Only You

I’m nearing my goal of 31 book reviews. It’s been a very interesting project to get my blog up and running, generate interest and traffic and learn the ins and outs of publishing my opinions on the internet. I’ve had a ton of fun doing it! And as a personal challenge, it’s been great to step outside of my normal book choices and really enjoy some stories I may not have tried otherwise. I appreciate all of the comments and suggestions- here and on Twitter. And while I won’t be reading any zombie-versus-alien-apocalypse series any time soon (despite unrelenting suggestions from my friend Martin), I have gotten to know many new authors with other titles that I can’t wait to read. So while I’m working on book #31 (and 32 on audiobook), I’m also working on my next goal for the blog. In the meantime, check out this weeks title.

Book #30 The One and Only, Emily Giffin

one and only Rating: 3- It was a good book.

Synopsis: Shea and Lucy are lifelong BFFs. Shea’s mom and Lucy’s mom and also BFF. Lucy’s dad is the football coach for Walker University, and Shea is possibly Walker’s biggest football fan. When Lucy’s mom dies from a long battle with cancer, their little family is rocked. Lucy turns her grief on Shea, criticizing her life choices from dead end job to pot head boyfriend. Coach gets in on the action, with a little more subtlety, buy giving Shea a pep talk and a contact for a job interview. He also advises her to stop wasting her time with the lame boyfriend. She has always looked up to Coach, so she readily takes his advice. She also follows Lucy’s instructions to keep an eye on Coach and help him in his grieving, since the two have a special bond over football.

Shea takes all of their advice; getting a job as a sports reporter covering Walker, stepping up her dating game in a relationship with a pro football quarterback, and spending more time with Coach. But as they spend more time together, Shea realizes that all her years of hero-worship have turned into a bit of a crush! And she begins to feel as if the feelings may be reciprocated… But how could they? And how would she tell her best friend that she is in love with her father?

My Impressions: I most definitely think that the author has written a very real female character here. Shea is both strong and vulnerable, self-aware and insecure and we meet her at place in her life where she searching for her grown-up identity.  The life struggles she faces are terribly relatable, and the moral challenges she encounters present choices that could change her life entirely. Her friendship with Lucy, as close as sisters, plays out just that way; no matter what is said or done, it’s forgiven and/or appreciated for it’s good intentions. I also liked the development of her relationships with her mother and father, separately, and the alteration of what she believes to be true about them. I think most adults have that happen in their lives at some point, and it either strengthens or separates a bond with parents. But then the story gets a little weird for me… I guess age doesn’t really play a huge part in relationships anymore, much like it didn’t in the era of Jane Austen. But Shea’s relationship with Coach is the one that I don’t find realistic and honest throughout the book. And it’s all a little George Michael- Father Figure for me!

Why you should read it: If you are a fan of Emily Giffin from her past books, you may find this book a bit of a departure from her usual stories, but consistent with her style. It’s still chick-lit, but not the traditional story line.

Read if you liked: Love the One You’re With (Emily Giffin), Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), Friday Night Lights (H.G. Bissinger)

Book # 30 in the bag

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” ― Jane Austen

It’s something unpredictable

Life definitely offers lots of twists, turns and unpredictable surprises. There are plenty of cliche things that can be said to that end, but ultimately, your days are what you make them. I can safely say that I find myself at a period in my life that I would not have predicted, and certainly didn’t plan for, but I’m trying to make lemonade.  They say when it rains, it pours, and I’m just waiting for my rainbow at the end. I’ve been told that everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Nothing tragic is going on here, there is just a lot going on! I can’t seem to catch my breath before something else comes up. So all things considered, and all cliches aside, I’m just looking forward to a little quiet time to kick back, relax and read a little more.

Book # 29, The Time of My Life, Cecelia Ahern

download Rating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: When the mail starts piling up, you can’t ignore it forever! Especially when the letters are an invitation from your life, requesting a meeting face-to-face. Lucy Silchester would avoid the notes forever, except that her family has signed off on the meeting and has also been receiving letters from her life on her behalf. Lucy would hide forever, in her tiny studio apartment with her hermaphroditic cat and grungy carpets eating microwave pot-pies, if she could.  She wasn’t always this way, but since her boyfriend Blake ended their 5 year relationship and agree to tell people that it was Lucy who left him, she has been caught in a downward spiral of lies that she pulls over herself like a down comforter to shut everyone out.

