Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Luckiest Girl Alive

Author: Jessica Knoll 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2015
My Source: Louisville Free Public Library

This is the first novel by author, Jessica Knoll, who recently revealed how her personal tragedy inspired her to write this book. It has been on my Goodreads "to-read” list since December 2015, so I was pleased to learn that one of my book club members chose it as our April book (thanks Dorothy). This book has been praised as a bestseller of the same caliber as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Since I loved the suspense and twists and turns of both of those books, I was excited to read Luckiest Girl Alive. While I was hooked from the beginning and at times couldn’t put it down, I believe the comparison with the other two books is too generous. If I had not been aware of those comparisons, I think I would have enjoyed this book more.

This novel is about Ani (pronounced Ah-nee), a twenty-eight year-old woman living in Manhattan with her old money soon-to-be husband, Luke. Ani is proud of her job at a women’s magazine, even though she writes the sex column and aspires for more. She is also proud that she landed herself a wealthy and established man. Ani is a slave to fashion and enjoys the fact that Luke’s wealth allows her to buy the most sought after brand name clothes, purses, and shoes. She enjoys it when people envy what appears to be her privileged life and bright future. Ani has come a long way from her modest roots in Pennsylvania just outside the prestigious Main Line. Her mother likes to remind her of this and how easy it could be to slip back.

Ani gets her preoccupation with appearances, social status and wealth from her mother. Prior to the mother enrolling her at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani attended a Catholic elementary school in an ordinary middles class suburb. To her mother, the transfer to the Bradley School offers Ani the opportunity to socialize with the affluent people she herself strives to be like. Ani is willing to commute by train to and from school because she buys in to her mother’s claims of a better life. The author did a great job of making me both hate and pity Ani’s mother, whom is a shallow and unlikeable character without the capacity to feel empathy.

From page one the author insinuates that everything is not as it seems. On the surface, the main characters appear to have the perfect life, but the reader soon finds out that Ani is acting because she can’t understand what others, especially Luke, could see in her true self.

Rusted and bacteria ridden, I’m the blade that nicks at the perfectly hemmed seams of Luke’s star quarterback life, threatening to shred it apart. And he likes that threat, the possibility of my danger. But he doesn’t really want to see what I can do, the ragged holes I can open. I’ve spent most of our relationship scratching the surface, experimenting with the pressure, how much is too much before I draw blood? I’m getting tired.

Without giving away any spoilers, there are several different points in the story where the reader could argue that Ani is the “luckiest girl alive.” While most of the chapters focus on Ani’s present in which she is planning her expensive Nantucket wedding, some of the chapters jump back to her past as a 14 year-old adolescent trying to fit in as the new girl at an exclusive private high school. This format gives the reader clues about the secret she is hiding before it is actually revealed. At times I found the chapters that do reveal the secret incredibly uncomfortable to read as I imagined myself in Ani’s shoes. I was hoping all the way through for a twisted triumphant revenge plot conclusion like in Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train (does this make a me a bad person?), but was left wanting when the ending was not as grand as I expected it to be based on the excruciating secret and the amount of built up tension. While the ending is clear and revealed through conversations between Ani and other characters, I would have preferred to see the ending actually played out.   

While I really enjoyed this book because of the suspense and the vivid characters, I did not love it for the reasons mentioned above.

                                                    Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

BonusLionsgate has purchased the movie rights to the story. Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea will produce it, and Jessica Knoll will write the screenplay. According to imdb the film is “in development” and set to be released sometime in 2016.

Monday, March 28, 2016

About Me: The Girl Behind the Books


My name is Sarah and I am a 40-something reader/now book review blogger and this is my very first post. I am not a professional writer, just a life-long book lover. I started a book club about 3 years ago. We meet to discuss the books at a coffee shop on the third Tuesday of the month. In all honesty, we only discuss the books for about 10-15 minutes and then we socialize and gossip. It is a good excuse for friends to get together on a regular basis.

In my past life, I was a psychotherapist. I worked in many settings including crisis centers, hospitals, community mental health centers, private practices, and a youth shelter. I worked with children, adults, families and couples with a variety of social and emotional problems. This work was rewarding at times, but also very emotionally draining. I decided to make a career change after 18 years in the field. I tried my hand at Human Resources, but that didn’t really pan out. Then sadly my father-in-law passed away unexpectedly on February 10, 2014, and my mother-in-law needed me. She has multiple health issues so I became her part-time caregiver. This gave me extra time to read in hospital and medical office waiting rooms. Reading became my respite. As a result, I found myself reading additional books beyond the book club selections and I sought out book reviews online for suggestions. I started to follow several book review blogs and was inspired to write my own similar blog as a fun intellectual exercise.  

Since I don't have a background in English or Literature, my perspective is that of an average layperson reader. With that in mind I ask that you not judge me too harshly. Hopefully my style will appeal to those of you who simply enjoy reading for the sheer pleasure of it.

Because of my psychology training, I tend to enjoy books that focus on cultural and social diversity and the complexities of human relationships. I primarily read contemporary literature, but I also read some historical fiction, YA and nonfiction. As an adolescent, my two favorite authors were Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton. Some of my favorite authors now include Wally Lamb, Barbara Kingsolver, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gillian Flynn, Khaled Hosseinni, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Tania James just to name a few.

In addition to reading and reviewing books, I plan to compare and contrast movies based on books, 
and report on author readings/signings that I attend at the Louisville Free Public Library and Carmichael’s, a local independent bookstore.

Please feel free to comment on my posts as this will help me develop and improve upon my style and content.

Happy Reading!

P.S. You can follow me on Goodreads