Book Review: The Next Thing on My List

The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski (2007)

cover art

Genre: fiction,

I received a digital copy via Smashwords in return for an honest review.

After a car accident in which her passenger, Marissa, dies, June Parker finds herself in possession of a list Marissa has written: “20 Things to Do by My 25th Birthday.” The tasks range from inspiring (run a 5K) to daring (go braless) to near-impossible (change someone’s life). 

To assuage her guilt, June races to achieve each goal herself before the deadline, learning more about her own life than she ever bargained for. (Amazon)

I’d only met her the night she died. 

This book has gotten mixed reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. However, I find it quite interesting that reviewers on Amazon didn’t make the same statements (and lower ratings) than those on Goodreads. I think this is due in large part to Amazon being a consumer site for purchasing. Goodreads is straight-up people who enjoy books (and in my opinion, know more about what they’re talking about). I also heard they’ll be turning this into a movie…

This is an incredibly light read, great to take on a trip and a good read for summertime.

First – the promoted reviews of entities (not individuals) doesn’t do this book justice, at all.

June Parker, the main character, is a newbie to a Weight Watchers class – and as she’s leaving fellow classmate Marissa Jones – who just reached her weight goal of losing 100 pounds! – is waiting for the bus. June decides some of Marissa’s luck will rub off on her, and gives her a ride. But it ends in tragedy – Marissa is thrown from the vehicle. June attends the funeral, all bruised and in casts.

The only thing that brought me out of the hole was a soul brave enough to reach in and grab me. 

June is wracked with guilt – mostly, that she lived and Marissa died…and it all stems from a list. Marissa made a list of 20 things she wanted to do before her 25th birthday, and only one item was crossed off. She died before she could cross off “Wear sexy shoes,” June discovered once the items of the scene were returned to her. She gave all of Marissa’s belongings back to her family except for the list, which she doesn’t mention until she bumps into Marissa’s brother, Troy, six months later at her grave.

June admits to keeping the list, and in a panic, spins a heart-felt lie she is then compelled to keep:  complete the items on the list before Marissa’s 25th birthday. In less than six months.

People are living too much or too little, and I wondered if anyone out there is living the right amount.


And completing the list proves for June that she was really quite boring and didn’t have an aspirations or direction in her life. She was literally going through the motions, not speaking up at work when her boss steals her ideas to pass off as her own (until they fail!) and letting her co-workers torment and humiliate her. Hell if she’s telling them what she’s trying to do, when they’re accusing her of killing Marissa!

Through trying to complete items on the list, June…

  • establishes better relationships with her coworkers
  • enlists the help of her coworkers to accomplish work tasks and list tasks
  • finds the “perfect” guy – Marissa’s brother, Troy
  • sets out to change some lives – her brother’s and his wife’s, and her Little Sister Deedee
  • gets a backbone, takes charge of work tasks, and sells herself to the big boss Lou
  • finds a relationship with an unlikely person
  • realizes how much Marissa set out to do
  • realizes she had no motivation for anything in life
  • tries…and fails

Some of June’s plans go wrong, some are quite hair-brained, and some of the items are difficult. Who is Buddy Fitch? She enlists the help of her blind date, coworkers, Troy, family and Little Sister to complete the list. There is a lot of sarcasm and humor in doing it all.

I’d already done the finger-counting thing and realized the most sleep I could hope for was five hours.

As I said, this is a quick and light read. I enjoyed it for the sake of reading, but was left unsatisfied. June is only the completing the items on the list for sake of completing them because she LIED to the dead girl’s brother. Way to start off on a good foot. And the big boss, Lou Bigwood, is notoriously known for “finding” good-looking women (dubbed Charlie’s Angels) at conferences to manage his company… seriously, Bigwood? Big wood? Come on!Big-Brother-Big-Sister

Throughout the whole book June makes snarky comments about her parents and her brother, who was obviously the favorite…and yet, she writes a letter “expressing gratitude” to her brother to show how much he means to her. Since rules were set down that actions to complete the items on the list had to be genuine, this one doesn’t count. June failed on that one. She sets out on changing a life by signing up to be a Big Sister – who she parts ways with after a difficult last-minute decision and heartbreak for June’s own brother and his wife.

The thing that made me feel any kind of emotion was an incident between June and Troy. He made it quite clear how he felt about June’s efforts to “change a life” Plan A. And yet, she still crushing on him. NO! If a man can’t deal with a non-life-threatening decision, such as wanting a child on your own terms, kick him six streets down! Troy proves to still be somewhat of a friend, and at times it seems they will reconcile, but June discovers something quite unexpected.

The ending was cheap and bland – I expected much more. The one good thing I liked: June decides it’s time she make her own list.

I knew there was something that I needed even more: the truth. I’d been running from it for a long time, and now it was time to face it. 

Jill is the author of two other novels, Objects of My Affection and Flip-Flopped: A Novel, as well as several how-to origami books.

Readers: if you enjoy bucket lists, check out this excellent blog post. Maybe some of the items on your list will change, maybe some of them will be borrowed or added by others. You never know.

What’s on YOUR list?




Book Review: Sharp Edges by Kristen Middleton

This book is the first foray by Kristen Middleton into the thriller/romantic genre.  I am a huge fan of her zombie books and vampire books.

In this book, Middleton tackles the subjects of child abuse, domestic violence, infidelity and the consequences therein.

Lindsey is a stay-at-home mom.  Her husband, Scott, prefers that she does not work out of the home, even though her kids are ‘tween age and above.  By accident, she discovers her husband is being unfaithful.  On their anniversary.  This development shakes her very foundation.  She suddenly questions everything:  her body, her self-worth.  She asks her husband to leave so they can figure out what is going to happen.

I like the new cover

Lindsey has a new neighbor, Jake, who is very good looking.  Lindsey and Jake become friends, and more, as the book progresses. Jake is a bit mysterious, and although he is in law enforcement, Lindsey understandably has issues with trust.

At the park one day, Lindsey meets a new neighbor.  Her suspicions are aroused when she notices the very pregnant neighbor and her child have ugly bruises.  Her involvement in this situation will have dire consequences.

Although I really enjoy the way the author writes, her sense of humor, her style, I felt that this book wasn’t very strong plot wise.  There is some confusion as to who is who (stemming from the prologue), and events seem unlikely.

Personally, I could identify with this book on many levels.  I appreciate the author’s choice to bring infidelity and domestic violence to the forefront.   The passages in which these topics are discussed are spot on and very powerful.  I truly understand Lindsey’s reluctance to trust men again, the notion of “who the hell did I marry?” (and I think there is a TV show with a title that is similar).

People who have had no experience with these topics can have a difficulty understanding them.  When you have been married to a person for a number of years, when you have had children with them, and they betray you, it is very hard to trust anyone. Ever.  The introspection, the critical eye that is now cast toward the self can be brutal:  “what is wrong with me?” “what does she have that I don’t have?” “how dare he (or she) do this to me after all these years”.  I feel this book can help those people who do not understand.

I also like the portrayal of friendship between Lindsey and her friend Darcy.  I feel that every woman should have close friends that are always there and are always fiercely supportive.

I also liked the relationship between Lindsey and her kids.  Adults often do not give children much credibility with understanding such situations.  But kids are resilient, and often know way more about a situation than they let on.

And I liked the way Lindsey and Scott handled the situation.  They didn’t disparage the other party, they didn’t play head games with the kids.  That happens far too often in society, and it is refreshing to see these types of situation portrayed in a positive light.

I do recommend this book for women (and men) who are fortunate to have led a life free of violence.  It is a wonderful tool for empathy.

And I always look forward to anything this author produces (I am waiting impatiently for the next installment of Blur and Zombie Games).


An awesome mashup!

Wow.  I just read an incredible book.

Since my funds are limited, I regularly browse through the “free” offerings on amazon or smashwords.  I usually find awesome books this way.

The Final Appearance of America’s Favorite Girl Next Door is one of them.

It is written by Stephen Stark and is a mash up of sci-fi, chick lit, romance, personal growth, friendship and returning to your roots.  Right up my alley.

The cover denotes nothing of the amazing story within.

