Thursday, June 30, 2011

Forgotten by Cat Patrick GIVEAWAY

Just in case you miss you missed it, I read a fascinating book about a girl whose mind reset every morning at 4:33 a.m. She could remember nothing from before but remembered the future. I loved it. Other people loved it, too. It's going to be turned into a movie. Here's what my blog post said:
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Each night when 16 year-old London Lane goes to sleep, her whole world disappears. In the morning, all that's left is a note telling her about a day she can't remember. The whole scenario doesn't exactly make high school or dating that hot guy whose name she can't seem to recall any easier. But when London starts experiencing disturbing visions she can't make sense of, she realizes it's time to learn a little more about the past she keeps forgetting-before it destroys her future. 

Part psychological drama, part romance, and part mystery, this thought-provoking novel will inspire readers to consider the what-if's in their own lives and recognize the power they have to control their destinies.

My take: I loved Drew Barrymore in "50 First Dates." I thought it was cute, clever and an interesting conflict to overcome - living the same day over and over again.

London Lane has a different conflict. She remembers the future. Every day she writes herself notes before she goes to sleep. Her brain resets itself ever morning at 4:33 a.m. Her mother and best friend, Jamie, are the only people privy to this odd phenomenon. She remembers her locker combination at school because she opens it tomorrow. She knows where her classrooms are because she goes to them tomorrow. So far, her secret has been safe since Jamie has her back at school and her mom helps at home.

Two odd things occur simultaneously; she meets Luke Henry but can't remember him in her future. Yet he keeps showing up day after day in her life with increasing importance to her. She also remembers a funeral for a child. Her future child? She doesn't know. Also, she alienates Jamie for not condoning an affair with a teacher.

As the story progresses, the reader learns the burden of knowing tomorrow and years to come while others close to her are burdened by regrets, guilt, and what-ifs. Even London learns the meaning of forgiveness. Secrets are revealed and the cause of her malady is made clear - at least the circumstances and timing. Everybody keeps secrets to safeguard each other. London struggles with the concept of changing the future. Can she?

This is the sweetest love story I have read in a long time. Dialogue is clever and fresh. Relationships between London and Luke, London and her best friend, and London and her mother then father are beautifully depicted. The process of healing old hurts is included. I loved the constancy of friendship and motherly love. I really enjoyed this book and the author's voice.

Language - Rated G
Dialogue - Rated PG - PG-13
Sex - PG
Violence - PG (Dodgeball)

Doesn't that make you want to read it? 

My good friends at Little, Brown Books is offering THREE (count them 3) copies for three lucky readers! YAY!

Fill out the form below.

Don't Stop Now by Julie Halpern

So a few weeks ago I posted a review about Julie Halpern's Don't Stop Now. In case you missed it, I will include it at the end of post.  It was a work of art.

So Julie has decided to share with us what types of things she might find at a garage sale of her teen years.  Just a warning, she is quirky and hilarious.

Teenage Garage Sale - What types of things might we find at a garage sale in your teen years? You can just share memories, assign them values, any way you'd like to do it!

I would never have parted with any of these things as a teen. Now? I have no idea where any of these things are.:
• A really ugly Young Ones t-shirt with yellow armpits
• Pictures of Bono cut out from various magazines.
• A British flag from my bedroom door.
• The typewriter where I typed perverted stories for my friends.
• Buttondowns of my dad’s that I used to borrow.
• An Eddie Vedder autograph from Lollapalooza.
• Videotapes of “Don’t Just Sit There,” the Nickelodeon show
• Journals written in pencil which are completely illegible now.

ctions, that no matter what, lead us to somewhere." Huh. That would have been a really nice place to end this review. Alas, I have more.

"I hate brushing my teeth in a public sink. Spitting. Blow-drying my face when there are no paper towels." Deep.

""She told me I was a really good friend,' I say, staring ahead at the buffet, the cornucopia of foods blurring into a flavored rainbow.

'Bit**,' Josh chides. 'How dare she?' He talks through the cake bits in his mouth."

"Can you imagine" - Josh saunters up next to me to marvel at the town that once was - "the streets of Deadwood? No law. A six-shooter on your belt and a prostitute on your arm?" Josh looks whimsical, as if he's reliving his past life's glory days.

"So we drive toward the sunset, windows down; Elvis reruns fill the air. We drive as the stars bloom on the vast fabric of navy sky, passing miles of nothing, as bugs can't help but throw themselves at our windshield."

If you want a deep, complicated, and filled with angst protagonist, keep walking. This isn't the book you want to read. If you want to like the protagonist because she is clever, intelligent, witty, and so is her side-kick, highly recommend it.

Parental warning:

Language and swearing: Moderate. Usual farm words and a couple of diety.

Further language: Moderate. Josh is a little on the crass side, although not excessively so, he's a boy who talks potty talk.

Sex: If I shared that part, I might ruin the conflict resolution. But if sex does occur, it would only complicate the conflict. If sex does occur, it is not explicitly described.

Content: There is a reason Penny has run away. Slight spoiler *Gavin is physically abusive*

Overall feeling at the end of the book? Satisfied, light in spirit, I want to be Julie Hapern's electronic BFF so we can email clever prose to one another.

And now, for your entertainment, I present highlights from Josh and Lil's Quirky Adventure:

Wonder of the Plains
It's a corn palace. Made out of corn.

So there's a whole museum full of these creepy dolls.  All sizes. All shapes. All creeps.

House on the Rock: Carousel Room 3
This garrish carousel is tiered and protected by angels. When I say "angels," I really mean store mannequins lovingly dressed up as heavenly hosts. Creep Factor somewhere in the Doll Museum and Bride of Chucky.

Badlands Scenery
The Badlands. Haven't you always wondered?

Inferno Cone
Craters of the Moon. An actual national park made out of lava rock.
I was underwhelmed, too.
I'll take Hawaii, thankyouverymuch.

Old Faithful Geyser Photos
Old Faithful.

Kevin Costner's signature, "Deadwood."
It's all Hollywood magic. Nothing of interest is really here.

Portland's secret coffee shop. This one is amusing. This is just the bathroom.  Apparently, there are tables that shrink and grow, slide into the wall, etc.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Forbidden Tabitha Suzuma


This is a very difficult book to review. Due in part that of my own admission that I read a book about incest and had feelings of compassion. I am at war with myself with how to write this review but just to spread the cards out, I will make some things clear from the start:

  • It's a good 3.5 star plus read.
  • I admire the author's ability to disaggregate such a taboo subject - consensual sibling incest. I will also admit that I am deeply disturbed by her ability to do so.
  • I liked the book quite a bit yet I come short of recommending it.

Lochen and Maya are the oldest siblings in a tattered home. Lochen is the oldest at nearly 18, Maya is 13 months younger. The younger siblings are 13, 8, and 5. The parents divorced, Dad remarried and moved to Australia, Mom is a raging alcoholic in the middle of a midlife crisis and disappears for weeks at a time. Lochen and Maya are left to hold down the fort - housework, homework, childcare, shopping, cooking, cleaning, bedtime routines. In the midst of this, 13 year old Kit is rebellious, angry and hurt, lashing out at everybody.

Lochen and Maya take the role of parenting and trying to keep social services out of the picture. They slip into the shoes of a married couple with the occasional showing of the exasperating mother who is still tasked with paying for her children that she wants to forget. The two children develop a close friendship and symbiosis. Both are caretakers by nature and both are driven (due to so much loss) to keeping the family together. The relationship becomes closer and closer until they are completely in love with each other.

The author flips from Lochen's and Maya's POV in alternating chapters. Occasionally, I was confused and had to revisit the chapter POV but overall I thought this worked well. Maya is an open-minded girl who loves her siblings. That pretty much sums her up. She's not terribly interesting. Lochen however, is far, far too angst-y. Lochen suffers from panic attacks and anxiety. He struggles with guilt in all aspects of his life. Everything is his fault. Everything is his responsibility. Everything falls squarely on his shoulders. While he is a much better parent to his three younger siblings than I am to my own children, he is also painfully socially backward. But handsome. And smart. Yay.

So the reader gets into both minds as the relationship develops. This is very well done and I found myself feeling a lot of compassion and empathy for both protagonists. So much so that I am highly disturbed by the events that lead up to the ultimate conflict.


Lochen is eventually taken into police custody. By this time, I was completely invested in his and Maya's well being and devastatingly distraught by his arrest and the way he is treated. Painfully, we are taken through the booking process, the feelings of exposure, the interview, and the exhaustion of having to lay out the intimate details of a relationship so private and intimate. The reader feels the looks of contempt and disgust by others as Lochen is forced to adapt the new title as a sex offender, rapist, and having committed incest with his sister. I felt indignant even if Lochen did not.

What I liked:

  • The way the author creates a credible story where consensual incest could develop.
  • Minor characters that drove the story - the children.
  • Even though I tired of it, Lochen's fragility needed to be apparent by getting inside his anxious mind.

What I didn't like:

  • The sexual detail. I didn't want to know how it felt to touch your brother there.
  • So much of the story was the internal dialogue both protagonists were having. Lochen was kind of like a girl. Had a conscience, stalking off, needy, oh-so-needy.
  • The resolution. In fact, here goes my diatribe -
The setting is London so the laws are different, I assume, than in the U.S. Although incest, even consensual, is still pretty much frowned upon. Actually, without taking into account the characters in this book, it's shocking and gross. 

That said, I had a couple of students a few years ago who were in a brother/sister incestuous relationship. It was pretty horrible when this fact came to light and devastated the parents deeply. I'm pretty sure neither the brother or the sister EVER returned to their small town, although I don't know that for fact. The mother made it clear to me that the relationship was consensual and, in fact, the younger sister was the instigator. The brother was immediately sent to a wilderness camp and ordered to have no contact with his sister. The sister, knowing she was guilty, threw herself into social services and a foster home because she couldn't face her parents disappointment. 