When Lucy does finally take a meeting with her life, she finds him repulsive and annoying. Maybe because he is so brutally honest with her. He calls her out on all of her lies, makes her feel uncomfortable in her hideaway of a home and forces her to face her behavior of the last few years that has been holding her back from happiness. Life’s little interferences send Lucy down a path of revelation, first for herself and then of all of the lies she’s told. When she finally get down to the whole truth and nothing but the truth, she finds that nothing is different. That is, no one who loves her treats her any differently, and she had no cause to lie to them in the first place. All of the pieces of her life fall into place thanks to all of her Life’s coaching.

My Impressions: This was a cute story with an interesting concept. What if your life was an actual physical being that you were responsible for making happy and keeping healthy. In return, your life would intervene at extremes to save you from yourself. As a philosophical concept, I liked the premise. As a story, I found it entertaining, if not a little slow, and maybe a little sad. Of course like all good chick-lit, there is a predictable happy ending, leaving you feeling good about Lucy’s life, and maybe your own. And I think maybe I would like someone with my best interests and a little insight to step in and take over for me every now and then!

Why you should read it:  It was a good, light read! Perfect for sitting outside with a glass of wine and enjoying the sunshine. I know I say this a lot, but it could easily be a chick flick with a good bit of reality suspension.

Read if you liked: Bridget Jones’ Diary (Helen Fielding), The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)

Book #29 in the bag!

“The best candy shop a child can be left alone in, is the library” ― Maya Angelou

 

Universal Theory

You’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, and since reading primarily on a Kindle for the last 3 years, I hardly ever see the covers, so problem solved! You’re probably not supposed to judge books by their titles either. I’ve come to learn that the author generally doesn’t get input on the title of the book, the cover art and so on. But sometimes it’s a catchy title and it makes me think it might be an interesting story (I recognize that’s really the point). That’s how I chose this book, and well… You win some, you lose some.

Book #24-  The Theory of Opposites, Allison Winn Scotch

opposites Rating: 2- Not my Fav

Synopsis: Willa Chandler was actually born William. She did not have a sex-change or an identity crisis, she had a father who firmly believes in the ebb-and-flow of the universe. So when the doctor said it would be a boy, they chose the name William, and that was that, no turning back despite the absence of a penis upon birth. Willa dad is actually quite famous for his theories, having written a widely published self-help book about the absence of choices in life. Willa subscribes to these theories because she has had them ingrained since, and since the whole idea is to allow the world to happen as it will, she doesn’t protest.

That’s how she ends up with a husband who is asking for the summer off from their marriage (she didn’t think anything was wrong?), fired from her job (who can make adult diapers sexy? Who?), and thrown into a project with her best friend that forces her out of her comfort zone. Vanessa is challenging her to resist inertia, react in the exact opposite manner than she is inclined, all for the sake of stepping out of her fathers shadow and testing “the theory of opposites.” What happens to you when turn left if you have always turned right? Can you go back and correct a wrong turn?

My Impressions: This isn’t a very complicated story. Things go wrong early on and Willa, a general peace-keeper, not one to make waves, just sort of lets them go on. Her husband wants to leave, so she watches him go. She gets fired, so she needs a new job. Her dad gets sick and she faithfully stays by his side. Her mom has a bit of a life change and she casually accepts that too. Her friend Vanessa thinks she knows what Willa needs and Willa goes along (only protesting slightly). Blah, blah, blah…DOORMAT! I really had a hard time reading a story about someone who was so accepting of their own unhappiness and thought there was nothing they could do since that’s the hand they were dealt. I just couldn’t enjoy this story for all the apathy of the main character and the lack of responsibility for her own part in her circumstances. I kept reading because I was waiting for this great revelation about her trending behavior because everyone around her was happy to hint at it, or just say it out-right. But it never happened, until the very end. The very far-fetched end…

Why you should read it: Well, it’s a short book… It may make for an interesting discussion in a book group because of the basic philosophies presented. But it doesn’t really get a high recommendation from me.

Read if you liked: Delusional Thinking (Bonnie Trachtenberg), 20 Times a Lady (Karyn Bosnak)

Book #24 in the bag

“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

 

A girls best friend

For women of a certain age it does seem that diamonds are shoved in your face from every angle. It’s the thing you’re supposed to want most from a man, the thing you aspire to buy for yourself, the things that should be passed from mother to daughter, grandmother to grandson to new bride. If you are anything like me (ie: fall into the key demographic for the diamond engagement ring) they pop up in Google and Facebook ads on the daily.  They are everywhere, a symbol of status from where and how it’s worn to how big, how it’s set and how perfect it is. The subject of many a song, tag line and catchphrase, diamonds are FOREVER!

