Tag Archives: Kelly Monson

Shake Me, Wake Me

Pinch Me: A Novel by Adena Halpern (Touchstone, $14.99, 288 pages)

“And you thought your life was cursed!”

“Never marry a man unless he’s short, bald, fat, stupid, and treats you badly.”   Grandma Dolly, 82 and Mother Selma, 55

Imagine meeting the man (or woman) of your dreams:  successful, intelligent, loyal, charming, attractive, and who wants nothing more but to spend the rest of your life taking care of you.   Does this sound too good to be true?   Well, for the  main character in Adena Halpern’s novel, Pinch Me, it is.

Lily Burns has spent her twenty’s dating the wrong men…  on purpose.   Throughout her life she has been advised to date someone who she would never love so that the family curse, created generations before she was born, would  not do unthinkable things to the men she loved.   Witnessing what her mother, Selma, and grandmother, Dolly had gone through, Lily takes this advice seriously.   Then she meets Gogo, a handsome, successful pediatrician who adores her and asks for her hand in marriage.   For once ignoring her family’s advice, she marries Gogo and in desperation to prove she has beaten the curse, she asks her new husband to pinch her.   And the curse begins.   The story takes us on Lily’s hilarious and somewhat sad journey to get her husband back while undoing the family curse for good!

I have to admit that I initially thought the theme of this story was hokey and I was hard pressed to believe it would live up to the standards set by the novels I have recently reviewed.   However, I was quickly made optimistic by the author’s direct and flowing dialogue, and the enticing storyline that began on page one and continued throughout the novel.   This was a fun and lighthearted tale and I was entertained to the end.

Halpern kept my attention with Lily – her strong-willed main character – and her quirky but loving mother and grandmother.   I read the story in two short sittings, cheering for Lily and Gogo and I began to wonder if perhaps we all hold some family curse brought on by something we or our predecessors may have done in the past.

I found myself laughing out loud while reading Pinch Me, especially throughout the conversation that takes place between Lily’s mother Selma and grandmother Dolly as they try to convince Lilly that she should not get  married (that conversation alone is worth your time!).   It is a quick read and downright fun.   I will definitely be reading more from Adena Halpern.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Pinch Me was released on July 19, 2011.

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One Fine Day

One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls (Vintage, $14.95, 448 pages)

David Nicholls’ novel One Day was recommended by my friend and colleague Joseph (the passion and dedication behind Joseph’s Reviews) who shared that this book was “just about the best love story I’ve ever read.”   So with high expectations I sat down and finished the novel over the course of “one day” without disappointment.

Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew meet on their college graduation day.   Although their backgrounds are far from parallel and they have nothing in common when it comes to their future plans, they make a commitment to a lifetime of friendship.   Following a failed attempt at a romantic interlude (that we discover toward the end of the story), Emma continues to hope that the relationship will evolve into more than friendship as Dexter desires Emma but finds distractions in just about every woman he encounters.   The reader witnesses the ebb and flow of their relationship as Nicholls presents a synopsis of their lives written on the same day each year over a 20-year time span.

I enjoyed both characters as the story evolved.   Even during Emma’s continuous search for her life’s purpose and throughout the stages of Dexter’s egocentric lifestyle, I found their relationship heartwarming.   Emma’s ability to see the “real” Dexter and love him desperately even during his destructive phases, and Dexter’s continuous need for Emma’s support without the constant need for her companionship, presents an honest portrayal of the challenges and benefits of long-term friendship.   I enjoyed the cultural references outlined throughout the decades and was amused at the familiarity of the relationships I have with some of my own lifelong friends.   I won’t reveal any more of the details of Emma and Dexter’s story but will assure you that it is unpredictable and won’t disappoint.

