Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Julie's Review: The Perfect Neighbors

Author: Sarah Pekkanen
Series: None
Publication Date: July 5, 2016
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Pages: 352
Obtained: publisher via Edelweiss
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Mystery, Women's Fiction
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: A peek inside those secrets we keep closest to our heart
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Summary: Bucolic Newport Cove, where spontaneous block parties occur on balmy nights and all of the streets are named for flowers, is proud of its distinction of being named one the top twenty safest neighborhoods in the US. It’s also one of the most secret-filled. Kellie Scott has just returned to work after a decade of being a stay-at-home mom. She’s adjusting to high heels, scrambling to cook dinner for her family after a day at the office—and soaking in the dangerous attention of a very handsome, very married male colleague. Kellie’s neighbor Susan Barrett begins every day with fresh resolutions: she won’t eat any carbs, she’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour, and she’ll stop stalking her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Gigi Kennedy seems to have it all together—except her teenage daughter has turned into a hostile stranger and her husband is running for Congress, which means her old skeletons are in danger of being brought into the light. Then a new family moves to this quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac. Tessa Campbell seems friendly enough to the other mothers, if a bit reserved. Then the neighbors notice that no one is ever invited to Tessa’s house. And soon, it becomes clear that Tessa is hiding the biggest secret of all. ~amazon.com  

Review: The Perfect Neighbors is a peek into the lives of those we live around and see daily but may not really know. It is about the facades we put on to the public vs. how we really are behind closed doors. It's about how we all have secrets that we might not want to share; things that are private in our heart of hearts. What she added to this one was a mystery surrounding one of the couples. I loved how she kept you on the hook and laid out breadcrumbs for you to eat up.

Each of the women has something that they haven't told any of their friends. Kellie finds her new co-worker attracted and often finds herself thinking about him when she shouldn't be; Susan isn't over her ex-husband and stalks him and his new wife; Gigi's life seems perfect and it is if it wasn't for her rap sheet, plus she's dealing with a teenager, which adds stress to her otherwise good life. Then we have the new girl on the block, Tessa, who's secret is definitely darker than the rest of her neighbors but it's not until the end of the novel that we find out what it is.

All these women are your friends, sisters, next door neighbors and you really do feel for what each of them is going through. Most of us have been in their shoes to a certain degree so it feels familiar. I think I probably liked Gigi the most because of the spotlight she was in and what her past held. I loved that she supported Joe even if she wasn't really sure she was ready for the scrutiny. I loved that Joe seemed like a stand-up guy and that they seemed to have a rock solid marriage.

I enjoyed how these women relied on each and valued their friendships with each other. They seemed to accept each other for who they are and weren't afraid to tell someone when they were going down the wrong path.  They weren't afraid to speak their mind to each other. I appreciate that because we always want someone who speaks the truth when we are too afraid to confront it ourselves.

What Ms. Pekkanen does so well is take our relationships and expose them to a very bright light. If you haven't read her, you must and The Perfect Neighbors is a good one to start with but you must also read her whole back-list.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Julie's Review: Saving Jason

 photo Saving Jason_zpsrjy2hwxh.jpg
Author: Michael Sears
Series: Jason Stafford #3
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Putnam Books
Pages: 368
Obtained: Amazon Vince
Genre:  Crime, Thriller
Rating: 5.0
Bottom Line: Captivating
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Summary: Jason Stafford used to be a hot Wall Street trader, went too far, and paid for it in prison. Now a financial investigator, he’s been asked to look into rumors of a hostile takeover of his firm, but he has no idea it will turn his whole life upside down. Suddenly embroiled in a grand jury investigation of Mob-related activities on Wall Street, and threatened by some very serious men, he is thrust into witness protection with his young autistic son. And then his son disappears. Has he been kidnapped, or worse? With no choice but to act, Stafford has no choice but to come out of hiding and risk everything to save his son, his firm, his pregnant girlfriend—and himself  

Review: Saving Jason is book 3 in the  Jason Stafford series is always one of my favorite to pick up and escape in. Jason may not be the nicest or best guy, he's made some questionable choices in the past, but he's trying to change his life. His focus is making the best life he can for his son, affectionately called the Kid. They have a special bond and it gets even more cemented in the third novel.

As the novel opens,  Jason uncovers a scam at Becker Financial while looking at penny stock trades. Of course it can't just be something he can hand over to Compliance and let it go. He gets into the thick of it quick and of course it's unscrupulous. He lands his boss in jail, himself in WITSEC and puts people he knows in jeopardy. Not only that but if he lands charges for anything, he will find himself back in jail serving the remainder of his sentence.

It isn't so much the cases that keep me engaged in this series but the relationships that have developed from the cases. Now, don't get me wrong I find the predicaments that Jason gets himself into intriguing but how do you go from being a white-collar criminal to having the FBI listen to your theory and then put it in play? I also know this is fiction and I accept that as part of the deal of reading it.

I love the pace of these books and I always end up learning something about the financial world. I can't wait to see where we go next in the series.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Julie's Review: First Comes Love

Author: Emily Giffin
Series: None
Publication Date: June 28, 2016
Publisher: Ballatine Books
Pages: 400
Obtained: Amazon Vine
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: How do you accept your family flaws and all, when you can't accept yours?
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Summary: Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious, relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing, Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes, their delicate bond splinters. Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter is assigned to her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands. On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired. As the anniversary of their tragedy looms, and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover that they need each other more than they knew—and that in the search for true happiness, love always comes first. ~amazon.com

 Review: First Comes Love is another fantastic book by Emily Giffin. I was thrilled when I read that she was going to tackle familial love in First Comes Love. Meredith and Josie are sisters that have never seen eye to eye or even gotten along. Meredith is wound tight and Josie is the free spirit. Meredith thinks that Josie's life is easy and that she has no clue on how to be responsible.

Josie thinks that Meredith has a great life and should loosen up a bit with her rigid rules that even Josie should follow. I will admit that Josie got under my skin and annoyed me. I had to keep reminding myself that she was the "older" sister because she seemed so selfish. Josie is single and looking for Mr. Right but she's tired of waiting to be a mom so she takes the matter into her own hands and decides to go with IVF. I wasn't sure if this was Josie being responsible or impulsive and selfish. Even at the end of the novel, I still wasn't sure.

Meredith had her issues as well but I could just identify with her a bit more. She felt stuck and worn down by life. She wasn't sure if the life she was living should be the one she was meant to live.  Meredith isn't sure that the choices she made after her brother died were the right ones. Meredith isn't a very happy person and even a prescription for anti-depressants can't shake the feeling that something isn't right.

Closing the book, I'm not sure if Meredith and Josie will ever be each other's confidant but I do hope that they can find a way to see each other in the best light. It also made me extremely grateful for my sister and our relationship. I couldn't ask for a better best friend.

What Ms. Giffin does so well is write about relationships. I mean either Josie or Meredith could be your best friend complaining about their sister. She writes the heartbreak of losing someone close to you and the after effects with care and heart.

If you are a fan of Ms. Giffin's, you won't want to miss First Comes Love.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Julie's Review: Untethered

Author: Julie Lawson Timmer
Series: None
Publication Date: June 7,2016
Publisher: Putnam Books
Pages: 352
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Family isn't always defined by bloodlines
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Summary: Char Hawthorn, college professor, wife and stepmother to a spirited fifteen-year-old daughter, loves her family and the joyful rhythms of work and parenting. But when her husband dies in a car accident, the “step” in Char’s title suddenly matters a great deal. In the eyes of the law, all rights to daughter Allie belong to Lindy, Allie’s self-absorbed biological mother, who wants to girl to move to her home in California. While Allie begins to struggle in school and tensions mount between her and Char, Allie’s connection to young Morgan, a ten-year-old-girl she tutors, seems to keep her grounded. But then Morgan, who was adopted out of foster care, suddenly disappears, and Char is left to wonder about a possible future without Allie and what to do about Morgan, a child caught up in a terrible crack in the system. ~amazon.com

Review: Untethered is a fantastic novel about what it takes to be a family. Char has no legal "hold" over her step-daughter Allie after her father dies in a tragic car accident but she's become quite attached to her. Allie's mom lives in California is expecting her to move out there as soon as possible but is willing to let her stay until the end of the school year.

As both Char and Allie both deal with their grieving, they shut each other out of their feelings. They lack in communication after Bradley dies. This leads them both down paths that cause both of them to feel under appreciated and unwanted. Throw in that the downward spiral of a young girl that the Hawthorn's have taken under their wings. Allie treats Morgan like a younger sister and always make sure she is included in things.  As Allie struggles with accepting the loss of her father and the possible loss of the life she has in Michigan, Morgan becomes less of a focus for her. Sure she doesn't miss her Monday tutoring sessions but she doesn't have as much interest in her outside of those sessions.

Allie starts to hang out with the wrong crowd for all the wrong reasons but ones that seem logical to a 15 year old girl. Char isn't sure where to step in or how. She's afraid that pushing Allie about the friends will only drive her away.

There were so many emotions that hit me at different points in this novel. I was angry with both Char and Allie because they weren't talking about the important things, each tiptoeing around each other afraid of what the other one will say. I was mad at Morgan's parents for giving up because they couldn't deal. Isn't parenting about not giving up and dealing 90% of the time? I understood they had unique circumstances but they could have found other solutions. I loved that Char wanted to be there for Allie even if there was no legal bind to her. She had grown to love Allie and more than that she had grown into her roll as step-mom.

I love how Ms. Timmer wrapped up the novel. It left the characters in a good place and as a reader it didn't feel like it was too easy of a wrap up. I loved how she wove the story lines together and made you think about what it was to be a family. That sometimes it does take a village to help you through a tough time in your life. It also makes you think about all the children that fall through the cracks of our broken and outdated foster care system it makes your heart hurt. I'm glad that she told this story with that in mind.

Untetheredis a powerful story about how opening your heart and your mind will make a difference in lives including your own.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Julie's Review: We're All Damaged

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Author: Matthew Norman
Series: None
Publication Date: June 1, 2016
Publisher: Little A
Pages: 282
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: Poignant and humorous look at growing up and moving on at any age
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Summary: Andy Carter was happy. He had a solid job. He ran 5Ks for charity. He was living a nice, safe Midwestern existence. And then his wife left him for a handsome paramedic down the street.
We’re All Damaged begins after Andy has lost his job, ruined his best friend’s wedding, and moved to New York City, where he lives in a tiny apartment with an angry cat named Jeter that isn’t technically his. But before long he needs to go back to Omaha to say good-bye to his dying grandfather.
Back home, Andy is confronted with his past, which includes his ex, his ex’s new boyfriend, his right-wing talk-radio-host mother, his parents’ crumbling marriage, and his still-angry best friend.
As if these old problems weren’t enough, Andy encounters an entirely new complication: Daisy. She has fifteen tattoos, no job, and her own difficult past. But she claims she is the only person who can help Andy be happy again, if only she weren’t hiding a huge secret that will mess things up even more. Andy Carter needs a second chance at life, and Daisy—and the person Daisy pushes Andy to become—may be his last chance to set things right. ~amazon.com

 Review: We're All Damaged is a book about family and how sometimes you have to leave to come home again. Andy ran away from home in his mid twenties because he couldn't deal with the blow that life had given him. So he went to the place where he could be anonymous, NYC. He wasn't happy but he wasn't unhappy. Until he gets a call that his grandfather is dying and he needs to return to Omaha.

Frankly, Andy is a mess. He's emotionally damaged and truly can't seem to move on. Being home has not helped but hampered any strides he might have made in New York. It's not just Andy who's a mess but his whole family seems to be floundering. His dad is shooting squirrels in the backyard and mom has completely changed her looks because she might be on the career path to being on Fox News. She's so focused on that, she can't see what else is going on with her family. She just doesn't want them to screw up her chance for the big leagues.

Even after the big reveal of Daisy, I still felt that she was so good for Andy. She taught him that it was Karen's loss and not his, that he needed to know that he was worthy of self-love and love. She was extremely good for his ego.

Mr. Norman has a fantastic knack for putting humor and wit into something that could be depressing. He captures real life so well with a satirical bent to it. I found myself chuckling about some of Andy's antics and his brother, Jim was a source of some laughs as well.

If you love books focused on family issues, then you really won't want to miss We're All Damaged. And why you are at it, you need to read his first novel, Domestic Violets!


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Julie's Review: One True Loves

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Series: None
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Pages: 352
Obtained: publisher via Edelweiss
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Pretty much had me ugly crying from the first page
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Summary: In her twenties, Emma Blair marries her high school sweetheart, Jesse. They build a life for themselves, far away from the expectations of their parents and the people of their hometown in Massachusetts. They travel the world together, living life to the fullest and seizing every opportunity for adventure. On their first wedding anniversary, Jesse is on a helicopter over the Pacific when it goes missing. Just like that, Jesse is gone forever. Emma quits her job and moves home in an effort to put her life back together. Years later, now in her thirties, Emma runs into an old friend, Sam, and finds herself falling in love again. When Emma and Sam get engaged, it feels like Emma’s second chance at happiness. That is, until Jesse is found. He’s alive, and he’s been trying all these years to come home to her. With a husband and a fiancĂ©, Emma has to now figure out who she is and what she wants, while trying to protect the ones she loves. Who is her one true love? What does it mean to love truly? Emma knows she has to listen to her heart. She’s just not sure what it’s saying. ~amazon.com  

Review: One True Loves is a read in one sitting with a box of Kleenex next you novel. I often read at lunch or while I'm at my kids' activities and I was struggling not to have the ugly cry in public; I wasn't very successful.

Ms. Reid tells the wonderful story of Emma who was brave enough to start her life over when her true love/best friend died in a horrible accident. Emma had to live the life they built together in order to save herself from shattering. She moves back to Acton, Massachusetts where she slowly begins to come out of her fog. We get the story of how she fell in love with Jesse and with Sam told in flashbacks. She tells each of their love stories with honesty and not through rose colored glasses.

It is hard not to like Emma. She's your friend, your sister, maybe you even see parts of you in her. It's hard not to feel her pain and wonder how you were survive losing the only person you ever felt knew you. How would you pick yourself back up? How would you rebuild your life? Would you go back to the place where you grew up and try to make it your home?

How do you respond when you get the call from Jesse that he's alive and coming back to you? How do you tell Sam? How do you tell your heart? You feel her agony, pain and confusion. Can you fall out of love with Sam because Jesse's back? Can you learn to love Jesse again because you both aren't the people you were 3 years ago?

I realize that's a lot of questions but those are just some of the notions that Ms. Reid tackles in this novel. I appreciated both men and for different reasons. Jesse taught Emma to want adventure and to want experiences. Sam taught her that making a life for yourself in the day to day is an experience as well. They are both so different but each man loved her fiercely but each was in love with different Emma's.

We all change and grow so who we were in our 20s isn't necessarily who we are later in our lives. Obviously the key to any good relationship is growing together. Jesse and Emma's time together was disrupted, so they need to find their way back to each other.

I will say I was happy with the ending and I thought I knew where she was going with a breadcrumb laid down early in the novel.

I have 2 of Ms. Reid's other novels on my shelf and needless to say they will be making their way to my shorter TBR pile in the future. If you haven't read her, I can say that starting with One True Loves.


Monday, June 6, 2016

Julie's Review: Marlene

Author: C.W. Gortner
Series: None
Publication Date: May 24, 2016
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 416
Obtained: Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Intimate look at a truly extraordinary woman who paved her own way
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Summary: A lush, dramatic biographical novel of one of the most glamorous and alluring legends of Hollywood’s golden age, Marlene Dietrich—from the gender-bending cabarets of Weimar Berlin to the lush film studios of Hollywood, a sweeping story of passion, glamour, ambition, art, and war from the author of Mademoiselle Chanel. Raised in genteel poverty after the First World War, Maria Magdalena Dietrich dreams of a life on the stage. When a budding career as a violinist is cut short, the willful teenager vows to become a singer, trading her family’s proper, middle-class society for the free-spirited, louche world of Weimar Berlin’s cabarets and drag balls. With her sultry beauty, smoky voice, seductive silk cocktail dresses, and androgynous tailored suits, Marlene performs to packed houses and becomes entangled in a series of stormy love affairs that push the boundaries of social convention. For the beautiful, desirous Marlene, neither fame nor marriage and motherhood can cure her wanderlust. As Hitler and the Nazis rise to power, she sets sail for America. Rivaling the success of another European import, Greta Garbo, Marlene quickly becomes one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, starring with legends such as Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Cary Grant. Desperate for her return, Hitler tries to lure her with dazzling promises. Marlene instead chooses to become an American citizen, and after her new nation is forced into World War II, she tours with the USO, performing for thousands of Allied troops in Europe and Africa. But one day she returns to Germany. Escorted by General George Patton himself, Marlene is heartbroken by the war’s devastation and the evil legacy of the Third Reich that has transformed her homeland and the family she loved. An enthralling and insightful account of this extraordinary legend, Marlene reveals the inner life of a woman of grit, glamour, and ambition who defied convention, seduced the world, and forged her own path on her own terms. ~amazon.com  

Review: Marlene A Novel is a fascinating and intimate look at the famed German actress Marlene Dietrich. I was vaguely aware of her as a film star and pretty much knew zilch about her life. She lived a very full and rich life to say the least. She fought for her fame and for her privacy. She knew how to work an audience and play the seductress on screen. She was also a great seductress in her personal life.