Book# 23- The Engagements, J. Courtney Sullivan

the-engagementsRating: 3- it was a good book

Synopsis:  Meet Frances Gerety: a young advertising copywriter in 1947 working on the De Beers campaign. A young woman in mans world. All she needs is a signature line, but she has procrastinated as usual so, on the night before her meeting as she falls into bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.

Evelyn has been married to her second husband for 40 years, and is now dealing with the breakdown of her son’s marriage to the best daughter-in-law she could have hoped for. Delphine has been married for 10 years to the same rather predictable man, and has left him to run away with a 24 year-old violin prodigy. James is a paramedic up to his eyeballs in debt with two kids and a wife who probably believes she could have married better. And Kate is partnered with Dan, not married, because after having been to every imaginable wedding, seen every kind of bride and heard horror stories about diamond trade, the only vow she ever made was not to get married.

Their stories are layered together across time, families and cities. Linked by diamonds in truly unique ways, all because Frances worked her entire career to create the perception that diamonds symbolize everlasting love.

My Impressions: After struggling to follow all of the stories for the first part of the book, the jumping around slowed a little and I was able to invest in the characters and their stories and really enjoy the book. The underlying theme of diamond and diamond sales was a very interesting one. I appreciated a narrative based on a real person and true events. And I liked that Frances was a bit of a  trailblazer for independent women in the workforce. Each of the women in the book were a caricature of the time period they were set in; representing a specific kind of woman, a relatable set of circumstances, familiar choices. And while each are uniquely different, if put together in a room they’d likely find an understanding of each other.

If I were to pick a favorite, I think Frances was the most enjoyable story line, just because of her strong sense of self, followed by Evelyn ,then Kate, then Delphine, then James/Shelia. I enjoyed the historical story lines more, because the characters had a stronger point of view and more forceful personalities, where the later characters are a little more subdued and passive. Their feelings about diamonds are each unique. For Frances, they are her bread and butter, for Evelyn, it’s a representation of her first and second husband and her life with them. For James, the diamond is a symbol of everything he doesn’t have, for Delphine, it’s a symbol of the life she chose and left behind and for Kate, it’s a representation of everything she loathes about the tradition of marriage.

“Time rolls on, And youth is gone, And you can’t straighten up when you bend. But stiff back, Or stiff knees,You stand straight at Tiffany’s. But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”- Marilyn Monroe

Why you should read it: This was a unique take on the chick-lit genre, even if it does make me feel a little like a target for marketing and nosey questioning (When are YOU getting married?) I think it would make a great beach read for anyone taking a warm weather vacation this spring!

Read if you liked: The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult), Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (Fannie Flagg),  Chasing Harry Winston (Lauren Weisberger)

Book #23 in the Bag!

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” ― Philip Pullman

 

Forget me not

I really love the concept of a book that asks the question: “what would life be like if this one thing were changed?” Characters go back in time and undo a wrong, or turn left instead of right and then fast forward to see where life has taken them instead. Or someone (something?) comes to them from the future to show them who they will become if they continue down the current path and gives them the opportunity to change (thank you Charles Dickens). Many of us have wondered before what would my life be like if I… I don’t think I’ve mentioned here before, but I’m a huge fan of the show Friends. (Seriously, super-nerd, can quote it line-for-line.) (It’s a little sad.) (Don’t judge!) One of my favorite episodes is The One That Could Have Been (see?) where they imagine what would happen if Monica were still fat, Chandler quit his corporate job, Joey were still a Soap star, Phoebe worked for Merrill-Lynch, Rachel got married and Ross didn’t get divorced. They’re still the same people a the end of the day, but they behave differently and have a different definition of happiness because of the choices they made. Instead of wondering what you like would be like in the future, what if you just showed up in it?

Book #22- What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty

Alice Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Alice and Nick are newlyweds who have bought a massive fixer-upper house and know they are in over their heads, but at least they are in it together! So imagine Alice’s surprise when she finds out she a Nick are getting a divorce! Poor Alice has hit her head on a spin bike at the gym and thinks it’s 1998, when she and Nick were 29 years old, deliriously happy and expecting their first baby. Only it’s actually 2008, she is about to be 40, she has 3 kids and gorgeous remodeled house with a pool and is in the middle of a nasty divorce. Some other things she is surprised to find out: she is quite thin, she has chic hair and fancy make-up, she drives a monster SUV (whatever that is), she is a super-mom at her kids school, her own mother is remarried (to Nick’s father!) and she has a boyfriend, apparently! The problem is, Alice has no memory of the last 10 years whatever. She doesn’t even know the names of her 3 children. Every time someone reveals information about her life and her personality, Alice struggles to connect to this outgoing, organized, upper class woman they describe. How could she possibly like coffee? How could she ever stand up in front of all the other parents at school and lead meetings? How could she possibly ever hate Nick and let go of their marriage?

