Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

 OK all this lovely lovely information was supposed to copy paste from Goodreads, but was just messy HTML, sigh. So here is the detail:

  • Title: Will Grayson, Will Grayson
  • Authors: John Green and David Levithan
  • Pages: 310, hardcover
  • Published: April 2010
  • My Goodreads rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.
Really this book should be called Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and Tiny Cooper, but the title was long enough already. Although the two Will’s coming together is part of he catalyst for great change in their lives, it is really their friend in common (or boyfriend as one of the Will’s struggles with coming out) that wreaks the most havoc, in an ultimately positive way, in both their lives.

Although it can be argued that the stunning clarity and realness of the both the Wills’ characters is offset by the seemingly unreal Tiny I absolutely enjoyed this YA novel set in Chicago by two fabulous authors. Reading YA as a adult can be hard to remember how much drama occurred in the lunch room, at your locker, over the phone, and now of course, over social networking sites, but I felt every scene and type of interaction was handled so deftly, and sometimes to depressingly realistically that it was almost like I was back in high school myself.

I knew nothing of the book before I picked it up, it was the only John Green book my library had in stock and I was determined to read something by him, so I had no idea how emo this book was, and would make me, but I definitely recommend it!

All I Ever Wanted, by Kristin Higgins

  • Title: All I Ever Wanted 
  • Author: Kristin Higgins
  • Published: July 2010
  • Pages: 384 pages (mass market paperback)
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Standalone or series: Standalone
  • Why I read it & source: I read my first, and only, Kristin Higgins book  in April and really liked it so when FSB Associates contacted me with a review copy I jumped at the chance!
  • Callie Grey starts out in a tough spot, trying to stay positive long after her parents divorce and dealing with two siblings full of issues, pining for her boss who dumped her on her birthday for another woman, and dealing with the new dating life of her roommate, who also happens to be her crotchety grandfather. With the upheaval in her family, in her career, AND in her personal life Callie has got quite a journey ahead of her and it was awful fun to go along for the ride!

    I really enjoyed how Ms. Higgins explored family issues in a previous book of hers and that theme definitely continued here. There is quite a bit of a character study here into Callie’s intrinsic nature to look on the positive side of things, what she calls her “Betty Boop” side. Even at 8 years old, when her parents divorced, it was important to her to not let her dad see her cry as he drove away, and her stoic facade continued to present day.

    Callie’s pretty self aware about her nature, so even written in first person narrative we get a great sense for what makes her tick, why she’s such a romantic, and how she’s held on to her positively throughout the years, like in this quote:

    The truth is, I believed in Love. After my father moved out, I resolved that Life Would Still Be Happy. I was helpful with my baby brother, cheerful in the mornings to counterbalance Hester. I made sure I always skipped out to my dad’s car when he came to pick us up for his nights and pretended to love bowling because he loved bowling. Made Mom tea when she came in from work. Always kept my room neat. Smiled when I felt like crying, and when I did cry, made sure I went into me closet so no one would hear.

    Love would be my reward.

    Unfortunately her love for her boss, Mark, was to go unrequited. Boy was he a jerk! There were many times when I wanted to strip away Callie’s Betty Boop side and give him a big ol’ slap upside the head, swear never to talk to him again, and make a grand exit, but she has a really hard time shaking her feelings and hopes about him.

    Enter new love interest stage left – Ian MacFarland, new vet to the area whom Callie, and every other single woman in the small town, flock to meet with their pets in tow. Their first few meetings are a little rocky to say the least, and even as Callie warms up to Ian, he still remains fairly cool and aloof. We’re given tid-bits of insight into his past, and why he’s a tough nut to crack, so I had to admire Callie’s perseverance with him since he really didn’t give her much to go on.

    For every difficult situation Callie was put in, there was always a good dose of humor to balance it out. Pleeeeeeeease believe me when I say this book is Laugh Out Loud Funny. No really, I’m not just saying that (these expressions are becoming so trite) but even just thinking back on a scene will STILL ellicit a chuckle, even though a read it a few weeks ago!

    Part of this I think is because Ms. Higgins is a pretty humorous writer, but also Callie had such a funny inner monologue, even in not-so-fun circumstances, partly because she’s always making the best of things, but also because she’s just funny! Even when her hiking shorts won’t fit, when she’s buying embarrassing medicine, when she’s having some public digestive issues, when dealing with her grandfather’s prosthetic leg, when on a horrible internet date, or when she thinks she’s run over an animal.

    Speaking of which – THE TURKEY SCENE. Oh my lord I had to catch my breath for laughing so hard during that one. Seriously one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while. Just trust me, if you read this you better be somewhere you’re comfortable LOL-ing when you get to that part.

    Take this scene for instance, Callie’s just met the replacement in Mark’s affections, Muriel, who has also just been hired to work in their office:

    I stood up, my legs unsteady and walked to the door, hoping not to look as shaken as I felt.

    “Callie?” Muriel called, writing something on the pad.


    She didn’t look up. “Don’t forget your snack.”

