Book Review: She Has Your Eyes by Elisa Lorello

I don’t always read chicklit, but when I do, it is always Elisa Lorello…

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I stumbled upon Faking It a few years ago.  I eagerly awaited Ordinary World and wasn’t exactly disappointed like other readers.  And when I heard she was writing another Andi and David story I couldn’t wait for it to come out.

Yes, you should definitely read the other two books.  That helps to know Andi and David as characters and how much they have grown as people in the last decade.  It also helps the reader to understand their particular relationship and their past.

I’m getting ahead of myself, here is the synopsis for this book:

Andi and David have settled happily into Andi’s Northampton home, but David wants more. He wants them to get married. Their discussion is put on hold when Wylie, a fifteen-year-old girl, shows up in their backyard, bearing news that takes David’s mind off the future and sends it spiraling into the past. Reeling from David’s news, Andi receives a startling announcement of her own, one that leads to a relationship with her estranged mother. As Andi and her mother get closer and Wylie weaves her way into their lives, Andi finds solace in an old comfort: her ex-fiancé. With the past threatening to eclipse their future, the timing for a wedding is all wrong. But if Andi knows anything about timing, it’s that there’s no time to waste.

The things that are different about the Andi and David books are that they are so…..real.  So tangible.  Andi is a college professor.  David is impressive, he isn’t quite ordinary, but he’s not a gazillionaire or a vampire or a zombie slayer.  They have a unique relationship.  Neither one of them is perfect.  And well into their 40s, they are still figuring it out.  I guess that is what makes them so appealing.

Despite my differences with Andi, 10 years in age, completely different geographical location, motherhood, vocation, I do feel a kinship.  I have mommy issues.  I have self esteem and body image issues.  I’ve had several issues with unfaithful exs.  I get her.

But on some levels she infuriates me.  She can be a bit self centered.  She constantly overestimates her emotional capacity.  But that is what makes her very real as well.

The few romance books that I do read outside of vampires/zombies, dystopian and erotica paint most of the female protagonists as flawless with the exception of self esteem issues.  They feel that they don’t deserve the adoration or attention of their partner.  But they are rarely portrayed as selfish, self-absorbed, uncaring.  Not that this is Andi, but in some of her situations, she can be that way.

I absolutely loved the spotlight Ms. Lorello put on cancer and end of life care.  I am a hospice nurse.  Everything portrayed was 100% accurate.  I especially appreciated the incident portrayed of the patient refusing to prolong treatment and the reaction of her family to such a decision.  That is VERY common.

I have seen both sides of the coin.  Patients that hear the diagnosis, go through one or two treatments and decide not to spend the time they have left vomiting, and their family gets upset or supportive.  I have also seen patients hold out and fight to the very end and some of them die the day of their last treatment.  I loved the very realistic, very warm and honest events detailed in the book.

These series of books are a different type of chicklit, a different type of romance.  Various themes are explored throughout the ten years that cover these books.  These two characters have grown immensely, and not in a time that is associated with phenomenal personal growth.  I love that these characters are older, that they have histories and varied pasts.  That they were completely different people when they met and culminate as  better, stronger, healthier.

Themes of loss, regret, moving on, living life to the fullest are explored.  The characters are excellently fleshed out, very real, very three dimensional.

Recommended to all women.  You will find some aspect of yourself in Andi regardless of your situation in life.  You will be captivated by the story of Andi and David.  A very satisfying end (?) to their story.

Now can I get an Adulation sequel?

Book Review: Women’s Work by Kari Aguila

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This is a very interesting book.  It attracted my attention because of the dystopian spin to it.  Here is the synopsis:

“So, when most of the men were dead, women saw their chance to take over?” Kate searches her son’s eyes as he asks this. “Not take over,” she says. “Fix things.” It wasn’t hard to justify what the women had done since the end of the Last War. They rebuilt their bombed-out neighborhoods as best they could and worked to established peace and gender equality. But small groups of men roam the country, viciously indicating that the pendulum may have swung too far. When a bedraggled man shows up on Kate’s doorstep one night, will she risk everything to help him? Does he deserve her help? 

Women’s Work is set in a dystopic world in the Pacific Northwest, where women struggle to survive through sustenance farming, clever engineering, and a deeply rooted sisterhood. In this suspenseful thriller, Kate and her family are asked to let go of their anger and fear on a journey to forgiveness and understanding. It is a compelling story that challenges all of us to question traditional gender roles and to confront the fragility of love.

This story echoes a duo of books I have reviewed previously by Lance Erlick.  Women are in charge, they are trying to reshape society to be less violent, kinder, gentler.

Like that series, this book asks if women have gone too far.

I really enjoyed reading about HOW they survived.  In some books of this nature, the “how” is often glossed over.  Things are different, but they never explain it in detail.

We often forget how easy we have it in this society.  Flip a switch and get light, turn a knob and get water.  Communicate over thousands of miles with the press of a button.  Go to the grocery store and find thousands of foods from all over the world just sitting on shelves and in bins.  This book makes the reader think about all the work that goes into survival.

I liked the political connotations as well.  I look at the way women are treated around the world, and even in this country, and I wonder if we are going backwards.

In this book, set mid 21st century, women have taken over after most of the male population was decimated through war.  But they still retain some of the prejudices of the old world.  Apparently no matter how much things change, they still stay the same.

I loved reading about Kate’s relationships with her children and with the mystery man.  I loved reading how they both had to reevaluate their misconceptions of the opposite sex.  Learn how to trust again.  Truly a tender story.

Overall, a great read.  Very thought provoking, emotional.

Book Review: The Rebel Within by Lance Erlick

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Ahhh…another one of my favorite type of books.  A mash-up.  Part dystopian, part romance, part thriller, part scifi and part YA.  I absolutely loved this series.

The author emailed me about reviewing the book, and I am very thankful that he did.  Here is the synopsis from amazon.com:

After the Second American Civil War, the Federal Union pursues a world without men by rounding up the remaining males. A rebellious adopted teen girl must choose between becoming a security cog in the elite military unit that took her parents or being torn from her beloved sister and adoptive mom.

Annabelle is a tomboy who lost her parents at age three and developed a rebellious streak against her conformist society even while serving as a cop intern. She puts herself and her family at risk by helping a boy escape prison. Then, to protect her sister, she fights the amazon Dara. Arrested for disharmony, Annabelle chooses to endure training and qualification tests to enter the elite mech warrior program with Dara rather than re-socialization and exile.

Harassed by the police captain who hates her, the mech commander who demands too much, and the bully Dara, Annabelle struggles through rigorous training. At the same time she’s driven to search for her birth mother and help boys escape the federal roundup. Can Annabelle stand up to Dara, protect a boy she’s grown fond of, and avoid washing out of the mech program while remaining true to herself and protecting her family? The final test: a gladiatorial spectacle of hand-to-hand combat to the death with a male wrestler.

My daughter is named Annabelle (but it is spelled differently), so it was a little disconcerting to read “Annabelle” so often and not think of my munchkin.

But other than the adoption thing and living in a female dominated society, my child has a lot in common with her fictional counterpart.  Her rebellious nature for one, her looks for another.

I truly loved the character.  She is strong, intelligent.  She has a heart.  She knows that her society isn’t the utopia it is portrayed to be.  She has an unquenchable thirst for justice and determination to match.

I loved learning about this “utopia”. I live in the South, and I occasionally run into the misinformed ideals of macho males who think I should be in my kitchen barefoot and pregnant.  So reading about an all-female society was very interesting.

Reading about how this “utopia” came about was even more intruiging, “in the early decades of the 21st century, right-wing extremists tried to turn back the clock.  When they failed, they seceded, bringing the Second American Civil War.”

It ended with women in possession of most of the country, and men forced to live in the “Outlands”, i.e. Appalachia, Tex-SoCal, and in the Rockies.  They in turn live in a backwards society where women are usually chattel, and theocracy is the norm.

Well, that seems plausible.  Especially from my seat down here in Texas.  A state that regulates a woman’s body to “protect life” but promotes gun ownership and kills 300 people per year by lethal injection.  I also think that Texas has more churches per square mile than any other place in the country.  For example, within a mile of my house, there is 10 churches of varying denomination.  And that is not an exaggeration.

But I digress.  For as good as “the Union” seems, all “utopia” type societies always have a nasty underbelly.  This one treats males as third class citizens.  Any males that they do encounter are jailed (including children that are sent to “schools” that are fenced in like a prison) and are forced to wear a shock collar.

Annabelle starts helping boys escape.  And then a turn of events forces her into the military.

The gadgets and tactics used for training were fascinating.  I loved the idea of the simulators. However, like “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, reading about the training and about young teenage girls nearly killing each other was disturbing.

Even more “Hunger Games”-esque was the final test for those intending to serve in the mech forces:  a fight to the death in an arena against a male who is hopped up on steroids.  It is televised, along with a tournament among the mech recruit classes, and gambling is permitted on the participants.

I admire Annabelle’s hard work and grit in doing what she feels is right for her family, despite being totally against the organization she is training for.

I loved reading about her relationship with her adopted sister and mother.  The urge for Annabelle to protect Janine is palpable.

I was also sent the second book, Rebels Divided, by the author and jumped right in.  Look for the review for that book tomorrow.

Overall, this is a wonderful book with strong characters, strong statements on politics and life in the United States, with twists of love, empathy and compassion.

Book Review: The Next Thing on My List

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

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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.

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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?

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-CA

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.

 

 

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