As little snapshots and whiffs and voices begin to fill back in, Alice has a hard time deciding what is real and what is memory. Over the course of a week she goes on pretending to be 40 year-old Alice and lives the life she is supposed to, but with one goal in mind; she must stay married to Nick. When her memory comes flooding back to her, Nick knows immediately, just by the way she looks at him. And the spell is broken that quickly. But Alice can’t forget what happened while she forgot who she was and she must sort out who she is; young Alice, old Alice, or just this Alice.

My Impressions: I always write a longer synopsis when I like the book! And use excessive exclamations! I really enjoyed the concept of this book the most- what would happen if you woke up one day 10 years into your life with no memory of it? Panic probably. But the character structure of the story was so good too. Alice of course has a bit of a split personality from who she was and who she is. Her sister serves to be a bit grounding for her, as she was when they were young. But she is really quite a mess and it seems their roles have reversed over the years. Her mother and stepfather are comic relief. There is the outsider perspective of Frannie, the grandmother, and the voice of reason and wisdom. Her children are tension and interest and conflict. And then there is the dichotomy of Nick and Dominick (the boyfriend) also representing Alice’s past and present. And then, buried in Alice’s memory is a character (Gina) that had much to do with how her life turned out, and Alice has no idea who she is! The beauty of all of this is that the story could happen in any city, any (modern) time period, and it would still be the same because of the network of characters surrounding Alice.

I also just really liked the premise of this book. What would happen if you could hit reset and forget about a stressful chunk of time? Or go back to when you were just blissfully ignorant, or stupid happy? Even if things weren’t perfect, you hadn’t yet managed to foul them up so completely. I like the idea of a do-over. Not entirely a you-live-you-learn senario, but if you could examine your current life with the innocence of youth, what would you think of who you’d become? That’s a lot of what this story is about and it poses an interesting philosophical question for the reader.

Why you should read it: I was accused this week of only reading chick-lit and nothing that a guy would be interested in; could I please read a little sci-fi? Maybe next time; this is pretty much chick-lit through and through! But it takes a unique approach and it’s definitely a good all-girl book club pick. Open up the sauvignon blanc and get chatting!

Read if you liked: Skipping a Beat (Sarah Pekkanen), The Violets of March (Sarah Jio), Before I Go to Sleep (SJ Watson)

Book#22 in the bag!

“Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book.”― Stéphane Mallarmé

…I got all my sisters with me!

Growing up with sisters is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have a built-in best bud when you need it; no one else will understand just how quirky your parents are, she is the only one who will ever know all your stories from back in the day and you’ll never find a better partner in crime when you are trying to get away with something! On the other hand, you also have an attachment to the biggest pain in the butt you’ll ever know; I mean, she knows ALL your stories, and she could rat you out for sooooo much stuff if she wanted to, and half your clothes are probably renting space in her closet at any give time! And even though you are two very separate people, you’ll always be compared to each other, good bad or otherwise. No one else can make you laugh ’til you cry with a decades-old inside joke. And no one else has ever tickled you ’til you peed your pants! She’s the only one who can appreciate how it felt when you finally got old enough to stop wear matching clothing in formal portraits, and she knows it’s a term of endearment when you ask “Why was I cursed with such idiot sisters?!?” (Okay, maybe only my sister gets that one. Every year. Around Halloween?).

Book #20 Twisted Sisters, Jen Lancaster

sistersRating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: Working on a cable reality series is a dream for Reagan Bishop. She is a psychologist on the show I Need a Push, where people who need to kick-start their lives in a new direction get therapy and a makeover to help them take the first steps. She is very interested in human behaviors and showing people that the choices they make can have real consequences in their day-to-day dealings. She is careful with all of her choices including her strictly organic diet, and hold herself (and others) to a very high standard. She is the middle child of three girls and she simply cannot relate to her older sister, who dropped out of school and has a brood of unruly kids. And she cannot understand why her younger sister, Geri, would still live with their parents, except that she is only a hairdresser and that’s probably as good as it gets for her. Reagan is living the high life, (even if her parents don’t give her the recognition she deserves) until her boss announces that their show is moving to a network. Suddenly everything she stands for is being challenged in the name of budgets and ratings and she must conform or lose her job and all that she has worked so hard for. With the help of her co-worker Deva, she comes up with a plan to get the job done, but her journey into New Age methods takes her down a twisted path of self discovery and sibling rivalry!

My Impressions: I have read a lot from this author. I think this is her 10th book, and her third work of fiction. But as with her other two fiction novels, I struggle a little bit to remember that this is not one of her memoirs, because her characters tend to have her voice. Of course they have what ever voice she gives them, but her way of writing fiction is too similar to her style for memoirs and blogging (follow here http://www.jennsylvania.com/) and it’s hard to connect with the characters as ‘not Jen’.  This character was even hard to connect with because she is so easy to hate! I’m sure that is the intention; to see her as pretentious and self-important and blind to her ways, so that when she reaches this epiphany for herself, you can sympathize and like who she becomes. But eww! It’s hard to read a whole book of that.

The theme of sibling rivalry is interesting here. Mostly because it seems very one-sided. Like Reagan is creating the rivalry in her head, it doesn’t actually exist in the real world. There were a few examples of the other sisters creating drama, but they were relatively minor compared to the hype on Reagan’s end. If the other sisters were somehow more involved in either the immature behavior or giving her a taste of her own medicine, it may have been a more interesting plot point.

This is the second appearance from the character of Deva in Jen’s books. It’s hard for me to imagine her physical traits, so in my head she is the female version of the guy from Napoleon Dynamite but when he was in Just Like Heaven. I actually think this character is most developed and most interesting because she is actually believable. Even though everything she does in the book is totally unbelievable. But as a character she really sells it to you, and while far out there, away from any real point of the story, you can get into this bit of fantasy-fiction. It’s a little Teen Witch-y but at least Deva is consistent. And consistently ‘not Jen.’

Why you should read it: While a little underdeveloped and maybe predictable, this is still a really entertaining book. No doubt Jen Lancaster is funny! And I think her goal is to entertain you with a story, which is accomplished here. There are laugh-out-loud moments and things that every woman, sister and Whole Foods shopper can relate to!

Read if you liked: Here I Go Again, Freaky Friday, The Fame Game

Book #20 in the Bag!

“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.” ― Orhan Pamuk, The New Life

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To live, not to exist

I’m a picky reader. I think that phrase probably gets used more to describe  peoples eating habits, and I don’t think of myself as a particularly picky person. But I’m a picky reader. What can I say, I like what I like.  And I know what I don’t like. That said, I’m willing to try a lot of things. Before starting this book, I read the first chapter of another book and felt like it just wasn’t for  me. At least not in follow up to the last book that I couldn’t put down. Or the one that I was in the middle of listening to and couldn’t stop! So my friend Jen mentioned she was reading this one and I picked it up quickly.

Book #17 Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

me before you

Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: You never know when a single moment will change your life. Will Traynor knows better than anyone; he is a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair  and the care of others since he was hit by a motorbike two years ago. Louisa Clark lost her job when the cafe closed and is looking to do anything that doesn’t involve sorting chicken parts. She answers an ad to be Will’s companion, his watcher as he puts it. She is grossly under qualified but is hired for her bright wardrobe and chatty presence. Will, who was once vibrant, daring, successful and lived a big life, is often annoyed by Louisa’s attempts to cheer him or make conversation. Louisa, who has never ventured outside of town and still lives with her parents, doesn’t know what to make of Will’s orneriness or the striking contrast to his former life she can see from photographs in his room.  As the two find their rhythm, Louisa is on a mission to show Will the joy that can exist in his new life, while Will is out to show Lou that she has a huge life to live.

My Impressions: I was a little slow getting into this book. Will’s cantankerous personality against Lou’s naivety is a stark contrast that hardly even creates conflict in the story because they don’t even spend time in the same room. And while Lou obviously has a point of view in the way she dresses and kind heart where her family is concerned, she is a bit of a doormat when it comes to her relationships. She doesn’t stand up for herself and lets them dictate how things should be for her. It’s her spirit of curiosity that made me really care about her as the story moved forward. Will, his person and his situation draws her out of her comfort zone and pushes her to experience more things in life that she may enjoy or that she may not care for; but at least she can say for herself. I was very interested in the psyche of Will from the beginning of the book. How you could go from a sky-diving, bungee-jumping, ass-kicking financial partner to driving a chair with your chin and relying on someone to feed you. It’s really no wonder he is mean to everyone that tries to care about him. But I also appreciated his realistic views on the way he wants to live his life after the accident considering the way he embraced life before the accident. And when he and Lou get tattoos, his is just the best!

Why you should read it: Well this an interesting spin on the romantic fiction genre. I can definitely see this being a “chick-flick” similar to The Vow.  Don’t let that dissuade you from reading! It was a very good book, an interesting topic and an unexpected outcome. It’s a fast read as well and you’ll get sucked in quickly once you discover Lou’s charm.

Book # 17 in the bag.

“One must always be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” ― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel