Blog Tour: Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Recently separated Toby Fleishman is suddenly, somehow–and at age forty-one, short as ever–surrounded by women who want him: women who are self-actualized, women who are smart and interesting, women who don’t mind his height, women who are eager to take him for a test drive with just the swipe of an app. Toby doesn’t mind being used in this way; it’s a welcome change from the thirteen years he spent as a married man, the thirteen years of emotional neglect and contempt he’s just endured. Anthropologically speaking, it’s like nothing he ever experienced before, particularly back in the 1990s, when he first began dating and became used to swimming in the murky waters of rejection.

But Toby’s new life–liver specialist by day, kids every other weekend, rabid somewhat anonymous sex at night–is interrupted when his ex-wife suddenly disappears. Either on a vision quest or a nervous breakdown, Toby doesn’t know–she won’t answer his texts or calls.

Is Toby’s ex just angry, like always? Is she punishing him, yet again, for not being the bread winner she was? As he desperately searches for her while juggling his job and parenting their two unraveling children, Toby is forced to reckon with the real reasons his marriage fell apart, and to ask if the story he has been telling himself all this time is true.

What I Thought:

Why oh why is it so easy to dash out a few lines of a review for a book that you thought was ok, but so difficult to put across your feelings for a book you love? This is the dilemma I find myself in with Fleishman is in Trouble, a book that I was so glad I was reading on Kindle as there was so much to highlight and come back to.

It’s an unusual book in that, by the end, no-one really comes out of it well – put-upon Toby with the high-flying wife and distinct lack of ambition, Rachel, who works all the hours but fails to have a conversation with her husband, Libby the some-time narrator whose high hopes for herself have morphed into suburbia and Seth who has never done what everyone expects, but suddenly does a 180. All of these people are beautifully written to be the flawed people that we really all are on the inside.

A good two thirds of the book are from Toby’s perspective as he tries to navigate the dating scene – or the dating app scene – as a newly-divorced man, but really inhabiting the primary caregiver role that is normally taken by women. This is so clever, as we read about Toby’s adventures in parenting, and all the support he gets because he’s ‘playing daddy’ while knowing all the while that if a woman was going through the same thing it would be taken for granted and she would just be expected to get on with it.

Then, suddenly, we start hearing from Rachel and realise that many of the things that Toby has told himself, his family and friends, and colleagues about Rachel and their marriage is not really what was going on at all. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it is all his fault; it is more a reminder that we don’t talk to each other as often as we should.

My favourite character was Libby – magazine journo turned suburban mom who is just realising that women over forty are invisible. Not to get all gloomy or anything, but that is something I’ve very much begun to realise recently as I’ve moved into that age bracket. Libby’s worked, she’s had her kids and, aside from trying to guide them into being reasonably rounded human beings, just what is she good for now?

Most of my highlights in the book were on this topic, funnily enough!

They say that books find you at the right time and in this case it’s definitely true, and reassuring to know that my own muddled feelings on slipping into an invisible middle age are not unique to me. Many of this book’s reviews written by female readers touch upon this, so I’m working through them with interest. With that in mind, this would be a fantastic book club pick.

Having said the above though, I don’t want to present this book as only having value to women. The themes in it are universal and there are things that can be interpreted in so many different ways, so I would recommend it to all – although people of a certain age may find a few things ring very much more true for them!

Fleishman is in Trouble is published by Wildfire.

You can find out more about Taffy Brodesser-Akner on her website, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner has also written a short sequel to Fleishman is in Trouble, which is a day in Toby’s life during COVID, Fleishman is in Lockdown, and it’s published on The Cut website.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the paperback release of Fleishman is in Trouble. Check out the blogs below for more reviews and exclusive content.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review via Netgalley. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

‘Awfully opinionated for a girl’ is what they call Hillary as she grows up in her Chicago suburb.

Smart, diligent, and a bit plain, that’s the general consensus. Then Hillary goes to college, and her star rises. At Yale Law School, she continues to be a leader— and catches the eye of driven, handsome and charismatic Bill. But when he asks her to marry him, Hillary gives him a firm No.

How might things have turned out for them, for America, for the world itself, if Hillary Rodham had really turned down Bill Clinton?

With her sharp but always compassionate eye, Sittenfeld explores the loneliness, moral ambivalence and iron determination that characterise the quest for high office, as well as the painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world ruled by men.

What I Thought:

What an intriguing prospect Rodham is. While alternate history is a really fun genre to read, I was slightly hesitant with this book as I don’t think I’ve ever read an alternate history book where the subject is a real person who is still living. Would the fact that Hillary Rodham-Clinton is still with us colour my enjoyment of the book?

Apart from the tiniest tickle at the back of your mind when you remember who the book is about, there’s nothing here to spoil your enjoyment of what is a fantastic read.

