Monday, June 30, 2014

(59)One Plus One by JoJo Moyes

One Plus One

Pages: 384

Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Publication Date: July 1, 2014

Ever since her husband left two years ago for a "break" Jess Thomas has had her hands full.  She is working two jobs and is still struggling to make ends meet.  Her teenage step-son, Nicky, is catching a lot of grief from some local boys for being "different" and her young daughter's unique intelligence is causing more financial strain for Jess.  But she deals with it all on her own because she does not want to add more stress to her husband.  She just wants him to get better so he can come home to his family. 

On one of her cleaning gigs Tess encounters wealthy businessman, Ed, who is dealing with his own kind of financial crisis.  Through a series of unfortunate events Ed ends up taking the Thomas family on a long road-trip to Scotland so that Tanzie can attend a Math Olympiad and because Tanzie gets carsick they can't go over 40 MPH.  It is on this road-trip that Tess actually starts to relax and the kids start acting like kids instead of the mini-adults they have been acting like for the last two years.  But when they make a detour to see the kids' dad Tess realizes that she has been played for a fool all this time. And if that news doesn't shatter her world enough, what will she do when Ed realizes that she has kept something pretty important from him?  Will Tess ever catch a break and get caught up on her bills?  But more important, will she ever find the happiness she clearly deserves?

One Plus One is one of those novels that you will just devour in one sitting.  I sure did!  Jess is a great character because she is so darn easy to like.  It is obvious how much she loves her kids and will do just about anything for them. Anybody who has struggled to make ends meet (and really, who hasn't)  will be able to relate to Jess and her struggles.  Ed is an interesting character to throw into the mix.  I enjoyed the way his walls dropped the further they got into the road trip. Even though I could see both sides of the story,  I felt so horrible for Jess when things went bad and was hoping for her to get her happy ending. I found myself laughing out loud more than once and then there is Norman the dog.  Holy cow, have your tissues ready for that scene.  You will know it when you get to it and NO it is not what you are thinking. 

Bottom line,  JoJo Moyes knows how to tell a story with the best of them. She crafts her characters in such a way that it feels as if they are your new friends and Jess is no exception. I fully expect you to find yourself sucked into the story and unable to put the book down until you are done.  Let me know if I am wrong.  One Plus One is on sale tomorrow, be sure to pick up a copy for your beach bag.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

(58)Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Orange is the New Black

Pages: 352

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication Date: April 6, 2010

Piper Kerman is going to prison for a crime she committed more than ten years ago.  For the last six years she knew this day was coming, the day she surrenders herself to the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut.  And now the day is finally here.  With great reluctance she tells her fiance, Larry, good-bye and she enters a world that many of us (thankfully) have never entered.  Over the next thirteen months Piper meets some truly unique women and experiences a sort of sisterhood she never thought she would experience in prison.   Then she does the wonderful thing and shares her experience with the rest of the world.  From her surrender day, to being assigned a "bunkie" to being assigned a job, smuggled contraband and so much more, we really get a look at what life is like in the prison system and it isn't pretty. 

Orange is the New Black was one of the first books I purchased when I bought my first nook back in 2010.  I thought about pulling it up from the bottom of my list when the show first aired on Netflix, but it wasn't until we started watching it last week that I finally got around to reading it.  Like so many of you, I was absolutely captivated by the dynamic relationships in the show.  Piper and Larry.  Piper and Alex.  Piper and "Crazy Eyes".  What I found when reading the book is that while so many of the things depicted in the show are true there is a lot of creative licene taken with other things.  And that is okay.  Both the show and the book are fascinating enough to stand exclusively with just a hint of overlapping.  "Red" in the show is "Pop" in the book and are about the same.  Russian mother figure to many inmates who rules the kitchen with an iron fist.  "Alex" in the show is "Nora" in the book and doesn't even enter the picture until towards the end of the book and Piper's term. You have to read the book to find out if their relationship behind bars is accurately depicted in the show. ;)  There was a scene in the show where Larry gives the radio interview and it cuts to the scene of "Crazy Eyes" crying in her bunk moved me so much that it haunted me for days.  I didn't get that "haunted" feel from the book at all, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a fantastic read.

Bottom line, even though the show is based on the memoir Orange is the New Black, there are enough differences to make each fantastic in their own right. The book is one person's account of what prison is like and Piper is smart enough to know and point out that her experience was much, much better than the average experience.   Have you read the book?  Watched the show?  I would love for you to weigh in with your thoughts.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

(57)Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline

Keep Quiet

Pages: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 8, 2014

Jake Buckman and his teenage son, Ryan, have a pretty rocky relationship. It all stems from when Jake's career was collapsing around him and he was basically an absentee father, leaving his wife Pam to parent Jake, run the household, and bring home the bacon.  Jake has straightened out his career and the family has  been through counseling, but Jake is still trying to get his relationship with Ryan back on track. One night  decides he wants to be the "cool dad" and allow Ryan to drive his new Audi home from the movie.  There are tragic consequences from that decision and now Jake is willing to do anything and everything to keep Ryan safe and his family intact. Things that could them to jail and destroy Pam's career. Will Jake be able to hold their family together, keep them safe and out of jail?

First of all the audiobook version of Keep Quiet was narrated by Ron Livingston. I admit, it was a bit weird to listen to Jack Berger (if you get that reference you TRULY are my people!) reading me a story.  Once I got past that I got swept away in the fast paced mystery.  There were a few times where I felt like Jake was a big old asshole, but I realized that his behavior was coming from a place of fear.  In a twisted sort of way what happen was good for the Buckman family because it gave Ryan to really see how much his father loved him and that he would do absolutely anything for his family. The end wrapped things up quite nicely and with a few twists that even took this mystery novel veteran by surprise.

Bottom line, Keep Quiet is another blockbuster hit for Lisa Scottoline.  She has created a story that illustrates the love that most parents feel for their children. You know that feeling - the one that gives you super powers to do anything to protect your baby. Keep Quiet is a great read and having Ron Livingston read it to you is an absolute bonus.  Give it a shot and let me know what you think!

Monday, June 23, 2014

(56)The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee

The Glass Kitchen

Pages: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: June 17, 2014

Portia Cuthcart never thought she would ever leave her beloved Texas. She certainly never thought she would leave Texas for New York City and that she would be leaving a divorced woman  after she discovered her politician husband had gotten her best friend pregnant.  She leaves Texas with nothing except the cookbooks her beloved grandmother used in her restaurant, The Glass Kitchen. Thankfully her sisters are in New York City and even though Portia's sisters sold their part of the townhouse they inherited, Portia still has the garden apartment to hide out in while she decides what her next steps should be.  Portia doesn't expect to become smitten with the girls who live in the upper floors or with their extremely handsome father, Gabriel.  She also doesn't expect the overwhelming urge to bring The Glass Kitchen to life in her new city.  Will all of her dreams come true or will the tenuous bonds she has made in New York City fall apart?

The Glass Kitchen is a fun read for the summer. There was even a magical element that reminded me of Sarah Addison Allen.  I loved Portia as a strong female character and the way she was determined to put her life back together.  But it was the chemistry between the Portia and Gabriel that really steamed up the pages. The way their relationship developed, though, reminded a lot of my Grandmother's old Harlequins.  Strong businessman with struggling divorcee in a secret relationship.  It was almost nostalgic. I also loved the quirkiness of Gabriel's youngest daughter, Ariel. She really made the story that much more enjoyable. I will say there were times in the middle of the book where it seemed to drag a bit, but for the most part it kept moving right along. 

Bottom line, The Glass Kitchen is a fun novel about a woman trying to put her life back together.  It was a fun, easy read.  Another great book for the beach bag this summer!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

(55)That Night by Chevy Stevens

That Night 

Pages: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: June 17, 2014

Toni Murphy was the kind of teenager that every parent dreads.  She was constantly fighting with her younger sister, had a boyfriend that her mother hated, and was not all that great in school.  Between her home life and the "mean girls" at school Toni was miserable. They were all counting down the days until Toni could move out and get an apartment with her boyfriend, Ryan. Until one night Nicole asks Toni if she can tag along with her and Ryan to the lake. Their relationship has been so volatile that to say Toni is shocked is an understatement, but That Night, Toni wishes she had never agreed to let her tag along.  Because after Toni and Ryan sneak off for some alone time they return to find Nicole has been brutally murdered.  And the police think that Toni and Ryan murdered her.

Flash forward to 2013 and Toni is up for parole.  Life in prison is tough for anybody, but for someone who is innocent it is nearly unbearable.  But Toni did her time, she did what she was supposed to do and now they are releasing her on parole.  After her time in the half-way house she heads back to the only home she has ever known an hopes to put her life back together.   But her family won't take her and the "Mean Girls" are still mean.  But when one of the "Mean Girls" is killed Toni realizes that as long as the real killer is still out there she will never be free. Will she be able to keep her parole long enough for her to find out who really killed Nicole?

I found myself so engrossed in Toni's story that I felt myself overcome with emotion.  The author told Toni's story both past and present in alternating chapters. My heart ached for her on several occasions. Especially at the way Toni's mother talked to her.  I know it happens, but man is it tough to read.  I admit that it was one scene with Captain, Toni's rescue dog, that just about ripped my heart out.  The one thing was that I never felt the connection between Ryan and Toni. It was supposed to be this great love, but I just never felt it.  The end was not what I expected either.  I had my suspicions at who really killed Nicole, but the way it played kept me on the edge of my seat.

Bottom line, That Night, is a great mystery..  The writing is compassionate, engaging, and incredibly suspenseful, guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat.  If you are looking for a mystery to take on your summer vacation, That Night needs to be the first book in the bag.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

(54)All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

All Fall Down
By Jennifer Weiner
On Facebook

Pages: 400

Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: June 17, 2014

Buy it Here!

Allison Weiss is stuck on the roller coaster of life.  She married the man of her dreams and fully expected that marrying David was beginning of her "happily ever after."  She did not expect to give birth to a "difficult" and demanding little girl.  She did not expect to be downsized from her job at the paper and for David to suddenly be doing the job of three, taking him from their new home in the suburbs while he works long hours.  And Allie most definitely didn't expect for her father to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, rendering her mother virtually useless with fear.  Allie's life is spiraling out of control and the only way she can get through the days is with the Vicodin that her doctor prescribed when she threw her back out.  Allie  graduates to Oxy and soon is doing anything she can to get her hands on the pills that will make her days easier.  She slurs her way through the days feeling nothing. No pain, no anxiety, no shame - nothing.  Until the day that David and her mother say no more.  David packs her up and takes her to rehab.  But will Allie take the opportunity to get better and sober or will she fake her way through rehab like she has faked her way through life over the last few years?

Even though Jennifer Weiner is one of the reigning queens of Chick Lit I really hesitated to give this book a Chick Lit label.  All Fall Down has a lot more "meat" to it than your average Chick Lit novels.  Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in suburban communities all across the country and the author tackles that subject in a way that may actually open up dialogue and the eyes of people who think they don't have a problem.  Allie is about as normal  you can get and is really the poster image of suburban mom. She faces the same struggles that so many women in America face - trying to juggle her career with her family all while maintaining a healthy relationship with her spouse.   I almost felt ashamed to watch her spiral out of control,  like I was spying on my neighbor or reading her private journal. Yet I couldn't stop reading because  I was  desperate to see how things turned out for Allie and her family.  And you know what, I was okay with the conclusion of the story.  Not hokey or forced. Real.

Bottom line, All Fall Down is one of the better Chick Lit novels I have read in a very long time. The subject matter of the book is one that needs to be addressed and may force some uncomfortable conversations in your local book club or "Mommy & Me" group.  But as the author illustrates, those conversations need to happen.  Good luck and know you are not alone.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

(53)The Fever by Megan Abbott

The Fever

Pages: 320

Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Publication Date: June 17, 2014

Deenie Nash is about as typical as a teenager can get.  Her parents are divorced and she lives with her father, a teacher,  and older brother in a typical suburban town. Their perfectly ordinary world is shattered one day when Deenie's best friend, Lise, has a horrible seizure in class.  That is not the end of it, one by one Deenie's friends are afflicted by the same mysterious ailment.  Soon there are government officials involved and Deenie is told not to go to work and even though Deenie  hasn't gotten sick she feels as if her world is crashing in around her.    Soon accusations are being thrown around and conspiracy theories are abound. Will they be able to figure out what is causing the girls to get sick before it is too late and one of them ends up dead?

The Fever was a fairly fast read that was part mystery, part YA, and part Sci-Fi.  One may even say that the book is a bit political because there was a huge chunk of the book where people were saying the HPV vaccine was behind the mysterious illness and they never should have forced their daughters to have it.  It even went so far as for Lise's mom hiring lawyers because she was so convinced that the vaccine was what caused her daughter's illness.   I think one of the things that kept me so interested in the book was that most of the characters seemed to be one or two steps removed from being completely unhinged.  From the teen girls, to some of their mothers and even Deenie's father were all a degree of "hot mess." Obviously as the book progresses the truth is revealed and it is a bit of a shocker.  Totally not what I was expecting, but really it pulled the book all together and gave it a nice solid conclusion. 

Bottom line, not exactly my favorite read of the summer, but definitely worth the read.  If you have teen girls in your life you might find it enlightening to read or even a bit terrifying. It might even make a good book club selection because of the HPV vaccine debate.  *Shrug*  Let me know what you think. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

(52)Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

Your Perfect Life

Pages: 304

Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication Date: June 10, 2014

Casey and Rachel have been best friends since middle school.  They went to high school together and college together and had the same dreams of going into journalism together.  Casey made her dream come true and Rachel got pregnant and married her sweetheart.  Now their 20th High School Reunion is upon them and they each think that the other has the perfect life.  Casey with her fat bank account and famous celebrity gossip television show.  Rachel is still married to John and their third (oops!) child was recently born.  In a "Freaky Friday" type of scenario they switch bodies while sharing a shot concocted by a special bartender.  Waking up and seeing your best friend's face in the mirror is just the beginning of what they have to go through.   As Rachel and Casey navigate the world in their best friend's body they start to realize just how good they had it before.  But what will it take for them to switch back?

Even though this is their first novel, I have been fans of Lisa and Liz for years, following their blog(now renamed) Chick Lit is Not Dead.  I was so happy for them when I heard they were publishing their first book and I was not disappointed!  Casey and Rachel kind of reminded me of my BFF and I.  We have been friends for over twenty-five years and are about as opposite as Casey and Rachel.  But it was obvious that even though the two friends were so different it was quite obvious how much they loved each other.  Especially when life took them down two very different paths.  They were both initially like fish out of water, but both Casey and Rachel settled into each other's lives in a way that made them both realize what was missing from their own lives.  That was the neatest thing to see.  Not that they could get a better understanding for each other (like the old Freaky Friday movie) but because they could each see and admit that there WAS something missing in their lives.  

Bottom line, Your Perfect Life was a fun read and quick read.  Nothing too strenuous and you got to meet some fun characters.    Another great one to throw in the beach bag this summer.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

(51)Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews

Save the Date

Pages: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: June 3, 2014

Cara Kryzik is fighting the odds, trying to be the little florist "that could" in Savannah.  She knows that all it will take is to land one of the big society weddings and her business will take off.  She desperately needs to land this wedding, her dad is calling in her loan, her equipment is falling apart, she just found out that her landlord is selling her building, and some guy just stole her dog.  To the competing florist in town.  Everything is crashing in around her, but she knows she is just one gig away from being able to breathe.   In the meantime, she handles all of the other weddings with as much care as she would the "big" one.  She enjoys working with the brides and seeing them so happy on their big day, but the thought of what will happen if he does not land the big wedding looms in her mind.  Will she get the gig and keep her life in Savannah?  And will that guy ever give her dog back?

Mary Kay Andrews is one of those authors who is synonymous with summer in my mind.  I always love reading her books with their strong characters, horrible exes, and budding relationships. And of course there is always the summer theme weaved throughout.  This year it is weddings.  Who hasn't been to a wedding in summer?   Not only did I enjoy watching Cara's relationship with Jack, but her friendship with Bert had some ups and downs that kept things interesting.  There were a few times where I even found myself getting angry on Cara's behalf, between the competition and her ex I wanted to smack a few people for her.  But in the end, as always, things work out and you are left with a happy feeling in your heart. 

Bottom line, Save the Date is a fun summer read about a popular summer event.  Weddings.  With some behind the scenes insights and great characters you get a fun read to throw in the beach bag.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

(50)Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

Goodnight June

Pages: 320

Publisher: Penguin Group 
Publication Date: May 27, 2014

June Andersen is letting the world of high powered finance in New York City get the best of her.  She is quite successful in her career with one of the largest banks on Wall Street, yet the stress of her career is causing health issue after health issue and her doctor has told her to slow down or suffer the consequences.  Unfortunately the slow down comes in the form of a letter from her deceased aunt's lawyer, the beloved aunt that she didn't even know had passed away. June's Aunt Ruby left her the treasured children's bookstore back in Seattle, Bluebird Books.   June sets off for Seattle with the intention of selling the bookstore and settling her affairs, but her intentions change almost the instant she steps foot back in the place that is the home of her heart.  Starting with a kind of treasure hunt that leads June to startling news about one of the most famous children's authors, Margaret Wise Brown, and of course  the handsome guy that owns the restaurant next door may have a deciding factor in whether she stays or goes.  Will June be able to truly walk away from her career and leave New York or will say goodbye to the place that once was her whole life?

Goodnight June is a fictional story about how Margaret Wise Brown came up with the idea of one of the most famous children's books ever printed, you may have heard of it?  Goodnight Moon.  There is no known inspiration for the book, so Sarah Jio thought it might be fun to create one.  The author makes it very clear from the very beginning of the book that it is a fictional account, but that doesn't make it any less cool. The premise is that June's Aunt Ruby and "Brownie" were good friends and corresponded by mail, discussing everything from their romantic lives to their strained relationships with their respective sisters, and of course their love for children's literature.  Aunt Ruby hid two letters at a time in books referenced in the previous letters, sending June on a bit of a literary treasure hunt.  It was fun to read the letters with June and it was great fun seeing all of the references made to popular kid lit at the time, like Pippi Longstocking.  As much as I loved that part of the story, I really did not like the relationship between June and her own sister. I understand why the author put it in the book (to parallel Ruby and MWB's experiences) but,  I do not think it flowed naturally in the book, even out of place a bit. It even had me thinking "WTF just happened here?"   But despite all of that I really, really liked Goodnight June.

Bottom line, it is no surprise to any of you how much bookstores mean to me and I love reading books about bookstores.  Goodnight June is not only a love story about a great author, but also an ode to bookstores  and booksellers everywhere.  Definitely a book that book nerds (such as myself) should read. And you know where to go to buy it, right?  Your nearest bookstore, of course!!

Monday, June 2, 2014

(49)The Never Never Sisters by L. Allison Heller

The Never Never Sisters

Pages: 352

Publisher: Penguin Group
Publication Date: June 3, 2014

Buy it Here!

Paige Reinhardt had big plans for their summer.  She eased up her workload as a marriage counselor and rented a house in the Hamptons for her and her husband, Dave.  But things don't go as planned.  Dave is suspended from his job as a partner at a high power NYC law firm and he won't be honest with Paige why he was suspended.  And then after nearly two decades of silence, Paige's estranged sister, Sloane is in town for a visit and Paige knows that the summer she longed for will never happen. Between her gut feeling that her husband has been lying to her and the family dynamics that shift with Sloane's return, Paige just hopes to make it through the summer with her mind and heart in one piece. Will it happen or will everything fall apart?

The Never Never Sisters is kind of like the anti-beach read.  In most "Beach Read" books the book is set at the beach or (summer home) with lazy days and never-ending relaxation.  That is what Paige hoped for at the beginning of the summer, but soon it was clear that this summer was going to be full of stress and anxiety.  And maybe the end of her marriage. Almost from the beginning I didn't like Dave, there was just something about him that just made my spidey senses tingle.  Paige's relationship with Sloane was an interesting one.  Very early it becomes clear that a lot of Paige's memories from that time were crafted by her mother and it took nearly two decades for Paige to realize how dangerous that can be.  I enjoyed seeing their relationship bloom and I loved the way Sloane and her fiance was part of the reason Paige really examined her own marriage.  Paige desperately wanted to cling to the thought that her marriage was just fine and I am glad her sister was there to help her when she discovered it wasn't fine at all.  That is what sisters are for, right?

Bottom line, even though The Never Never Sisters is an "anti-beach read" it is still a great book to take on vacation with you.  You will find yourself caught up in all of Paige's drama, but at the same time your heart will get those warm fuzzies as you watch her relationship with Sloane blossom into the kind of relationship sisters are supposed to have.  Definitely a good read to pass away the summer days.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

(48)Let Me Go by Chelsea Cain

Let Me Go 

Pages: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: August 13, 2013

I have been a fan of Chelsea Cain ever since I had an ARC of her first book, Heartsick. In the most recent book of the Archie/Gretchen series we find that Portland is getting ready for Halloween.  And Archie is hoping that the world will forget that it is his birthday.   Until a DEA Agent is found dead.  The death of any DEA Agent is cause for concern, but Carl is the handler for an undercover agent that has ties to Archie and Portland mobster, Jack Reynolds.  When another body turns up on Jack Reynold's private island Archie just knows that things are going to go South quick.   Not that the murder is bad enough, but escaped psychopath, Gretchen Lowell, was caught on camera entering the Portland area.  Archie knows if Gretchen is really in the area she will be finding him one way or another. And then Susan turns up missing and Archie is not willing to just sit back and let others handle it, no matter what they say.   Will Archie get to Susan before it is too late and will they be able to catch Gretchen Lowell before she kills again?

Listening to a book like Let Me Go on audiobook adds a whole other element of suspense to the reading experience. For one thing it is a whole lot harder to "skip" over the really scary parts.  (Not that I would do that)  But hearing the characters read puts a voice to them, a realness that isn't always there when you are reading a book.  As things really started to heat up, I really wondered if this would be the end of the Archie/Gretchen series, especially since I know her next book (One Kick) is the start of a new series.  While not EVERYTHING was wrapped up, I was pleased with the way things ended.  Especially a certain relationship progressing between two adored characters. 

Bottom line, I don't know how Chelsea Cain keeps the Gretchen/Archie series so fresh after six books, but she does.  Let Me Go was every bit as suspenseful and thrilling as the first book in the series.  If you haven't started reading Chelsea Cain, then do so now.  I demand you go to the book store right now! :)

Why I Read...

I remember the carefree summer days when I used to ride my bike to the public library to pick out new books. I would go almost daily to find books to read. I read to learn. I read to explore the world. I read to escape. I read because not reading is not an option.

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