Book Review: Who We Were, by Lindsay Detwiler

In the ten years since high school graduation, Maylee’s career, living arrangements, family, and especially her love life are at a standstill. When her twin brother, Mitch, falls for her high school enemy at their ten-year reunion, Maylee’s life is catapulted into chaos.

Maylee’s hatred for the blonde-haired Josephine isn’t the only thing she discovers at her reunion. Benson Drake, the introvert from high school, has matured into a sexy intellect. Now a writer and bartender, Benson’s grown into a man with a perfect balance of quirky wit and sex appeal. After a wardrobe malfunction, a spy mission gone wrong, and a dangerous cup of coffee, Maylee and Benson explore something they never even thought about during senior year. Along the way, they find out that reconnecting with the past can change you… or maybe just help you find your true self. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I’ve had the good fortune, or in some ways the misfortune, of attending two of my own high school reunions. There are definite highs and lows that can come from getting in touch with that teenage part of your psyche, the part you swore you’d never visit again because it’s the past. Yet, being there again, among old friends and potential foes, can make you feel as though you’re right there, that no time has passed from high school vs. now.

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That’s what Maylee experiences when she goes back to her own ten year high school reunion in Lindsay Detwiler’s latest novel, Who We Were. While she’s not entirely where she wants to be career-wise or on a personal level, she still wants to confront the past, particularly the one girl who made her four years a living hell. Her whole focus is showcasing how even though she’d been bullied, that it didn’t define her. Only, in doing so, she discovers that maybe it has, more than she could ever know.

Only in my worst nightmares could I conceive of my childhood enemy forging a relationship with my brother. That’s exactly what happens, and it seems as though time hasn’t changed everyone, especially not Josephine, who is still up to her old tricks and manipulative behavior. Maylee can’t help but wonder if her primary objective in dating Maylee’s brother is merely one of torture. And, she can’t fathom what anyone would see in Josephine, obvious beauty aside. The only saving grace from the reunion comes in the form of Benson, the boy from high school who seemed to see her even when she thought no one else noticed. And, he definitely notices her now, and she’s very aware of it.

Lindsay Detwiler has created characters you fall in love with, even the ones you love to hate, like Josephine. Written to true life, they all have layers, so even when you feel as though you’re rooting for the underdog, ultimately you discover that even those that appear to be the worst offenders are often the ones who need the most encouragement. In some ways this story reminded me of some of my own drama that surrounded my reunions, and while the last one I attended made me question whether I’ll attend the 30 year (it hurts to even say that number), chances are I will, because it’s nice to still have some sort of connection to that girl who at times felt like no one had really noticed her or cared, but in the end, someone did.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Royally Wed, by Pamela DuMond

**May contain spoilers for Part-time Princess (Book One, reviewed here)**

Lucy Trabbicio, former cocktail waitress and down-to-earth American commoner, is about to marry the man of her dreams, Prince Nicholas of Fredonia in the posh royal wedding of the year.

But something goes very wrong on the way to the altar. Now it’s up to Lucy, her party-hard, take-no-prisoners Ladies-in-Waiting, and Nick’s opinionated Royal Nana to solve the debacle, and get her back into sexy Prince Nick’s arms in time to be Royally Wed, as well as royally bed. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

A return to Fredonia is a return to comedic chaos, once again, for our fair lady! Just when you think she’s finally going to get her just deserves, her prince goes missing, and no one, not even those closest to her, can figure out who would have the audacity to kidnap him, and at their nuptials no less! What ensues is a mad caper through town, relying on those Lucy never felt she’d have to lean on, not in a million years. And while it’s almost always the last person you’d ever expect, sometimes, it’s the first person!

While I love Lucy, and always will, the scene stealers and stars of Royally Wed are the Ladies-In-Waiting, the close-knit group of girlfriends who are there as her support system. I loved it when they’re all commiserating, having more than enough to say when it comes to Lucy’s continual flubs. Esmeralda is my personal favorite. She is unapologetically wild, with mostly everything that comes out of her mouth a shock, but well worth it! An honorable mention goes to Royal Nana, who reminds me of my own grandmother. Nothing is filtered, every thought going right from the brain and out the mouth! Seriously, she’s a hilarious hoot.

