Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book W: Fabookulous March 31, 2011

Who Is My Shelter? by Neta Jackson

Book description:

When she was thrown out of the penthouse she shared with her husband and their sons, Gabby didn’t know if she’d ever find a soft place to land. But after seeking refuge at the shelter where she works, extraordinary things happen as she is reintroduced to God.

From the ashes of her marriage comes the House of Hope–a safe haven for homeless moms and their children.

But now those ashes of her destroyed marriage are being stirred again. When her long-gone husband’s life hits rock bottom, he reappears and asks for one more chance. And Gabby faces what feels like an impossible choice. Take him back. Or keep moving forward without him. Toward someone new who hasn’t betrayed her.

Is God redeeming what Gabby thought was gone forever? Or is He leading her down a different path and giving her something–and someone– new?

 The fourth, and final, book in the House of Hope series by Neta Jackson, Who Is My Shelter? will leave readers satisfied and fulfilled for having come along this journey with Gabby. The series opens with Gabby being kicked out of her penthouse apartment and with nowhere to go. As she begins to find herself and rediscover God, she starts to find fulfillment on her own. She realizes she is a strong woman and she rebuilds a life for herself that takes her places she couldn’t have imagined. Life has a way of working like that, doesn’t it?

(Last year I reviewed the 3rd book, Who Do I Lean On? as part of the 52 book challenge…check out the review for more)

When the tables turn completely and Phillip finds himself in trouble, in need, and searching to find his own way, he comes to Gabby. The readers will appreciate a softer side to Phillip as it was easy not to like him early on. But once he reaches out to better himself as a man, a husband, and a father, it’s endearing to see how God can work all things together for the good of those who love Him.

Without giving too much away, I will say the prologue introduces a rather predictable side story, but that’s ok, it’s still fun to watch it unfold. I’ll miss the women of the House of Hope and Manna House; I’ve spent a couple of years now waiting to see what was happening with them. But all in all, I enjoyed this series and I would recommend it for those who enjoy Christian fiction or just a good story.

It’s been a busy year for me so far so hopefully I’ll get back on the bandwagon here with the A-Z challenge! Thanks for following us into 2011…many more reviews coming soon!

5/5 stars.



Book N: LibraryLove March 20, 2011

19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Book description~ In Sterling, New Hampshire, 17-year-old high school student Peter Houghton has endured years of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of classmates. His best friend, Josie Cormier, succumbed to peer pressure and now hangs out with the popular crowd that often instigates the harassment. One final incident of bullying sends Peter over the edge and leads him to commit an act of violence that forever changes the lives of Sterling’s residents.

Even those who were not inside the school that morning find their lives in an upheaval, including Alex Cormier. The superior court judge assigned to the Houghton case, Alex—whose daughter, Josie, witnessed the events that unfolded—must decide whether or not to step down. She’s torn between presiding over the biggest case of her career and knowing that doing so will cause an even wider chasm in her relationship with her emotionally fragile daughter. Josie, meanwhile, claims she can’t remember what happened in the last fatal minutes of Peter’s rampage. Or can she? And Peter’s parents, Lacy and Lewis Houghton, ceaselessly examine the past to see what they might have said or done to compel their son to such extremes.  Rich with psychological and social insight, Nineteen Minutes is a riveting, poignant, and thought-provoking novel that has at its center a haunting question. Do we ever really know someone?

Although it is now my favorite ‘Jodi book’, and the themes are chilling,  this book truly haunted me. I had nightmares. I gesture to say you cannot close this book unaffected. In honor of attending Jodi’s book release event this week, I wanted to sink my teeth into this first, before I receive Jodi’s newest book in a few days.

Written in 2007, the main premises of this book are both the long-term effects of bullying, and a high school shooting that takes place in just 19 minutes, hence the title, both inside and outside the walls of a small New Hampshire town, as a direct result. Peter Houghton is the main character who is bullied from the moment he sets foot on the kindergarten bus on the first day of school. Peter never truly fit in, no matter what he did or tried. Worst part? The teachers turned a blind eye throughout the years and his parents tried to toughen him up. Although some kids had the capacity to survive the school years and grow up to be successful despite years of bullying, Peter was unfortunately not one of them. This book dares to expose the long-term effect of bullying, unaddressed, on not only a boy, but those around him.

“I think everything you need to know about the law you learn in kindergarten. You know:  Don’t hit. Don’t take what’s not yours. Don’t kill people. Don’t rape them.  Oh yeah, I remember that lesson. Right after snack time. You know what I mean, it’s a social contract.”

Jodi takes us all the way from Peter’s early years to the repercussions of his actions and everywhere in between. She does a meticulous job, as usual, of gently crafting the story, building intensity just right. Every character was purposeful and well-developed. In perfect ‘Jodi form’, we feel woven together with each character, although the entire story is told from 3rd person narrative.  She is one of the most talented storytellers of our time. Unlike one of the many ‘Jodi books’ I read, I definitely did not predict how this story would end and enjoyed being along for the ride.

The story opened on the day everything changed, after the shooting occurred. The story quickly backed up. Seamlessly, chapter by chapter, piece by piece, from past to present, Jodi takes us from Peter’s first day of kindergarten, flipping back and forth, keeping the reader’s attention the whole way through. By the end, I was literally gasping for breath to know the truth about the sequence of events,  about Peter’s inner thoughts, and watch as the entire community of Sterling, NH was brought to its knees during the Superior Court proceedings.

“The rest of us, we’re all like Peter. Some of us jut do a better job of hiding it. What’s the different between spending your life trying to be invisible, or pretending to be the person  you think every one wants you to be? Either way, you’re faking. Alex thought of all the parties she’d ever gone to where the first question she was asked was ‘what do you do’? as if that were enough to define you. Nobody ever asked you who you really were, because that changed. You might be a judge or a mother or a dreamer. You might be a loner or a visionary or a pessimist. You might be the victim, and you might be the bully. You could be the parent and also the child. You might wound one day and heal the next.”

I can’t begin to fathom the depths of Jodi’s research for this novel; ballistics, legalese, detective work, child psychology, teen angst, and of course, the long-term effects of bullying and post traumatic stress disorder. There was certainly no shortage of controversy here folks. This book keeps you hooked from page one until the end and I cannot recommend it enough.   If you take nothing away from this book, please try to lend a helping hand or if you see someone being targeted, please say something to someone. No one should suffer their life away in silence the way Peter did.  Most of us were bullied at some point at different degrees. But we all handle stress and these outside forces differently. What if you could have only been the catalyst in someone’s life to change their path for the better? Hormones coursed through the halls in middle and high school all over the world. One action you take could have a ripple effect of positivity and hopefully prevent tragedy from happening to someone.

“It was simple to say that behind every terrible child stood a terrible parent, but what about the ones who had done the best they could? What about the ones, like Lacy, who had loved unconditionally, protected ferociously, cherished mightily, and still raised a murderer?”

We all have a favorite. What’s your favorite Jodi book?

5/5 stars

5 down, 21 to go!




Book G: LibraryLove March 16, 2011

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Book description~ Jeannette Walls’s father always called her “Mountain Goat” and there’s perhaps no more apt nickname for a girl who navigated a sheer and towering cliff of childhood both daily and stoically. In The Glass Castle, Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents – Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. To call the elder Walls’s childrearing style laissez faire would be putting it mildly. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. But while Rex and Rose Mary firmly believed children learned best from their own mistakes, they themselves never seemed to do so, repeating the same disastrous patterns that eventually landed them on the streets.

Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing (wearing shoes held together with safety pins; using markers to color her skin in an effort to camouflage holes in her pants) to the horrific (being told, after a creepy uncle pleasured himself in close proximity, that sexual assault is a crime of perception; and being pimped by her father at a bar). Though Walls has well earned the right to complain, at no point does she play the victim. In fact, Walls’ removed, nonjudgmental stance is initially startling, since many of the circumstances she describes could be categorized as abusive (and unquestioningly neglectful). But on the contrary, Walls respects her parents’ knack for making hardships feel like adventures, and her love for them — despite their overwhelming self-absorption — resonates from cover to cover.

When you’re hungry, you reach for the pantry. When you’re tired, you crawl into your soft bed. When you feel dirty, you take a shower. When you’re thirsty, you open the fridge for refreshment. When you’re cold you reach for a blanket…well…not if your Jeannette, Lori, Brian, Maureen, Rose Mary or Rex Walls you don’t…

Never have I felt more humbled than when I closed the book on this unbelievable account of the Wall’s family struggles throughout the decades. Sure, we’ve all had our ups and downs and family struggles; I’ve definitely had more than my fair share. But after The Glass Castle, you too will completely rethink the simple pleasures and niceties your life has bestowed upon you and be truly in awe at the human ability to overcome.

The Glass Castle is written from Jeannette’s first person point of view and she so candidly shares her family’s past riddled with alcoholism, abandonment all colored as “liberalism” from her parent’s eyes. Some of the scenes are down right painful while others are astonishing, but I urge you to pick this up and read it; you won’t be able to put it down.  I wanted to scream through the pages at Jeannette’s mother at times, shocked at how ignorant some people can truly be.  I could relate to Jeannette on so many levels, especially her inner drive and ability to focus on what was ahead of her, rather than dwell in self-pity over what could have been. This book has been on my TBR for sometime now, after a friend and her fiancée attended Walls’ book signing event last year in Walls’ now nearby hometown of Culpeper, VA.

I’d forgotten about this book until it was chosen as this month’s discussion selection for book club. Although it’s pretty unfair to critique someone’s life story, I can certainly critique Walls’ writing style, which I thought was delightful and so optimistic despite the hardships Jeannette and her family faced. I can’t wait to pick up Walls’ other book, Half Broke Horses, about the life of her grandparents.

“Dad was lighting his cigarette. I waved, and he waved back. Then he shoved his hands in his pockets, the cigarette dangling from his mouth, and stood there, slightly stoop-shouldered and distracted looking. I wondered if he was remembering how he, too, had left Welch full of vinegar at age seventeen just as convinced as I was now that he’d never return.  I wondered if he was hoping that his favorite girl would come back, or if he was hoping that, unlike him, she would make it out for good.”

Discussing the idea of how awesomely this memoir would translate to film, one of the book club babes and I came up with a few Hollywood celebs that we think would perfectly fit some of the main characters. Who do you think could best play the Walls’ family?

Billy Bob Thornton as Rex Walls

Juliette Lewis as Rose Mary

Abigail Breslan as the young Jeannette

Dakota Fanning as the older Maureen (think Cherie Curry from The Runaways)

Maybe Thora Burch for Lori although Lori is a bit of a ? for me…

Channing Tatum possibly as Brian??

5/5 stars

4 down, 22 to go!




Book S: LibraryLove March 8, 2011

Skipping A Beat by Sarah Pekkanen

Book description~ Julia and Michael meet in high school in their small, poverty-stricken West Virginia hometown. Both products of difficult childhoods — Julia’s father is a compulsive gambler and Michael’s mother abandoned his family when he was a young boy – they find a sense of safety and mutual understanding in each other. Shortly after graduation they flee West Virginia to start afresh. Now thirty-somethings, they are living a rarified life in their multi-million-dollar,Washington D.C. home. From the outside it all looks perfect – Julia has become a highly sought-after party planner, while Michael has launched a wildly successful flavored water company that he sold for $70 million.
But one day Michael stands up at the head of the table in his company’s boardroom — then silently crashes to the floor. More than four minutes later, a portable defibrillator manages to jump-start his heart. Yet what happened to Michael during those lost minutes forever changes him. Money is meaningless to him now – and he wants to give it all away to charity. A prenuptial agreement that Julia insisted upon back when Michael’s company was still struggling means she has no claim to his fortune, and now she must decide: should she walk away from the man she once adored, but who truthfully became a stranger to her long before his near-death experience – or should she give in to her husband’s pleas for a second chance and a promise of a poorer but happier life? And ensure kleenex are nearby for the ending. Ok, glad you know where this review is going.

I would’ve blogged sooner but was bogged down by a few subpar books…and instead of blogging about those frogs, at long last, I made time to read Sarah’s newest book, Skipping A Beat, finally a book blog-worthy of counting toward this challenge!

Not only is Sarah my friend, my constant source of hilarity, and an awesome listening ear, but she’s an amazing author. I thought her first book, released last year, The Opposite of Me was so wonderful. Well, Skipping A Beat just trumped it as even MORE wonderful. SAB exceeded my expectations and took me on an awesome journey through Julia & Michael’s turbulent lives when the course of their lives were forever changed after an ‘accident’. I also love that both Michael, Julia, and my other favorite character from SAB, Isabelle, are all flawed characters. Who wants to read a book about perfect people? It’s not realistic and it’s unrelatable. Flawed characters are so much interesting to read about.

Maybe because I know Sarah, I can hear inner voice shining through the characters, crafting them into such interesting folks. Her writing ability has grown so much in just one year. You can’t help but devour this book, because you can’t predict where the story will take you next.  Sarah can truly paint a picture or set the scene for the reader and has such a unique ability to use subtle literary nuances to hook you. There were so many instances, too many to note, but here are a few of my favorite moments where I felt swept away in Julia and Michael’s world because of how nuanced Sarah’s writing is:

He gave me a gift every single hour. At ten o’clock it was a song- his voice cracked twice, and he tried, without much success to rhyme Julia with beauteous and I laughed until I cried. At noon he baked me a chocolate cake.

Just as Michael said those words, the sun broke free from a giant cloud and beamed its warmth onto me, beginning at my feet and moving up my legs, then over my stomach and my arms and neck. I looked at Michael my eyes wide. He was staring back at me, an expression I’d never seen before on his face. “That’s it,” he whispered. “Just now, when you were so cold and then the sun came out? Julia, that’s exactly how it felt after I died.”

I found an overnight bag and packed a few things- my favorite cozy socks, the picture of Michael in his DrinkUp apron holding a sample cup high in the air like he was making a toast, and a journal with a pretty cover so I could capture some memories of  my husband before they faded even the slightest bit. I rinsed out a glass and put it in the dishwasher, then opened the refrigerator and cleaned out the wilted lettuce and spoiled milk. As I wiped down the shelves with a sponge, I remembered something. I opened the freezer and saw it, tucked in the very back. I pushed aside a package of frozen spinach that I’d been pretending I was going to eat someday and pulled out the tub of Breyer’s chocolate ice cream.

I felt like this novel was like a relationship with an old friend. The book wasn’t constructed in typical chronology but jumped around like our lives and conversations often do. When we meet a friend for coffee or lunch and we get on topics so far from where we started, and we end up talking about our pasts, our struggles, our successes, and our failures. Michael and Julia’s marriage isn’t perfect, but they both genuinely love each other. I think it’s easy to get lost in your own world and stray from where you started, but things eventually get back to center, always.

I wept when I got to the end of the novel for many reasons; for Julia’s redemption, to know she and her father can start over with a clean slate, and in sorrow that Michael will never know his son. Then I thought to myself that Noah’s character really gave both Julia and Michael a glimpse into what could be.

Sarah, I’m so honored to know you and be in your cheering section. Watching your success take you higher is an awesome feeling.

Please tell me you scheduled that much needed spa day? 🙂

Here are a few pics of Sarah and I that always make me smile when I think about them:

5/5 stars

3 down, 23 to go!

Next up: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls