Book chat: ‘New Money’ and ‘Independently Wealthy’

New MoneySavannah Morgan arrives in New York on the dime of a father she never met with a plan to take the city by storm.

Now a part of the illustrious Stone News empire, Savannah is the secret daughter who grew up modestly in Charleston away from the prying eyes of the media — and her wealthy, successful siblings. After her biological father suddenly dies, Savannah is left a fortune on the condition that she move to the city and join her brother and sister in the Stone family business.

Simple enough? Perhaps . . . until everything turns out differently than she imagined.

Lorraine Zago Rosenthal’s New Money is a light, entertaining story of a 24-year-old debutante set loose in Manhattan after a lifetime among Southern society. To say she is lost amidst a sea of dark-clothed, serious New Yorkers is an understatement — but once she flees the comfort of her mother’s home in South Carolina, she is determined to create a new path for herself as a writer . . . or maybe something else entirely.

Though I enjoyed Savannah’s story, success seemed to find our heroine a little too easily. After learning the identity of her biological father, a billionaire, Savannah hops a plane and steps straight into a sleek apartment overlooking Central Park with barely a thought of the mother she is supposedly devoted to — or the life she is leaving behind. Her whacky best friend temporarily turns Savannah’s new life into a sorority romp, and the tenuous relationship she is trying to build with her half-siblings is constantly under fire.

The set-up of New Money felt to be entirely tell with no show — a fact that surprised me. I didn’t feel I actually got to know Savannah until the end of the novel, when she was in love with a bartender and fighting to keep her new family’s name out of the press. We were told she is this strong, passionate, intelligent woman . . . but her scatter-brained actions didn’t always reflect that.

But even having said that, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this story . . . I did! It was fun escapism that demanded little of me, which was perfect. It’s actually been a while since I read a story set in Manhattan, and Rosenthal’s descriptions of the city through an outsider’s eyes were fun. Her budding romance with Alex, a reformed fighter, was sweet and sweetly believable; her attempts to get to know her brother and sister were realistic and a little heartbreaking.

All in all, New Money was the first novel I’ve read in the burgeoning “new adult” category — and with a little romance, plenty of family dynamics and lots of rich-people-peeping to keep me company, it was a fun story with interesting characters that I enjoyed getting to know.

Which brought me to . . .


Independently WealthyIndependently Wealthy. Now that Savannah is rooted in Manhattan society and earning her keep at Femme, the magazine which recently published her first work, she is focused on building a place within the Stone family — and discovering the truth about what happened to their father. When her search takes her to Washington, D.C., and into the complicated world of American politics, Savannah must decide whether to push harder than she ever has or turn back.

Filled with more mystery and depth than its predecessor, Independently Wealthy finds us acquainted with a much stronger, more empowered heroine with a clear goal: finding out the truth about the fatal accident that claimed her father’s life and a potential cover-up that could make headlines around the world. When investigators hit dead ends, Savannah snoops in Edward’s files to find connections others may have missed and leaves for Washington in the hope of learning the truth.

Given I’m from the D.C. area, I loved seeing glimpses of my hometown as Savannah races among the political elite to confront the man she believes was instrumental in Edward’s death. We also see romantic development in several areas and a pretty dashing new male lead — one I found vastly superior to Alex, quite honestly. Like, completely.

What made Independently Wealthy really work for me were the growing family dynamics. Ned and Caroline, Savannah’s half-siblings, really became human in this second installment. In fact, where I once found Ned to be particularly insufferable, I actually started to like the guy. He is charismatic and snobby and cocky, but he’s a little lost, too. Each character seemed more vulnerable this time around — and I liked that we got to know them beyond the superficial.

Lorraine Zago Rosenthal has written two books with a sassy narrator who takes chances and goes big, and I enjoyed the time spent with the Stone family. As Savannah has grown so much between books one and two, who knows what could be in store for her down the line . . . I hope we’ll get a chance to find out.


New Money: 3 out of 5!

Independently Wealthy: 4 out of 5!

Goodreads • Amazon (New Money, Independently Wealthy) • Author Website


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Book review: ‘Everybody’s Got Something’ by Robin Roberts

Everybody's Got SomethingTelevision newscaster Robin Roberts has had her share of struggles. Treated for breast cancer in 2007, the “Good Morning America” co-anchor expected to make a full recovery and put her fight behind her . . . until five years later, when she learned she would need a life-saving bone marrow transplant for myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a rare blood disorder — a side effect from her initial cancer treatment.

Who could blame someone for balking, for shrinking, for retreating inward . . . for asking a distraught “Why me?” To hear Robin tell it, though she faced uncertainty and doubt and did occasionally rail against her situation, she tried to focus on healing.

