First line: The Shah’s wife was unfaithful to him, so he cut off
her head and summarily declared all women to be evil and thereby
deserving of punishment.
Summary: Jillian Lauren was an
eighteen year old NYU dropout when she hears about an opportunity to
earn $20,000 by going to the country of Brunei as a guest of the
billionaire prince, Jefri. What starts out as a two week trip ends up as
an eighteen month stay in the prince’s harem.
I really enjoyed listening to Jillian’s story. But at the same time I
was shocked. She grew up in a rather normal family. She goes to NYU for a
theater degree but dropout and works as a stripper and escort. Then she
travels to a foreign country in hopes of earning big money for a short
stay. Who does this? I guess I grew up too sheltered in small town
However, her time in Brunei is fascinating. The wealth and splendor of the rich is unbelievable. If you have seen Crazy Rich Asians then you know what I am talking about. She is given jewels, clothes and cash. She went on a shopping spree that basically had no spending limit! Even though she got lots of material possessions she never was happy. It is an interesting look into another lifestyle. I don’t completely understand it but I did find it a great read.
FYI: Language and explicit details about her life as an escort.
A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler
First line: When they asked her about the Vanderbilts and Belmonts, about their celebrations and depredations, the mansions and balls, the lawsuits, the betrayals, the rifts—when they asked why she did the extreme things she’d done, Alva said it all began quite simply: Once there was a desperate young woman whose mother was dead and whose father was dying almost as quickly as his money was running out.
Summary: Alva Smith is from an old New York family. However, after the death of her mother and her father’s financial troubles they are nearly destitute. Through the scheming of her friend, Consuelo Yznaga, she meets William K. Vanderbilt. He is the grandson of railroad tycoon, Cornelius Vanderbilt. William is looking to bring his family into New York society and Alva needs to take care of her family by marrying a wealthy husband. With this marriage of convenience Alva appears to get everything she wants. She helps the poor, builds grand new homes and travels the world. Yet it appears that something is missing…
Highlights: Before picking up this novel I had never heard of Alva (Smith) Vanderbilt. I remember the Vanderbilt name from high school history on the robber barons but nothing specific about each individual. I was pleasantly surprised by her story. She was a woman who did so much in a time when women were still thought of as dolls that needed to be sheltered. Her drive leads to grand homes, an opera house, women’s suffrage and a title for her daughter.
I cannot imagine living the life of Alva Vanderbilt. The amount of money she had and what she spent it on. If you have time you should Google their house, Petit Chateau, on Fifth Avenue. Spectacular! The costume ball she threw in 1883 was so extravagant that they spent nearly one million dollars (in today’s money) on champagne alone. Can you imagine?
Lowlights: Alva’s story seemed to drag on a little bit with much of the same thing happening over and over again. I was a little sad that so much of her drive came with the need to be a part of society. I understand wanting to be accepted. Everyone wants to be accepted. And it could be that I just do not come from that world or lifestyle.
FYI: Check out Fowler’s first novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.
Believe Me by J.P. Delaney
First line: On the day of departure, guests are requested to vacate their rooms by noon.
Summary: When British acting student, Claire, is struggling for money to pay rent she starts work at a decoy for a law firm in order to entrap straying husbands. However, on her last job the wife ended up dead the next day. In order to find out who the killer is they ask Claire to try to get a confession out of the husband. As she immerses herself into her character, the lines between the act and reality begin to blur.
Highlights: In the second novel by J.P. Delaney we get a twisty psychological thriller. I was certain I had the story figured out. I was wrong. There were so many decoys and little tidbits that make the reader believe one thing when it can mean something completely different. The story was FAST! I could not believe how quickly I read this and how hard it was to put down. I loved being inside Claire’s head even though it got a little troublesome at times. The way she viewed everything as a production was a fun styling choice for the author.
Lowlights: I do not believe there were many lowlights other than the fact that it is not something new or astounding. It is a great read but it is not groundbreaking. Enjoy it but do not look for the next Gone Girl.
FYI: Try Delaney’s first book, The Girl Before.
The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
First line: This is how it begins.
Summary: When Emma Davis is asked to return to Camp Nightingale it brings many memories and fears to mind. One summer, fifteen years before, Emma was a camper at Camp Nightingale and the three girls from her cabin all disappeared. Now as an artist on the rise, she continues to paint the missing girls Vivian, Natalie and Allison. Maybe going back will help Emma get past her demons and find out what truly happened to the girls of Dogwood cabin.
“I want to go inside, look around, see what memories it dredges up. That’s why I’m here, after all. Yet when I twist the doorknob, I realize my hand is shaking. I don’t know what I’m expecting. Ghosts, I suppose.”
Highlights: Sager’s latest novel is one of nostalgia for me. Having attended a summer camp near a large lake and cabins with no AC, this brought back many memories for me. The uncomfortable nights where everything is hot and sticky, canoeing on the lake, campfires and crafts. My sister, my cousins and I attended Quaker Haven Camp in Northern Indiana for two summers. We loved every minute of it. We made friends, crafts and memories. Even at church camp, you hear the stories of some creepy man that stalks the woods or a ghost that kidnaps children. This is what summer was as a kid at camp.
I could picture Camp Nightingale as clear as day. As Emma looks deeper into the events of fifteen years before she slowly reveals more memories that she has kept hidden. The author leads us in many different directions to keep us guessing. I loved the mystery of the lake. With each new tidbit, I was even more intrigued.
The ending was not what I expected. It wrapped up, we got the mystery solved but then…that ending! Holy cow! My chest was tight. My heart was pounding. I had to set the book down and breathe after the last page. The fact that Sager once again got a five star review from me is astounding. I cannot wait for his next book.
Lowlights: The only downfall was that I could not be reading this in a lawn chair on the shores of Dewart Lake in Indiana. That would have made this perfect.
FYI: This is the perfect book to take on a weekend trip to the lake!
Still Me by Jojo Moyes
First line: It was the mustache that reminded me I was no longer in England: a solid, gray millipede firmly obscuring the man’s upper lip; a Village People mustache, a cowboy mustache, the miniature head of a broom that means business.
Summary: Louisa Clark is starting a new adventure. She is travelling to New York City to work as a personal assistant. However, the new job is not exactly what she had pictured. With a busy schedule of appointments and society events, she tries to balance work and her new relationship with Ambulance Sam, who is back in England. At one such social event, she runs into someone that reminds her of her past and changes her future.
Highlights: Jojo Moyes is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I have read several of her novels and enjoyed them all. She has a way of writing that makes you feel everything. I laughed at Louisa Skyping with Sam. I nearly cried at the end when she is deciding who she wants to be. I love the character of Louisa Clark. She is quirky. She is funny without always meaning to be. She is not afraid to be herself. She is kind, honest, and loyal. I loved her interactions with all the different people in the apartment building. She is a person I would like to be. A complete optimist. She may have a few sad times but she is always looking at the bright side. In addition, getting to know more about her family. This book gave so much more to the other two. It filled in spaces and brought closure to many of the plotlines.
Lowlights: The more I think about this while writing the more I realize how much I liked it. Nothing to complain about at all.
FYI: Must read Me Before You and After You before reading in order to understand the background and characters. Also check out the movie, Me Before You, starring Emilia Clark and Sam Claflin.
Release Date: January 30, 2018
Everything is Awful by Matt Bellassai
First line: I was six years old when I last peed my pants.
Summary: Matt Bellassai is an internet star! He has his weekly show where he gets drunk and tells you have to live your life. He started his career at Buzzfeed and won a People’s Choice Award for his online videos. In this book he talks about the embarrassing and real parts of his life from his childhood to coming out to living in New York City.
Highlights: Hilarious stories! I love to watch his weekly videos on Facebook. Coworkers laugh at me while I am busting up in the breakroom. I cringed during the braces story, felt embarrassed during the closet scenario, and laughed through the rest of it. He has a way with words and while I was reading, I could hear him speaking which made it even better.
Lowlights: I wanted pictures! Several of the stories were a little slow moving but not enough to hinder the telling and laughs associated with it.
FYI: If you watch his Facebook series, “To Be Honest”, then this is a must read!