Flailing Through MY NOT SO PERFECT LIFE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary romance from . MY NOT SO PERFECT LIFE is a fun and engaging look into the difference between our true lives and the lives we project via social media. I adored Kat’s journey from pretense into, well, perfection. This book came out a week ago, and is already a best-seller…

not-so-perfect-lifeAbout the book:
Katie Brenner has the perfect life: a flat in London, a glamorous job, and a super-cool Instagram feed.

Ok, so the real truth is that she rents a tiny room with no space for a wardrobe, has a hideous commute to a lowly admin job, and the life she shares on Instagram isn’t really hers.

But one day her dreams are bound to come true, aren’t they?

Until her not-so perfect life comes crashing down when her mega-successful boss Demeter gives her the sack. All Katie’s hopes are shattered. She has to move home to Somerset, where she helps her dad with his new glamping business.

Then Demeter and her family book in for a holiday, and Katie sees her chance. But should she get revenge on the woman who ruined her dreams? Or try to get her job back? Does Demeter – the woman with everything – have such an idyllic life herself? Maybe they have more in common than it seems.

And what’s wrong with not-so-perfect, anyway?

My Review:
Katie Brenner is a West Country gal trying to make her London dreams come true. And failing spectacularly. She’s finally got a paying job as a research associate at a branding (Advertising) agency, but she’s the lowest one on the books there. Her salary is so low she shares a flat with two other people, more than an hour’s commute away from work. She admires her friends’ Instagram accounts, and fabricates her own “fab life” with pictures she grabs on the go–because she could never afford that decadent coffee, or that divine dinner spot. Nope. But, she studies hard, making lists of all the places she’s check out just as soon as she launches her way up the ladder to success.

Her boss, Demeter, is a criminally scatterbrained woman with far too many fabulous aspects to be truly human. She’s always out to dinner, or at an award night, and her family is all shiny and perfect. And, if the office rumor mill can be trusted, Demeter’s got a long-standing “arrangement” with Alex, the younger partner in their firm–and the man Katie’d thought had a bit of an interest in herself. Katie, who calls herself “Cat” in her fab life, studies Demeter, aspiring to learn more and impress her one day soon. It’s not meant to be, however. Their branding firm is having some issues with clients and Katie’s let go soon after she designed the branding on her father’s newest get-rich-quick scheme: glamping on their country estate.

Having no other prospects, Katie returns home from London under the premise that she’s got a ‘sabbatical’ to help out her family. Really, she can’t admit she had a horrible life in London, because her father’s totally against her living there, and she doesn’t want to live int he country forever. She’s making applications and chatting to headhunters whenever she isn’t setting up the glamping yurts, or customizing the “totally organic experience” for each of their hoity-toity guests. It’s with immediate dismay that Demeter and fam arrive–because she’ll blow Katie’s cover to her dad.

Then again, when Demeter doesn’t recognize “Cat” in her ‘West Country Katie’ persona, Katie’s able to get some of her own back, torturing Demeter with “one-of-a-kind,” “exclusive,” “holistic” treatments. That is, until Katie grows a conscience, and learns that Demeter isn’t as nearly perfect as her Instagram feed would reflect.

I really dug this one. It’s a more mature, and less-slapstick, type of book than I’ve read from Ms. Kinsella before. The careful plotting and copious breadcrumbs led me right into the conundrum: how do we cope when life isn’t like we spin it? Social media facades, cyberbullying, corporate espionage were not what I expected to find in this one, but, wow! Was this a rich tapestry. Katie’s a great character, not too young, despite her naivete, at points. She’s fully relatable, as the plucky gal clawing her way out of a hard-scrabble life–only to have her dreams dashed. The amazing turns of situation, particularly regarding Demeter and the jobs at their branding firm, was carefully intimated, and led me along in the proper directions. Plus, I got yet another object lesson in the value of empathy, and being a stand-up person even when it’s really freaking hard. Facing down her father, with his absolute love for Katie and desperate want to have her stay home forever? Appropriately heart-crushing.

I loved Katie, and how she grew up and owned her life, and her mistakes. There’s a bit of cloak-and-dagger business as Katie tries to work herself back into the branding firm–on behalf of Demeter. I liked how there was so much uncertainty regarding Demeter’s mental state, and if she really was the horrible/insensitive boss she’d seemed at the beginning, or if this was the product of some illness. Or, worse. Alex’s role was definitely interesting, as he’s not-quite a hero. He’s a regular guy with work problems, too, which was rather enchanting. I love it when the characters are actual humans with everyday problems. The book is a bit long, but the read is easy and the pages turn themselves. I really hoped we’d see a bit of steam on the page, but alas, fade-to-black… *shrugs*  Fans of the author won’t be disappointed.

Interested? You can find MY NOT SO PERFECT LIFE on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Kobo. It’s surely on sale at local bookstores, big-box retailers and likely already on the shelf at your library. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Madeleine Wickham (born 12 December 1969) is a bestselling British author under her pseudonym, Sophie Kinsella. Educated at New College, Oxford, she worked as a financial journalist before turning to fiction. She is best known for writing a popular series of chick-lit novels. The Shopaholic novels series focuses on the misadventures of Becky Bloomwood, a financial journalist who cannot manage her own finances. The books follows her life from when her credit card debt first become overwhelming (“The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic”) to the latest book on being married and having a child (“Shopaholic & Baby”). Throughout the entire series, her obsession with shopping and the complications that imparts on her life are central themes.

Find out more on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Cephalopod Coffeehouse Nov 2016–CROSSING THE HORIZON, A Review

0ed81-coffeehouseHi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

I’ve already begun reading and reviewing holiday-themed books, which has bolstered my spirits over the course of a frustrating and unpleasant November. I will admit to being extremely upset regarding our election, and the aftermath. What has kept me going is maintaining a good routine, and hunting down excellent books. This month, I went back to my girlish roots, picking up a newly published historical fiction novel about pioneering aviatrixes, CROSSING THE HORIZON, by Laurie Notaro.

crossing-the-horizonAbout the book:
Soar back to the fearless 1920s with #1 New York Times bestselling writer Laurie Notaro—beloved author of The Idiot Girls’ Action Adventure Club—in a stunning historical novel that tells the true, little-known story of three aviatrixes in a race to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.

Ten thousand feet in the sky, flipping and twirling through the air, aviatrixes from London to Paris to New York—fueled by determination and courage—have their eyes on the century’s biggest prize. The year is 1927, and Amelia Earhart has not yet made her record-breaking cross-Atlantic flight. Who will follow in Charles Lindbergh’s footsteps and make her own history?

Three women’s names are splashed daily across the front page: Elsie Mackay, daughter of an Earl, is the first Englishwoman to get her pilot’s license. Mabel Boll, a glamorous society darling and former cigar girl, is ardent to make the historic flight. Beauty pageant contestant Ruth Elder uses her winnings for flying lessons and becomes the preeminent American girl of the sky.

Inspired by true events and real people, Notaro vividly evokes this exciting time as her determined heroines vie for the record. Through striking photos, meticulous research, and atmospheric prose, Notaro brings Elsie, Mabel, and Ruth to life, pulling us back in time as the pilots collide, struggle, and literally crash in the chase for fame and a place in aviation history.

My Review:
As a girl I was captivated by stories of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to cross the Atlantic in a plane. First as a passenger, then a pilot. At around this time in my life we were first having female astronauts, and I could envision a life where women did so much more than stayed home and raised children, or worked entry level jobs in secretarial-type roles. So, learning about daring women shaped me, as a youth, and helped me grow into a strong woman, willing to charge forward in male-dominated work roles. I was thrilled with CROSSING THE HORIZON for those same reasons.

This is a work of historical fiction, painstakingly researched and lovingly rendered. It surrounds the lives of three female flyers, Elsie Mackay, Ruth Elder and Mabel Boll. They are very unique women who each wanted to prove to the world they had more to offer than femininity.

Elsie was daughter of a powerful English Earl. She was the first licensed female English pilot, and served on many committees for pilots within the Royal Air command. She’d defied her father and eloped with a former patient she tended in WWI, an actor, who later abandoned her. She also worked for her father’s shipping line as chief designer of the luxurious staterooms for royal and wealthy travelers. Elsie was 35 years old when she recruited a team to fly the dangerous east-west route over the Atlantic.