Because of my experience with this subject, I thought the ending was on the extreme side.  And that's where I will leave it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder and GIVEAWAY

The Day BeforeThe Day Before by Lisa Schroeder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Amber’s life is spinning out of control. All she wants is to turn up the volume on her iPod until all of the demands of family and friends fade away. So she sneaks off to the beach to spend a day by herself.

Then Amber meets Cade. Their attraction is instant, and Amber can tell he’s also looking for an escape. Together they decide to share a perfect day: no pasts, no fears, no regrets.

The more time that Amber spends with Cade, the more she’s drawn to him. And the more she’s troubled by his darkness. Because Cade’s not just living in the now—he’s living each moment like it’s his last.

My take: I would suggest reading this book twice. It is written in lyrical verse, similar to Ellen Hopkins style of writing. It can be read in a relatively short amount of time. The first reading would be to gather the pieces that tell the story. The second time watch for foreshadowing and symbolism.

The Day Before is about two teens whose life lives will change irrevocably tomorrow. Both have watched over the previous couple of years as situations have developed and the crisis has hit the critical mark. Tomorrow is the day that changes the rest of their lives.

First of all, I want to clarify that this is not a book about suicide. I read the first portion of the book with dread until I realized it is ultimately about coping with life. Given, most people will not be faced with the challenges Amber and Cade face in this book, but all members of the human race ultimately grapple with the feelings they have. All people will eventually suffer in one way or another due to circumstances they did not create nor can they control. How will we handle that?

I loved the setting. The story takes place on the Oregon Coast where Cade and Amber go to Mo's and get the best clam chowder in the country. I know because I've had it. They debate whether to visit Otter Crest or the Lighthouse. They chose the lighthouse but Otter Crest happens to be one of my favorite places.

I would love to see this book used in classrooms. I can see endless possibilities for discussion points, essays, and learning experiences. I'm going to go ahead and free associate. Perhaps I'll think of something coherent while I do so. There are also questions I would love to ask the author about the symbolism.

1. Amber feels an affinity to the crashing waves and the crying gulls. She is feeling her grief acutely on this day. Feeling pounded and wanting to cry. She is feeling powerless and angry.

2. The sea animals are used to explore different parts of Cade and Amber. What are the sea animals used and what do they represent?

- Jellyfish - vulnerable

- Shark - powerful, confident, respected, but perhaps falsely so. He's still in a tank.

- Otter - playful, carefree.

- Starfish -

- Lobster, crab and other animals with a carapace or hard case made of bone or chitin that covers part of the body of an animal. Protected.

Cade's dog's name is Boo which represents a ghost or feeling haunted.

Amber's cat's name is Tiny which represents a feeling of helplessness, although the name is ironic for the large cat.

Amber will be going from the coast of Oregon and salt water to a place called Sweetwater, Texas. Is this significant?

What is the significance of the kite? The glitter? Drums? Drumsticks? Sandcastle? The penny? Treasure?

If I were running a high school book club, I might ask the students to apply some of the lessons learned to a current or past situation where they felt like victims of circumstance. I might use these questions as either discussion points or essay topics:

Amber and Cade use a penny to decide many of their decisions during the day. Cade stops Amber before making a big decision and tells her that we can't leave some decisions up to chance. This indicates that Amber does have some control/power. How do have some control over your situation?

In the restaurant both Amber and Cade perform solo acts. Do they feel alone when they are doing their solos? Who do you have in the audience giving you support?

What part does hope play?

At one point Amber and Cade discuss chance vs. Divine Intervention. Is it chance or does God know what he's doing?

Amber remembers a moment when her father told her that feelings are temporary. Recall a time when you felt like your feeling about something would never change but they have.

Imagine how you might feel about your situation in 3 months. 6 months. A year. 5 years.

Cade tells Amber that fear is normal. Just don't let it win. What does he mean by that?

What is the purpose of a lighthouse? How is this significant? Do you have a lighthouse? Who/what is it and why.

I am finished pontificating. Bottom line is that I believe this book has great potential for teens in crisis. I would love to see it used in schools.

Loved it.

Thanks to the illustrious Dawn at Simon & Schuster, I get to offer a Lisa Schroeder COLLECTION. Signed! Did you read my review? Did you get the idea that I might be an educator? Do you picture me with a red pencil behind my ear? Well don't. I am a school counselor which means I NURTURE.

Here is some of Lisa's work:
I Heart You, You Haunt MeFar from YouChasing Brooklyn

Here's your assignment:

Choose a topic/question from the above review and apply it to a current or past difficult situation. It's like therapy! For free! Sort of.

Fill out this form:

Monday, June 27, 2011

Along a Long Road by Frank Viva

Along a Long RoadAlong a Long Road by Frank Viva

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Follow that road!

Speed off on an eventful bicycle ride along the bold yellow road that cuts through town, by the sea, and through the country. Ride up and around, along and through, out and down.

Frank's striking graphic style is executed in just five joyous colors, and his spare, rhythmic language is infectious.

Hit a bump?
Get back on track!
Reach the end?
Start again!

My take: I read this book to my 6 year old son, just out of kindergarten then he was able to read it to me with very little prodding. The author uses many sight words and repetition. The illustrations are simple and concise which does not overwhelm the early reader. I loved having a book with fun pictures, an interesting route, and a story my son had immediate success with reading.

The Soldier's Wife by Margeret Leroy Review

The Soldier's WifeThe Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: A novel full of grand passion and intensity, The Soldier's Wife asks "What would you do for your family?" "What should you do for a stranger?" and "What would you do for love?"

As World War II draws closer and closer to Guernsey, Vivienne de la Mare knows that there will be sacrifices to be made. Not just for herself, but for her two young daughters and for her mother-in-law, for whom she cares while her husband is away fighting. What she does not expect is that she will fall in love with one of the enigmatic German soldiers who take up residence in the house next door to her home. As their relationship intensifies, so do the pressures on Vivienne. Food and resources grow scant, and the restrictions placed upon the residents of the island grow with each passing week. Though Vivienne knows the perils of her love affair with Gunther, she believes that she can keep their relationship and her family safe. But when she becomes aware of the full brutality of the Occupation, she must decide if she is willing to risk her personal happiness for the life of a stranger.

My take: I had no idea there were these little cow islands between the British Isles and the continent until I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society a few years ago. Now I just want to go visit them. But definitely not during a war. Even more definitely not during a time they are occupied by another country working on a little genocide. Just to summarize, there are a few little islands nobody really cared much about that happened to be strategically located between the European continent and the British Isles. The Nazis invaded and built an airfield. This made it particularly convenient for bombing London.

The residents of these islands left, for the most part. There were, however, a large portion who didn't believe the war would touch them. The Nazis bombed the crud out of the island to soften them up then peacefully docked their ships, landed their planes and walked right into town, found residences empty, unattended automobiles, etc. and requisitioned them. This is where we find ourselves with Vivienne, a thirty-something mother of two daughters, one a teenager and one a precocious grade schooler. She is also caring for her mother-in-law who seems to be suffering from dementia. Meanwhile, her husband, Eugene, is off fighting the war against the Germans.

Enter the Germans who move in right next door. The rank and file German soldiers, including those with higher rank but not SS, are generally affable to the residents of Guernsey, although there is always the renegade soldier who forgets to be polite and shoots a civilian. Vivienne meets Gunther, a gentle man in his forties. She is lonely and recounts her orphan - like childhood, her hurried wedding to Eugene that she never loved, his probable affair and her continued loneliness. Suddenly, it seems, Vivienne and Gunther are having an affair.

The most difficult conflict Vivienne finds herself with for the bulk of the book is not a moral dilemma of adultery but whether or not she should be, literally, sleeping with the enemy. Vivienne and Gunther find companionship, solace, friendship, and even love through one another yet Vivienne continues her struggles. The real question then is this; Can a person maintain their high moral ground when engaging in behavior that does not agree with their beliefs? Germany is at war with the world (except Italy). The German army is trying to kill Vivienne's husband, in a sense. Yet Vivienne has feelings for a member of the German army.

Meanwhile, other information seeps into Vivienne's consciousness. Of course, there is always a threat of being sent to a prison camp on the mainland or possibly shot, but as a whole, the Germans are fair occupiers. They eat most of the food but it is much more apparent these are men who don't believe in the war as much as those who are actively fighting on the fronts. Yet there are other soldiers referred to as "OT." These may be SS men but they guard the P.O.W.s on the island. It is quickly discovered that there are slave laborers who are being treated as subhumans. It is difficult for the Guernsey islanders to separate the two kinds of soldiers.

The prisoners of war are being worked to death, beat to death, starved to death, or simply give up which is the same as the above. They are skeletons and only shadows of who they once were. They come from Poland and Russia and are being used to fortify the island (as if anybody cares about the islands). In order to not have to feed the prisoners, a blind eye is often turned when they escape at night to forage for food. This often means stealing or going through rubbish. This is where Vivienne crosses paths with a prisoner and learns details she wishes she did not.

It is a beautifully written book that I highly recommend. It is not cut of the same cloth as the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which is raw but also quirky and, at times, humorous. The Soldier's Wife is much more of an internal struggle which eventually finds its way to her external world, although it is not a story all told in Vivienne's head. Things happen all the time. Vivienne is constantly trying to balance herself precariously on the highwire of mothering her children, caring for her ailing mother-in-law (knowing these three people are completely dependent upon her), being a good neighbor to Angie, a friend who is falling apart, loving her German lover without revealing secrets she may know yet trying to understand the current world where she is existing.