Nicholls has great skill in blending humor, wit, devastation, and confidence in his characters and storyline, which he presented through detailed and vibrant dialogue.   I agree with my friend Joseph; this is one of the best love stories I’ve read.   It was an immensely enjoyable read and truly deserves the accolades it has received.   I am also a fan of actor Anne Hathaway so I believe that this wonderful storyline, combined with Hathaway’s talent, will make the movie version (coming out next week) well worth seeing.

Highly recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “Every reader will fall in love with it.   And every writer will wish they had written it.”   Tony Parsons

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I Knew You When

I’d Know You Anywhere: A Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 400 pages)

As with her prior novels, Laura Lippman does not disappoint as she again demonstrates her skill at writing crime fiction in the recent novel I’d Know You Anywhere.

To the outsider, Eliza Benedict appears to be a normal suburban stay-at-home mother of two with a loving, financially secure husband.   However, when she receives a letter from Walter Bowman, she’s instantly forced to relive her past.   Kidnapped by Walter at age fifteen, she was held hostage for almost 6 weeks.   Bowman, now on death row in Virginia, has found Eliza and reaches out to make amends.   As he presses her for increased contact, she begins to wonder what his real motivation is for contacting her.   She also wonders if she, too, may need something in return to secure full and complete closure on her past.

Lippman’s literary gift is in presenting interesting characters that the reader connects with.   By employing detailed descriptions and natural dialogue, she enables us to know each character in the story personally and intimately.

In I’d Know You Anywhere, Lippman’s writing is detailed and believable even when alternating between Eliza’s confident, yet conflicted (challenging yet clinging) teenager, to the delusional thought processes of Bowman.   Lippman provides fascinating insight into what it would be like to be abducted and the impact on the victim and family members as they subsequently attempt to resume their lives.

In this novel, Lippman not only presents an entertaining read, she also encourages the reader to contemplate the political dilemmas of the death penalty and debate whether death row meets its presumed function of bringing justice to the families of crime victims.   She further provides insight into the mind of someone with a mental illness; someone with twisted justifications of right versus wrong, and warped views on how his actions impact others.   My only critique is that I would have liked to see a bit more depth in Eliza – the main character – whose passivity in life becomes daunting at times.   However, the unique storyline and the  detailed personalities of Lippman’s characters provides for an intriguing, engaging and interesting story.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   I’d Know You Anywhere was released in trade paper form on May 3, 2011.

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Things We Said Today

Things We Didn’t Say: A Novel by Kristina Riggle (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 352 pages)

As with her first novel, Real Life and Liars, Kristina Riggle presents an interesting story with well-defined characters in her recently released novel, Things We Didn’t Say.

Casey (Edna Leigh Casey) is attempting to reinvent herself while erasing her past by delving into a new relationship with her fiancé Michael and his three children.   While taking on her new role of step-mother-to-be, she believes she has escaped her former alcoholic life and the tragedy in her past that she still blames herself for.   That is, until her challenging teenage future stepdaughter Angel finds Casey’s personal journal and discovers the details of Casey’s past and her feelings about her current frustrations with taking on the role of stepmother.   This realization, combined with recent distance from her controlling, workaholic fiancé, leads to her decision to leave her current situation and – once again – start over.   However, on the very day that Casey decides to leave she receives a call that Michael’s son Dylan has gone missing.

The search for Dylan takes Casey, Michael, his children, and ex-wife on an emotionally charged journey that will change how each of them perceives their current situation.

Riggle writes with extreme clarity and develops her characters with variable dialogue that provide each of them with their own identity.   Each character’s challenges and reactions to a family crisis are believable, although a bit extreme, while presented in a modern-day blended family scenario.   Riggle also presents realistic themes such as the dangers of online communication and the prevalence of runaway teens.

However, as much as I enjoyed her writing, I have to admit that for most of the story I found the adults in her novel to be unlikable.   Casey is a meek, insecure individual who allows her fiancé to make all the decisions and accepts his criticism with silence, even when boundaries are crossed with his crazy ex-wife Mallory.   Michael is self-absorbed and so focused on the legality of child custody that he allows and even instigates ridiculous behavior from Mallory.   And Mallory is the stereotypical example of a woman with a horrid past experiencing bouts of mental illness.   I found myself entranced in the novel, hoping for a miracle that would give the children some sense of “normalcy” in their lives.

