Book review: ‘Fourth Comings’ by Megan McCafferty

fourth_comingsFresh out of Columbia and facing the “where-is-my-life-going” question so many 20-somethings must tackle, Jessica Darling is living in New York City after finally reuniting with her best friend, Hope Weaver. Though things are tangled, complicated and tricky as Jess navigates post-grad life and tries (mostly in vain) to find a job, the matter weighing most heavily on her heart is whether or not to accept a very unexpected proposal from — who else? — Marcus Flutie, her first love and on- and off-again boyfriend.

Jess’s journal entries in the week immediately following the proposal make up Fourth Comings, the penultimate book in the Jessica Darling series. And while this installment lacked the action of the first three books, I think it was definitely an important “chapter” in the overall story of not only Marcus and Jess, but Jessica and Hope, Jessica and Marin, Jessica and her parents, etc.

To be honest, I’m a little bit in love with Marcus . . . and the fact that Jessica is so undecided about him — regardless of the fact that I can see where she’s coming from — is frustrating. I just keep wondering how long she’s going to wonder about him, holding him at arm’s length as she overanalyzes every step that could take her closer or farther away from the man she so obviously adores. But the real question here is the same one many must face before they make “the leap”: With far more differences than similarities between them, is love really enough?

But I adore her quote about falling in love that conveniently is eluding me right now — how first we fall so completely and obsessively for another person before the inevitable cool down that brings us into an easy, comfortable give-and-take relationship. Jessica says her problem with Marcus is that she’s always falling for him — falling, and falling, and falling, without ever hitting the bottom. And while she’s continuously sailing through this love affair, Marcus is reinventing himself time and time again, turning into someone completely different as he grapples with all of the changes life brings him.

Another quote I felt so perfectly sums up so many tangled feelings on love? As Jessica explains in her journal to Marcus:

I thought about you if only because I wondered how long it would take me to stop thinking about you. I thought about you, and how I might never be able to forgive you for all the girls who came before me, nor myself for all the men who would come after you.

I love McCafferty’s books so much, it’s hard for me to speak cohesively on what makes them so great. Jess is just such a complicated, annoying, flawed, beautiful and real character — there’s something about her that makes her more of a friend than a two-dimensional creation of Megan McCafferty! And while I would have liked more of the novel to take place in the here-and-now, I still really loved seeing Jessica grow, change and develop. And I loved getting the latest news on folks like Manda, Len, Scotty and Bethany.

Was I satisfied with the ending? No. I felt completely deflated, actually. But I’m looking forward to Perfect Fifths and concluding a series I’ve grown to love so much!

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 030734651X ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

Book review: ‘The Penny Pinchers Club’ by Sarah Strohmeyer

penny_pinchersLost in the lush, comfortable world of shopping-as-sport, suburban mom, wife and interior designer Kat Griffiths is about to get one serious reality check on the world of consumerism, wants and needs. When Kat digs into her family’s finances for the first time in her life, she can’t believe how bad the damage has become.

Her lackadaisical attitude toward spending — and Griff’s insistence that she not touch the checking accounts herself — has drained the family and left very little for their teen daughter Laura’s college education. After Kat discovers a bank account Griff has started and kept secret from her, her fears and suspicions reach a fever pitch: it’s time to take action.

At the insistence of her friend and housekeeper, Kat joins the Penny Pinchers Club — a motley crew of folks who meet in the public library to discuss coupons, cutting down on consumption, going green and basically living more thoughtfully. The tips she gleans from her meetings help her out in all sorts of ways . . . and prompt her to take a good, hard look at her own life’s needs . . . and wants. Especially where love is concerned.

There’s really so much to love about Sarah Strohmeyer’s The Penny Pinchers Club — it was funny but had plenty of heart; was light-hearted without being cheesy; felt realistic but not depressing. Though I knew from the get-go that some of the “secrets” couldn’t possibly be true, I didn’t have too much trouble going along with it . . . though I did keep thinking Kat would wake up concerning a few matters! It took a while before that happened.

I loved so many of the auxiliary characters, especially Kat’s sister Viv and Steve. The Penny Pinchers themselves were really fun, sweet people, and I loved learning about their lives and how they’d come to be so cost-effective! And the appearance of an old flame added a lot of depth to the plot.

I really felt for Kat, a realistic main character I adored rooting for. The conflict between the many spheres in which she resides — spender and saver; wife and ex-girlfriend; mom and worker — added depth to what might have otherwise been a pretty ordinary story. A quick and worthy read!

