Bookish speed dating: getting lost, finding yourself and more

So I’ve, um, gotten a little behind on book reviews.

Which is to say . . . I am ridiculously behind on book reviews.

Even when I was actively getting lost in a story (or four), I lacked the brain power to discuss anything intelligently. So I cataloged my finished reads on a spreadsheet, made a note to review them later and . . . promptly had a baby.


Here I am: desperately wanting to play catch up. These unreviewed books, friends, they’re weighing on me. Weighing down my soul. Making me feel like a failure. Taunting me from their color-coded Google Doc.

Let’s speed date, shall we? I’ll give you a rundown so you can decide whether to pursue a relationship further. I won’t pressure you or follow up with sassy text messages or Facebook notes asking if you and Happiness For Beginners hit it off; your choice to connect in the future is yours alone.

I’m considerate like that.

Happiness for BeginnersHappiness For Beginners
by Katherine Center
Published: 2015
Source: Review copy from publisher
4.5 stars

Though tough to avoid comparisons to Cheryl Strayed’s classic Wild, Center’s novel of a recently-divorced woman who sets off on a wilderness journey of self-discovery and independence — with her kid brother’s best friend, incidentally — is entertaining, sweet and memorable.

I love Katherine’s writing, which flows like a fast-moving current; it’s impossible not to get swept up in her warm characters, compelling setting and relatable plot. At 32, Helen abruptly finds herself starting over — and regardless of where we are in life, readers will find a bit of themselves in Helen’s cautious optimism. Totally loved it.

Tempting FateTempting Fate
by Jane Green
Published: 2014
Source: Audio from library
3.5 stars

Despite having the perfect marriage on paper, Gabby and Elliott struggle with the mundane details of the long-married: not enough time for themselves, each other and their two daughters, who are growing up — but still in need of their parents’ attention.

When a girls’ night out leads to a chance meeting with a younger, handsome stranger, Gabby can’t resist the allure of feeling wanted again. Those feelings — and, later, actions — have far-reaching consequences, however . . . ones even Gabby can’t anticipate.

So I know I sort of swore off Jane Green after the disastrous Another Piece of my Heart, but I was seeking something lighthearted back in March — and I found it here. Though Gabby’s decision-making skills are sketchy at best, I got lost in the endlessly-complicated drama. Good, crazy fun.

Margaret From MaineMargaret From Maine
by Joseph Monninger
Published: 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 stars

After her husband is gravely injured during a deployment, Margaret is left to care for her young son and father-in-law as they work to maintain the family farm. When another serviceman arrives to accompany her to a ceremony in Washington, she is swept up in their powerful chemistry . . . and the idea of feeling free again. But her loyalty is to her husband, even if he’s in a place he’ll never be reached.

I felt for Margaret and Charlie, who seemed star-crossed from the start. I thought their relationship advanced beyond propriety a little too quickly to be realistic (and some of the dialogue was super silly), but still enjoyed this short, heart-wrenching novel.

Coming CleanComing Clean
by Kimberly Rae Miller
Published: 2013
Source: Purchased
3 stars

In this story of growing up in a hoarding household, Miller manages to draw us into her paper- and garbage-strewn world without really opening up to us. It’s a strange thing, indeed, to write a memoir about such a personal topic that still manages to come across as detached — but I finished this short story of Miller’s childhood and college years with a bit of a shoulder shrug. I did finish, though — and that says something. Especially given my sleep-deprived attention span.

The One That Got AwayThe One That Got Away
by Bethany Chase
Published: 2015
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.5 stars

Sarina is a talented architect with great friends, a successful business and a loving relationship with a man she believes will be getting down on one knee in short order. But when an old one-night-stand resurfaces, asking for her design expertise on a new home, Sarina begins to question the past — and her future.

This was the story I was reading the day before my son was born, and for the most part? I succeeded. Chase has created a realistic, could-be-your-bestie narrator in Sarina, and her sexy, playful dynamic with athlete Eamon Roy — a man who once ended them before they could begin — is one with which many will likely relate.

Though it wasn’t a truly stand-out read, it is a layered story that also deals with grief, friendship and pursuing what we truly want. And heck, it managed to (mostly) distract me from impending childbirth, so that counts for something?

Book review: ‘Another Piece Of My Heart’ by Jane Green

Ugh, this book. This book in which I actively disliked almost every character. This book in which the person I most related to was a raging alcoholic. This book in which any ounce of sympathy I felt was erased by characters’ selfish behavior and awful personalities. I just . . . I can’t even.

But let’s dive in:

When Andi marries Ethan, a successful and handsome divorcee, she knows he’s a package deal — and that that package includes Sophia and Emily, his two young daughters. Though accepted by Sophia, a preteen searching for a maternal figure as her own mother battles demons, teenage Emily doesn’t warm to having Andi steal her father’s attention. Angry at the power shift in the family, Emily rebels against Andi in every way possible — and manipulates Ethan through guilt to get anything she wants. The stress in their home puts Andi on edge, threatening the marriage that once filled her with so much hope and joy.

To everyone’s surprise, then, it’s Andi who becomes Emily’s strongest supporter when the 17-year-old finds herself in a very difficult position. Stuck between trying to please his wife or his bitter daughter, Ethan vacillates between sticking up for Andi and allowing Emily to walk all over everyone. And when everything comes to a head, decisions must be made — ones that will impact their family forever.

Jane Green’s Another Piece Of My Heart was, for the most part, a novel that felt like a cheese grater to the eyeball. I only stuck with it because I’d received an audio copy and was determined to find if these characters would reach some peace, some redemption, but never felt invested in their journeys. Though I thought I was supposed to sympathize with Andi against monstrous Emily only to “get” what Emily was going through later in the story, all I felt was endless frustration at both women and lukewarm Ethan for being so blind.

Lest this dissolve into a rant, I spent most of the book wanting to put Emily in time-out — forever. The way she manipulated her father and did the whole “evil smile while hugging you” bit was so over-the-top, so cliché, that I often couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I haven’t read much fiction about blended families and can only begin to appreciate the difficult position in which many families find themselves while journeying toward becoming a happy family. That’s not easy. And if Emily wasn’t such a stone-cold, all-out, selfish little lunatic I might have felt something for her. I mean, Andi isn’t her mother; her own mom is passed out somewhere after going on another tear about how “fat” Emily has become, etc. and so forth. She’s in the bottom of a wine glass with no hope of climbing out . . . for a while, anyway.

Another Piece Of My Heart held few surprises and was painful to follow on audio. Aside from the strangeness of having the author herself narrate a story about an American family with her British accent, complete with British slang that would never fall from an American’s lips, I couldn’t stand the portions featuring Emily’s ranting and screaming. The story was so repetitive: Andi pretends to be nice to Emily, assuaging her guilt that she isn’t treating her right; Emily rebels against Andi’s attempts at said niceness, rightfully calling her out for being “fake” with her, “Emily, honey?” nonsense; the two get in a battle royale; Ethan admonishes the women to “talk it out” or some such, completely ignoring the fact that he’s part of the problem.

Oh, the angst. The angst.

After following Andi’s point of view in the book’s first part, we flip to Emily’s first-person accounts of everything going down — and if possible, I hated this even more than Andi’s portion. Emily comes across as so awful and annoying that my only reaction to anything she said or did was revulsion. She acts like such a petulant child that it was impossible to take her seriously, even when she finds herself in a very serious situation. Getting “her side,” if you will, did nothing but frustrate me. And bouncing around to other narrative voices in these sort of awkward monologues didn’t work for me.

I won’t go on. Suffice it to say I was not a fan. While other reviewers have proclaimed the story “truly realistic,” it was far too overblown for me to enjoy. I don’t welcome drama this epic in my own life, and it wasn’t entertaining or enlightening for me. I felt nothing for the characters and basically just wanted it to be over.

But two stars for Janice, the alcoholic mother who undergoes a transformation throughout the narrative. She’s the only one I liked.

2 out of 5!

ISBN: 0312591829 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Audio copy provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘Mr. Maybe’ by Jane Green

mr_maybeTwenty-seven-year-old Libby Mason is determined that a recent “fling” with novelist Nick will stay just that — a fling. She’s not serious about him, she says, and though they have a great time spending time together, he’s not exactly husband material. And what Libby wants, more than anything, is a husband.

So when she and Nick inevitably part ways, Libby’s slightly distraught — until Ed McMann (McMann, that is, not McMahon!) arrives on the scene. Ed is just another awkward British guy chatting her up until she learns, from a friend, about Mr. McMann’s padded checkbook. The guy is rich — like, seriously loaded. Memories of Nick’s disgusting flat fade into oblivion the first time Libby walks into Ed’s posh London home, and as Ed begins his swift courtship of Libby, she finds herself falling more and more in love . . . with his dough.

Because Ed is annoying. He’s embarrassing. He has a terrible mustache that Libby’s best friend Jules finds particularly hideous (and as a reader, I wasn’t really feeling it, either). For as successful he is in the banking field, Ed might as well walk around with “AWKWARD” stamped on his forehead — the exact opposite of level-headed, sexy and charismatic Nick, who Libby is now steadfastly not speaking to.

Jane Green’s Mr. Maybe is basically an exercise in how far can Libby seriously take this whole “relationship” before calling uncle? Seriously, it was kind of like watching a slow-motion train derailment. I couldn’t believe Libby would even entertain the thought of being with someone like boring, pedantic and clingy Ed — and neither could anyone else in her life, save her mother. But somehow Libby is drawn into this world of wealth and minor fame, basking in the glow of Ed’s attention and lavish gift-giving.

But here’s the thing: I felt sick about it. All of it. Libby spends the entire novel transforming into whomever her lover wants or needs her to be — and as a character, she freely admits this. And yet she doesn’t know what to do about it. I wouldn’t say that I turn into a chameleon in relationships, as Libby does, but everyone has probably experienced that moment of nervousness about showing someone your “true colors” for the first time. Will you scare them off? Will they be appalled — or relieved? Will they still love and accept you?

And Libby never gets to this point with Ed . . . because she never wants to open up. And Ed doesn’t ask her to be anything other than a pretty face. She knows from the get-go he’s not the guy for her, and yet Libby entertains his advances and moves way too fast with him just to — what? Get back at Nick? Not have to suffer another night in, alone?

Very little of Mr. Maybe sat right with me. Despite the fact that we’re to believe Libby is an empowered PR representative who hob-knobs with celebrities, has tons of friends and many contacts in the media world, she comes across as weak, shallow and, frankly, uninteresting. Her banter with Nick is believable and fresh, but the entire mess with Ed felt sticky and terrible. As she let things drag on and on, I kind of . . . started to hate her.

Maybe I related too much to the whole “single girl” on the town — and felt a little irked that for Libby, having a night by herself to watch TV and eat Chinese was like a fate worse than death. Um, personally, I call that Tuesday. Should I down a bottle of poison now or wait until after I’ve watched three back-to-back episodes of “Gossip Girl,” Libby?

Of course, our narrator eventually changes her tune on that front — and has undergone quite a transformation by the end of the novel. And I could appreciate that she’d changed. In fact, she became quite self-aware at the conclusion of the novel . . . and I genuinely believed she’d become a better — and bigger — person. But getting to that point? Unpleasant.

I love Jane Green’s narrative style (and her awesome blog!) and know that few readers chatting about the heavyweights of the “chick lit” world could fail to mention her work, so I’m definitely going to return to her soon — perhaps with The Beach House or Bookends. But until then? Pass on this one.

2.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0140276513 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy obtained through BookMooch