Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Crossing the Pond to London with Jane Green and "Summer Secrets"

The first scene that stood out for me when reading Summer Secrets was the scene when our protagonist, Catherine Coombs, better known as Cat, encounters a partially full bottle of vodka in her kitchen cupboards. She is instantly swept away in a tidal wave of memories- memories of her old life, as well as memories about the things that she encountered on the way to rock bottom.
In 1998 Cat was single, working as a journalist, and absolutely broke. She survived by hitting the PR events and eating the free food and hitting up the open bars. Night after night was spent drunkenly stumbling from one event to the next, often with no memory of the night before on the morning after. Cat figured that she was only going to be young once, so it wasn't that big a deal.

Fast forward to 2014 and Cat, having traveled down the long and treacherous path of alcohol addiction, is in recovery, and she has been for some time. Although she managed to lose her husband and almost lose her daughter, Cat is on the path towards lasting recovery. However there are two people that she needs to make amends to- her half sisters who are living in Nantucket. Cat needs to apologize for something that she did wrong many years ago, but will Cat be welcomed with open arms or will she be turned away?

Summer Secrets drew me in from the first page. Cat is a flawed character, but a sympathetic one nonetheless. She is finally coming to terms with the scope of her addition and is making a lasting change. The reader can sense her sincerity, and we know that Cat is truly going to stay sober this time. Cat's story is told through a variety of flashbacks, which I appreciated. We don't just get to know Cat as a recovering alcoholic, but we get to see her in her past as a young woman, as well as a person with a very serious addiction. This helped us to understand her story.

I didn't enjoy Summer Secrets as much as some of Jane Green's previous books but I did enjoy it all the same! I had one small issue with the book which changed my rating from a five-star to a four-star. I felt that Cat's alcohol addiction was cliched at times. It felt like Green took every cliche about alcohol addiction and threw it all together to create Cat's problem. It didn't feel like there was anything truly unique about her situation. I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness of alcohol addiction, I'm trying to do the exact opposite in fact. Cat's struggle seemed generic at times, and I kept waiting for something more personal to emerge. Having met alcoholics and recovering alcoholics in the past I know that their stories and journey's are more than just a generic collection of events.

Jane Green's writing in Summer Secrets is as eloquent as always, a treat for any reader of women's fiction to look forward to! Jane Green's stories have long been a must-read for me, and this one is no exception. It would make an excellent addition to your beach bag this summer as it's light but not saccharine sweet and I'm already looking forward to her future books! My thanks to the publisher as well as BookSparks PR for providing me with this review copy.

Monday, June 15, 2015

"If You're Not The One" by Jemma Forte

Jennifer Wright has a life that is the envy of most- a loving husband, two lovely daughters, and a home in the suburbs. Husband Max may not be perfect, but he does love her. Jennifer has found, though, that lately the pressures of work and their home life have pulled her and Max apart from one another, and that their relationship is more strained than ever.

After a disastrous attempt to rekindle their flame, Jennifer gets into a life-threatening accident and she finds herself in a coma. This isn't just any coma, though, it is one that allows her to see what her life would have ended up like if she had stayed with some of her ex-boyfriends. Would she have been rich? Would she have had different children? Would she have traveled? As Jennifer's subconscious explores the various paths that her life could have taken had she made different decisions, it retains some of the information that she finds out. When she wakes up she finds that she now has the gift of hindsight. Will she stay with her husband, who loves her but is perhaps no longer her ideal match, or will she pursue paths as yet unexplored?

If You're Not The One is an interesting exploration of the question "what if?". What if you took a different path in life? What if different decisions were made? Where would you be now? While in a coma, Jennifer finds her subconscious exploring all of these different options, the different places that her life could have led. To be honest, I found most of the options to be quite grim. Not one of the men that she could have ended up with seemed to be the right one for her, and as such I was expecting a different conclusion. To be honest, I was disappointed with the abrupt way that the story ended. We as readers are left with far more questions than we are given the answers to. Perhaps this is what the author intended, though. Life is not black and white. There are always going to be grey areas and an abundance of "what ifs?". That is what saved the story for me. It was realistic. I doubt that there is one person who doesn't have at least one question about how their lives could have been different in some way, if not in their relationships than in their career or friendships. Jemma Forte skillfully explores the fact that our lives are made up of a series of individual choices, made day by day.

