Adequate Yearly Progress by Roxanna Elden

OIP

Adequate Yearly Progress is an extraordinary look into a year in the lives of teachers and administrators at a high school in Texas.  It shows the pressures which are put on teachers having their students score high enough on the yearly standardized test and the complications this pressure puts on them, administrators whose livelihood depends on high scores and the students.

Although filled with humor, the book explores the teacher’s perspectives, both good and bad, in their classes, their relationships with other teachers as well as their relationships with their students and the administration.

At Brae Hill Valley High School a new curriculum is introduced on the first day of classes to hopefully increase standardized test scores at the end of the year.  Not many of the teachers are happy about the changes.

Lena Wright is an English teacher with a flair for poetry.  Because she is not from Brae Hill she is looked down upon by some of the faculty and the students.  She will face many challenges this year, both personal and professional.

Hernan Hernandez is a biology teacher whose students love him.  His classroom, a welcoming zone to both students and teachers has a classroom filled with plants.  Bucking the system Hernan has never joined the teacher’s union.  Sees no reason to.  And he has a crush on Lena.

Maybelline Galang is a math teacher, a single parent whose daughter (with the physical education teacher) illegally goes to school in another school district.  Everything in Maybelline’s life is organized and by the book.  There is no coloring outside the lines.  She cannot tolerate either the teachers or administrators who slack off. And because of her, someone will not be coming back the following year.

Kaytee Mahoney is a history teacher with a secret blog.  At the beginning of the year the blog is filled with inspiring dialogue.  Until she is involved in an incident which will not only shake her to her core, but will make her question whether she is even in the right profession.

The story puts into perspective the dilemma teachers and administrators have as to teaching to pass a test versus teaching to learn. It shows the trials and tribulations of dealing with difficult children as well as what this type of pressure can do to their personal lives.

Thank you Atria Books (Isabel DaSilva) for the advanced copy.  What a treat!

The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz

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A beautifully written tender love story about three women each a generation apart, one wedding dress and their stories of how they ended up with this iconic Grace Kelly wedding dress.

Rose is a timid French seamstress who reluctantly agrees to make a wedding dress for a well-to-do woman whose only request is that it resemble the wedding dress of Grace Kelly.  Very young and naive, as Rose creates the dress she begins to develop feelings for the woman’s brother who himself is getting ready to wed.  As the two grow closer, Rose is uneasy about finishing the design of the dress.

Joan is in college during the 1980’s.  She is in a sorority and enjoys the late night parties and the camaraderie of her sisters.  When she becomes engaged, she is excited at the thought that the now will be able to wear the Grace Kelly dress.  But what happens next sets off a chain of events which will change her life forever.

In the year 2020, Rachel, also known as “Rocky” who owns her own gaming business, becomes engaged.  To the excitement of her mother, the Grace Kelly dress becomes hers to wear.  But, unfortunately, Rocky does not care for the dress.  Never has and never will.  She also does not have the heart to tell her mother knowing it will devastate her. As the wedding nears, her anxiety about the dress becomes an obsession.  How can she destroy her mother like this?  What is wrong with her?  What should she do?

As we learn how these three women’s lives are intertwined by a wedding dress, by their love and by their struggles, how they are able to endure hardships by their strength and each other so that their future generations will know the story of the Grace Kelly dress.


ABOUT THE BOOK

 

Two years after Grace Kelly’s royal wedding, her iconic dress is still all the rage in Paris—and one replica, and the secrets it carries, will inspire three generations of women to forge their own paths in life and in love.

 

Paris, 1958: Rose, a seamstress at a fashionable atelier, has been entrusted with sewing a Grace Kelly—look-alike gown for a wealthy bride-to-be. But when, against better judgment, she finds herself falling in love with the bride’s handsome brother, Rose must make an impossible choice, one that could put all she’s worked for at risk: lovOPe, security and of course, the dress.

