Book Review: Becoming Bryn

17977051Title: Becoming Bryn
Author: Angela Carling
Publisher: Acacia Publishing
Release Date: June 2013
Length: 310 pages
Series?: n/a
Genre: YA
Format: e-book

Find the book: Website | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Synopsis

For months, Jesse has been envious of her twin sister Bryn and even has a crush on Bryn’s gorgeous, popular boyfriend, Quinton. When Jesse awakens from a coma to learn that everyone thinks she IS Bryn, the option of actually taking over her sister’s life is beyond tempting, but there’s a downside. She’d have to give up Ethan, her best friend and the only person she trusts. Could she actually live as Bryn for the rest of her life? And if her family and friends found out, would they ever forgive her?

Review

If I had known today that I would take the first step toward the biggest mistake of my life, I would’ve stayed home. 

I knew before reading this book what it was about, but for some reason about a quarter of the way through I started resenting the book. I lost a sister – not my twin, but she was a twin – and this caused a decade of issues between my mother and me. It was hard for me to continue reading, reflecting on what my life had been like losing a sister, compared to how Bryn’s family is taking it in: in particular the references to Bryn being the favored (and perhaps more loved?) daughter.

Finally, my true feelings, the ones that I’d been denying for a good three months, gave way and I whispered, “I want to be loved like that.”

I  became peeved at the ease in which Jesse seemed to take over Bryn’s life. Besides having to learn how to wear popular clothing (that matched!), accessorize, and amp up the make-up skills, it seemed like a piece of cake….at first. And that’s when I got hooked. My attitude about this book and Jesse’s character – and Bryn’s for that matter – completely changed, and I think it is because Angela Carling did an interesting thing in this book.

My parents had always told me that life isn’t fair. Apparently neither was death. 

Many people believe in some form of an afterlife after people pass away, that loved ones have a place to go. Many people also believe in spirits/ghosts of some sort who hang around taking care of unfinished business. Carling incorporates both of these ideas into her novel, and creates a defined place for what this afterlife looks like. There are alternating chapters between Jesse and Bryn, in which Bryn explains the composition of the afterlife, and gets to view Jesse – and all those in her life – through an observation window. She is able to change the view in which she sees Jesse, and pan to other people at different locations. Bryn is not alone: she meets and elderly woman named Tu and a young girl named Summer, who are deadies like Bryn, that wait with Bryn and help her ease into the new transition of the afterlife. Tu and Summer teach Bryn things, help her realize things. And they wait with Bryn to see how Jesse’s new life will play out.

By taking over Bryn’s life, I was supposed to be improving people’s lives, not making them worse. 

Most importantly, Bryn learns she can send Jesse messages through Jesse’s dreams. This is what she does to send Jesse to her own journals, where she wrote all manner of things down every day – right down to the exact outfit she wore. Through these journals, Jesse could have learned the truth about Bryn’s life before it was too late – before more mistakes were made. But all of these things come to a head, and through Bryn’s journals, Jesse discovers her sister in a new light. Bryn is no longer an artificial, popular girl. She’s a girl who was proud of her sister, inspired by her sister, who took a job to donate money to a very worthy cause for something much-needed. In a lot of ways, Bryn wanted to trade lives with Jesse, which is how they ended up where they are after trading costumes at Halloween.

At least, if Jesse was going to steal my identity, she was finally starting to do it with some guts and that made me proud of her. 

Throughout the novel, Bryn experiences growth in her dead state, and Jesse also experiences growth. I don’t think this novel would be complete without Bryn’s commentary and visions from the afterlife, through the observation window. Initially, she is pissed that her sister is trying to take over her life, that once the injuries from the accident have healed, her sister is not speaking up about her true identity. But being a woman, she thinks she has the last word: Quinton isn’t the perfect boyfriend like Jesse thinks – let her find out the hard way! But Bryn has a change of heart, and in the end tries desperately to intervene and finish her business on earth through Jesse…or at least steer Jesse in the right direction. Bryn is definitely more than meets the eye.

As the novel was wrapping up, I saw a distinct turn of events that I knew were going to end badly, but Carling had some tricks up her sleeve, and she was able to pull off something flawless through Bryn’s journals. I thought I had it all figured out, and then a sweet twist got thrown in.

