A perfect romcom that helped in the wanderlust department and was a nice break from some heavier reading.
My biggest heartbreak from 2020 was having to cancel our spring break vacation to the beach. I also had two beach work trips canceled. Living in Chicago, especially with the cold weather, I consider the ocean my happy place. So these cancellations were extremely disappointing. Thank you to Angie Hockman for the virtual vacation to the Galápagos Islands. They joked about this place on Schitt’s Creek as well and I just loved to travel with the characters and see all the sites. It definitely cured some winter blues.
For those who like Christina Lauren, there’s a definite The Unhoneymooners feel to this read. Loved the hate-to-love trope.
Sometimes when reading romcom stories I get frustrated by the side characters but felt all of the characters here complemented the plot perfectly.
Can’t wait to read more by this author! Thanks to the publisher for the early copy.
After almost twenty years together, Stella, a nurse, and Simon are starting to run into problems. An up-and-coming rock musician when they first met, Simon has been clinging to dreams of fame even as the possibility of it has grown dimmer, and now that his band might finally be on the brink again, he wants to go on the road, leaving Stella behind. The night before Simon is to leave for a gig that could restart his career, Stella has a reaction to a drug that sends her into a coma, not only derailing Simon’s plans but also changing Stella’s very identity. When she emerges from a two-month sleep, she has a significantly altered personality and has acquired an artistic talent of her own. As Simon struggles to cope with Stella’s transformation, he finds himself growing closer and closer to Libby, Stella’s best friend and a doctor at the hospital where she works.
WITH OR WITHOUT YOU was inspired by Leavitt’s own stranger-than-fiction experience when she lived through a weeks-long medically induced coma after the birth of her son. Read more about Caroline’s remarkable experience and how it led to the creation of WITH OR WITHOUT YOU in this essay in the Daily Beast: “I was in a Coma and No One Will Tell Me What Happened.”
Early Praise for WITH OR WITHOUT YOU:
“With or Without You is a moving novel about twists of fate, the shifting terrain of love, and coming into your own. With tenderness and incisive insight, Leavitt spotlights a woman’s unexpected journey towards her art.”
—Madeline Miller, author of Circe
“A wonderful novel about life as mess and disappointment, life as catastrophe and regret, but also life as transformation and resilience. Leavitt’s characters are great company, and watching them find a way forward in their suddenly altered world is a joy. Deeply engaging, tense but hopeful, and completely recommended.”
—Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
“In With or Without You, Caroline Leavitt once again explores disaster’s aftermath and its affect on the lives of ordinary people tethered by love and shared history. What makes this novel so poignant, and also makes it feel so true, is that there is no going back. There is only now, the newness of their altered realities and the courage to continue.”
—Helen Schulman, bestselling author of This Beautiful Life and Come with Me
“What a compelling, wonderful read this book is. With or Without You asks the great question of what happens to a long-loving couple if one of them changes utterly. This novel gives us high drama while keeping the fairest possible view of the messy lives of these characters. Another triumph for Caroline Leavitt.”
—Joan Silber, bestselling author of Improvement
“What if Snow White woke up and decided she didn’t much like Prince Charming? Something like that happens in Leavitt’s latest novel . . . One character’s coma is only the first surprise in this satisfying story of middle-aged love.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Leavitt’s seamless writing easily carries readers through the compelling story…emotional wallop. Leavitt’s fans and readers of domestic drama will be thrilled.”
“Caroline Leavitt’s new novel With or Without You seduced me instantly and held my heart from the first page to the last. Like Elena Ferrante’s raw and intimate explorations into human relationships, this novel will make you laugh, cry, yell, and possibly more. At the heart of the story is the art of a woman’s life, pulsing with beauty, desire, loss, never-ending change, and the grit it takes to keep going.”
—Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Book of Joan
“After all of their lives are irrevocably altered by a single tragic incident, Stella, Simon, and Libby–the major characters in Caroline Leavitt’s compelling, deeply moving new novel–are forced to make complex choices between freedom and responsibility, love and loyalty. Leavitt depicts her characters without judgment, and by doing so compels readers to ask themselves what they might do in such difficult moments.”
—Ron Rash, author of The Risen
“I were falling in love: flushed, fascinated, filled with hope, fear and joy. Leavitt’s exploration of the many ways in which we change over the course of a lifetime—and how we keep or lose those we love throughout these mutations—is compassionate, profound and moving. Beyond being utterly captivated, I felt like I had grown wiser and more humane after reading this beautiful novel.”