And Robin is a fighter.

More inspirational than informational, Roberts’ Everybody’s Got Something is her recollection of where she was before, during and after her 2012 transplant — and reads as a “thank you” to the friends, family, coworkers and viewers who bolstered her during a tremendously difficult time.

As she prepares for her transplant and its required isolation, Robin must also come to grips with another pain: the grief of losing her beloved mother, Lucimarian. The love shared between her close-knit family — including Sally-Ann, her bone marrow donor — is the backbone of Robin’s story, and many chapters feature snippets of childhood and the many lessons her mother and father shared with their children.

Though Everybody’s Got Something lacked some of the candor I’d expect given Robin’s difficult situation, I respect her so much as a person and appreciate that she wanted to focus on the positives: the bond her illness further cemented with her family and girlfriend, Amber; the overwhelming, soul-restoring support she received from colleagues, friends and viewers; the strong faith that got her through the darkest of her days.

Robin’s struggles seem to have been buffed clean, smoothed of their most jagged edges — but this is her story. If it’s varnished, I understand . . . and appreciate that, more than anything, Everybody’s Got Something — a popular saying with her mother — is exactly what it purports to be: a reminder that we all face challenges, but need not be defined by them. Readers facing health crises may find it especially comforting.

If you like Robin? Well, you’ll like her book. She’s sincere and humble — and just a darn likeable person. I finished the memoir grateful for her returning strength and hopeful that the future will be a bright one.


3 out of 5

Pub: April 22, 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor on Twitter
Audio copy borrowed from local library


Book review: ‘The Here and Now’ by Ann Brashares

The Here and NowSeventeen-year-old Prenna James knows the rules. In exchange for her freedom, she and her fellow travelers must not let anyone know where — or, more specifically, when — they come from. That a group of “immigrants” has found a way to open a portal in time to journey back to an illness-free Earth is a wonder . . . one that cannot be discovered.

The air is clean. Mosquitoes are nothing more than a nuisance. Prenna doesn’t take any of her freedoms from Earth’s ravages for granted — not after barely surviving a plague that claimed countless lives almost a century in the future. Though her arrival isn’t without suspicion, she manages to dodge the questions of other teens . . . and even those of Ethan Jarves, a handsome classmate linked to Prenna from the beginning.

When a chain of events cause Prenna to question everything she’s been told about how and why the travelers are there, she must decide for herself how to move forward. And is love, regardless of the cost, really worth it?

Ann Brashares’ The Here and Now the latest in a batch of young adult fiction with a dystopian angle . . . and, you know, it was pretty interesting. It’s no Life As We Knew It, but it’s certainly not terrible. Something about the story has me leaning toward ambivalence, though; I can’t pinpoint anything wrong with it, but it didn’t hold my attention the way I would have liked.

Prenna’s wit, intelligence and cunning carried the story for me, though. As it becomes apparent the elders aren’t exactly disclosing the truth to their “family” of sorts, I wanted Prenna to break away and do something bold — especially when we discovered something could be done. The suspense of finding out the significance of a date and the true identity of a friend kept the pace moving forward, and the story’s pivotal scenes were pretty compelling.

The Here and Now takes place in modern-day America — more than half a century before a mosquito-born illness wipes out huge swaths of the population. On the whole, the world-building was . . . sufficient? Okay? I would have loved more details about future America, actually, but I suppose that wasn’t the real point. The plan was to prevent the awful future, even if that wasn’t initially the goal. So to hear tons about a ravaged world would probably have been pointless.

Still.

Billed partially as a romance, the evolution of Ethan and Prenna’s relationship felt pretty realistic. I saw Prenna as the cute kick-butt type — and Ethan, for all his quirkiness, definitely had the hunk factor going on. I loved that he was sharp and clever and always willing to help, and learning his fate really added to his impact for me. Their first-love fumblings felt true-to-life and sweet, and I loved how supportive they were of one another without falling into unabashed “But I can’t live without you!” cheesiness. I don’t do cornball. (Well, most of the time.)

Fans of young adult fiction with a healthy dash of dystopian disaster will find an interesting — if not entirely unique — tale in The Here and Now, which was a quick and easy read. Brashares has earned her spot with YA fans through the beloved Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, and her latest is worth a read. It didn’t rock my world . . . but was certainly an entertaining escape.


3.5 out of 5!