But that said, I found the book entertaining and the characters begin to redeem themselves as the story unfolds; and Riggle begins to fashion a more realistic view of a blended family undergoing a family crisis.   I have to commend Riggle for presenting her view of the possible and probable challenges that families in an atypical family structure might face.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Things We Didn’t Say was released on June 28, 2011.

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The Joy of Cooking

The Secret of Everything: A Novel by Barbara O’Neal (Bantam, $15.00, 400 pages)

Barbara O’Neal presents an enjoyable story about self-discovery, healing, romance, and adventure in her novel, The Secret of Everything.

Tessa Harlow is a woman in her mid-thirties on a quest to discover the details of her hidden past.   Following a traumatic accident that occurred while leading one of her adventure trips, Tessa attempts to heal both physically and emotionally by returning to her birthplace in Los Ladrones, New Mexico.   While Tessa allows her wounds to mend, she begins to do research for a possible upcoming adventure tour in her hometown.   On her journey she becomes romantically involved with a widower, and begins to make instant connections with the townspeople of Los Ladrones, most of whom trigger a memory from the past.   As she delves into the culture and history of this town, she discovers more than she had envisioned and slowly uncovers the secrets of her past.

O’Neal does a remarkable job of bringing her characters to life through description and dialogue, while exposing the true beauty of New Mexico.   Each character is likeable and interesting and, although they become unrealistically connected as the tale unfolds, the reader will enjoy the storyline and become entranced with her novel until its very end.

O’Neal also add a literally delicious touch to her story by describing the culinary dishes that Tessa explores and provides her readers with some of her favorite recipes.   If you’re not a “foodie” then you will no doubt be entertained by the charming dogs that are connected to Tessa throughout the story, each of which has a tail (or is it tale?) of their own.

This novel would make a great summer beach book, or serve as a fun focus for Book Club discussions.   It is light and enjoyable and, therefore, well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Shattered Dreams

The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McLain (Ballantine Books; $25.00; 336 pages)

“I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”   Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Paula McLain presents a convincing rendition of the unique but endearing relationship between Earnest Hemingway and his first wife, the conscientious and serene Hadley Richardson, in her novel The Paris Wife.

After a brief long distance relationship, the young but confident twenty-year-old Earnest proposes to his first wife Hadley, a conservative spinster in her late twenties.   On the quest for the ideal inspirational setting to write, McLain’s story takes us to the art scene in Paris in the 1920s as artists, on the brink of greatness, share their hopes and dreams in local cafes hoping to gain exposure for their new stories.

McClain’s story is so detailed and believable that you can imagine spending time with the Hemmingways as they meet fellow artists and enjoy tea with individuals such as Gertrude Stein.   Hadley actually recalls a conversation that she and Earnest had while sharing drinks with F. Scott Fitgerald as he announced his hopes for success with his recent novel The Great Gatsby.

The reader will understand why Earnest was so inspired during the couple’s trips to Europe, especially while watching the bullfights in Pamplona.   The reader will sympathize with Hadley, the ever-loyal wife who strives to maintain the attention of her husband – standing by his side through circumstances from which even the strongest of us would run.   The depth of the conversations and the personalities of the characters come alive through McLain’s dialogues and Hadley’s interpretations of the relationships that develop during this phase of Earnest’s life, including that of his second wife.

McLain does a remarkable job of defining all of her characters as well as describing the landscape and culture during the couple’s travels.   You will become so entranced by her story you will forget you are not actually reading Hadley’s autobiography.

The story left me with a desire to rediscover Hemmingway by re-reading A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises.   I know that I look forward to my next trip to Paris where, while sitting at some of the same cafes visited by the Hemmingways, I will try and imagine what it was like for this young couple in the Paris art scene of the roaring twenties and contemplate what Earnest’s life might have been like if he had stayed with his first love, Hadley.

