4

A worthy successor: The Hopefuls

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Today we’re looking at much lighter fare than the other day. It’s the only way to stay sane, yes?

I spent many evenings over the past month bingeing all episodes of Veep. My husband and I both work in government communications and laughed ourselves stupid watching this genius show.

We’d just finished when Jennifer Close’s The Hopefuls showed up at the door.

hopefuls

The Hopefuls is the story of Beth and Matt, new transplants to DC from New York. Matt plans to run for office one day and is getting valuable experience working in the Obama administration. Beth has recently lost her job at Vanity Fair and has moved to DC to support Matt, while also trying to figure out her own next steps. Soon they become close friends with Texas-transplants, Jimmy and Ashleigh Dillon. Jimmy works in the White House with Matt and Ash isn’t currently working either and the two couples are soon very, very close.

But as Jimmy’s political star starts to rise and Matt’s falters, their friendships take a hit.

I started giggling reading the first page of this book. And I didn’t really stop laughing for most of it. Beth is telling the story from their arrival in DC back in 2009 through to the present day. It feels like you’ve met your friend for dinner, and you haven’t seen each other for a while and she has a story to tell you! Close manages to maintain this intimacy the whole way through. The characters feel so real, totally like people you know/used to know.

The first half of the book feels really gossipy too – in the way that I love. In the way that made me think that it could be this summer’s answer to The Royal We and Crazy Rich Asians.

But this book isn’t just frivolous, guilty-pleasure fun. As Jimmy becomes more and more visible and Matt’s work isn’t noticed at the same level, Beth worries about her marriage and her friendship with Ash. Ash is really the only friend she has made in DC, the one person that made living there bearable in the first place and now there is a strain on that friendship.

I was completely addicted to The Hopefuls. It was wryly observed, funny, absorbing and ultimately didn’t make me feel like I’d overdosed on something grossly sweet. Recommend for beach totes everywhere.

6

Bring it to the beach: She’s Not There

Remember that time I read Cartwheel, a fictionalized account of the Amanda Knox case, and felt dirty and voyeuristic?

That’s kind of what I was afraid would happen when I read She’s Not There by Joy Fielding.

In May 2007, nearly 4-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared from her room in a Portuguese resort while her parents had dinner at a nearby restaurant. Her siblings were asleep in the room with her.

To date, she hasn’t been found.

she's not there

In She’s Not There, Caroline Shipley’s 2-year-old daughter, Samantha, was taken from her hotel room at a Mexican resort as her parents dined with friends downstairs. Her 5-year-old sister, Michelle, was asleep in the room with her at the time.

Fifteen years later, near the anniversary of the disappearance, Caroline receives a phone call from a 17-year-old who claims to be her missing daughter. This bombshell rips open all the old wounds and forces Caroline and her family to confront the things that happened all those years ago.

In the beginning of the book, I did get that uncomfortable feeling like I was getting enjoyment reading about the very real pain of the McCann family. But we soon moved past the actual abduction and onto the fallout from that night: the Shipleys’ divorce, the uncomfortable relationship Caroline has with her daughter Michelle, the complex relationship she has with her (horrible) mother, Mary, Caroline’s difficulties finding work as a teacher since her daughter’s disappearance and the portrayal of her in the media as a cold, distant, uptight woman.

She’s Not There becomes less about the abduction and more about the emotional toll it takes on the family. The phone call throws everything Caroline thinks she knows on its head and she is forced to confront truths she might not be ready for.

At the centre of the whole thing, of course, is the question: is this girl really Samantha?

I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would. It’s well-paced, trailing just enough breadcrumbs to feel like you are ahead of Fielding. Caroline is allowed to rage against her family, her ex-husband and the media who all have these ideas of Caroline as a terrible mother, a boring person, and an ice queen. I appreciated that all loose ends were tied up and I don’t need to track down other books in a new series.

This is the kind of book that deserves to be read beach-lake-or-pool-side with a cocktail. If you haven’t already read it, keep it in mind when you’re filling your summer totes.

 

22

Beach Read: The Royal We

I have a Monarchy obsession and a weakness for gossipy books. So it stands to reason that eventually I would break down and read The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.

Admittedly, when I first came across it I may have rolled my eyes. Even reading the blurb on the book’s jacket (that’s even after looking at the cover, an obvious [and very pretty] homage the Cambridges) one can tell that it’s the Kate Middleton story with some minor changes: Rebecca “Bex” Porter is American, she has a twin sister, she’s an artist studying at Oxford and the princes are Nick and Freddie.

But I got sucked in. I kept hearing good things about it and when I realized that Cocks and Morgan are the geniuses behind Go Fug Yourself…well I gave in. I even bought the hardcover.

royal we

Bex Porter is an exchange student at Oxford, living in a wing of the dorms with a very select group of friends that go way back, one of whom happens to be Prince Nicholas of Wales. Before realizing who he is she drops a joke about his family and syphilis and after that she pretends to play it cool, allowing Nick to feel like a regular guy. He feels a lot of pressure from his father to be a certain way and Bex just lets him watch terrible TV in her room, bingeing on American snacks.

Most of the story follows the Cambridge narrative: they date for an extended period of time under the radar, are outed on a ski trip in Klosters, break up, she parties to make it look like she’s having the time of her life, they get back together, get engaged and so begins the training to be a Princess.

Here’s what I really appreciated about this book: it was just as much about the construct of Monarchy as the ultimate fairy tale (girl meets boy, falls in love, realizes he’s a prince and becomes a princess). Nick is keenly aware of his destiny and his public persona the whole time, the media is a constant shadow over him – everything has to be a certain way. Obviously it’s fiction (for example there’s a whole storyline about Nick’s “Ginger Gigolo” brother Freddie and Bex’s sister that probably has no basis in reality) but there was enough reality to make it almost feel like a behind-the-scenes look.

Despite knowing the milestones of the relationship and even some of the motivations, I found myself completely engrossed in this book. It was smart, funny, and thoroughly entertaining. A great addition to anyone’s beach bag, even if you’re not a real-life Royals fan.

13

My Love for China Rich Girlfriend Knows No Bounds

It’s summer. Which means it’s time to totally give ourselves over to delicious, gossipy, hilarious, wonderful books. They will be tucked in our backpacks at the park, toted to the beach, packed for the cabin and nestled next to picnic staples. Oh yes, summer is a glorious time for reading.

Two summers ago I was delighted by Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians. It was unlike anything I’d ever read before. It was unapologetically over-the-top and yet, totally culturally enlightening. It was one of the highlights of my reading year.

So when I heard about the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, I was SO EXCITED.

chinarich-395x600

I did try and temper my expectations. Crazy Rich Asians was such a perfect gossip read while explaining a certain segment of society. Culturally, I learned a lot. Could a follow up book really live up to that?

YES. So much yes.

You absolutely need to have read Crazy Rich Asians before you embark on China Rich Girlfriend and I really urge you to do that. Immediately. China Rich Girlfriend is even more over-the-top than it’s predecessor. I was laughing like a maniac as soon as I cracked it. Kwan puts footnotes in his fiction because this world is based on real life. The footnotes were great the first time, they are hysterical this time.

It’s hard to talk about this book without giving a lot away. There are a lot of storylines happening, a lot of different characters all more or less connected. This book is full of exotic locations, private jets, family hysterics, social histories, antiques, priceless art and the rules that everyone must play by.

I don’t know why this isn’t already tucked in your beach bag, honestly.

If you need more convincing, you should read this.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for providing me with an ARC of this book. 

8

Worth the Wait: The Vacationers

Last summer I desperately wanted to read Emma Straub’s The Vacationers. I read about it on basically every blog and book community site. Every beach photo on Instagram seemed to feature this book and I felt like the only person that wasn’t reading it.

So when I saw it on the shelf at the library on my little pre-long-weekend-reading-material-run, it felt like it was meant to be.

I raced through the library on my lunch break and still had about a half hour to spare so I sat outside in the sun and started reading this book. Problematic only because I was already in the middle of another book, which meant that I was (once again) working on two books at one time. Apparently I never learn.

It didn’t end up being an issue for very long. I inhaled The Vacationers.

vacationers

Franny and Jim Post are going through a crisis in their 35 year marriage. They decide to go through with their planned family vacation in Mallorca – maybe it will give them a chance to get some perspective or maybe it will be a last hurrah. Sylvia, their 18 year old daughter, has just graduated and is looking forward to a fresh start in college but is looking to use the holiday to finally lose her virginity. Son Bobby is coming from Florida with his older girlfriend (she’s 41 to his 28) Carmen who the family do not like. Bobby and Carmen have their own issues and Bobby has come on the trip to ask his parents a pretty big favour.

Charlie and Lawrence round out the group. Charlie is Franny’s best friend and Lawrence is his husband. They are in the process of adopting a baby and have come on the trip as a way of distracting themselves from all the process and all the stress that that places on their relationship.

When I peeked on Goodreads I was surprised to see that a lot of people didn’t have a lot of love to give this book. People thought it was boring! I think The Vacationers is that elusive book that feels like a beach read but still lets the reader feel like they are reading something bigger. What I mean is that, it’s a book about a vacation, about people eating their way through an area of Spain, spending time sitting by the pool, reading novels and sleeping late. It’s about the every day on vacation. But it’s also about the bigger things. Franny and Jim are at a crossroad in their marriage and neither is sure how to proceed; Sylvia is looking forward to reinventing herself at university; Charlie and Lawrence are about to take a massive step together and there is a lot of fear and uncertainty in that; and Bobby and Carmen – well Bobby and Carmen could probably have their own book.

It’s a short book (292 pages) and there are a number of characters so I’m not sure that there’s enough time to really connect with them. That might have been the issue for some readers. Once again, the characters are very human (see also: flawed). Franny doesn’t really ever make an effort to get to know Carmen despite the fact that Carmen is the only other person that seems to want to help in the kitchen at all; Jim has f*cked up in a really big way and has no idea what to do with his life now; Carmen met Bobby when he was a kid and showed him how to be an adult, which means that now that he’s sort of finally an adult their relationship has stalled while he figures out what he actually wants; and Sylvia is really up her own ass.

But reading about flawed people is the best kind of reading. And if I can do that kind of reading in such a non-taxing way at the beach instead of slogging through 700 pages that will leave me with the same feelings, so much the better.

This book is about the little moments that make up a big life, the choices that bring us to  these moments and the people that we share them with. And it will probably make you think that your family is maybe not so bad after all.

12

The Answer to Your Gone Girl Withdrawal

I’m staring five days of book-reading freedom in the face. We’re heading out of town and I made sure to bring plenty of reading material to keep me occupied. Forget making sure I have weather appropriate clothing (even though the West Coast is the best coast, there’s some tricky weather this time of year. But not snow so this is not a complaint), I need to ensure appropriate reading material at the lake. After careful consideration (priorities guys) I decided to bring along: Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell), The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (JK Rowling) and Paris: A Novel (Edward Rutherford).

Then, since I’m almost done The Remains of the Day, I snuck John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars in my bag at the last minute.

My intention is not to actually rub this freedom in your faces – presumably you have a long weekend ahead of you as well. I came here today to tell you about a book I read last week: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight.

You guys. This book. Delicious. Unexpected. Terrific. So many feelings.

Kate Baron is a single mom working in a fancy law firm. She’s working through a high profile case when she gets a call from her daughter’s school: her daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating on an English essay and has been suspended for three days. Kate needs to come pick her up immediately.

Kate ends up getting caught in midtown traffic and it takes her over an hour to reach the school. When she does, there are police cars and firetrucks all over the place and she is told that her daughter committed suicide. She jumped off the roof of the building.

Weeks later she receives a text message: Amelia didn’t kill herself.

This text drives Kate to find out what actually happened. Does it have anything to do with the texts she’s been receiving about Amelia’s father? What is the deal with the student newsletter? Amelia would never cheat on an English essay, what happened?

This book has been compared to Gone Girl a lot. If you liked Gone Girl, I’m pretty sure you will enjoy Reconstructing Amelia. Like in Gone Girl, the narrative changes back and forth: in one section you are following Kate as she works through the last days of Amelia’s life, drawing all kinds of conclusions. In the next, you are with Amelia as her last days actually unfold.

My immediate reaction when I was reading the Amelia section was that those of you that loved Gossip Girl would love this book. The student newsletter reads like an opening of Gossip Girl. The story follows a bunch of very privileged teenagers with way too much time on their hands. But in the middle of all of their teenaged crap, they are struggling to fit in, to conform, to be equal to their peers. McCreight does an incredible job of channeling their teenaged voices.

It was hard to watch the story unravel seeing, like Kate and Amelia couldn’t, how close each actually was to taking a different path. How many times each wanted to come clean with the other and didn’t, setting them both down this path that leads to so much grief.

If you’re looking for a long weekend read, or you’re starting to mine for beach reads, Reconstructing Amelia. Do it.