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Will Lucy ever get her man? That remains the number one question on everyone’s mind. It seems just when she gets close enough to reel him in, there’s always something standing in the way! But, I don’t think I’d want it any other way. I’m looking forward to continuing this journey with Lucy and her cohorts in the third installment of this series, Royally Wed: The Poser. Given the cliffhanger in Royally Wed, I’m in for a wild ride!

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Dog Training the American Male, by L.A. Knight

Meet Dr. Nancy Beach, a relationship counselor who hosts a local radio show called Love’s a Beach. One problem: The relationship guru can’t seem to make her own relationships work, sending her credibility and ratings into the toilet. Meet Jacob Cope, a walking thesaurus of phobias — a Lehman Brothers casualty who’s lost his job and swagger and now yearns to be a ventriloquist. When Nancy and Jacob are set up on a blind date and hit it off, their siblings, desperate to be rid of them, encourage the young couple to move in together. When the honeymoon stage abruptly ends, Jacob attempts to mend the fence by adopting a dog; a big dog and Nancy flips out . . . until she realizes the dog trainer’s techniques can be used to housebreak Jacob and save her radio career. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

Relationships are rarely easy, especially between two people who are riddled with their own hangups and baggage. Nancy has never had success where love is concerned, despite her degrees and career status. Jacob’s past has completely crippled him from living any sort of normal existence, filled with bizarre phobias and rules on how he feels life should be lived. They couldn’t be more opposite, which is exactly why they’re drawn to one another, providing the perfect environment for comedic debauchery!

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Dog Training the American Male made me laugh. Hard. Conversations between various characters, like Nancy’s sister’s bodybuilding girlfriend, or Jacob’s gynecologist brother, the quips and one-liners were hilarious, and very real. I could imagine having similar conversations with my husband, or with close friends. Subjects which would normally be considered slightly taboo and off-limits unless in the company of those you trust the most are on full display here, enabling the reader to live vicariously through the story.

And the story is a unique one. Using canine training tactics to keep her man in line, Nancy is sure she’s found a way to live harmoniously with Jacob, and like with most things when dealing with the male persuasion, it works. For a time. Even an old dog can learn new tricks. But for how long, and will re-programming someone lend to a happily ever after?

Underneath the comedy and fun, there are deeper issues, ones I could appreciate. Can any of us learn to live with someone, as is? Ultimately, should we work on changing someone, versus finding someone who already has the qualities and characteristics we think we’re looking for, and even then, is there ever a real sure fire guarantee of a successful relationship? Dog Training takes an honest look into these questions and more, showcasing the psyche of what women want, and what makes a man tick, offering up a deliciously hilarious doggie treat along the way.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy, by Diana Kirk

This collection of stories, culled from Kirk’s adolescence as well as the early years of her marriage through the present day, is a must­ read for anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t quite fit in between the stereotypes of the virgin, the whore and the soccer mom. These laugh­-out-loud stories are equally funny, sarcastic, witty and sentimental and readers will feel like they are reading their best friend’s journal…or their own. Kirk is ballsy, brainy, brave and brilliant and readers will love her. (synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

So many of us strive to fit within the confines of what others deem as normalcy, and it can be downright unforgiving. It’s hard to be perfect all the time, to do the right thing, to gain acceptance. And yet we still try, often failing and feeling as though we don’t belong or don’t measure up.

Diana Kirk asks a very important, albeit subtle question in Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy. Why does it matter? Why try to fit into some box when it’s a lot more fun and freeing to to just be yourself and live the life you want to really live?

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Licking Flames is unfiltered and real. Divided into short stories that delve into the mind of Kirk, we get an idea of what it’s really like. What it’s really like to be married, have children. Have friends who aren’t perfect and do some really stupid things. There were moments where I felt a little judgmental of her choices, because they were choices I’d never make in my own life, but that’s the point. Whether you agree with her or not, Kirk is true to her experiences and who she is, regardless of what any of us think.

