REVIEW: TALKING AS FAST AS I CAN, BY LAUREN GRAHAM

In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway (“It’s like I had a fashion-induced blackout”).

In “What It Was Like, Part One,” Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay “What It Was Like, Part Two” reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her.

Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she’s aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls (“If you’re meeting someone for the first time after three hours of hair, makeup, and styling, you’ve already set the bar too high”), and she’s a card-carrying REI shopper (“My bungee cords now earn points!”).

Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and—of course—talking as fast as you can.


My Thoughts: I was probably one of the last people to come to the Gilmore Girls party, but once I discovered the show on Netflix, I couldn’t stop watching. The term “binge watching” completely describes my experience.

Before I found myself a real fan of this show, I had already discovered Lauren Graham in movies and on Parenthood.

Now, in Talking as Fast as I Can, I liked discovering her personal take on her movies, TV shows, and relationships. Her self-deprecating voice kept me smiling, even as I felt like someone who was having a conversation with her.

I liked learning how she came to start writing, and enjoyed her descriptions of her writing process, which included tidbits from someone whose process became part of her writing style.

But my favorite moments were the peeks behind the scenes on the sets, especially the ones related to the Gilmore Girls reboot. Special moments involved the connections with the cast who felt like family, and the emotions they experienced as they wrapped up the show. As a reader, I felt like I was part of it all. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: YOU’LL NEVER KNOW, DEAR, BY HALLIE EPHRON

 

Seven-year-old Lissie Woodham and her four-year-old sister Janey were playing with their porcelain dolls in the front yard when an adorable puppy scampered by. Eager to pet the pretty dog, Lissie chased after the pup as it ran down the street. When she returned to the yard, Janey’s precious doll was gone . . . and so was Janey.

Forty years after Janey went missing, Lis—now a mother with a college-age daughter of her own—still blames herself for what happened. Every year on the anniversary of her sister’s disappearance, their mother, Miss Sorrel, places a classified ad in the local paper with a picture of the toy Janey had with her that day—a one-of-a-kind porcelain doll—offering a generous cash reward for its return. For years, there’s been no response. But this year, the doll came home.

It is the first clue in a decades-old mystery that is about to turn into something far more sinister—endangering Lis and the lives of her mother and daughter as well. Someone knows the truth about what happened all those years ago, and is desperate to keep it hidden.

 

My Thoughts: In the opening pages of You’ll Never Know, Dear, we meet Lis’s daughter Vanessa, living in Rhode Island and working on post-doctoral sleep studies. One morning, she is awakened by a vision of her grandmother, Miss Sorrel, holding a doll out to her. Soon after, a phone call summons her home to Bonsecours, South Carolina. Her mother and grandmother have been hospitalized due to an explosion at the house. Carbon monoxide poisoning keeps her grandmother hospitalized for a while. But her grandmother insists that the doll is the one she made for Janey.

Once she is home, Vanessa is drawn into the search for the strange doll that might be Janey’s…but busybody neighbor Evelyn, who works with Miss Sorrel on the doll repairs, is sure that the doll is not the right one.

A search leads Vanessa to the woman who brought the doll, who had disappeared when Miss Sorrel asked her where she got the doll…and from there, we follow some twisty pathways to unexpected answers.

Why is the doll that Miss Sorrel first saw now different? Was Miss Sorrel seeing things, or had someone switched the dolls? What happened to all the other dolls the night of the explosion? Were they stolen, and by whom? Why does every path that seems the right one suddenly become even more twisted?

The characters drew me in, and I was captivated by the quest for answers. There were characters that seemed very suspicious to me. Why did they seem to be everywhere and always keeping Vanessa and Lis from the answers? I had my eye on one particular character, but the extent of the deception was so layered and seductive that I literally could not put the book down. Another brilliant read from Ephron. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE BEACH INN, BY JOANNE DEMAIO

 

It was going to be exquisite: a rambling, shingled New England cottage converted into a grand beach inn. Nestled among hydrangeas and swaying dune grasses, this seaside haven would welcome guests on the Connecticut shore. Except the little beach town of Stony Point is no longer feeling like a haven to its residents. Residents including a brooding Jason Barlow, the esteemed architect in charge of the inn’s renovation–until a stubborn, grief-induced For Sale sign puts an end to that.

But with a little help from the beach friends, anything is possible. In an effort to save the inn and convince its cherished owner to stay, the friends band together to stage an inn-tervention, shaking up their own lives in the process.


My Thoughts: All the usual characters are enjoying fall in Stony Point, Connecticut, and everyone is trying to help Elsa, who is grieving the loss of her son Sal, encouraging her to keep going with the plans they had made.  Lovely plans to turn her cottage and adjacent hang-out into an inn.  Previous books have brought stories about that unique hang-out, which has much sentimental value.

