Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The First Husband

The First Husband, by Laura Dave.

I wanted to argue that that wasn't true - that I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be with Griffin, and make my life work here. I wanted to stay. But in my head, my admittedly bourbon-soaked head, Griffin came out as Nick. So I knew saying the rest out loud was probably not the wisest move right then.

"But consider this," Jesse said, picking the bourbon back up, "maybe you aren't in this position because you forgot yourself, but because you started getting honest about who you really might be."

Before I could say anything to that, Jesse tilted the bourbon my way.

"Welcome to the deep end," he said.

This novel deals with a break-up and then a rebound guy - who soon turns into a husband. Annie Adams has been dating Nick for the past five years, but now he's dumped her to pursue a woman from his past. Annie is devastated, and she heads out to the nearest bar, where she meets Griffin, a chef. They date for three months and then he proposes to her, and she accepts. Griffin is about to move to western Massachusetts to open his own restaurant, which is fine with Annie since she is a travel writer, and therefore can write from anywhere. When she is downsized, however, and Nick wants her back, she must decide if she's cut out for the "rural" life, or if she should move back to L.A. and be with Nick.

The characters are very "real" in this novel and the writing is great too. I had heard of the book and had been wanting to read it for some time now, so I was excited when I saw that NetGalley had it listed. The novel takes a subject that has been overdone, in some cases, and puts a new spin on it, and I very much enjoyed reading it. I had not heard of Laura Dave previous to reading The First Husband, but I will most definitely be reading her other books, London is the Best City in America and The Divorce Party, sometime soon.

4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley to review. The opinions expressed, however, are my own.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Unbreak My Heart

Unbreak my Heart, by Melissa Walker.

I wasn't always such a downer. Up until, like, two weeks ago, I was Clementine Williams, happy and upbeat and kind of hilarious, if I do say so myself. But that was before everything exploded in my face. Now I'm Clementine Williams, outcast. And that's on a good day.

Melissa Walker's books have been compared to Susane Colasanti's, an author whose novels I really like, so I was excited to read this book; however, although the story was overall a good read, I like Colasanti's novels better.

Clementine is NOT excited to go sailing with her parents and sister, Olive, this summer, because of events that transpired during the school year. She no longer has a best friend, or any friends, really, because of something that she didn't really do but wanted to, and her best friend Amanda now hates her. When Clem meets James, however, another teenager sailing with over the summer with his dad, he sees her for what she is - a decent person - and they become fast friends, and soon more than that. Clementine must reconcile her past actions with who she actually is, and realize that one action doesn't always define you as a person.

Clem's best friend was Amanda, who was a "serial dater" - she would date guys without a break in between. When they meet a new guy at school, Ethan, Amanda immediately decides to go for him, even though Clem finds herself more and more attracted to him; however, when everything blows up in Clem's face, and Amanda immediately jumps to the conclusion that they had been messing around (which they had, emotionally-speaking, but they hadn't actually kissed or done anything), she abandons Clem as her BFF. When Clementine finally has an internet connection (they leave the boat and go into town), she logs onto Facebook for the first time all summer and sees Ethan still hanging with "her" friends, and that Amanda has unfriended her, but is continuing to date Ethan.

I really REALLY disliked both Amanda and Ethan as characters - Ethan because he's a tool (he told Amanda that it was Clem who had been hitting on him and he wasn't reciprocating, which was false) and Amanda because she would abandon Clem so easily after being friends since their childhoods. Amanda goes so far as to send Clem a Facebook message with the title "BITCH" in it, which says something like "I was really hurt by what you did to me." I agree that Clem should not have been hanging out with Ethan as much as she did, but ... she probably should have found some new friends if they are going to abandon her that easily.

Other than that, though, the book is a quick read, and fans of the YA genre will most likely enjoy it.

3 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a galley of this book from NetGalley to review. The opinions expressed, however, are my own.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.

