beautiful girl

beautiful girl: a novel by Fleur Philips. Arizona: SparkPress, 2015. 179 pages. ***

Seventeen-year-old Melanie Kennicut is a beautiful, successful model controlled by her overbearing mother. Tired of being seen as a pretty face with no substance, Melanie longs to hang out with friends and live a normal life. When an accident causes numerous cuts to her face, Melanie questions whether life has played a trick on her or granted her wish. Her mother isolates her until plastic surgery can be performed and Melanie for the first time in her life, falls in love with the first guy she encounters who sees her and not her beauty.

The plot of the story is a good one, but character depth is lacking. Young Adults may identify with the feeling of not being in control of their life and future. Having a prince charming as a savior in the guise of Sam will have universal appeal, throw in a mean best friend and the drama unfolds. 

I received this book through the BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge 2015. Philips tells her story well, however, there were too many subplots for full development. So many teens struggle with some of the same issues, I just think an opportunity was missed in this novel.

Fleur Philips is an award-winning author who holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. She has won numerous Young Adult Fiction awards. She lives in Whitefish, Montana with her son.

Go Set A Watchman

Go Set A Watchman: a novel by Harper Lee. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. 278 pages. *****

Written in the mid-1950s, Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch (Scout), returns to Maycomb, Alabama, from New York to visit her father. Greeted at the train station by her brother, Jem’s, lifelong friend, Henry Clinton kissed her in a non-brotherly way. Updated on her father's rheumatoid arthritis, Jean Louise is not ready for all of the changes she encounters in her hometown. Haunted by her childhood memories and the attitude of the townspeople, Jean Louise begins to question her Father's actions. Seeing her father and Henry at a Maycomb Citizen's Council Meeting, Jean Louise can't believe what she is hearing and seeing, it makes her physically sick. She confronts her father and accuses Atticus of denying "hope" to the black townspeople, "you are telling them that Jesus loves them, but not much." Uncle Jack explains to Jean Louise that her conscience is her watchman. Jean Louise must find her own way and form her own opinions, not rely on her father or anyone else. 

I didn't know what to expect from this novel. I reread To Kill A Mockingbird before starting it. I avoided reading the reviews and listening to the controversy surrounding the publication date.  Some in the publishing world crying foul now that 89 year-old Ms. Lee is frail, hard of hearing and stroke victim living in a nursing home, who vowed never to publish another book. Exploited or is there some question as to whether she even wrote this version of the manuscript. The fact that HarperCollins announced that it sold 1.1 million copies in a week's time, adds fuel to the already burning fire. 

I wanted to like it, but didn't expect to like it as much as I did. I heard Scout's voice loud and clear and I was not surprised by the norms and views of the times. Having grown up in a city in the "north" the book provided a glimpse into small town living in Alabama during the 1950s. The fact that Jean Louise idolizes her father and realizes he isn't who she thought he was provided a forum for Lee to debate the issues of the time. Brilliantly told, a perfect companion to Mockingbird, supporting Lee's vision for the future. I came away with the feeling of "hope" and irrespective of the controversy surrounding it, I am glad it has been published.

Harper Lee born in 1926 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature. Her widely acclaimed To Kill A Mockingbird is required reading in many literature classes.


The S Word

BookSparks TRUTH OR DARE Blog Tour!

The S Word: a memoir by Paolina Milana. CA: She Writes Press, 2015. 231p. Reading Group Guide. ****

"If you are not willing to commit to being at Mass next Sunday. I cannot absolve you of your sins. The little screen to salvation slid shut." Paolina had finally summoned enough courage to seek absolution from the confessional, only to be turned away because she had to work on Sunday mornings. Obtaining her first job at the age of thirteen by altering her birth certificate, Paolina did what she could to help Papa pay the bills. Raised in a Sicilian Catholic family, she learns early to hold her secrets close of Mamma's schizophrenia; seduction-turned-rape, lack of money and Mamma's violent outbursts. Trying to shield her siblings from her Mamma's wrath and stay her Papa's favorite takes its toll and limits her future opportunities. 

