Book Review: Play for Me, by Celine Keating

Reviewed for Chick Lit Central:

It happens without warning: At a folk-rock show at her son’s college, Lily becomes transfixed by the guitarist’s unassuming onstage presence and beautiful playing—and with his final note, something within her breaks loose.

After the concert, Lily returns to her comfortable life—an Upper West Side apartment, a job as a videographer, and a kind if distracted husband—but she can’t stop thinking about the music, or about the duo’s guitarist, JJ. Unable to resist the pull of either one, she rashly offers to make a film about the band in order to gain a place with them on tour. But when Lily dares to step out from behind her camera, she falls deep into JJ’s world—upsetting the tenuous balance between him and his bandmate, and filling a chasm of need she didn’t know she had.

Captivating and provocative, Play for Me captures the thrill and heartbreak of deciding to leave behind what you love to follow what you desire. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Many of us have delved into the waters of temptation. It’s the “grass is always greener” mentality, where you find yourself wandering into uncharted territories, seeking out whatever you might desire. Often, this comes at a price, and that is what Lily encounters when she leaves behind the security of what she knows, for the excitement of the unknown.

I felt the constant struggle within Lily. Recently an empty-nester, there’s a void within her that she has suppressed for many years. Her son’s new life at college has reminded her of the life she had given up when she’d decided to leave behind her own passions in order to take care of her family. There is something about the music, touching parts of her soul, making it an instant obsession. The reality of what’s right and wrong becomes blurred and isn’t tangible. She has everything to lose, whether she decides to give up the music or hold onto it for dear life.

I felt JJ represented lost youth for Lily. He lives his dream, even when it’s not ideal. A musician’s life can be a very marred, an ugly existence at times. Lily lives comfortably and safe, never pushing the envelope or attempting to achieve her own dreams. She can live vicariously through JJ, enabling an odd connection between the two of them. In his own right, he feels he’s struggling, too, and she’s a life preserver. Normal, and grounded. Will Lily do the unthinkable, damaging everything she’s ever known, or will she break out of her shell and let everything go?

I enjoyed this book immensely, finding it very difficult to put down. There are so many emotions, so many black and white scenarios blurred into a messy gray. Céline Keating knows just how to carry you through a woman’s journey, into what essentially becomes a re-discovery for Lily, and for most of us who have ever teetered on the “grass is greener” fence line of life.

 

Book Review: Broken Homes and Gardens

Review for Chick Lit Central

I have to admit, I initially wanted to read Broken Homes & Gardens because I grew up in Salem, Oregon, located about an hour from Portland, where the story primarily takes place. I found myself feeling quite homesick. Rebecca Kelley is so incredibly descriptive, I felt like I was sitting right there with her, during the drizzly rains and evergreen landscapes. It’s that descriptive quality that brought forth Joanna and Malcolm, two characters who you immediately become attached to. So much so, you don’t want to stop reading, wanting to know where their journey takes them.

After Joanna meets Malcolm at a party, there’s an instant connection between the two of them. She finds herself in a bit of a situation with him, only to say goodbye as he heads off to the Peace Corps for two years. Even though they decide to date separately, no one else can ever measure up to what Joanna and Malcolm have. Even after he returns, and she’s moved on, neither of them can ever move on from one another. It constantly feels as though there’s unfinished business between them.

Malcolm never wants to get serious over someone, and Joanna is afraid to get too close. She’s a product of divorced parents, and doesn’t want to ever go through that again. It’s a lot easier to date someone until it runs it’s course. Malcolm doesn’t want to get tied down, either. What do you do when you find yourself in love, even when you don’t want to be in love? Often, these two run away from it, and hide from their true feelings. It’s safer, but it creates a lot of problems. Not to mention heartache.

My only gripe with “Broken Homes” was the ending. After reading the very last sentence, I felt disgruntled. It was beautifully written, like the rest of the book, yet it left me wanting more. Where do they go from here? What’s next? Hopefully, Rebecca Kelley has plans for Joanna and Malcolm, extending on their story. It’s an unconventional romance worth reading and falling in love with.