Highly recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.


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The Finer Things

Real Life & Liars: A Novel by Kristina Riggle (William Morrow Paperbacks; $13.99; 327 pages)

It seems to me that growing older means a growing collection of paths not taken.   More and more “what-ifs” left behind.

With the onset of Mirabelle (Mira) Zielinski’s thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and the anticipation of reuniting with her family, Mira has a great deal to be proud of:  a loving husband, three healthy children and three loving grandchildren.   But the reality of life and disappointments have settled in as Mira contemplates the past sixty years.

Katya, Mira’s oldest daughter, appears to have the perfect life.   A wealthy husband, a spotless home, a thriving business and three children who have everything they have ever wanted.   Yet Mira speculates that her daughter’s desire to always want to fit in and have the best of everything may have resulted in a mundane marriage to a husband addicted to his job and three spoiled, disrespectful children.

Ivan, Mira’s talented son, writes songs and works in a school inspiring children.   However, he has never been recognized as an artist and his abysmal taste in women has left him lonely and desolate.

Irina, the baby, is beautiful and spontaneous.   Yet when she comes for the weekend announcing that she is pregnant and introduces her husband, who is twice her age, Mira suspects she has hit her all-time low.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”   Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Mira clings to her hippie past as she rebels against conforming and endures her loving, yet distracted, husband who is engaged in writing a major novel.   Her ideals of life and self-worth are challenged with the recent tragedy she is refusing to deal with.

As the family reunites for a long celebratory weekend, each will have to face their own fears and realities as secrets are revealed and truths uncovered.   They will be challenged to redefine their understanding of one another and their own destinies.   Mira may experience the greatest surprise as she is forced to contemplate how blessed she truly is and how happiness and peace are found in even the most surprising of circumstances.

Kristina Riggle presents her story with sincere family dynamics that anyone with siblings or children can relate to.   Her characters are well-developed and so clearly defined that you will become attached to their story as if you’re part of the family.   Riggle writes with the ease and grace of a veteran writer.   It is hard to believe that this was her debut novel.   I look forward to reading more from Kristina Riggle!

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Funny, sad and utterly believable.”   Elizabeth Letts, author of Family Planning.

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(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet

Exposure: A Novel by Therese Fowler (Ballantine Books; $25.00; 384 pages)

Author Therese Fowler has written the 21st century version of Romeo and Juliet.   Fowler portrays the complexities of the modern-day teenage romance highlighted by cell phones, computers, and on-line social networking.   She does an excellent job demonstrating the dangers of our advanced technologies when it comes to teenagers and the sharing of personal information in her upcoming novel, Exposure.

The star-crossed lovers, Anthony Winter and Amelia Wilkes have everything in common, excluding the financial status of their families.   Their shared passion for theatre brings them together in their affluent high school’s production of As You Like It, which in verse summarizes their own love story:

No sooner looked but they loved

Their commitment to one another begins with a secret romance shielded from Amelia’s arrogant father, Harlan, who shelters Amelia with the primary goal of ensuring that she ends up with the ideal partner who will provide her with a rich life, not the poor unfortunate one he had as a child.   He hopes for Amelia to pursue a business degree at Duke University and to find a shadow of him, a man with money and power who will provide her with the wealth that he finds essential for happiness.

Anthony, the talented and non-conformist son of a single mother was abandoned by his father before he was born.  He is fortunate to attend Ravenswood, the esteemed private school where he meets Amelia, only because his mother, Kim, has been hired to teach Art and French.   Kim, a supportive mom doing the best she can to raise Anthony with the limited resources she has, supports the relationship between her son and Amelia, knowing all too well the power of love and romance.

