During her husband’s 1966 congressional run, Christina “Tiny” Hardcastle realizes her picture-perfect life has more than a few cracks and that maybe the time has come to be true to herself rather than to the glossy facade she has created.
“The first photograph arrives in the mail on the same day that my husband appears on television at the Medal of Honor ceremony.” So begins Williams’ second novel about the Schuyler sisters, after The Secret Life of Violet Grant (2014). Tiny’s husband is Frank Hardcastle, running for Congress in Massachusetts, and he's attending the ceremony for his cousin, Maj. Caspian Harrison, an unexpected boon and photo-op for his campaign, while the rest of the family holes up in their Cape Cod compound. The Hardcastle family is old money, and Frank has been bred his whole life for this campaign. Tiny, the posh, polished, and always proper eldest Schuyler sister, is also from money and is the perfect wife for the perfect candidate. Except that two years into her marriage, she's questioning everything. Again. There seem to be a number of “tiny little things” the title refers to other than Tiny herself, including: the soul-changing events a few weeks before her wedding, when she first met Caspian; the miscarriage she suffers just days before the ceremony; Frank’s secretive behavior that leads Tiny to believe he’s having an affair; the scandalous pictures someone is blackmailing Tiny with; and the sudden and unexpected arrival of Tiny’s vibrant, alluring, and nearly-never-proper sister Pepper. Elegantly written, mainly from Caspian’s third-person 1964 perspective and Tiny’s first-person 1966 perspective, the book is strewn with unexpected heroes and villains and makes an exclusive, Kennedy-esque world accessible. The underlying message is that money can’t buy happiness, especially when you’re living in a skin that no longer fits.
A fascinating look at wealth, love, ambition, secrets, and what family members will and won’t do to protect each other.
Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.
Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”
Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.
Kwan (Crazy Rich Asians,2013) returns with an equally good-natured, catty-as-hell sequel to his bestselling roman à clef about China’s new and old money dynasties.
For those not cued in, Kwan’s tone is breakneck and utterly disarming—part Oscar Wilde, part Judith Krantz, part Arthur Frommer—as he reintroduces his jet-setting ensemble of socialites and social climbers. They include: Nick and Rachel (star-crossed Asian-American lovers who are searching for her father while avoiding his meddlesome Singaporean mom); Mrs. Bernard Tai (aka Kitty Pong, former mainland soap-opera star, who must temper her nouveau urges if she hopes to impress members of Hong Kong’s exclusive dining clubs); Astrid Leong (married “beneath” her rank, wears off-the-rack dresses that, on her, pass for designer; her jewelry and class are the real deal, however); plus a circle of spoiled-rich 20-somethings who think they’re re-enacting TheFast and Furious. Whenever a character drops a salty Hokkien, Cantonese, or Mandarin phrase or an unfamiliar reference, Kwan translates in a wry footnote (a device he used to great effect in his previous book). Occasionally the sendups of squillionaire excess fall a little flat: “Look—it’s a koi pond,” gasps Rachel as she absorbs the décor of her Shanghai host’s private jet. “God, you scared me. For a moment I thought something was wrong,” answers her fiance, Nick, who stands to inherit one of China’s great fortunes but prefers teaching undergrads at NYU. “You don’t think anything’s wrong?” Rachel presses. No wonder Nick’s mom, the not-to-be-bested Eleanor Young, tries her utmost to topple their engagement! (Until she stumbles onto the true identity of Rachel’s birth father—and is now using it to reel her son home to face up to his privileged heritage, with unanticipated results.) Most hilarious when he’s parodying uber-rich Chinese aunties who’d “rather camp out six to a room or sleep on the floor than spend money on hotels” and professional image consultants who help clients “take [their] most embarrassing biographical details and turn them into assets,” Kwan keeps more than a few plot resolutions in the air but delivers at least one priceless declaration of love: “The bathroom [renovation] is fully funded….Now please pick out a dress.”
Over-the-top and hard to stop. A third installment is promised.
The latest in the adventures of Collins’ lady mobster with a heart of platinum, Lucky Santangelo.