Pub: April 8, 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor on Facebook
Audio copy borrowed from my local library


Book review: ‘Lost Lake’ by Sarah Addison Allen

Lost LakeHearing Sarah Addison Allen has a new novel out is enough to send me running for the bookstore. I fell in love with her work in Garden Spells, then had my devotion solidified with The Sugar Queen and The Peach Keeper. Her blend of magic, love and family is often a delight, and I always look forward to losing myself in her work.

All this to say I went into Lost Lake with high expectations . . . and, sadly, they just weren’t met. Despite an intriguing-enough premise and some sweet (if shallow) characters, I never connected with the story or felt any allegiance to this unusual crew of vacationers and locals alike in Lost Lake, Georgia.

Our main cast is comprised of Kate and Devin, a mother-daughter duo grieving the unexpected loss of Kate’s husband. Wanting to escape from her cold mother-in-law and the constraints at home, Kate wakes up from a year of despondency with the idea of visiting her aunt Eby on the lake Eby has called home for decades.

Once a happening resort area, Lost Lake has fallen into disrepair — and become a victim of changing economic times. With Eby’s beloved husband gone, she no longer feels the passion she once did for the area . . . but can’t bear to leave it behind, either. With dreams of traveling the world again in her retirement, Eby has plans for Lost Lake — but so do other Georgia residents. And they may not go down without a fight.

Like all of Allen’s works, Lost Lake benefits from a sense of the surreal — but nothing in this novel floats quite like her other books. We feel for Kate and Devin as they navigate their sudden loss, but Kate always seemed detached and unyielding to me. I just didn’t bond with her.

But Eby? Eby was priceless. Still kicking rump in her would-be retirement years, I loved the genesis story of how she and George came to meet, marry and defy their families’ expectations by opening up Lost Lake. The stories from their honeymoon in Europe were the definite highlight of the novel for me, and I enjoyed the tale of how they met Lisette — a friend who has also makes her home at Lost Lake — through a mishap in Paris.

If the story had centered on those three, I would have been happier . . . or less annoyed, anyway. Honestly, most of Lost Lake was pretty forgettable for me. It lacked Allen’s trademark warmth, her zing and zip; it felt like a husk of a story instead of a full-blooded novel, and it suffered for that. It was entertaining enough when Kate and Devin finally connect with Eby, but I never bought into Kate’s romance or felt any desire to move forward.

I listened to Lost Lake on audio . . . and I think that’s the only reason I finished it. Though it pains me to pan an Allen novel, this one just lacked life. The story was more interesting when we delved into the past . . . but we had to keep returning to the present. A bummer how that works.


2.5 out of 5!

Pub: 2013 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Audio copy borrowed from my local library


Book review: ‘The Last Original Wife’ by Dorothea Benton Frank

The Last Original WifeAs her husband’s cronies begin trading in their middle-aged wives for buxom, younger versions, Leslie “Les” Carter feels her age, inadequacy and awkwardness in her bones. After several decades of marriage, her commitment to Wes has morphed her into little more than a housekeeper and meal-preparer as she sits in her empty nest without her two ungrateful children.

Just living the life.

When Les learns the bank account Wes has been safeguarding is far more substantial than he’s ever let on, the betrayal sends her over the top. It was enough that Wes had fobbed his wife off in Scotland after she suffers an accident, sending a friend’s wife to sit with her at the hospital while he keeps his tee time. But this? This bed of lies?

Without a word to anyone, Les escapes Atlanta to visit her brother in Charleston, land of their birth — and starts to do some rethinking of her own. She may be the last original wife among Wes’ power-player buddies . . . but is that really what she wants?

Dorothea Benton Frank’s The Last Original Wife is a summer read with heart. Though I didn’t fully connect to Leslie as a narrator, I felt for her situation and wanted to see her happy again.

The novel alternates between the viewpoints of both Wes and Les (how cute), and Wes came off as little more than a bully and a bore. As a woman, maybe my sympathy was just naturally with Leslie rather than her dull husband? I don’t know. But I found myself skimming Wes’ sections because he pretty much sucked, and maybe that was the point . . . but he just wasn’t entertaining.

Despite its rather serious subject matter (life, death, divorce), “entertaining” is a good word for The Last Original Wife. Frank’s playful tone makes Leslie a loveable character, even if I didn’t easily relate to her. She’s rich and sad and longing for connection, but I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at some of her antics. I just . . . wasn’t there with her.

But did I still enjoy the story? I did. It’s a light read with some interesting secondary characters. I could have done with less of the odd therapy scenes when the Carters are trying to sort out their issues, but there were realistic glimpses of marriage — and humor — there. Though I found the ending bittersweet, I appreciated where Frank had started Les and where she wound up. There was a sense of closure and fulfillment.


3 out of 5!

