Wildchilds by Eugenia Melian

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“That’s the business, Iris.  It’s a ruthless industry.  People’s love lasts but one season.”

In a novel that is fiction meets memoir, Eugenia Melian (who has worked in the industry as model, agent, producer, and music supervisor in Milan, Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles) tells the story of former top model in Paris, Iris, who has to make the choice to extract herself from her greatest love, Gus and the industry itself. We meet her present day living in La Arboleda on a ranch in Northern California, a far cry from the thrills and noise of the city. Single motherhood has fit her well, raising Lou all on her own after tragedy, a teen girl who looks and carries herself as gracefully as Iris, her life feels full enough. Maybe she doesn’t quite fit in with all the moms walking around in their yoga pants, but this is the calm her soul thrives on. The past eleven years, this has been paradise, peaceful, quiet until shocking news comes screaming that Gus, the father Lou has never met, the famous art and fashion photographer Iris once was muse and lover of, has died! She hadn’t even known he was sick!

Long ago, escaping that life, that admittedly was thrilling, fulfilling for a while she never imagined normal wouldn’t be so easy to attain. Loss after loss followed, and here now Lou blames her mother for ‘never marrying my father’, blames the man who never bothered to know his girl so how is she expected to feel anything, she doesn’t know him!, Worse still, how is she to come to terms with knowing she will never know her father Gus now? Isn’t fury a normal reaction? In fact, Lou badgers her, wanting to know why she won’t go back into modeling, who is dumb enough to give up fame, money, admiration of men, Paris, New York?  Iris is too scared to reveal the real reasons, the dark side of that high life. Settles instead telling her there are dangers in modeling. Making matters worse, Gus has left his photographic estate to Lou, and Iris is the executor. Being forced back into the chaos of Gus isn’t what she wants, memories of her childhood with her successful, often distant French mother consuming her as much as the abuses of her past, when she was so young and beautiful, a hot star on the rise. The drugs, the parties, the transgressions, but too there are memories of the intense bond, the passion between she and Gus. It had been amazing, for a time, where their love seemed ‘invincible’ until it soured, things moved too fast, she had to jump off that wild ride to survive, afraid of becoming something shameful.

Gus spent his entire life running away, towards something that was never enough, that took him further from Iris and Lou. But he was there in the beginning, for the rise of Iris as much a big part of her fall. Fellow models weren’t living with the easy luck, the shine that Iris was, the stark reality being girls disappeared, people took advantage, beauty wasn’t a deterrent to brutality, to the gritty streets. Beauty doesn’t keep you safe, in fact it seems to cry out for defilement. Money can be poisonous too. Power often leads to bottomless appetites, where better to feast than in the glamour and glitter of the modeling world?  Young girls and boys eager as a puppy to be something, someone, willing to do anything, and if not… so much the better.

Now a dangerous enemy has Iris in their sights. In order to give Lou everything Gus intended, the only real thing she will ever have of her father, Iris has to meet his conditions and retrieve the missing collection in Paris. If that’s not bad enough, she is being threatened with photos by a tabloid, a shameful past that haunts her. No longer the ingénue, it could well be that she has been underestimated, and it is time to confront the past, and strike back. No more can she allow anyone to take power away from her, not when she has her own beloved daughter to protect! It is through her love of Lou that she finds immeasurable strength to stop being a victim!

With the headlines of today, it’s not so shocking (isn’t that sad) that people abuse the young, knowing people will do anything for fame and those who won’t can be forced, manipulated by any means and those in power always have means, be sure of that. Iris was a natural, really good at what she did, loved it but couldn’t, wouldn’t accept the underbelly and more often than not that is the choice. Her own mother’s career, betrayals she stomached, sacrifices she made even hurting her own family, all the fair weather friends is ‘just the way the business goes’, life’s a jungle and it often comes to nothing, in the end. People (men and women) don’t talk about the things that happen to them in such industries, those in control know how to blackmail, you shut your mouth and take it if you hope to remain on top, or you leave quietly if you want to survive at all.

