July 31, 2012

(108)Ten Girls to Watch by Charity Shumway

by Charity Shumway 

Publication Date: July 31,2012
Pages: 368


Dawn West is struggling to make rent like so many college kids do right after graduation.  She wants nothing more than to be a writer like her mentor, Helen.  When the only writing gig she finds is writing a lawn care advice column she gives it all she's got.  When her ex-boyfriend invites her to his family's annual party in the Hampton's she goes not expecting to rub elbows with a bigwig from Charm magazine.

The bigwig from Charm magazine, an avid reader of her lawn care advice column, invites Dawn to the office to discuss a project.  It is the 50th Anniversary of a yearly series called Ten Girls to Watch.  Dawn's assignment is to track down all fifty years worth contestants and put together bios for the Anniversary issue.  With each woman that Dawn interviews she starts to learn that love, happiness, and success can be found in the most unusual of places. Will Dawn be able to wow the Editors enough to get a permanent position at Charm?  And will she finally find true love with the hot columnist, Elliott?

Ten Girls to Watch was one of the better Chick Lit novels I have read this year.  Dawn is a woman who is a bit unsure of where her place is in the world.  She wants it to be in writing, but she constantly second guesses her decision not to go to Law School.  As she starts her new assignment she meets all sorts of women who made all sorts of career and life choices and the change in her attitude is almost visible.  The Dawn West who started the Ten Girls to Watch assignment is not the same Dawn West who completes the assignment.   What I really enjoyed about the book (without giving too much away) is that by the end of the book Dawn is comfortable with her own choices and life decisions.   So many Chick Lit novels have the same kind of ending and in Ten Girls to Watch, Charity Shumway went a different direction and it was very refreshing.  Dawn West is the kind of character that I could see Kate Hudson play in the movie adaptation of this book.

Bottom line, as Women it is very natural for us to second guess ourselves.  It is the rare woman who makes a decision and KNOWS that it is the right one. Dawn West is just like you or I, so full of uncertainty right out of college. But just like Dawn, we were exposed to experiences and people who helped us develop that sense of self confidence.  If you would like a little flashback to the girl you once were, check out Ten Girls to Watch.

July 30, 2012

(107)Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

Where We Belong 

Publication Date: July 24, 2012
Pages: 384


Emily Giffin is another one of those authors that I stalk while I impatiently wait for a new novel.  It seems like it's been forever since her last book, Heart Of The Matter, was released, but let me just say that it was well worth the wait.

Marian Caldwell is a thirty-six year old successful producer living in New York.  She is two years into her relationship with Network Exec, Peter.  Marian is starting to pressure Peter for more.  Marriage, babies, the whole works. Yet things do not go well when Marian's eighteen-year-old secret shows up on her doorstep and everything that was stable in Marian's life is suddenly shaky.

Eighteen-year-old Kirby Rose is feeling like she doesn't fit in with her family.  She always knew that she was adopted, but it wasn't until recently that she started wondering about her birth mother.  Because she was eighteen, the adoption agency freely gave her the name and address of her birth mother and one weekend she (unbeknownst to her parents) takes off for New York City to find her Mother.  To say that their reunion was rocky is an understatement, but they muddle through together.  Marian is excited to see Kirby, yet nervous that she will ask about her Father, the man who never knew that Marian was pregnant.   Together they set off to find Conrad Knight, each woman with their own fears about what his reaction will be when they show up on his doorstep.

Where We Belong is a heartwarming tale about  regrets, forgiveness, acceptance, and most importantly family. The author did an amazing job of bringing Kirby and her family to life.  It was fascinating to see the differences between the world that Kirby actually grew up in and the world that she might have grown up in, had Marian not given her up for adoption.  And the argument could be that Kirby's working class family provided the better childhood than her "rich" birth mother could have given her.  I like how the author was also careful not to really cause angst between Kirby and her family when she started seeking out her birth mother, they were cautious, yet very supportive, despite their own fears of losing their daughter.

Bottom line, fans of Emily Giffin are going to love and appreciate Where We Belong.  The characters are multi-dimensional with unexpected depth.  And the story of Kirby and Marian is one that will touch your heart.  If you are a fan of the wonderful Emily Giffin, you will not be disappointed.

July 26, 2012

(106)Getting Over Mr. Right by Chrissie Manby

Getting Over Mr.Right

Pages: 304
Publication Date: July 10, 2012


Ashleigh has been dating her boyfriend, Michael for two years.  While she has mentally been planning their wedding and how many children they are going to have, Michael has been busy getting promotions, buying a very non-family friendly flat, and getting in the best shape of his life. It is one day while Ashleigh is at work and checking Facebook that she sees Michael's status go from "In a Relationship" to "Single" right before her very eyes.

