Jess’s Review of A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

ahsbwWith about a month and a half of summer time left here on the East Coast, it’s not too late to crack open your next beach read. Grab a fruity drink, slather on the SPF, and check out A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. Set in the 1930’s in the fictional town of Seaview, Rhode Island, this love triangle is anything but old-fashioned.

I had the sincere privilege of meeting Beatriz Williams at an author event at my favorite bookstore, R.J. Julia in Madison, CT, where I picked up the book. The best way to describe Williams is energetic and delightful. Her presentation was part writer’s workshop, part history lesson, and part book teaser. She began by explaining that the year and location of the story was greatly influenced by The Great Hurricane of 1938. Having lived in New England for the past seven years and having grown up in New York I was surprised that I had never learned about this hurricane. It devastated the New England coastline and claimed the lives of over 700 people on a mild afternoon turned hell on earth. Williams explained that the lack of advanced weather tracking radar at the time had led weather casters to believe that the hurricane would go out to sea. Little did they know it would take direct aim at the New England Coastline. People had little to no advanced warning of the storm’s approach, and as Williams showed us in her presentation, the storm packed a punch that literally wiped entire towns off the map (you can see before and after photos here.)

Seaview, Rhode Island, the setting for A Hundred Summers, is largely based on the real life town of Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Williams explained that her inspiration for the story began with her interest in the idea of how New Englanders “summer” and how little enclaves of families traditionally relocate for the summer months from their homes in New York City, Boston, and inland to the same beach homes with the same families for generations. Think old money. Think mother playing bridge at the club while the kids search for shells and take tennis lessons, while father comes to visit on the weekend to let the stench of city grime be whisked away by the brisk salty summer air.

Obviously this information drew my attention immediately because before you even read the book you now know that it takes place during a summer that culminates with this destructive hurricane. At this point, I don’t even know the plot but I’m worried about these fictional characters and what is going to happen to them while they’re hanging out on the beach as the storm approaches. I want to warn them, but it’s 2013 and they do not exist. (In the literary world this is what is known as, “I need to get out of the house a little more”….but I digress).

My signed copy!

My signed copy!

The story starts simply with two friends, Lilly and Budgie, during their college years in 1931. The two girls sit in the bleachers at a Dartmouth football game, Budgie with her eye on the star football player Graham Pendleton, while Lilly’s eyes lay claim to Nick Greenwald. Both Lilly and Budgie are native New Yorkers with blue blood running in their veins.  While Budgie is outgoing and a little more sexually adventurous, Lilly is pretty, reserved, and poised to follow the rules of her upper class upbringing. Lilly’s life changes when Budgie invites Nick and Graham out to dinner. Budgie and Graham embark in a little back seat rendezvous while Lilly and Nick immediately connect and begin an intense love affair. Lilly and Nick’ s love is beyond the superficial college hook up. It is a jumping-on-Oprah’s-couch, let’s elope and be together forever kind of love.  The problem is, Nick is Jewish and in Lilly’s circle this is forbidden. Once college ends, Nick and Lilly refuse to go their separate ways and when old social standards come back into play at home in New York, Lilly and Nick are put to the test.

Skip ahead to 1938 and Lilly finds herself single with her mother, aunt, and little sister Kiki at their family summer home in Seaview. Lilly is the type of woman who does what is expected of her so she dutifully goes to look after her sister, even though Seaview is a little tired for a single woman in her late 20’s. This summer turns out to be a bit different because an old friend is about to return to town. Budgie, and her new husband Nick Greenwald, are returning to her old summer home after leaving it empty for many years.  Years earlier Nick and Lilly’s love affair came to a crashing and heartbreaking end, and of course Budgie had no qualms about taking Lilly’s place right beside Nick. What could have been a summer of simple awkward encounters between the newly married couple and spiteful ex-best friend/ex-girlfriend turns into a life changing and heart-wrenching summer where the secrets from the past catch up with the characters in the present (even Graham Pendleton makes an appearance!)

Williams keeps the story moving along quickly and I was never bored. Unlike some other stories which fail to keep the plot moving when alternating between two stories in two different time periods, Williams writes with such great precision that I never felt like I was getting confused or that the plot was stalling. The way she reveals secrets and details little by little will keep you guessing because nothing is as it seems. The character’s lives change quickly and history is re-written especially in the last 100 pages. No spoilers here, but there is a moment toward the end where you will gasp, sit straight up in your seat and say OH EM GEEE (OMG)!