We join Hillary Rodham at Yale and go into detail as she meets Bill Clinton and moves to Arkansas to be with him as he takes his first run at being elected to Congress. But where the real Hillary and Bill married and became the ultimate 90s power couple, this story sees Hillary leave Bill, literally driving away into the sunset.

Fast forward 15 years and Hillary is now a law professor at Northwestern, butting up against workplace misogyny and considering her own political ambitions. Fast forward again, and Hillary is eyeing a run for President – is Curtis Sittenfeld going to give us the President the world deserved in 2016?

It’s a really canny choice for Curtis Sittenfeld to use Hillary Rodham-Clinton as the focus of the novel, precisely because we know how real life turned out, but really this book could be about any woman of Hillary’s age who has persevered in the face of direct and indirect bias in life and work, purely because of her sex. There are some really interesting observations that could only have been made by a woman, mainly based around how women are perceived as they age and the innate suspicion of any woman who chooses to remain single, childless or both.

You could highlight whole chapters of the book which show how female political candidates have to think twice as hard as their male counterparts about running in the first place, and then how they have to work twice as hard to be elected. I can’t think about the perfectly observed sections about how the press will criticise every facet of a female candidate, while ignoring huge red flags in her male opponents without rage. It’s all true and we see it every day in the media.

The alternate version of Hillary’s life is interwoven with real-life political events, which inspire her and others and also provide some shocking statistics – for instance, in 1991, only 2 women sat in the US Senate, and neither of those women were invited to serve in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, despite testimony from a woman he had allegedly sexually harassed. This real-life event inspired several women to run for Senate the following year, of which five were elected.

This tying in of real-life events has made me want to grab Hillary Rodham-Clinton’s What Happened, just to see which events in her personal life were true and also what she thought of the events that inspired her alter-ego.

Rodham may be a book about one woman, but there is so much in it that speaks to all women. There are experiences in it that any woman could have experienced – even as far as wanting to go for a swim but forgetting to shave your legs. From the mundane to the monumental, there are lessons for us all here and it’s brilliant to be able to read them through the lens of what might have been.

2016 may be a year that Hillary Rodham-Clinton would rather forget but, still, #ImWithHer…

Rodham is published by Doubleday.

To find out more about Curtis Sittenfeld and her work, you can check out her website. Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Rodham. To read more reviews and exclusive content, please do take a look at some of the blogs below:

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book via Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Read With Me 2020 #27 – Book Review: Separation by Sally Emerson

A compelling and moving novel set in London about the pain of being separated from the children you love. 

Amanda is a high-flying management consultant with a loving and eccentric husband. Kate is her new baby and Sarah her mysterious nanny. And Alice is the child who lives by the river on the other side of London and who has recently developed a taste for fairy tales because everyone, in the end, gets exactly what they deserve.

As the novel moves towards its unexpected and shocking finale, the story wittily explores the dilemmas and sexual temptations of new parenthood and the zestful power of apparently vulnerable babies and children.

What I Thought:

I’ve read a few of Sally Emerson’s novels now since they have been re-released by Quartet Books and I think so far Separation is my favourite.

Having been published originally in the the early 1990s, it’s incredibly interesting to read these novels through the lens of our current society as so much remains relevant but it’s disappointing to see how much has remained the same, as I am in my forties, from a time when I was just becoming a teenager.

For instance, the central part of Amanda’s story is the conflict between motherhood and career which is certainly something that women still agonise over today. Regardless of the willingness of fathers to do their fair share of childcare (something incidentally that IS a big difference from the novel) the duty and the guilt still falls primarily on mothers.

On the other side of this most modern of dilemmas, you have Sarah who has – in an almost Victorian fashion – been completely cut off from her daughter by a cheating husband who wants revenge for Sarah daring to leave him. He doesn’t especially care for the child, Alice, but if it hurts Sarah, he will damn well keep hold of her.

Alice is a beautifully written character; despite not hearing from her mummy, she is so convinced that she will be coming for her that she keeps a suitcase packed and ready to go. She adores the fairytales that Sarah used to read to her, and when her situation looks hopeless, she takes things into her own hands – in an absolutely shocking fashion.

As I said, this is my favourite of Sally Emerson’s books so far as, despite the very human, domestic dilemmas in the story, it’s so deliciously dark! Under every seemingly innocent interaction, there’s something lurking, keeping you on tenterhooks and keeping those pages turning. Very much like the fairytales that are so childlike on the surface, there is often a murky undercurrent.

One thing I love more than a great book, is a great book that is being given a new life and Quartet are certainly on to something by introducing this fantastic book to a new audience – highly recommended from me…

Separation is published by Quartet Books.

To find out more about Sally Emerson and her books, you can check out her website. Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

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Please note: I was sent this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Monstrous Souls by Rebecca Kelly

What if you knew the truth but couldn’t remember?

