Friday, January 28, 2011

Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen

5 Star

Julia and Michael have been so ambitious in their respective careers that they don't discover they've been less ambitious about their marriage until it's too late.  When Michael suffers a near death experience and wakes vowing to change everything, including leaving behind their overabundant lifestyle and repairing their now distant relationship, Julia has to make a terrifying choice. Is it worth leaving behind her comfortable life to fall back in love with him or should she leave the man who had already become a stranger years ago?

Lydia - 5 Star

I loved everything about this novel from the unique story line, to the dynamics between Julia and Michael and the supporting cast. Skipping a Beat explores love, marriage, family, ambition and success, and its unique and intimate voice delivers an intensely compelling and satisfying read.

Reading Skipping a Beat felt like curling up in front of a fireplace with a glass of wine and new friend while she unveiled her life story.  It was that intimate.  It was that real.  It carried that much depth of emotion. The way the story unfolds felt exactly like someone would tell it in confidence to a new friend who wasn’t aware of her situation or history. I found this fascinating and am certain I've never read another novel that had quite the same feel or drew me in as casually and intimately as Skipping a Beat. 

I loved Julia's character. She felt so real to me and was so complex that even though I didn’t always agree with her or felt her cold at times, I understood her decisions and feelings at every turn.  I rooted for her and related to her even without the same marital or financial situation. I wanted her to fall back in love with Michael, to see past her own financial insecurities and move forward and I couldn’t stop flipping pages to see what would happen.

The possibility of falling back in love with your spouse after veering so far apart appealed to my romantic side and the other marital discussions including the exploration of trust within a marriage had me thinking at every turn. Even though I thought I knew what was going to happen, there were surprises that held predictability at bay. 

I'm normally not a fan of the flashback, but Pekkanen doesn’t fail to deliver. Each memory is unraveled exactly when it needed to be and was impeccably tied into the present day plot. I'm not sure this story would have worked any other way, especially with the intimate voice.  
Pekkanen has just raised the chick lit bar.  This was storytelling at its best.  Chick lit fans, and anyone leery of the genre won’t be disappointed. I am certain we will be hearing from Pekkanen for a long time to come.  Pre-order Skipping a Beat today. You won't be disappointed.

Kathryn - 5 Star

Lydia loved this book so I was hopeful that I would relate more to the characters than I did to those in my last Pekkanen read.  From the very first pages I was intrigued by Julia’s seemed indifference to her husband’s heart attack and from then on found the entire novel to be an emotional roller coaster.  Although I didn’t always like or agree with the main characters their situation came across as realistic so it didn’t bother me that I sometimes  would have done something differently.

Their journey from teen romance to adulthood is well written and as the history between Julia and Micheal is unveiled slowly throughout the novel, the timing of each bit of information given to the reader is flawless and really gave me a sense of their love and then how it gradually unraveled through their miscommunication.  It was utterly relatable and honest.

There were a few things I noted through the read that I particularly liked.  For example the character of Noah was thoughtful and provided a lot of insight for them both about how they’d been living their lives.  I also appreciated Isabelle as Julia’s closest friend- it was a little strange to me that neither Micheal nor Julia had any friends from their hometown and I would imagine that that fueled some of their own miscommunication- without friends to bounce things off of perhaps you can’t have the vision to see the other person’s viewpoint?

I really enjoyed Skipping a beat- it made me think and cry on occasion- but I appreciate most that it reminded me about the importance of not jumping to conclusions.

Thank you to Atria Books for our review copy. All opinions are our own.
Connect with Sarah Pekkanen:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The To-Do List by Mike Gayle

4.5 Star

In an effort to become more organized, Mike Gayle creates a to-do list. This is no ordinary to-do list. It contains a mammoth 1,277 items and covers everything from ‘Read War and Peace’ (#963) to ‘Work out how to reset clock on DVD player’ (223). It includes everything Mike has been meaning to do, but keeps putting off.  Much to his wife’s amusement, Mike embarks on his organizational journey and is determined to finish before his next birthday. That gives him just under a year to complete it.  Will he do it?

Amazon Kindle Kobo Nook

Lydia - 4 Star

I’ve always loved Lad Lit and having read and chuckled through a few Mike Gayle novels several years back, I was happy to find the same quality and humour I’ve come to expect with his novels. This To-Do List was equal parts charming and hilarious. I loved the story and haven’t been able to stop making lists ever since - although mine aren’t nearly as ambitious!

I could relate to Mike’s list, although not quite on such a grand scale and could feel the sense of accomplishment he had whenever he checked something off. It’s a feeling I know well. I’ve even been known to add things to my lists that I’m in the middle of or even something I’ve already finished just so I can cross it off. I also have a million tiny things like Mike does that I want to keep up with, but never do, so I could completely understand his initiative.

This novel even inspired my 2011 To-Do List which I blogged about so could be held accountable, just as Mike did with his mass email. I didn’t go crazy with my list though. I know my limitations, and although I’d love to learn Spanish, organize my photos and try a half marathon, I’m certain this isn’t the year for that.  I do however have some goals that had been floating around in my mind over the last few months of 2010 that I put to paper. Now I’ll be put to the test to accomplish them.

The To-Do List has me thinking about a bucket list. I’ve also started creating lists each week which are keeping me focused, helping with my writing as well as get everything I need to done.  All in all, this was a great read and a fabulous motivator! 

Kathryn - 5 Star 

I loved, loved, loved this novel.  I laughed out loud on so many occasions and have been begging my husband to read it so he can laugh too (and understand why I make so many lists!)

For some reason I can’t explain, though I know that this is Mike Gayle writing about his own life, family and to-do list, I occasionally managed to forget that this was actually his life.  This is pretty impressive although a tiny bit scary too! His humour is always exactly right and despite featuring his family heavily in the writing I don’t think he exposed them to us in a way that could generate any evil looks from his wife.  He should be commended- or perhaps he’s more in tune with his wife’s looks than my husband is?

On a special note, being Canadian, I did like that his go-to organiser was a Canadian woman and have myself been known to also add “take a shower” to my own to-do list.  But I learnt this from my mother (who is English) so not sure how to explain that one?

One cannot be critical about a person’s actual life so I can only praise the concept of the novel, his inspiration to inspire others to get on with tacking some of those things one things one ought to do and his ability to make us laugh along the way. Oh and his wonderfully skilled writing!  Fabulous!

Connect with Mike Gayle:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Queen Camilla by Sue Townsend

5 Star

What if being Royal was a crime?
The UK has come over all republican. The Royal Family exiled to an Exclusion Zone with the other villains and spongers. And to cap it all, the Queen has threatened to abdicate.
Yet Prince Charles is more interested in root vegetables than reigning … unless his wife Camilla can be Queen in a newly restored monarchy. But when a scoundrel who claims to be the couple’s secret love child offers to take the crown off their hands, the stage is set for a right Royal show down.
And the question for Camilla (and rest of the country) will be:
Queen of the vegetable patch or Queen of England?

Kathryn - 5 Star

I should probably start by giving the disclaimer that I’ve been reading Sue Townsend’s novels since I was a kid- starting with the famous Adrian Mole- so I’ve always loved her books!

Queen Camilla is very very funny and hopefully not just because of the British in me.  The entire royal family and anyone else deemed “undesirable” has been sent off to live in “exclusion zones” by the current government.  For her part the Queen doesn’t seem too bothered about the current state of affairs because she’s a bit tired and is thinking that it may be time to abdicate anyway.  However this would leave Charles and his new bride Camilla to rule the country (should they ever be released and re-established that is) and the Queen isn’t entirely sure that this is what is best for the country or her family.

Every character Queen Camilla is a little bit awful (hopefully not quite like the real people!) but you can see that Sue Townsend has tried to give us a little bit of what we know to be true mixed in with the outrageous.  I loved that the exclusion zones were run like a half-baked prison and that the entire country was now being organized by a national computer system that was constantly making mistakes.  Sue Townsend makes writing a novel with so many people and places and events look very easy and I loved every page of it.

Connect with Sue Townsend:

Catherine McKenzie Stuck on a Desert Island

If Catherine McKenzie, author of Spin and Arranged, was stuck on a desert island, how would she fare...

1. If you could only have one book with you, what would it be?
Pride & Prejudice

2. What one luxury item would you want to be stranded with?
A replicator like in Star Trek. I needs my food.

3. What is the one practical item you would want to have with you to use?

4. Would you enjoy the solitude, even briefly, or would it drive you crazy?
Would likely depend on the day.

5. If you could be stranded with one other person, who would you want it to be?
For the sake of the other person, I’m going to say: a complete stranger. That way, neither of us is sick of each other’s stories.

6. What modern technology would you miss the most?
My iPhone.

7. What food or beverage would you miss the most?
Diet Coke.

8. How many days do you think you would cope without rescue?
That would depend on whether I needed to amputate any limbs to get rescued.

9. What is the first thing you would do when rescued?

10. What would be your first Tweet or Facebook update upon your return?
I’m hoping Twitter and Facebook don’t exist by then.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

5 Star

Anne Blythe is a writer who has everything going for her, except luck in love. When she stumbles upon a dating service business card after suffering yet another failed relationship, she tucks away the card on a whim. Several months later when she decides to give it a try, Anne is shocked to discover that the company actually specializes in high end arranged marriages. Once she learns of their high success rate and analyzes her own lack of success, Anne overcomes her fears and finds herself on a plane several months later where she’s to meet and marry Jack, her perfect match. Everything seems to be going according to plan, but can anything ever be guaranteed in a love or arranged marriage?

Lydia - 5 Star

I loved Catherine McKenzie's debut novel, Spin - which made it to my top 5 reads of 2010, and couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of Arranged and I was not disappointed. McKenzie's latest novel explores the premise of a western woman seeking an arranged marriage, one based on friendship rather than love, and I thought the comparisons and insights throughout the novel were interesting and they definitely had me stopping to think at times. Arranged was fast paced, had an intriguing premise and I was drawn immediately into Anne’s world. Catherine McKenzie definitely has another winner on her hands!

I loved the Anne of Green Gables thread throughout. Having been a huge fan of the books and movies since I was a child, I giggled frequently and loved how Anne kept tying her romantic nature back to the story as well as the fun she poked at herself for being named after such an infamous character. 

Anne’s character grabbed me right from the beginning of the novel. Even though she’s down on her luck in love, she realizes it and tries to pick herself up and move forward. She never seems to sit and bemoan her situation for long and realizes when she’s in a rut. She’s thoughtful, insightful and able to analyze her situation to try and figure a possible way out, even though her solution might seem a crazy idea to some, even to herself.

Although I wasn’t 100% sure of Jack, due to the nature of the arranged part of the marriage I think (not for me apparently), I liked him well enough, but part of me still wanted to be cautious. And for Anne to be cautious – that’s how much I cared about her character. I didn’t want to see her get hurt again. All the other characters were well drawn and likeable and I loved Anne’s relationships with them all. Their reactions at her sudden marriage seemed realistic and provided quite a few giggles as well as had me wondering what my friends and family would do in such a situation and what I would do if a friend of mine got hitched so suddenly.

Even though the premise might seem a little far fetched - or at least it did to me – McKenzie makes it seem plausible and not once did I think any part of the story was outrageous. 

Can’t wait to see what else Catherine McKenzie has in store for us next!

Kathryn - 5 Star

Loved, loved, loved the original plot of Arranged and was thrilled to find that this continued throughout the entire novel. 
The most interesting thing for me wasn’t just the originality of the plot but what I felt were some really original character traits of the leading character, Anne Blythe. Anne is faced with a failed relationship at the start of the novel but she didn’t strike me as someone who would linger much over her decision to move on when things weren’t working out.  Of course she’s unhappy that she’s read the situation so incorrectly but I admired her perseverance to move out & move on so quickly.  She also sticks to her belief that trying an arranged marriage is worth the huge fees and although her choice is unorthodox I thought she went into it with as much optimism as possible. She was refreshing and even though I occasionally found her a tiny bit dry I think this part of her character is realistic given her past and her unease at putting her life in the company’s hands.
Anne’s family and friends are fantastic, vibrant characters and I loved each of them - they were undeniably real for me, particularly her brother’s family. Without these people supporting her though I’m not sure we would have been able to sympathise with some of Anne’s decisions about her man Jack.  I didn’t particularly like Jack throughout most of the novel- he was a bit sneaky and suspicious for me right from the beginning so it was important for me to like her family and friends and trust their judgement.
This read is a great treat!
Thanks to HarperCollins Canada for our review copy and a giveaway copy. ,All opinions are our own.

Connect with Catherine McKenzie here:


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