When Life Gives You Lululemons

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Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of Lauren Weisberger’s novel, When Life Gives You Lululemons, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT-Emily Charlton has left her job as Miranda Priestly’s assistant and is making a name for herself in Hollywood, working as an image consultant. When she loses a few high-profile clients  to a much younger ( and trendier) competitor, Emily heads to the suburbs of Connecticut to take refuge in the home of her dearest friend, Miriam. Miriam’s life as a suburban mom is completely different from Emily’s fast-paced lifestyle. While in Connecticut, Emily gets a career lead, when Miriam’s friend Karolina, a former super-model and wife to a Senator, becomes involved in a front-page scandal. Emily soon realizes that Karolina’s situation may have a sinister side. Can Emily survive living in the suburbs, while she works to repair Karolina’s tarnished reputation?

LIKE-Emily Charlton is one of the most entertaining characters in Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada,and I was thrilled to see her as a main character in When Life Gives You Lululemons. This isn’t a sequel, but a stand-alone book that you can definitely read without having read Prada, but fans will be excited for the return of both Charlton and the devil herself, Miranda Priestly.

When Life Gives You Lululemonshas a solid cast of three strong female leads. I felt the most sympathy for Karolina, who faces severe judgement in the public eye for a crime that she didn’t commit. The fact that she is both rich and beautiful, seems to give others the freedom to be hyper-critical and over look other aspects of her personality, like her intelligence and warm heart. Weisberger’s novels often deal with themes of celebrity, serving to push-back against the way society both obsesses and criticizes those in the public eye. Karolina’s situation is a sad one, made more so by the fact that her step-son, whom she adores and has raised for many years, is taken from her during the scandal.

Weisberger has a knack for clever titles. I enjoyed the fish-out-of-water scenario with Emily having to spend time in Greenwich, CT.. She may know how to handle Miranda Priestly, but suburban housewives are a new breed of high-maintenance women for her to master.

DISLIKE-  When Life Gives You Lululemonswas an enjoyable read, it is not one that is very memorable. I finished it a few weeks ago and even as I am writing this review, I’m struggling to recall key plot points or even how it ended.

RECOMMEND-Yes. I recommend When Life Gives You Lululemonsto fans of The Devil Wears Prada. It’s also a solid pick for a beach read.

The Best Kind of People

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Thank you to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with an advance copy of Zoe Whittall’s novel, The Best Kind of People, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – Avalon Hills, an affluent suburb in Connecticut, is rocked when beloved high school teacher George Woodbury is accused of sexual misconduct with several students. While George is in prison awaiting trial, his family must deal with the fallout. They find themselves unsure of his innocence, yet in the position of defending him and themselves, against a very angry town.

LIKE- The Best Kind of People isn’t so much about George or his trial; it’s about how his family experiences the trauma of having a loved one accused. It’s about how they process whether or not to believe him and what that means for their family moving forward. This is not a crime or legal novel, this is a family drama.

When a tragedy or crime happens, I do always wonder about the families of the accused. Depending on the crime, it sometimes seems like they are automatically judged as guilty alongside the actual accused. Joan, George’s wife, experiences this when people in town don’t understand how she could have been unaware of her husband’s transgressions. Joan works as a nurse and is highly regarded by her colleagues and patients, yet she feels that she has to take a leave of absence from her job and hide from the people in her town, as they harass her; throwing eggs at her car and leave threatening messages on her answering machine. When she does build up the courage to return to work, she has support from some of her colleagues, but gets the cold shoulder from others. She is guilty by association.

Also guilty by association are George’s children. His daughter, Sadie, still attends the high school where her father taught and is forced to interact with the girls who have accused her father of misconduct. His son Andrew, is now a lawyer living in New York, but he finds that small town gossip from the past comes back to haunt him. As far as the town and the media are concerned, the entire Woodbury family is fair game. Adding to the drama is Kevin, who is dating the mom of Sadie’s boyfriend. Kevin is a novelist who hasn’t had a hit in over a decade and he decides to use his proximity to the Woodbury family to cash-in by using their story as the basis for his latest manuscript.