While the story moves around quite a bit, time-wise, I didn't find that it bothered me. It was clear to me who Jennifer was with at the time of that part of the story. The writing was good, the plot very interesting, and although I failed to connect with the main character, Jennifer, and the conclusion is not the sort that I usually enjoy (too many loose ends), I did find myself enjoying If You're Not The One and wanting to read more of Jemma Forte's books in the future. My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Drinking in Sonoma Wine Country With "Eight Hundred Grapes" by Laura Dave

Georgia Ford has always known Sonoma wine country as home- in her case home is where her family's vineyard is. So when she finds out her fiance Ben has been hiding a secret from her that is nothing short of explosive, she heads home without a second thought. With less than eight days until her wedding Georgia needs to find out of she can forgive Ben and move ahead with the wedding or if she needs to call it all off, and she believes that she can find those answers at home with her mom and dad and two brothers. It turns out that Ben is not the only one who has been hiding things. Arriving home Georgia discovers that everyone has their secrets and that some may be too major for them to forget about and just move on.

I've been excited about this book for quite some time. I've been a huge fan of Laura Dave's books since the beginning and I can never quite wait for her next release to come out. As many readers will understand, one of the worst parts about finishing a book that you've loved is knowing that the author won't have another book for you to devour for quite a while! That was how I felt after reading Eight Hundred Grapes. I loved it, I didn't want to put it down, and I especially didn't want it to end.

Eight Hundred Grapes was engaging from beginning to end for me. The plot was enticing and I really couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. The character development was second to none. I enjoyed getting to know all of the characters, and not just our main character, Georgia. I enjoyed getting to know Georgia's mom and dad, as well as her brothers. I especially loved that Laura Dave inserted a few well-placed flashbacks so that we understand Georgia's parents better, as well as the history of the family vineyard. Issues such as fidelity, sibling rivalry, and finding one's place in the world are raised and deftly dealt with.

My favorite part of the book, though, and the part that, for me, set Eight Hundred Grapes above many of the other books that I've read, was the unpredictability. As a fan of a certain type of book I have come to expect a certain kind of ending, and can often see the ending coming a mile away. That's okay with me, and I quite enjoy it, but every so often a book keeps me guessing and this one was one of them. Laura Dave didn't go with the typical happy ending, but instead went with the realistic happy ending. Everything didn't turn out exactly as planned, but everything turned out nonetheless.

Engaging, impossible to put down, and thoroughly readable, Eight Hundred Grapes has rocketed to the top of my "must-read" list for summer. My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy, and to BookSparks PR for inviting me to participate in the BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge 2015!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"7 Years Bad Sex" by Nicky Wells

When rock singer Casey and drummer Alex get married on a beautiful yacht surrounded by their closest friends and family, the night is picture perfect. Their maid of honour surprises them with a beautiful display in the sky, the food is great, and the atmosphere breathtaking. There's only one problem- after the wedding Casey and Alex find themselves unable to consummate their marriage. Despite having *ahem* consummated their relationship many times prior to the wedding suddenly they are unable to do the deed, and it's driving them- and everyone around them- crazy.

When they hear about a seven years bad sex curse it sounds bizarre, but as time goes on and the two are unable to make love despite having tried every trick in the book (some less advisable than others) the curse theory starts gaining some ground. Are Casey and Alex doomed forever or can they find a way to break the curse and stay married?

I've read every one of Nicky Wells' books to date, and I think that 7 Years Bad Sex may be my favourite to date! It was playful and fun, and the wacky scenarios just didn't stop! Before reading this book I hadn't imagined there were so many ways that a couple could fail at having sex! Somehow Casey and Alex manage to try- and fail- at having sex over and over again. As their frustration mounts they resort to trying increasingly risky things in order to successfully do the deed and when none of them work they are left wondering if they can stay married. After all, what's marriage without sex? This is an interesting question for us, as readers, to ponder. Casey and Alex are very happy together prior to their marriage, and even in the beginning of their marriage despite the first few failed attempts at having sex. However as time wears on they find themselves increasingly frustrated and disappointed with one another, raising the question can you be happy in a relationship without sex?