At age 23, Ruth Elder was a twice-married Alabama girl with a pretty face and love for speed. She’d begun flying lessons after learning that planes went even faster than cars! She got recruited to fly the American Girl plane to follow her dream to fly to Paris, and she worked hard for it. Not only that, she wanted to survive the trip–and designed life-suits that would inflate and keep her and her co-pilot from drowning, as neither of them actually knew how to swim, in the event of a crash. Ruth’s backers knew that she’d make lots of money in endorsements if she was successful, but it wasn’t an easy choice, or an easy mission.

Mabel Boll, wealthy socialite and self-proclaimed Queen of Diamonds, wanted fame more than anything. She was garish in her desire to cross the Atlantic and become “Queen of the Air,” and every attempt she made to grasp this title turned on her in ways this calculating gal couldn’t comprehend.

The book switches point of view to peer alternately into their supposed lives as each woman plotted her course with destiny. It’s rocky and rough, especially as they learn that one or another is closer to traveling than they, or other women’ missions are lost-at-sea. The sexual politics of the day are also very much present, with reporter, and others, questioning why these woman would defy parents or husbands wishes to stay grounded. The book is a bit bittersweet, as some of these gals do not make it home. The others are forever changed by their attempts.

I dug the history here; it spoke to the striving girl still buried within me. I could have looked all this up for myself on the net, and saved myself the agony of loving some of these characters, only to lose them, but I relished the hope that built within me as I chased their dreams from this side of the page. It’s no surprise, I imagine, that none of these women were completely successful, because history has kept Earhart’s name in our consciousness, not that of Elsie, Ruth or Mabel. Still, I feel enriched learning of their footsteps on the journey to womens’ equality. I highly recommend it for history buffs, and fans of historical fiction or pioneering women.

Interested? You can find CROSSING THE HORIZON on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and any of your local bookstores or libraries. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Thanks for popping in, and be sure to check out the reviews of my fellow Coffeehouse readers. And, as always, keep reading my friends!


Don’t Wait UNTIL NEXT TIME…

Until Next TimeSquished peas! Justine Dell writes a good book.

How does a grief counselor fall in love with an undertaker?

Absolutely, that’s how.

Piper Downing, sole proprietor of Downing & Sons Mortuary, is done dealing with the living. See, this family business has no family. Her parents died years ago leaving her alone. Her first boyfriend died in high school. After spending the past decade embalming people and arranging funerals, Piper knows that love is just plain selfish.

And Piper doesn’t do selfish.

Macy “Quinn” Oliver is a discharged Air Force pilot who works as a grief counselor for the VA. He’s seen his share of bad times. He vowed to never remarry when first love died one month following their wedding. He’ll love, but only temporarily. Twelve years later, he’s still single.

Piper and Quinn meet at Quinn’s grandmother’s wake and are drawn to each other. Piper senses she should keep Quinn at arm’s length, but can’t resist his gentle charm. Piper’s only interested in flings—no strings—and Quinn, terribly attracted to the elegant, aloof Piper, agrees.

Mother of chocolate! Sizzle. That’s what they do.

In bed, and in person—because when these two forces connect it’s a bit of an emotional tornado. Lots of break-up-with-delayed-make-up debris scattered around the countryside.

And, (GOODY!) there’s a convincing love triangle. The Challenger, Gavin—a mortuary supply salesman—makes no effort to hide his interest in Piper. He’s all set to swoop if Quinn messes up. Which, naturally, Quinn does.

I’m a sucker for a first-hand account of two adorable characters, so I love the dual viewpoint. Quinn is delicious. Such a relentless wooing! Piper eventually caves, realizing Quinn has invaded her heart despite her carefully constructed emotional barriers. Everything would be so easy if only she could accept Gavin’s offers, but well, Piper’s starting to feel a mite…selfish.

Justine Dell promised me a Happily Ever After.

Until Next Time delivers.

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Don’t forget to let me know if you like this one! Comment at will…

Have a HOLLYWOOD HOLIDAY? Sure!

Hollywood Holiday (Red Carpet, #2)Sasha Summers spins a stellar sequel.

Try saying that three times, fast!

Yes dear ones, HOLLYWOOD HOLIDAY is everything we can expect coming off the HOLLYWOOD EVER AFTER high. In a delightful twist, the second book of the Red Carpet series focuses on two fresh characters—Jenny Fleming, and actress and good friend of Claire and Josh Wiley—and Claire’s younger brother Ben “Gunner” Foster, a combat veteran who lost a limb.

