characters’ lives, sweeping back to the turn of the Twentieth Century, when Iris falls in love with a man named Doug, a man who would ultimately betray her in an unexpected way.

Much of the story takes us into Lucy’s new life in Pennsylvania farming country, from the beginnings of her hideaway with William. We watch as the romantic illusions that had captured her so completely disintegrate. The illusions were soon replaced by isolation, fear, and ultimate loss.

I enjoyed the characters and their complexities, and how some of them managed to find ways to pick up the pieces, starting over again and again. We connect with Iris, Charlotte, and then there was Patrick, who ran a farm stand in Pennsylvania. Each of them brings the story to a place where we can examine their hopes, dreams, and costly errors in judgment. Can they move on? Will there be hope in this world they have created for themselves? A 5 star read for me.

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***My e-ARC was received from the publisher via NetGalley.

***

REVIEW: THE BEAUTY OF THE END, BY DEBBIE HOWELLS

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As Noah Calaway tries to sort out his life in the Devon cottage left to him by his Aunt Delilah, his memories carry him back in time, to days long ago when he fell in love with a goddess.

That is how he saw April Moon, whom he met in school in Musgrove.

Nowadays, though, he is trying to write, having given up his law practice, but still takes on occasional cases. So when a call from an old friend, Will Farrington, brings disturbing news, some of those old memories intrude into his current reality, and he is catapulted back in time.

Will’s phone call informed him that April had taken an overdose, but before that happened, her stepfather, Norton, had been murdered. And the police think she did it.

Naturally, Noah’s protective urges come into play and he heads off to Tonbridge, to the hospital where she is in a coma.

The Beauty of the End reeled me in from the first pages, as it swept back and forth in time, from the 1990s, when Noah first met Will, and also when he first became enthralled by the beautiful April, to the present. Could anything be more alluring than this redheaded girl who captivated his heart and kept him spellbound through most of his life? There had even been a time when they were living together, planning to marry. But something happened to change the trajectory of their lives together. Were the secrets and the hidden darkness holding April as captive as she held Noah? Could something devastating from her past have inserted itself into their lives and derailed their futures?

The story unfolds from Noah’s first person perspective, but as other characters told their stories, a fuller picture began to emerge. One of the voices belonged to a fifteen year old girl named Ella, whose connection to the other characters we would eventually realize.

Had Noah been unable to see beyond the beauty of April’s looks and the self she chose to show him? Did she keep her hidden thoughts and secrets from him to protect him, or to protect his illusion of her? Why did Will set out to destroy both April and Noah? What were his fatal secrets and flaws?

Solving the mystery of what happened to April in the present, as well as the past, would keep me guessing until the very end. Until finally, we see the choices she had to make, and why she made them. A complex story that I could not put down, although the complexity sometimes led to confusion and a feeling of not being able to sort the facts from the manipulations. Therefore, 4 stars.

BLUE MONDAYS MUSINGS: WHY OLDER CHARACTERS FASCINATE ME…

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It’s Monday!  Time to chase away the blues and ponder some thoughts presented over at A Daily Rhythm.

Here we go:

  • I’m currently reading…
  • Up next I think I’ll read…
  • I bought the following book(s) in the past week…
  • I’m super excited to tell you about (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I’m really upset by (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I can’t wait to get a copy of…
  • I wish I could read ___, but…
  • I blogged about ____ this past week…

THIS WEEK’S RANDOM QUESTION: What would you do if you wanted to buy a book for someone, but didn’t know what they like to read? Would you ask them? Would you choose something you, yourself, like? How would you go about buying them something?

***

I have been using Amazon Vine and recently, NetGalley, to find new books.  One of the books I requested was The New Neighbor, coming in July.

 

 

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In the tradition of Zoe Heller’s What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal, The New Neighbor is a darkly sophisticated novel about an old woman’s curiosity turned into a dangerous obsession as she becomes involved in her new neighbor’s complicated and cloaked life.

Ninety-year-old Margaret Riley is content hiding from the world. Stoic and independent, she rarely leaves the Tennessee mountaintop where she lives, finding comfort in the mystery novels that keep her company, that is, until she spots a woman who’s moved into the long-empty house across the pond.

Jennifer Young is also looking to hide. On the run from her old life, she and her four-year-old son Milo have moved to a quiet town where no one from her past can find her.

In Jennifer, Margaret sees both a potential companion in her loneliness and a mystery to be solved. But Jennifer refuses to talk about herself, her son, his missing father, or her past. Frustrated, Margaret crosses more and more boundaries in pursuit of the truth, threatening to unravel the new life Jennifer has so painstakingly created—and reveal some secrets of her own.

***

I have noticed my fascination (obsession?) with elderly characters lately, like the ones in There Was an Old Woman, by Hallie Ephron, or how about Florence Gordon?  (Click for my reviews).

Is it a characteristic of my own aging?  LOL  Or am I discovering that there are many interesting layers to characters who have lived a while?  Maybe a little bit of both.

At any rate, I am eager to read this one.

***

As for buying books for friends, I take the easy way out with a gift card.  I wouldn’t even begin to select a book for a friend, or even a family member.

What do you do?

***

 

 

REVIEW: FANGIRL, BY RAINBOW ROWELL

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The rift started between the twins when Wren told Cath that she didn’t want to be roommates.

There they were, away from home for their first year of college, and her sister was abandoning her. Cath’s sense of loss was huge. Her own roommate was someone named Reagan, who was brash and rude, always kicking the door open when she entered. Loud, disturbing. And her boyfriend was a guy named Levi, whose smiles seemed to cover his whole face.

But Cath had her fanfiction, her Simon Snow site, and her thousands of readers. She was kind of famous in that world. But it wasn’t something she could talk about with people she met at school. And just finding her way around campus was a big deal. It took her weeks to find the dining hall, subsisting on power bars in the interim.

And so it begins in the world of Cath and Wren, mostly Cath; and it didn’t take long for me to feel totally hooked on this nerdy girl who is still in the process of surviving the pain of her mother’s abandonment when she and Wren were eight.

Wren seems fine, out there on her own, but before long, it is clear that she is broken, too. She reveals it through her acting out and drinking binges.

What must happen to bring the girls together again? Will an emergency force them into a kind of healing? And will Cath be able to finally move beyond fanfiction, to the kind of writing that is her own? And how will her relationship with Levi move beyond a hesitant friendliness to something more?

I didn’t expect to love Fangirl: A Novel this much. I am not much of a reader of YA (or NA), and definitely not fantasy, and fanfiction is something that I cannot imagine obsessing over. But in the context of this story, I slowly came to enjoy it. At first, the Simon Snow excerpts bored me, but then I could see their relevance to the primary story and to who Cath was as a character. By the ending, when Cath finally decides to write her own fiction, I couldn’t wait to see how it would all turn out. 5 stars.