Where I identified with her the most was when she recounts her experiences as a teenager. I certainly never colored inside the lines during my teen angst years, behaving boldly and brashly. There are times I’ve wondered if I’d change things if given the opportunity to go back in time, yet ultimately, I wouldn’t. I was very brave back then, a strength I wish I could get back now, in my late thirties. You can tell how much confidence she has in her own skin. That’s the sort of thing I’d like to strive for. Normalcy is overrated.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

It’s Not You, It’s Them by Portia MacIntosh

Roxie Pratt is the type of woman who knows what she wants, and isn’t afraid to say so. Sporting anything with a heel, feminine to a T, she’s rocking a lifestyle where it pays to be independent, and she knows how to take care of herself, thank you very much. No need for any man to come and sweep her off her feet.

Not until Mark Wright enters the picture.

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He’s everything she ever imagined her perfect soul mate to be. Sweet, respectful. Intelligent. Thoughtful. And all wrapped up within a rockin’ bod that any woman would drool over. When he proposes, she feels as though she’s won the lottery of life, enough to give in a little with her independent ways, allowing herself to feel a oneness with Mark, completeness. Everything is perfect. But there’s just one stumbling block on the road to wedded bliss. His family.

Portia MacIntosh knows just how to create the sort of tension and friction in a room that makes you cringe inwardly, while outwardly you want to witness more of the drama! Roxie enters the Wright home on the wrong foot, and feels as though she can’t do anything right. It doesn’t help that Mark’s mother has no qualms in being honest on her true feelings on the upcoming nuptials, and how wrong she feels Roxie is for her darling boy. Even going so far as to invite Mark’s first love to dinner! How incredibly uncomfortable and awkward is that!

I’m reminded of something I was told once, by a pastor who had seen his fair share of weddings and family drama. He said, “Once you marry, this person becomes your family, the person you lean on and depend on, the one you cleave to. The family you grew up with, will become your extended family.” I could see a lot of those boundaries being drawn in the sinking quicksand while reading It’s Not You, It’s Them. Having been in a situation of my own where I’ve had to deal with a woman who obviously hadn’t cut the cord with her adult son, I could totally relate to how Roxie felt. I got to reminisce on my own fumbles, too, while Roxie tries desperately to hold onto Mark and not lose the love that they have for one another, and maintain who she is as a person. For so many of us who have been in those shoes, it’s a fun heartfelt story we can all identify with.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

The Big Overnight, by Libby Kirsch

**May contain spoilers for The Big Lead (review) and The Big Interview (review)**

Sometimes The End is just The Beginning.

When the suspect in a Knoxville shooting confesses on camera, police say the case is closed. But then TV reporter Stella Reynolds gets an anonymous email that changes everything.

As she picks her way through a field of untruths and half-lies, she discovers everyone around has secrets they’re desperate to keep—including the people closest to her. With the body count rising, Stella won’t stop digging until she lays all the secrets bare. It will cost her friendships and might even put her life in danger.

Her work and personal lives collide in this exciting third installment of the Stella Reynolds Mystery Series. Start reading now to find out if she can track down the real killer before she reaches the ultimate deadline. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

She’s at it again!

I’ve read all three books in the Stella Reynolds Mystery series. Stella never backs down. Even when she’s placed into a situation where she knows she should. Finding the truth and doing what’s right will always be her guiding force, even more so in this latest installment, when a suspect confesses to a murder she’s convinced he hasn’t committed.

Why is he lying? Who’s covering for him? Soon, she discovers there is so much more beneath the surface, more than she could have ever imagined. Putting her own life on the line, again and again.

A few things I’ve noticed about Stella in The Big Overnight:

She’s changed. Big-time. I can still remember a young, inexperienced woman venturing out in front of the camera, trying to find her place within the media world. Stella has gained an immense amount of experience over the span of three novels, coming into her own with confidence and grace. Not as keen on taking crap from anyone. I really enjoy character development. She has plenty of it.

It’s not always about finding that special someone and creating a happily ever after scenario. It’s about finding your own happily ever after, no matter what that entails. It’s not that Stella doesn’t have suitors. Far from. You see plenty of sensual conflict between herself and other characters. Yet, she’s all about living her own life- whether that’s with a man, or without one.