Paying Tribute to a Friend

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I wish pets lived longer. They’re part of the family. When they are no longer around, it feels as though something is missing, askew. The routines you are used to change. A definite imbalance in a world that already feels fragile and delicate, at times.

We had to say goodbye to our dog Duke, yesterday. Yes, on National Dog Day. The irony of that isn’t lost on me. He was scheduled for surgery, to remove a massive growth from his lower jaw. It was cancerous, and it had spread beyond anything manageable, especially for a soon-to-be 14 year old dog. We went in knowing there could be risks, knowing this could be a possibility. That doesn’t lessen the blow, though. It’s still sad, and it still hurts, more than I imagined it would.

Duke wasn’t “my dog”. I adopted him when my husband moved to Nebraska with him in tow, over 7 years ago. There was always the mindset that even though I’d walk Duke, feed him, brush him and clean off his paws whenever he’d come in from a rainy, muddy day, that he wasn’t really “my dog”. He was my husband’s.

Duke with the little guy, circa 2011
Duke with the little guy, circa 2011

Of course, none of that is true. He became my dog, too. It was hard not to love Duke. Even when he’d come in all muddy, or pull on the leash so hard you’d nearly trip and fall over your own feet (he was never really good on a leash). He’d beg for food a lot of the time and was very unapologetic about it. Those qualities and many more made Duke, Duke.

He was the most gentle dog I’ve ever met. Anyone who knew Duke, would always comment on how sweet and low-key he was. He didn’t jump all over the place. There was a quiet, patient disposition to him. The boys climbed all over him and the only times he ever growled a bit was when they’d grip hard onto his lower back, an area on him that got sore in his later years. A warning growl, never opening his mouth or snapping. Even when Chance entered the picture and drove Duke up the wall, he never opened his mouth or tried to nip Chance. He was a GOOD DOG. Plain and simple.

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The best dog. It was hard to let him go. How do you say goodbye to such a great contribution to the world? Well, you do what you have to do. That meant not allowing Duke to suffer. We didn’t want him to live the rest of his years in pain. He was such a good boy, we knew we had to do right by him, because he deserved it.

It was strange, waking up this morning. Usually I have two pets greeting me. Chance followed Duke around a lot of the time, the pack mentality. When we let Duke out in the morning, Chance is right there, waiting for him, even trilling to let us know when Duke is ready to come back inside. This morning, Chance sat by the sliding door and didn’t make a peep.

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It sucks. For lack of a better phrase. It just completely, utterly sucks.

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My 21-Day Fix Results

I had my own personal check list of the things I wanted to accomplish with 21 Day Fix. I wasn’t intent on losing weight. I wasn’t expecting some miraculous overhaul of flab to fab, fat to fit, or for anything that was already toned to be hard as stone. What I needed was something to get me back into fitness again. Something that would inspire me, motivate me. And, something that would help me with my eating habits.

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The first week of the program was definitely the hardest. I’ve never been much of a conformer, and I did feel as though I had to conform and follow strict rules in order to get from point A to point B. In reality, though, this program is probably one of the least stringent out there. There’s no real calorie counting. You don’t have to monitor each and every bite that goes into your mouth. The caveat is to fit the food you’re eating into containers, aiding in portion control. I kept fairly active, following the DVD workouts and combining a 5K training schedule along with it, so I chose a higher range of caloric intake (1499-1700). It wasn’t as though I felt hungry. I was eating every 2-3 hours. My issue was, when I really got down to the core of things: desserts.

Like any well-balanced diet, desserts should be consumed in moderation. That hasn’t been my MO. I love, LOVE sweets. It’s comfort food for me, so I felt as though someone was slapping my hand, telling me those naughty foods are a big no-no. I wasn’t happy about it. I even confessed to my husband at one point, “I feel depressed.” He told me he had a similar reaction months prior, when he’d decided to eat healthier and care more about what he’s putting into his body. I imagine it’s pretty normal to initially feel sad that you can’t eat two servings of cake, or a heaping bowl of ice cream, foods that normally bring a sense of enjoyment into my life.

It’s not as though this program doesn’t allot for desserts. You just can’t eat ’em the way you probably are used to eating ’em. You know, multiple days a week. Or, lots of it. Okay, we’ll maybe that’s just me who has that problem. The first week was hard, but I really worked on keeping with the eating plan. Nearly two weeks in, though, I decided to do away with the containers. I felt I had grasped the concept of portion control, which was one of my big goals. I still stuck with eating smaller meals, more frequently, and nearly every day, I did the work outs as prescribed.

Sunday was the last day of 21 Day Fix. When it was all said and done, I missed two days of the DVD workouts, due to misc. reasons. I consumed dessert-like foods 4 times total, but did really well with portion control. At one point, I even shared a dessert with my husband, totally unlike me! I did well with not going back for 2nd’s, or 3rd’s when it was dinnertime, most likely because I was eating more frequently in the day, which meant I wasn’t ravenous at dinner. I’d say overall, I didn’t do a bad job. I’m sure I could have been more stringent, but I am happy with my results.

I’ve lost a few lbs (went from 135, to 131). I lost a few inches from various areas on my body (a little from my hips/stomach), and I gained an inch around my thighs, most likely muscle. Not bad, for 3 weeks of work! What I’ve really gained, however, is a new perspective, and a new-found enjoyment in working out. I’ve never exercised to be the skinniest body or the sexiest creature on the planet. I’ve done it because I feel good, inside and out. I’ve missed feeling strong. I love how my core feels now, after sticking with this program. I can feel the muscles engaging, my lower back feels strong, too. My posture has improved, and so has my attitude.

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I wrote out a new workout plan yesterday, incorporating some of the workouts from 21 Day Fix, along with running and bicycling. I’m also throwing in some yoga, too. In October, I will start training for the Arizona Marathon, Feb 2016. I’m going to stick with halves for a while, and see where that takes me. I’m so glad I found my mojo again, looking forward to what’s in store for me, and for my fitness goals!

 

Summer Flings and Dancing Dreams, Interview and a Book Giveaway!

Check out my interview with Sue Watson, one of my favorite authors, and enter to win Summer Flings and Dancing Dreams, her latest novel!

And while you’re at it, take a look at The Amy Maxwell series, written by Heather Balog. It’s not hard to identify with Amy, a stay-at-home mom trying desperately to survive her children and husband, while going on one zany adventure after another!

 

 

Book Review and a Giveaway: Jay Walking

Review for Chick Lit Central

Years ago, I was a single mom. Granted, my son’s father was involved in his life, yet I went from having a marriage to not having a marriage at all. I had to rely solely on myself. While reading Jay Walking, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how much hard work goes into raising a family when you’re doing it mostly on your own. Chelsea Wyatt never intended to be a single parent. She had fallen in love with Daniel, and after discovering she was pregnant, he checked out. She lives in her parent’s rental apartment located in the basement level of their home, and they help out when they can, allowing Chelsea to work full-time and provide for her son. This wasn’t the plan she had for her life, but it’s her reality.

With all the upheaval and not feeling as though she has enough time for herself, Chelsea’s health has taken a hard hit. She decides to eat healthier, and takes that first step towards living an active lifestyle by venturing out for a walk. Along the way, she falls literally into Jay’s arms, a man who is toned up in all the right places and incredibly good-looking. A little too good-looking for Chelsea, in her humble opinion, but that doesn’t stop her from having thoughts of dating him. She hasn’t let anyone else get close to her, not after the Daniel debacle.

And speaking of Daniel, he shows up again at the most inopportune time, throwing a wrench into all the hard plans Chelsea has put into motion. It’s what she’s always wanted, to have him back in her life, in whatever capacity that might be. Her son needs a father, and who better than the actual biological dad? Only, is it really what she wants? Time can heal a lot of things, yet there are certain hurts better left buried.

I really enjoyed Jay Walking. So much so, I plan on reading it’s prequel, Caching In. Chelsea’s journey was like a walk through my own rough patch in life, and I was given another perspective into how someone else might deal with feelings of loss and inadequacies. For all the struggle, there is a lot of love there, too. In the end, Chelsea has to choose between doing what she thinks would be best for her little family, or doing what would be best for her heart.

A Double Header: Dating Do’s and Marriage Don’ts!

Review for Chick Lit Central (www.chicklitcentral.com)

“It’s Saturday night and you’re chatting it up galore with several men on a dating site. You’re a wonderful, talented, educated woman. So, why sit at home on a Saturday night? Wouldn’t it be nice, for a change, to go on a date?”

I’ve never done online, or eDating. I have plenty of friends who have, however, and after reading eDating the Old School Way: A comedic guide to online dating, I think I need to buy multiple copies and send them out as dating tools!

According to Maura Stone, there are four types of men you typically find in the online dating pool: The Dweeb. The Nerd. Damaged Goods, and The Player. She describes each one in perfect detail, outlining the various signs you need to look out for, even providing sections entitled “Motherly Advice”, to help you further on your journey. This book isn’t just for the ladies. Stone has also included plenty for the men. An example: If a woman has any of these monikers in her online profile, take heed:
It’s complicated
Bi-polar
Not really divorced
Crazy ex or exes
Medication
Police
Arson…
That’s a condensed list. There’s plenty more where that came from, and each one has an in-depth description so you know just what to look out for! I particularly enjoyed the chapter of “universal truths” pertaining to men. As in, they are visual. Or, they like the internet. I also enjoyed the list of edating Do’s and Don’ts, a must-read for anyone embarking in the online dating world!

Stone breaks everything down into simplistic comedic form and fashion, making this a fun and zany read. It also relieves the pressure one might put on themselves during the dating process. It doesn’t have to be so serious; part of the fun is in the exploration. And honestly, you never know what you’re going to get. I have to add, if you’re one that shies away from anything racy, make sure you put your eye muffs on. There are plenty of sexual innuendos, but in my opinion, it adds to the fun of this book.

Nelly Morgan’s wedding day had finally arrived and everything was going by without a hitch. That is, until a complete stranger crashes her wedding professing his undying over for her. Her fiance puts the wedding on hold and Nelly must try to convince him that she has no idea who the wedding crasher was, all while trying to make the handsome stranger go away. Through pranks and attempted bribes Nelly tries desperately to convince this stranger they have never met before…or have they? (synopsis provided by the author)

This was a well thought-out concept, and a truly unique plot line from Vivian Brooks. I was intrigued from the very beginning, at the mention of a wedding crasher who professes his love for a total stranger. I wanted to find out what the outcome would be for Nelly, for her fiancee (who ends up having a dark side) and for the wedding crasher himself. There are a lot of twists and turns throughout the story, and it seems Nelly can’t seem to avoid dramatic situations, all starting with the day she had planned on saying her “I do’s”.

On the one hand, I felt at odds with Nelly. She can’t get her life together, even when her best friends and family try to help her see the forest through the trees where her heart is concerned. That annoyance kept me going, though. I wanted to see what choices she’d make, even though I often wondered what the wedding crasher ever saw in her to begin with.

My only complaint with All Because of You would be the grammatical errors and misspelled words. At times, those errors made it hard to focus on the story. But, because the story was so strong and the concept so fresh and fun, I was able to overlook that and give the book a try. I am glad I did. In the end, I enjoyed what I’d read and appreciated Brooks’ uniqueness. I found the story to be a refreshing take on a romantic comedy; a valiant effort to bring forth a new spin on the classic love triangle scenario most of us enjoy and love so much.

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