    “They’re for everyone,” I said defensively. “I always bake on Mondays. Production meetings.” She didn’t answer, just shot me a dubious look, as if she knew I’d be galumphing across the hall with my scones and stuffing all twelve in my mouth.

    Taking care not to accidentally let the tray, oh, I don’t know…hit her in the face, I picked it up and left, closing the door quietly behind me.

    And as a lover of curvy heroines (*ahem* I’ve only mentioned this a time or two), and as I love my own curves, I absolutely adored seeing that side of Callie!

    …but I looked pretty smokin’, if I did say so myself. Curvalicious even…If I was the equivalent of, oh, let’s say a really good hamburger, juicy, comforting, and delicious, Muriel was a rawhide shoelace.

    I thought the writing had some really smart moments as well, which is why I can’t stop including quotes! Callie has a pretty good character arc of growth, even as self aware as she is, and seemingly happy with always looking on the positive side, this clever passage shows us how she’s changing:

    I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the smooth maple [of my rocking chair]. Sometimes it seemed like my life was spent shoveling fog…trying so hard to be that adorable hedgehog everyone liked. Some days, optimism was an ill-fitting wool coat, heavy and uncomfortable.

    Some things that didn’t quite work for me though were that I felt like the book concentrated equally on Callie’s family drama, her issues with her ex, and her new love interest Ian – I would have preferred more of an emphasis on Ian. I get that he was an enigmatic type of guy and that there was a lot going on in Callie’s life, but I wanted to see more of him, in page time, and a look into his character.

    Also, while Callie referred to one side of her nature as Betty Boop, she always wished she were more practical and that part of her conscious tried to give her advice as if from Michelle Obama. I definitely see the analogies between the two characters rerferenced…but it jerked me out of the story a little bit because Mrs. Obama isn’t a fictional character, and frequently referencing what her advice would be threw me off a little.

    Lastly, there were no lusty scenes. Not one, all off page with a few nice kisses here and there. So while this is absolutely a romance novel in the sense there are a H/H and a happy ending, since it’s set in first person from the heroine’s point of view, covers her many different relationships (not just with the hero) and with no love scenes I would say it’s not your “typical” romance novel. Which is certainly not a bad thing, as I greatly enjoyed it and can recommend it to my chick-lit loving friends who claim to dislike romance novels *rolls eyes at them*

    So just a few minor little niggles. Like I said above, I would recommend this to a wide circle of readers looking for a good family drama, romance, laugh out loud fun, and a happy ending.

    Now I just have to get my hands on some more Kristin Higgins books!

    How to Knit a Wild Bikini, by Christie Ridgway

  • Title: How to Knit a Wild Bikini (awful title, the book is 100 times better than that title implies)
  • Author: Christie Ridgway (author website)
  • Published: June, 2008
  • Pages: 304 pages (mass market paperback)
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Standalone or series: Can be read as a standalone, first in a connected three books about half sisters finding love in Malibu. 
  • Why I read it: AnimeJune’s fantabulous review.
  • Source: Library.
  •  This was my first Christie Ridgway book and I’m salivating to read the rest of her backlist, and I don’t usually even like contemporary romance!

    This book was super fun, cute, and very entertaining. There was a LOT going on though, and while I thought the author handled the many many plot threads well, and all the secondary characters, heroine’s issues from being raped as a teen, lots of other emotional baggage and current obstacles for the H/H to get together were also handled well, I felt like some of them could have been fleshed out more, or left out to concentrate on a tighter storyline.

    That being said I don’t really know what I would change because I enjoyed each of those pieces of this book sooo much! Playboy and confirmed bachelor Jay changed his ways quite a bit during the book as his new pretend-lesbian-live-in-chef Nikki starts to get under his skin and into his heart. But that doesn’t mean his thought process changes right away and it was fun being in his head, like this quote when Jay is observing his friend confessing his devotion to his lover:

    “How could you imagine that I don’t love you? That if something happened to you, it wouldn’t kill me too?”…

    Jay shuffled back, embarrassed by the other man’s very Latin, very emotional outburst. He almost held his breath, just like he did when he got in an elevator with someone who was sneezing. Shit like that might be contagious.

    Jay and Nikki’s scenes together were also full of such fun dialogue and observations about each other, the writing throughout the book was snappy and attention grabbing and I felt each scene was important.

    Ok, how many times have I said fun now? So while this would make a great beach read some of the emotional baggage from past issues definitely covers heavier topics and really got to me emotionally, so I felt satisfied on all levels of my reading preferences. Including the lusty scenes, they were pretty steamy, though I wouldn’t have minded of seeing more of Jay’s prowess due to his oft-touted history ;)

    A- overall grade for me, I loved following Jay and Nikki’s journey to their acceptance of their feelings for each other.

    The Daughters, by Joanna Philbin

    • Title: The Daughters
    • Author: Joanna Philbin (could NOT find an author website. lame.)
    • Published: May, 2010
    • Pages: 288 pages (Hardcover)
    • Genre: Young Adult
    • Standalone or series: First in a planned series of three. 
    • Why I read it: Saw a review in People magazine.
    • Source: Library.