When I read one of these books, I feel as though I’m there with them.  They are so familiar to me, I don’t even need to take notes.  Although there are occasional “new” characters, the primary cast is in place, and we rejoin them in their usual struggles…and conflicts.

As we reconnect with Jason, Maris, Kyle, Lauren, Celia—and remember those they have lost—as we listen to their stories, remember special moments, and tell them all to entice Elsa that home is here, on Stony Point, we count on the sentimental journey to light the way.

One night Maris brings out the home movies and shows them to the gang on the beach. As Elsa sees the 8mm film from thirty-five years ago, when her niece Maris was small, when her sister June was carrying her Happiness Jars, something definitely tugs at her heart. But will it be enough?

Will Jason give in to the special invitation to shoot a pilot for a home renovation show? Can he finally find his brother Neil’s voice again? And will his special project for Neil’s beach shack come to fruition?

In The Beach Inn, the author brings the reader right into the story and shows how sorrow can turn to joy again with the magic of the shore. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: ONE GOOD THING, BY WENDY WAX

 

Before you can fix it up, you might have to tear it down…
 
Embroiled in a battle to regain control of their renovation-turned-reality TV show, Do Over, Maddie, Avery, Nikki, and Kyra find themselves holding tight to the frayed ends of their friendship and relationships.
 
Maddie must face the realities of dating a rock star once again topping the charts and dealing with her hapless ex-husband, while Avery is caught up in family drama even as she attempts to transform a tiny cottage into a home for the newly impoverished heiress who helped bankroll their last renovation. Put on bedrest, a hugely pregnant Nikki can’t quite believe love can last, or trust in her own maternal instinct. And Kyra, who has secretly put Bella Flora at risk in an attempt to salvage Do Over, must decide whether to accept a desperately needed bail out from her son’s famous father that comes with far too many strings attached…
 
But friendship is made for times like these, to keep each other—and their dreams—from crumbling.

My Thoughts: I have been a fan of this series from the very first book. An assorted cast of characters have remained at the core of these books, including One Good Thing. Supporting characters come and go, but the basic ones who were there from the beginning have kept me coming back for more.

Maddie is my favorite. For me, she is the glue that holds them together. Avery and Nikki each have their unique talents, and Kyra is good with the camera and the production end.

They have their men, although there are issues and conflicts threatening those relationships. Then, for Maddie, her newest man brings out a part of herself that she thought was gone. But he also taps into her insecurities. Not because of anything he does, but because of who he is. A handsome and famous rock star.

Kyra’s former relationship with a celebrity, who fathered her son, is never completely over, since he is in and out of their lives, despite his marriage to his co-star. Kyra sends mixed messages, allowing him to pull her strings, while vacillating between wanting him and rejecting him. I could understand her frustration and the pull she feels for him. But her behavior veers toward selfish and narcissistic, in my opinion, but perhaps she is simply too young and inexperienced to make good choices. She is keeping secrets and putting the others at risk by some of her decisions, which made her hard to like.

No matter how I felt for the characters individually, though, I was rooting for them in their attempts to turn their business and their lives around. I could not stop turning the pages, and while I had my eye trained on what I hoped would happen, there were still some surprises, which made the story another good thing. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: IT’S ALWAYS THE HUSBAND, BY MICHELE CAMPBELL

 

Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, despite being as different as three women can be. Kate was beautiful, wild, wealthy, and damaged. Aubrey, on financial aid, came from a broken home, and wanted more than anything to distance herself from her past. And Jenny was a striver—brilliant, ambitious, and determined to succeed. As an unlikely friendship formed, the three of them swore they would always be there for each other.

But twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge, and someone is urging her to jump.

How did it come to this?

Kate married the gorgeous party boy, Aubrey married up, and Jenny married the boy next door. But how can these three women love and hate each other? Can feelings this strong lead to murder?

When one of them dies under mysterious circumstances, will everyone assume, as is often the case, that it’s always the husband?


My Thoughts: In a story that begins with one of the women standing on the edge of a cliff, It’s Always the Husband takes us back and forth in time, from when the girls were roommates at Carlisle, in the Whipple House dorm. They became known as the Whipple Triplets, and oftentimes the moniker denoted their adventures, misdeeds, and dark habits.

Something happens one dark night: a death, lies, and a parting of the ways. The New Hampshire small-town setting kept me engaged, as did the consequences of that one night.

At first I liked Aubrey, feeling sorry for her plight and her attempts to measure up. Jenny was annoying, in that she often did whatever was necessary to be Kate’s best friend, with Kate’s father egging her on. But even she tried to do the right thing, only to be quashed in her attempt.