This unlikely pair meets en flight to LA. Jenny, a recovering alcoholic, is terrified of flying and Gunner comforts her through a panic attack…or two. Traveling under an alias to avoid paparazzi, Jenny is unsure if she should reveal herself to Gunner. Plus, she’s not interested in becoming another tabloid scandal. The spark they ignite isn’t wasted when they disembark, however.

They reunite at a community center where Jenny is completing service for a DUI conviction. Gunner is a volunteer helping the disabled athletes program. A few fits and starts as each character aims to self-defend, but soon we realize why Gunner won’t take off his clothes. Jenny is able to assuage his fear—OMG Thank Goodness!!—but he discovers her true identity in Jenny’s characteristically humiliating fashion and freaks out.

Without Gunner’s constancy, Jenny fears she’ll hit the sauce again, so she throws herself into training for her new action movie. And fending off the advances of her co-star, Chris Gibson—who I’ll call McGrabbyhands for the duration as this seems more accurate.

Oh! Guess who pops onto the set as a technical stunt coordinator…Gunner! Yea!

Jen’s determined to rebuild her career, McGrabbyhands is determined to capitalize on Jen’s notoriety, and Gunner’s determined to avoid the drama despite his attraction to Jen. Oh, and Gunner’s mom hates Jen for some drunken smooching months back. Thinks she’s a home wrecker. So, yeah, it’s complicated. Jenny’s heartbroken and takes off to a mountain retreat to rethink her life. Unexpected arrivals bring on the HEA.

In the end, we get a bit of separation and then no separation at all. And, really, I’m relieved I didn’t have to reach inside the book and smack sense into Gunner!

HOLLYWOOD HOLIDAY is a fast-paced contemporary romance with some sizzling scenes sure to please.

It’s available at all the usual spots, and probably your local bookstore as well…

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Caught in the UNDERTOW

Undertow (Dragonfly, #2)What can a person confide in wholeheartedly, without censure? A private journal.

Through it a reader sees the author’s bold hopes, petty machinations, and outright manipulations in stark relief.

I’ve just completed reading an advance copy of UNDERTOW, book two in the Dragonfly Series by Leigh T. Moore, and it wasn’t what I expected.

I’ve rambled before about expectations and how it’s nice to upset them. Mix things up. Make bold moves.

Well, UNDERTOW is a very bold move.

It moved the Dragonfly Series right out of YA and squarely into women’s fiction.

How could that be? you ask—firmly reminding me that the protagonist, Anna, is a high school senior.

99% of the time a high school age main character = YA, right?

Sure. I’d lay money on the table with those odds, but UNDERTOW isn’t actually about Anna—it’s about big plans, bigger lies and life-changing secrets.

This tale is really an intimate look at a troubled marriage written from three points of view, and the speakers are old journals. The voyeur in me was intrigued, but as you can guess, it was raw.

Yes, Anna is the reader, but she is a prop in the scheme.

We pick up the story with Anna being on her own after Christmas reading the three journals given her by Bill Kyser, Jack and Lucy’s father, at the end of DRAGONFLY. She begins with Meg’s journal—all shiny and bright with hope over her impending wedding to Bill—a marriage she secured by an ‘oops’ pregnancy (PSA: Don’t try this at home!) She assures Bill she’ll be able to manage housekeeping while he overloads on college coursework to get his foothold in business. See, Bill wants to develop the Alabama gulf coast. It’s his big dream, and Meg wants a comfortable life—with Bill. Now.

Yes. It is a setup for doom, kids.

Meg’s journal is anguish. Missing her husband as he works long, long hours, doubles up on classes to finish school in 2.5 years instead of 4. She tries to be happy, and fails—particularly wanting to have more babies to fill her days when their first boy goes off to school. Along the way she confides in Lexi/Alex LaSalle—her BFF. (For those who need to catch up, Lexi/Alex is also mother to Julian, Anna’s good friend who wants more.) Completely against Bill’s express wishes Meg tries for a second OOPS! And she succeeds, in both getting pregnant and completely alienating Bill. Especially problematic with twins, Jack and Lucy, on the way.

Bright, shiny Meg knows she’s wrong, but she is as selfish as any. Eventually Bill thaws, but things are never the way they were—yet Meg is finally realizing all of her dreams. Big house, beautiful family, and suddenly Lexi/Alex is pregnant—no Daddy to be found. Still she’s excited to have her friend join the Mommy club. Her journal ends with the revelation that Julian is not entirely fatherless—really.

