All posts by coversaralea

Passions: family fitness writing/reading life

A Hundred Thousand Worlds, by Bob Proehl

Valerie Torrey took her son, Alex, and fled Los Angeles six years ago—leaving both her role on a cult sci-fi TV show and her co-star husband after a tragedy blew their small family apart. Now Val must reunite nine-year-old Alex with his estranged father, so they set out on a road trip from New York, Val making appearances at comic book conventions along the way. 

As they travel west, encountering superheroes, monsters, time travelers, and robots, Val and Alex are drawn into the orbit of the comic-con regulars, from a hapless twenty-something illustrator to a brilliant corporate comics writer struggling with her industry’s old-school ways to a group of cosplay women who provide a chorus of knowing commentary. For Alex, this world is a magical place where fiction becomes reality, but as they get closer to their destination, he begins to realize that the story his mother is telling him about their journey might have a very different ending than he imagined. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

There are a plethora of reasons why A Hundred Thousand Worldsspoke to me. One of the biggest would have to be the multitude of references that touch that inner geek inside of me. The one who could sense that a lot of the characters in Worlds might be loosely based on actual comic books and television shows I grew up on. Even Valerie’s sci-fi show, the character she played reminded me a lot of Dana Scully from The X-Files. It’s little touches like that,that drew me closer to everything going on, which at times felt chaotic, exciting and full of people. Much like comic-con.

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And there’s Valerie and Alex, the mother and son duo who have been inseparable. A mother myself, it was hard not to feel for their situation. All she’s wanted to do is protect him, and in doing so, she made some pretty bad choices that are now coming back to haunt her. As the reunion with Alex’s estranged father draws near, I could literally feel the tension and gut-wrenching pain Valerie goes through. It’s written in such a way that isn’t over the top with flowery descriptions or grandiose. It’s realistic and simplistic, placing me right beside her, wanting desperately to hold her hand and tell her that all will be okay.

Alex often gives his own child-like perspective of what’s going on around him, and in doing so, the reader can discover the parallels that seamlessly blend together from one character to the next. Alex is precocious and wise beyond his years, which made sense in this setting. While he’s relied on his mother for most of his life, she’s relied on him, too. It’s also interesting that his own passions are heavily influenced by her own experiences, and he soon discovers that the inner workings of what he’s written, a comic, clearly becomes the story of his life. Such an interesting way to project a character’s inner struggle, which really is the theme here. Growing up is hard, and facing change can at times be an even harder situation to face, no matter how old you are. Sometimes, all you really want is a superhero to save the day.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

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The Big Weekend, by Libby Kirsch

**Synopsis may contain spoilers for The Big Lead (review), The Big Interview (review), and The Big Overnight (review)**

Columbus police make a quick arrest in a murder, but when a tip comes in from someone who knows more about the case than detectives, it’s clear to TV reporter Stella Reynolds that the woman behind bars didn’t pull the trigger.

With lowlifes stealing the headlines, why is Stella’s boss only concerned with her hair? He insists a makeover will help her career, but she knows that a visit to the salon will only get in the way of solving the murder. Or will it? With the real suspect determined to stay hidden, maybe a makeover contest is the perfect cover for catching a killer. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

There’s just something about Stella!

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I really love how Libby Kirsch has created this fantastic butt-kicking protagonist. She reminds me of a modern-day Nancy Drew, not letting anything stop her until she finds the answer, and believe me, there are a lot of hurdles that are constantly thrown at her. Whether it’s from love interests, coworkers, or potential bad guys, she works doubly hard to do all she can to get to the truth, no matter the cost.

It’s empowering, really. Stella works to prove herself and do the best work she can at her broadcasting job, even when it might mean losing those closest to her. There are people in her life who are not on board with her tenacious personality, unable to understand what drives her. There are girl power undertones throughout this whole book, and in the other books in the Stella Reynolds Mystery Series, enough to make you feel motivated and inspired within your own life.

I’ve read every book in this series, and while I love them all, I feel like this particular installment, book four, has a few more twists and turns in it that are far from expected. There were moments where I’d been certain I knew “who done it”, yet I’d get thrown off the trail and would get booted back to square one. I think that’s a testament to how great this story really is. It’s a lot more fun when you’re discovering the secrets right along with Stella, and I’m eagerly anticipating the next book, which will focus on Stella’s nutty friend, Janet. It will be interesting to see what sort of situations she’ll find herself in!

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Little Gray Dress, by Aimee Brown

Emi Harrison has avoided her ex-fiance, Jack Cabot, for nearly two years. Her twin brother Evan’s wedding is about to end that streak. 

From bad bridesmaid’s dresses, a hyperactive sister-in-law, a mean girl with even meaner secrets, and too much to drink, nothing seems to go right for Emi, except when she’s wearing her little gray dress.

When she speed-walks into Liam Jaxon’s bar, things get more complicated. He’s gorgeous, southern, and has no past with Emi. He may be exactly what she needs to prove for the last time that she doesn’t need or want Jack!

Her favorite little gray dress has made an appearance at nearly every major event in Emi’s adult life. Will it make another grand appearance when she least expects it? (synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I really appreciated Emi. She’s beautifully flawed, a byproduct of life – (it has a way of doing that to a person, even when it’s least expected). And she’s had a tough road the last two years, a life void of any companionship or romance. Even when she tries to put herself out there, in the end no one ever measures up to what she had with Jack.

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While I felt the premise of the story, how Emi’s brother is marrying Jack’s sister, thus forcing Emi and Jack to somehow try to coexist in the same space for a few days could be considered a little far-fetched, I really liked it. I think it brought on a whole new level of tension for everyone involved. Emi has a past with both Jack and his sister, and it hasn’t always been on good terms. Then you throw in the rest of his family, plus Emi’s best friend, it’s just this gigantic stew that’s begging to be stirred up into one frenzy after another.

Liam becomes a much-needed distraction from everything going on. A hint that maybe it’s finally time for Emi to move on, to grow from the past and stop being so cynical about love. Or maybe he can be her own little weapon in making Jack a tad jealous. Hey, a girl can dream.

I really love the way we’re privy to Emi’s present; her brother’s wedding, the run-in with Liam, the uncomfortable, awkward moments with Jack. And then we’re transported back to her past; how she met Jack, their first date, their first fight, and eventually the break up. There were a lot of parallels between the relationship she had back then with Jack, and the events that are happening in the present time. It really was a unique perspective on how eventually, everything will come full circle, even the things you’d rather leave buried away in the past.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

 

The Internet Never Lies, by Jennifer Ammoscato

**SPOILER ALERT: Please skip the synopsis if you haven’t read the first two books in the Avery Fowler series. The first one is currently 99 cents for Kindle**

Avery Fowler is facing 40 with all the grace you’d expect of someone who once convinced herself that Cheetos were good for her because they’re the same colour as carrots. She simply hates admitting defeat. 

Now a blogger and aspiring author, she hears the clock ticking on the deadline for her erotica novel, “Venetia: The Story of a Sized-16 Sex Goddess”, (erotica for the rest of us) as well as on the possibility of having a child. 

As her world grows more complicated, some days, she simply doesn’t know where to turn. Should she chance renewing her relationship with Clementine, her Howto.com web advisor—available 24/7 for the low, low price of just $14.95 a month? 

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Or, should Avery trust her own instincts while searching for the answers to life’s latest challenges? 

If you enjoy the Shopaholic series, or the charm and sass of Bridget Jones, Avery is right up your alley!

Sara Steven:

I’ve appreciated and enjoyed every single book inside the Avery Fowler 2.0 Trilogy, and here’s why: Jennifer Ammoscato has created an amazing protagonist who is unapologetic in saying what she thinks or how she feels. In fact, Avery often says or does something that we’re all thinking or feeling, but most of us just don’t have the guts to carry it out. In the final book in the trilogy, she’s still as out there as ever, and she’s just as funny as she’s ever been, yet there’s a more sensitive side to Avery, a shift in what matters most to her and her perspective on life. It was refreshing, and honest. I felt closer to Avery and her story. Maybe it’s because she’s turning forty, and I’m on the cusp of that. Or maybe it’s because of the life-altering changes that suddenly surface in her world. Or maybe it’s because, even with all the chaos, she’s still the same wonderfully flawed character we all know and love, the one who still has a very important decision to make – trusting in those around her, or trusting in the all knowing Interwebs, better known as Howto.com. The struggle is very, very real.

My struggle will come from living without another book in this series. It’s been a wild ride, at times a laugh out loud experience intermixed with cringe-worthy moments, moments I highly recommend to anyone. Period. I’m also glad to have had the opportunity to share in those moments and co-write the Avery reviews with Melissa. I’ve had a lot of fun!

Melissa Amster:

I recently asked Jennifer Ammoscato if there would be a fourth book about Avery. Sadly, the answer is “no.” I guess I’ll just have to dream up what is happening in her life after this book. And now I’m bummed that I rushed through it, since it was such a fun and easy read once again.

Wherever Avery goes, chaos is sure to follow. And turning 40 hasn’t changed that for her. There are some really funny and wacky situations that Avery gets herself into, but she always manages to come out on top. Some things got extra tough for Avery at this go-around, but she found a way through it. Did HowTo.com help? I guess you’ll have to read the book to find out!

I adore Avery and her snarky sense of humor. She’s so relatable that I even found myself getting teary-eyed at one point in the story. I’ll miss her and hope you’ll read this series so that I can live vicariously through you!

A few more casting ideas:
Elettra: Rebecca Croll
Allie: Leighton Meester
Jane: Heather Burns

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

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!

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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.

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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.

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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