Well.  Let's just say that the next 120 pages or so is full of Ashleigh NOT handling this break-up very well.   She may or may not have done the following; (okay she did) - create a fake Facebook page to stalk him, make a voodoo doll of Michael, and don an ugly wig as a disguise while lurking outside of his apartment building.  She doesn't get crazy with her ex, but she gets nasty with her best friend on her wedding day.  She also loses her job due to her obsession with the ex and then proceeds to burn her apartment down while leaving a candle unattended. So here she is unemployed with no boyfriend, no friends at all, and homeless.  Will she ever be able to get over Mr. Right?  Or is she doomed to becoming the spinster known as the "crazy cat lady" dwelling on the past?

It is a rare woman that hasn't gone through a break-up that left her so heartbroken she lost her mind for a minute and does a few crazy things.  But to do ALL of the things that Ashleigh did after Michael dumped her makes her a very unlikable character.  And what she did to her best friend is downright despicable. I understand that she was coming from a place of pain, but geesh.  As painful as it was to watch Ashleigh self-destruct, I couldn't tear myself away.  She is no different than many other women out there who have been through bad break-ups and that makes her very real.

Bottom line, we have all "been there, done that" when it comes to having a bad break-up of some sorts.  I am going to guess that an overwhelming majority of us are even guilty of  doing at least one of the crazy things that Ashleigh did while she was Getting Over Mr.Right.  And we all learned something from our mistakes, right?  The question is, did Ashleigh learn from her mistake?  Read Getting Over Mr.Right and find out.

July 25, 2012

(105)Behaving Badly by Isabel Wolff

Behaving Badly

Publication Date: October 18, 2011
Pages: 384


Miranda Sweet has taken the skills that she learned as a Veterinarian and has opened her own practice as an Animal Behaviorist.   She finds herself getting increasingly busy and is making a "house-call" when she discovers that it is the house of her very first boyfriend, Jimmy.  Miranda immediately is taken back to the youthful indiscretion that seriously injured another person and has haunted her everyday since then.

After seeing Jimmy the guilt just starts eating away at Miranda and she decides to seek out the man she injured in hopes of making restitution.  Or at the very least an apology.   What she did not expect was to find a very handsome, very successful photographer who seems like a "Knight in Shining Armor" compared to the long line of losers that she has dated ever since Jimmy.  The more time she spends with David, the more she finds herself falling for him and the harder it is to tell him the truth about their connection and that day so many years ago.  Will she ever be brave enough to tell David the truth?  And what will happen if/when she does?

As a dog person I found myself really enjoying Behaving Badly. Before I get too far into my review, let me just say that the dog on the cover is NOT the same breed as the dog that is Miranda's faithful companion.  Her Doxie, Herman, the complete opposite of the dog shown on the cover!  Silly Art Directors need to READ the books they are creating covers for, at the very least read the synopsis!  Having said that, I will say that Miranda Sweet is such a compassionate character.  Even though she took part in a violent act, she was just another young girl who had been led astray by a bad boyfriend and that made it so much easier to "forgive" her for her transgressions. She has an eclectic group of people in her "circle" and they just added to the unique story and you find yourself rooting for her and her happiness.

Bottom line, animal lovers are going to love Behaving Badly!  The animals are just as much a part of the story as Miranda and her family/friends.  And even better, the animals have "problems" that any pet owner can relate to rather easily.   But animals aside, the relationship between Miranda and David is fun to watch develop and you desperately want Miranda to get her "Happily Ever After", but does she get what she wants?  You will have to read Behaving Badly to find out!

July 24, 2012

(104)Broken Harbor by Tana French

Broken Harbor

Publication Date: July 24, 2012
Pages: 464


It is rare that I find a 464 page book that I can devour in one sitting, but I have learned over the years that Tana French knows how to write a novel that I just can NOT put down!

Broken Harbor is the fourth book in the "Murder Squad" series.  Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy has one of the best close rates in the squad, but it has been a while since he caught a "good one" so when his boss asks him to take the triple murder out in Broken Harbor, he jumps on the case.  And since he will be training the new guy, Richie Curran, he is determined to do everything by the book.

What they discover out at Broken Harbor, a planned community that only got a couple houses sold before the developers went belly-up in the down economy, is enough to bring even the most jaded detective to their knees.   Out of work and down on his luck, Patrick Spain and his wife were discovered brutally stabbed in their kitchen.  Patrick's wife, Jennifer is alive, barely hanging on by a thread, but the rest of the family is gone.  Upstairs, they discover the couple's two young children have also been murdered, smothered as they slept.  As Kennedy and Curran take their first steps through the house a few things catch their eye, like the fact that even though the couple's children were young, they were not young enough to really need baby monitors anymore.  Yet Kennedy & Curran have found five baby monitors in the couple's bedroom.  And there are bizarrely placed holes scattered throughout the whole house that completely baffle the two detectives.   Exactly WHAT was going on in that house and who tried to take out the entire family?  And will they come back to finish the job once they discover that Jennifer Spain survived?

