Elisabeth Atwood

Best-selling authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (The Nanny Diaries) have delivered another fun and frothy read with How to Be a Grown-Up, a story in which mommy-lit meets “Sex and the City.” 

Our heroine, Rory McGovern, is living in New York with her actor husband, Blake, and their two small children. She’s a part-time magazine editor; he’s an actor struggling to land the big role that will catapult his career. When Blake loses an acting job that was sure to make him famous, he decides he needs a break from fatherhood, responsibility—and financially contributing to the family. He moves out, leaving Rory shocked and paralyzed by the potential destruction of their seemingly idyllic Manhattan life. 

Driven by a dwindling bank account, Rory takes a job at JeuneBug, a “children’s lifestyle” start-up run by two 20-something business school grads who wear shoes that cost more than a week-long vacation. Rory spends much of her day trying to decipher terminology like design vertical, branding ops and backloading appendixes, and her impossibly immature bosses make her re-entry into the working world less than smooth. 

Meanwhile, Blake seems to be slipping further away from his role as father and husband. When Rory discovers that Blake is on Tinder, she decides to play the field and finds herself juggling a group of suitors that includes her boss’ 24-year-old boyfriend. 

McLaughlin and Kraus have given us late 30-somethings a little summertime indulgence. As The Nanny Diaries did for readers in their 20s, How to Be a Grown-Up hits the midlife sweet spot. 

 

This article was originally published in the August 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Best-selling authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (The Nanny Diaries) have delivered another fun and frothy read with How to Be a Grown-Up, a story in which mommy-lit meets “Sex and the City.”

Attention vacationers: Award-winning author Dean Bakopoulos (Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon) has served up a sultry story that fits perfectly in your carry-on.

“There was another life I might have had, but I am having this one.” The epigraph of Summerlong—a quote from Kazuo Ishiguru—is a fitting opening for this story of a disenchanted couple. 

It all begins when Don Lowry, father of two, goes on an evening jog and collides with Amelia Benitez-Cooper, better known as ABC. For reasons he can’t seem to verbalize, Don spends an evening with a very sexy and emotionally unstable ABC, smoking pot and napping on a hammock. Meanwhile, his wife, Claire, meets Charlie Gulliver, a sometime actor and son of an esteemed professor at the local college. The two spend the evening in a pool, and come dangerously close to introducing infidelity into the Lowrys’ already rocky marriage. 

As the steamy Iowa summer continues, the Lowrys’ relationship deteriorates. This is where Bakopoulos strays from a typical suburban love triangle (or is it a square?). This isn’t just a story of people enjoying a free-love bacchanal; Summerlong also explores the consequences and heartbreak of testing the limits of relationships.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Attention vacationers: Award-winning author Dean Bakopoulos (Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon) has served up a sultry story that fits perfectly in your carry-on.

Readers looking for another end of days, survivalist tale with the same trite conclusions will be out of luck with British author Claire Fuller’s debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days.

Peggy Hillcoat is taken by her survivalist father, James, from their home in London when she is 8 years old. The year is 1976, and she is told that that rest of the world is destroyed, and her mother is dead. James takes Peggy away from everyone and everything she has ever known, to a hut in the middle of a European forest. Our Endless Numbered Days is the story of her life of survival there.  

Fuller, who worked at a marketing agency before becoming a writer, uses her sharp storytelling to give the reader a divergent take on post-apocalypse survival. Peggy’s life in the woods is not simply a struggle against nature, as one might imagine, but also a story of a child trying to make sense of growing up in isolation. 

The novel alternates between the years that Peggy and her father live in the woods and 1985, when 17-year-old Peggy is back at home and coming to terms with the lies her father has told. Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the end (now I sound trite), because Fuller once again defies reader expectations. This provocative book will inspire questions and discussion, and leave readers eager to see what Fuller does next.

 

Readers looking for another end of days, survivalist tale with the same trite conclusions will be out of luck with British author Claire Fuller’s debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days.

Set in the early 20th century, poet Greer Macallister’s haunting first novel is a compelling mystery. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, the Amazing Arden, one of the first American female illusionists, mesmerizes her audience with the classic “saw through man in a box” trick. On this particular night, she decides to use a fire ax rather than a saw.  Was she simply altering her illusion, or carrying out a murder? And the man in the box? Is the slain man really her husband? Detective Virgil Holt is determined to find the answer.

Once in custody, the Amazing Arden—aka Ada Bates—begins to share her story.  Starting with her birth in Pennsylvania and moving through her childhood in Tennessee, Arden weaves a journey that takes her from the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina to New York City. While in New York, she begins her training under Adelaide Hermann. Eventually, she takes over her traveling magic show, which put her in Waterlook for the heinous crime. Holt is swept up in the story, and Ada protests her innocence—but then again, she is a master illusionist. Can she be trusted?

Macallister’s painstaking descriptions of the costumes, technique and trickery involved in Ada’s work as an illusionist are unparalleled. Readers who enjoyed Water for Elephants or The Night Circus should pick up The Magician’s Lie and get lost in the mystery of magic. 

 

Set in the early 20th century, poet Greer Macallister’s hauting first novel is a compelling mystery. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, the Amazing Arden, one of the first American female illusionists, mesmerizes her audience with the classic “saw through man in a box” trick. On this particular night, she decides to use a fire ax rather than a saw.  Was she simply altering her illusion, or carrying out a murder?

As a longtime Picoult fan, I was anxious to devour her latest novel, Leaving Time. And she doesn’t disappoint: Once again, Picoult has masterfully woven what appear to be incongruous events and people together into one captivating and emotional story. This time around, the author’s extensive research on elephants and their surprisingly human emotions are a highlight. But wait, there’s more: She has also included a down-on-her-luck psychic, a spunky teen and a haunting murder.

Thirteen-year-old Jenna Metcalf is consumed with memories of her mother, Alice, a scientist who studied grief and other emotions among elephants. Alice vanished after a tragic accident at the New Hampshire elephant sanctuary that she, her husband and Jenna once called home. Using Alice’s research journals as well as a psychic and the detective who originally investigated the disappearance of her mother, Jenna tries to piece together why her family was ripped apart.

Picoult explores the mother-daughter bond from a unique vantage point. Using both elephants and human beings, she asks, are we that much different from our pachyderm friends when it comes to processing emotion? Leaving Time is an emotional study of what mothers will do for their young—and in true Picoult form, the author delivers an ending that even her biggest fans won’t be able to predict.

 

 

This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

As a longtime Picoult fan, I was anxious to devour her latest novel, Leaving Time. And she doesn’t disappoint: Once again, Picoult has masterfully woven what appear to be incongruous events and people together into one captivating and emotional story. This time around, the author’s extensive research on elephants and their surprisingly human emotions are a highlight. But wait, there’s more: She has also included a down-on-her-luck psychic, a spunky teen and a haunting murder.

What would you do if you knew you would have to say a final goodbye to someone you love? When is it the right time to let go, and when should you hold on? Julie Lawson Timmer tackles these questions with fierce emotion in her first novel, Five Days Left. It’s the moving story of a countdown for two characters who never meet in person, but have become friends through a parenting website.

Mara Nichols has a plan to end her life. She has already chosen a date—five days from now, her birthday. The “garage cocktail” will put an end to the suffering she has endured since being diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. Mara’s husband and 5-year-old daughter, Lakshmi, are unaware of Mara’s plan. Though Mara doesn’t want to leave her family, she also doesn’t want to wait for Huntington’s to take over her body, a progression Timmer describes in brutal prose. Mara’s hands move uncontrollably; she develops a drunken-looking gait; she can no longer drive. All these things solidify Mara’s resolve to take her life.

Scott Coffman also has just five days left—but his countdown involves time spent with his precocious and endearing foster child, Curtis, who is to be returned to his birth mother once she finishes a sentence in prison. But a sudden turn of events causes Scott to consider a future with Curtis. His pregnant wife is reluctant, and Scott finds himself faced with a choice between Curtis’ needs and those of his wife.

Five Days Left presents the kind of ethical dilemma that readers love. The characters are relatable; their choices will be the topic of fierce debate at the next book club. Timmer’s novel is a heartbreaker, but it is also a stirring debut.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

What would you do if you knew you would have to say a final goodbye to someone you love? When is it the right time to let go, and when should you hold on? Julie Lawson Timmer tackles these questions with fierce emotion in her first novel, Five Days Left. It’s the moving story of a countdown for two characters who never meet in person, but have become friends through a parenting website.

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