My only dissatisfaction is that I wanted to know Gunther better. Why did she love him? I know he offered her perceived safety and may have interceded on her behalf at times, but I never really knew him. I would also have liked to know more clearly why he and Max ended where they did. Blanche is also remarkably silent except to argue with her sister, Millie, who I absolutely adored, as I did Simon. Blanche would have also been an interesting character to further explore as she is at the cusp of womanhood during the occupation.

On the other hand, I am reasonably certain the author did not reveal as much about Gunther as she could have on purpose. In the end, the questions Vivienne had to ask herself and the conflict she eventually needed resolution would have been the same.

Wonderful book. Recommended for a book club.

Swearing is mild but I do recall one "f" word.
Sex is moderate but not described in detail.
Violence is obviously present as there is a war going on. The book is not riddled with violence but is revealed to Vivienne, shaking her world.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Flashback by Dan Simmons GIVEAWAY!

Publish Date:  7/1/2011
Price:  $27.99/$30.99
ISBN: 9780316006965
Pages: 560
Size: 6" x 9-1/4"

Description: Simmons makes some logical if depressing extrapolations from current political and economic developments in this outstanding mystery thriller set in a near-future dystopic United States. The loss of credible deterrence after the U.S. drastically reduced its nuclear arsenal as part of a deal with Russia has led to devastating attacks by Muslim terrorists on Israel. Most Americans take flashback, an addictive drug that brings back favorite memories, to relive the past when they should be planning for the future. One such addict is Nick Bottom, a former Denver police officer, who loses himself in re-experiencing good times with his late wife. Billionaire Hiroshi Nakamura, one of the fragmented nation's nine regional Federal Advisors, hires Bottom to find the unknown assailant who cut the throat of his only son, 20-year-old Keigo, six years earlier. Bottom, who worked on the unsolved crime, uses flashback to pick up a trail suggesting a far from simple motive for Keigo's killing. Simmons keeps the action moving briskly and smoothly, despite the novel's length.

Thanks to Anna at Hatchette Book Group, I have two copies of this one just for you!

Fill out form below.

The Night Train by Clyde Edgerton GIVEAWAY

Book Cover

James Brown connects two boys, white and black, in a light novel about North Carolina in the tense 1960s.
Veteran novelist Edgerton (The Bible Salesman, 2008, etc.) is profoundly skilled at taking on some of Southern literature’s most difficult themes—race and religion especially—and addressing them with both respect and humor. The hero of his latest, set in 1963, is Larry Lime, a black teenager whose musical talent is nurtured by the Bleeder, the star pianist at a club on the outskirts of a small North Carolina town. Larry takes what he's learned to his job at a furniture shop, where he advises Dwayne, who's trying to get his band to play a note-for-note version of James Brown’s iconic Live at the Apollo album. Southern mores demand that Larry support Dwayne (who's white) without attracting attention, and Edgerton deftly shifts from intimate looks at their growing friendship to wide-angle shots of the racial divides among businesses and residents in the area. And he smartly merges social commentary with comedy: As Larry and Dwayne concoct a ridiculous plot to toss a chicken from a movie-theater balcony during a tense scene in The Birds, Edgerton gently highlights how the theater’s segregation policy inspired the idea in the first place. Various subplots involving Larry's extended family underscore the point that the color line was more porous than anybody wanted to admit at the time, though in the closing chapters Edgerton strains to sound an uplifting note without coming off as mawkish. Still, the command of Southern idioms and culture that earned him his reputation remains solid, and his affinity for simple sentences and clean chapter breaks give this slim novel an almost fable-like power.
Edgerton’s knowledge about music is on full display, as is his understanding of the subtleties of race relations as the Civil Rights Movement picked up steam.

Thanks to Anna at Hatchette Book Group, I have three (count them, 3) copies for you lucky, lucky people! Fill out the form below!

IMM (5/29/11)

Really, this Meme should be called "Why I didn't sleep this week" or "Why my husband and I are sexually frustrated."

Does my daughter read this blog? I really hope not.

For Review:

The Day BeforeThe Orphan SisterThe Last Letter from Your Lover: A NovelFlashbackfathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian ScienceThe Gap YearThe Year We Left Home: A Novel

And now I am going to return to bed.

I'm only kidding. I'm almost finished with this book - The Orphan Sister.

Don't tell my husband I'm still up.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Midsummer Night's Giveaway of Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

Being intelligent people, I am certain you have come to the conclusion that I have THE BEST GIVEAWAY EVER!!!

Forever (The Wolves of Mercy Falls, #3)

It is in ARC format so some things may be changed by the time the finished copy arrives at my house sometime between July 12th and July 15th.
The absolutely thrilling news about this giveaway is that it is super easy to enter because I simply can not deal with anything more complicated than heating up the pizza I bought at Costco.

1. Fill out form below
2. Be a follower of some sort (physically stalking me does not count)
3. Make a comment at the end 
  • telling me all your personal secrets. 
  • Or your astrological sign. 
  • Or you find my opinions and blog fascinating and informative. 
  • Or you believe I need professional help. 
  • Whatever. Just seeking validation. Shamelessly, I might add.

Just in case you want to see some other blogs with awesome book prizes, check out this:

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen Review

What Happened to GoodbyeWhat Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: In the past two years, Mclean Sweet has moved four times. At each stop, she assumes a new persona, but it never quite works. Whether she's an effervescent cheerleader or an intense drama queen, nothing can permanently dispel the turmoil and rage at her mother since her parents' divorce. 

Sarah Dessen's novel about a teenager and her restaurant manager father captures the vulnerability that young people often experience after the dissolution of their family. A compelling story; strong characterization; and with a touch of romance.

My take: This was not my favorite Sarah Dessen book, although it is still very good. The protagonist was just rather "Blah." She had no defining characteristics and was rather forgettable. Good story to reframe self redefinition as Mclean reinvents herself in each new place she moves. Also excellent reframing in the blame game of divorce. Although Dessen does not go into the details of Mclean's parents' marriage and divorce, it is clear by the end that Mclean may have been quick to judge and blame her mother when both of her parents lived in the marriage, both had faults and, even though they were divorced, they had the ability to parent their child amiably and without rancor.

I liked Dave, the potential love interest. Enjoyed the juxtaposition of his philosophy on parents and family. Love them and accept them. Compromise where needed. Plan away and adjust plans as needed. Loved the dialogue between the characters. Each character's family situation is introduced but not beat to death. Home is wherever your family is and whoever your family is - warts and all.

In Dessen fashion, this story intersected with some of the characters of her last book. Also in Dessen fashion, none of her characters are one dimensional. Her books address the every day issues without having to use the shock factor. As usual, she is wonderful writer.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Torn (Torn Trilogy, #1)Torn by Erica O'Rourke

Torn (Torn Trilogy, #1)Torn by Erica O'Rourke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Everyone has secrets.
Even best friends.

Swirling black descends like ravens, large enough to block the glow of the streetlights. A dull roar starts like a train on the 'L', a far-away rumbling that grows louder as it pulls closer, until it's directly overhead and you feel it in your chest, except this doesn't pass you by. Verity, white-faced and eyes blazing, shouts through the din, "Run, Mo!"

Mo Fitzgerald knows about secrets. But when she witnesses her best friend's murder, she discovers Verity was hiding things she never could have guessed. To find the answers she needs and the vengeance she craves, Mo—quiet, ordinary, unmagical Mo—will have to enter a world of raw magic and shifting alliances. And she'll have to choose between two very different, equally dangerous guys—protective, duty-bound Colin and brash, mysterious Luc. One wants to save her, one wants to claim her. Which would you choose?

"Who doesn't love a character torn between two dangerous worlds and two risky guys? The only thing safe about this book is how good it is." —Lee Nichols, author of Deception, A Haunting Emma Novel

"Dark, exciting and totally addictive! Just. . .wow!" -Kristi Cook, author of Haven

My take: I'd not read or heard of Erica O'Rourke before reading this book but she is an excellent writer. The book begins with Maura, or Mo in the hospital after an attack she can't describe. She was with her best friend, Verity, when they were attacked and Verity was killed. Turns out, Verity had some magical secrets and a fateful place in the world of magic.

Maura's family has deep roots in the mob. Because of this attack, it appears that someone is trying to reach Uncle Billy via Mo. He stations a bodyguard for her safety. The love triangle is complete with the introduction of Luc, Verity's secret partner in magic, from New Orleans.

The components of magic are destabilizing. With the shifts, one group wants the power and control which would throw much of the world into chaos. With Verity dead, Mo is out for revenge. She may have more power within her to change fate, however.

The story is interesting and kept me turning pages. The pace is perfect with enough down time for introspection to better understand the protagonist but not so much I wanted to strangle her. In fact, I liked all of the characters in the book. The protagonist and the two love interests are all interesting and unique people.

This book is part of a tour organized by the Teen Book Scene. My review is based solely on my impressions and are not endorsed in any way.

Love Always by Harriet Evans Review and GIVEAWAY

Love Always

Love Always by Harriet Evans
4 out of 5 stars
Publisher: Gallery

Goodreads: A compelling and heartrending tale of lost love, family secrets, and those little moments that can change your life forever . . .
When Natasha Kapoor returns to her grandparents’ idyllic coastal home for her beloved grandmother’s funeral, her life is at a turning point. She thought by now she’d be a successful jewelry designer in London with a perfect marriage. Instead, she’s got mounting bills and a soon-to-be ex.

After the funeral, Natasha’s grandfather gives her the long-lost diary of her aunt Cecily. No one in her large and complicated family has ever discussed the tragic accident that took Cecily’s life as a teenager, and within the diary’s pages, Natasha finds a gripping and shocking tale of forbidden love, rivalry, and heartbreak.

Nearly fifty years later, will Cecily’s diary finally explain her family’s dark past and the terrible secret her aunt left behind? Is it possible it’s just the inspiration Natasha needs to take a fresh look at her future, and maybe even give love a second chance? Fans of Jennifer Weiner and Emily Giffin will get hooked on internationally bestselling author Harriet Evans’s warm, witty, and absorbing novel filled with original, rootworthy characters and complex family issues.

My take: This book is best read with a British accent in your head. It helps with the tricky British words like fags (cigarettes), jumper (sweater), fringe (bangs). It also adds a lot of character. What I enjoyed most about this book, besides the story which kept pulling me back in even when I really had other things to do, is how easily the family drama was a microcosm of world events. Martin Luther King Jr. was in a Birmingham jail for proclaiming that all men are equal regardless of race, class or religion while the Kapoors who were mixed race, were struggling with being treated equally.  Each child responding differently to injustices at school and with their cousins.

At the same time, in London it was the Stephen Ward trial which I know nothing about, I'm afraid. What I gathered is that there was sexual exploits with prostitutes, lying to parliament and ultimately a scapegoat was chosen to play out on the media stage. Intriguing. One of the Kapoors is also chosen as a scapegoat for all that went wrong that summer and the following years while the guilty party kept the secrets.

The microcosm of politics is very subtle, mind you. I just liked it.

Natasha's life falls apart completely. The triangles of her life, work, family and social all crumble simultaneously. She's on the verge of bankruptcy, she discovered her husband is having an affair and realizes the marriage has been over for a long time, and she alienates a close friend, although she does still have her cousin, Jay and friend whose name I blanked on. Regardless, she is feeling utterly alone with the death of her grandmother and discoveries regarding her mother who has not been a prominent parental feature in her life, anyway.

Evans does a spectacular job with dealing in family dynamics. Children, feeling wronged by their parents, make conscious choices to not be like them and ultimately marry people like their parents, repeat history and eventually come full circle to make peace with their parents, family and history.  She also explores spousal infidelity and contrasts different coping mechanisms through her characters.

I really enjoyed the story, the characters, the mystery and intrigue, the two time periods and the full circle. Very satisfying read.

Now that I have your attention - I have one copy to offer thanks to Galley Books!  Yay!  Fill out form below. For extra points that don't count but might be interesting and ONLY if it is at least a little bit removed (not your sister's secret or your mother's secret if she's still living), make a comment and tell your family skeleton.

Only if nobody living would mind.

Groundswell by Katie Lee

Goodreads: EAT, SURF, LOVE. A butterfly flaps its wings in New York City . . . and a groundswell forms in Mexico. . . .

Sometimes the biggest ripples come from the smallest events. Like the day that Emma Guthrie walks into world-famous movie star Garrett Walker’s trailer. When she steps through the door, she’s a novice PA who’s just dropped out of college after losing her scholarship. When she walks out, she’s on her way to becoming Mrs. Emma Walker—wife of an A-list actor. Soon, Emma has made the transition from nobody to red-carpet royalty, trading jeans and flip-flops for closets full of Chanel and Birkin bags, swishing past velvet ropes to attend every lavish party and charity gala on both coasts. With her husband’s encouragement, Emma pens a screenplay based on her life, Fame Tax, which becomes a blockbuster sensation. Through it all, Garrett is her ally and her mentor . . . until their relationship is thrown into question by an incriminating text message that Emma discovers on Garrett’s phone the night of the Met Costume Institute Gala.

Devastated by her husband’s infidelity and hounded mercilessly by the paparazzi, Emma must flee New York City to get away from it all and clear her head. Her destination? A sleepy coastal town in Mexico where no one recognizes her and there is nothing but unspoiled beaches for miles. Here, she meets Ben, a gorgeous, California-born surf instructor, who teaches her about the healing powers of surfing, shows her the joys of the simple life, and ultimately opens her up to the possibility of love.

From Manhattan’s hippest restaurants to the yacht-and-celebrity infested waters of St. Barts, Katie Lee’s debut novel is an irresistible insider’s glimpse into a glittering world—and a captivating story about how losing everything you thought you wanted can be the first step to finding what you need.

My take: Katie Lee knows about the Hollywood lifestyle. She became a Hollywood presence on her own and then married Billy Joel. With the old adage, "Write what you know," Katie does exactly that.

This was simply a good, solid book. It's not life changing but the author tells a solid story without a lot of superfluous information. Perhaps another person might not be as interested in the details of a silver screen star and his social life but it fascinated me. But not only does the author describe the life of Garrett and the superficial way of being, she adds depth to her characters. Garrett is not vilified but multi-dimensional. I never loved Garrett but I understood why Emma did.

Emma is a likeable protagonist. She's your girl next door that captures a star's heart. She could be you or me. Is this a thinly veiled autobiography? I hope not because the flavor of fiction is much more enjoyable to believe.

The idea of "groundswell" does not come into play until nearly the end of the book as Emma is learning the art of surfing. This is also where Emma learns life lessons that could be applied to anybody's life. The ocean represents life and the way it can not be controlled or tamed, although we try really hard to do so. Surfing can only be achieved by giving in to the waves will. Don't panic because that's when the trouble really starts. Feel the waves and rise to the occasion.

I liked it.

Katie Lee is the food and lifestyle contributor for The Early Show and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Rachel Ray Show, The Nate Berkus Show, Today, The Martha Stewart Show, CBS Sunday Morning, Top Chef, and Iron Chef America. She has been featured in People, Vanity Fair, Town & Country, and InStyle. She is the author of the cookbooks The Comfort Table and The Comfort Table: Recipes for Everyday Occasions. She lives in the Hamptons.

3.5 -4 stars

Thanks to Simon and Schuster, I have two copies to offer! Fill out the form below.

Ends July 7th.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Conversations With a Moonflower GIVEAWAY PACK

From Goodreads:  It all begins with a little flower. This tenderly told story is a beautiful reminder to appreciate the simple joys around you. The perfect gift for even the busiest mothers and friends in your life, this book is guaranteed to change chaos to calm and inspire all to look beyond the ordinary and see the extraordinary.

My take:  The author shares her experience of cleaning out the old family homestead, her grandmother's house, which lies right in Amish country.  The Amish neighbors took the time to pay their respects when her grandmother passed away then continued to offer companionship while the grown children (who were also grandparents, themselves), cleaned out the house and said goodbye one last time.  

One neighbor, Marissa, invited Chris and her sister to watch the moonflower bloom.  It sounded silly but they were genuinely delighted to be invited to this woman's home.  It was a unique and wonderful experience and Marissa prepared a moonflower for the sisters to take home and plant.  

The moonflower blooms during the summer at dusk.  The pod quiver and shake and within seconds, the blossom bursts and spreads.  Some nights no flowers bloom.  Other nights, nearly 30 will grace the plant.  The gift of the moonflower is the byproduct.  Friends drop by to sit and wait.  Friendships are renewed.  Family time is extended.  

Some nights, only Chris was present for the show.  What follows is a conversation Chris has within herself as she takes the time to be still.  Alone with the moonflower, her mind wanders and finally settles on certain problem spots in her life.  As she sits and patiently waits for the bloom, answers reveal themselves. The truths she discovers are not earth shattering but, like Chris, they resonate like a remembering.  They are basic principles that I needed reminding.  In near parable form, the truths revealed with the moonflower will be different for everybody.  

For me,  Chris and the moonflower reminded me to:

  • Be Still - that's how He teaches us.
  • Be Prayerful - Ask for what we need.
  • Be Patient - Allow the answers to come without forcing them.  They will come.
  • Listen - Resonating with Be Still and Be patient.
  • Be True - If I am a moonflower, I will never be a daisy.  Accept what I am and find my own purpose.
For me, Chris brought the balm for my wounds and touched me deeply.

I met Chris at a book signing at my local Costco. She is an amazing woman with an intuitiveness that is clearly a gift. I believed when I read it in March that this book was inspired. After meeting Chris, I know this to be true. Chris said things to me that I needed to hear and I have no doubt my meeting her was not a coincidence.

On top of this, she recognized me! As any blogger will know, blogging is an anonymous fame. I will be the first to admit that I don't blog for fame or fortune (obviously) but to simply give voice to the thoughts in my head. As a lifelong stutterer, I've found blogging to be the perfect platform for my voice.

To clarify, Chris didn't recognize my blog or my blogging name but my Amazon reviewing name, a name I conjured up about 7 or 8 years ago because I wanted to identify with my current past time. Chris asked if I was "Dancing Mom." Naturally I asked her if she wanted to see me do a pirouette.

Surprisingly, she declined. I was secretly disappointed yet relieved. I might have tipped over. I never claimed to be a good dancer.

And so today my ego is artificially inflated and I'm okay with that. I just wanted to share.

Meanwhile, Adam, Chris' publicist from Cedar Fort Books, is letting me host a fun contest. Here's what a lucky winner will receive:

Conversations with a MoonflowerMoonflower Seeds - Fragrant Flowering VineMelissa & Doug Bella Butterfly Gardening GlovesFiskars 7978 Composite Trowel

How cool is that! The only thing you need to provide is dirt!

I want to reiterate that the book is short but life changing. The book, in and of itself, is a gift. Prize package will include book, moonflower seeds, gloves, and a mini-shovel. Publicist determines what type of seeds, gloves and shovel. Blogger is simply taking liberties by posting lovely images she found from Amazon.

In the meantime, peruse Cedar Fort books. This is a small publishing house that produces some phenomenal work. Also, drop by Chris Hall's blog. She loves company.