Lexi/Alex’s journal is a study in naïveté. She embarks on her college studies in art and is promptly picked up by the resident scumbag painting instructor as his freshman plaything. Broken from that experience she moves to Atlanta to work in commercial art, but is worn by the long work days and inspiration-crushing competition. So, when Bill Kyser asks her to become the creative consultant for his real estate development company, she agrees to return home. She jumps into the job with both feet, working tirelessly with Bill on the interior and exterior concepts of the projects.

Surely nothing can go wrong spending countless hours with your best friend’s husband.

Right.

In truth it isn’t sordid, only sad. Sad that relationships change and people grow past their first love. Sad that decisions made in the half-aware high school world can affect so many loved ones later.

Bill Kyser’s journal is regret, plain and simple. Regret that his girlfriend is pregnant. Regret that he’s getting married following high school graduation. Regret that he has no time to be a father. Regret that he can’t realize his dream fast enough to be the husband and father he always wanted to be. And, eventually it is regret that he can no longer connect with the wife he never knew. He tries—and is blindsided by Meg’s ‘accidental’ pregnancy. Again.

To Bill this deceit is unforgivable. And, along the way he’s realized that he has serious feelings for Lexi/Alex. The kind he’d set all his big plans aside for, in fact. One quick tryst, and he’s ready to separate—not that Lexi/Alex will let him abandon Meg. She’d run first, to his great regret.

The climax comes three times in this story. Through all three points-of-view we experience Meg’s discovery of Bill and Lexi/Alex’s betrayal. It is cutting and acute and ends with a rash and final act that guarantees no happiness for the survivors.

Maybe.

Because time has passed. Nearly twenty years.

And Anna is now recruited to help bridge the chasm between Bill and Lexi/Alex. But what can she do? And, how will she keep these dark secrets inside when Julian is ready to move out of The Friend Zone?

UNDERTOW reveals much about life.

The danger of an undertow is how it can swiftly and silently take you under and steal your life away. One misstep and BAM!! your life is forever changed/altered/over, as you knew it.

Reading the close first-person accounts in UNDERTOW is not simply slowing for a peek at a wreck on the highway. It is understanding that a wreck is going to happen. It is watching the cars line up and begin their travels, hearing the songs playing on their radios, checking the texts the drivers won’t ignore, and then seeing each and every driver’s careful maneuvers collapse into a fiery catastrophe.

So, not really a beach read. And, not really YA, IMHO. There are some sexual references/situations, naturally, but (to me) its themes are out of the realm of what most teens would gravitate toward.

For the record–This advice is for MALES AND FEMALES alike: Do not get pregnant to ‘trap’ a partner or ‘save’ a marriage. Ever. This is the exact WORST thing to do—it complicates a relationship in a thousand different ways that you cannot predict and that may not be overcome. Having a baby is a life-altering event for, if no one else, the mother. Do so with eyes wide open.
(This is my final PSA for the week.)

Is UNDERTOW at good story? Yes. In fact: YES! says it better. If it wasn’t written so close-to-the-bone we’d never feel it so deeply. Truly, there are so many people in this world who start out exactly like Bill and Meg and end up a broken couple. Probably someone you know, or did know back in high school…maybe even you?

For me, UNDERTOW is a lesson in “How not to structure a relationship.” Because, as Bill Kyser puts it to Anna, “The truth is always the right thing.”

I’ve given up more details about this story than usual—mainly because it is so unexpected.

What I didn’t expect in the reading? That I’d be eagerly awaiting the next installment—WATERCOLORS later this year—wherein Anna and Julian attempt a relationship. Guess that one will be more YA.

Other series books that had a raw, gut-wrenching, second novel? Diana Gabaldon’s DRAGONFLY IN AMBER from the OUTLANDER series—which is also told in flashback. And Suzanne Collins’ CATCHING FIRE is another prime example.

So, yeah. UNDERTOW is intense. It steals your breath away. It will be available July 18th and I’d set it on your TBR if you’re into TBR’s that is…

Perhaps WATERCOLORS will be as gentle as the name sounds…but, honestly, I wouldn’t expect it. Looks like Ms. Moore’s going to tear my heart out again.

It’s okay, I can take it. 🙂