Marlene wasn't shy about going after what she wanted or trying new things. She was willing to give acting a try when the violin wasn't going to be the career her mother wanted for her. Her mother was a strict woman who expected nothing but propriety from her girls. She cleaned houses day and night to provide a proper education for her 2 girls, even if Liesel was educated at home.  She demanded the best from her children, so when Marlene was kicked out of school, her mother was none to pleased. For Marlene, this was the beginning of her forging her way from her strict upbringing and the way to break free of her mom's house.

Marlene was adventurous in every aspect of her life and she was always willing to try something new and go the extra mile. I would also say she is the poster child for pushing the envelope. She does it in her marriage and she does it in her career.

What I admired about her the most was her fierce loyalty to those that were in her circle. Even if you grew apart and found yourself back in her life, she never held a grudge. She also was generous when it came to refugees from Germany during WWII. She tried to do as much as she could to help as many people as she could.

I do love books about Old Hollywood or the Golden Age of Hollywood. The woman who were actresses truly paved the way for today's starts. The business of Hollywood was so different than as well because a studio gave you a contract and you couldn't work outside that studio unless they loaned you out.

C.W. Gortner does a fanatstic job of displaying the brave and outstanding that Marlene truly was. She was before her time in all aspects of her life. It is was evident to this reader that the author admired her gumption very much.

If you love novels about strong, vibrant women, then you must not miss Marlene.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Julie's Review: The Wedding Sisters

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Author: Jamie Bremmer
Series: None
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 320
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: A good reminder of never settling for less than you are worth
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Summary: Meryl Becker is living a mother's dream. The oldest of her three beautiful daughters, Meg, is engaged to a wonderful man from one of the country's most prominent families. Of course, Meryl wants to give Meg the perfect wedding. Who wouldn't? But when her two younger daughters, Amy and Jo, also become engaged to celebrated bachelors, Meryl has to admit that three weddings is more than she and her husband, Hugh, can realistically afford.The solution? A triple wedding! At first, it's a tough sell to the girls, and juggling three sets of future in-laws is a logistical nightmare. But when Hugh loses his teaching job, and Meryl's aging mother suddenly moves in with them, a triple wedding is the only way to get all three sisters down the aisle. When the grand plan becomes public, the onslaught of media attention adds to Meryl's mounting pressure. Suddenly, appearances are everything - and she will do whatever it takes to keep the wedding on track as money gets tight, her mother starts acting nutty, and her own thirty year marriage starts to unravel.In the weeks leading up to the nuptials, secrets are revealed, passions ignite, and surprising revelations show Meryl and her daughters the true meaning of love, marriage and family. Jamie Brenner's The Wedding Sisters invites readers to the most unpredictable wedding of the year. ~amazon.com

Review: The Wedding Sisters is a wonderful story about figuring out who you are and what you want even if it means disrupting the plans you had for yourself. It is also about family and accepting that maybe who we are isn't necessarily how our family sees us.

Meet Meryl Becker a very nosy and overly involved mother of three girls. So when she finds out that her eldest Meg is going to marry a politician's son, she goes into overdrive mode to be the best hostess. She wants everything to be perfect but she also wants to be in control of the planning. So when the groom's family offers to pay for it and hire a planner, Meryl won't hear of it. Meg being practical, tells her future mother-in-law that some help might be wise.

We then have Amy, the middle daughter, who has been dating Andy for 5 years and is a bit miffed that her "perfect" older sister is getting married before her. Then Andy proposes and Amy feels the need to beat her older sister to the alter planning her wedding a month before her sisters. She's always felt competitive with Meg but being engaged at the same time fuels it even more.

Then you have the baby of the family, Jo, who's girlfriend leaves her just as she is thinking that maybe getting married to her sounds like a good idea. I think Jo's story is perhaps the most heart-wrenching because you just know it's not the right path for her or Toby, her best friend. It really is only going to end in disaster and  heartache.

I laughed throughout the book because of some of the antics that the girls were going through and how Meryl was acting. Although at times I wanted to smack Meryl for the same reasons she made me laugh. The grandmother was a hoot but in the end her story was just has heart-wrenching as Jo's and perhaps made the girls really think about what love is and isn't.

I loved this family and how they really did come together at the end to overcome some pretty big issues within the confines of the family. When it mattered they pulled together. If you are looking for a great summer, vacation, pool read, then you will want to pick up The Wedding Sisters.