The Beta Mum: Adventures in Alpha Land, by Isabella Davidson

When Sophie Bennett moves from a quiet sleepy suburb of Toronto to glitzy west London, she doesn’t know where she has landed: Venus or Mars. Her three-year-old daughter Kaya attends Cherry Blossoms, the most exclusive nursery in London, where Sophie finds herself adrift in a sea of Alpha Mums. These mothers are glamorous, gorgeous, competitive and super rich, especially Kelly, the blonde, beautiful and bitchy class rep. 

Struggling to fit in and feeling increasingly isolated, Sophie starts The Beta Mum, an anonymous blog describing her struggles with the Alpha Mums. But when her blog goes viral, she risks ruining everything for herself and her daughter. How long will it be until they discover her true identity? Is her marriage strong enough to survive one of her follower’s advances? And will she ever fit in with the Alpha Mums? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I could totally relate to Sophie. While I’ve never made a move to London, and I don’t find myself surrounded by semi-famous, glamorous mothers, I feel as though I’m still trying to find my niche after moving to Arizona, particularly when it comes to making new friends. And just like Sophie, I’m not quite sure how to fit myself inside the close-knit groups of women that stand outside the school doors, either dropping off or picking up their children. I had this idea that friendships would get easier the older I got. Boy, was I wrong!

34030549-_uy630_sr1200630_

It’s even harder when you don’t have a good support system. Sophie moved away from hers, in an effort to support her husband’s budding career. And it seems as though no matter how hard she tries, or how many play dates she attempts to make through an Alpha Mum’s personal assistant, she just can’t catch a break. She feels like she can live with the rejection, but when it begins to affect her daughter’s well-being, it gets to be a little too much.

I found the Beta Mum blog enjoyable, and funny. An open, honest letter to others who might be struggling, offering up a candid look into what it’s like to feel overlooked. But in the process of finding her voice and gaining ground in her life, Sophie notices so many other areas in her world begin to unravel. Can she find a balance between being who she yearns to be, and trying to become something she’s not?

There were moments where I cringed right along with Sophie, particularly when everything begins to crumble around her. And, I appreciated the often hidden perspective in The Beta Mum that can come from seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, then being forced to see the honesty and realism of what’s really happening. Often, those who portray a certain image in an attempt to gain approval, are usually the ones whose lives are far from the visual they want us all to see. And while I’ll continue to be friendly and not shy away from any potential friendships that may come my way from the Beta Moms in my world, I’ve been focusing more on appreciating the friendships I already have with the amazing mom friends who make up my own support system, whether near or far.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Ella’s Ice Cream Summer, by Sue Watson

Life hasn’t always been easy for single mum Ella, but she has just hit an all-time low; she’s jobless, loveless, very nearly homeless and, to make matters worse, now the owner of a pocket-sized pooch with a better wardrobe than her. 

Packing her bags (and a bigger one for the dog), Ella sets off for the seaside town of Appledore in Devon to re-live the magical summers of her youth and claim her portion of the family ice-cream business: a clapped-out ice-cream van and a complicated mess of secrets. 

There she meets gorgeous and free-spirited solicitor, Ben, who sees things differently: with a little bit of TLC he has a plan to get the van – and Ella – back up and running in no time. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

One of the biggest things I’ve always appreciated about Sue Watson’s novels, is the way she manages to always write characters I can completely identify with. Even if my current situation doesn’t parallel, it never matters, because I’ve been there. I’ve felt as though I’ve hit rock-bottom, just as Ella has. I’ve been on the brink of a complete and total change in my life, where the future is full of uncertainties, and it’s what has me drawn to characters just like Ella. You want to see what her outcome will be, good or bad.

34595538

Another thing I appreciate: forward motion. Even through the fear, Ella sets out to try her hand at finding her own niche within the realm of her family’s ice cream business. She has no clue what she’s doing, other than the few recipes she can remember from her youth, but she tries her hand at it, anyway. There’s no stagnation for any of Watson’s characters, even the secondary ones. Everything moved at a nice pace, blending beautifully with the other story line that’s intricately woven into Ella’s chance at starting over again. A story line full of skeletons in the closet.

Ella made me feel as though life really is too short. That it’s okay to go for your dreams, no matter the opinions of others. To listen to that inner voice that guides you, drowning out the negativity that often crops up when embarking on something unknown. Ella’s Ice Cream Summer is a motivational read for anyone who needs a pick-me up, or needs to be reminded that passions can exist for anyone, no matter their age or status in life.

And, as always, this wouldn’t be a Watson novel without a delicious dose of food! Ice cream is one of my favorite desserts, and I couldn’t get through reading this without a fix from Dairy Queen and Coldstone. I’d love to discover a place that has unique flavors, the kind that Ella offers- and there’s even an ice cream recipe mentioned in the book. Certainly something I can easily make with my boys, possibly the start of our own special ice cream tradition.

On a personal note: Sue’s books really do inspire me. I always feel empowered after I read them. I hope they do the same for you, too.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

One Wrong Turn, by Deanna Lynn Sletten

The words “I’m her husband” roll off Clay Connors’s tongue, but with his estranged wife lying in a coma—and no assurance that she’ll awaken—he knows he’s perilously close to losing everything. A singular, terrifying accident has left Jess Connors suspended between life and death. Now Clay is reunited with the family he hasn’t seen for two years, including the daughters he left behind.

Clay should have been there for his family. He never should have stayed away so long. The alcohol that took over his life destroyed everything but a shred of his self-preservation. Sober and haunted, Clay revisits the memory of love, marriage, and how his life unraveled. He hopes that by trying to reconnect with the daughter who blames him and the daughter who barely knew him, he can find a light of hope in this darkest hour. As his family faces its most grueling, emotional test yet, Clay must summon the courage to make right what was wrong—and find forgiveness from his harshest judge: himself. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

One Wrong Turn is a story focused on a family dealing with tragedy, yet there are a lot of damaging waves threatening to pull everyone inside its undercurrent. Jess, wife and mother, has had a near-fatal car accident. Her two daughters are left without guidance because their father, Clay, hasn’t been around for two whole years. He’s been struggling with alcoholism, something he’s tried hard to keep hidden from everyone, especially his children. It was a lot easier to stay away, to keep away from the triggers that have caused so much strife within his family.

When he returns home, he’s met with strong resistance from many sides, only adding to his pressure and anxiety. He’s pulled in several directions, wanting to do everything it takes to help his wife recover, while at the same time tending to the needs of his daughters. I could feel just how hard it was for Clay to keep it all together, while he wants nothing more than to let himself fall apart, even just once.

33291313

Having lived through my own experiences of knowing people who work on managing their addictions, I thought Deanna Lynn Sletten captured the essence of Clay well. His viewpoint is to take life a day at a time, a moment at a time, in order to make it through. It isn’t always easy, and it can often be a life that is hard to understand for those who aren’t familiar with it. I also thought she portrayed the struggle Clay’s children go through while trying to forgive their father, perfectly. His younger daughter is easier to win over, but the eldest can remember the moments where he wasn’t around when they needed him the most.

I also appreciated the strong support system Clay finds while trying to also become a support system for his family. I felt it was a nice way to parallel the various relationships that are forming or re-forming, and the flashbacks we are privy to of the life he had with Jess leading up to recent events was a nice touch. It showcased the importance of never giving up or giving in, even when it feels as though there might be no other options.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

G*d-Shaped Hole, by Tiffanie Debartolo

When Beatrice Jordan meets the unpredictable Jacob Grace, the two wild souls become instant allies. Together they discover an escape in each other’s creativity and insecurities, while running from secrets they cannot seem to shake – or a fate that could throw them to the ground . . .

This 15th Anniversary reissue of Tiffanie DeBartolo’s classic love story introduces a new audience of dreamers to a quintessentially real and raw vision of spirit, and inspires everyone to live ― and love ― as vividly as possible. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

34139890-_uy200_

Fifteen years ago, I was a twenty-three year old young adult living on my own in an apartment I could barely afford, working a full-time job in property management, a part-time job as a bartender who would also run the Nebraska Big Red Keno machine when customers asked for it. I had a different voice then, a completely different outlook on life than I do now. Reading G*d-Shaped Hole reminded me of that girl I used to be. The one who struggled to make it but reveled in it. The one who, as Jacob would put it, had been “seeking a friend for the end of the world”.

Beatrice didn’t know what to expect when she met Jacob for the first time. The unusual circumstances which brought them together only compounds it, yet she’s drawn to him in a way she can’t explain. He feels the same way, catapulting them into coupledom. Kirkus cites G*d-Shaped as “this generation’s Love Story”, and I can see why. The two main characters, the love they have for one another burns so brightly, it made me yearn for my more youthful days, when expressing my feelings and the severity of those feelings, even when they drove me insane, had been totally acceptable. Sadly, though, like Love Story, there’s also a lot of tragedy involved within this story, only making me cling more to the two doomed lovers.