 

Sixty years later, tech CEO Rachel, who goes by the childhood nickname “Rocky,” has inherited the dress for her upcoming wedding in New York City. But there’s just one problem: Rocky doesn’t want to wear it. A family heirloom dating back to the 1950s, the dress just isn’t her. Rocky knows this admission will break her mother Joan’s heart. But what she doesn’t know is why Joan insists on the dress—or the heartbreaking secret that changed her mother’s life decades before, as she herself prepared to wear it.

 

As the lives of these three women come together in surprising ways, the revelation of the dress’s history collides with long-buried family heartaches. And in the lead-up to Rocky’s wedding, they’ll have to confront the past before they can embrace the beautiful possibilities of the future.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Brenda Janowitz is the author of five novels, including The Dinner Party and Recipe for a Happy Life. She is the Books Correspondent for PopSugar. Brenda’s work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, Salon, Redbook, and the New York Post. She lives in New York.

New headshot, photo credit Cristina Calvi.Author website: http://www.brendajanowitz.com/

 

Facebook: @BrendaJanowitz

 

Twitter: @BrendaJanowitz

 

Instagram: @brendajanowitzwriter

GoodReads:https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/241404.Brenda_Janowitz


Q&A with Brenda Janowitz

 

Q: You write that you’ve always loved wedding dresses. What fascinated you about Grace Kelly’s dress in particular, and how did you come up with the idea for this novel?

 

A: Ever since I first laid eyes on this iconic garment, I’ve been in love. To me, Grace Kelly’s wedding gown is the ultimate dress. Beautiful, elegant, and refined– what more could any bride want?

 

My agent sent me an article from The Today Show about a wedding dress that had been passed down through eleven generations. The moment I heard the story, I knew that I had the idea for my next novel.

 

Once I decided to write about a wedding gown, there was only one thing I envisioned: Grace Kelly on her wedding day. So, when it came time to describe what this heirloom dress looked like, I found myself describing Grace Kelly’s gown– the lace sleeves, the cummerbund, the full skirt. I quickly realized that the characters in the book should be as enamored of this design as me, and The Grace Kelly Dress was born!

 

Q: You alternate between three characters’ stories. Did you focus more on one before turning to the others, or did you write the novel in the order in which it appears?

 

A: I like to write in a very straightforward manner, and that usually means writing each chapter in order, from beginning to end. So, I approached this book in this same way, at first.

 

But then, I realized that in order to make each story have the meaningful arc I was looking for, I’d need to focus on one story at a time. So, I broke the book apart into three different documents, and worked on one timeline at a time. This enabled me to fully immerse myself in each protagonist’s life, as well as the time period I was exploring.

 

Once I’d completed all three timelines, the real work began. I wove the book back together, and that was when the book took its true form, as I made sure that the different timelines all spoke to each other in a meaningful way. It certainly made the book take longer to write, but I think that by working on each timeline separately, I was able to do the individual stories justice.

 

Q: Tell us a little about your story and the story world you’ve created.

 

A: The Grace Kelly Dress is the story of three generations of women, and the wedding dress that binds them together. It’s a story about love, friendship, and family, and it’s entirely different from anything I’ve ever written before. I hope that readers will join me on this journey, and come to love these women as I do.

 

Q: Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?

A: When my agent sent me a clip from The Today Show about a wedding dress that had been passed down through eleven generations of a family, I knew that I had the idea for my next book. It had everything I love to write about in one place– multiple generations, a wedding dress, and lots of room for friction. The image of a wedding gown is one that is so incredibly powerful to me. The way one chooses to dress for her wedding day says so much about that person, and how she wants to present herself to the world.

 

Q: The book is set in the New York area and in Paris. How important is setting to you in your writing?

 

A: Setting is so incredibly important! Where a character lives and how she interacts with her environment says so much about who she is. Rocky, our protagonist in 2020, lives and works in Brooklyn, and it says as much about who she is as the tattoos she proudly wears all over her body. Joanie, in 1982, lives a sheltered life on Long Island, but when she goes into New York City, she finds a world much larger than the one she was living. And Rose, in 1958, is in Paris, but as a poor orphan, lives a different type of sheltered life, working in a highly regarded atelier during the day, and doing not much else.

 

Q: What kind of research did you do for this book, and did you learn anything especially surprising?

 

A: I’ve never written in a timeline other than the present, so there was a ton of research to be done! I had to research the two different time periods, 1982 and 1958. Even an innocuous detail like the brand of watch that a character is wearing can throw a reader out of the narrative if the author hasn’t gotten it just right.

 

The most enjoyable research I did was about Grace Kelly herself, and, of course, her iconic gown. I read Kristina Haugland’s incredible book, Grace Kelly: Icon of Style to Royal Bride, and then had the opportunity to speak with her as well. I loved learning every detail I could about this beloved dress, but by far the most interesting thing I learned was this: Grace Kelly’s gown consisted of four separate parts, each of which needed to be put on separately. What a wonderful secret for a bride to have on her wedding day!

 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’ve loved writing about an heirloom item and the family that owns it, so I’m doing it again! I’ll be focusing on another family and another heirloom that has been passed down. Heirlooms are so incredibly important to me– I wear one of my Grandma Dorothy’s rings every day, and I love having a piece of her with me as I go through my day to day. 

 

Q: How did you get the idea for this novel?

A: The idea came to me when my agent sent me a clip from The Today Show about a wedding dress that had been passed down through eleven generations. I couldn’t get over how incredibly special that was, and I immediately started to think about what it would mean for a family to have an item like that. How would each woman change the dress to fit her personality? How would the time she was living in have an effect on those choices? And what if one woman didn’t want the dress?

 

Q: Is Grace Kelly one of your favorite actresses? What is your favorite Grace Kelly role?

A: YES! Grace Kelly, to me, is the ultimate Hollywood story: beautiful, talented, and then she married a prince. I love all of Grace Kelly’s films, but I particularly adore To Catch a Thief. It’s so romantic and flirty, and it’s got Cary Grant.

 

Q: What is one of the biggest challenges you have in a story like this that spans different times in history?

A: One of the biggest challenges for me, was the massive amount of research. When writing in another time period, I underestimated how carefully every sentence would have to be researched. The characters needed to sound like they lived in the time period I was presenting, and every reference needed to be spot on– from what the characters were wearing, to the types of music they listened to, to the way they styled their hair. Is it any wonder that my current work in progress will take place in the present?

 

Q: What is the significance of the title: The Grace Kelly Dress?

A:  The Grace Kelly Dress refers to the wedding dress that is handed down through three generations of women. The gown in my book was initially created in 1958, and at that time, the bride wanted the dress that everyone wanted at that time: something that looked just like what Grace Kelly wore when she married Prince Rainier in 1956.

 

Q: Are any of your characters based on real people you know? 

A: They say that your first novel is all about you, that each and every character is you, and I think that was true of my first novel. (First two novels, perhaps!) But this is my sixth novel, so at this point, all of the characters are products of my imagination. That said, everything inspires me, so parts of real life always have their way of making their way into my work. So, I suppose a better way to answer this question would be to say: no, not on purpose.

 

Q: Which character was most challenging to create? Why?

A: I found Joanie, in 1982, to be the most challenging to write. I first created her character while working on the 2020 timeline, at which point we only know her as Rocky’s mother. It took a lot of thought to figure out who she would be at age 20, and how she would grow into the woman we see in 2020. Additionally, since we meet her mother in the 1958 timeline, it was important that the reader see a connection there, too.

On the first round of edits, I completely trashed the original 1982 storyline and re-wrote it from the ground up. I think that I needed the first draft to truly learn who she was, and how to create her story.

 

Q: What did you learn when writing the book?

A: I’ve learned so much this time around, but the lesson that most resonated for me was that writing is re-writing. From the first draft of this novel to the second, the book changed dramatically, and I think that the story is ultimately better for it. But when you’re a newer writer, it’s so hard to cut things, and it’s even harder to completely trash a part of the book and start from scratch. But really, editing the book is the thing that makes it better, and ultimately, makes you a better writer.

 

 

Q: Were you a young writer, a late bloomer, or something in between?

A: I’ve always loved to write. In fact, it’s the reason I became a lawyer. But I was one of those unhappy lawyers, so for my 30th birthday, my best friend, Shawn, organized a group gift– she got all of our friends together and sent me to my first writing class. It’s the thing that helped me to take my writing more seriously, and the place where I began writing what would become my first novel.

 

Q: Do you have a dedicated writing space?

A: I do have an office in my house, but I’m one of those writers who just gets the work done whenever and wherever she can. In fact, I’m on my laptop right now while my kids are at the kitchen table doing homework!

 

Q: Any type of writing ritual you have?

A: I wish I could say that I have certain rituals and that I have a process for letting the muse in, but the truth is, I’m just a busy working mom, so I write when I can. Sometimes, I’m dictating full chapters on the voice memo app on my phone. Sometimes, I’m jotting notes on the backs of receipts. I say: do whatever works!

 

Q: What is your favorite genre to read, and why?

A: I love to read, and I love reading all different types of genres. I think it makes you a better writer to be more widely read. That said, I have a soft spot for upmarket commercial fiction. If Reese Witherspoon can make a limited series HBO drama out of it, I’m in!

 

Q: What message do you hope readers take away from your story?

A: The main thing is that I want readers to really enjoy the story and have a great reading experience. As for a takeaway, it’s been really moving to have readers reach out to me to discuss the role that heirloom items have had in their own life. I always tell my kids: it’s people who are important, not things. But I do believe that certain things, like these heirlooms that are passed down, have meaning. They show us where our family has been, and each one has a story connected to it. Stories are powerful, and the stories about where we come from are so incredibly meaningful.


Thank you #NetGalley #GraydonHouse #TheGraceKellyDress #Brenda Janowitz and Harlequin Trade Publishing for the advanced copy.

You can order your copy of the book now at the available links below:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Apple Books

Indie Bound

Harlequin Trade Publishing

Books-A-Million

Kobo

Coconut Layer Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke

OIP This is Book 25 of the Hannah Swensen Mystery series.  For those who have not read all the books, especially the last two or three, please note there are spoilers in this review.  Proceed with caution!

This story finds Hannah, a recent widow, totally exhausted and drained from current events.  Trying to put her life back together she and her mom fly to Los Angeles so she can assist a friend who is moving to Lake Eden.

While soaking up the sun she receives a frantic call from her sister.  Michelle’s boyfriend Detective Lonnie Murphy has been accused of a crime.  In a town as small as Lake Eden where everybody knows everybody, and their police force being a small group, they all needed to recuse themselves from the case because they know Lonnie. So in steps Hannah and her investigating skills to save they day!

Lonnie has been accused of murdering a woman in her home. He wakes up on her couch after spending the night prior at a bar drinking with some of his friends.  The only problem is Lonnie can’t remember what happened the night before.  He only remembers waking up and discovering her lifeless body in her bedroom, (with a coconut layer cake on the kitchen table).

It’s all up to Hannah to try and piece the puzzle together alone (but with helpful clues and assistance from her friends).  In the meantime, its seems the mystery of Ross, her late husband, continues to haunt her as she finds strange objects he owned and he kept hidden prior to his murder.

The Hannah Swensen Mysteries are like visiting with an old friend you’ve known for a while but only see maybe once or twice a year.  Always happy to see and hear from them, always greatful to catch up and see what’s been going on, always enjoyable, and they always come with delicious food suggestions you want to try.

Thank you #NetGalley #KennsingtonBooks #JoanneFluke #CoconutLayerCakeMurder.

 

The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward

OIP I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of The Jetsetters long before it became Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club selection for March. With that said, I can certainly understand why it was chosen.

The Jetsetters is about a dysfunctional/functional, imperfectly/perfect family whose baggage goes well beyond the type one takes on a trip. Charlotte Perkin’s best friend has just died.  A widow of many years who was married to an angry alcoholic, she has three children.  They are not the Brady Bunch.  She starts to feel as if her life is over. She needs something new in her life or she knows she will die.

She decides to enter a writing contest called Become a Jetsetter by writing a little erotic short story from when she a young single woman.  And she wins! And the prize is a European cruise.  She decides to ask her children to join her in hopes of somehow bringing them all together.

Lee is her daughter who is still trying to become an actress, even though she now is in her late 30’s. Regan is an unhappily married mother of two who put aside her dreams to become an artist to marry and have children. She married Lee’s old boyfriend!  Cord is a businessman who Charlotte cannot understand why he won’t just settle down. He is gay. Charlotte has no idea.

So the family sets sail with all their baggage…pun intended! As they cruise and visit the cities of Rome, Athens and Barcelona the children (who are really adults) but hardly act that way, and Charlotte, begin to explore their individual problems and demons as well as disagreements and squabbles with each other.  Fighting ensues and Charlotte does what she does best in these situations…smile and pretend nothing is really wrong.

But as old wounds and secrets begin to surface, Charlotte must not only face and accept her children’s flaws and love them anyway, but she must also accept her own regrets which she has carried like heavy baggage from her own childhood and learn to love herself.

The Jetsetters delves into what a broken family looks like.  It is funny, yet sensitive and heartbreaking all at the same time.  We can all identify with family crisis of some sort.  And as we would in our own family, we root for them all, feel their pain and embarrassment, and hope they can put their baggage away and become better people and a new family.

Thank you to NetGalley, Ballentine Books, Amanda Eyre Ward for the advanced copy of this amazing book.

 

 

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

OIP When four young girls spend their summer talking about death and murderers and conjuring up a Red Lady in the basement of an empty house…what could possibly go wrong?

Heather and Becca were childhood best friends who even wore Best Friend necklaces. They spent every day and sometimes nights together.  The girls had so much in common.  They both enjoyed reading true life crime novels, with Ted Bundy being a favorite.  They also read horror novels by Stephen King.  With their friends Gia and Rachel they even formed a Dead Girls Club where they would discuss books and serial killers.

Although they were kindred spirits, Heather and Becca’s family lives were not similar all.  Heather had parents who loved her and she could talk to about anything.  Becca’s mother on the other hand was a single parent who was an alcoholic and severely beat her, something Heather was aware of but had promised her best friend she would never reveal.

But their lives took a sudden turn that summer when Becca introduced a story about a Red Lady into their lives.  The Red Lady was an angry spirit who had been murdered ages ago and could be conjured up and had strong powers.  Strong enough Becca said that she could raise the dead.

Then Becca was killed.

Flash forward thirty years and Heather, who is now happily married and is a child psychologist, receives a rusted Best Friends necklace in the mail.  The half of a necklace which Becca had on the night she was killed.  And Heather’s life and world begins to fall apart.

No one in Heather’s life knows what happened that summer year’s ago.  It is a secret she has kept buried all this time.  The only other person who knew what occurred was Becca and she is dead…or is she?

As her world begins to spiral out of control, she discovers someone is watching her and even breaking into her house.  Heather begins to become obsessed with reliving her past. Still unable to ask for help, she begins to investigate on her own. Could the Red Lady story from so long ago which she had discounted as fake have really been true? If so, is Becca back?

The Dead Girls Club is a sensational psychological page turner with a hint of horror story and ghost story.   Once you pick it up you won’t want to put it down.  And the explosive ending is something you will not see coming.

Things in Jars by Jess Kid

OIP During the 1800’s in dreary London, a female investigator/doctor’s assistant and a ghost only she (and animals) can see, try to solve the mystery of a kidnapping of a strange child whose origin is unknown.

Birdie Devine is called into service to locate a child, Christabel Berwick, the secret child of Edmund Berwick.  Having just come off a case where she was unable to save the child she was looking for, and having just run into a ghost, Rudy, who says they have met in the past but refuses to tell her how they know each other, she is hesitant to take the case.

But she does decide to look for the kidnapped child, and through a series of (mis)adventures begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together as to what happened to Christabel.

Throughout the story, we get glimpses of Birdie’s past.  As an orphan, she was sold from one person to another, ending up in the family of a doctor.  Although life was good and she learned much as his assistant, some family members and staff had cruel intentions.

As Birdie moves around London with her band of merry, quirky, characters, her maid Cora with a beard, Rudy her ghost and other oddball circus types, she begins to uncover what exactly happened to Christabel and perhaps more important, where she came from.

In the spirit of Diane Setterfield and her novel Once Upon a River, Kidd creates a world of real life intrigue with creative fantasy and imagination.  She explores human’s flaws and shortcomings and how people treat others who are different from them.  The story is filled with mystery and imagination and incredible plot twists.

Thank you #NetGalley #AtriaBooks #ThingsinJars #JessKid for the advanced copy.

Gone At Midnight: The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam by Jake Anderson

OIP In 2013 Elisa Lam was a 21-year-old student who checked into a seedy ominous hotel in Los Angeles, a hotel with a history of violence, suicides and death, and she never checked out.  What followed was probably the most bizarre investigation, one in which Elisa Lam in her death has been elevated to cult-like status.

After Elisa went missing and police were notified there was a search of the hotel.  They could not find her.  It was as if she had just up and vanished.  A week later when tenants and guests began to complain about the odor and color of the tap water in their sinks, and someone went onto the roof to look into the water tanks, they discovered to their horror Elisa’s naked body floating with her clothes beside her.  And this is truly when the mystery begins and still remains unsolved. How did she get there?

The book, Gone at Midnight chronicles Elisa Lam’s movements as best as can be done both by eyewitness and social media posts, the history of the Cecil Hotel, where she stayed and was found dead, a hotel where not one, but two serial killers stayed, an odd video which was mysteriously posted of Elisa in an elevator at the hotel which may be her last movements just before her disappearance (a video which you can see on YouTube) and if you are going to read the book I suggest you view; many conspiracy theories, law enforcement suppression of evidence and lastly how mental illness may have played a role.

Up to today, although the coroner finally ruled the death accidental, only after he first ruled it as inconclusive, there are more questions than answers as to what happened to Elisa and how she ended up in a water tank on a roof even though the roof had been searched by police and dog sniffers a week prior to finding her.

Author Jake Anderson became obsessed with the case (and still is) after seeing the initial  elevator video which shows Elisa’s odd behavior.  Was she being followed or was she having some sort of manic episode?  Anderson then found out the tape seems to have time missing from it.  Why?  He then began looking at Lam’s on-line social media presence which was abundant.  And stopped abruptly two days before her death.

He seems to find evidence of police/corporate conspiracy at the Cecil Hotel as well as evidence supression. With no official from the police department or the hotel willing to talk to him about anything, Anderson begins looking on the internet at website conspiracy sites and finds a plethora of information, some real and some outlandish.  He then must sift through the reality versus the imagined.

Gone at Midnight, although a true story, reads like a psychological horror novel. Anderson meticulously takes the reader through the evidence, or lack of, the witnesses, some whom have disappeared, and the emotional mental journey Elisa Lam seemed to be on at the time of her death.

Will there ever be any type of resolution as to what really happened to Elisa Lam? If Jake Anderson has his way there most certainly will.

Thank you to #NetGalley #Citadel #JakeAnderson #GoneAtMidnight for the advanced copy.