Tana French is pure genius when it comes to setting the scene and developing her characters.  After she got done with Mick Kennedy I felt as if I knew him as well as one of my own brothers. Broken Harbor and her inhabitants are so well described it felt as if I had been transported to the ghost town of a development where the Spain's live.   I truly found myself lost in the story and nothing screams "great book" more than getting lost in the story.

Bottom line, Broken Harbor is what the average murder mystery novels should all want to be when they grow up.  The writing is so precise, so engrossing. The suspense is perfected in a way that leaves you holding your breath and turning pages as fast as your eyes will let you.  I have always enjoyed Tana French's novels, but Broken Harbor just seemed to outshine them all.  Maybe it was just because I was thirsty for a literary masterpiece, but I think Broken Harbor was the best mystery I have read yet this year.  I look forward to hearing what you guys think, be sure to let me know!

July 23, 2012

(103)Who Moved My Cheese by

Who Moved My Cheese

Publication Date: September 8, 1998
Pages: 96


I first read Who Moved My Cheese almost five years ago when I was working at the book store. (Read the review here) I recently started a new Sales job and my new boss gave me this book and said if I had it read and a one page book report to him by today, he would give me $50.   Well let me just say that is the easiest $50 I will have ever made.

So I sat down this weekend and read through the book again. I took away different "things" from the book this time because it applies to a different portion of my life.  I won't share the whole book report with you, but I will share with you a portion of what I wrote.

This weekend when I read Who Moved My Cheese I looked at the parable from a different place than I did four years ago.  A place as a new employee in an organization where change is crucial to success and success is crucial to survival.  In this book the “Cheese” can be a metaphor for anything, but in my mind the Cheese = sales/success. Who Moved My Cheese provides an excellent example of what happens to employees who are not willing hunt out the cheese.   And if they cannot find new cheese – they can become extinct.   As a new employee in the maze that is Blah Blah Blah I have yet to find my cheese.  I have yet to enjoy the success or reap the benefits of finding my cheese.  I am still learning the ins and outs of my new career; I am still learning the tools of what it will take to find my cheese



The beauty of a book like Who Moved My Cheese is that it does not matter how many times you read it, you will look at it from a different perspective each time.  What it meant to me this time will probably be different if I read it again in six months or a year.  But it is a great reminder to me that change is good.  And necessary. 

July 21, 2012

(102)When In Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison

When in Doubt, Add Butter

Publication Date: July 17, 2012
Pages: 352


I love a good fluffy book where I can sit down and have a few chuckles, say "awwww" a few times, and be done reading it in a matter of a few hours.  When In Doubt, Add Butter fits that bill.

Gemma is a Personal Chef in the DC area with an interesting collection of clients.  From the Father and his sons, who Gemma is pretty sure are part of the Russian mob, to the elusive client that Gemma has dubbed "Mr. Tuesday" - they all have very unique tastes and very unique demands.   The night after a disastrous dinner party Gemma heads to the bar where she meets (and *ahem* enjoys) the very handsome Mack ends up having shocking consequences that end up changing her life in ways that she never imagined.  Will she find the happiness that she craves?  And will it be with Mack or the elusive "Mr. Tuesday"?

When in Doubt, Add Butter is one of those books that is most definitely candy for the brain.  Gemma is a wonderful main character, she has a few skeletons in her closet that keep her grounded and make her out to be one of those main characters that you would love to have for a BFF.  A few of the situations she finds herself in are a bit comical, I mean how could you NOT find hitting a peacock with your car funny?  I was very pleased with the way the story concluded, and I am sure you will be, too. 

Bottom line, When In Doubt, Add Butter is a fun, well written Chick Lit novel.  It is not going to strain your brain in any capacity, but it will provide a welcoming escape from your every day life.  Give it a read and let me know what you think!

July 20, 2012

(101)Between You & Me by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus

Between You and Me 

Publication Date:  June 12, 2012
Pages: 272

(Limited Time) 

I have made no secret about loving the kind of books that give you some really good "behind the scenes" kind of dirt.  Jennifer Weiner's The Next Best Thing was one of the more recent ones that I have read.  So I went into Between You and Me excited about some behind the scenes action for a pop star princess, but as much as I wanted to like this book, it just did nothing for me.

Between You and Me is about two cousins from Oklahoma. Logan Wade is struggling to make it in New York City when her estranged cousin calls out of the blue and invites her for a visit.  Logan is eager for the escape and what was supposed to be a weekend visit turns into a new career as Kelsey's Personal Assistant.   Kelsey Wade is one of those posh celebrities that is known by only one name, to her fans and the general public she appears to have everything a girl could ever want.  What is not known is that she has a toxic, dysfunctional relationship with the parents who run her life, and since it has been years since Logan has seen that side of the family, she has no clue what she is getting herself into as a "Personal Assistant" to Kelsey.   But as the days and weeks slide by, Logan becomes acutely aware that things are not as they seem and Kelsey is struggling to keep her head above water and her sanity intact.   Will Logan be able to help Kelsey battle her domineering parents or will her presence only make things worse?

So, I really, really wanted to like this book.  I have a whole flock (or is it gaggle?) of cousins myself.  Some I am still fairly close with as even as adults and others have slipped away, much like Logan and Kelsey did for several years.   I have nothing but fond memories of my childhood with all of my cousins, and if one of them all of a sudden became a rock star that needed a personal assistant, I would jump right in & help.  I do know this, though, none of my Aunts or Uncles are as despicable as Kelsey's parents.  How Logan (my nephew's name by the way) kept her mouth shut as she witnessed the abuse is probably the thing I liked least about this book.   Not many adults would be able to keep their mouth shut if they saw a child being abused like Kelsey was, so why was it so hard for Logan to say something about the treatment Kelsey experiences as an adult.  Lord knows I wouldn't be able to keep my mouth shut.

Bottom line, I get that Between You and Me was meant to show the readers that  not everything is glitz and glamour for our country's royalty, but the dysfunction in this family is borderline abusive and it was just UGLY to the point of no redemption for me.   Between You and Me has been out for a month or so now, has anyone had the chance to read it yet & what did you think?

July 19, 2012

(100)Partials by Dan Wells

Partials
by Dan Wells 

Publication Date: February 28, 2012
Pages: 480


Partials is a post-apocalyptic novel set not too far in the future.  99.96% of the human race was obliterated by the Partials. The Partials group of non-human beings that were first developed by the Government to win a global war, they lived harmoniously among the humans until they turned on the government and obliterated the human race.

The survivors have gathered in East Meadow, New York on Long Island and they are desperate to find a cure to the biological warfare that is preventing the human race from procreating.  Life today is ruled by the Senate and all women, by law, are to become pregnant.  Sixteen year old Kira is a Medic-In-Training and has just started her training in the maternity ward when she realizes that they are going about it all wrong.  She knows they need a live Partial to do testing on if they want to find a cure to the virus and start repopulating the Earth.   But getting a Partial is anything from easy.  Kira enlists the help of her friends and they set off on a journey that will change them and their world, but will she be able to find the cure that they are all desperate to find?

Partials is a fast paced "What If" kind of novel that sucks you deep into the world of "What If".  Kira is a very strong, interesting female character and I loved to see her grow as the story progressed.  Her relationship with Samm was my favorite part of the book.  And when the tables are turned and she discovers a shocking revelation, well, it just made the book all that much better.

Bottom line, I have said it before & I will say it again.  Post-Apocalyptic novels are only as good as your imagination allows them to be.  I loved seeing the future world through Kira's eyes and I could see glimpses of our world in her world.  If you like those kind of novels, then you need to check out Partials. You won't be disappointed.  I promise.

July 18, 2012

(99)Hell or High Water by Joy Castro

Hell or High Water

Publication Date: July 18, 2012
Pages: 352


New Orleans, Louisiana has a long, rich history of being the kind of town where people go to have a good time.  New Orleans became front and center on the World stage when Hurricane Katrina brought the city to Her knees and killed nearly two thousand people.

Hell or High Water by Joy Castro picks up in 2008 New Orleans.  Nola Cespedes is a young journalist trying to make a name for herself at the Times-Picayune she is tired of doing fluff pieces on plantations and is thrilled to finally have a real shot at being a journalist.  She has finally been given the opportunity to write her first feature story on the hundreds of registered sex offenders who went off the grid during and after Katrina.   While researching her story Nola is taken into the belly of the crime beast that simmers underneath the surface in New Orleans.  Most recently, a young, beautiful tourist has gone missing and Nola has a hunch that one of her sources for her article is responsible for her disappearance.  As she digs deeper the ghosts of her own past seem to be catching up with her.  Will she be able to maintain her professionalism while working on the story of a lifetime or will the scum of the earth drag her into the belly of the beast?  This dark novel moves along at a rapid pace and comes to an utterly shocking conclusion.

Hell or High Water is a dark, very dark novel and Nola Cespedes is a dark, very dark character.  The way that she likes to self harm with her destructive decisions is very similar to Elsbeth Salander (Girl With A Dragon Tattoo) or even Michael Munroe (The Informationist). Nola is a dark and complex character. You see her struggling to be "normal" and that makes her a very empathetic character.  I will say that the conclusion shocked me at first, then after I stepped away and gave it some thought, I realized that the author had subtly been building to that conclusion the whole story.

Bottom line, Hell or High Water, is as dark and gritty of a novel as they come.  Like I said, if you are paying attention, you can see the author build to the shocking twist, but I was blindsided by what happened.  If you are looking for a good gritty mystery or are interested in New Orleans, give it a read, you won't be disappointed.

July 17, 2012

(98)Gold by Chris Cleave

Gold

Publication Date: July 3, 2012
Pages: 336


Every now and then you stumble across a book that is such an emotional read it leaves you feeling drained, yet exhilarated at the same time.  That would be Gold.

Gold is the story of two women cyclists, Kate and Zoe who met at the tender age of nineteen when they were trying out for a national training program for cyclists.  It has been twelve years since they first met and their bond is strong as ever,yet their friendship remains tenuous as they have competed against each other over the years.  A lot has happened over those years, there was the meeting of Jack Argall, a cyclist they both had their eye on.  There was the birth of Sophie, Kate and Jack's daughter.  And the diagnosis of Sophie's leukemia while they were all at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, a diagnosis which forces Kate to drop out of the Olympics.  Now here it is 2012 and at the same time that Kate and Zoe are trying to qualify for the London games, Sophie is fighting the side effects of chemo.  As the book races at a breakneck speed to it's conclusion you come to understand that eight-year-old Sophie is not the only one in this story fighting for her life.   What will happen when the race is over?  Will they all be winners or will they all be losers? And will any of them win the Gold?

I was really surprised at how quickly I was sucked into the story of Zoe and Kate.  There is a lot of bouncing around in narration between Zoe and Kate, both past and present.  But not once did I feel lost and that "bouncing around" plays a critical part in understanding how Kate and Zoe came to be the women they are today.   But, to be honest, the heart of this novel belongs to Sophie. This sweet, tender, stubborn, bald-headed little girl who is a Star Wars fanatic. She is old enough (ie: mature enough) to understand how critical this training is for her mother to go to the Olympics, and she is acutely aware that she was the reason why her mother missed the last Olympics, so she tries to hide just how sick she is getting.  It is both admirable and heartbreaking at the same time.

Bottom line, this whole book is an emotional roller coaster, any avid sports fan understands the heart pounding anticipation as the competition heats up, but mix that with the heart pounding roller coaster that comes from having a sick child and you are sure to go through an entire box of Kleenex.  Also, be sure to read the Author's Note at the end,  it brought me to tears quicker than any other part of the book. The start of the 2012 Summer Olympics is less than two weeks away and the whole world has Olympic Fever.  What better way to get into the mood and see just what the athletes do to prepare and just how hard they train then to read Gold by Chris Cleave?

July 16, 2012

(97)Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand

Summerland

Publication Date: June 26, 2012
Pages: 400


Elin Hilderbrand has become notorious for her books set on Nantucket.  A lot of the time she writes about people who "summer" on Nantucket, like in Silver Girl, and other times she writes about the people who live year round on Nantucket, like in Summerland.

Summerland starts off on the night of graduation.  Four friends, all Juniors, have decided to hit a few graduation parties to celebrate their friend's accomplishments and the start of summer.  Hobby, Jake, Penny, and Demeter have been having a really good time, until it is time to leave. Penny is the designated driver and just has fun while the others engage in copious amounts of underage drinking.  Somebody has said something to Penny that sets her off and she is so angry, that even though she has not had a drop of alcohol, she should not be driving.  Her anger distracts her and her distracted driving is the cause of a horrific crash and the lives of these four teens, and the community of Nantucket, are forever changed. 

Elin Hilderbrand has to be one of my favorite authors ever.  She creates such intricate characters who may have their flaws, but at their core they are good people and that makes them very empathetic characters. You want to hate them for their broken moral compasses and horrible decision making skills, but instead you just feel empathy for the situations they have created for themselves. I think the most shining example of the broken moral compass is the relationship between Jordan and Zoe, for in Summerland she not only writes about the deadly mistakes made by some teens, but she also writes about their flawed parents.  And how one night in June changes everything for all of them.

Bottom line, once again Elin Hilderbrand hit a home run with Summerland.  I settled into the "comfy couch" this afternoon and read this book in one sitting.  As always, the scenery of Nantucket is  stunning, the characters are multi-dimentional, and the story is captivating. Now do I really have to wait a whole year for another Nantucket tale?

July 14, 2012

(96)The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

The Crane's Dance

Publication Date: May 15, 2012
Pages: 384


I am envious of people who can dance.  I don't just mean petrople who look good dancing at weddings or clubs, I mean people who can flawlessly perform beautiful art like Swan Lake or The Nutcracker.  The phrase "Dance like no one is looking" was written for me. Often times I wish that I had the skill or coordination to dance with such ease, but alas, I am stuck watching from afar.  The Crane's Dance was getting a lot of buzz this past spring and I knew it was about dancing, but I had no idea how dramatic the story was going to be.

Kate Crane is an extremely talented ballet dancer who finds herself virtually alone in New York City at a very tender age.  Her whole life is dancing and as she ages, she struggles to stay relevant in a world where younger is almost always better.  Enter her younger sister, Gwen.  She joins Kate in New York City and not only is she younger and beautiful, but she is also very very talented, causing an insecurity in Kate that she has never experienced before.  Kate starts to notice that Gwen's tenuous grasp on reality is slipping at a rapid pace and she is forced to call her parents for help.  With Gwen gone Kate is forced to deal with the guilt she feels for destroying Gwen's dream, she struggles between knowing that she did the right thing and feeling relief for having the spotlight all to herself once again.  Will Kate let the guilt eat her alive or will she find some peace in the choices she has made?

I was a bit surprised at how fast paced The Crane's Dance felt to me. From almost the beginning when Kate is describing Swan Lake to the uneducated reader (like myself). The voice of the narrator, Kate, seems almost manic.  We first meet Kate after Gwen has returned "home" and is refusing to speak to , text, or communicate in anyway with Kate.  As the story goes on Kate flashes back to the events leading up to Gwen's eventual breakdown and we see the complexities of their relationship as well as the pressures of being a successful ballet dancer.  It was really interesting to read.  The behind the scenes aspect was also very neat to read.  Not that I know very much about the world of ballet, but I always find it interesting to read "behind the scenes" stories.

Bottom line -  The Crane's Dance is a good book for anyone who dreamed of being a ballerina as a young girl.  You can live vicariously through Kate without having to give up your couch potato status.  (Thank God).   There is a discussion guide with the book to help facilitate what is likely to be a lively discussion within your book group.   Has anyone else read The Crane's Dance?  What did you think?

July 13, 2012

(95)Heartbroken by Lisa Unger

Heartbroken

Publication Date: June 26, 2012
Pages: 386


Heartbroken is the heart pounding tale of three women and an island.

Birdie is the difficult matriarch of the Burke family and Heart Island has been in her family for generations.  Every summer her family gathers at Heart Island, but recently it has been more out of a sense of obligation rather than out of an eagerness to spend time as a family.  This year is no different. Birdie's daughter, Kate, is dreading the trip to Heart Island, especially after her husband, Shawn tells her that he has to stay behind for work.

The other half of the story is Emily.  She is working as a waitress in a small restaurant and trapped in a bad relationship with a very bad man.  She feels lost and longs for the kind of life where she "summers" on an island like Heart Island.  Emily's boyfriend, Dean, is a user and plans on using the kindness of Emily's boss to  further his own "career".  It is when Emily's "world" collides with Kate and Birdie's "world" that the sparks in this book really fly.  What happens when these two worlds collide and will they all make it out alive?

Heartbroken is a heart pounding suspense novel.  At first I was unsure of how the three women were connected, but when it is revealed, I was really shocked.  The author does a really good job of building the suspense and building the stories that when they finally do collide, you are sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to see what is going to happen.

Bottom line, beach home stories are a summer literature staple.  Heartbroken takes that beach story and turns it into a masterful piece of literary suspense.  If you are ready for a break from the summer staples, give Heartbroken a try.

July 12, 2012

(94)One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

One Breath Away

Publication Date: June 26, 2012
Pages: 384

Buy it Here!

By now you should know that I am open to reading any book set in or about Iowa.  And after the last month of miserable heat, what is better than reading about Iowa in the middle of a blizzard?

One Breath Away is set in a very small Iowa town where Augie and PJ are living with their Grandfather while their Mom recovers from serious injuries sustained in a fire back in Arizona.  Thirteen year old Augie is having a hard time adjusting to the changes, but no matter how much she hates the farm life, she will stick it out for PJ.  Her "job" is to look after her younger brother and keep him safe and she takes her job very seriously.

It is a cold, snowy spring day in Iowa when an armed man enters their school and steps into PJ's classroom.  The entire town gathers at the school with the hope that it will be resolved quickly and peacefully and they are there to get their kids out of there as soon as possible.  Augie & PJ's grandfather, Will Thwaite, is there, too.  His relationship with his daughter is strained at best and he knows that it would be destroyed forever if something ever happened to her children on his watch.  But what can he do, but sit and wait, meanwhile Augie is in the school determined to rescue her little brother and keep him safe.  Will she be able to keep him safe and herself out of harms way or are they doomed to become another tragic statistic?

One Breath Away is told from the alternating viewpoints of Augie, Will, Mrs. Oliver (the teacher) and Officer Meg Barrett, who the gunman demanded was the only person he wanted to speak with.  We get to see this story unfold from the various viewpoints and it gives the story a unique perspective.  But, having said that, I was finding the story to be agonizingly long in some parts, and it was really starting to annoy me.  Then I realized that "agonizingly long" is probably EXACTLY how it feels like to be part of a situation like that.  The waiting must be agonizing.  After I realized that, the story seemed to become more tense and had me on the edge of my seat.

Bottom line, Heather Gudenkauf has started to make a name for herself with the dramatic themes to her books.  One Breath Away is the next book to grip the readers of the world.  While I would not say the author is in the same league as Jodi Picoult or Diane Chamberlain quite yet, she is well on her way to becoming known for the same caliber of work. Give it a read and let me know what you think!

July 11, 2012

(93)The After Wife by Gigi Levangie Grazer

The After Wife
by Gigi Levangie Grazer

Publication Date: July 10, 2012
Pages: 320


Hannah Bernal is positively destroyed by the sudden death of her husband, John.  He was riding his bike to work one morning when he was hit and killed, leaving Hannah and their three year old daughter, Ellie, to struggle through life without him.  To say that she is destroyed really is not succinct enough in my mind, Hannah could  hardly get out of bed and she certainly could not work.

Thank God she had her "Grief Team"  to keep things running.  Her BFF's, Jay, Chloe, and Aimee are there to keep Hannah from descending into an abyss of grief.  But even the "Grief Team" can not intervene when Hannah starts to see dead people everywhere she turns.  First it starts with Trisha, then it continues with more "spirits" then she finally sees John.  And even though she is pissed beyond belief that he forgot to pay the life insurance premiums, she is glad to see the love of her life in any way possible.  But is she really seeing ghosts or has her grief pushed her over the mental edge?

Believe it or not, while reading a book about heartbreaking loss and grief, I often found myself laughing out loud.  Gigi Levangie Grazer is a gifted writer who is comfortable with the self deprecating kind of humor and Hannah is quite comfortable at poking fun at herself.  Hannah's "Grief Team" is such an eclectic group of friends that there are several laughs to be found there as well.  I never imagine that I would my find myself laughing at a book with such a serious subject matter, but it really is quite funny.

Bottom line, while Hannah's grief may move you to tears, it is easy to find things to laugh about in The After Wife. The characters are unique, yet real.  They are there for Hannah and Ellie in a way that only the best of friends can be. Couple that with a little romance and a lot of humor and you have the makings of a fun Summer read.

July 10, 2012

(92)On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves

On the Island

Publication Date: July 10, 2012
Pages: 336


For the last several weeks, whenever I would log on to www.bn.com --------> that picture is the picture that is displayed on the nook screens.  I was intrigued by the picture alone, but not enough to read a synopsis. When the book became available for review through Netgalley, I snapped it up, just based on the cover alone.  I mean really, doesn't it just scream "vacation"??  It wasn't until I read the first page of the book that I really started to get an inkling for what this book is about, and it does not include a vacation that I would ever want to take.

It is June 2001 and Anna Emerson and TJ Callahan are on a small seaplane heading to an island in the Maldives.  Anna, a thirty year old English teacher, has been hired by the Callahan's to tutor sixteen year old TJ for the Summer.  TJ missed a lot of school while fighting a (successful) battle with Cancer, so they hired Anna to join them on the summer vacation to get TJ all caught up with the rest of the class.  They aren't on the seaplane long when their pilot has a heart attack and is dead before the plane hits the water.  TJ and Anna miraculously make it to an island, a deserted island.   In the early days they are both confident that they will be rescued and refuse to think anything less.  The days start to slowly pass and it starts to look like they will never be rescued. Thank God they have each other and the bits of their luggage that has washed up onto shore.  While they struggle through the next three years of Island Life their bond grows stronger and stronger, despite the horrible weather, broken bones, and shark attacks, they are hell bent on survival.  Then the infamous 2004 Tsunami hits and sweeps them both out to sea.  Will they be able to survive what Mother Nature has to throw at them, or will they finally get the rescue they have been dreaming about for years?

Some of you may have already read, On the Island, for Tracey Garvis Graves is another self published success story. Her stories have caught the eye of the Penguin Press Imprint, Plume and according to the author's blurb at the end of the ARC, the movie rights to On the Island have been picked up by MGM.  This kind of success is everything that aspiring authors dream about. And frankly, it could not happen to a better author.  Anna and TJ's story was so touching that I found myself moved to tears more than once.  I admit I was skeptical about the whole thirty year old teacher/teenage boy angle of the story, but I will just say that everything that happens in this book is aboveboard and legal.

