Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: "The House We Grew Up In" by Lisa Jewell

The Bird family wasn't always quite so controversial. Once upon a time bohemian mother Lorelei, a free spirit and a loving mother, ran the household in such a way as to encourage her children to live their lives to the fullest. Sure, the house overflowed with "stuff","stuff" that no one was allowed to sort through or throw out, but everyone was happy enough. Daughters Megan and Bethan, twins Rory and Rhys had a childhood filled with brightly coloured Easter eggs, paddling pools, and rainbows.

Fast forward many years and the Bird family is dysfunctional and controversial. Mother Lorelei has died, alone, leaving behind a house filled with years of junk and clutter, a mess to rival the mess that the Birds have made of their once-vibrant family. Eldest daughter Megan has taken the exact opposite path that her mother has and is obsessed with cleanliness and with giving her four rowdy children the most stable childhood possible. Daughter Bethan has moved to a different continent in order to reinvent herself. Son Rory is paying for the sins of his past and father Colin is involved in an unconventional and distasteful- to- others relationship and is living in a commune in Spain. Lorelei's death brings the shambles of the Bird family back together and it is this event that allows all of the Birds to begin to mend fences that were long ago broken.

The House We Grew Up In was captivating and beautifully written. Despite the fact that it deals with several difficult and unconventional topics- death, the disease of hoarding, abandoning your child and instances of infidelity- it was difficult to put this book down. Author Lisa Jewell draws you in to the story and refuses to release you until the final pages. I found myself thinking about the book even when I wasn't reading it! Jewell has certainly done her homework on the topic of hoarding and she describes it in such a way that both sides of the disease are presented. At times I found myself relating to Lorelei and her thought processes, even though I am most definitely not someone who hoards things.

The way that Jewell presented us with this story worked really well for me. She begins telling the story in present day- Lorelei has died and eldest daughter Megan is fully realizing the extent of her mothers' disease in a way that she didn't while her mother was alive. Jewell then goes back in time and tells us the story of the Bird family, alternating between present day and the past. We get the full picture of the Bird family, and the secrets of their past are revealed bit by tantalizing bit.

Despite the often unpleasant subject matter I enjoyed The House We Grew Up In. It consumed me while I was reading it and I couldn't wait to find out the secrets of the Bird family- when I think about a book even when I'm not reading it that is always an indicator for me of when a book crosses a line from "great" to "unbelievable". It was a fascinating story about a very dysfunctional family doing their best to stay afloat and I'm glad that I read it. It will stay with me for quite some time. My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy for review!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: "Never Google Heartbreak" by Emma Garcia

When her fiance Rob breaks off their engagement for the third (!) time, Viv does what any sensible woman would do and she moves out. Secretly she's hoping that her bold move will bring Rob to her doorstep, begging her to reconsider, but when weeks go by with no word from him Viv is forced to come to the conclusion that reconciliation isn't in the books.

Viv falls to pieces and she's lucky when best friend Max is there to put her back together. Viv discovers that Max has had feelings for her all along but she's not quite sure what to do with that information. Her feelings for Rob are still there and she can't seem to shake them. After a few disastrous turn of events Viv finally discovers what it is that her heart has wanted all along, but is it too late to get the love of her life back?

I loved, absolutely loved, Never Google Heartbreak! It had it all- a romance worth cheering for, a villain of epic proportions, a few funny situations, some decidedly steamy scenes and an ending that left me wanting more. It is my second-favourite book of the year so far! I had a hard time putting it down, and I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. Sure, some of the story was over-the-top and not likely to happen in reality, but that was part of what I loved about the book- it offered me an escape from the everyday.

I don't often refer to others' reviews in my own. Quite frankly I believe that we are all entitled to our own opinion and I think that's what makes book reviewing so interesting, but in this case I found it hard to believe how many people did not enjoy this book when I enjoyed it so much! Some reviewers who did not like the book didn't like it because they found the main character, Viv, irritating. It's true, she did have some irritating qualities, but I think these were present because she was so lost in her own life. Her job wasn't one that she truly loved or even excelled at- she was just going through the motions. Her idea of what love should be had no resemblance to what would actually make her happy, it was just an idea that she had in her head of what she thought that she wanted. I think that Viv was confused, and part of the charm of Never Google Heartbreak was that she was finding her way to happiness by slowly discovering what it was that she wanted, even if some of her choices initially had disastrous consequences.

My one complaint about the book was that Viv decides to create a website called Never Google Heartbreak for those who are heartbroken. Despite the fact that this is where the title comes from, I found that the concept wasn't fully formed throughout the book and the site remained irrelevant to the story in my opinion. There was enough going on that the site didn't feel like a necessary addition and I'm sure that the story would have flowed just as well without it being a part of it.

A true testament to how much I loved Never Google Heartbreak is the fact that I finished it, found out that there was a sequel, and then bought it the same day. If I really love a book I can't wait to find out what happens next! This book was funny and sweet and even thought-provoking at times, and it is a charming story about what to do what you have no clue what you're doing. My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: "Right Click" by Lisa Becker

Renee, Shelley, Mark, Ashley and Ethan are back in Right Click, the third and final installment in Lisa Becker's "Click" Series.  Six months have passed since we caught up with them last, and many things have changed. The group of close friends is navigating the choppy waters of adulthood and they are dealing with parenthood, long distance friendships, infidelity and marriage. Written in the style of e-mails between the friends, Right Click is hilarious and sad, sometimes at the same time!

I picked this up to read on one particularly lazy Sunday and by the end of the day I had devoured the whole thing! I love that Right Click is written in e-mail format. It's perfect for the secret voyeur in us all. I felt like I was spying on this group of friends that I have come to "know" from reading the "Click" series. I appreciate that as the series has matured, so have the friends that the series is about. The first "Click" book is about the friends in their 20's, but now they are in their 30's and they are dealing with so many different issues! Author Lisa Becker doesn't shy away from a few of the more difficult issues and I especially appreciated how she dealt with the dynamics of the long-distance friendship between best friends Renee and Shelley. The way that these issues were addressed felt realistic and I enjoyed the novel even more as a result.

I would definitely recommend reading the first two books in the "Click" series before reading Right Click. It adds so much to the series if you have gotten to know the friends through their previous adventures, and since there are some references to topics from the previous books in Right Click, it is not really a stand-alone novel. I will guarantee that once you pick Click up, you won't want to miss a moment of the series!

Funny, clever, and thought-provoking, reading Right Click feels like catching up with old friends! I definitely recommend not just Right Click, but the whole series, because once you start reading you definitely won't want to stop! I'm sad that the series has ended and I can't wait for more from this talented author! My thanks to the author for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: "Scared Scriptless" by Alison Sweeney

Maddy Carson loves lists and details and these aspects of her personality are what make her a fantastic script supervisor on the set of a successful TV drama. A small-town girl at heart she has very specific rules about Hollywood, one of those being that she will absolutely not date actors! She will, however, take a chance on love and date one of the executives at her company. When Maddy discovers that her beloved hometown of Wolf County is in financial trouble and her parents may have to sell their ski resort and move because of the economy, she concocts an idea for a reality show that could solve all of their problems. However she makes the mistake of involving boyfriend Craig in the project and when he turns out not to be the stand-up guy that Maddy thought, can she still manage to pull off selling her show?

Confusing matters is the fact that Maddy seems to be falling for Adam Devin, one of the new actors on the drama that she works on, despite her rule about not dating actors. As Maddy works her day job, tries to save her hometown from inevitable financial ruin, and tries to resist Adam's advances, she learns that sometimes she has to let go in order to grow as a person.

I haven't read Alison Sweeney's debut novel yet, and I didn't even realize that some of the characters in it reappeared in Scared Scriptless until after I was done reading! It definitely reads as a stand-alone novel, which is great for those who only have the opportunity to read one or the other. Reading it was an enjoyable experience. The writing was surprisingly good. Somehow Alison Sweeney has managed to become a triple threat- she can act, she can host The Biggest Loser, and she can write! Had I not known that she was the person writing it, I would not have not have guessed. There have been times that I have read books written by a celebrity and been unimpressed with the writing but this was not the case with Scared Scriptless! The plot was interesting and this book offered a fascinating look into what happens behind-the-scenes of a TV drama! I'm absolutely positive that Alison's extensive television experience lent a lot of authenticity to Maddy's experiences.

There were a few little things that bothered me about Scared Scriptless. My primary complaint was with Maddy, the main character. I liked her in a lot of ways, but in other ways she was just too timid and she had absolutely no confidence in herself or in her abilities. It was hard at times to stand behind a character that didn't believe that her ideas had any validity. I kept waiting for Maddy to start standing up for herself but it didn't really happen in the way that I was hoping. Another small complaint that I had was that the final quarter just wrapped up too neatly. I love a happy ending, but some of the ways that Sweeney chose to conclude the book seemed unrealistic, especially for Hollywood!

Despite the small things that I didn't love, Scared Scriptless was a great book and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is curious about Hollywood and what happens behind the scenes. Those parts of the book were a lot of fun! I hope to go back and read Alison Sweeney's previous book, The Star Attraction, because I would love to know more about the handsome Billy and his background! He was definitely one of my favourite characters even though we don't get to see him as much as I would like in this book. This light read will be the perfect addition to your beach bag this summer! My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: "All Fall Down" by Jennifer Weiner

Allison Weiss is doing it all- she's holding down a demanding job that will only become more so as her blog's brand expands, parenting an overly sensitive young child, running the household and helping to care for her aged father with dementia. She juggles so many balls at one time that she is constantly teetering on the edge of dropping one or another- if she's a good parent she's not being a good employee, and so on. Allison finds herself coping with the overwhelming business of getting through the day by taking a pill once or twice a day. As the pill dissolves Allison feels some of her anxiety slipping away as well. As Allison continues to add things to her to-do list she finds herself taking more and more pills just to get through a few hours, a few days. As her addiction rapidly spirals out of control Allison finds herself on the brink of losing everything that she holds dear and she must decide what lengths that she will go to in order to get well again.

All Fall Down was everything that I have come to expect from Jennifer Weiner. It was gripping and thought-provoking and it was a reflection of everything that goes on in society today. Weiner exposed a different side of addiction within these pages. We often view addiction in a "Breaking Bad' style- that drug addictions aren't something that affects the middle class, the moms with jobs and husbands and two-point-two children, but only affects scary looking people in seedy motels and out on the streets. These days addictions are becoming more prevalent, and All Fall Down is an incredibly timely story. For someone who doesn't have a drug addiction of her own, Weiner really takes us inside of Allison's head. I found myself feeling Allison's desperation for her next pill come out from the pages, and as her addiction spirals out of control and she becomes desperate for her next fix I could feel her panic set in.

It was funny how much I found myself relating to Allison. Despite the fact that I don't have a drug or alcohol addition I found myself agreeing with much of how she feels. I believe that the modern woman juggles too much on a daily basis- kids, husbands, jobs, the household. The strength of a modern woman often amazes me. We are expected to be fit and pretty and good moms and wives and we are expected to contribute to the household income on top of all of that. It's easy to see how addiction could stem from all of these pressures and demands and I think that Weiner painted an accurate picture of today's modern woman.

All Fall Down is perhaps grittier than some of Jennifer Weiner's previous books but I thought that it was one of her best to date. She doesn't shy away from a topic that is difficult yet she treats it with the respect that it deserves. I found it impossible to tear myself away from the story because I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. I was satisfied with the ending and found it fitting for the story. I'm already impatient for Weiner's next release! My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book for review.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: "Best Supporting Role" by Sue Margolis

It's an unpleasant coincidence that Sarah Green's husband dies shortly after she finds out about his out-of-control gambling problem and decides to divorce him. Not only does she find herself a suddenly single mother, but she has to deal with his outstanding debt and her unresolved feelings for her late husband as well.

When Sarah's favourite aunt dies and leaves Sarah her once thriving but currently struggling lingerie store, she finds her suppressed love for fashion rising once again to the surface. Despite objections from her friends and family Sarah decides to make a go of running the shop herself, even in the face of the risk to her financial well-being.

As Sarah struggles with her new venture, her feelings about her late husband, and her new feelings for a very attractive man, she finds that sometimes in life you do have to take risks in order to have your own happy ending.

Best Supporting Role is the first book by Sue Margolis that I have read, but it wont be the last! My friend Melissa A. over at Chick Lit Central has been raving about her ever since we began e-mailing each other a few years ago, and I've been meaning to pick up one of her books for a while! Best Supporting Role did not disappoint. Our main character Sarah Green is endearing and she's easy to relate to so I'm sure that I won't be the only reader who connects with her in some way. I appreciated her perseverance in spite of the difficulties that life throws her way and it shows us that women can kick butt in ways that are unexpected!

The book was an interesting reflection on risks. Margolis examines risk-taking from several different perspectives, and I appreciated that secondary theme. I definitely understood what the author was getting at- it's important for us to take risks in life, even if they don't pay off because we could possibly learn something, although there has to be a limit to how much you will risk.

I was happy to have the opportunity to read Best Supporting Role. I enjoyed the stories of the main characters as well as the secondary ones, and I especially enjoyed watching Sarah's relationship with her mother develop and grow. This book will make a great vacation read! It's quick and light yet satisfying at the same time! My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: "The House At Mermaid Point" by Wendy Wax

The women from Ten Beach Road and Ocean Beach are back! Maddie, Avery, Nikki, Kyra, and Deirdre have been sent to renovate yet another run down house for their fledgling reality TV series, only this time their host is less than welcoming! William "The Wild" Hightower, former rock star and heartthrob, is fresh out of rehab and he can think of nothing less appealing than having his island home in the Florida Keys overrun by strangers. William's son and the TV network have decided that his home needs to be turned into a bed and breakfast in order for William to continue to be able to pay the bills.

As the women continue working on the home despite their reluctant host's objections, they encounter difficulties in both their personal lives and their love lives but somehow they will manage to stick together no matter what obstacles they face!

After reading two books and one short story about the women from Ocean Beach, reading an additional story in the series feels like I'm reading about old friends! The emphasis this time was on Maddie and her personal growth and I was glad that she was the focus. Maddie is one of my favourite characters in the series, quite possibly because I relate to her the most. She has always been the glue that has held their unusual group together but she has also been portrayed as being the weakest member of the group. In The House At Mermaid Point she really comes into her own strength and she develops a fabulous backbone! I enjoyed watching her come out of her shell. There is some emphasis on Avery and Deirdre in the book but Nikki faded into the background a little in this one and I hope that there will be some additional focus on her in future stories.

I also appreciated the romance in this novel! I won't tell you who is romantic with whom but the romance was really fun and I was pleased with how things ultimately turned out.

I'll be honest, though, the concluding chapters of The House At Mermaid Point disappointed me. As I was running out of pages to read I realized that the book had yet to reach its climax and I couldn't figure out what the conflict would be. As the conflict was revealed I found myself feeling that it was too abrupt. It came on without warning and was resolved too quickly. It almost felt like it was thrown in there for the sake of creating drama and that didn't work for me.

Despite my disappointment with some of the concluding scenes I enjoyed reading The House on Mermaid Point and I already can't wait for the next book in the series! I wonder where this unique group of women can go from here, and reading about them feels like reading about people that I actually know. This book would make an excellent addition to your beach bag this summer and I thank the publisher for providing me with a copy for review!