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Posts Tagged ‘Jennifer Weiner’

Emma Straub’s new novel is as bright as a new copper penny, and you should pick it up immediately.¬† All Adults Here (Riverhead, e-galley) — the title is ironic — reminds us that “adulting” can be challenging at any age. Astrid Strick, a 68-year-old widow, gets a wake-up call when she witnesses an empty school bus run over a long-time acquaintance in their Hudson Valley town. She reappraises some of her past choices as a parent and decides to let her family in on a secret “because there are always more school buses.” Her kids have secrets, too, as does granddaughter Cecelia, who is 13 and comes to stay with Astrid after an incident at her New York City school. Cecilia’s new friend is August, who is thinking he might really be Robin. Straub is so good at depicting teenagers, and Cecelia and August are my favorite characters, along with middle daughter Porter, who has yet to tell her mother she’s pregnant via a sperm bank. Surveying herself in a mirror, she reassures herself that she is a “grown-ass woman.” So what if she’s still fooling around with her high school boyfriend, who is very much married with children. Straub writes with wry humor, and her ensemble slice-of-life narrative flows easily. Although each of the Stricks is idiosyncratic in their ambitions and regrets, they are every family with long memories of childhood roles and rivalries.

The first wave of beach books promises sun-kissed days and sandy toes. Mary Kay Andrews’ Hello, Summer (St. Martin’s Press, ARC) mixes small-time secrets, scandals, mystery and romance into an appealing froth with interesting undercurrents. When reporter Conley Hawkins’ exciting new job in D.C. ends before it’s even begun, she backtracks from Atlanta to stay with her grandmother in her sleepy hometown¬† And once again she’s working for her older sister at the struggling family weekly known for its old-timey gossip column, “Hello, Summer.” But then a local congressman and war hero dies in a single-car accident, and Conley’s investigative reporting skills kick in. No fake news here.

“Fake it till you make it.” Jennifer Weiner takes on social media big-time in Big Summer (Atria, e-galley). Plus-size Instagram influencer Daphne Berg is surprised when high-school frenemy Drue Cavanaugh asks her to be her maid-of-honor at her posh society wedding to a reality star on Cape Cod. Their public falling-out went viral years ago. Still, Daphne never could resist being in beautiful Drue’s orbit, and the wedding’s a chance to up her own media profile and gain new followers. The opulence of the pre-wedding festivities is indeed picture-perfect, and Daphne does her best to ignore the tensions among the bridal party. Then she finds a dead body in a hot-tub. Shades of a Susan Isaac novel — not a bad thing, just a bit jarring as Daphne goes all Nancy Drew. Big fun.

The sudden death of literary lion Bill Sweeney shocks his three grown daughters, bringing them home to Southport, Conn.¬† But another surprise awaits gallery owner Liza, artist Maggie and attorney Jill — there’s a fourth Sweeney sister. Reporter Serena Tucker recently took a DNA test that revealed Bill Sweeney is also her father, although she only knew him as the famous author who was a childhood neighbor. I kept thinking that I already had read Lian Dolan’s The Sweeney Sisters (William Morrow, ARC), or seen it as a TV movie, but it was just pleasantly familiar, right down to the reading of the will and the search for a missing manuscript. Dolan does a nice job sorting out the sisters and reconfiguring their relationships, but most of the drama is in the set up. No surprise: All’s well that ends well.

 

 

 

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Sorry, I forgot to put out my “Gone Reading” sign at the first of the month, but I’ve been reading so much there hasn’t been time to write. Let’s catch up.

“It’s not what it looks like,” says P.I. Jackson Brodie on the very first page of Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky (Little Brown, digital galley). It never is with Atkinson, the most wily of writers, or with Jackson, my favorite book boyfriend. Returning for his fifth outing after a too-long absence, he’s tracking an errant husband in an English seaside town, sometimes in the company of his 13-year-old son and an aging Labrador, when things get complicated. They always do. This time, it’s a circle of sex traffickers, a murdered wife, a missing hitchhiker, a pair of young coppers working a cold case, assorted villains and innocents. Atkinson uses multiple points of view and quirky characters, zigs when you expect her to zag, and expects readers are smart enough to keep up.

I miss the Sorensons. They’re the Midwestern family at the center of Claire Lombardo’s immersive first novel The Most Fun We’ve Ever Had (Doubleday Knopf, digital galley), which I binged like a favorite Netflix series. So good. David and Marilyn Sorenson live in her childhood Oak Park home, two peas in a pod ever since they fell in love under the ginkgo tree in the backyard in the mid-1970s. This is surprisingly hard on their four grown daughters, who joke about the “magical albatross” of their parents’ love for one another. The bar is set so high, and each tries to measure up — or not — in singular ways. At book’s beginning, the oldest, Wendy, a rich widow, stirs the sisterly stew of rivalries and resentments by introducing a teenage boy into the mix — the child secretly given up for adoption by one of the sisters 16 years ago. Uptight lawyer and stay-at-home mom Violet can’t deal, college professor Liza is coping with an unexpected pregnancy and a depressive boyfriend, and the youngest, Grace, is off in Oregon, supposedly acing law school. The emotionally resonant narrative follows family members over the course of a year with frequent flashbacks to fill in everyone’s past, and Lombardo deftly orchestrates the chorus of perspectives. The book’s maybe a little too long, saggy in spots, and it’s Sorenson-centric — the tumultuous times don’t intrude, although the family is not immune to misfortune and regret. Real life is rich and messy, and The Most Fun We Ever Had feels real. It reminds me of Sue Miller’s classic novel Family Pictures or Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred-Year House, and I was sorry to see it end.

I’ve read some other good books, too. Jennifer Weiner’s Mrs. Everything (Atria, digital galley) follows two sisters over 50 years, and Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes (Scribner, digital galley) features neighboring families tied together by the profound connection between two of their children. In Michael Parker’s atmospheric and lyrically written Prairie Fires (Algonquin, digital galley), the bond between two sisters on the Oklahoma frontier is tested when they both fall in love with their schoolteacher. Kristen Arnett’s morbidly funny first novel Mostly Dead Things (Tin House Books, digital galley) is set right here in swampy Central Florida, where Jessa-Lynn Morton tries to keep the family taxidermy business going in the wake of her father’s suicide. Arnett examines grief, loss and love with the same skill that Jessa dissects and rebuilds a raccoon. If that’s not your thing, Denise Mina’s thrilling Conviction (Little, Brown, digital galley) stars a woman whose obsession with a true-crime podcast collides with her secret history.

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tuesdaysThe books are busting out all over, and I’m desperately trying to keep up with the reading and writing. I should have posted about Molly Prentiss’ first novel, Tuesdays Nights in 1980 (Gallery/Scout Press, digital galley), a month ago when I first read it. Happily, Prentiss’ atmospheric portrait of the burgeoning New York art scene circa the early ’80s is seared in my memory. In pre-gentrification SoHo, three lives intersect and combust. James Bennet is an art critic whose synesthesia gives him an edge when it comes to describing color and feeling; Raul Engales, a painter who has left behind Argentina’s Dirty War, is poised to become the next big thing; and Lucy, the beautiful and naive young woman straight off the bus from Idaho, is in love with the city and its artists, its passion and possibility. Never mind the squalor, Lucy downs a drink that tastes like “poison and sunshine,” does a little modeling, and becomes Raul’s muse until a tragic accident upends lives and dreams. Prentiss’ writing has the rush of a fevered, impressionistic dream.

thenestCynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s first novel, The Nest (Ecco, library hardcover), has been riding a wave of publicity, and this New York-centric tale of family dysfunction offers voyeuristic entertainment. The four Plumb siblings, now middle-aged, have counted on inheriting their mutual trust fund to cover all their first-world debts and expenses, but elder son Leo’s latest escapade has depleted “the Nest.” Right out of rehab, charming Leo promises to repay the funds, but Beatrice, who can’t finish her novel, and Jack, who has lied to his partner about the solvency of his antiques business, and Melody, who faces a high mortgage and college tuition for her twin daughters, doubt their brother’s assurances, considering his ex-wife’s demands. It’s hard to sympathize with the siblings as they run around like chickens missing their heads, but I did like Leo’s on-and-off girlfriend Stephanie, determined but tenderhearted, and Melody’s adventurous twins, who gleefully outwit her stalking by app.

allofusNow the Rockwell family really knows how to put the “fun” in dysfunction in Bridget Asher’s sprightly novel All of Us and Everything (Bantam, review copy), a spring selection of the SheReads online book club. Augusta Rockwell always told her three daughters that their absent father was an international spy away on secret missions. That outrageous story has echoed through the years until, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a mysterious box of letters surfaces and the three grown sisters — Esme, Liv, Ru — return to their childhood home to help their mother and survey the damage. Also on the scene are Esme’s newly fatherless teenage daughter Atty, with a serious Twitter addiction; the longtime housekeeper, who knows more than she lets on; and a prodigal neighbor who had a crush on Liv as a teenager and was the subject of Ru’s first screenplay. Asher manages the ensuing antics with ease, but takes quirkiness to the extreme. (Taxidermy squirrels). Still, Augusta’s memories of the love of her life — she met him on a bus during a snowstorm — are affecting, as are later scenes of reconnection and resolution. All in all, a memorable and messy family reunion.

whodoyouFirst love and second chances. Jennifer Weiner puts a spin on this classic premise and comes up a winner with Who Do You Love (Washington Square Press, review copy), now out in paperback and another SheReads spring pick. Eight-year-old Rachel Blum is recovering from heart surgery when she escapes from her hospital room to the ER one night and meets fellow eight-year-old Andy Landis, alone with a broken arm. They don’t expect to meet again, but serendipity and circumstances bring them together again — and again. In alternating chapters, Weiner focuses on Rachel and Andy, mostly apart but always on the verge of getting back together. Can true love conquer all? Maybe, maybe not, when families, social class and issues such as alcoholism, addiction and adultery get in the way. Thirtysomething years pass quickly with more than one surprise, but it’s the credible characters and small moments that touch the heart. Yes, those are tears in your eyes.

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