The characters and landscapes are written in such a way that you feel the sand between your toes as you sit on the beach with them. Budgie is the ultimate frenemy (a friend who is also an enemy…ladies, you know what I’m talking about), who has a wit as sharp as a tack, the looks like a pin-up girl, and the scheming mind of a James Bond villain. You won’t be able to help but feel the fire between Lilly and Nick during their most intimate moments. The fact that Williams makes it known that the plot culminates with a furious hurricane is brilliant, as it brings this very emotionally charged story to its peak.  Readers who are familiar with New York City and New England will enjoy picking up on the little bits of familiar geography as the characters roam up and down the I-95 corridor.

A Hundred Summers is a very entertaining read that takes the old love triangle tale and gives it a fresh perspective. The historical context is extremely well researched and presented, not just with the hurricane but also with the vastly changing feminist ideals of the time period. I always love a book where I can have a connection with the characters that results in me wanting to root for them.  A Hundred Summers delivered just that. I cannot wait for Beatriz Williams’ next book, and with any luck she will return to R.J. Julia when it is released.

5 out of 5 Stars

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
Penguin Group (2013)
Hardcover: 368 pages
ISBN: 9780399162169

Jess’s Review of The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright

ttwnssewRecently, I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright from Simon & Schuster UK.  After checking out the summary, I was really excited to dig in to this gem from across the pond. Reading a book that hasn’t yet been released here in the States is like being in a secret club, and I am excited to be able to share my thoughts with all of you.

While The Things We Never Said comes in at just under 400 pages, it is so jam-packed with drama and scandal that the bookbinding was almost popping off. The plot has rape, deception, love, amnesia, heartbreak, longing, and electroshock therapy! Some of these themes usually draw me into a book, keeping me up to the early morning hours.  Surprisingly not even the promise of a good electroshock therapy tale could keep me up past my bed time.

The story opens in 1964 with Maggie waking up in a mental institution. At first, Maggie has no recollection of why she is there, but as time goes on little pieces of her own story come back to her. She remembers only small things at first, but it is not until she leaves the institution that she begins to pick up the pieces of her badly shattered life. The tragic story of how Maggie wound up institutionalized highlights the strength of the human spirit and how there is always the hope of a better tomorrow.

Wright presents the plot in alternating chapters between Maggie’s story in 1964 and that of Jonathan in 2008. We meet Jonathan and his pregnant wife Fiona as they prepare for the changes and challenges that parenthood will bring. Early in the story Jonathan learns about the death of his father, with whom he had a rocky relationship. In attempting to console his mother, Jonathan finds that strictly guarded family secrets emerge. When a detective rings Jonathan’s doorbell days later he is forced to face these family secrets head on.

Slowly, Maggie and Jonathan’s stories intertwine to reveal the dark past they share (don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers here!)  Wright’s prose reads like a poem and flows very smoothly, especially as she connects the past and the present through Maggie and Jonathan’s stories. Family secrets are far from a new theme in the literary world, but Wright throws curveballs which keep the storyline fresh and push the reader to turn the page.

Overall I found the plot very slow-moving, and despite the highly emotional content I failed to connect with any of the characters. I’m not completely sure if it is the self-loathing nature of the characters or the inability of the author to truly develop the characters that caused me to experience this disconnect. Personally, I really like to be able to root for characters when I read a book, and I felt like I had to keep turning the page just to get to the point. I think it took a little too long for the two stories (Maggie’s and Jonathan’s) to really connect. For most of the first half of the book I was a little frustrated waiting for the two lives to converge.

I think Wright’s work it is absolutely a worthy read as she is able to breathe new life into the theme of family secrets. However, I don’t suggest it as a “beach read” on a sunny weekend afternoon. I would definitely recommend this book as a good rainy day read. Don’t be fooled by that absolutely stunning cover featuring a young lady in a red dress gazing out to the ocean.  It’s definitely a somber read due to the sullen nature of the plot. I encourage you to stick with it though despite the slow start, the pay off is well worth it!

3 out of 5 Stars

The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright
Simon & Schuster UK (2013)
Paperback: 400 pages
ISBN: 9781471102332

Special thanks to Simon & Schuster UK for my review copy!

Jess’s Review of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

goneYou know the main plot of this book. Nick Dunne’s beautiful wife is missing. He comes home from work to find his living room furniture over turned, his front door wide open, and the iron still plugged in. Amy has disappeared, and her husband is acting a little out of sorts. As the police investigation heats up, her loving husband becomes suspect #1. I told you that you knew the plot, but if you think you know how it ends, you couldn’t be more wrong. This is the beauty of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 bestseller, Gone Girl.

Nick and Amy appear to the perfect couple. In fact, Amy has written about how perfect their relationship is in her diary, which is later discovered during the police investigation following her disappearance. But as the couple leaves their home in New York City for Nick’s hometown in the Midwest, Amy’s diary entries start to reveal an increasingly troubled couple. Nick however seems to see things a little differently.

I admit its difficult to write this review without giving away any spoilers so I have to keep my synopsis pretty brief. Flynn creates an unpredictable mystery with multidimensional characters whom you get to know through a series of first person narrative and diary entries. One of the most interesting themes in the story is the role the media plays in the police investigation, and how it fuels public opinion in the high-profile disappearance. The story unfolds quickly, keeps you guessing and will force you to stay awake well after your bedtime.

On a side note, I recommend you start reading this book now because rumor has it, Flynn has starting working with writers to develop the film adaptation of Gone Girl. I think the story will translate well on-screen, but there is nothing like experiencing the twists and turns unfolding on the page. When you do read this book, feel free to look me up on the staff page and shoot me an email with your thoughts on the ending. I am still not sure how I feel about it and I would love to hear from all of you! (Please no spoilers in the comments).

4 out of 5 Stars

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Crown Publishing Group (2012)
Hardcover 432 pages
ISBN: 9780307588364

Jess’s Review of Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

brainonfireThere are moments in one’s life that are so significant, all subsequent life events are marked by “before” and “after” that event. For Susannah Cahalan it was the day she began to go mad. A spark had ignited somewhere within the complicated hard-wiring of her brain and day-by-day she began to lose herself. Brain on Fire is a unique memoir that chronicles Cahalan’s journey to oblivion and back as she details a rare medical condition in which one’s body literally attacks its brain, draining the individual of the essential characteristics which make up one’s personality.

One day, Susannah was a healthy 24-year-old journalist. As her illness began to commandeer her personality, she began to lose her sanity and ability to perform even the most mundane daily tasks.  After a series of seizures and a string of bizarre behavior, the race to salvage Susannah’s brain began with a team of doctors and a dedicated family who would do anything to save her.

One minute she is buying a coffee in a hospital waiting room, and the next thing she remembers is it’s one month later and she is restrained in a hospital bed with no recollection of how she got there. Cahalan writes:

I wish I could understand my behaviors and motivations during this time, but there was no rational consciousness operating, nothing I could access anymore, then or now. This was the beginning of my lost month of madness.

Cahalan’s book is part memoir, part medical mystery, and part love story. Due to the fact that she literally does not have any first hand memory of her month spent in the hospital, Cahalan uses family, friends, doctors, nurses, and hospital footage as sources to help her understand the lost time. Parts of the story require her to explain complex scientific terms and procedures, which she does with great precision and clarity. Cahalan’s background as a journalist helps her to break through the medical jargon to give readers a detailed explanation of her illness.

My favorite part of the book was the way Cahalan not only talked about how her illness affected her on a personal level, but also how it affected her friends and family. By the end of the book, I wanted to look up her boyfriend Steven so I could give the guy a hug.  Not only was Brain on Fire an entertaining and educational read, but the race to save Cahalan’s personality and memory had me on the edge of my seat. Since I finished reading this book, I have really been challenged to think about the fragility of the human body and what it truly means to be “you.”

4 out of 5 Stars

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
Free Press (2012)
Hardcover 288 pages
ISBN: 9781451621372

Observations by Jess – The Books Of Our Adolescence

adolescence

Recently a childhood friend contacted me and asked, “do you remember The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants?’ Of course I did! The romance, the friendships, the self-discovery and OH! The pants! How could I forget? Not to mention, my jealousy towards any woman who can find a pair of jeans that fits perfectly.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Sisterhood, I am referring to the young adult series written by Ann Brashares, which has since been made into a movie starring Ugly Betty and Rory from the Gilmore Girls. Back in the day (circa 2003), The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was one of my favorite series. Remembering this really got me thinking about my favorite young adult books. Luckily, I got a little help last weekend when my parents asked me to clean out my childhood bedroom and I was then forced to dig through my old book collection.  Just as a good song can bring you back to a time and a place, books can do the same. I think people relate to characters on different levels at different stages of their lives, so books will never lose their relevance. So, with that being said, here is a list of my favorite young adult books I found in my old bedroom:

1. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

2. Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen. In my pre-teen/teen years I became a bit of a Dessen groupie. Her books were always an easy read with plenty of drama and romance.

3. Here’s to You Rachel Robinson, Just as Long as We’re Together, and Blubber by Judy Bloom. I love pretty much everything Judy Bloom has ever written. She is the queen of the YA genre as far as I’m concerned.

4.  The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot. I began reading the series before Anne Hathaway made her debut as Princess Mia, but you bet I had my mom take me to the movies to see it on opening weekend!

5. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Whether you are a pre-teen reading this book for English class or an adult, I think anyone can appreciate this beautiful and heartbreaking story that explores the true meaning of “intelligence” as well as the human condition.

Now that you’ve read my list, I want to hear from all of you. What are your favorite young adult books that made a big impression on you at a young age? Leave your comments below and let’s reminisce together!

Jess’s New Year’s Book Resolutions

happy-new-year-2013-thumb23679815If there was a “Naughty or Nice” list for bookworms, I am very embarrassed to admit that I would be on the naughty list this year.
Let me explain.  Kim asked me to comprise a “Best of 2012” list, and when I really sat down and went through my bookshelf I found several sadly abandoned books. Whether it was school at the beginning of this year, a new job at the mid-point, or the holidays and special occasions at the end, I simply left so many great reads with bookmarks around page 50 or so.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve completed some really outstanding books this year including The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg, Dearie by Bob Spitz, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, and Paris: A Love Story by Kati Marton, just to name a few. Where I really failed though is in the sheer number of books completed (ironic seeing as I write for a blog named for the act of reading a ridiculous amount of books in a year) and blog posts written. So, in place of a “best of” list, I give you my “2013 New Year’s Book Resolutions” which will hopefully help me land on the “Nice” list next year.

I will not covet thy neighbor’s book.
Book jealousy is becoming a costly problem for me. You know when you talk to a friend or co-worker and they say “Hey, I’m reading the BEST book right now, it’s changing my life. I’ll lend it to you when I finish.” Well, it turns out I DON’T want to wait for you to finish it. In fact, I’m online right now ordering it as we speak. This habit is not only costly, but the minute I get the new book, whatever lovely novel I was reading the night before is demoted to the bottom shelf and the new book occupies the top of the night stand…sorry other book, I’ll get back to you in the year 2050! In 2013 I promise to read one at a time dammit! I will wait for you to finish the book, then we can have a discussion over a glass of wine when I’m done.

I will forge ahead and turn off the television

Since moving in (alone) to my new apartment this year, it has become a habit to flip on the television for background noise even if I’m not watching. Then, when I sit down to enjoy a book and some trashy tv (my favorite) comes on, my attention span is shot and my IQ drops a bit. This year I will turn off the television and give my undivided attention to the words on the page. All those abandoned books deserve it.

When I finish a good book, I will share it with all of you

This section could be comprised of a laundry list of excuses for my absence in 2012, but that wouldn’t help either of us. I hereby promise that when I finish  books this year, whether they be new ones or the bookmarked hardcovers on my shelf, I will be dedicated to writing down my opinions and sharing them with all of our wonderful readers right here at Reflections of a Book Addict.

Happy holidays and a happy and healthy New Year to all of my fellow bookworms!

Jess’s Review of The Big Fun Sexy Sex Book by Lisa Rinna & Ian Kerner PhD

When the good people at Gallery Books offered Reflections of a Book Addict a free advance copy of The Big Fun Sexy Sex Book, Kim sent the offer right to me. The offer came not because of my particular expertise on the topic, but because I am not afraid to tackle uncomfortable topics in a candid way (I think). After reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I was hoping authors Lisa Rinna and Ian Kerner could offer me some more realistic and less frightening ideas for spicing things up in the bedroom. Not only does The Big Fun Sexy Sex Book offer advice for couples looking to liven up their sex lives, but it also gives interesting insight into the science of sex.

I will admit, as a 25-year old in a serious dating relationship, I do not think this book was written with my demographic in mind. Lisa Rinna, an actress who has been married for over twenty years and Ian Kerner, a sex therapist, really speak to couples who have been together for many years and have maybe lost some of the magic in that time. Reading like a step by step manual, the authors offer a very in-depth look at the science behind sex and attraction, and offer ways to improve your relationship outside of the bedroom before taking it into the bedroom. The book suggests that the brain is one’s most powerful sexual organ and the key to making others happy is to make yourself happy first. Rinna even includes a diet and wellness plan aimed at making females readers feel fabulous in order to head home and make someone else feel fabulous.

The book reads like good advice from a friend and maintains a very conversational tone, despite the fact that it reads like a science textbook at times. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about sex from the ground up as a means of repairing a worthwhile relationship that has lost its spark over time. Rinna and Kerner leave no stone unturned from understanding anatomy (in serious detail), to toys, sexual issues, and maintaining your sex life while also being a parent (a chapter which would be better to read if you are an actual parent). Overall, I think this book is an expansive and detailed manual for everything sex that you’ve always been afraid to ask, offered in a friendly and conversational way.

3 out of 5 Stars

The Big Fun Sexy Sex Book by Lisa Rinna & Ian Kerner PhD
Gallery Books (2012)
Hardcover 336 pages
ISBN: 9781451661231

Special thanks to Gallery books for my review copy!

Read-A-Thon Hour 6, Mini-Challenge #5

It’s hour 6! Where is the time flying!?  The mini-challenge for hour six is being hosted by Book Journey!  We’re asked to discuss what we serve at a discussion of the book we’re currently reading.  Without further ado here is my menu!

For my dinner party, we will discuss The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Considering the fact that the book takes place during college then explores the lives of a group of friends in post grad it would be a two-course meal. Course one will be chock full of the three essential undergraduate food groups; carbs, caffeine and alcohol. Treat your taste buds to some cold pizza and a red bull. For dessert enjoy some luke warm Bud Light served in a classy red solo cup.

Is your stomach hurting yet? No? Then on to course two…

Course two is the post grad dish. There is only one food group in the post grad diet and that is cheap food. Slurp some Raman Noodles out of a coffee mug then enjoy some $4.99 special boxed wine. Student loan invoices can be used as napkins to wipe your mouth or dry your tears…whichever you feel fit.

Too bad I’m not finished with the book. I’m hoping my main character Madeline can enjoy some prime rib and champagne by the end if the story.

See you in hour 7!

Observations by Jess: Standing Room Only

EKTORP Chair, Idemo black Width: 41 3/8 " Depth: 35 3/8 " Height: 34 5/8 " Seat width: 22 1/2 " Seat depth: 19 5/8 " Seat height: 17 3/4 "  Width: 105 cm Depth: 90 cm Height: 88 cm Seat width: 57 cm Seat depth: 50 cm Seat height: 45 cm  Anyone who has read some of my previous posts knows about my love of bookstores and that I have a very nostalgic and intimate relationship with their smells of coffee and brand new books! For anyone who shares my sentiments, I think we can all agree that something strange has been happening at our local book browsing havens. No, I’m not talking about that random polka track that is in heavy rotation on the B&N radio station,  but I have noticed a lot more people sitting on the ground amongst the shelves and in the aisles. Why, you might ask? Well for starters, there is nowhere to sit!

Apparently Barnes and Noble has become a standing room only kind of place…just like a crowded bar on game night. You find yourself balancing books and coffee instead of beer as you bobble from foot to foot trying to read the introduction of a book you MIGHT have wanted to buy if you hadn’t just spilled coffee down your shirt due to a circus-type balancing act.

This may be a little dramatic (or rather just a real life account of my formerly new shirt), but I must say it used to be nice to be able to put my purse, coffee, and other reading selections down for a moment to take a look and see what kinds of books I picked up. I am not one of those people who is going to occupy the seat for hours on end…make a few phone calls…write some Christmas cards…and eat my lunch in a retail store, but it would be nice to take a load off and enjoy being there.

After the whole hypothetical/not-so-hypothetical coffee spilling incident, I took to the web to see what people were saying about the mysterious disappearance of the Barnes and Noble “Comfy Chair,” or even those hard as rocks wooden ones. The most compelling argument I found against the chairs was on a message board posted by a B&N employee. The employee recounted several instances of people sleeping in the chairs, teenagers getting it on in the chairs, eating five course meals in the chairs, leaving crumbs in the chairs, and reading full novels in the chairs. These are serious problems for any store because when it comes down to it, it is a place of business, not a public library or park. When I worked in retail, reading an entire magazine then returning it to the shelf without paying for it would be considered stealing. I find that I couldn’t agree more!

It seems that just like most things in life, a couple bad apples spoiled the whole bunch. Or perhaps in this case, a couple bad book-worms spoiled the apple? Either way, it’s sad that those who just want to browse and enjoy a relaxing hour in the bookstore are either confined to the cold, hard chairs in the coffee shop or to a lone, crowded bench that resembles a city bus stop in a rain storm.  

At the risk of sounding like an old, cranky lady, it’s disheartening to discover that my fellow bookstore geeks are sometimes so socially irresponsible that a company which generally welcomes the occasional loiterer like myself has had to go to such extremes as to remove chairs from their establishment. I guess I could always sit on the floor…but at the risk of getting kicked in the head…I might just resort to bringing one of those folding beach chairs next time I go.

Winner Announced in the Bedbugs Giveaway!

Cover Image

One lucky winner has been chosen in the Bedbugs Giveaway!

Congratulations to: Lauren Titus who left a comment on September 6th

for being the lucky winner of Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters!

Please contact me with your name and address by September 25, 2011 to claim your prize. Shipment is to the US and Canada only.

Thank you to all who participated and left comments!