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.)

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

The Internet Made Me Do It, by Jennifer Ammoscato

Before you read on, get book one for FREE! There are no spoilers here, but you should still read the first book anyway because it’s just that much fun! (See our review.)

It’s been forty-three days, seven hours and twenty-six minutes since reporter Avery Fowler last consulted her favourite website, HowTo.com, for advice.

But now—her mouse finger’s getting itchy:

You see, after a year of highs, the lows are coming fast and furious.

Maybe just this one time, she can turn to Clem…

Dear HowTo.com: Is it hacking if it’s my boyfriend’s computer?
Dear HowTo.com: What’s in fashion for S&M: leather or lace?
Dear HowTo.com: Should there be icicles in my turkey?
Dear HowTo.com: Is the definition of “hooker” flexible?

Does Avery have an unhealthy Internet advice dependency? Probably.

But it would never steer her wrong—would it?

———–

Just when Avery thought she was out, HowTo.com pulled her back in! The romantic comedy, The Internet Made Me Do It is Book 2 in the Avery Fowler 2.0 Series. If you enjoyed BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY or CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC, Avery is the woman for you! (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Sara Steven:

I realized something, after diving into the second installment in Avery’s world.

I really, really missed her!

She’s the type of character I wish I were friends with in real life. Funny. Charming. Always telling it exactly like it is, even if in doing so, it gets her into all sorts of trouble. I’m amazed at the heap of misadventures and odd-ball situations that Avery often finds herself in. There were so many moments where I felt as though I were witnessing the beginnings of a train wreck, filling me with a need to reach inside the pages and protect her from causing undue harm to herself, yet at the same time I couldn’t look away, and if I were totally honest, I didn’t want to! Those moments were ultimately the best, because there was no way I’d stop reading and not find out what happens to Avery and those around her at every single turn.

I wasn’t sure if the second book could top the first in this series (Dear Internet: It’s Me, Avery). Yet Jennifer Ammoscato proved me wrong. The Internet Made Me Do It was amazing, from start to finish, inspiring me to be crazy free to express myself a little bit more, with a little more gumption, just like Avery would. I’m so glad Avery’s world is a trilogy, because one book would never be enough, and I look forward to reading the third installment, The Internet Never Lies, so I can see what’s in store for our girl!

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Melissa Amster:

When this book became available, I replied to the review request by just saying “YES!” And then I pretty much inhaled it as soon as it was sent to my Kindle.

I agree with Sara, that book two is even better than book one. (And topping the original can be hard to do in a sequel.) Avery had me laughing out loud, smiling, cringing, sympathizing, etc. I also agree about wanting Avery around in real life. She’d be so much fun to have as a friend. I love the Confessions of a Shopaholic comparison because Avery reminds me of Becky Bloomwood in some ways.

There are a lot of new adventures and surprises in store for Avery this time around. Get book one now (see above….it’s FREE), so you can read this one right away afterward. Kind of like binge-watching a show…you don’t want to stop at just one episode. Sara and I had to wait for this one. (Yeah, let that sink in.) You don’t. And book three is even available now, so you could just spend a whole weekend with Avery. (Or savor it so you can enjoy more Avery adventures when you really need a pick-me-up. I know we’re doing that…but we won’t be waiting too long.)

I didn’t cast Avery’s best friends (or her nemesis) in my last review, so here goes:
Becca: Marguerite Moreau
Jordan: Michelle Monaghan
Harrison: Josh Dallas
Chantal: Kate Hudson

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Allie and Bea, by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Bea has barely been scraping by since her husband died. After falling for a telephone scam, she loses everything and is forced to abandon her trailer. With only two-thirds of a tank in her old van, she heads toward the Pacific Ocean with her cat—on a mission to reclaim what’s rightfully hers, even if it means making others pay for what she lost.

When fifteen-year-old Allie’s parents are jailed for tax fraud, she’s sent to a group home. But when her life is threatened by another resident, she knows she has to get out. She escapes only to find she has nowhere to go—until fate throws Allie in Bea’s path.

Reluctant to trust each other, much less become friends, the two warily make their way up the Pacific Coast. Yet as their hearts open to friendship and love from the strangers they meet on their journey, they find the courage to forge their own unique family—and begin to see an imperfect world with new eyes. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

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One thing I’ve learned while reading any Catherine Ryan Hyde novel, you never quite know what you’re going to find when you start reading. I had this idea in my mind, that an older woman and a young girl would set off on a Pacific Coast adventure, a modern-day Thelma and Louise, in a sense. And while there’s a fraction of that gritty spirit in Allie and Bea, it’s only scratching the surface.

There are many life or death moments in this story, beginning with Bea and her plight. While discovering who she was as a character, I pictured my own eighty-two year old grandmother in Bea’s shoes, leaving her home and everything, other than her pet, behind, living in an old van that had never been built as living quarters. While my grandmother has admitted to camping out on the Oregon coast in her own minivan, with her three poodles in recent years, I feel as though that in and of itself is an amazing feat. To go through the experiences Bea has, I can’t fathom it. But, I’m sure there are many who have had to go the same route, in order to survive.

Allie is also trying hard to survive. Plenty is mentioned in the synopsis on Allie’s hurdles, but there is plenty that isn’t. Hyde brings to the forefront the social issues that plague us, stories ripped from the headlines that many of us turn a blind eye to. Allie finds herself right in the thick of it all, until Bea saves her, like a knight in dulled metal armor.

I really appreciated the character evolution that takes place for both ladies. Both have their own opinions on how the world works, shaped by their environment and life experiences. Sometimes, life shakes in order for lessons to be learned, for growth to occur. This was a truthful look into the dark, and how when you least expect it, a lifeline will appear from out of nowhere, ready to reel you in upon the great unknown.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

New York, Actually, by Sarah Morgan

Molly is a closeted relationship advice blogger. Daniel is one of the wealthiest divorce lawyers in New York City. Neither believe in happily ever after, preferring to steer clear of anything even remotely romance-worthy. They have a substantial amount of baggage between the two of them. This sort of opposites attract, despite all hurdles, is what makes New York, Actually such an enjoyable read!

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I found their relationship to be a refreshing take on the realism between couples. Not everything is lovey dovey all the time. Many of us have been scorned, had our hearts broken, and in Molly’s case, there may be skeletons in the closet that are better left hidden away. She’s terrified of the repercussions, what Daniel will think of her. On the flip side, Daniel has seen his fair share of marriages gone awry, beginning with his own family. It’s put him off having anything serious with anyone, no matter the cost. Lucky for him, Molly feels the same way. She is unlovable, by her standards. A fact proven time and again with any relationship she has tried to pursue.

Molly has a background in psychology, which makes this all the more believable. It’s so easy to counsel others, yet it’s hardest when you have to turn the microscope on your own life. I appreciated how Sarah Morgan highlighted this fact for her readers. It would be easy to say, “hey, Molly should have this completely figured out, given her education, her background”, yet it’s never that easy, not for any of us. We’ve all got our own insecurities, no matter how strange that might be to others. Sometimes, it takes an outside source (and a whole lot of support) to help us see the light.

As always, I love how the other characters from the Manhattan with Love series pops into play. Like Fliss and Harriet, who run The Bark Rangers- they happen to be Daniel’s sisters. I have a feeling one (or both) ladies will have center stage in the future, possibility their own stories to continue on with the Manhattan thread. It was also nice to reunite with Eva from Miracle on 5th Ave. I love how everyone is so intricately woven together, one big family. It’s one of the biggest reasons every single book in the series is so fantastic, including this one.

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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