—Jean Kwok author of Girl in Translation
“With or Without You is a compulsively readable novel of artistic ambition and the various betrayals lovers and friends both endure and inflict on each other. It also asks fascinating questions about the stability of the self and our capacity—perhaps even our secret desire?—to reinvent ourselves. Caroline Leavitt is a born storyteller, and this is one knockout of a story.”
—Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men
“This fresh, engaging, intimate tale of love and identity subverts the reader’s expectations again and again. Caroline Leavitt refuses to take one cliched turn. A complete original, an absolute delight.”
—Janet Fitch, author of Chimes of a Lost Cathedral and White Oleander
“Caroline Leavitt has accomplished in With or Without You the hardest but most profound task of the novelist: she makes us not only understand but care about characters as flawed as ourselves. Stella, Simon, and Libby straddle the ravine between hip urbanity and soulful vulnerability—each achieving a redemption that gives us hope that we might too.”
If you are a fan of the movie Knives Out, here is a book you’ll immediately want to add to your TBR. While it doesn’t have the whodunit aspect, it’s a character study on everyone who related to the Sweeney patriarch and what’s to unfold as his family finds out about his passing.
The Sweeney Sisters came at a most interesting time. I had just started reading this as I found out my grandfather had passed from COVID-19. The premise of the story is three sisters who come together after the death of their father.
So now I was actually, physically, literally relating the story while I read it. With the one difference being we were not together in person to grieve his death, like Liza, Maggie, and Tricia. I was afraid when I started that I would have a difficult time keeping the characters separated in my mind, but the author did a fabulous job of fleshing them out, with different dreams, quirks, and personalities.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a sad book, per se. There are bittersweet elements of remembering family events and going through heirlooms and memories, but there is also surprises, giggles, and the joy of finding yourself and finding love amidst the heartache.
Read this with your sisters and your sisters-in-law. Read it with your friends with some wine and cheese. You’ll all appreciate the nuances of the characters and what one summer does to create hope.
My thanks to Wunderkind PR and William Morrow for the early copy.
About Lian Dolan
Lian Dolan is a writer and talker. She’s the author of two Los Angeles Times best-selling novels, Helen of Pasadena and Elizabeth the First Wife published by Prospect Park Books. She’s a regular humor columnist for Pasadena Magazine and has previously written monthly columns for O, The Oprah Magazine and Working Mother Magazine. She’s also written for TV, radio and websites.
Lian is the producer and host of Satellite Sisters, the award-winning talk show she created with her four real sisters. On Satellite Sisters, she’s interviewed everyone from Nora Ephron to Madeleine Albright to Big Bird. Satellite Sisters began life as a syndicated radio show and is now a top-rated podcast for women. The recent book by the Satellite Sisters, You’re the Best: A Celebration of Friendship, is popular with book clubs.
A popular speaker who combines humor and heart, Lian has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Sunday Morning and The Today Show and many local TV stations. She’s been a featured speaker at the LA Times Festival of Books, the Santa Barbara Celebrity Authors Lunch, the Literary Guild of Orange County Festival of Women Authors and dozens of other events at libraries, book stores, schools and women’s organizations across the country. In 2020, she’ll be on the faculty of the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.
It’s a longer list than normal this year. So many outstanding reads broken out into 4 categories, plus 2 surprises I highly recommend preordering for 2020. These are books I read in 2019 — they may have been published earlier. For more information on each book, click directly on the image.
Literature & Fiction
Mystery & Thriller
Add to your 2020 Must Reads
I’d love to hear what you considered favorites this year. Leave me a comment below and have a happy, healthy, and safe New Year!
11/22/63 by Stephen King is one of my all-time favorite reads, and what I immediately think of when I hear “the Kennedy assassination.” King’s endorsement of this novel, now in paperback, sealed the deal, especially because I was such a big fan of Berney’s earlier novel, The Long and Faraway Gone.
This crime story features Frank Guidry, lieutenant to a mob boss who may know too much about Kennedy’s death in Dallas. Then we have Charlotte, eager to escape her marriage and make a better life for her and her children.
What’s most surprising about this story is the tenderness used as a backdrop to the gritty mob world because of the love story — two people struggling in their current situations who find each other at just the right time.
The characters shine through the pages in their words, but even more so in their actions and expressions, as Berne’s described them.
I felt an immediate connection to Charlotte, who constantly wondered if she was doing right by her children, a question most mothers face, no matter the time period.
This book should be a hit for everyone, whether you enjoy historical fiction, crime, romance, or learning more about the early ‘60s and the Civil Rights movement.