    Yes, this is by Regis Philbin’s daughter, so one can assume the author has experienced some of what her characters go through as all three girls in this series are daughters of mega-famous parents. The first book in the series mainly follows Lizzie Summers – picture her mom as a Christie Brinkley/Cindy Crawford/Heidi Klum type. Except Lizzie doesn’t look one teensiest tinyest bit like a super model. Tall and gangly in a not-thin way with frizzy red hair, Lizzie would rather have her crooked nose buried in The Great Gatsby than have anything to do with her mother’s world of fashion. But her mother seems absolutely oblivious to Lizzie’s looks and awkwardness and blithely drags her along to red carpet events where she is shunned repeatedly by the photographers. Any photos of her that do end up online are inevitably mocked by snarky celebrity bloggers. Then Lizzie starts to think that her mom is worse than oblivious, maybe she not only doesn’t understand her daughter in the least, but could she be using Lizzie to make herself look better in pictures?

    That type of self-doubt, lack of communication and understanding with your parents, growing into your body, and teen angst are all very typical symptoms and drama of that stage in any girl’s life, but throw into that already-terrible mix being a daughter of a celebrity! It definitely intensifies things!

    The teenage viewpoint is one of the things I think Philbin captured best in her debut novel. For example, Lizzie’s childhood crush, Todd, moved away to London for several years but now is back, more gorgeous than ever, and going to her high school! Of course she needs any excuse to be near him and her strategy is to get dibs on being his tour guide the first day of school.

    While things start off like OMGsoawesome (hey he’s reading and loving the Great Gatsby too! and they both want to be writers!) of course rivals for his attention come up, and Lizzie’s own issues get in the way of their blossoming friendship. In the teenage world one drop-by your locker, one phone call, one facebook message makes a big difference, so only weeks after her heartfelt petition to be his tour guide Lizzie and he are avoiding each other. I loved this quote showing this type of transparent-to-us teenage drama, but that is SO. VERY. IMPORTANT to them:

    “Lizzie Summers,” Mr Barlow barked. “You’re with Todd Piedmont. You’ll be doing Cupid and Psyche. The love myth.”

    Somebody, somewhere giggled. Lizzie looked straight down, feeling her cheeks burn…

    [After class ended] she sprinted out of the room, walked into Mr. Barlow’s office, and shut the door.

    “Is there a problem, Miss. Summers?” he asked wryly, reading a few phone messages on his desk.

    “You can’t put me with Todd!” she exclaimed.

    He stifled a smile. “But just the other day you were begging me to be his tour guide,” he said.

    “That was three weeks ago,” she said. “Everything’s different now. Everything.”

    However, I thought the book overall was more fluffy than deep. There were so many angles that could have had more depth, such as when Lizzie takes steps to be more comfortable in front of the cameras. Her modeling sessions were described so vaguely to me, and in missing those details I missed the emotional connection with Lizzie and how she was changing.

    Also central to teenage life is school and again, their exclusive private school got NO description, not what it looked like, what her homework was like, what the atmosphere was like there, and I was disappointed. Granted, New York City was depicted in greater detail and while these girls enjoy their wealth around the city and we get to know their penthouses and mansions pretty well, I still thought the school should get more attention.

    Lastly, Lizzie gets into Trouble a few times with her parents and I didn’t see any real consequences. She was grounded for a little bit, but when a school dance comes up and Lizzie goes one of her friends says, “Hey, aren’t you grounded” and her response was a casual, “Oh yeah, they ended it early so I could go to this dance.” Although when she gets into Trouble at school I appreciated the way her teachers handled it – Lizzie’s mistake caused her to miss out on a big writing opportunity which was very important to her.

    This first installment of a series about girls finding their own identities separate from their parents’ has some good moments, and poignant insight into teenage drama. I would recommend it for middle-school aged girls or as a potential beach or pool read as I didn’t feel it had the depth or emotional connection to stimulate more mature readers.

    The next books will follow Lizzie’s two best friends who already had quite a bit of set-up in The Daughters: Carina, daughter of an overbearing billionaire-tycoon father, and Hudson whose mom is a  brittle, selfish chart topping pop icon.

    Going Too Far, by Jennifer Echols

  • Title: Going Too Far
  • Author: Jennifer Echols (author website here)
  • Published: March, 2009
  • Pages: 245 pages (paperback)
  • Genre: Young Adult
  • Standalone or series: Standalone.
  • Why I read it: Um, have you NOT heard the buzz about how awesome this books is? It seems like every book blog I read last year sung it’s praises, but I only just got around to reading it.
  • Source: Library.
  • This book is ABSO-FECKIN-LUTELY as fabulously wonderful as everyone said it is. READ IT NOW. Why haven’t you read it yet?! Yes you (I see you!). Recommended for anyone who likes literary fiction, any type of YA, chick lit, and romance novels. This is a book you could recommend to pretty much ANY female in your circle of family, friends, and acquaintances. I would also recommend it as a book club read. While it is labeled as Young Adult there is quite a bit of sex and drugs raciness as well as seriousness surrounding death, phobias, and diseases.