I loved the character development in 7 Years Bad Sex. Nicky has created characters that I wanted to read about, and that I liked very much. Casey was my favourite, as I felt like I could relate to her the most, but I liked Alex as well, and I liked all of the supporting characters. My affection for the couple and their friends only made me feel worse for them as time went on and their frustration levels increased!

Fun and romantic, with a touch of rock and roll, 7 Years Bad Sex is a lighthearted look at what happens to one newlywed couple when they are unable to consummate their marriage - I couldn't put it down! I will be recommending this one to anyone looking for a laugh-out-loud read, and I thank the author for providing me with a review copy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Hitting the Streets of New York City with "The Balance Project" by Susie Orman Schnall!

Katherine Whitney is skilled at maintaining the illusion that she is balancing it all. She is the COO of a multi-billion dollar health and wellness company, a wife, and a mother to two girls yet somehow she manages to juggle volunteering, helping out at the girl's school and being there for bedtimes. She's the author of a bestselling book heralding the relative ease with which you can have it all, but those closest to Katherine know how close she is to losing her cool. She only manages with the help of a team of nannies, a driver, a housekeeper, and her loyal assistant Lucy, who assists in keeping all of Katherine's balls balanced in the air.

When Katherine does something underhanded to Lucy, Lucy must decide if she wishes to continue working for her, or if she should take measures that will change both of their lives forever.

I enjoyed The Balance Project for so many reasons. The topic of the book is what really made it a stand out for me. Author Susie Orman Schnall clearly did her homework in regards to what counts as "balancing" one's life, and how hard balance can be to truly achieve. As an incredibly busy mom myself who balances working a 48-hours-a-week job, maintaining a household, raising three boys and having a reading habit, I could relate to everything that these women were doing and feeling. I wish that I had the help that main character Katherine had, and I appreciated the fact that the author truly understood the plight of real women everywhere, and that she made it a point to work these contrasts between working moms with help and working moms without help into her plot. Another plus about The Balance Project is that there is not an underlying theme that implies that women should stay home with their kids in order to be good moms. While that would be the ideal situation for many mothers such as myself, many of us truly have to work and we don't need additional guilt piled on us for that fact. The Balance Project has a great message, and it's one that I need to remember more often: balance isn't about doing everything perfectly, it is about doing your best with what you have to work with. It's a message that is especially valid in today's day and age.

My only wish is that the book had been written from Katherine's perspective. While I understood why the author chose to write it from her assistant Lucy's perspective I think that writing the story from Katherine's perspective could have shown the reader a different side of things. I would have even liked if it was written from both women's perspectives.

The Balance Project is a well-written and insightful book, especially relevant in the times that we live in when women are busier than ever. The characters all had something unique to bring to the story and the underlying message is something that we should all take to heart. I look forward to reading books by this author in the future and I thank BookSparks PR for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest review.

Are you participating in the BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge? If not, you're missing out! There are fantastic books to be read and prizes to be won! Check it out here!

Enjoying the Bustle of Manhattan with "Wishful Thinking" by Kami Wicoff!

Who among us doesn't wish that they could be in more than one place at a time?

Divorced mother-of-two Jennifer Sharpe is burning the candle at both ends. Working a job with incredible demands on her time, sleeping on the sofa bed in her tiny apartment because her ex-husband is "pursuing his acting career" and not paying support, and left with little time for her children or a social life, she often wishes that she could be in more than one place at a time. When she loses her phone one night and finds it outside of her apartment door the next morning with a mysterious new app installed called "Wishful Thinking", Jennifer finds that she can do just that. With the help of her app-creating neighbor, physicist Dr. Diane Sexton, suddenly Jennifer is able to work until 8 pm every night and be home with her children in the evening at the same time. Jennifer is living the dream, even able to pursue a relationship with her son's handsome and charismatic guitar teacher in thanks to the app's time travel properties, but then the realities of time travel start to make themselves knows to her. She finds herself exhausted much of the time, unable to remember important details about friends, and she finds herself aging more quickly due to the multiple times that she lives each hour of each day. She, along with her best friend, know that she needs to stop using the app. But will Jennifer be able to cope without the app? Will she be able to find a balance that allows her to live happily ever after?