Its about a fictional celebrity who, after nearly dying at the hands of a stalker, escapes LA and goes back home to the Midwest.  She falls in love with a computer scientist who has invented a device that is better than any virtual reality available to date.  The “Black box” is doing something they don’t understand, and seems to randomly insert the user into a memory, with all of the sensory input of the original memory. In addition, all the associate feelings of that memory are also recovered.  Amazing.

The book is written completely out of order.  At first, this was hard to get through.  I gave up a few times, and then went back to it.  But once I understood what was going on and became accustomed to the writing style of the author, probably a quarter way through the book, I had a hard time putting it down.

The themes of love, friendship and overcoming obstacles is readily apparent and stays with the reader.  My eyes welled up when reading some of the more emotional passages.  Perhaps my own struggle right now with my health had something to do with it.  I identify completely with the main character and her struggles.

Also, I had never considered what it would be like to be a major celebrity.  I am not someone that follows pop culture at all.  I rarely see movies, and barely pay attention to TV (unless its Mad Men or The Walking Dead).  I have no desire to read about someone else’s personal life.  But through this book, it occurred to me that it can be difficult to have a “public persona” and have your every move watched and documented.  I also never realized how difficult it can be to “make it” in Hollywood.  I enjoyed the little snippets the author included about some real-life major celebrities in relation to his main character.

I consider myself to have an above average vocabulary, but while reading this book, I was thrilled to have a dictionary available at the touch of a screen.

Overall, an amazing, thought and emotion provoking, fantastic literary work.  Definitely recommended to anyone who likes these kinds of “uncategorizable” mash ups of several different genres.

Better than Fifty Shades of Grey

** This post is at least R-rated and discussed adult subjects such as sex and sexual abuse.  It also contains spoilers for Fifty Shades of Grey and the Crossfire Series (Bared to You and Reflected in You).  Reader discretion advised.**

I didn’t review Bared to You/Reflected in You by Sylvia Day   (Crossfire series) because apparently many people already have.

I have written in other posts that Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (and the subsequent books) were recommended to me by a friend.  I finally read it after libraries and bookstores in the South started banning it.  Nothing like a good, old-fashioned book ban to get my attention :).

I do have my complaints about the series, namely the BDSM, and also with the poor writing.  But overall I enjoyed the intense love story.

My main complaint with the BDSM is because I am a survivor of sexual abuse.  I had to skip over big sections of Fifty because it really got to me.  There are small elements of BDSM in Crossfire series, but they just discuss it (i.e. who is dominate, who is submissive) and there is nothing like the “red room of pain” as in Fifty.

The same friend who recommended Fifty sent me her physical copies of Bared to You and Reflected in You by Sylvia Day.  This friend doesn’t know my past. See my post on books I avoid.

In my opinion, this series is much better than Fifty.

Almost same premise, but much stronger characters.  Extremely well written.  More believable.  And it is entirely accurate in regards to survivors of sexual abuse.

Eva is a much stronger character than Ana.  She accepts what has happened to her.  She has moved on, she has bettered herself, she has taken on the responsibility of other people (her mother, and Cary).  She knows her triggers, she knows her boundaries, she knows when a situation isn’t good for her.  She has goals, she has determination to reach those goals. She is sexually aware.  She knows what she wants sexually and how to get it.  She is uninhibited.  She has dealt with her past and how it affects her sexual relationships.  Although she still has some nightmares and occasional issues, she knows how to deal with it.  My kind of girl.

Ana, on the other hand, is naive.  She is the same age as Eva, but she’s a virgin (not that its a bad thing, but if you are going to take on Christian Grey, you really shouldn’t be a virgin).  She really hasn’t had the life experience that Eva has had.  She has goals and is working to achieve them, but I’m not sure how she would have reacted to walking in on a friend’s orgy.

In the Crossfire trilogy, both partners are deeply “fucked up”.  Eva even asks their therapist if a couple such as she and Gideon can even survive, given what they have been through.  Both Eva and Gideon have to deal with each others baggage/issues/jealousy/rage.  In Fifty, Christian is the “fifty shades of fucked up” one, and Ana can’t comprehend, and goes along with his need to punish “little dark haired girls”.

But at least with Eva and Gideon, they can understand each other.  They understand the nightmares, the flashbacks, the self-esteem issues.  They understand the triggers, the fear, the anxiety. They can turn to each other, if they can first get over the jealousy.

In both series, there is the undeniable attraction and passion that each couple has for each other.  I don’t know if I’m a romantic or crazy or what, but I do believe in the “soulmates” thing, the “one person out there just for me” thing.  I’m certain I have that in my marriage (and this is my second marriage), and I know I didn’t have that before with any other relationship.  So when I read these books, I can relate to the “electricity” and the intense attraction that is described. And the incredible, mind-blowing sex.

And I can’t ignore the sex that is dripping of the pages of these books.  The sexual situations in the Crossfire series are plentiful.  If I were Eva, I’m not sure I could walk.  And I’m not sure that solving arguments with sex is a good idea.  But I do understand Gideon’s need to feel love through sex.  I think that’s a male thing.  Nothing in the Crossfire series made me uncomfortable.  I didn’t have to skip pages or passages.  Very well written.

The atypical parasomnia scares me.  It does exist.  Just ask any wife (or husband) of someone with PTSD.  Sleep is still a mystery to the medical field.  It is not surprising that Gideon would act out his revenge in his sleep.

Both series have an element of danger to them.  With Fifty its a former boss of Ana who was sexually harassing her.  With Crossfire its the former stepbrother and abuser of Eva.  I found Crossfire more believable in how it was presented and resolved.  In Fifty, I liked how Ana was the heroine, however.

Both series had me captivated.  I do feel that Crossfire is the stronger series, however, in terms of character development, writing, and plot.  But as Sylvia Day points out in her acknowledgements, E.L. James was the one who first made erotic romance novels mainstream.

I do thank Sylvia Day for writing about sexual abuse of both females and males.  This was the first book I have read that dealt with survivors and what they go through.  I truly identified with Eva’s past (the late teen years) as well as her self talk, both positive and negative.  I appreciate the way Sylvia Day highlighted how men are also subjected to sexual abuse, and the different ways they cope:  Cary by self-sabotage, Gideon through dreams and control.

I can’t wait for the third installment of the Crossfire series, set to be released in May.



Book Review: Adulation by Elisa Lorello

I love Elisa Lorello’s books.  I read some of the reviews on amazon and I think “they just didn’t get it”.  Her books tend to look into the deeper parts of women and relationships.  Their flaws, why they are who they are today.  And not all of her characters are lovable.  Most in fact are stubborn and stuck in some sort of rut.  With this in mind, I read Adulation knowing full well what I was in for.

The basics:  Sunny is turning forty.  She is still working in the storeroom of a bookstore, she is divorced, childless, and kind of in a rut.  Her friends help her devise a “40 for 40” list of things to do in her 40th year.  One of them is “sleep with Danny Masters”.  Mr. Masters happens to be Sunny’s celebrity crush, a screenwriter who just happens to be coming to town to premiere his latest movie.  And as a gift, Sunny and her friends will be there.

Danny Masters should be on top of the world.  His latest movie is getting Oscar buzz.  He has a wonderful daughter, a girlfriend who is a movie star and he has money and good looks.  He is also in a rut.

Danny and Sunny meet outside of the premiere and it is one of those perfect moments.  Then Danny insults the audience during the Q & A session after the movie and Sunny spits his insults right back at him in the autograph line.  But what about that perfect moment?

Both of these characters can’t get past something in their life that happened years ago.  Most of the world has moved on, but they have remained still.  Much of this book is about how they move on beyond their significant events.

There are also elements of forgiveness and profound friendship.  Throw in a little romance and “just knowing” who you are meant to be with.

I enjoyed how the chapters alternated from Sunny to Danny.  I liked the glimpse into celebrity life and how it is not always what it is cracked up to be.  With most Lorello novels, she gives insight on the writing process and with this one, a peek into self publishing.

If you are looking for a light-hearted romance, this isn’t what you will get.  This is deeper, more of a commentary on relationships, how people cope with significant events and how they chose to move on.

I am a fan of Elisa Lorello and will continue to be.  I plan on posting my reviews of her other works in the near future.  I read and reviewed them on amazon prior to me starting this site.

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