When we last left Lucky (Goddess of Vengeance, 2011, etc.) she was extricating her children from scrapes and fighting off a hostile takeover attempt by the Middle Eastern kingdom of Akramshar on her Las Vegas showplace, The Keys. Nothing much has changed except that gorgeous, canny, and sexy Lucky continues to age in reverse. A prologue reveals that since Armand, the favorite son of Akramshar’s King Emir, was assassinated at The Keys, Emir has vowed revenge on the entire Santangelo clan. The first salvo arrives as Lucky is preparing for another Vegas reunion with her former mob boss father, Gino. The ever feisty nonagenarian is gunned down, execution style, while on his daily power walk in Palm Springs, and Lucky finds an anonymous embossed card reading “Vengeance” in his desk. Lucky’s son, Bobby, opening his new nightclub in Chicago, is slipped a roofie by a call girl—for whose murder he is subsequently framed. Lucky immediately suspects a link between Gino’s killing and Bobby’s predicament, but her private detective informs her the attack on Bobby was probably intended to ensnare Bobby’s girlfriend, Denver, a Los Angeles district attorney who's attempting to bring down Alejandro, son of Pablo Diego, another of Collins’ hate-worthy drug-czar villains. As for Lucky’s daughter, 18-year old Max, a breakthrough Italian modeling gig has turned into “something of a nightmare,” an atypical (for Collins) understatement. For some reason, Lucky doesn’t wonder who else might have had it in for the Santangelos. As readers wait breathlessly for Lucky to catch on, a stable of has-beens and hopefuls, including Willow, a tabloid-tarnished former starlet trying to fellate her way to a career restart, and Rafael, the illegitimate son Pablo underestimates at his peril, adds spice to Collins’ usual stew of Hollywood depravity.
Collins’ dim view of human nature never fails to entertain.
A beloved author returns with a novel built around a series of real-life plane crashes in her youth.
Within 58 days in the winter of 1951-'52, three aircraft heading into or outbound from Newark Airport crashed in the neighboring town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, taking 116 lives. Blume (Summer Sisters, 1998, etc.), who was a teenager there at the time, has woven a story that mingles facts about the incidents and the victims—among them, Robert Patterson, secretary of war under Truman—with the imagined lives of several families of fictional characters. Though it's not always clear where truth ends and imagination begins, the 15-year-old protagonist, Miri Ammerman, is a classic Blume invention. Miri lives with her single mother, Rusty, her grandmother Irene, and her uncle Henry, a young journalist who makes his reputation reporting on the tragedies for the Elizabeth Daily Post. In addition to the crashes, one of which she witnesses firsthand, Miri faces drama with her mom, her best friend, the adviser of her school newspaper, and her first real boyfriend, an Irish kid who lives in an orphanage. Nostalgic details of life in the early '50s abound: from 17-inch Zeniths ("the biggest television Miri had ever seen") to movie-star haircuts ("She looked older, but nothing like Elizabeth Taylor") to popular literature—"Steve was reading that new book The Catcher in the Rye. Christina had no idea what the title meant. Some of the girls went on dates to Staten Island, where you could be legally served at 18....The Catcher in the Rye and Ginger Ale." The book begins and ends with a commemorative gathering in 1987, giving us a peek at the characters' lives 35 year later, complete with shoulder pads and The Prince of Tides.
Though it doesn't feel much like an adult novel, this book will be welcomed by any Blume fan who can handle three real tragedies and a few four-letter words.
After a scary break-in, divorce attorney Victoria Slade rents a new condo, but that doesn’t stop her panic attacks—and it brings complications in the form of a sexy neighbor.
After years watching marriages come to harsh endings as a successful divorce lawyer, Victoria has concluded that happily-ever-after doesn’t exist. She makes good money and has a nice life, great friends, and the occasional fling, so being single’s no hardship. When a violent home invasion forces her into a rented condo and brings on a spate of panic attacks, though, Victoria goes into therapy, then meets her sexy neighbor Ford Dixon, who comes across as an arrogant player. But her opinion of him changes when she meets his sister, a struggling single mom, and agrees to help her find her daughter's father and get financial support for the girl. Ford, it turns out, is an investigative reporter, and the two join forces to track down the missing parent. It’s clear they share an intense chemistry, but discovering she likes him is a surprise to Victoria. They're both confident, successful people, neither of whom believes in love or commitment, so it makes sense they’d have an affair, but when her attraction kindles into something more, Victoria can’t reconcile her distrust of relationships with what she’s beginning to want with Ford. When her panic attacks increase, she chooses to break it off with him rather than face her fear of commitment and the uncharacteristic uncertainty that’s become part of her life. Unused to confronting problems she doesn’t know how to solve, Victoria must decide if her unattached life is really all she wants or if Ford is worth fighting for. Known for smart characters and witty banter, James maintains intensity and high emotional stakes even as, for the second time, she moves beyond her typical suspense subplot, incorporating a psychological rather than physical sense of danger.
James’ trademark mix of bright humor, emotional perceptiveness, and sizzling sexual tension make this a radiant winner.
Days before her wedding, Georgia’s relationship breaks down. But when she tries to escape home to wine country, she discovers nearly as many fissures in her family.
In the navel-gazing microcosm of California, worlds don’t get much more different than Los Angeles and Sonoma: the former rich in artificial vice, the latter in cultivated flavor. Dave, a seasoned writer of literary romance (The First Husband, 2011, etc.), explores this divide through the eyes of Georgia Ford, a 30-year-old LA–based corporate lawyer on the cusp of marrying her dream guy, Ben. He’s a devastating British architect, of course—rom-coms breed such fellows on a Burberry island somewhere—and his long-ago fling with an equally devastating movie star resulted in a 4-year-old daughter he's just learned about. Cue the devastation for Georgia, who flees up the coast in wedding garb after spying the seemingly happy family walk by during her final dress fitting. Destination: The Last Straw, the idyllic family vineyard in Sebastopol where she grew up with handsome twin brothers and crazy-in-love parents. Unfortunately, the clarity Georgia hopes to find there is quickly marred by everyone else’s problems. Her parents’ marriage is faltering; her feisty brothers are warring over a woman; and, in the deepest cut of all, her dad plans to sell the vineyard that’s always anchored them. As Georgia weighs her ambivalence about Ben, she struggles to understand the parade of relationships blooming and busting around her. Through a series of flashbacks that range from canny to cloying, we learn how the Ford family has reached this collective crisis point. Resolutions arrive slowly and often unexpectedly for each of them, giving this satisfying novel legs.
A lovelorn winemaker’s daughter seeks the right way to crush sour grapes into a winning blend.
Princess Mia faces grown-up problems in this adult installment of Cabot’s popular Princess Diaries series (Forever Princess, 2009, etc.).
“I always thought when I became an adult everything would become less confusing, but unfortunately, everything’s only become more confusing,” Mia Thermopolis writes in her journal. Now in her mid-20s and the founder of a community center for children and teens, the princess of Genovia is dealing with problems she couldn’t even have imagined back in her teenage diaries. She’s finally engaged to the love of her life, Michael Moscovitz, but the stress of a royal wedding might drive her insane. As if planning a wedding that will be shown on live television isn’t enough, she also has to deal with a stalker, the confusing romantic lives of her parents, the press intruding in her life, and her meddling grandmother. But it’s a huge bombshell about her family that truly changes Mia’s life. Throughout it all, Mia is still the lovably anxious and awkward character she’s been since the beginning of the series. Cabot has a knack for hilarious dialogue and zany characters, but she also creates a story that’s full of heart. Fans who grew up with Mia will relish this opportunity to spend more time in her world.
This funny, heartwarming story is royally perfect from start to finish.
Things go dangerously wrong when a middle-class wife and mother impulsively opens her home to a homeless teen and her tiny baby in Kubica’s sophomore novel.
When Heidi Wood, a woman who can’t help herself from helping others, spots a teenage girl with a small baby on the platform of Chicago’s train system, her heart goes out to them. Not only is it cold and raining, but the pair is obviously in need of help. Soon, Heidi has spotted the homeless teenager again, and, being the nurturing type, she feels compelled to reach out to her. That annoys her husband, Chris, and selfish 12-year-old daughter, Zoe. But Heidi ignores her husband’s misgivings—after all, he’s distracted by the new girl at work, Cassidy Knudsen, a lissome blonde who always seems to be nearby when Heidi calls. So when she brings the girl, Willow, and Ruby, her baby, into their condo, it only widens the gap between Heidi and Chris. And, through some clever foreshadowing, the reader knows, almost from the outset, that this isn’t going to turn out so well for the Wood family. Kubica skillfully weaves the story together, with Chris, Heidi, and Willow all narrating portions of the tale. As bits and pieces of Willow’s story are revealed, the other characters keep the story moving forward toward what the reader knows will be disastrous results. Kubica's debut novel, The Good Girl (2014), also employed multiple points of view and timelines, but Kubica serves up a much more cohesive tale this time around—the story is almost hypnotic and anything but predictable. The writing is compelling, but Kubica’s strong point is being able to juggle a complicated plot and holding the reader’s interest without dropping any of the balls she has in the air.
This book will give insomniacs a compelling reason to sit up all night.