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

Fabookulous

 

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.

Fabookulous

 

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!

xo♥xo,

LibraryLove


 

Book #52: Fabookulous December 31, 2010

Stay by Allie Larkin

Book description:

Savannah “Van” Leone has been in love with Peter Clarke ever since she literally fell head over heels in front of him on the first day of college. Now, six years later, instead of standing across from him at the altar, Van is standing beside her best friend Janie as maid of honor, trying to mask her heartache and guilt as Janie marries the only man she’s ever loved. Before Van’s mother died, she told Van never to let Peter go, but as the couple exchanges vows, Van wonders if her fairy-tale ending will ever come true.

After the wedding, Van drowns her sorrows in Kool-Aid-vodka cocktails and reruns of Rin Tin Tin, and does what any heartbroken woman in her situation would do: She impulsively buys a German Shepherd over the Internet. But the pocket-size puppy Van is expecting turns out to be a clumsy hundred-pound beast who only responds to commands in Slovak. Van is at the end of her rope…until she realizes that this quirky giant may be the only living being who will always be loyal to her, no matter what.

Van affectionately names her dog Joe, and together they work to mend the pieces of Van’s shattered heart. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Joe’s vet is a rugged sweetheart with floppy blond hair and a winning smile. But when the newlyweds return from their honeymoon, Van is forced to decide just how much she’s willing to sacrifice in order to have everything she’s ever wanted–proving that sometimes life needs to get more complicated before it gets better.

Warm and witty, poignant and funny, Stay is a big-hearted, unforgettable debut that illuminates the boundlessness of love and marks the arrival of an irresistible new voice.

Ahhhhh tis so sweet to post the 52nd review! And in the nick of time too– I still have a couple of hours until the end of the year! I’m not a big New Year’s Eve person so I’m perfectly content to stay home, drink wine and play games with the fam/pseudo family that come over. Tonight nobody would talk to me until I finished my last book! haha I appreciate the support but I’m glad I can now have some wine and ring in the new year! 😉

Anyway, Stay is indeed a very endearing novel. I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t MORE about the dog (Joe) but more focused on the love triangle/drama surrounding Van’s love life. I was expecting more of a story about a girl and her dog. So I got more than I bargained for is all.

At times it felt silly and I don’t know how else to explain that other than the shallow comments/thoughts Van had. It was easy to think of her as still in high school or something, so a challenge to relate. Stay is also extremely predictable and I found myself hoping for a twist or turn that would keep me shocked and surprised. Not every novel will wow, but this one was a cute one to end the year with.

Larkin does a good job of tying everything together but I just wish Stay was more about the dog instead of the boys. Van gets her dog for companionship (granted, it’s a mistaken order) but then she comes to value her pet yet somehow the bonding seems skipped. I guess I think the book jacket was slightly misleading in what the novel would offer. But I’m a sucker for the love of dogs 🙂 All in all, this is a light-hearted read to be enjoyed!

3.5/5 stars

Fabookulous

 

Book #50: Fabookulous December 26, 2010

Engaging Father Christmas by Robin Jones Gunn

*Spoiler alert* This review will give away parts of Finding Father Christmas by Robin Jones Gunn. If you haven’t already read that one, check out my review before reading further 🙂

Book description:

Miranda Carson can’t wait to return to England for Christmas and to be with her boyfriend, Ian. She has spent a lifetime yearning for a place to call home, and she’s sure Carlton Heath will be it, especially when a hinted-at engagement ring slips into the conversation.
But Miranda’s high hopes for a jolly Christmas with the small circle of people she has come to love are toppled when Ian’s father is hospitalized and the matriarch of the Whitcombe family withholds her blessing from Miranda. Questions run rampant in Miranda’s mind about whether she really belongs in this cheery corner of the world. Then, when her true identity threatens all her relationships in unanticipated ways, Miranda is certain all is lost.
And yet . . . maybe Father Christmas has special gifts in store for her after all.

Talk about perfect timing for a book! I finished this one the day after Christmas and it was such a cute and cozy little read during the holiday. The sequel to Finding Father Christmas, Engaging Father Christmas continues with Miranda’s journey as she heads back to Carlton Heath one year after her discovery of a family she never knew. Now happily involved with a special someone, Miranda feels sentimental as she travels back to the tiny town that welcomed her with open arms the first time she visited, which was the previous Christmas.

While very predictable (at a short 155 pages it doesn’t take a seasoned reader to know what’s coming), Gunn is still an excellent story teller. She’ll keep you engaged and make you feel right at home as you get to know the characters a bit more than last time. The reader will recognize several scenarios that were in the first novel (the Tea Cosy, the Christmas play, and the Whitcombe manor) that make you wish for variety.

But this is still a cozy (guess that’s the best word I keep coming up with!) little novel about the Christmas spirit, warm and friendly people, and the need all of us have for love in our lives. I recommend picking up a copy before the end of the year to appreciate the timing of the story!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night 🙂

3.5 out of 5 stars

Fabookulous

 

Book #51: LibraryLove December 11, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Book description~ Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.
This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship – and innocent love – that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice – words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.  Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

Wow. In a powerful blend of historical fact AND fiction, Jamie Ford churns out a most moving read centered around a Romeo & Juliet-type story of a young Chinese boy who falls in love with a young Japanese girl on the brink of cultural shift. You know the way a warm towel feels on your shoulders fresh from the dryer? Or the way a cool drink of water feels when you’ve been thirsty for an hour? Or the way it feels to crawl into bed after a most exhausting day? This is how Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet felt to me as I finished the last word; both bitter and sweet. You know that towel will cool down; that drink will end; that alarm will sound. It’s so sweet yet fleeting. Ford did an UH-mazing job pacing this novel just so. Shifting between war-time Seattle in the 40s and more ‘modern day’ life in the late 80s, Ford was so tender and artful in his gradual build-up in character, plot, and subplot. Henry and Keiko’s story of young love unfolded in the foreground while Henry and Marty’s once frail father-son connection flourished in the background.

“They arrested more people last night. Japanese, all over the city. All over Puget Sound. All over the state, maybe. People are getting rid of anything that might connect them to the war with Japan. Letters from Nippon. Clothing. It all must go. People are burning photos of their parents, of their families.”

Despite having no prior knowledge or understanding of the Japanese Internment camps during WWII in Seattle or the cultural divide for that matter, I couldn’t help but be immersed in Henry’s world. When people think of genocide, they instantly think of the Holocaust for the Jews. But how many would think of the Japanese Internment ? I most certainly will from now on. I was drawn in with subtlety; Ford’s writing style made it easy to get lost in Henry’s world.

I usually loathe the idea of movies being adapted from novels but in this case, if done well like Memoirs of a Geisha, this novel would translate quite beautifully on-screen. At times I drew parallels to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas , during  scenes of Keiko and Henry’s clandestine meetings in the camp. Henry and Keiko seemed so mature beyond their years and I loved how devoted Henry was, I just wish Ford had written this in first-person when the narration shifted to Henry’s story; as the reader I felt slightly removed from Henry and would have prefered to be inside his head.

My heart DROPPED as the clerk shared the ‘news’ with Henry that life-altering day at the corner of The Panama Hotel and felt my mouth agape and my eyes water; I had to read those lines a few times before they sunk in. I found myself slowing my reading pace because I realized I was almost to the end yet I wanted so much more story and knew I would have to suffice with what was left.

My only criticism is that the editor should have probably done a bit better job of fact checking; I don’t believe the internet was advanced enough for the “search” to have taken place in the late 80s for Marty to have found Keiko so easily.

I must thank Sarrina for letting me borrow this book from her; I am truly changed and wish everyone would read this book AND take their time with it.

6/5 stars (watch me!)

51 down, 1 left …wait did I really just type that?! Holy cannoli.

On deck, Oogy!

xoxo,

LibraryLove

 

Book #50: LibraryLove December 8, 2010

Life of Pi: The Unabridged Audiobook by Yann Martel

Book description~ Pi Patel, a God-loving boy and the son of a zookeeper, had a fervent love of stories and practices not only within his native Hinduism, but also Christianity and Islam. When Pi is sixteen, his family and their zoo animals emigrate from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship. Alas, the ship sinks–and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi. Can Pi and the tiger find their way to land? Can Pi’s fear, knowledge, and cunning keep him alive until they do?

What a curious and fun book! Sharing a life boat with a Bengal Tiger? No problem! Learning how to fend for himself? No problem! In a more modern version of Noah’s Ark-meets-Jungle Book-meets-Madagascar-meets Castaway, Life of Pi marks the second Man Booker Award Winner that I’ve read, er listened to, this year (Room, the first). If you are an animal lover, you’ll be fascinated by all the zoological (no, it’s not pronounced ZOO, it’s pronounced ZOE-uh-logical) references and whimsy of this novel. Son of the Pondicherry zookeeper, Pi comes of age as he learns from his family just how truly wonderful zoos can be, if run properly. He learns an appreciation and understanding for animals unlike most young boys, AND an appreciation and understanding of many religions that prepares him for his life’s journey.

“Just beyond the ticket booth Father had painted on a wall in bright red letters the question: DO YOU KNOW WHICH IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL IN THE ZOO? An arrow pointed to a small curtain. There were so many eager, curious hands that pulled at the curtain that we had to replace it regularly. Behind it was a mirror.”

The Patel family pack up their zoo animals on a Japanese Cargo Ship to emigrate from India to North America. When the boat sinks, Pi the castaway is left to fend for himself and you won’t believe what happens! I found myself laughing out loud throughout my morning commute listening to this audiobook. This is one of those books that everyone should read before they die, it’s very existential…IF you can get past some of the more graphic survival scenes midway through the book. Martel’s writing style is both artful and humorous.

Although this book is told in a non-linear way which I normally like, because I listened to this one, I’d want to go back and re-read this again in 2011 when I have time to read the print novel. The author’s structure was a bit distracting on audiobook whereas in print I think it’d be a nice palette cleanser in between Pi’s adventures. This audiobook also took me longer to finish so I would have enjoyed it a bit more having more solid time to devote to it. If you’re going to listen to this audiobook, I recommend you save it for a roadtrip so you can listen to it without interruption to keep the momentum going.

The elements of fantasy make Life of Pi really fun for all ages, yet also make you appreciate and view your world in a more detail-oriented way. I highly recommend this book for both young and old if you need a stocking stuffer for your young adult or friend, and look forward to revisiting this again next year. From friends of mine who have also enjoyed this novel, it’s even better the second time around.

4/5 stars

Almost finished Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet; stay tuned for my review later this week!

50 down, 2 to go! Hallelujahhhhhhhhhhh!

xoxo,

LibraryLove