The Unfinished Life of Elizabeth D., by Nichole Bernier.

This would be the first time they would be getting together with the children but without Elizabeth. Kate and Chris hadn't brought James and Piper when they came up for the funeral, a maudlin affair made worse by the baby in the front row drooling and pinwheeling her arms at the photo of her mother on an easel. Now the kids would be playing together like old times, but for the adults, all the roles would be unfamiliar. Dave would be host and hostess, Kate just a polite guest in the kitchen. He might jiggle the baby on one hip as he composed plates and poured small cups of milk, and Kate would offer help, trying not to sound as if she questioned his competence. She would have to be social glue for the men, who had only ever come together because of their wives, and someone would have to take the lead with the kids. We don't throw sand at our friends, and It's time to take turns with the backhoe. That had been Elizabeth's job.

It had all been Elizabeth's job.

This book is one of the best I have read recently. When Elizabeth Martin, wife and mother to three young children, suddenly dies in a plane crash on her way to New Mexico for a painting retreat, the news is devastating to all who knew her. In her will, she leaves everything to her husband, Dave, except for a stack of old journals in an antique trunk, which she leaves to her friend Kate, with a note staying "Start at the beginning." Details emerged that she was going to New Mexico to meet someone named Michael, and Dave is worried she was cheating on him; perhaps even leaving the family behind. Wanting to honor Elizabeth's wishes, however, Kate starts reading the journals at the beginning, which start when Elizabeth was a child, and she finds that the person she knew - the cheerful woman adept at being a mother - is not always how Elizabeth was; she had to work hard to get to that point.

The writing in the novel is flawless, though it's not the easiest to get through because it's so detailed. There are a few books I've read that are so good that you forget they are fiction, because they seem real, and this book definitely qualifies. Through reading the journals, we see Kate's neuroses and we peek into her past as well, and we see how she too transitioned from girlfriend, to wife, to mother. The novel also shows us that as much as we think we might know someone, everyone has their secrets, and they aren't always revealed to us until the very end.

 The Unfinished Life of Elizabeth D. will be in stores on June 5th. 4.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed, however, are my own.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Blackwood, by Gwenda Bond.

Phillips wanted to tell her that she never had to do anything for the people she was talking about, that they didn't deserve her consideration. His gram's words stopped him. His family was sworn to protect the island, and that meant the people who lived on it too. His mother and father were among that number. No one deserved to have their life hijacked by alchemists from beyond the grave.

I was recently told of a site called NetGalley, and this is the first galley I received from the site. Blackwood is loosely based on the Roanoke Island incidents, where colonists randomly disappeared, and now the same thing has happened in present day. Miranda's father is one of the missing, but when the missing people return, they find him murdered in an alleyway. Miranda and her friend Phillips, returned from boarding school because of the incident, must find out what happened to him, and also deal with some freaky stuff that's happening at the same time to the townspeople.

I don't know much about the Roanoke incident but this book was interesting. Miranda has never been able to leave the island, and she never knew why, until now; at the same time, Phillips never knew why he used to hear voices in his head - the reason he left the island and went to boarding school in Kentucky, where the voices have been silenced. The townspeople put on a play each year about the incident, which is why Miranda has some knowledge of the events, and what happens in present-day on Roanoke is eerily similar to the play.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Blackwood will be in stores on September 4, 2012.

*Disclosure: I received a galley of this book from NetGalley to review. The opinions expressed, however, are my own.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I Never Promised You a Goody Bag

I Never Promised You a Goody Bag: A Memoir of Life Through Events - the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don't, by Jennifer Gilbert.

I lived on the energy output of my pure defiance. No longer was I the dimply, happy-go-lucky nice girl from the suburbs. No longer was I the messy procrastinator who flew by the seat of her pants. No longer did I take it as an article of faith that everything would be fine. The new Jen didn't take anything for granted. I was fierce and on top of things - I was type A-plus-plus. I faced down all opposition - the attacker and anyone else in the world who tried to tell me that I couldn't do everything that I set my mind to. I looked them all in the eye, I thrust my shoulders back, and I said, You picked the wrong girl.