I love the concept of Wishful Thinking and I found myself absorbed in the plot early on. It was hard not to like Jennifer Sharpe. It was clear from the beginning that she adored her two small boys and would do anything for them, but it was also apparent that she had no choice but to work punishing hours in order to support them single-handedly and put food on the table. I think that any working mother, divorced or otherwise, can relate to how Jennifer feels. That is likely why I found myself so taken with this story from the very beginning! I miss the days when I was able to volunteer at my sons' schools or read them an extra chapter or two at night before bed, but being a working parent certainly puts time constraints on day-to-day life. This is likely why I found the app Wishful Thinking such a fun concept. Imagine being able to be in two places at once! Hard at work until 8 pm, while being home with your family at the same time! However as with any good story about time travel, I knew that things would, at some point, go spectacularly wrong. They did, but with an important lesson to go along with the mishaps. Is there such thing as being too much? Doing too much? I believe that there is. We, as women, as mothers, as employees, tend to try to be everywhere at once. We aim for perfection, and we often exhaust and disappoint ourselves in the process. Perhaps it is time for us to step back and just be, to allow ourselves to be the best that we can be, and to remind ourselves that it is ok for us to be less than perfect from time to time. That is what I took away from Wishful Thinking.

I thoroughly enjoyed Wishful Thinking. I enjoyed the writing style, the underlying message, and all of the characters. I enjoyed getting to know Jennifer as well as getting to know her best friend and Dr. Diane Sexton. The characters came alive on the pages and I related to each of them in some way. They were all doing their best to find their own happiness, and I appreciated them for that. While the concept of the time-travel app was fascinating, what I really appreciated was the underlying theme- we are all perfect as we are, and that it is more important for us to find balance in our lives than to burn out trying to do it all. This was a thought-provoking read, and one that I will definitely be recommending.

Are you participating in the BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge? If not, follow along here! You may even win the grand prize!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"I Regret Nothing" by Jen Lancaster

The always funny Jen Lancaster is back with yet another hilarious and starkly honest memoir, and this time she's making sure that she has no regrets! After going on a girls weekend and realizing that she's *gasp* middle-aged, Jen decides to create a bucket list of all the things that she may regret doing if she doesn't get around to doing them soon. From learning how to ride a bicycle to running a marathon to having her tattoo removed, nothing is off limits. The road to having no regrets isn't often smooth, but in this case it's almost always hilarious!

I have yet to meet a book by Jen Lancaster that I didn't love, and I Regret Nothing is not an exception! Witty, bitingly funny, and even thought-provoking at times, I regret not one minute that I spent reading this book. What I loved about this book is that it presents to us the newer, grown-up Jen. She's come a long way from her first books, baby! Although her sense of humour is present throughout, Jen also reflects on more serious topics like the death of her precious dog and losing weight for her health this time! It feels to me like in this book Jen finally started to find herself. She tried new things, with varying degrees of success, and she came to realize who the real Jen is at the end of it all.

I'm a fan of Jen's on social media and one thing that struck me from her Facebook page was a post that she wrote a little while ago. Jen has lost weight since writing I Regret Nothing and her fans have been asking her how she did it. Jen opened up on her Facebook page and told people that she was determined to not give up. She did it one slow, painful step at a time despite some health challenges. I love her even more for that. She's human and she never pretends that what she does is easy, nor does she pretend that her life is perfect. She's the kind of person that I wish I could be BFF's with- her genuine spirit reflects in her words.

It's not a surprise that I loved I Regret Nothing. Funny, enlightening, and even touching at times, it's a book that I couldn't put down. I won't hesitate to pick up anything that Jen writes in the future, even if it's a grocery list! I highly recommend this book and I give my thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy.