Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book S: Fabookulous April 27, 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?

Wow, I just realized how long it’s been since I finished a book. The craziness of life has kept me MIA…until now. I’ve finally been able to finish Sarah Pekkanen’s latest novel, Skipping a Beat. Last year, both LibraryLove and I reviewed her first book, The Opposite of Me, and this year has brought us more from the ever witty and charming Pekkanen. I can say without a doubt that I enjoyed this book so much more than the first one! It really is amazing how much writers can change in just one year or between one novel. This one kept my attention (granted, it also had a couple of months of it since I was reading at the pace of molasses this time around.) But anyway, this was an interesting story for a couple of reasons.

A unique story line, Michael cheats death and is given a second chance at life. (By the way, nonfiction books of the same topic seem to be creeping up more and more, but I digress. I think I made clear my feelings on that with my review of Heaven is for Real) Something that struck me is that neither of the main characters seemed to have any belief or faith in an afterlife or any higher being, but alas, that’s not the point either. When Michael is given his second chance, he makes drastic changes to his lifestyle without discussing them with Julia (the marriage seems very business-like) and Julia doesn’t exactly seem in love with her husband, much less affectionate toward him. Readers will be pleased to see Julia warm toward her husband throughout the story as she simultaneously navigates new waters with him and reminisces over a love once lost between them.

I appreciate Pekkanen’s witty voice and her sense of humor and there are laugh out loud moments where you just can’t help but chuckle. It seems to come so natural for Sarah. A truly entertaining author, Sarah Pekkanen continues to create stories you can lose yourself in and absorb. I would have liked to have seen more with Isabelle and what happened with her situation and think that would be a fun story in itself! (Hint, hint…) It was nice that Julia and Isabelle kept a close friendship because both Julia and Michael’s worlds were so work-oriented. In the DC area that’s not hard to do, but it’s always refreshing when there is that someone close you can support and lean on during tough times.

All in all, I really enjoyed this 2nd work from Sarah and I look forward to reading more of her novels. And hopefully, also to picking up steam with this year’s challenge!

Other Sarah Pekkanen book reviews on Year of the Bookwormz:
Fabookulous’ Review of The Opposite of Me
LibraryLove’s Review of
The Opposite of Me
LibraryLove’s Review of
Skipping a Beat (spoiler alert at the end)

4/5 stars



Book H: LibraryLove April 23, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Book description~ All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. What Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother reveals is that the Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that. Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions and providing a nurturing environment. The Chinese believe that the best way to protect your children is by preparing them for the future and arming them with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother chronicles Chua’s iron-willed decision to raise her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, her way-the Chinese way-and the remarkable results her choice inspires.

The truth is Lulu and Sophia would never have had time for a playdate. They were too busy practicing their instruments (two to three hours a day and double sessions on the weekend) and perfecting their Mandarin. Of course no one is perfect, including Chua herself. Witness this scene:
“According to Sophia, here are three things I actually said to her at the piano as I supervised her practicing:

1. Oh my God, you’re just getting worse and worse.

2. I’m going to count to three, then I want musicality.

3. If the next time’s not PERFECT, I’m going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them!”

But Chua demands as much of herself as she does of her daughters. And in her sacrifices-the exacting attention spent studying her daughters’ performances, the office hours lost shuttling the girls to lessons-the depth of her love for her children becomes clear. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an eye-opening exploration of the differences in Eastern and Western parenting- and the lessons parents and children everywhere teach one another.

Question 1- when did “doing what’s best for your children” equate to “forcing your kids to be what you want them to be”??? Question 2- what ever happened to unstructured free time to let kids just BE KIDS?!?!? Question 3- where was Jed the father throughout this story? He basically took a backseat. I believe parenting should be shared between a mother and father when a couple is married.