The images may be beautiful, but the reality isn’t a dream for most.

Publication Date: Out Tomorrow September 20, 2018

Fashion Sphinx Books

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How We Remember by J.M. Monaco

 

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Unlike Dave, in my younger years I grew up with a sense of my position in the world that was closely aligned with my mother’s. I accepted that I should never expect any sense of entitlement to anything.  I continued to live out the expectations required of the good girl who never fussed. I ate that soggy McDonald’s burger without complaining and said thank you very much for the privilege.

Now an academic living in North London, Jo returns home after her mother’s death, surprised that her mother saved enough money for an inheritance. Her mother who expected nothing from life, a mother who often disappointed her still had a few surprises it seems. Once her marriage was over, she took on the role of single motherhood, becoming a nurse. Jo’s childhood was mostly a lesson in spirit breaking, the same dreary life she escaped by beating the odds with her education, a mysterious turn of luck in the universe that led her to university in England earning her ‘fancy pants’ degree,  love with Jon, and a great career. It is a far cry from her childhood with a brother who took and took from her in between disappearing acts, now an adult and still just as lost, unstable and pulling at her with his needs. The early days when her parents were still together and tension was thick as the smoke from her mother’s cigarettes, the way she only felt the love and comfort of a real family when she was at her friend Beth’s, sharing their meals and easy affection. Then there was the big shame between Jo and her uncle as she became a teenager, a seduction in which she felt somewhat complicit, as girls often do, a hushed up incident buried in the bowels of her dysfunctional family, to keep peace between her mother and her aunt, despite the cost to Jo. Her parents own wildly chaotic, broken marriage isn’t something she wanted to mirror but Jo isn’t immune to relationship woes. Now, she has her mother’s diary and the incident feels fresh, her mother’s sorrow about the strain it caused with her family and proof that her mother knew exactly what her uncle was! That she believed Jo.

Jo is battling severe health issues far worse than her inability to conceive a child or carry it to term, and coming home is only opening old wounds on top of current troubles in her own marriage. There is a student, someone she fell for, and it’s all coming back to bite her. The trouble may cost her more than her job, if Jon finds out everything may come crashing down! Dave is adamant that the money from their mother should go to him, to help him in his latest scheme to make something of himself with a business! Jo already has everything (as if she hadn’t worked hard for it, saved) so why not give him a leg up for once? Why must he Dave always think he is entitled to things without working for them? There is a struggle, she has enough to fight against on her own than to deal with her brother’s outbursts, surely it’d be easier just to give him the money, despite her lack of faith it will do him a bit of good. Her father refuses to budge, knowing his ex-wife was adamant in how she wanted the money dispersed before dying of cancer. Her father is mentally declining, but the last thing she wants with her own illness is to be tied to caring for the man who never showed up for his kids, nor his ex-wife. Maybe she won’t have to, maybe her father has his own shocking surprise too.

This story does feel like a sad memoir about deeply flawed, lost people. No one gets fixed, there are no rainbows nor happy endings. Sometimes damaged people just continue their entire life falling apart and are too stubborn or helpless to change. Is the dysfunction so deeply rooted that there is no hope, or is it simply a case of turning over and playing dead, a constant victim of circumstances? It’s hard to say. Each character seems to have done terrible stuff that needs forgiving, Jo included when it comes to her own husband Jon. Maybe some people just have to be accepted as the mess they are.

Publication Date: September 13, 2018

RedDoor Publishing

 

The Golden State: A Novel by Lydia Kiesling

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“This is my house, ” I say aloud, and everything in the house contradicts me, down to its dubious foundation.

It is to this house in the desert of Altavista with her baby girl Honey that Daphne flees, leaving behind her work at the University of San Francisco, a student who has never quite finished her PhD despite encouragement from those around her because “working at the institute has amply illustrated the precarious sh*tshow that is a life of the mind”. She is a single mother for all intents and purposes as her Turkish husband, Engin is trapped by a ‘processing error’ and cannot return to the United States of America. The novel follows Daphne and Honey through the desolation their lives have become in Engin’s absence. Single despite the occasional Skype with Honey’s daddy, a tiresome thing, Skype when her life is already consumed by meeting her child’s needs and demands.  A desert seems a fitting place, because this is a sort of desert period for Daphne. The house is her grandparent’s mobile home, her mother is dead and it’s hers now. Her family had lived there for a long time, settled and rooted but this life doesn’t fit her.

You can’t expect a lot of dialogue between a baby and her mother and yet Kiesling manages to make Honey a solid person, whether she is cranky and whiney or like on Day 5 kissing her mommy’s face awake. That’s how we bond though, without words and there is a beautiful intimacy in it. It gets boring at times, and you feel as bogged down as she does but at least the baby is always real, present unlike so many stories where children are unnaturally silent the entire novel. I dont’ think such children exist in reality. Right now, ‘conversations are work’ and Daphne seems to both welcome and hate this self-imposed exile. She thinks Ellery and Maryam, having met their doom and compares the young women to her own very much alive child. But it’s a thought she doesn’t like to feed on, and in some strange way may shoulder a bit of blame for, or maybe not, can you bear the blame of fate’s whims? She should be opening emails, dealing with whatever mess she has jumped ship from back at the university, but she cannot find the wherewithal do it. She is in a sort of strange in-between time so many mother’s are familiar with after the birth of a child. Daphne plus one.

She meets the locals, and explains she works for an institute that studies Islamic studies which naturally begs the question, “Like Isis?” Daphne studies the language, and how countries share an islamic past. Bring up Muslim and hackles raise with a cry of Isis, which is often a shamefully believeable reaction in our country. She absolutely defends her husband and all the Muslims who don’t go around ‘blowing people up’ and plotting terrorism, yet this also isn’t the point of the novel. Despite this, she and Cindy become friends of sorts, even though she doesn’t agree with her ‘ideology.’ The biggest group of people are ‘State of Jeffersoners’, not the sort of group her husband Engin (if he ever returns to her) will be able to tolerate. The possibility of a life where her family’s people have been since the 1800’s just may not be a viable option for her. She gets caught up, somewhat, in the secessionists who don’t want to deal with ‘urban problems’. Generations of people who feel the government is robbing them of the resources they’ve always had to themselves. She meets an old ‘auntie-type’ Alice, who has been to Turkey and serves as a sort of stand in grandma, support she surely lacks with Engin scattered to the wind and the rest of her family dead. A woman who has had much loss and sadness of her own, that far surpasses anything Daphne is struggling with. They take up together on a trip and everything goes sour, this is the climactic moment in an otherwise quiet story.

The story touched on xenophobia here and there, but not as much as you would expect. I was disappointed that Engin was as absent for me as he seems to be for Honey and Daphne. I wondered if some bone thrown my way about their love would have made me care more. Engin aside, I enjoyed the tender moments as much as the exasperating ones between Daphne and Honey. The writing is beautiful but the story did drag often and I usually enjoy being a visitor in a character’s mind. Sometimes I felt as exhausted as Daphne. Good but nothing much happens until the very end.

Publication Date: September 4, 2018

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Water Cure: A Novel by Sophie Mackintosh

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*LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE*

Then we are all just useless there on the lawn, already painfully overgrown, waiting for Mother to find us.

Just what is so terrible out there beyond the territory (island) that King keeps his daughters Grace, Lia, and Sky along with their mother under protection? What sort of men are beyond the waters, dangerous enough that it requires barbed wire? Just what has soured the mainland? Will we ever know?

The girls are cleansed through strange rituals, therapies to cleanse them from the world’s rot, but there is no cleansing for when in mourning. Their father disappeared, and now it is just the women. Is he dead? Missing? What will they do without King, father, protector? What will happen when the threat arrives, in the form of strangers, men?

We know once there were women who sought shelter, but from what? The Water Cure is beautiful and frustrating at the same time. I kept wondering, has the world gone to hell or is this just some brainwashed family, and the men that arrive don’t really confirm much about the world out there. There is a line, “The real trick is how and why we continue surviving at all”, that speaks volumes because really what sort of life do they have? Sister’s only for company, clueless about the world beyond, controlling their personal energies (feelings) in ways the toxic world didn’t ever prepare for, leading to destruction. What are these therapies, to us laughable at best, which lends more to the ‘these women are brainwashed’ theory. “In the heady days without our father, we let our bodies sprawl.” Suddenly their days and bodily toxins are less measured with King gone, their mother swears daughters are ‘hardwired for betrayal’, again making me question King and their mother. Okay, has there been some sort of epidemic?  King travels to the mainland for meager supplies, certainly if other women came to the island something is wrong on the mainland, right?

Strong feelings “weaken you”, and women are full of them. The other women who came, got sicker or better and left. Damaged women, drifting through the girls lives by boat, one even escaping as the girls themselves would if they chose to. But, why would anyone need to escape a place meant to save, a place she chose to come to? A ‘promised place’ according to her mother and King. People don’t run from a healthy world, right? As a reader it’s so hard to take the ‘preparations’ seriously. All one keeps thinking is, ‘this is one deluded couple.’ But the women ‘recoiled’ when they first saw King, so maybe there is some meat to the whole ‘world gone awry’ business. Are the men this bad or is King just feeding his girls a diet of fears to keep them from growing away, becoming women? Better to control their bodies, desires, tame their sexuality, which is why men and the mainland are such a threat. Let’s say the world is normal, much like our own, let’s face it there are enough horrors acted upon women that make them recoil too, it doesn’t require a natural disaster, just a bad man.

A lot of time is spent telling us feelings are bad, that “trauma” is a toxin, well by that token any ‘mainland’ is ruinous, dangerous, and toxic  therefore there is no need for an apocalypse. “Without our father, it is very hard not to think about things going wrong.” Obviously they are all ill prepared anyway, women alone on an island, surely King had to know a time would come when he couldn’t protect them anymore? Safety in numbers, and if family is all that is true and good, shouldn’t they want to create their own families too at some point? Parents won’t live forever. Not much preparing there, eh?

When the men come and emotions catch fire, the sisters come apart. Desire can’t be contained anymore than nature can, because we are nature too. Maybe men are the toxins, with their pulling and pushing, wanting and discarding when boredom arrives. “She was just like every other woman.  Eager and tender-hearted.” Girls, easily manipulated with all their wants, desires, their treacherous toxic ‘personal energies’ always in excess with girls, women. Women, trapped forever “absorbing the guilt and sorrows “ of the world. Maybe women are islands themselves. I know my review is disjointed, but that is exactly my feeling after reading the novel. I don’t trust it and yet I can dig some meaning here and there. It comes off as a sly feminist work.

Of the men, James has some insight to share about the world that is and isn’t dangerous for women, not much different from our own, really. There are lies, so many lies and maybe a life that could be ‘open’ to the girls beyond the island. I can’t divulge much more because it would ruin the story. I enjoyed the writing, it was a uniquely strange novel but I was also irritated without solid answers. No, I don’t need all my stories with happy endings, or tidy explanations but sometimes, with some stories there is a build-up and you expect something to sink your teeth into. The ending here ends up being as dreamy and open-ended as the entire novel. I am still rubbing my eyes in confusion, what was that all about in the end? I both know and don’t know, and maybe that is the intention, to be as unsure as Grace, Lia and Sky.

Publication Date in US: January 8, 2019

DoubleDay Books

 

 

Single and Looking Daisy: A Funny Laugh Out Loud Feel Good Summer Read (Secret Lives of Sisters Book 1) by Belinda Austin

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The cat swayed slightly on his paws. “I had a pint me dear. I imbibe now and then because you cut off me love buds.” 

Daisy is approaching her 40th birthday, and of course there is nothing her sisters (the Estrogen Squad as Shakespeare the kitty calls them) want more for her than to be married off. Daisy’s adopted cat Shakespeare is another story, when he isn’t imbibing or making money with his business he is helping her land a man. Sober Shakespeare is less easy to manage, telling her how to dress (certainly not ho-ishly), quoting William Shakespear when the situation takes his fancy. It’s time, he tells her, to let her sisters take the reins and help her find a man!

Daisy keeps a list, one not too demanding. Is it asking too much of the universe to send her man who isn’t, say, a peeping tom? It’s not like she is asking for outrageous qualities! Just a solid, sane man! Her sisters all take a shot at it, beginning with the youngest, 21-year-old Doll. Joey… Joey Cuervo is the first. Will he be as deliciously smooth as Tequilla? What about Dove’s man, chosen for her big sister, one Harvey Wallbanger?

Men aside, the fun is all with Shakespeare’s antics. With his ‘catty’ comments and spot on advice “You look like a witch with a wart on your chin!”, it’s a novel spent in feline head space. Trust a talking cat to tell it like it is when no other will! This whip-smart cat even helps her remove her dreaded first gray hair with his sharp little claws, earning any and all kitty treats. Who wouldn’t love this sassy fuzzball, be he a drunkard or not? You gotta be cruel to be kind!

I needed this book right now in my life, it’s been a tough year full of illness and the loss of a beloved aunt, whom might I add was a cat lover.  Books find us, I promise you that. I was a giggling nuisance in bed while reading Austin’s story. Sometimes we just need something fun and wacky to escape from the drudgery of life.  “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”  I’m sure kitty Shakespeare would growl that in my ear right now. This really is a fun, silly book. Maybe some of the men she’d have been better off just downing their namesake and skipping a date altogether!

Will Daisy find love, will she survive her sisters’ disastrous choices? Will Shakespeare ever get over losing his love buds (no, no he will not)? A fun, light summer read!

Publication Date: August 24, 2018

BooksGoSocial

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

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“And Lydia,” she added before I could dart away back to the stable, “you must never show the world what it is that you have inside of you.” 

It is 1821, banished to ‘the edge of the world’, according to her sister Catherine anyway, the Montrose family find themselves living in the much more isolated Willow Hall, having had to flee Boston. A portrait of a doomed ancestor on the Hale side presides over the library, always watching, one of grim fate, that of a witch who was hanged. It seems that scandal seems to follow the women, and now thanks to Lydia’s eldest sister Caroline, they have had to give up life in society, no more parties, visits with friends and it all hits their mother hardest. Rumors destroyed them “We’ve only been here a day, but it already feels too full of ghosts of a happy family that might have been“, things will only get worse. Something sinister is lurking, and both Emmeline and Lydia will be caught up in its terror.

Little Emeline is dreamy, delights in exploring their new surroundings with images of mermaids playing in her mind. It may well be this childish fancy that endangers her. The romance isn’t all hummingbirds in the heart, Lydia isn’t as beautiful as her sister Catherine and her intended needed, for appearances sake, to be well rid of her and the stink of scandal. Maybe it wasn’t a great love, but it aches all the same that he abandoned her  when family could have used some support and broke things off, chosing the cowards way. Is love through with her? What is the story behind the mysterious Mr. John Barret, whose partnered up with their father? Are the rumors true, that ghosts and all matter of supernatural beings haunt their new home? Emeline believes so. After their chance meeting with Mr. Barrett, Catherine delights in having visitors, male ones to be exact. Lydia knows she is scheming, her beautiful sister is always up to something. Her improper sister seems bent on ruin.

Lydia’s peculiar nature is growing stronger, she is seeing things, messages in mirrors, a woman in the night, or is it simply a ‘figment of her imagination’? Whom dare she confide in  about the things that are happening to her? Everything is about to turn dark, and Lydia’s powers bind her to her dear sweet sister  Emeline in ways she never had imagined. Caroline has her own future happiness, survival to contend with and she will do everything she can to secure it. But at what cost?

Lydia’s family isn’t the only one whose past is clouded, there is more to Mr. Barret than meets the eyes. Not all menace comes from outside forces either. Her inheritance is an unusual one, an ancestor long dead may have answers, but her mother may have been keeping her in the dark. What are her reasons?

Without giving anything away, I found the story similar to gothic stories I used to read in the summertime, well-loved, battered copies from my grandmother’s bookshelves. I was always surprised that despite its lack of sex there was always some depravity within. The same holds true here, nothing was easy for women back in the day.  Easy to scoff at what was considered ‘ruinous’ in bygone days but reputation was serious, it was about more than just being snubbed. Any whiff of indiscretion and there goes your standing in society, your very livelihood too, business connections, even maids would leave you standing in the lurch. It didn’t make for sisterly affection when one sibling is self-involved at the risk of brining down her entire family. Imagine the deeds of other family members barring you from future success, or hope for a happy marriage? There is romance, but it isn’t the entire story. It is about protecting family, even to one’s own detriment. Supernatural forces come into play, wreaking havoc on a family that already has disturbances of its own making.

Secrets have a power of their own too, depending on who knows them. Will Lydia be strong, brave enough to embrace her abilities and salvage what she can from her family ruins? An enjoyable read that has haunts, family scandals, deaths, and a witch whose blood still flows in the veins of her descendant. This is will be out in October, the perfect month for all things otherworldy.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Harlequin

Graydon House

 

 

 

The Dream Daughter: A Novel by Diane Chamberlain

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“But what are they?” I asked, beginning to panic. “Your findings, what did you see?”

Scary words when you’re pregnant and the news isn’t good, “Your findings, what did you see?”. Caroline has already lost the father of her child, to learn that her unborn baby has a heart defect is horrifying. The time is 1970, and all hope seems lost until her brother-in-law, a man with his own mysterious past, a physicist, confides a deeply shocking secret, one that may change her entire future and that of her unborn baby. At first, it seems as if he has lost his mind or is playing a joke. Can playing with time be the answer? This ‘leap’ she must take, if Hunter is to be believed, will save her baby’s life but if it’s all madness, it could cost Caroline her own.

It is to Caroline Hunter Poole owes his own happiness, once just a strange guy with broken bones and deep depression stuck in a wheel chair none of the other physical therapists wanted to work with. Hunter chose her, the only PT he was he was willing to have take him on, feeling she reminded him of someone he once knew. It isn’t long before she feels he’d be perfect for her sister Patti. Patti and Hunter marry, he feels tight as brothers to Caroline’s husband Joe before his tragic death. How could he stand by and watch Caroline lose the one thing, her baby, that gave her any happiness, any hope after such loss? It will expose his secret to confide in her a path to save the baby and explain the mysterious incident that landed him in the hospital to begin with.

This story hits the heart of a mother, because the truth is for most women a child is loved the moment we carry them. It is many a pregnant woman’s fear that something could go wrong for her unborn baby. In Caroline’s case, it’s true. What mother wouldn’t consider the absolute impossible if it meant salvation for her child? Wouldn’t cling to even another’s ‘fantastical story’ if it could be true? This tale turned my thoughts to medical breakthroughs, while miraculous for some came too late for others. Time, in that instance, can feel like it plays favorites much kinder to future generations. But that’s a game we can all play, some of our simple illnesses today, in bygone times, snuffed out many lives.

Caroline will be displaced, and trapped by the windows of time may still lose everything she holds dear. How much do we sacrifice for love? What if the one chance your child has means letting go forever?

This is a unique story about time travel and  how happy endings aren’t always destined to play out the way we planned. A unique twist as usually time travel novels are about love between a man and woman this instead is a mother and child love story. Wonderful.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

St. Martin’s Press