As Amelia and Anthony spend their time contemplating their plan for the future they become closer and, as a result, intimate.  Following graduation Amelia will reveal both their relationship and plans to attend New York University for drama while they both pursue careers on Broadway.   Months away from graduation their relationship becomes physical and, being the artists that they are, commemorate their relationship through writings, texts, e-mails, and photos.   This intensifies their relationship, which is presumed to be private and innocent (Anthony is 18 and Amelia 17), while they are away from one another…

One unfortunate day Amelia’s father hacks into her computer and finds explicit photos of Anthony.   Outraged and presuming that his innocent, naive daughter has been the victim of a heinous crime, he instinctually calls the police and begins an investigation that results in a series of events altering the lives of everyone involved.

Fowler expresses the true nature and concerns of sexting, and the repercussions of the open access that our children have to the Internet and other related avenues for sharing information.

Yes, Exposure may also take you back to relive the story of your first love… or the one that got away.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Exposure will be released on May 3, 2011.

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The Show Must Go On

Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen (Algonquin; $14.95; 448 pages)

Following a tragic accident, where Jacob Jankowski finds that not only has he lost both of his parents, but everything he owns, he is forced to immediately recreate his life.   Jacob walks out of his Ivy League veterinary medical exams and while wandering aimlessly decides to hop a train, a decision that alters his future.   The train, it turns out, belongs to the Benzini Brothers, a second-rate traveling circus act.   At the ripe young age of twenty-one, Jacob becomes the circus vet, an undesirable position working for a relentless boss.

To make matters worse, Jacob falls in love with Marlena, a star performer and the wife of an abusive paranoid schizophrenic, who is in charge of training the animals that Jacob cares for.

Told from the perspective of a ninety-something Jacob, now living in a nursing home, Gruen spares no details as she depicts the story of life with the circus.   Through descriptions of the grimy, disgusting living conditions, the filthy abused animals that eat unspeakable food, and the corrupt coworkers, we wait with bated breath to read what dangerous, life-threatening situation Jacob will be privy to next.

Sara Gruen has done her research and truly brings each circus act alive as you, the audience, watch Jacob’s life in the circus unfold.   The ending is surreal but quite lovely.   I look forward to seeing the film, which will be released this month.

Highly recommended.

Kelly Monson

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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Teach Your Children

Night Road by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press; $27.99; 400 pages)

For a mother, life comes down to a series of choices.   To hold on…  To let go…  To forget…  To forgive…   Which road will you take?

In a compelling novel of love, loss, hope and understanding, author Kristin Hannah redefines the pluses and minuses – challenges, tenderness and empowerment – of motherhood.

Jude Farrady has everything.   She lives the ideal life; a loving husband, a custom-built home, friends that support and love her, and twins that have an extraordinarily close relationship.   Her life revolves around her twins, ensuring that they have everything they need to be happy and successful.

Lexi Baill has nothing.   The orphan of a drug addict, she has grown up living in multiple foster homes, without a family, abandoned and alone.   With a heart of gold she selflessly carries hope that someday things will turn out differently.

When Lexi befriends Jude’s daughter Mia on their first day of high school, their lives are forever changed.   Lexi brings out the best in the shy sister of the most popular boy in town.   The bond between the twins and Lexi encourages the Farraday’s to treat Lexi like one of their own.   Finally finding a permanent home with the aunt she never knew she had combined with the love she is shown from the Farraday’s, Lexi feels she has finally found the life she has always dreamed of.

Yet tragedy finds a way into the lives of even those with the most fortunate of circumstances.   The resulting loss forces everyone to reevaluate the future of their relationships and life beyond the boundaries of the predictable.

Author Hannah presents an endearing and engaging story that uncovers a path of unpredictable events…  Events that will leave you laughing, crying, wishing and hoping but above all feeling fully appreciative of the love, devotion and trials that come with the territory of being a mother.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was received from the publisher.   Night Road was released on March 22, 2011.   “Longtime fans will love this rich, multilayered reading experience, and it’s an easy recommendation for book clubs.”   Library Journal

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