Bottom line, On the Island, is a wonderful read about love, loss, and survival.  Anna and TJ are two of the most resourceful characters I have ever read, yet it never seems over the top or campy.  They are just two people lost in the world and all they have in the world is each other. While we may not be stranded on a deserted island I could certainly relate to Anna and TJ. With the job "mess" there have been times in the last few weeks that I have felt so scared and alone, about my uncertain future, and it was my husband's arms that gave me safe harbor. I am sure that many of you can relate to that in one way or another.  --- Go right now and click the "buy" button for On the Island, you will not regret it, I promise.

July 9, 2012

(91)The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

The Next Best Thing

Publication Date: July 3, 2012
Pages: 400


Ok, I am back!  The last couple of weeks have been so busy around here.  We have had out of town guests two weeks in a row.  And I found out that my job is basically being eliminated, so every waking moment the last few weeks has been spent scouring the internet for a job.   The job situation (I think - I hope) has been taken care of, so the last few days have been spent reading.  A lot.  It feels good, too.  To be reading again.  My brain feels active again.  Think of it like an athlete going weeks without working out.  But Thank God, my brain has resumed it's workout sessions.

First up is the latest book by Chick Lit author, Jennifer Weiner.   Her newest novel features Ruth Saunders.  Ruth has had somewhat of a rough life.  At age three her parents were killed in the same car accident that critically injured Ruth and left her scarred (both physically and emotionally) for life.  At some point Ruth heads West to pursue her dream of being a Hollywood writing.  With her Grandma along for support the two of them make a new life in Hollywood.  While working on other shows Ruth works on her developing a script for her own show.  It is a dream come true when she gets the call from her Agent that the network has agreed to shoot a pilot.   As she puts together her cast and crew (with intervention from the network bigwigs) Ruth starts to watch her dream showly turn into a nightmare.  Is she willing to sacrifice her heart and soul just to get The Next Big Thing into the Fall lineup?

I really enjoyed Ruth's story. She is a strong female character who has had a run of bad luck, both professionally and romantically, but she does not let it get her down. The supporting cast of characters are just as refreshing as Ruth herself.  First there is her Grandma, then there are her bosses, "The Daves" and of course the interesting cast of actors that will be starring in the Ruth's television show.   The "romantic" part of the story is just as sweet and fresh as you would expect from Jennifer Weiner.

Bottom line, The Next Best Thing, is a refreshingly wonderful Chick Lit novel that gives you a sneak peak inside the "wonderful world" of Hollywood. While I was reading this book I often wondered how much of the story was based on the author's experience while a writer/producer on the cancelled State of Georgia. The story is pretty simple, but it is packed with big heart and lots of spunk.  The perfect book if you are hanging out by the pool this summer, and really in this stupid crazy heat, who isn't out by the pool?

July 6, 2012

(90)Imperfect Bliss by Susan Fales-Hill

Imperfect Bliss
(WARNING!: Author's website plays music!)

Publication Date: July 2, 2012
Pages: 304


Meet Elizabeth (aka Bliss) Harcourt.  She is moving home with her young daughter, Bella, after a failed marriage.  Bliss plans on  finishing up her PhD and get out as fast as possible. Hoping to minimize the damage her overbearing, society-obsessed Mother, Forsythia, will have on Bella. At first she thinks that her three sisters will be on her side in the battle against their  Mother, that is until Diana comes home with a proclamation that she will be starring in a reality show called The Virgin and they will mostly be filming at the home they all share.  Will she be able to avoid the production circus going on in their home and will  she be able to keep Bella from believing that every woman goes on a reality show to find her husband?  And if her own drought ever ends, will it be with the sexy producer or her handsome colleague?

The Harcourt Sisters are four very different women with four very different ideas of what it means to be a "modern woman."  In a way that is very reminiscent of of Jane Austen, Susan Fales-Hill, has created a world that almost seems to be pulled right out of your television.  Forsythia's over-the-top behavior actually reminds me a bit of the "Wicked Stepmother" in Cinderella, her obsession with the Royals is almost cartoonish, just look at what she did when Will married Kate!  But the Sister's themselves could be loosely compared to the Khardashian's.  Stunningly beautiful, with a mixed race background, they behave like any sisters would, even with the strain of The Virgin making their relationships difficult.

Overall I enjoyed Imperfect Bliss. While I wish I could say that Bliss was my favorite character, the reality of it is, she is the character I wanted to shake silly the least.  Her mother was just simply atrocious, as was Diana's and Charlotte's behavior at times.  In the end though, having The Virgin, come into the lives of the Harcourt women turned out to be a good thing, for by the end of the book, Diana wasn't the only Harcourt woman to have found a mate...

July 4, 2012

July 3, 2012