Book review: ‘Sweet Love’ by Sarah Strohmeyer

sweet_loveSo I have this obsession with cupcakes. It probably started the day my sister looked me dead in the eye, frowned a bit and said, “Cupcakes remind me of you.” Not that I remind Katie of cupcakes, mind you, but that when she sees a cupcake, she thinks of me.

I guess that’s sweet?

It’s in that spirit that I quickly grabbed Sarah Strohmeyer’s Sweet Love not too long after finishing her awesome novel The Sleeping Beauty Proposal and, earlier this year, The Penny Pinchers Club. Aside from the delicious confection on the cover, Strohmeyer has proven her stories are infused with all the love, heart and humor I crave from women’s fiction.

Forty-something Julie Mueller lives with her elderly parents and teenage daughter Em outside Boston, Mass., where her days are filled to bursting with covering local news for a TV station as broadcast journalist. Since her divorce from Donald in her early twenties, Julie has dedicated herself to her family — and though decades have passed, her childhood crush on Michael Slayton, her older brother’s best friend, has always burned a little hole in her heart.

Betty, Julie’s mom, has carried her guilt like an ever-present backpack from putting the kibosh on Julie and Michael’s delicate romance all those years ago — and, as she sees more and more how happy the couple could have been, Betty resolves to find a way of bringing them back together. And this time, she won’t stand in their way.

Of course, it’s not as easy as Betty would like to believe — particularly since Michael, a political advisor, and her daughter have a longstanding grudge. Six years before the start of the novel, Julie broke open a scandal on the political candidate Michael backed professionally — and he hasn’t quite forgiven her for, you know, maintaining her journalistic integrity and not holding the piece until the political team had time to do damage control (yeah, because that’s how it works). So when the two are drawn together due to Betty’s scheming, sparks don’t exactly fly — not even in the dessert class in which they both enroll to learn about delicious creations at the hand of French chef Rene D’Ours.

But love — like baking — takes time.

As in her other novels, Strohmeyer does a remarkable job of bringing to life fun, imaginative and realistic characters you truly feel you know by the closing chapter — and I really empathized with Julie as she struggled to hold it all together and battle her unresolved feelings for Michael. The excuses they both used to stay apart seemed really thin, and that bothered me a little — I wanted to reach in, pull them both by their collars and mash their faces together! My irritation over their stubborn resolve became more and more grating the longer I read. Still, I was pleased with the way things were resolved!

Michael is a huge Shakespeare buff — and the Bard’s occasionally whimsical, often astute quotes begin each chapter of the story. These excerpts were really fun to read and helped provide a framework to the whole tale, making it transcend “standard” women’s fiction for me. And each Strohmeyer book seems to include a plot twist that really turns everything you thought you knew on its head — and Sweet Love was no exception. Though the revelations in the novel weren’t as unexpected as those in, say, The Sleeping Beauty Proposal, I still enjoyed watching them unravel. While the story was actually a little darker than I expected, it certainly wasn’t without its light — and, of course, the sadness helped make the joy all the sweeter.

I can’t say I’ve walked away from this one a changed reader, but Sweet Love was definitely a solid novel about first love, family, motherhood and sacrifices. The cover-art cupcake — and many, many references to dessert and cooking — brought an added plot sweetness that’s perfect for lovers of contemporary fiction and mother/daughter stories. Just make sure you have a Kleenex handy for some of the ups and downs.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0451226909 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘The Sleeping Beauty Proposal’ by Sarah Strohmeyer

sleeping_beauty_proposalWe all know the story of Sleeping Beauty: the gorgeous princess, cursed by an evil sorceress, will sleep in her tower until a handsome prince wakes her with true love’s first kiss. So we’re all Sleeping Beauties, modern society might have us believe — breathing but slumbering until our very own Prince Charming arrives to pull us from our life-long sleep so our “real life” can begin.

Well, Genie Michaels isn’t buying it — not anymore. After her boyfriend, famous novelist Hugh Spencer, proposes on national television — to someone else — Genie clambers to save face as friends, coworkers and family all assume, logically, that Hugh has proposed to her. Under the guidance of best friend Patty, the Sleeping Beauty Proposal is all iced up . . . they are to continue the charade of her supposed engagement to Hugh with the idea that eventually, everything will catch up with him — and his career as a sappy novelist (think Nicholas Sparks) will come crashing down.

And there are the boons of a fake engagement, of course — like all the presents (though she feels terribly guilty about it, of course). And the attention paid to Genie, an admissions officer for a college outside Boston, comes at just the right time — in light of Hugh’s confession that throughout their four year relationship, he’s never really been attracted to her (what a jerk!). With the help of her brother Todd and Patty, Genie begins to rexamine her life — what’s gone into the creation of it, where it’s taken her, how everything has made her feel. For the first time, she looks at herself as a person — and not just as the frumpy girlfriend of Hugh Spencer, a man most see as infinitely “out of her league.” And when a house she’s loved for an eternity goes on the market, dreams of homeownership — and the sexy contractor working on the place — begin to occupy all of her thoughts.

Sarah Strohmeyer’s The Sleeping Beauty Proposal is first and foremost about a fake engagement, sure, but it’s really a commentary on just what I mentioned earlier: the Sleeping Beauty myth. This idea that we can dream and play and laugh and build friendships and work and travel for a while — as long as we want — but eventually, we need to “settle down” and get serious . . . with someone. And until we meet “The One,” our lives to that point are just background information, good for anecdotes and dinner table conversation with the future in-laws.

Needless to say, I totally related to Genie’s plight — and the plight of single girls everywhere! Because here’s some startling insight to throw at you: Love, dating and relationships are complicated. (Yeah, my insight is phenomenal!) And Genie’s growth following the Hugh debacle is gradual, realistic and charming.

That’s a good word for this novel: charming. I laughed out loud several times and felt totally connected to our heroine and the assortment of characters that populate her life. Friends, coworkers and family members all felt fleshed-out and real, and I loved the unpredictable nature of the story! Trust me — where we end up is far from where we started. Many plot twists took me by surprise, though plenty more I could spot way down the road. Still, that didn’t bother me — like Genie, it was all about the journey! And her realizations about life hit a note with me. One of my favorite quotes:

I’m beginning to learn that anything worth having in life begins by taking a risk — love, marriage, childbirth, even loving one’s neighbor as thy self. Risk is the universe’s way of pushing us to become more than what we are. Risk is faith at the edge. Risk is the pulsing essence of life.

Strohmeyer is a fantastic, grounded writer who definitely understands her characters. Like The Penny Pinchers Club, I felt I was reading about friends and had a hard time putting the book down. The rest of her novels will definitely be making their way onto my bookshelves soon!

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0451223969 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Copy received as a birthday gift!

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.