Paolina paints a powerful story of a tight-knit family with many painful secrets that limit the ability to seek help. She exhibits strength in the face of adults who do not see or hear her, from her Papa who is dealing with his own issues; teachers who ignore her hygiene, bruises and signs of neglect to a guidance counselor who can't understand why she won't consider going to a college in another state. 

What could be a grim, hopeless story, it is one filled with love of her family, self-survival and triumph over circumstances. Paolina doesn't flinch when telling her story and her voice drew me right in and kept me there until the end. I would love to meet her and get an update on her and her siblings, I feel as if I know her and respect and admire her resilience. I definitely recommend this book as a serious read and I am so glad I signed up for the BookSparks Truth or Dare Blog Tour. 

Paolina Milana is first-generation Sicilian, born and raised in Chicago and currently living on the edge of the Angeles National Forest in California. A writer all her life, she earns her living with words. She blogs at PaolinaMilana.com and welcomes the opportunity to share her stories with interested audiences. 


Maybe In Another Life: a novel.

Maybe In Another Life: a novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid. New York: Washington Square Press, 2015. 336 pages. A Reader's Club Guide. *****+

Twenty-nine year old Hannah Martin is trying to make sense of her life after a disastrous relationship with a married man and the feeling that she lacks direction in her career choices. After returning to Los Angeles and her best friend Gabby, Hannah runs into her high school boyfriend, Ethan. Should she stay at the bar with Ethan or go home with Gabby and her husband Mark? Hannah believes that sometimes a person can just "tell." Faced with two choices, Hannah makes a decison that night which drastically changes her life forever, or does it? 

What could have been a confusing concurrent story told in parallel universes is clearly portrayed by Reid.  Hannah has the universal feeling of not belonging and seeking a "home," she feels adrift and her friend, Gabby seems to have it all...great parents, a successful husband, a house and children in her future. Or does she?

I am fascinated by the premise suggested in both parallel stories that "every time we make a decision, there is a version of us out there somewhere who made a different choice." Who hasn't asked himself the question, "Did I make the right choice?" "What should I have done differently?" Reid left me with the feeling that no matter what decision is made, the results are equally rewarding. If you believe in fate and that we are predestined in our choices, you need to read Hannah's story.

This novel will be a great Book Club read; there are Questions and Topics for Discussion. I love it when I want more from a novel, what happens next and who can I talk to about this book? Thought provoking and entertaining, this is one of those books. I highly recommend that you should add it to your summer reading list.

Taylor Jenkins Reid is the author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and her dog, Rabbit. You can follow her on Twitter at @TJenkinsReid.

I read this book to review for the BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge 2015 and I am so glad I did. While working as a high school librarian I read many YA books and am out of touch with current adult fiction and nonfiction. I have really enjoyed all of the books chosen and have found many new (to me) authors to add to my list. 


a different kind of same: a memoir

BookSparks TRUTH OR DARE Blog Tour!

a different kind of same; a memoir by Kelley Clink. CA: She Writes Press, 2015. 207 pages with "Questions for Discussions" and "Resources." *****

"Two weeks before his college graduation. Kelley Clink's younger brother Matt hanged himself." Thus begins Kelley's journey into who her brother was, her self-loathing at her inability to help him and her guilt about attempting suicide first. Grief is a solitary exercise and Kelley spirals into her own depression while trying to understand Matt's bipolar disorder and mental illness.  Cleaning out Matt's apartment, talking to his friends, reading his blog entries, his college papers and looking at his self-portraits, provides a look into a Matt that Kelley didn't know as her brother. Constantly seeking an answer to "why," supported by her parents and a loving husband, Kelley gives us a look into this grim and painful experience.