Her circle of trouble keeps getting bigger. Bigger than she could have ever imagined, involving those she trusted the most. I think that’s often the case in real life, too. Usually it’s the ones you least expect it from, who end up pulling the wool over your eyes, causing the most damage.

The Stella Reynolds Mystery series can be read individually, or as a whole- they stand alone or collectively quite well. But I recommend you read all three. It’s been fun being part of Stella’s journey, from start to finish, watching her grow and change, yet never letting go of that relentless drive that keeps her going, that makes her undoubtedly Stella.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Wake-Up Call, by Amy Avanzino

Sarah Winslow wakes up with a terrible hangover…and a kid in her boyfriend’s bed. She makes the horrifying discovery that, due to a head injury, it’s not a hangover. She’s got memory loss. Overnight, five years have disappeared, and she’s no longer the hard-living, fast-track, ad executive party girl she thinks she is. Now, she’s the unemployed, pudgy, married, stay-at-home-mom of three kids under five, including twins.

As she slowly pieces together the mystery of how her dreams and aspirations could have disintegrated so completely in five short years, she finds herself utterly failing to manage this life she can’t imagine choosing. When Sarah meets the man of her dreams, she realizes she’s got to make a choice: Does she follow her bliss and “do-over” her life? Or does the Sarah she’s forgotten hold the answers to how she got here…and how she can stay? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Sara Steven:

Wake Up Call really spoke to me. There were so many scenarios and situations I could relate to and identify with, having been a freewheeling, single career woman myself at one point at time, as well as a married stay-at-home mom of two boys. I loved the honesty of the characters. There were times Sarah would say something that would make me cringe, because it was oh so painful, but oh so real. Often her thoughts reflected what so many of us have locked up tight inside our own minds, afraid to unleash those proverbial demons.

What I appreciated most was the sharp shift of realities for Sarah. In such a short amount of time, so much can happen that will change who you are as a person forever. I experienced that myself after my firstborn had been placed in my arms after he was born. I had so many ideas on how I would live the rest of my life and I truly felt his arrival wouldn’t really change the direction on how my life was headed. Yet once his beautiful brown eyes found mine, I found a new normal. I couldn’t even imagine going back to the woman I’d been before him.

This is a story that is a voice for every woman, not just for those who know what it’s like to walk in Sarah’s Croc encapsulated footsteps. Ultimately, whatever road we choose to travel on is a worthy road, and sometimes we need to reconnect with who we were before life’s biggest changes, to really find what’s most important.

Melissa Amster:

As soon as I started getting into Wake-Up Call (which was very easy to do), I knew Sara had to read it too. I described it to her as What Alice Forgot (Liane Moriarty) meets Say Never (Janis Thomas).

I’m always up for a good amnesia story and I like how this one was told. There wasn’t too much time gone, but enough to be a huge shock. Sarah has gone from career girl to stay-at-home mom and she doesn’t recognize her life at all. I can’t even imagine what that would feel like. Thankfully, she was still with Kofi. She had started dating him in her late twenties, so her mind was back to what he was like before parenthood took over. It was still a strange shift for her to see him all worn out, trying to provide for his family. I enjoyed watching Sarah try to navigate her “new” life and see her children in a new light. She also had a great support system of friends that she was in denial of needing in her life, instead trying to reconnect with her friends from her twenties, who had changed a lot.

My only two issues where that time sometimes went by really fast throughout the story and I wasn’t sure what the deal was with Troy (another man in Sarah’s life) which made things confusing later on.

Overall, Wake-Up Call was engaging, funny, thought-provoking, and even somewhat sad at times. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read it.

Movie casting ideas:
Sarah: Rachael Taylor or Taylor Schilling
Kofi: Malcolm Barrett
Elaine: Rachel Boston
Troy: Christopher Russell
Celia: Jaimie Alexader

Thanks to Amy Avanzino for the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out her second novel, From the Sideline.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

A Mom On The Run

GCC Creative Writing

Creative Writing at Glendale AZ Community College

Africanist, artist & woman

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