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0525951172 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

Beach reading

beach_feetFar more complicated, time-consuming and stressful than making sure I have the right clothes, shoes and sunscreen to take on vacation is deciding which books to take. My family vacations at the Outer Banks every summer — and every summer, I struggle with making sure I have the right novels to accompany me on my much-needed break!

Packing books for London last month was simple — in my “freetime,” I knew I wouldn’t really have my eyes open long enough to actually read anything. So I only brought a book, the I’d saved just for the plane ride to England: Megan McCafferty’s Charmed Thirds. And I picked up a few British books on my way home, of course, including Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone!

But this time I don’t have to worry about the heft of my suitcase and whether or not I can pull it single-handedly up and off the Tube. Oh, no — Dad and I are traveling in the SUV with plenty of space for a ridiculous amount of books! And now I have to comb my TBR stack, near collapse, for the best few to bring.

footprints“Beach reads” are, by their nature, light, breezy and often funny novels that can be read and absorbed quickly while, say, sitting out in the blazing hot sunshine with the dull roar of waves crashing behind you. I happen to think it’s a little mean to narrowly classify books as “beach reads” — often meaning they’re a little silly, not really worth thinking about — but there are some books that are just such fun, it’s easy to label them in that category.

Last summer at the beach, I carried the entire Twilight series around with me! I finished Twilight on the car ride down, began New Moon within the first few days and had a hard time setting it down the whole time I was away. Wanting to pace myself a bit, I picked up Elin Hilderbrand’s A Summer Affair at the end of the week, and I definitely enjoyed that.

And now, standing on the precipice of a fresh new vacation and a new opportunity to read like I might never read again, I think I’ve narrowed this year’s selections down . . .

Meg’s Beach Books ’09

along_for_the_rideSarah Dessen’s Along For The Ride

I rushed out on my lunch break today to grab Dessen’s latest novel, which I eagerly blogged about last Wednesday. After I carefully remove the beautiful dust jacket, that baby will be ready to sail along with me! In fact, I’m pushing it up on the top of the stack — I just have to devour that one whole. I’ll break it out as soon as we’re on the road.

Megan McCafferty’s Fourth Comings

Much like my London adventure, I’ve been saving the fourth installment in McCafferty’s awesome Jessica Darling series for another grand occasion! And I think this is finally it. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Jessica and Marcus, although reading reviews for the last two books has spoiled (a bit of) the fun for me. That’s okay, though — I have to absorb all of it myself!


Sarah Strohmeyer’s The Penny Pinchers Club

Okay, this one is cheating a little bit — because I’ve already started it! But I’m almost finished and can’t bear to leave it behind. It’s a really light, funny story about a woman who believes her husband is planning on divorcing her after she spends 20 years working her way through their savings account with her out-of-control spending — and actually a cheeky look at what we think we “need” in our society, and why. With only 40 pages to go, I’m touting it along on the sand!

Meg Cabot’s Airhead

As one of Cabot’s devout followers, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t started this series yet! I purchased the first novel in anticipation of my last trip, but ultimately decided I wouldn’t have time to read it while away. I’m eager to start!

suite_scarlettMaureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett

Johnson is another author I thought I should have gotten to know a long time ago, but only recently read her European adventure novel 13 Little Blue Envelopes. While I felt that story was just a little too emotionally detached for my tastes, I appreciated the quality of Johnson’s writing and voice! I’m looking forward to reading this one, which seems to have been heralded all over the YA book world.

Musing Mondays: Reading time

musing_mondaysHere’s this week’s question:

Do you have a set reading time (before bed, perhaps)? Do you read more at night or during the day? Is there a day of the week, perhaps, that you set aside to catch up on reading?

I definitely do most of my reading at night! Since I’m a 9-to-5 girl, the only opportunity I would have to catch up with my latest read during daylight hours would be on my lunch break — and I’m usually out running errands or catching up with friends.

Without fail, I read every night before bed — sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes two hours. This can obviously get me in trouble . . . if I’ve hit a particularly gripping passage or I’m winding down with the final chapters of a book, I have an intense urge to just finish it already. Hence why I’m often still flipping the pages at 2 a.m. For that reason, I’ve been trying to read more after working out in the evenings — before I hit the hay — so that if I’m really drawn into a narrative, I can finish it before I’m trying to sleep.

I don’t have any particular day to catch up on reading, though I do try to finish a book each weekend. At the moment I’m in the final stretches of Alexandra Potter’s Me & Mr. Darcy, but I just couldn’t wrap it up last evening! So in that sense, this was an incomplete weekend. But I’m heading to the beach soon . . . and you know what means! I can’t wait to hunker down with my ridiculous amount of novels waiting to be read.

Booking Through Thursday: Multiple reads

booking_through_thursLet’s go Booking Through Thursday!

“Some people read one book at a time. Some people have a number of them on the go at any given time, perhaps a reading in bed book, a breakfast table book, a bathroom book, and so on, which leads me to…
1. Are you currently reading more than one book?
2. If so, how many books are you currently reading?
3. Is this normal for you?
4. Where do you keep your current reads? ”

How funny that this question should pop up now! For the first time in, oh, years, I’m actively reading three different novels at the moment! This is stemmed mostly from the sudden influx of review copies (thank you!) and my OCD desire to read and post about them quickly.

crossed_wiresI have Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton in my room, good for bedtime reading; Gigi Amateau’s A Certain Strain of Peculiar is my purse for daytime and lunchtime reading; and Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway is currently migrating around my house, often plopping down by my chair in the living room for after-dinner-ish reading.

audrey_waitIf you’d asked me a month ago if I could keep up with these three plotlines at once, I would have rolled my eyes a bit and said, “Um, DUH.” No, I’m kidding!

I would have thought sure, I could, but I’m a literature purist — I usually like focusing all of my time and energy on following one story and really getting invested in the characters. Sometimes I get a little jumbled up when trying to read about too many different people at once, particularly if each book is in the same genre. I can only read about so many sassy, indepenent 20-somethings looking for love before they all blend together in my brain.

certain_strainBut now, I’m finding I can still do that get the jist of everything… while reading several books at once, just like the ol’ college days! I would have novels and textbooks flying everywhere! And somehow I emerged from the reading mess victorious, so I guess I can do it again. It’s kind of fun, really — always have that new adventure just waiting out for me. And since I can never wait to start a new book — honestly, I get kind of antsy if I’m reading the same book for too long — this may be a good system for me. Especially if I’m reading a really “heavy” book and need something lighter to balance it out… I hate reading depressing material before bed. Nightmares!

Book review: ‘An Abundance of Katherines’ by John Green

abundance_katherines In my typical fashion as of late, I admit that I grabbed John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines initially because of the cover — and because I was looking for some different young adult fiction, particularly YA without a good-girl-gone-bad main character or something with warring best friends. While I’m not opposed to those plotlines persay, I wanted something different. And hey, this was written by a guy. I’m in.

Former child prodigy Colin believes he’s all washed up — and has a string of ended relationships with girls named Katherine to prove it (nineteen, to be exact). With his exceedingly high IQ and love of anagrams, teenage Colin has spent his young life pushed to read more, learn more and be more by his well-meaning parents, but after the latest relationship with Katherine XIX ended with her unceremoniously dumping him, Colin knows he needs to try for more than just academic success. Plus, he’s having no luck discovering his “Eureka!” moment.

After his best friend finds him sulking face-down on the carpet, Colin and Hassan set out on a road trip: Colin to clear his head; Hassan to put some ideas into it. Hass has spent the last few years on his parents’ couch watching “Judge Judy,” opting out of a college education or job in favor of potato chips and not-doing. A trip to nowhere in particular may be just what they need — especially one without any Katherines in sight.

Though the boys set out to be free and on the road, they don’t wind up on the highway for long — their adventure from Chicago ends up in Gutshot, Tennessee, where they discover Lindsey Lee Wells sitting idly in a general store and flippantly decide to take a tour of a nearby cemetary. Lindsey, of course, is their guide. The boys wind up staying with she and her mother Hollis after Hassan and Colin are offered a small job, and trio (complete now with Lindsey) begins interviewing local residents of Gutshot about life in the town. Their documentary comes to mean a great deal to all of them, though each for different reasons.

And will time begin to heal Colin’s aching, Katherine-demolished heart? I initially found it pretty crazy to actually believe that someone could date nineteen women with the exact same first name (and same spelling, as Colin forcefully asserts) but by the center of the novel, it stopped really bothering me. We all have a “type” — people we just seem to be drawn to, no matter how much we may struggle against it (I can’t stop dating military men, for example). And the Katherines all taught him something about life and love, even by their absence:

You can love someone so much, he thought. But you can never love people as much as you can miss them.

And Colin has some other big realizations, too — though as a reader, I’d sort of understood this all along:

“I don’t think you can ever fill the empty space with the thing you lost. … That’s what I realized: if I did get her back somehow, she wouldn’t fill the hole that losing her created.”

An Abundance of Katherines was my first experience with John Green, and I’m sure it won’t be my last. He’s an exceptionally gifted writer who integrated so many ideas in his small book, I was thrilled to be traveling along in the Hearse with the boys. While the math problems began to make my brain hurt about halfway in — I’m a lover of words, not equations — I was still interested to see how, and if, Colin could come up with his great idea. The appendix in the back of the book helped make sense of these problems.

I loved the relationship between Hassan and Colin, and though I didn’t completely understand Colin as a person, I could certainly relate to feeling as though your childhood was filled with such promise — and your adolescence feels strangely, painfully, ordinary. Lindsey Lee was also a really fun character and I cringed a bit over her relationship with TOC, but all’s well that ends well.

Full of quotable quotes and other anecdotes, I definitely recommend this one to lovers of literature — not just young adult. Also a great read for young men, which can sometimes be tough to find in the YA market.

4 out of 5

ISBN: 0525476881 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Blog
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead’ by Saralee Rosenberg

dear_neighbor I admit I was initially attracted to Saralee Rosenberg’s Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead because of the pink on the cover and the punchy, dry title, but what kept me reading the novel compulsively were the entertaining, true-to-life characters, realistic dialogue and plot that was anything but predictable. This is an awesome novel.

Long Island mom of three Mindy Sherman looks at the life of next-door neighbor Beth Diamond and sees everything she doesn’t have — wealth, prestige, expensive purses. But what Mindy doesn’t realize is what Beth is seeing looking across that same fence — a loving marriage, happy children, contentment.

And so goes this story of dueling neighbors who realize they have far more in common than they could have ever dreamed, and I absolutely loved every second of my stay in Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead. Alternating between laugh-out-loud hilarious and heartbreakingly poignant, every twist and turn of this story kept me flipping the pages — and sometimes flipping ahead, dying to know what was going to happen. Sprinkle in some in-laws who can’t quit their kvetching, Mindy’s well-meaning best friend-turned-gossip who can’t keep Beth’s business off the Internet, a long-lost son, and several teenage girls who want nothing more than to have the bat mitzvahs of their dreams and you’re in for something pretty different.

But it’s not all antics and retaliation between these two. Beth’s “perfect” life is, of course, anything but perfect, and as the walls of her fragile marriage begin to crumble under the weight of husband Richard’s betrayals, Beth begins to lean on Mindy for moral support. Beth’s turn-around from instigator to new BFF is anything but expected, and Mindy is resentful of having to do favors for a woman who would gossip incessantly about her family and take any available opportunity to criticize Mindy’s weight and lifestyle. But never one to turn away someone in need, Mindy and her husband Artie became entangled in the Diamonds’ affairs, growing with them as they overcome financial and martial struggles and helping alleviate some of the neighborhood gossip.

And so Beth and Mindy become unlikely allies — and that wasn’t anywhere near the only surprise (but don’t worry, that really isn’t a spoiler — you can tell from day one they have a love/hate friendship). There were so many twists and unexpected changes in the story, I didn’t see any of the major plot points coming. Just as Mindy herself says in one of the later chapters, “It’s never the stuff you worry about that happens, it’s the stuff you don’t see coming that incapacitates you like a Taser.” And, later, “It’s never the things that you plan on that go right, it’s the things you don’t see coming that can turn your life around.”

Among the strong themes of friendship and family is a prevailing religious belief in “bashert,” or destiny — though it doesn’t translate perfectly into English. So much of the story just rings true to life — it seemed like Beth could be your own annoying neighbor, and Mindy the best friend posting on your Facebook wall. Mindy’s longing for answers from her kind, wise and, sadly, deceased father could be the cries from any confused child wanting the guidance of a parent. Beth’s anger over the possibility of losing her lavish lifestyle has less to do with snobbery and more to do with fear of the unknown.

My only gripe? There were a ton of punctual errors — places were end-quotes should have been and were not. I’m assuming this was some error on the printer’s part, but it was very distracting to me. I’m sure the non-nit-picky reader would catch them, too. But I absolutely wouldn’t let that dampen my very enthusiastic recommendation of the novel — you’ll pour through it in a matter of days. And you just might have a tear in your eye, too.

5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0061253774 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Blog
Personal copy purchased by Meg