Over a decade ago, Heidi was the victim of a brutal attack that left her hospitalised, her younger sister missing, and her best friend dead. But Heidi doesn’t remember any of that. She’s lived her life since then with little memory of her friends and family and no recollection of the crime.

But lately, it’s all starting to come back.

As Heidi begins retracing the events that lead to the assault, she is forced to confront the pain and guilt she’s long kept buried. But Heidi isn’t the only one digging up the past, and the closer she gets to remembering the truth, the more danger she’s in.

When the truth is worse than fiction, is the past worth reliving?

What I Thought:

Despite the absolute garbage fire that is the UK at the moment, one thing that does not seem to be suffering is the excellent supply of new books. One such is Monstrous Souls, a tense and twisty thriller by Rebecca Kelly and published today by Agora Books.

To say I enjoyed this book is, perhaps, the wrong word as it has some quite disturbing content once the mystery behind Heidi’s attack is slowly revealed – more like I was riveted by it. There is the central plot of the murder of one girl, a near-fatal attack on another and the abduction of a third, but there is also a hugely intricate plot surrounding organised child abuse and trafficking which is sometimes hard to read, but is handled in such a away as to emphasise the despicable nature of it without it being too horrifying for the reader – most of the horror is filled in by your own imagination anyway.

Although this delicate subject provides the backbone of the novel, the friendship between Nina and Heidi, in contrast, is intimate and beautifully captured. It provokes memories of younger days, secret hideouts, long summer days and silly in-jokes and makes what happens to these girls all the more tragic.

I really liked Heidi as a character – although her tendency is to live quietly due to her experiences, she has been able to overcome horrific circumstances in her own way. The descriptions of her life crashing down as she begins to remember some of the details of her ordeal are saddening to read.

Heidi’s voice is interwoven in the book with that of an anonymous person who is watching her, someone who has a vested interest in seeing that she doesn’t remember too much. This is a great device and these passages help us to see more fully what is going on – but still, the final moments are a complete shock.

This book is an excellent and gripping debut novel and I would be thrilled to read more from Rebecca Kelly.

Monstrous Souls is published by Agora Books.

To find out more about Rebecca Kelly, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Monstrous Souls. To find out more about the book, and find reviews and exclusive content, be sure to visit some of the blogs below:

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Read With Me 2020 #25 – Book Review: Write Into My Heart by Rosie Taylor

Esme Matthews isn’t looking for love. She’s too busy trying to prove herself at work as the lowly assistant/glorified tea-maker for a stuffy, literary publisher.

When she’s not tearing around London after stroppy authors or tweeting about dull books that no one wants to read, Esme is forming a master-plan to turn the old-fashioned company around.

But then Harry Beaumont is drafted in as the new boss from New York. Harry is grumpy, rude and infuriatingly handsome. Esme can’t stand him, and when he rejects her book proposal to save the failing company, she declares war.

But how far will Esme go to beat Harry? And why does she feel like, despite their differences, he’s the only person who really understands her?

Surrounded by towering piles of books, maybe Esme has fallen in love…

What I Thought:

I have a certain fondness for romantic fiction – despite knowing exactly how it will turn out, it’s the getting there that is the fun! Write Into My Heart is extremely fun and I couldn’t resist it when I read the blurb and realised that it revolves around books and publishing.

I thought Esme was a great character. She makes some terrible decisions but, as they all seem to come from a good place, you can’t help but root for her as she tries to land an important YouTuber to write a book for her traditional, but failing, publisher. Many, many pratfalls on the way lead to an eventual very public humiliation, but is Esme down and out for good??

Rosie Taylor perfectly captures the conflict between a traditional industry and way of working and a new industry that many don’t consider real or respectable work – there are many in real life that hold that view, and the disapproval was dealt with well. PrankPal48 is brilliant – a Peter Pan figure who makes his living playing pranks, until he plays his biggest of all, much to Esme’s horror.

Most of the fun in romance novels comes from the conflict between the leading character and the – supposed? hopeful? presumed? – love interest, and Esme’s conflict with publishing royalty Harry Beaumont is very well done. Harry’s standoffishness contrasts really well with Esme’s more touchy-feely character and their battle to have the books they’re managing included in a major book award is really engaging.

If this was a normal year, I’d be advising you to grab Write Into My Heart as a beach read but, instead of that, grab it as a sweet alternative to the news! At the time of writing, the Kindle version is only 99p so a real steal.

Just a word about the cover of Write Into My Heart. I really liked the cover when I first saw it, as it incorporates lots of the elements to be found within the book. As I was compiling my review, I came across this from Holly Dunn, the cover’s designer. I love these insider details and it was great to see some of the other suggestions that didn’t make it as Write Into My Heart’s cover.

To find out more about Rosie Taylor and her work, you can check out her Facebook page.

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