My one “aaaarrrrggghhh!” moment with this book was at the point when Jesse’s mom shares a personal story of how she actually ended up marrying their father – and the mistakes she made and the consequences she has lived with. She tells Jesse that you can change your life, but that doesn’t make the consequences disappear. Instead of heeding this advice and mirroring it in the romantic way it was intended, Jesse totally disregards it and does what she wants: pursue’s Bryn’s no-good, lying, cheating rich, gorgeous boyfriend Quinton. That was my only real beef. I feel that she didn’t try hard enough pursuing her other option, giving it enough time to come to fruition before jumping the gun and settling…on a bad choice.

TitlePic2

About the Author

I was born and raised in Palm Springs, California and after living in several different states ended up back in yet another desert in Arizona, where I reside with my husband, three kids and five cats.  We’ve now lived here for ten years and haven’t melted yet, although we have fried eggs on the sidewalk. We love to escape to our cabin in the mountains or to my favorite place, the beach. I have several obsessions, including my passion for all kinds of music and my inability to stop buying cheap jewelry. I am often caught singing in public bathrooms, just for the acoustics, or rollerblading through my neighborhood while singing loudly to whatever is playing on my iPod. I love to have lots of flowers in my garden and shiny things in my house.  My favorite holiday of all (going along with the shiny things theme) is Christmas. All in all, I consider myself the luckiest, most blessed person alive and am so happy to have this opportunity to write and also to share my writing with other people!

Find the author: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Check out Charlie’s interview with Angela!

-CA

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Book Review: The Recipe Box

The Recipe Box

The Recipe Box

Title: The Recipe Box

Author: Sandra Lee
Publisher: Hyperion
Release Date: July 2013
Length: 225 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Chick Lit, Cooking
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased @ Scholastic book fair
Challenge: n/a
 
First off, this book is written by a woman who hosts several different DIY type TV shows, and throughout the book she has included recipes that correspond with the foods mentioned in the book. There are 16 recipes listed in an index at the back of the book. I fully intend to try out some of the recipes.
 

This book delves into the complexities of a woman’s mind, and the relationships with her mother and daughter.

Family secrets. Pride. Fear. Self-realization. And it all starts with a small, wooden recipe box that’s traveled the Atlantic from Sweden to the American midwest…and a birth certificate found tucked in the back of it.

This small, family heirloom creates doubt, havoc and leads to nearly a lifetime of running: running from everything. Until a best friend’s sad end leads to some unique wishes, statements and sentiments sent in a variety of ways.

Grace Holm-D’Angelo is fighting her past, running from it, and making some of the same mistakes with her own daughter. With the death of her best friend, she’s not splitting time between LA and her hometown, but most definitely not making any heartfelt visits to her mother. Grace carries a lot of baggage that she’s refusing to acknowledge to anyone, and as high school friend and co-worker Ken point out, she has always had a hidden agenda.

Until all that she’s trying to hide erupts like a raging volcano. When she picks her daughter up from an LA police station, she can’t keep up the ruse. Teenage Emma is sent to live with Grace’s mother, and complete her school year in little New London, which his home to a great group of folks who are all willing to help. Indeed, Grace’s high school nemesis is now doing anything she can to help out. It’s a wake up call for Grace, as is the letter she receives from her high school bestie, Leeza, after her death.

Returning to New London, Grace keeps running into hometown handyman and fireman and high school English teacher Mike, who is helping Emma in completing her schoolwork. Where there’s one, there’s three. Grace’s ex-husband, Brian, now successful with his business, comes barging back into the picture, as well as rich chocolatier Von, Leeza’s Swiss cousin, whom Grace had a brief fling with years before. Von is a flitty guy, like a butterfly: here one second, gone the next. He does things on his terms and his time. He befriends Emma in aims of getting into Grace’s good graces, but Grace quickly shuts that down due to her past, and some fears and doubts she is not yet ready to voice.

This novel comes full circle, with not only Grace’s own self-realization and growth, but also that of many of the other characters. It really made me reflect on my relationship with my mother, and hers with her mother, and the changes over the last 15 years in those relationships, the difficulties we experienced, and perhaps set ourselves up for, and the solid ground we are on today.

It is a heartwarming read, especially for mothers, sisters, daughters and best friends.

Perhaps my favorite line from the entire novel comes at the end, by none other than Von:

Our mistakes should not go without apologies. 

Sandra Lee

Sandra Lee

About the Author

Sandra Lee, a multi-Emmy® and Gracie award-winner, is an internationally-acclaimed expert in all things kitchen and home. Sandra Lee has predicted and changed the trajectory of American lifestyle with her signature “smart and simple” philosophy. She empowers people of all walks of life to create memorable meals, hospitable homes, and creative crafts and shows them how to entertain for every occasion―with ease.

Sandra is the editor in chief of Sandra Lee Magazine and the host of four highly-rated culinary programs on Food Network and Cooking Channel: Restaurant Remakes, Sandra’s Money Saving Meals, Semi-Homemade Cooking and Taverns, Lounges & Clubs. Additionally, Sandra is the host of HGTV’s Sandra Lee Celebrates, a series of prime time entertaining specials.

Widely-respected for anticipating the needs of the modern homemaker and consumers, Sandra has launched several lines of home, garden, seasonal and craft products and produced a successful DIY home improvement series. Her newest kitchens, tabletops, housewares, seasonal decors and domestics collections are available exclusively in Kmart/Sears, entitled Sandra by Sandra Lee.

The Recipe Box is her first fiction book.

Find the author: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

-CA

Book Review: The Snitch, Houdini and Me

9870994The Snitch, Houdini and Me: Humorous Tales of Death-Defying Childhood Misadventure (2010) by Johnny Virgil (JV Enterprises, 2010)

Genre: memoir, humor

I received a free digital copy of this book from the author through BookBloggers in return for an honest review. If you would like to know more about Johnny Virgil, check out his blog, 15  Minute Lunch.

Amazon describes Virgil’s memoir…

“Go Out and Play and Don’t Come Home until it’s Dark.”

Growing up in the 70’s wasn’t easy. No internet or smartphones, video games or HDTV — nothing but time to kill and the endless potential of a summer day. Only parental threats and a newly-developed sense of right and wrong could steer Johnny Virgil and his two younger brothers away from trouble…or directly into it.
 
Join Johnny on this hilarious and irreverent romp through his childhood as he recounts the stories that made him what he is today – an unimportant cog in a vast, corporate financial services machine. But he wasn’t always this way, and this book is proof.
Booby traps, severed deer legs, runaway bulldozers, young love and fresh cow pies — all this and more, brought to life by Johnny’s sometimes twisted, sometimes touching but always hilarious tales of suburban childhood. If you have kids of your own, these are the stories you don’t want them to read.  If you like to laugh even when it’s wrong and long to return to a more innocent yet treacherous time, this book will leave you wishing Johnny’s childhood had never ended.

When I signed up to review this book, I knew it was right up my ally. I grew up with three younger brothers, two older male cousins, two additional male kids of close family friends and tons of boys at my annual summer camp, which was a big prankfest. Talk about shenanigans! I was prepared for this book…or so I thought. I was amused at the stories Virgil shared, and felt that I was an observer of those events. I highly recommend this book!

If you are a mother, especially of boys or a daughter who was a tomboy, read this book. If you’re a boy (over the age of 21 so as not to get any “bright” ideas), read this book.

If you spent your childhood days growing up pre-2000, read this book. It will bring memories flooding back…and maybe provide some pointers or ideas you never dreamed of fulfilling to scare the beejezus out of that big kid bully.

If you ever feared being “in deep shit,” read this book. Warning: the farther in you read, the more adult the language becomes.

This book is hilarious throughout, with never-ending shenanigans and covert missions, usually involving one of Johnny’s two younger brothers, The Snitch or Houdini, their neighbor Markie or best friend The Slug. Virgil shares some stories that could have been disastrously dangerous for his little band of boys. He is very keen to point out he doesn’t know how he survived childhood without killing himself, or someone else, at every opportunity. And he’s right: after reading some of the boys’ grand schemes, you will be surprised to know they usually escaped supreme and disastrous trouble usually unscathed, with only a few cuts.

Johnny and his gang didn’t have the best of everything from back in the day. They didn’t get what they wanted. They essentially had hand-me-down bikes that came home as a box of bike parts. Yeah. The kid down the street had a mouth-watering go-kart…so Johnny and the boys created their own version, and they were happy with it.

Throughout this collection of stories, readers can watch Johnny grow up from the leader of two little brothers through that awkward teenage stage, learning about girls and dating, cars, and eventually a few excursions with the bottle. Included in the beginning chapters are drawings Johnny did as a child in grade school, and one or two photos.

Virgil shares a time when being a kid was OK, but when you cross the line there are consequences from your parents. Neighborhood kids with tag-along siblings, generally left to their own devices during summertime. Friendly-fire neighborhood gangs battling over turf, sometimes just on principle. The fear of getting in trouble. It’s something that’s rarely seen today, back when a pinky swear meant something.

-CA

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