Often while I read this book, I kept thinking the title was Lost Summer. Funnily enough, that title works just as well for this story, one of Ella Skye, a journalist who, after a traumatic accident, wakes up in the hospital with no memory of the events leading up to it and forgetting everything she’s lost.
Seeking to remember her life prior to the accident, she accepts an assignment to interview survivalist Nathan Donovan, who seems to know more about her than the reverse.
Full of steam and surprises, fans of domestic suspense will gravitate toward this plot line. I found all the settings captured in Ella’s time with Nathan so well described that I felt I was on location with them.
If you’re looking for a book that would be perfect for a weekend getaway, this one is a sure bet. The pages flew by and the settings would work well, whether it’s the dead of winter or a hot summer day with the sun shining. Lonsdale has a knack for both romance and suspense and I look forward to what she’s cooking up next.
My thanks to Little Bird Publicity and the publisher for the review copy.
About the author: Kerry Lonsdale is the Wall Street Journal, Amazon Charts, and #1 Amazon Kindle bestselling author of the Everything series—Everything We Keep, Everything We Left Behind, and Everything We Give—as well as All the Breaking Waves. She resides in Northern California with her husband and two children. Learn more about Kerry at www.kerrylonsdale.com.
Nobody writes stories of intergenerational friendship better than Catherine Ryan Hyde. She did an exceptional job with it in Allie and Bea and again with this new release.
Aside from the story, which includes a mystery, character growth, and fun supporting cast, you get some humdingers of life lessons, brought to you by 17-year-old Raymond Jaffe and 92-year-old Millie Gutermann. These characters balance each other so perfectly and just set the stage for a heartwarming plot, even amidst the few bouts of tragedy.
Raymond is a character I won’t soon forget. I hope my son grows to be as equally kind and good intentioned as he is. I love how even in his youth, he was able to teach Millie a thing or two about his generation.
With elements thrown in of Pay it Forward, readers who still need to be told there is good in this world need to pick this up. With so many current events shared constantly via social media that are hard to stomach, this book, when finished, should put a smile on your face and be one you want to pass along and share with others.
My thanks to Little Bird Publicity and Lake Union for the review copy.
I have one copy to share with a lucky reader. U.S. only, please. Enter on the Rafflecopter.
Having been a huge Melanie Benjamin fan, especially of The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb and The Girls in the Picture (loved the surprise tidbit thrown in about the Pickfords), I was very much looking forward to her latest. There were parts I liked and parts that didn’t work for me, but I mainly felt a lack of focus.
Benjamin takes two historical figures we know very little about, as shared in her Author Note, and populates their story amidst World War II.
Claude Auzello is the director of the Ritz in Paris, and he and his American wife, Blanche, are living large and spending time with many famous faces. The story alternates narration between them. This was a slow buildup of their relationship, often volatile. I did enjoy reading about their marriage struggles, but that took up a lot of space in the front half of this novel.
As the Germans begin their occupation of France, the Auzellos realize that their lives and lifestyles are in danger and begin working with the Resistance. This is where the plot picked up for me. I didn’t quite know where the story was headed in the beginning, which lost a lot of my attention. It seemed a bit scattered, so I had a hard time staying the path Benjamin intended.
I was also looking forward to more after the ultimate conclusion. I know history didn’t share what happened to this couple, but the story could have benefited from the aftermath of the war. In my perfect world, this book would have started at the middle and concluded much later. This might just be me, so if you do enjoy World War II reads, especially those which don’t take place in Germany or are set at the camps, you might want to give this a go.
It’s obvious Benjamin did her research. I trust her writing and can vividly picture whatever scene she sets.
My thanks to the publisher and Wunderkind PR for the review copy.
With such a long winter here in the Midwest, it was the cover of this novel that first intrigued me. It drew out feelings of warmer weather and sunshine and having previously enjoyed The Things We Wish Were True, I was eager to dive in.
This one took a little longer to draw me in. Maybe it was my confusion over how all the characters related or some of the secondary storylines. The premise is perfection — a bride disappears days before her wedding. Is it cold feet or foul play?
Whalen writes the story as we get closer and closer to the big day. We follow different characters’ viewpoints as to what happened to Annie Taft. I love the idea of small secrets bubbling to the surface with Annie missing and how they play off each other. When finished, I felt like some seams were still left undone and some plot points didn’t get enough “air time” while others had too much.
I will say this was a quick read and the second half moves at a much faster pace. Once you get a feel for the characters, you’ll yearn for the conclusion. The small town feel works well within this novel and if you’re looking for a good mystery to grab for a plane ride or a day away, you’ve found it.
My thanks to the publisher and Little Bird Publicity for the review copy.