    There was nothing I didn’t like about the book. Literally nothing.

    I’m usually not a fan of first-person narratives, especially in romantic types of stories, I want and need to hear both perspectives of how they fall in love, but Echols’ character development was so deft, detailed, and poignant that the clues were all there to pick up on, even if we only heard 17 year old Meg’s point of view.

    I also really connected with Meg, even with her dyed-blue hair, living in a trailer, working for free at her parent’s greasy spoon diner, sleeping with the town’s rich-boy-druggie…someone SO different from me the reader, I connected with her. This is no mean feat. But being inside Meg’s head, listening to the way she describes herself, the way she sees people around her, the way she observes the world – I got her. She was refreshing and cynical at the same time, a very mature 17 year old that’s for sure.

    One of the ways the writing enables us to connect so well with Meg is that she almost has running inside jokes with us, the reader. The book opens with her getting arrested for drinking and trespassing on dangerous railroad tracks on a bridge. Her punishment is to miss her senior year of high school spring break, the first time she would ever get out of her bumblefuck Alabama town, and spend the week riding with the cop who arrested her.

    She first thinks he is much older than he is, he’s so big and built and his uniform and confident way he holds himself confuses her on his age. She imagines his kids at home reading comic books, his wife cooking fruit cobbler, and anxiously listening to the police scanner while she waits for him to come home.

    While Meg finds out her cop (and he does become her cop more and more!), John, is actually 19 she still has that inside joke with us about the fruit cobbler. Every now and then she’ll bring it up, but relating it to herself.

    Here is one of my favorite passages, giving you an idea how fun it is to be inside Meg’s thoughts, and how she sets up scenes, inside jokes with us, and describes things so we can really connect with her:

    Before this I’d entertained a miniature thought of what might happen if I saw John when my official punishment was over two nights from now. The small thought had not become a large thought because it had no room to grow. Currently John was pouring Miracle-Gro on the thought. I was just getting out the hedge clippers to cut the thought down when he parked in front of Martini’s…

    [John walked into the bar to break up a potentially dangerous fight]

    I gripped the front of the seat with both sweaty hands to keep from jumping out of the car and running to him. And then I got completely freaking furious with myself. I did hope that I was not entertaining a plot to somehow date Johnafter? I cranked up the chain saw to cut down the plot made by Miracle-Gro.

    He got back into the car with much clinking of the weaponry attached to his belt. “What’s wrong?”…

    I pressed one finger between my eyes, still concentrating on the chain saw. Feel the chain saw. Be the chain saw…

    The chain saw had run out of gas.

    Life hasn’t been easy for Meg, and she hasn’t made it any easier for herself either. Her baggage and reasons for her rebellious nature are a few of the many layers of this amazing book. I turned each page super fast just to peel away each layer from both her, and John. Even though we’re in Meg’s POV she still keeps some secrets from us and when they are revealed, and when John finally reveals some of his own…well you won’t be unaffected, let’s just say that. Not everyone is a crier like me, but there is no way to read this book and be unaffected.

    This was my first Jennifer Echols book and I can’t wait to read more by her. As a lover of all things romance and stories that affect me on a deep emotional level I couldn’t ask for more than what I found in Going Too Far.

    All my fave bloggers have read and reviewed (and loved!) it too:

    Library Loot: surprising contemporary kick

    I don’t like contemporary romance novels. There I said it. I have some weird bias, prejudice, or something so that 90% of contemporary romances do not work for me. I’m missing an enzyme.

    Chick lit I’m ok with, but I don’t rush out to buy the next Devil Wears Prada or The Nanny Diaries etc.

    On a guess, because I don’t keep detailed stats, looking at my past reading list I’d say I read about 75% historically set books, certainly all the historically set ones tend to be nearer the top of my grading scale. BUT for some reason a week or so ago something clicked in my brain and if I read another word about Hyde Park, pandering to a monarch, anything about Napoleon, Almack’s, kid slippers, or being compromised and forced to marry due to scandal I would just scream! I just got to the point I was totally saturated in historical romance, my pores were overflowing with it. I needed a break.

    So check out all my contemporary set library loot, I brought an extra bag to work with me since I knew I’d be getting quite a haul from the library on my lunch break!

    1. Too Good to be True, by Kristan Higgins: recommended to me by some of my Twitter friends, I don’t love romance novels set in the first person because I like to see both sides falling in love, what they think of each other, and why they have reservations or go for each other, but I just started reading it and am LOVING it so far. Super, super, super “meet cute.” I LOVE a good meet cute. Grace finds a suspicious person outside her neighbor’s and beans him with her field hockey stick, only to discover he is her new neighbor with a name that is later described as almost orgasm inducing: Callaghan O’Shea.

    2. The Girl with the Mermaid Hair, by Delia Ephron: this is a pretty deep YA novel about Sukie, a high school girl with a very superficially perfect family that starts cracking apart, and Sukie starts to crack too. I got goosebumps reading The Booksmuggler’s review, so if a review affected me that much I can’t wait to read the book!

    3. The Undomestic Goddess, by Sophie Kinsella: I really liked her first two Shopaholic books (you couldn’t pay me to read the ones after that), and adored Can You Keep a Secret but this was one I hadn’t read yet!

    4. Welcome to Temptation, by Jennifer Cruise: I read a few of hers before but was underwhelmed, see! Like I said! For some reason contemporary books that everyone else loves fall into a “m’eh” category for me. But I’m giving her another try now that I’m in a contemporary mindset!

    5. The Crowing Glory of Calla Lily Ponder, by Rebecca Wells: this was on the new releases shelf, and although I loved Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood when I read it in 8th grade, but I barely remember it and have no idea if it would still work for me. But I love books set in the south and I had positive association with the author, so why not?

    6. Deep Dish, by Mary Kay Andrews: again – set in the south, and again – love the author!

    7. Sweet Liar, by Jude Deveraux: this is an old standby, one of the first romance novels I ever read, so this was a “just in case” grab at the library…just in case any of my hopeful new books above didn’t work out I would have this oldie but goodie waiting. Written during and set in the early 90’s uptight Samantha goes to close up her recently passed father’s apartment in NYC, but sexy building owner Mike is determined to coax her out of her shell and solve a 1920’s mobster mystery!

    Library loot is a weekly meme hosted by Eva and Marg.

    Waving goodbye to Under The Dome

    Waking up for an Under The Dome inspired nightmare at 5am today was the second to last straw. I tried to cuddle up on hubby for comfort but he was facing the wrong way (I can’t be the big spoon) and I didn’t want to wake him up to make him roll over.

    But beyond the nightmare and loss of sleep, the very last, most wispy, tiny, yellow straw was the killing off of ANOTHER good guy. I dealt with the first 3 or 4 dying ok (by “ok” i mean i had nightmares about me being the next murder/rape/severed limb victim) as it is to be expected in dark/horror books. I mean heck, good people die in Sookie Stackhouse’s world all the time and I keep reading those!

    But while I was reading it on the metro this morning these three plucky good-guy teenagers go out on their bikes to inspect the possible source of the Dome…and get radiation poising near the dead bodies of deer and a bear. I slammed the book shut (gagged a little to be honest) and vowed not to re-open it.

    So I’m now waving goodbye to Under The Dome. I shall not be finishing it. Well…tonight, while I decide whether to watch my DVR’d American Idol, Real World DC, or the live Olympics I may try to skim the last 50 pages to find out if anyone in the Dome-covered-town survives the madmen, evil-police-force, air pollution, meth addicts, or radiation poisoning. But I have a feeling if the mysterious force-field-Dome ever lifts no one is going to be left. Certainly not any good guys.

    The last time I read Stephen King was a bunch of short stories when I was about 12, now that I’m 26 I thought I’d be better able to handle it. But I was wrong. I’m like that dog that never learns about the electric fence and keeps getting shocked. Remember when I gave up on Michael Grant’s GONE series which is so super duper similar and so often compared to King’s Dome? Yeah I gave those up because they were too horror, gore, and sadness filled for me, I guess I needed another zap of the electric collar to make me learn.

    I can’t decide of the electric collar analogy is the best for me or “curiosity killed the cat,” because I wanted to read Under the Dome due to my G*d-damn curiosity about how the force-field around the town came to be, how would people survive under it, and would it ever lift?


    I’m still going to try and mix up my reading genres, because I know I can’t survive on a diet of just romance alone, but I won’t be venturing too far away for a while.

    EDITED TO ADD LATE BREAKING NEWS: just skipped ahead 500 pages and read the last 50, thank goodness a few of the good guys made it. The ending and Big Reveal are so very very reminiscent of Ender’s Game if you read and loved that, then it’s totally worth pushing through Under the Dome.

    Anybody Out There?, by Marian Keyes

  • Title: Anybody Out There?
  • Author: Marian Keyes
  • Published: William Morrow, May 2006 
  • Pages: 464pgs trade paperback
  • Standalone or series: Can be read as standalone, but it is her 4th book about the Walsh sisters. I had no idea the others existed until I was google image searching for this post, so you’re really not missing anything, more info here
  • Why I read it: I enjoyed the first Keyes book I read earlier this year Sushi for Beginners and saw this one while browsing at my library
  • Marian Keyes writes clever dialogue, realistic characters, and relatable yet entertaining plots. Similar enough to our lives to relate, but different and exciting enough to draw us into her fiction. She captures relationships of all types so well: familial, platonic or romantic ones. In Anybody Out There? we follow Anna Walsh as she recuperates from an accident with her family in Ireland, all the while wishing she is back at her fabulous job and life in New York City.

    Not much background on her accident or life in New York are shared with us at first, so we really get to know her kooky family and life in Ireland. I can see why three other books have been written about Anna’s sisters, they are all such characters!

    Here is the thing though, the summary of the book on the back cover was TOTALLY MISLEADING! I was expecting a Bridget Jones or Shopaholic type book, when really I should have had the kleenex box handy. This is not a light Chick Lit read, but a poignant and darkly humorous look at struggling with grief, tragedy and relationships with friends and family.

    Here is the summary:

    Life in the Big Apple is perfect for Anna. She has the best job in the world, a lovely apartment, and great friends. Then one morning, she wakes up in her mammy’s house in Dublin with stitches in her face, a dislocated knee, hands smashed up, and no memory at all of what happened. As soon as she’s able, Anna’s flying back to Manhattan, mystified but determined to find out how her life turned upside down. As her past slowly begins coming back to her, she sets out on an outrageous quest—involving lilies, psychics, mediums, and anyone who can point her in the right direction.

    So um, she doesn’t have amnesia actually and her quest is more bittersweet than “outrageous.” I can’t say any more than that without spoilers since we don’t find out what the real deal is until almost 200 pages in.

    But seriously the writing is brilliant, and super funny. Keyes just “gets it” for me, like when describing one of Anna’s dates she gets the imagery, pop culture references, and comedy all once:

    I prepared for my date with Greg, the baker from Queens. Although it was October and far from warm, he’d suggested a picnic in the park…

    Reclining on the rug, Greg opened his basket, took out a loaf, then closed the basket quickly, but not before I’d seen that all that was in it was loads of bread.

    “This is my sourdough,” he said. “Made to my own recipe.”

    He tore off a bit, in a real bon vivant’s way, and approached. I could see the way this was going: he was planning a seduction via bread –  once I’d tried his creations, I’d go all swoony and fall in love with him. I was dealing with a man who’d seen Chocolate once too often.

    “Close your eyes and open your mouth.” Oh, cripes, he was going to feed me! God, how excruciating, how 9 1/2 Weeks.

    But he didn’t even let me eat the damn thing. He rubbed it around inside my mouth and said, “Feel the roughness of the crust on your tongue.” He moved it back and forth and I nodded yes, I was feeling the roughness.

    Oh God, this was a public place, I hoped no one was looking at us. I opened my eyes and shut them again quickly: a woman walking her dog was in fits. Her hands were on her knees she was laughing so much.

    I would have had my hands on my own knees if I wasn’t sitting down when I read this! Hilarious.

    But Anna’s friendship with Jacqui was also captured so well, with all the little details that show how complex women friends can be, and how special these little details make it. Like inside jokes, there are a couple words or phrases that my friends or hubby and I use that will always make me laugh, and Jacqui and Anna were just the funniest together. My favorite bit of theirs seems to be inspired by some real life friends of Keyes as she notes in her acknowledgements-she gave thanks to two friends, “for virtual support, New York information, and, most of all, the Feathery Stroker™ rant.”

    So here’s the Feathery Stroker deal-Anna’s just gone a first date with a guy named Aiden and is discussing it with her friend Jacqui when we learn of the Ultimate Inside Joke:

    I set my jaw and held her look, “He is not a Feathery Stroker.”

    “I’ll be the judge of that,” replied Jacqui.

    Jacqui’s Feathery Stroker test is a horribly cruel assessment that she brings to bear on all men. It originated with some man she slept with years ago. All night long he’d run his hands up and down her body in the lightest, feathery way, up her back, along her thighs, across her stomach, and before they had sex he asked her gently if she was sure. Lots of women would have loved this: he was gentle, attentive, and respectful. But for Jacqui it was the greatest turn off of her life. She would have much preferred it if he’d flung her across a hard table, torn her clothes, and taken her without her explicit permission. “He kept stroking me,” she said afterward, wincing with revulsion. “In this awful feathery way, like he’d read a book about how to give women what they want. Bloody Feathery Stroker, I wanted to rip my skin off.

    And so the phrase came about. It suggested an effeminate quality that instantly stripped a man of all sex appeal. It was a damning way to be categorized and far better, in Jacqui’s opinion, to be a drunken wife beater in a dirty vest than a Feathery Stroker.

    What followed was a whole list of the Feathery Stroker criteria you really have to read it, it is so funny!

    But the funny didn’t last forever. While I thought Keyes’ writing remained clever and insightful it was just very sad and it was harder for me to deal with because I didn’t expect it. Maybe 0-1% of my reading is “sad” I just don’t prefer to read that type of stuff. The book was seriously so good, and did get me to think about how people handle tragic situations, that I would absolutely recommend it. As long as you know what you’re in for! B grade for me and I will absolutely be reading more of her stuff.

    Practice Makes Perfect, by Julie James

    PMP_Julie_JamesRemember all my allusions to not having enough willpower* to put down a book in yesterday’s post? Well the book I had in mind was my most recent read, Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James.

    I read it in one sitting. Upon finishing it I googled the sh*t outta Julie James, read the archives of her blog, and ordered the only other book she’s written (Just the Sexiest Man Alive). All these signs point to —> I really reeeally liked this book. I wanted to immediately read any other words Ms. James had written.