I Never Promised You a Goody Bag is about Jennifer Gilbert, who lived a relatively normal life until she was 22 years old. She had just returned from London, and was trying to make a new life for herself in NYC, when she went to visit a friend. She accidentally got off at the wrong subway stop, and she backtracked until she found her friend's apartment building. While ringing the doorbell, she saw a 250-pound man coming down the hall towards her, and he started to attack her with a screwdriver. Her friend opened the door and saw this happening, and immediately closed it and got help.

Later, she was to find out that the man had followed her from the subway, and had targeted her to attack; as to why, she did not know. He was later convicted of attempted murder and sent to jail, but it took Jennifer a long time to recover from both the wounds and the mental pain of being targeted and attacked like that.

Meanwhile, she was running her own party planning business in NYC, called Save The Date, and she put on a mask and rarely told any of her friends or employees about the attack. She thought this is what it would take for her to get past it.

This story had many layers and kept me interested until the very end. Jennifer details her life pre- and post-attack, and said how her relationships with her family and friends changed afterwards. She also talks about her company, what it was like to date and trust men after the attack, and who she eventually ended up with and the three children they now have together. The title of the book, too, is very apropos to both her party planning business and life in general - life is hard and there are lots of obstacles to overcome, i.e., a "goody bag" is never promised.

4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Kingdom Keepers V: Shell Game

Kingdom Keepers V: Shell Game, by Ridley Pearson.

Finn wasn't about to get back to sleep. He tiptoed into the kitchen and made himself a strong cup of tea to help him stay awake. Tiptoed because he didn't want to wake his supportive mother or his doubting father; didn't want to hear them bicker about how to deal with their oddball son who claimed to travel into other worlds at night. His mother knew the truth. A scientist by training, she'd put together enough empirical evidence to convince herself. Finn's father was the exact opposite. He believed his son hormonally imbalanced, "poisoned by puberty," he called it. He wanted Finn to see a counselor - a shrink - to exorcise whatever demons possessed his son into convincing himself that he could wake as a hologram in another world where evil witches vied for control of an amusement park.

I had never heard of the Kingdom Keepers series before reading this book, but the concept behind it is quite interesting. All of the Disney witches and evil characters of lore become real at night, and they are trying to destroy the Disney parks; it is up to Finn and his friends, as DHIs, to protect the parks. To protect themselves from harm, they enter the parks as holograms - so that their actual bodies are safe in their beds. With the new advanced 2.0 program, they are able to use this even more to their advantage, and the only way they themselves can be harmed is if they become fearful, turning their bodies real again.

Crazy concept, right? But it works, as you can see, because this is the fifth book in the series. I had not read any of the previous books, so I liked that the novel explained a bit about the DHI concept to its new readers, as the excerpt at the top shows, although I've heard that to fully appreciate this book, you should really start from the beginning of the series. This end of this novel, too, definitely sets up a sixth book, which was a little disappointing because the book ended so abruptly, with the DHIs on board the Disney Dream cruise ship fighting the Overtakers, the evil Disney characters that come to life at night. With real people dressed up as the characters aboard the ship too, it is often hard for the DHIs to tell the people from the villains, though it's of course the villains that try to harm or kill the DHIs.

Shell Game clocks in at a lengthy 544 pages, so I'm not sure if I will be reading the full series soon (the first book is about 350 pages as well, according to Amazon), but if I ever have more free time, I may return to the series.

3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed, however, are my own.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Rock Star's Daughter

The Rock Star's Daughter, by Caitlyn Duffy.

Having a mother who has one foot in the entertainment industry and spends the majority of her time milling around the house and ordering stuff on QVC isn't really that rare for Los Angeles. But I would consider my life to be abnormal because of my dad.

My biological father is a rock star.

We recently got a Kindle Fire for my family (my dad actually won it), and although I'm sort of "against" e-readers - I find having a "real" book while I read to be much nicer, though for people that travel/commute a lot an e-reader is nice to have - one of the first things I did when we got the Fire was log on to the Amazon bookstore to see if I could find any free books. One of the first ones I found was this one, and I soon found myself hooked and wanting to see what happens to the main character, Taylor.

Taylor's dad is Chase Atwood, one of the most famous musicians in the world. However, she doesn't know him very well, because she lives with her mother in L.A., and his home base is New Jersey. When her mom dies of an overdose, though, he is the closest thing she has to family, and she gets to tour with the band over the summer. She also gets to know Jill, her stepmom, and Kelsey, her young half-sister, better, and eventually they start to grow on her. Taylor also meets Jake, whose mom is a groupie, and starts to hang out with him more and more as well.

This book is the first book in the Treadwell series (Treadwell being the name of Taylor's prestigious boarding school in Massachusetts that she attends), and it's currently FREE (e-version for Kindle) on Amazon. The second book in the series, which follows a different Treadwell girl, is called The Believer's Daughter and Amazon has it for $1.99, so I might "invest" in that at some point too.

I liked this novel a lot. My only complaint is that towards the end, it started to wander a bit, but you could chalk this up to the author just wanting to wrap up all the plots in it, I suppose. Taylor's relationship with Jake surprised me too, or at least how things ended up being left off, but I think Taylor made the right choice with that. It was funny, too, how all of her friends in L.A. assumed she was having such a glamorous summer, whereas most days she just got to stay in the hotel and/or attend her dad's concerts, but she didn't get much time to explore the cities that the tour took them too, for the most part.

4 stars out of 5.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Dirt, by David Vann.

Galen lay down in the hollow between two furrows, curled on his side. Breathing heavily, wet with sweat, the air cool now on his skin. His forehead in the dirt. The world only an illusion. This orchard, the long rows of trees, only a psychic space to hold the illusion of self and memory. His grandfather giving him rides on the old green tractor, the putting sound of the engine. His grandfather's Panama hat, brown shirt, smell of wine on his breath, Riesling. The feel of the tractor tugging forward, the lurch as the front wheels crossed over a furrow. All of that a training to feel the margins of things, the slipping, none of it real. The only problem was how to slip now beyond the edges of the dream. The dirt really felt like dirt.

This book took me a while to get though. Galen is a hard character to understand - he is constantly telling his family that he is an "old soul" and that they are "young souls" - and about the only thing that gets him excited in life, both literally and figuratively, is his 17-year-old cousin, Jennifer, who is much more experienced sexually than he is. His grandfather, who was abusive, is deceased, and his grandmother, who seems to be in the early stages of dementia, is in a nursing home. His mother is "at once domineering and needy," and has guilted Galen into not going to college to stay home and "play house" with her, for the most part. The two of them and his aunt, cousin, and grandmother go to a family cabin and Galen gets to have sex with Jennifer, who is bored and likes to play around with his mind.

When they get back to their respective houses, Galen's mother, who saw them having sex, threatens to call the police and get Galen sent to jail, since he is 22 and she is 17; it would be rape and possibly incest, she says. Galen will not let this happen and locks his mother in a shed on their property. Over the next few days, their relationship slowly dissolves, and Galen has to decide if he wants her to die in the shed or if he should save her life.

I didn't really like this book at all, but I will admit that I didn't see the shed twist coming. On other reviews on Amazon.com, most of them are positive, and the novel is compared to a Greek tragedy; indeed, the press release that arrived with the book calls it "a modern-day Greek tragedy with echoes of Flannery O'Connor, William Faulker, and Cormac McCarthy." David Vann, too, is the author of many books, and he has an MFA from Cornell and writes for various magazines as well. It could be that others will like Dirt, but I just couldn't get into Galen's mind - it's very "trippy" in there - and except for the surprise of him locking up his mother, and the ensuing consequences, the novel was unable to keep my interest.