For starters, I did not like this book. This book was chosen by the book club I am in and our discussion next week should be extremely controversial and interesting to say the least. This book made me cringe and get very upset. However, because this is a memoir and because parenting is an EXTREMELY hot button topic, I’m going to keep my review as brief as possible. I don’t blog to ruffle feathers, incite a riot, or hurt loved ones. This blog is just something fun and lighthearted for Fabookulous and I to journal our adventures through books. Furthermore, it’s not my place to tell anyone how to parent or not parent their own children. The beauty of our country is the freedom to live your dreams and raise a family according to your beliefs. At the same time, we know many of you turn to this blog for book suggestions. At first, I was not going to write a review at all, but that defeats the point of only reviewing books I really liked.

Amy Chua (the Tiger Mother), believes in the extreme practice of Chinese Parenting. Here are some things Amy Chua would never allow her daughters to do:

-Have a playdate
-Be in a school play
-Complain about not being in a school play
-Not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
-Play any instrument other than the piano or violin
 -Not play the piano or violin

Shocked yet? Yeah, that’s only the beginning.

One thing that scares me most about the Chinese Model of extreme parenting is that I believe it raises codependent children. Codependency is a disorder that will affect you later on in life, and in your interpersonal relationships. Have you ever met someone that apologized profusely for the slightest thing? Or was overly timid and needed approval of others to feel confident? I believe this model is a self-fulfilling prophecy. This model illustrates individuals who want people think their children are so smart and talented that they are forced into the rigors of unhealthiness in their hobbies, studies and extra-curricular activities. Codependency can manifest later in life through anxiety disorders, alcoholism and drug use because over 18 years of this model, children grow into adults that have only known how to put their own feelings/thoughts/desires/wants secondary to appease/please others. When finally they are out on their own, they have no idea how to navigate a life that makes THEM happy; they’re completely out of touch with their own drive in life.

Basically, codependent children live to make their parents happy and for their parents’ approval. This is an extremely tough concept for people to wrap their minds around but it happens daily as you bargain with your children. In my heart, I genuinely believe the Chinese Model of parenting raises generations of codependency, low self-esteem and subservience. No, I don’t have a degree in psychology but this is an area I have much life experience with.

Take my review with a grain of salt and read the book for yourself so you can decide. Then take some time and reflect back on the relationships you have or have had in the past, and the way you were brought up and you may begin to draw some seriously scary parallels. I freely admit that I have no answers or a magic bullet on how to raise children. This is something my husband and I will define for ourselves over a lifetime of trial and error. However, what I believe to be a helpful model is to expose your children to lots of different things and eventually they will find a niche that will build confidence instead of expecting them to find confidence because you told them so. I hope to find the wisdom and practice that will enable my children to be strong, independent people who make up their own minds.

I’m not going to say anymore; I’ll let you be your own judge. =)

2/5 stars

8 down, 18 to go!

Up next, A Place of Yes by Bethenny Frankel




Book F: LibraryLove April 17, 2011

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

Book description~ love can redeem a man…but secrets and lies can condemn him.A handsome stranger comes to the sleepy New England town of Salem Falls in hopes of burying his past: once a teacher at a girls’ prep school, Jack St. Bride was destroyed when a student’s crush sparked a powder keg of accusation. Now, washing dishes for Addie Peabody at the Do-Or-Diner, he slips quietly into his new routine, and Addie finds this unassuming man fitting easily inside her heart. But amid the rustic calm of Salem Falls, a quartet of teenage girls harbor dark secrets — and they maliciously target Jack with a shattering allegation. Now, at the center of a modern-day witch hunt, Jack is forced once again to proclaim his innocence: to a town searching for answers, to a justice system where truth becomes a slippery concept written in shades of gray, and to the woman who has come to love him.

Wow. Jodi does it again. And  yes, I do realize that I’m way behind as I’m reading this after all her other more recent works. But this,  as my friends hypothesized, is now one of my all time favorite Jodi books right up with 19 Minutes. She has such an amazing gift for nuance and amazing character depth. I’m glad to have enjoyed her evolving style and much prefer the way she gives each character their own chapters in her current works, where in her older novels she just separates with a bit of space. It’s a bit more distracting with just a new paragraph when the character’s voice changes, making me appreciate her current style that much more.

Regardless of your beliefs about the legal system, the way she incorporates true-to-life courtroom drama into her novels is something that truly fascinates me. Her ability to not “preach” but rather show the reader all sides of each story is so unique, and not done nearly enough by modern authors. I feel like I’ve learned so much about courtroom happenings just from her books. She does amazing amounts of research to bring this town to its knees over a very controversial and always current topic, incorporating Wicca, teen angst, hormones gone crazy, family struggle, redemption and vindication all in one.

I just adored the dynamic between Addie and Jack. The mystery. The passion. One of my favorite moments was when Jack took it upon himself to break the chain of hurt and changed Chloe’s room . I loved Addie’s open heart and the way Jack brought redemption to her lost soul. This book carried me away with it and I really enjoyed the long stretches of time I had to devote to this book while traveling in airports throughout the last few days. My flights  flew by (pun intended) because I was so intertwined in the characters of Salem Falls. Bottom line, this is a fantastic novel and timeless whether you read it when it was first published or 10 years from now. Th issues, the characters, the dynamics are forever apropos.

5/5 stars

7 down, 19 to go!

In progress, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother




Book Y: LibraryLove April 2, 2011

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

Book description~ Zoe Baxter has spent ten years trying to get pregnant, and after multiple miscarriages and infertility issues, it looks like her dream is about to come true – she is seven months pregnant. But a terrible turn of events leads to a nightmare – one that takes away the baby she has already fallen for; and breaks apart her marriage to Max.  In the aftermath, she throws herself into her career as a music therapist – using music clinically to soothe burn victims in a hospital; to help Alzheimer’s patients connect with the present; to provide solace for hospice patients. When Vanessa – a guidance counselor — asks her to work with a suicidal teen, their relationship moves from business to friendship and then, to Zoe’s surprise, blossoms into love. When Zoe allows herself to start thinking of having a family, again, she remembers that there are still frozen embryos that were never used by herself and Max.

Meanwhile, Max has found peace at the bottom of a bottle – until he is redeemed by an evangelical church, whose charismatic pastor – Clive Lincoln – has vowed to fight the “homosexual agenda” that has threatened traditional family values in America. But this mission becomes personal for Max, when Zoe and her same-sex partner say they want permission to raise his unborn child. SING YOU HOME explores what it means to be gay in today’s world, and how reproductive science has outstripped the legal system. Are embryos people or property? What challenges do same-sex couples face when it comes to marriage and adoption? What happens when religion and sexual orientation – two issues that are supposed to be justice-blind – enter the courtroom? And most importantly, what constitutes a “traditional family” in today’s day and age?

After recently reading 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult ( pronounced Pee-KOE), I didn’t think I could like another of her novels as much…then I read Sing You Home, and I ate my words. This novel is incredible in every way. Before I get into the meat of my review of the actual novel, I want to share with you what made my reading experience even richer this time around; the experience I shared with some of my book club babes at the book release event for Sing You Home we attended in DC two weeks ago at the 6th & I St. Synagogue Cultural Center. The event was unlike all the other book events I’d ever attended and probably will attend. The event was at a synagogue and cultural center, which in itself alone expanded the horizons of many. Just because you do not relate to one religious group or another, tolerance of others beliefs, I believe, is paramount in being a good member of society and leading by example. The setting was a perfect backdrop for an evening of thought-provoking discussion about our current societal intolerance. Naturally, the idea that Picoult and her team wanted to show acceptance in the scene of the event, I thought, really spoke to the ideals in the book she was promoting.

The event was also not a standard vanilla reading, Q&A, and signing. Instead, it was an actual live interview between Picoult and a very well-known columnist from The Washington Post newspaper. The interview was insightful, thought-provoking, and truly an evening that left me feeling changed. In typical fashion, the girls and I made an event out of it so we got into town plenty early, dined in ChinaTown and then camped out on the steps of the cultural center and were first in line for the event. About 30 minutes after us, the line was wrapped around the city blocks. Picoult draws a crowd wherever she goes! This afforded us the ability to not only be front and center but we also got to meet Picoult before anyone else (and got us out of there at a reasonable hour for a work night)! Having read more than a handful of Picoult’s novels, we were all impressed with the interviewer; he really knew the body of Picoult’s works and had such great questions that spurred fantastic dialogue about truly controversial topics. Picoult also shared with the audience that one of her sons is gay and it is her moral, ethical, maternal obligation to raise awareness for tolerance around the country and for generations to come. What gave me an even deeper appreciation for Picoult as an author and an artist, was the fact that she stressed how in her books, her goal is NEVER to sway you or convince you or preach right and wrong. But what she does is try to make you, the reader, walk in someone else’s shoes and learn about a viewpoint you may have ignored. Through this, you will hopefully learn acceptance of others regardless if they believe what you do, or live the way you do, or even love the way you do. You may believe one thing. But is it your right to dictate your neighbor’s beliefs?  If it were only that simple, we’d have no hate crimes.

I digress…the event was also so unique because it was the first novel I’ve ever known that used mixed media; Picoult wanted the main character, Zoe, to have a real voice. Picoult wrote 9 original songs to each accompany the 9 chapters of the novel. Her friend and musician performed at the end of the interview portion of the event before the Q&A session, bringing Zoe’s voice to life. Even cooler? The CD of all 9 songs was included in the flap of the novel for everyone to enjoy in tandem with their reading experience!

Ok, so the book! Wow, wow, wow. Not even sure where to go begin because this book was SO incredibly thorough and spanned so many controversial topics, all woven and paced SO impeccably it left my head spinning (in a good way)! Obviously as you know from reading my reviews, I don’t rehash the books’ events, I rather react to them. You can tell by the description blurb up above if it’s a book you want to read or not. So with that, the shear idea of reproductive rights and embryo donation alone would’ve been more than enough fodder for an entire novel. But then add to it gay rights, radical religious viewpoints,  abortion, the power of music therapy on teens on the edge of suicide, whether a zygote or embryo are considered a life, where the love goes when a marriage dissolves, and how these issues play out in a court of law will leave you with paper cuts you’ll be turning the pages so fast (or a blister from pressing your e-readers)!

“Once, Zoe and I went to a wedding of one of her clients. It was a Jewish wedding, and it was really beautiful- with trappings and traditions I had never seen before. Th bride and groom stood under a canopy, and the prayers were in an unfamiliar language. at the end, the rabbi had the groom stomp on a wineglass wrapped in a napkin. May your marriage last as long as it would take to put these pieces back together, he said. Afterward, when everyone was congratulating the couple, I sneaked underneath the canopy and took a tiny shard of glass from the napkin where it still lay on the grass. I threw it into the ocean on the way home, so that, no matter what, that glass could never be reconstructed, so the couple would stay together forever. When Zoe asked what I was doing and I told her, she said she thought she loved me more in that moment than she ever had before.”

What I loved most about this novel and her other works is just how ridiculously fair Picoult can be as a writer. My favorite thing about her writing style, that many have started to copy, is how each of her character’s get their own voice as the book  is told from each of the main character’s perspectives. It’s amazing how Picoult is able to craft their voices and develop their characters so distinctly from one another. This allows the reader to feel such compassion for both the protagonist and antagonist simultaneously, even if you never thought you’d see eye-to-eye with certain life viewpoints. Picoult is never afraid to tackle the controversy of our modern world, but she does it with grace, elegance, and respect. Oh, and the ending? So incredibly satisfying, like a cold drink of water in the desert.

If you’ve never read a “Jodi Book”, I recommend starting with My Sister’s Keeper. It’ll pull you in and leave you breathless. Eventually work your way through Change of Heart, 19 Minutes, then make your way to Sing You Home; you will not be disappointed!

5/5 stars

6 down, 20 to go!