    And not just because Ms. James is from Chi-town-what-what and set her book there (although I am always partial to peeps and books from my hometown). But because of Payton, the story’s heroine whom I have a huge girl-crush on, and the laugh out loud moments throughout the whoooole book!

    Katiebabs was kind enough to give me her signed copy of Practice Makes Perfect at RWA and I read it immediately, it had been on my wish list ever since I’d seen some great reviews from both her and the Booksmugglers earlier in the year.

    I don’t read a lot of contemporaries so I was shocked at how much I adored this book, they are usually just not my cup of tea.

    So many other great reviews of Practice Makes Perfect have been written, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail…here is the summary and just a few of my thoughts…


    Payton Kendall and J.D. Jameson are lawyers who know the meaning of objection. A feminist to the bone, Payton has fought hard to succeed in a profession dominated by men. Born wealthy, privileged, and cocky, J.D. has fought hard to ignore her. Face to face, they’re perfectly civil. They have to be. For eight years they’ve kept a safe distance and tolerated each other as co-workers for one reason only: to make partner at the firm.


    But all bets are off when they’re asked to join forces on a major case. At first apprehensive, they begin to appreciate each other’s dedication to the law—and the sparks between them quickly turn into attraction. But the increasingly hot connection doesn’t last long when they discover that only one of them will be named partner. Now it’s an all out war. And the battle between the sexes is bound to make these lawyers hot under the collar . . .

    As I mentioned I have a crush on Payton. I don’t think I have a “type” of heroine that I typically gravitate towards, I like variety in my romantic leading ladies and Payton was a fresh character for me. Her lawerly smarts, confidence and taking good care of her looks, embracing and discarding some of her mother’s hippie liberal ways, and her highly-charged sharp rejoinders when sparring with J.D. all combined into someone so unique to me.

    And unique to J.D. too. She was so special he just HAD to have her! Don’t get me wrong, J.D. was a great hero, but this time around I had the proverbial hots for the heroine.

    Even in the heat of The Moment when Payton and J.D.’s sexual frustration is about to culminate in consummation, she jokes about checking his condom for a “polo pony logo” in homage to his ultra-conservative-country-club-name-brand ways.

    Just like all the other reviews I’ll say that the snappy dialogue was super impressive and hilarious. I got really into it during all the bantering scenes, my eyes flew across the pages, slight smile on my face, waiting for that one ZINGER. When a point really hit home and was hurtful I also REALLY felt that, I got a bit of a physical heartache on Payton’s behalf when J.D. took one of their bantering matches too far and told her she was using low-cut shirts to get ahead with male clients and team members.

    And the dialogue wasn’t the only part that was well written, take this quote for example, from J.D.’s thoughts:

    Frankly he was fed up with all of the things that constantly came between them, like work and Chase Bellamy and client dinners. And clothes.

    Simply put, I thought PMP was clever all around and simply made me smile. Often. What more could you want in a romantic comedy type book?

     I just wish PMP had been longer! The paperback is 291 pages. The romance novels I usually read clock in more around 400 and I think it was a combination of my enjoyment of the book and my reading habits that made me wish it were longer. Plus some of the conflicts like J.D. trying to win his father’s approval could have been fleshed out more. And while the ending was definitely a happily ever after I wouldn’t have minded seeing some of those “after” scenes since the last scene ended on such a dramatic note. I also wouldn’t have minded finding out J.D.’s real name (for a while I was stupidly confused and thought his first and last names were both Jameson) or maybe a secondary romance plot following J.D.’s friend Tyler finding a HEA for himself. Someone he could share a blanket and a pot of Earl Grey with while reading P&P

    The love-making scenes were at a “gentle simmer” level and very much alluded to or totally off stage, so I would recommend this book for chick-lit lovers and romance novel lovers looking for a great contemporary.

     *yes i spelled willpower right today. thank you.

    “Ivy League” secret society Young Adult series by Diana Peterfreund

    secret-society-girl-lgStarting with the first novel in the “Ivy League” series, Secret Society Girl, we follow our heroine Amy Haskell as she gets tapped into the Rose & Grave secret society at Eli University; adventure, romance, and hijinks ensue once she is initiated.

    Author Diana Peterfreund not only went to Yale but when peeking at her acknowledgements it seems like she has recently gained even more alluring insider knowledge on secret society life as well. I know NOTHING of secret societies, I’ve never visited an Ivy League campus, so my association with them are limited to the Joshua Jackson movie The Skulls, the hott hott Matt Damon movie The Good Shepard, and the assumption/fact? that George W. Bush was in the Skull and Bones at Yale.

    Overall the whole series was a fascinating (even if fictional) glimpse into life in an Ivy League secret society, and super entertaining for adult readers, but my favorite part was Amy’s romance and happily ever after with the guy I liked the best for her. Surprised much that was my favorite part? ;)

    Told in first person from Amy’s point of view it took me a little while to get into the first book. Only because Amy didn’t think she was all that great, or special, or interesting, so she couldn’t figure out why the Rose & Grave would want her. So neither could I. While Amy had a skewed view of herself it wasn’t until halfway and three-quarters of the way through the first book that I really saw some scenes that showcased Amy’s strength of character, loyalty, ability to think outside the box, and bravery while she took the lead on solving the Big Problem with her new secret society.

    That Big Problem in the first book was that this was the first time the Rose & Grave had ever let women into their society, and the alumni (old-stick-in-the-mud-chauvinists) were doing everything in their power (and they had a lot of power as the alumni were in the White House, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, etc. so they were taking away internships, jobs, threatening family members) to kick the girls out.

    Each of the ensuing books in the series had a similar premise: a Big Problem in the Rose & Grave, Amy’s love-life [yay!], sub plot of Amy’s senior thesis/post graduation job search, sub plot of how secret society life has changed her views on her pledge class and on her friends outside of the society, and Amy’s personal growth overall.

    I came to love Amy’s narrative voice, she is frank, witty, sometimes sarcastic [yay!], and very observant. In this quote we see that she can be self-aware, but also makes me giggle at her wry observations:

    As much as I hated to admit it, some of it rang true. This is the problem with being both really smart and a little screwed up. You’re able to concoct the most believable self-defeating positions.

    under-the-rose-lgThe thing about all the books having a Big Problem, is that they needed to be resolved by the end of each book, and sometimes it felt like the end of a Full House episode for me. Like you look at the clock and see only 5 minutes is left of the show, cue the cheesy “lesson time” music and then we hear how we should all be nice, get along with others, and be good Samaritans.

    Not that the plot ever felt contrived, or wrapped up too neatly, but there were just certain passages that struck me as “lesson time” like this passage where Amy is chatting with Clarissa, whom she hated as a richy-rich trust fund baby who only got into Eli because she was a legacy and wore too many name brand clothes. But now that they are in the Rose and Grave together they are BEST FRIENDS:

    “You’re not awful,” I said recalling how even a year ago I though the exact opposite of her. “You’re ambitious – even if you don’t know what for – and that comes with a strong sense of competition. It doesn’t make you evil to think back things about your friends from time to time.” At least I hoped it didn’t or someone should fit me for a black hat and a twirly mustache. I was regularly jealous of Lydia and vice versa. But we loved each other, and we stood by each other when it counted.

    All of the series had the underlying theme of “girl power” to me. There were lots of “I am woman here me roar” moments, or at least that’s how I read into them. I think these “morals” were appropriately geared towards the young adult readers, and were subtle enough without being overbearing.

    rites-of-spring-lgBut, like I said, as an adult I definitely enjoyed the stories immensely and would recommend them to ANYONE. The third book Rights of Spring (Break) was the best for me, maybe that’s because that’s when she got it on with my favorite guy.

    But I heart these books. Amy’s relationships are very complex, from her best friend and room mate who is not in her secret society, to her love interests.

    Obvi her love interests were my favorite part, and their characters were developed really well, with depth to their personalities, how that matched or conflicted with Amy’s, and the issues that arose between them as a result. Her interactions with them ranged from cute, to funny, to sexy (yes there are sex scenes!) but this was one of my favorites [you should know everyone has “society names” and this guy’s society name is Poe, but Amy only just found out his real name is Jamie. Also they get penalized every time they use a society name outside of their society house]:

    The sand sifted below my feet, and the water was still plenty chilly. A few feet out, I was only up to my knees but the ground fell away swiftly after that. “P – Jamie!” I called.

    He waded back toward me. “I’m starting to think my name is Pajamie.”

    “Your name should be Pajerky. You said it wasn’t deep.”

    “Pajerky?” He gave me a skeptical look. “ That’s Pathetic.” 

    The fourth and final book Tap & Gown was a great conclusion to the series, Amy’s character arc was very satisfying, and there was an even stronger emphasis on romantic relationships, whether it was Amy’s, her ex-boyfriend and his new girl friend, or her society sister who couldn’t be with the one she loved due to religious reasons. Here is a great discussion:

    Brandon’s expression was closed, his face reflecting bitterness. “It’s the underlying inequality,” he said. “Someone is always the one who loves more, and it eventually drives the other – less loving one – away. Just the pressure of it.”

    “Been reading your Auden, I see”

    “Huh?” he said, furrowing his brow. “Oh, right ‘If equal affection cannot be / Let the more loving one be me’…I don’t know if W.H. was right about that. I’ve been both. And I prefer guilt to humiliation.”

    “No,” I said softly. “It doesn’t have to be that way.” Sometime you met someone that changed the pattern, who wormed their way past the cracks in your heart, caulked them up, sealed themselves in, and stayed there.

    Oh sigh, I just love it all. And those little literature references and other types of symbolism were all throughout the books. These characters (and the author) are very very smart and I loved that.

    I’m going to stop blathering on, but before you think these are all about romance, THEY’RE NOT, there are society pranks, legal issues, hidden cameras, break ins, secret clubs in new york city, kidnappings, near drownings, and national media frenzies. These books have it all, and anyone of any age should enjoy reading them!