A gritty and loving look into the world of mental illness and  suicide. The book will make you laugh and cry at the same time. Acceptance under the best of circumstances is difficult, but Kelley portrays her feelings and thoughts realistically without sugar coating the process. Not my usual kind of book, but I received a copy from BookSparks and NetGalley to review. I am so glad, I read it and I recommend it for a serious read this summer.

Kelley Clink is a full-time writer with degrees in literature from the University of Alabama and DePaul University. She is the winner of the 2014 Beacon Street Prize in Nonfiction. She lives near Chicago with her husband and son.


Truth or Dare Blog Tour

I signed up for  BookSparks TRUTH OR DARE Blog Tour for July and August! I will be reviewing three books in the next few weeks. a different kind of same: a memoir by Kelley Clink. The S Word: a memoir by Paolina Milana. Fire Season: my journey from ruin to redemption by Hollye Dexter. Stay tuned...


It's You: a novel.

It's You: a novel by Jane Porter. New York: Berkley Books, 2015. 321 pages with Readers Guide. *****

Dr. Alison McAdams is a dentist in her late fiancé's father's office. It was supposed to be Morris & Morris, but now it is Morris and Associates. When Ali receives a phone call that her father is injured, she decides to visit him in Napa and once again try to persuade him to move in with her in Scottsdale. Finding her gregarious Dad happily ensconced in his one bedroom apartment in the Napa Estates Retirement Home, Ali begins to question her own views on aging and whether she ever really knew her father. Meeting the other residents and learning their stories while trying find herself, helps Ali work through her grief over the death of her fiancé, Andrew. Napa offers Ali a respite from her grief and a glimpse into the life of one of the residents during World War ll pre and post Germany. Things aren't always what they seem and Porter is a masterful storyteller.

This is the first book that I have read by Jane Porter and it won't be the last. She is gifted at presenting difficult topics in a believable setting. I traveled to Berlin in the Summer of 2013 and I wish I had read this book before that trip. I love when history comes alive when I least expect it and I am pulled into a different time and place. 

Jane Porter is the USA Today bestselling author of The Good Wife, The Good Daughter, The Good Woman, She's Gone Country, Mrs, Perfect , Flirting with Forty and several other novels. Jane lives in Southern California. Visit her online at janeporter.com and facebook.com/authorjaneporter.


Summer Secrets

summer secrets. New York: St. Martin's Press. 308 pages. ****

"For as long as I can remember, I have always had the feeling of not quite fitting in, not being the same as everyone else." Throughout her life, Cat Coombs discovered that alcohol was the equalizer that helped her fit in and made her feel beautiful. Having spent her teenage years with a cold, distant father and a mother in a deep depression, did nothing to dispel Cat's feelings about herself. After her father's death, Cat's mother comes alive again and drops a bombshell on Cat, which changes her life forever. Cat takes stock of her life, decides to quit drinking and meets who she believes is the love of her life, Jason. Determined to discover the father she never knew and the sisters she didn't know she had, Cat travels from London to Nantucket. Convinced she has control over her drinking and one won't hurt, Cat shatters her fantasy life in one night. Fast forward to a sober, divorced, single mother with a thirteen-year-old daughter. Determined to make amends, Cat and her daughter, Annie, travel to Nantucket to confront Cat’s past and earn forgiveness. 

Green spins a story on many levels that delves into the life of an alcoholic masking her feelings of inadequacy with the struggle to understand family secrets, betrayal and the need to be accepted. I enjoy Green's style of writing and really enjoyed reading this book. Cat has so many issues as do many of the characters in this book, but she is so likable that you will find yourself cheering her on and groaning when she screws up. Her tenacity is what is so endearing and her honesty about who she is carries the story until the end. It's a great beach and summer read. 

Jane Green is the author of sixteen previous bestsellers. Originally from London, she now lives in Westport, CT, with her husband, children and a menagerie of animals. Visit her website at http://www.janegreen.com or join her Facebook at facebook.com/authorjanegreen.