Tiffanie DeBartolo has done a fantastic job of taking us along on Beatrice’s experiences, of seeing the world through those young woman’s eyes, really digging into who Beatrice is as a character. Sometimes, I feel like the voice of a protagonist doesn’t match up to the persona of who the person is supposed to be. That did not happen here. I felt like there was no mistaking who any of DeBartolo’s characters are. I knew them inside and out, like they were real-life individuals, which made me want to read on and find out what would happen for everyone involved.

G*d-Shaped had originally been released in the spring of 2002, and while I didn’t have the chance to read it then, I’m so glad I was given the opportunity to read it now. I appreciate the reflections it allowed me to have within my own life, and while I’m no longer a young adult with that youthful voice, she’s still inside me, somewhere.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Rich People Problems: A Novel, by Kevin Kwan

There were a lot of dramatic moments inside the Shang-Young clan. So much so, I felt like I had first-row access inside every nook and cranny of the gossip mill. I’d metamorphosed into the popcorn eating meme, kicking back and allowing myself to become engrossed within an intricate web of secret, lies, and layer upon layer of deceitful behavior, that only made Rich People Problems that much more enjoyable!

32603326

Here’s what I appreciated the most: The characters are completely out there, bright lights emblazoned on the page. There was much to be said that made me cringe, or turn crimson. But that was part of the beauty of it all. Human nature at times can be downright ugly, particularly when jealousy plays a role. Band-aids were never applied here- I was privy to each and every wound left open by words said, or actions that were mistaken or taken for granted. Then, gossip would stir up inside the minds of various characters, only adding fuel to the fire, or as my grandfather used to call it, “stirring the pot”. There are plenty of pot stirrers in the mix here, lending into each and every sordid scene.

My only snag with Rich People were the additional footnotes added to the story. I understood the need for them. There were certain scenes or particular words that probably needed further explanation, but I felt as though while reading the story, the footnotes took me out of the scenery. After several pages of reading the story, then shifting to the footnotes, I decided to do away with them and stopped reading any additional explanations listed at the bottom of the page, making for a smoother experience for me, personally.

I understand Rich People is the third installment to a trilogy, with China Rich Girlfriend and Crazy Rich Asians before it. I can honestly tell you that I didn’t at all feel lost by not reading the first two, which is a testament to how well this story was written. I picked up right where the story started, with no troubles. However, with that being said, I have every intention of reading the first two installments, primarily for the entertainment value and because I need to know the backstory going on for several of the characters that were so vividly brought to life. They’re so well-written and very likable, you can’t help but want to get to know them all better.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Who Knew? Lessons From My First Forty Years, by Christine R. Andola

I’ll be turning 39 this year. Not too far off from the big 4-0. There were a lot of things in my life I imagined for myself by this age, and while some of them have come to fruition, there are a few that haven’t. One of the lessons Andola advises the rest of us to focus on, is to appreciate where we are, versus pining for the rest.

41f3oute1ml-_sy346_

She gives a candid look into her past, just like the synopsis mentions, yet what’s not there is the amount of grace Andola has while figuring it all out. And what I really admire is her ability to let it go. A good example of this is her reflection on past extended family traditions she’d been part of, and how she tried desperately to incorporate that into her own family. The thing is, all it did was cause a lot more stress. I love how she says, “unless you can fit into that red velvet dress Grandma made you when you were eight, you cannot have the same holiday experiences again.” She suggests taking a few of the traditions you loved as a kid, then create some of your own, something new with your family, so they still know what it’s like to have a tradition.

But I think what resonated most with me, is how it feels to be this age and to still feel uncertain about friendships. I always felt the hardest times would be during my adolescent years, yet that’s far from true. And while I’ve struggled personally with wanting to ensure that I get along with everyone, as I’ve gotten older I realize that’s not realistic, either. There will be people who don’t like me, and vice versa. Or, I may have a falling out with someone due to various reasons, the biggest being that we’re both in different places in our lives, and ultimately it’s okay. Sometimes I forget that, or feel as though I might be the only one experiencing that, so it was nice to read about Andola’s own struggles with it. I also appreciate the friendships, new and old that I do have even more.

This was a sweet, honest read, for anyone who is looking for guidance and help in finding a way to dig a little deeper, to embark on their own soul searching journey of the past, reconciling with the present. And while the title reflects on nearing 40, really anyone at any stage in their lives can glean a lot of inspiration from her words.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

The Party, by Robyn Harding

In this stunning and provocative domestic drama about a sweet sixteen birthday party that goes horribly awry, a wealthy family in San Francisco finds their picture-perfect life unraveling, their darkest secrets revealed, and their friends turned to enemies.

One invitation. A lifetime of regrets.

the-party-9781501161247_hr

Sweet sixteen. It’s an exciting coming of age, a milestone, and a rite of passage. Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah—a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Rather than an extravagant, indulgent affair, they invite four girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. What could possibly go wrong?

But things do go wrong, horrifically so. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah, is exposed.

Harkening to Herman Koch’s The Dinner, Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, and Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, The Party takes us behind the façade of the picture-perfect family, exposing the lies, betrayals, and moral lapses that neighbors don’t see—and the secrets that children and parents keep from themselves and each other. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Sara Steven:

I had a hard time reading The Party, but for all the right reasons. So much of it hit very close to home for me, not only on a personal level but on a nostalgic level as well. There were many times in my own childhood where I strayed from the persona that had been created of me, the girl who had “a good head on her shoulders”. I could totally relate with Hannah on that front. And, just like Hannah, there were moments that would forever change the course of my life and other lives around me, more than I could have ever imagined.

I have two sons, one who is on the brink of teenagedom. I am fully aware of what’s potentially in store for him, the sort of peer pressures he may face. Reading through Hannah’s experiences, as well as what her friends and others in her circle go through, I couldn’t help but feel for all of them, even the ones who seem hell-bent on self-destructing and taking everyone else down with them. I hope I can help prevent similar situations from ever entering my son’s world.

Intricately woven within the pages of Party is the fallout when dealing with those who choose to bully, not only the children but the adults as well. It was amazing how the characters became mirror images of one another, the hypocrisy strong, human emotions very real and relatable. I felt my beliefs sway from one side to another while seeing both sides of the coin for Kim and everyone else in this story. At times the children were the teachers, the parents in need of important lessons, then there were other moments where no one seemed to know what to do or how to proceed to move on from a tragedy. So true to how life can be. Party was a great read, and totally worthy of the five stars I’ve given it.

Melissa Amster:

My kids are still pretty young, but I think about what they’ll be like as teenagers (especially since one is now a pre-teen) and shudder. And after reading The Party, I want to freeze time so that my kids NEVER become teenagers. It’s terrifying what teens get up to these days, between alcohol, drugs, sex, bullying, etc. All of this is reflected throughout the novel.

With The Party, Robyn Harding asks the question: “When something bad happens, who is really at fault?” In some ways, this reminded me of Karma Brown’s latest novel, In This Moment, where a tragic situation happened and the main character felt responsible. This time around, an accident happens in a family’s home, and the blame is shifted to the parents hosting the party, even though the mother (Kim) laid down strict rules at the beginning. How much of this is her responsibility? And how about her husband, who may have had a hand in what happened?

What I found intriguing about this story was that no one was particularly likable. Even Kim, who was supposedly the protagonist, had this goody-goody attitude, even when she wasn’t so perfect. I understand wanting to keep kids safe and out of trouble, but sometimes the more restrictive you are, the more they will want to test their limits. This worries me for when my kids become teenagers. I can tell them all about the horrors of drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. until my face turns blue, and they might still experiment under peer pressure. *Shudder* However, I also don’t think Kim and/or Jeff should have gone to sleep while they had teenagers staying in their basement. Especially since Kim thought some of them were bad influences. They could have taken shifts to keep watch on the house and checked in from time to time. Then again, that could have made their daughter (Hannah) hate them for embarrassing her. What’s a parent to do?!?

I like that the story was told from multiple perspectives. It had a train wreck effect, in that I had to keep reading to see what would happen next, and yet all these bad things kept tumbling over each other. No one could really win, per se. It made me think of the 1999 movie Election, where Matthew Broderick’s character’s life keeps spiraling out of control, all because of his efforts to keep Reese Witherspoon’s character from becoming class president. The Party had a Desperate Housewives feel in some ways, but was definitely more intense. Some aspects reminded me of 13 Reasons Why (just from what I’ve seen of the TV series so far).

I applaud Robyn Harding’s storytelling skills. This novel is well-written and easy to get into right away, and stay captivated throughout. (It also made me glad that high school was long ago enough for me that the Internet wasn’t prevalent yet.)

And of course, I was casting the movie version in my head! (It could work as a TV series too.)
Kim: Kimberly Williams-Paisley
Jeff: Johnathon Schaech
Hannah: Jordyn Negri
Lisa: Judy Greer
Ronni: Amanda Pace
Lauren: Morgan Lily
Tony: James Franco

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

A Mom On The Run

GCC Creative Writing

Creative Writing at Glendale AZ Community College

Africanist, artist & woman

Let's talk about it.