Pub: 2013 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review


Book review: ‘What I Was’ by Meg Rosoff

What I WasWhat an intriguing little book.

I knew from experience that Meg Rosoff doesn’t pen your “average” young adult fiction; indeed, How I Live Now was one of the more offbeat, compelling and disturbing YA books I’ve ever read. I finished it almost four years (!) ago, yet I can recall certain passages and turns of phrase all these books later.

In the vein of the colorful, unusual and incredibly well-written is this slim novel: What I Was. The tale of H, our relatively unnamed narrator, and his long-ago friendship with Finn, Rosoff’s story is an exploration of friendship. A confusing, focused, odd and all-encompassing friendship, perhaps, but still just a friendship at its core.

It’s hard to do this book justice — or discuss it without spoilers. So much happens, but there is little discernible “plot” in the traditional sense. H is a rapscallion (how often can one use that word?!) used to getting kicked out of prestigious boarding schools, and he expects he’ll face a similar departure from this one. Everything is a little boring, a little beneath him; he’s not interested in studying or readying himself for the future, or whatever it is young men of wealth and privilege should be doing. He simply doesn’t care.

And then, on a run with his classmates, he meets Finn. Moody, quiet and living a life of extreme independence in a small but well-cared-for hut on the water, Finn’s life is everything H wishes for himself — especially free from the prying eyes of professors and classmates. Though H doesn’t recognize his growing concern for Finn as what it truly is (until it’s too late, perhaps), we know that H has fallen in love.

It gets more complicated from there.

But not in the ways you’d expect.

Oh, the exquisite pain of wanting to discuss what happens in this book without spoiling it all for you. I will note that I had an awful spoiler-ish encounter with a review posted elsewhere, so I’m not going to do that to you. Even knowing what I knew going in (not everything, just some of it), I was still shocked by what transpired. In an impressive way. Rosoff is a master of revealing secrets slowly, then all at once . . . and you’re left gobsmacked that you could have missed something so obvious.

She’s just that good.

Though H is not a thoroughly admirable person, he’s a teenage boy. A teen boy with issues and problems and secrets weighing heavily on his shoulders, even if his natural defense is to laugh them off or lash out. I appreciated him as a narrator, enjoying his sarcasm and natural wit — and even when the chaos became too much to handle, I felt that this older-H telling us the story of this fateful year was an anchor. I held on to him.

The setting of What I Was — a crumbling British coastline — just added to the allure for me. Rosoff’s writing is rich in imagery, very atmospheric; we sense the damp and cold of Finn’s hut just as H does, and therefore appreciate the fledgling fire that much more.

Though this won’t go down in my personal literary history as a favorite, Rosoff’s story is fascinating and unique — something I’ve thought about often in the weeks since finishing.


4 out of 5!

Pub: 2008 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg


Book review: ‘Baby Proof’ by Emily Giffin

Baby ProofOh, I’m so torn about this one.

On one hand, it was very entertaining. Like all Emily Giffin novels, I raced through it — barely pausing between sentences, between chapters. It was interesting and often amusing and filled with (mostly) likeable characters, but . . .

But.

It felt shallow. Ill-conceived (eh, pun intended). I wasn’t entirely comfortable with where the story was headed, and I definitely wasn’t comfortable with where it wound up.

But look. If you’re a Giffin fan, you’ve probably already tread down the path of Baby Proof — like, years ago — and don’t need me to tell you to grab it or not grab it. If you like women’s fiction, chances are favorable you’ve come across the author’s work — and I certainly have. This was actually the final book of her backlist I had to pick up, and I’m not sorry I read it.

Would I read it again? Nope.

The gist of our story: Claudia Parr thinks she’s happily married to Ben, a man with whom she shares a no-child vision for their lives; Ben decides that may not actually be the case; marriage crisis ensues. In the end, Claudia must decide if she’s secure in not wanting to be a mother — and if she’s comfortable with Ben going on to parent with someone else.

That’s it.

It’s a pretty long book centering on one precise issue, but I actually thought Giffin handled it well. Of course, because our narrator emphatically declares she does not want a child — and stands to lose her marriage because of it — she sees babies everywhere. One sister desperately wants to be pregnant, but can’t be; another friend thinks she is going to have a child with her married lover, but fate might have other ideas. Basically, it’s all the babies all the time in Claudia’s world . . . and everything gets complicated.

If this sounds like a read you’d enjoy and/or you like Emily Giffin, you’ll probably dig this one. It was not my favorite of her books — that distinction would go to Something Blue — but, you know, it was passable.


3.5 out of 5!

Pub: 2007 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg