Review: “The Last Romantics” by Tara Conklin

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Title: The Last Romantics
Author: Tara Conklin
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 5, 2019
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
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https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest opinion.

 

Poetic and at moments heartbreaking, Tara Conklin’s sophomore offering tackles the love between siblings in The Last Romantics.

When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time.

It begins in a big yellow house with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected. Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and ask what, exactly, they will do for love.

I’m not much for family sagas. Truthfully, I try to avoid them as much as possible because they either (a) bore me, or (b) too complicated to be believable. Most of the time, it’s a combination of the two for me. So I don’t know why I picked this book up, but whatever it was, I’m glad it made me click on that request button.

The Last Romantics was an emotional read – heartbreaking and illuminating both at the same time. It’s a story that tackles love, not the romantic kind despite the title, but the one shared between siblings.

Told from the point of view of poet Fiona Skinner, The Last Romantics follows the Skinner siblings: Renee, Caroline, Joe and Fiona. The lives of the four children drastically changes when their father suffers a heart attack, falling dead on the floor of his dental clinic in the summer of 1981. This one incident will ripple throughout their lives, changing each young child and affecting the adults they eventually will become.

The Last Romantics was a well-written, evocative story, and I enjoyed reading it. Sure, there were parts of it that felt off, things that didn’t make much sense: Fiona somehow knowing and then narrating her sisters’ and brother’s thoughts, ones they didn’t share with her; the use of the never-explained, partially-integrated future world devastated by climate change which, in hindsight, felt more and more like a ploy to explain Fiona’s longevity. Normally, these illogical bits would have been enough for me to put down any book, but what made me stuck through with this one were the characters.

Conklin drew completely realized characters, fleshed out and realistic, starting from her main character Fiona right down to the supporting casts. You can just imagine the other Skinner siblings doing their own stuff, living their own lives even if they aren’t on the page with Fiona, and that is a feat to pull off.

Great characters and writing aside though, what I loved the most about this book is how it explored sibling relationships. This book is so full of emotions, all throughout the story you’ll read about the ups and downs of the Skinner sibings much like how it is in real life. It was realistic how Conklin portrayed the siblings’ relationship, developing it and letting it evolved as the four Skinners grow older.

The Last Romantics made me think about my own siblings and there were definitely times when I saw a bit of myself in the characters. Much as I loved all of the characters though, I think I’m most partial to Renee probably because we’re both firstborns and we kind of have to grow up faster than our peers.

Overall, The Last Romantics was a terrific contemporary family drama. It was a beautiful exploration of the strong connections between siblings, and just how much each could and would do for one another. I definitely recommend this to contemporary lovers who love a heavy dosing of drama in their reading.

🍂 🍂 🍂 🍂 🍂

About the Author:

Tara ConklinTARA CONKLIN was born on St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands and raised in Stockbridge, Massachussetts. She is a graduate of Yale University, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and New York University School of Law. A joint US-UK citizen, Tara now lives in Seattle. Her first novel, The House Girl, was a NYT bestseller, #1 IndieNext pick and Target book club pick.

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Review: “All These Beautiful Strangers” by Elizabeth Klehfoth

36381099Title: All These Beautiful People

Author: Elizabeth Klehfoth

Publisher: William Morrow/HarperCollins

Publication Date: July 10, 2018

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

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(Digital ARC graciously provided by publisher via Edelweiss)

 

Secrets from both the past and present collide to reveal a terrible truth in this suspenseful debut from Elizabeth Klehfoth.

In the last day of summer, Grace Fairchild, the beautiful young wife of real estate mogul Allister Calloway, vanished from the family’s lake house without a trace, leaving behind her seven-year old daughter, Charlie, and a slew of unanswered questions.

Years later, seventeen-year-old Charlie still struggles with the dark legacy of her family name and the mystery surrounding her mother. Determined to finally let go of the past, she throws herself into life at Knollwood, the prestigious New England school she attends. Charlie quickly becomes friends with Knollwood’s “it” crowd.

Charlie has also been tapped by the A’s—the school’s elite secret society well known for terrorizing the faculty, administration, and their enemies. To become a member of the A’s, Charlie must play The Game, a semester-long, diabolical high-stakes scavenger hunt that will jeopardize her friendships, her reputation, even her place at Knollwood.

As the dark events of past and present converge, Charlie begins to fear that she may not survive the terrible truth about her family, her school, and her own life.

Goodreads

All These Beautiful Strangers is a compulsive read sure to make you keep turning the pages.

With three point-of-view characters, Klehfoth weaves a comprehensive story spanning almost three decades. Grace and Allistair’s chapters take readers back to the start of their stories, giving just enough clues to tease. I certainly enjoyed reading both their POVs. Reading their chapters definitely gave me more insight and allowed me to know their characters better. Nevertheless, no matter how interesting their parts were, it is still Charlie, daughter, who is the center of this story.

Charlie is a complicated character and her development is one of the things I liked best in this novel. I disliked her at first, but she grew on me. Acerbic and too full of herself at the start of the story, Charlie becomes more self-aware as the book progresses, unraveling what she knows about herself and her family as she detangles clues and details about her mother’s disappearance.

I gave myself a couple of days after finishing this book before writing my review. It’s a hefty one (500+ pages!) but I enjoyed it so much that I just glided my way through it. Great as that sounds though, All These Beautiful Strangers still has flaws.

Charlie is the story’s main mover, and she’ an effective one. Even though she is a conflicted character, Charlie is still likable and she made me care about what happens to her. Add this to combined elements of Gossip Girl, The Secret History and Cruel Intentions, and you have the makings of a really interesting plot. Klehfoth failed to capitalize on it however. The way she was written, Charlie relied too heavily on coincidences, stumbling on clues rather than actually discovering them herself. It’s a plot fail. Instead of moving the story organically, it only forced events to happen more often than not.

Still, Klehfoth’s writing shines through her flawed plotting. Descriptive and sharp in turns, she knows how to create a clear picture for her readers through her words. Her main characters are well developed with their own distinct voices and nuances. The story is very easy to read and follow even as it goes back and forth in time. It might have moved a bit slow during the first part of the book, but the pace speeds up as the mystery unfolds and drama escalates. The ending is an emotional one, but fitting though, it felt a bit rushed.

Despite its flaws, I still recommend All These Beautiful Strangers to readers who love suspense and mystery. While adults may enjoy this engrossing read, I see this appealing more to older teens. This debut is a great introduction for Elizabeth Klehfoth, already this book has been optioned for a small screen adaptation by the same producers behind HBO’s Big Little Lies. I am definitely looking forward to reading more books from her.