Kate was so damaged that I couldn’t imagine a scenario that would redeem her.

Twenty years later, I found nothing likable about any of them. The mystery would finally be revealed, and I kept guessing about who pushed one of them off the bridge as I read about the women in the present. There were plenty of suspects, and we watched behind-the-scenes machinations, only to be stunned in the end. Definitely a book that kept me reading, even as I lost interest in the characters before the final page. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE WILDLING SISTERS, BY EVE CHASE

 

Four sisters. One summer. A lifetime of secrets.
 
When fifteen-year-old Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote Manor in June 1959, they expect a quiet English country summer. Instead, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. As the sisters become divided by new tensions when two handsome neighbors drop by, Margot finds herself drawn into the life Audrey left behind. When the summer takes a deadly turn, the girls must unite behind an unthinkable choice or find themselves torn apart forever.

Fifty years later, Jesse is desperate to move her family out of their London home, where signs of her widower husband’s previous wife are around every corner. Gorgeous Applecote Manor, nestled in the English countryside, seems the perfect solution. But Jesse finds herself increasingly isolated in their new sprawling home, at odds with her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and haunted by the strange rumors that surround the manor.


My Thoughts: A story that weaves the past with the present while spotlighting those secrets, lies, and broken connections that make all the difference between happiness and pain, The Wildling Sisters captured my interest immediately.

We begin with a moment in time back in 1959, watching while something mysterious is happening with four sisters, struggling to hide something.

Fast forward to the present, to Jessie and Will, a newly blended family that includes Bella, a sulky teenage daughter from Will’s previous marriage, and Jessie and Will’s toddler Romy, adorable, cherished, and the object of Bella’s jealousy.

What brought each of these families to the country estate named Applecote Manor, that place where disturbing things happened in a long ago summer?

The four Wilde sisters, nicknamed The Wildlings by their uncle, are spending the summer there while their mother is working in Marrakech. They discover that their cousin Audrey’s disappearance five years before is a defining event that mars this new summer, and suddenly they are caught up in what can happen to a family after a significant loss…and trying to fill the holes in the tapestry of their lives with the answers they seek.

For Will and Jessie, they need to leave London, where Bella has gotten into trouble. They are hoping the country will be a peaceful place of healing. But Bella’s problems are much greater than they can even imagine.

As we travel back and forth in time, the pieces of the puzzle come together, along with a kind of closure. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT, BY KAREN WHITE

 

Recently divorced, Merilee Talbot Dunlap moves with her two children to the Atlanta suburb of Sweet Apple, Georgia. It’s not her first time starting over, but her efforts at a new beginning aren’t helped by an anonymous local blog that dishes about the scandalous events that caused her marriage to fail.
 
Merilee finds some measure of peace in the cottage she is renting from town matriarch Sugar Prescott. Though stubborn and irascible, Sugar sees something of herself in Merilee—something that allows her to open up about her own colorful past.
 
Sugar’s stories give Merilee a different perspective on the town and its wealthy school moms in their tennis whites and shiny SUVs, and even on her new friendship with Heather Blackford. Merilee is charmed by the glamorous young mother’s seemingly perfect life and finds herself drawn into Heather’s world.
 
In a town like Sweet Apple, where sins and secrets are as likely to be found behind the walls of gated mansions as in the dark woods surrounding Merilee’s house, appearance is everything. But just how dangerous that deception can be will shock all three women….

MY THOUGHTS:
Small town Southern life feels familiar to me, having lived in such places, even when they were not actually in the South. Folks who migrate from that part of the world carry their values and traditions with them, along with the secrets of the past, and creating a mini-Southern enclave wherever they are.

Secrets are a core theme in The Night the Lights Went Out, and we have a couple of the characters that share some of their secrets, a bit at a time, as alternating narrators. Sugar, the ninety-something matriarch is technically Merilee’s landlord, but as time and secret-sharing bring them closer together, we see that a very strong bond is forming.

I loved Sugar, who reminded me of my feisty grandmothers. And like them, she knew how to hold a secret close…until its revelation would strengthen a friendship or save a life.

Heather was a character that I disliked from the beginning. First, because nobody is all that perfect and seemingly one’s best friend without an agenda. I worried about how willingly Merilee gave over her friendship to this woman, but it would be a while before we saw what was really going on behind that façade.

Alternating with Sugar and Merilee’s narratives are blog posts from an anonymous source, entitled “Your Neighbor.” A site that seems like a gossip fest soon reveals itself for its tidbits of wisdom, including Southern Sayings, interpreted for those who are new to them.

This intense story turned dark and threatening and kept me turning pages until the startling revelations and the delightful denouement, thus earning 5 stars.

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