Whittall has a talent for create fascinating characters who react in diverse ways to adversity. I like how she focused her story on the family members, rather than George or his legal problem. Her characters each react in surprising, yet organic ways that make for a compelling read. Although many readers have probably not been in this specific situation ( I hope not), I think most people will find areas to which they can relate. If not, I think this story will make readers more compassionate, especially when it’s so easy to engage in gossip or judgement.

I didn’t know much about the story going in and I actually thought I was reading a true story for the first few chapters. It felt real, rather than fiction. I was engaged immediately.

DISLIKE– I’m still contemplating the ending. I don’t want to give anything away, but I expect that I’m not the only reader that will have trouble with the ending. I think it’s probably very realistic, but it’s also incredibly frustrating. I actually gave a rather mournful “NO!” outloud when I read the last line.

In general, The Best Kind of People is a very heavy read. This isn’t a negative, it is what it needs to be for the story, but I also felt that it affected me personally. I found myself feeling low energy and negative on the days I was reading The Best Kind of People. Whittall’s writing and story had a noticeable affect on me.

RECOMMEND– Yes. The Best Kind of People is a shocking and affecting story. Whittall has crafted emotionally rich characters that are placed in a desperate situation. I will not soon forget this story.

Perennials

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Thank you to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with an advance copy of Mandy Berman’s debut novel, Perennials, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – Located in the Connecticut countryside, Camp Marigold, has impacted lives for generations. Fiona Larkin’s parents met at Camp Marigold and now, she is the next generation making summertime memories. When she’s nine, Fiona, who is from a privileged family, meets Rachel, who is being raised by a single-mom in New York City. Although they are from different backgrounds, the girls develop a deep friendship. When the girls are in college, they return to Camp Marigold to work as summer counselors and this one summer will dramatically alter the course of their lives.

LIKE– I loved Perennials. I was hooked from the first page and I tore through the novel in one day. I could not put it down. Perennials attracted me in several ways.

First, I never attended summer camp, but I desperately wanted to as a child. Summer camp is one of those things that I have romanticized based on friends talking about their own camp experiences and books like Perennials. I feel like I missed out on a quintessential American childhood experience, which attracts me to books on the subject. Perennials is not simply about camp, but it is about romanticizing the experience and that sense of nostalgia that keeps parents sending their children to camp. Perennials is about the ephemeral nature of growing up, where a summer truly is just a summer. Kids returning to camp can’t hold on to the exact recipe that made the previous summer so great, because they too have changed.

Second, Berman has created memorable characters. One of the most memorable is Rachel’s mother, Denise. On the surface, Denise seems very scattered. In her twenties Denise was working as a secretary in a lawfirm and had an affair with a married, older lawyer; Rachel is the product of that relationship. Denise and Rachel have been a secret, second family for Rachel’s father. When she finally realizes that he will never leave his wife, Denise only accepts money for her daughter and struggles to support them in a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan. Although in many ways, Denise seems like a mess: she drinks, constantly smokes, and racks up speeding tickets, but beneath her rough exterior, she is fiercely protective of her daughter. Watching her character reveal itself through the course of the novel was a beautiful story arc and just one example of Berman’s talent for character development.

Third, Perennials has a shocking and affecting twist. I could not have predicted the ending and it knocked me sideways, leaving a lasting impression. Have Kleenex handy.

DISLIKE– This is so minor, but I found the storyline between Nell and Mo to be less engaging than those of the other characters. However, I think their perspective did add another layer to the story.

RECOMMEND– Yes!!! Berman is a gifted writer and I can’t wait to read her next novel. I hope it’s released soon. Perennials is a heartfelt story with rich characters and thought-provoking themes.