1.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

You Have No Idea

You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-Nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other, by Vanessa Williams and Helen Williams, with Irene Zutell.

I know who Vanessa Williams is (I should know, as an entertainment blogger), but what I did not know about her is that she is so multifaceted. She started off as a beauty queen, and then, when a "scandal" about her came out, she was forced to resign from her Miss America position. Vanessa then started a career as a recording artist, and from there she moved on to Broadway; after that, she became involved in films and TV.

You Have No Idea is written by her and her mother, Helen Williams, along with Irene Zutell, and I was surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it. It mostly focuses on Vanessa, but we get a bit of Helen's background as well, along with her opinions and reactions to some of the events in Vanessa's life. The tone of the book, which was probably purposefully written this way, is more of a conversation between friends; it really draws the reader into the novel and Vanessa's life.

We follow Vanessa from when she was a little girl, always dancing and singing, through her pageant days, through the so-called "scandal," where naked photos of her from when she was a teenager surfaced. She quickly turned to singing, and then from there got a lucky break and became a Broadway star. Readers of this blog might also know her from TV's Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives, where she had supporting roles on both shows. I've never seen either show but I may watch a few episodes of Ugly Betty in the near future just to see her role in it, since it is talked about a lot throughout the novel.

3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I read this book for the BlogHer Book Club and was compensated for doing so. However, the opinions expressed here are my own.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An Uncommon Education

An Uncommon Education, by Elizabeth Percer.

After several hours had passed of her being uncomplaining but displeased, she asked me about my plans now that my caregiver role had ended. I told her I intended to attend the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UMass with the goal of conducting medical research in neurofibromatosis and she shook her fine head.

"They used to say that girls went to Wellesley to make a difference in the world. It was your motto or something. Have you done that? Made a difference? Do you intend to? Her face was open and curious, if not harsh. It was the most direct exchange we had ever had.

"No," I answered. "I don't think I have. Or will."

She nodded, accepting my answer. "Your mother was the same way. Could have had an uncommonly good education, but she had other ideas. Perhaps if you had been a boy you would have done more with your potential," she remarked.

"I have had a good education," I said. "And now that I'm doing what I want with it, it's also uncommon."

An Uncommon Education, out in stores today, is the first novel of author Elizabeth Percer, and in the blurb I received, it was being compared to Prep, one of my favorite books, so I was excited to read it. Unfortunately, it takes a more meandering approach, though curiously almost skipping the main character's high school years, and I only found it vaguely similar to Prep and other books of its genre.

Naomi Feinstein lives with her mother and father, and is best friends with the boy next door, Teddy. When Teddy's father dies and he and his strict Orthodox mother move away, her world collapses. Her father has had a heart attack too, and she decides that she is going to become a doctor and study hearts; this choice will go on to define her high school and college years. Rose Kennedy, one of her idols, had said that she wished she had went to Wellesley, and since Naomi also lives in Massachusetts, she sets Wellesley as her goal college. Once she actually arrives there, however, she has problems fitting in at first, and she joins Shakes, the secret Shakespeare society on campus; another choice that will end up defining her time at Wellesley.

This book was interesting in that at some points in it, I was fascinated by Naomi and her character; and at other points, unfortunately, the prose seemed rather verbose and I was just trying to get through the novel. The author herself attended Wellesley, which we can divine from the very detailed descriptions of the campus buildings and the aura surrounding the campus itself, and the writing itself was overall very good. I liked Naomi as a person, but at the same time I was frustrated with some of the choices that she made. I also was thinking that she and Teddy would reunite romantically some day, and they do reunite in her senior year of college; however, there is a twist regarding this.

3 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed, however, are my own.

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