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Jennifer Lane Books

Hi, I'm Jen, a psychologist/author (psycho author) in Columbus, Ohio. I write romantic suspense for adults and new adults. And I'm a voracious reader of romance and fiction. I love laughing, swimming, volleyball, and Grumpy Cat.

Currently reading

Standing at the Crossroads: Next Steps for High-Achieving Women
Patricia J. Ohlott, Marian N. Ruderman
The Space Between
Victoria H. Smith
Chasing Hope
Kathryn Cushman
By a Thread - R.L. Griffin Picking Up The Pieces

Author [a:R.L. Griffin|1254833|R.L. Griffin|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1363225081p2/1254833.jpg] and I will attend the New Adult Sleepover Weekend in Savannah, Georgia in December, 2013 (more info here: http://newadultsleepover.blogspot.com). When I discovered she writes my favorite genre of romantic suspense, I definitely wanted to read her novel! And I'm so glad I did.

Stella and Jamie were student-athletes at the same university. They fell in love and got engaged, then moved to Washington, D.C. to live together. Jamie starts a career with the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) and Stella is about to start law school.

Things seem perfect, right?


When Jamie dies in a car accident, Stella falls apart. Girlfriend's definitely hanging "by a thread" as she defers law school for an alcoholic bender into depression. I was horrified when a drunk Stella responded to grieving messages on Facebook from Jamie's friends, like:

hey d-bag, Jamie probably doesn't even remmdher your name

! Jamie's roommates Patrick and Billie take care of Stella and her dog Cooper, slowly nursing her back to health. She meets a bartender named George and eventually starts living again, though it's an empty life.

Stella's so low for most of the novel that at times it was hard to find her likable. Apparently she's quite beautiful since she draws the attention of many men despite her hard, rejecting shell. (Or maybe that speaks to the old adage that we want what we can't have?) Of course I wanted to throw her into treatment for her alcohol problem. ;-)

I did enjoy Patrick, who's like a brother to Stella, as well as George. Saint George puts up with all kinds of blow-back and bitterness from Stella, but he's always there for her, supporting her. Her law-school friend Millie is fun. I loved Millie's name for the line of muscle on a fit guy's lower torso: the arrow muscle. Yeah! Fiance Jamie's character is rather unknown, which makes me wonder if there will be a sequel.

My favorite part of the story was the mind-blowing ending. I didn't see that one coming! The return to events mentioned in the prologue gave me a better understanding of Stella and the parts of the story that earlier frustrated me.

Check out this New Adult journey of healing!
Blue Shoe - Anne Lamott I wanted to like this book club selection but I found it too depressing and boring to finish. Here are a few comments from what I did read.

Mattie Ryder is recently divorced with two young children. Somehow she makes a living from modeling size 12 clothing for Sears? She's depressed from her divorce, and ruminates about her family, her children, and her friends. She sleepwalks through life, and the story plods along without much happening. When she finds a little blue shoe her father owned, the object becomes a small symbol of hope for her, bringing her comfort in her down time.

I did enjoy the symbolism of the shoe. Here Maddie reflects:

She'd read somewhere that after World War II ended in Europe, lost children wandered around until they were gathered in campus run by the Allies. There they were fed and cared for while relatives were located or new families found who could take them in. In one camp it was discovered that none of the children was sleeping well. Their nerves were shot, the memories fresh and haunting. Then a social worker determined that if the children were each given a piece of bread to hold at night, they could fall asleep. This was not bread to eat--there was plenty of that when the children were hungry. No, this piece of bread was just to hold on to, to reassure the children through the night that they were safe now, that there would be bread to eat in the morning.

That is a precious story backed by object relations theory. As a psychologist, I sometimes give my clients stuffed animals or other objects to hang onto and to remember our work together, to help remind them of coping skills.

I also liked Angela, Mattie's blunt friend:

"Honey," Angela replied, "you don't know yourself well enough right now to commit suicide. So it would be considered a homicide."

But overall I didn't care much for the plot or the characters. Mattie isn't very likable, nor is her attraction to a married man named Lewis. The physical description of Lewis was hardly appealing to me. Too bad this one wasn't for me!
Beautiful Disaster  - Jamie McGuire Intriguing Characters with Disastrous Ending

I've heard about this story for ages and I'm glad I finally got to experience it myself. The characters definitely held my interest.

Abby's first year of college is supposed to be a fresh start for her, away from her father and all that he represents. She wears pearls and a pink cardigan when she accompanies her friend America to a secret campus fight, where she catches her first glimpse of legendary fighter , college sophomore Travis "Mad Dog" Maddox. When Travis attacks his opponent, blood sprays on Abby's sweater.

What a telling image to start the story -- a preppy, pristine pink cardigan smattered with blood. It's a metaphor for the disaster of the relationship to come between Abby and Travis. She doesn't want to get dirty but Travis's mess clings to her like a second skin. Things might not be so black and white though. Abby's good girl image hides her dark background, and the tattoos and muscles defining Travis's hard exterior don't tell the whole story about him, either.

The characterization is superb. I love how Travis stuns Abby with his intelligence, and how Abby surprises Travis with her poker prowess. Abby's friend America dates Shepley, Travis's cousin, and they are both well-drawn. I even liked rich boy Parker, who tries to woo Abby aka "Abs":

I waved, watching Parker walk down the steps to his car. "'Bye."
Once again, when I turned the knob, the door yanked away and I fell forward. Travis caught me, and I regained my footing.
"Would you stop that?" I said, closing the door behind me.
"'Abs'? What are you, a workout video?" Travis sneered.
"'Pigeon'?" I said with the same amount of disdain. "An annoying bird that craps all over the sidewalk?"

That's right, Travis calls Abby Pigeon. My friend Roche filled me in that "Pigeon" is a reference from Lady and the Tramp. I guess Tramp nicknames Lady "Pigeon", and that signifies that Abby is the only lady Travis knows. I thought once I knew the meaning of this nickname that I would accept it, but I still think it's rather dumb.

Travis cracks me up, like when Parker leaves Abby's birthday party:

"Daddy's gone!" Travis yelled when the door closed. "Time to get the party started!"

Ha ha. Poor Parker doesn't have a chance.

I easily related to Abby's roommate Kara, who views Travis with disdain:

"It's dangerous to need someone that much," Kara said. "You're trying to save him, and he's hoping you can. You two are a disaster."
I smiled at the ceiling. "It doesn't matter what or why it is. When it's good, Kara . . . it's beautiful."
She rolled her eyes. "You're hopeless."
Travis knocked on the door, and Kara let him in.
"I'm going to the commons to study. Good luck," she said in the most insincere voice she could muster.
"What was that about?" Travis asked.
"She said we're a disaster."
"Tell me something I don't know," he smiled.

It was a cute touch that there was no chapter thirteen. ;-) I also loved Abby's insight into the similarities between Travis and her father.

The plot has some problems, however. I thought Abby's ongoing rejection of Travis lasted a bit too long. It was climactic when Travis wants to go work for Benny, much to Abby's heartbreak. But then the story keeps moving after that big moment, which felt disjointed. I understand that the back and forth breakups show exactly how disastrous this relationship is, but they were too jarring for me.

My biggest negative critique is how the story ended. I'm fine with what happens between Travis and Abby, but I disapprove of the timing of that event, following a major campus tragedy that doesn't even get mentioned in the aftermath.

With so many great books I want to read, I'm not sure if I'll read Travis's POV in [b:Walking Disaster|15745950|Walking Disaster (Beautiful, #2)|Jamie McGuire|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1352338368s/15745950.jpg|21436019]. I'm sure it will be entertaining, though!
The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy Though I loved the movie LA Confidential, written by this author, I couldn't get into this novel. Not when there are so many great romance novels (my preferred genre) to read!

If you love crime novels set in the 1940's/1950's Los Angeles, this will be more up your alley.
Swim the Fly - Don Calame Our Summer Goal: To See a Girl Naked

This book cracked me up!

Matt Gratton is fourteen. He has two buddies Sean and Coop, and a wry sense of humor -- blessings that more than make up for his lack of muscles. Every summer Matt, Sean, and Coop swim on a summer club team and set a goal like riding their bikes to a far-away lake and going skinny dipping. Given that they're girl-crazy, this summer's goal is to see a real-life naked girl. Matt's wondering if the cute new swim teammate Kelly might be the one they catch nude.

Will the boys succeed?

Matt not only worries about this goal, but he also gets himself in deep when he volunteers to swim the one-hundred butterfly in a desperate move to impress Kelly. If you don't know, butterfly is THE most difficult stroke. It requires superior upper body strength, flexibility, and timing -- of which Matt has none. These boys are nowhere near the fastest swimmers on the team. As Matt states, "In case you don't know, eighteen minutes is not a great time for a hundred yards of butterfly." Um, yeah. It's not such a great time.

The author's voice is fun and real. Here Matt attends a funeral for an elderly neighbor:

The first thing I do is scan the room for cute girls. You'd think that being in a room with a dead body might push those feelings down deep inside you. But no. It's like trying to force a kickboard to stay underwater; unless you give it your full, constant attention, it eventually explodes to the surface.

Matt's family is also realistically dysfunctional. His father left his mother long ago, and his single mother struggles to make a living by selling nutritional supplements (leading to an embarrassing mix-up between protein powder and laxative powder). His grandfather almost steals the show, enlisting Matt to help him woo the widowed neighbor.

Matt tries some extreme training methods to train for the fly, which leave him incredibly sore:

"Whatever." I try to wave Coop off, but since I can't lift my arm, I just look like a girlie T. rex.

I love the friendship among the three boys. Their humor may be juvenile but their caring for each other is genuine.

I pick a few shirts off my bedroom floor and give them the sniff test. The only one that seems relatively clean is my bright yellow BIG BONE LICK STATE PARK, KENTUCKY T-shirt that Cooper got me for my birthday last year. He thought it was the funniest thing ever.

The swimming details lack authenticity but I enjoyed the story so much that I didn't care. And the romance is sweet, original, and unexpected. Maybe there's more to girls than stealing a peep at their naughty parts?
Take Two - Whitney G., Whitney Gracia Williams Jilted But Joyful

Next time you watch a romantic comedy where the groom leaves his fiancee at the altar, remember that not everyone in that movie gets the happy ending.

Thank you to Mitsy for recommending this book to me. Take Two is a fun contemporary romance featuring Melody Carter, NYC movie critic. Melody stands at the altar for her lavish wedding to Sean when another woman shows up and snatches her groom away from her. Turns out Sean is in love with this other woman, and he leaves Melody feeling like a jilted character from the romantic comedy movies she critiques. Only this time she's not laughing!

Meanwhile, hot actor Matt Sterling (I love his name) is sick of starring in romantic comedies that fail to showcase his acting ability. All the directors seem to care about is showcasing his muscular torso and abs. His feelings toward big-time actress Selena Ross have changed from affection to annoyance, yet Selena won't give up their relationship due to its smashing popularity.

When Matt meets Melody--the critic who typically bashes his films--he's instantly attracted to her. Though Melody also feels the attraction, she blocks his every advance, still nursing her wounds from being left at the altar. Naturally, Matt keeps pursuing her. This storyline made me think of the book [b:Why Men Love Bitches: From Doormat to Dreamgirl - A Woman's Guide to Holding Her Own in a Relationship|46191|Why Men Love Bitches From Doormat to Dreamgirl - A Woman's Guide to Holding Her Own in a Relationship|Sherry Argov|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348705878s/46191.jpg|2572759] LOL. I haven't read it yet but the premise urges women to let men pursue them and not vice versa. I guess we always want what we can't have!

I enjoyed the characterization of Melody, Matt, Selena, and Melody's sister Jen. It was great that Melody made a "F-- Sean" playlist. I also like the gift Matt gives her toward the end of the book.

There are some editing issues with this story, but ultimately it's a lighthearted romance where maybe everyone does get a happy ending.

Go enter the giveaway running from 4/1/13-4/18/13!
Creep - Jennifer Hillier Creeped Out

Creep is a great description for Ethan Wolfe, psychology graduate student. He's been having an affair with his advisor, Dr. Sheila Tao--the heroine of this novel. But Sheila is engaged to a businessman named Morris, and decides to break it off with Ethan before her wedding.

Ethan is NOT happy.

Ethan is PSYCHO.

And uh-oh, Ethan is a serial killer who plans to kidnap Sheila and make her his next victim. I love the devious ways his mind works, like after his first meeting with Sheila's fiance Morris, in disguise, when Ethan steals Morris's prized monogram cufflink:

If they autopsied Morris's cuff link out of Sheila's stomach, would they arrest Morris for the murder?


I don't typically read horror/thriller novels, but Sheila being a psychology professor intrigued me. I also enjoyed the characters' back-stories contributing to their current struggles. Ethan was abused by his mother, often locked in a closet, and now he panics if someone closes the door to a room. Sheila married a version of her critical, aloof father, and caught him in bed with another woman. Post-divorce, she struggles with sex addiction. She's in therapy and attends Sex Addicts Anonymous. Morris is a former college and NFL football star who turned to alcohol after a career-ending injury, and now struggles with his weight.

Not only are Ethan, Sheila, and Morris compelling characters, but I also liked the PI that Morris hires to try to find Sheila--Jerry. Here Jerry muses on a stakeout:

Jerry's real car, a Nissan Infinity G37 coupe in titanium gray, was sitting in the garage at home, pristine. His wife Annie said the coupe was an extension of his penis and a pathetic attempt to hold on to his youth, and she was right.

There were some inaccuracies regarding the profession of psychology. Sheila has a doctorate in social psychology, which is a research field, but the author makes it sound like she could do therapy if she wanted (not true--Sheila would need a different degree in clinical or counseling psychology and a license). Her friend Marianne would never take Sheila on as a therapy client, which is an ethics breach. Unfortunately psychologists don't make that much money anymore, so Marianne's opulent office probably isn't realistic either. :-(

But overall this is a page-turner, and fans of thrillers will likely love it.
The Paris Wife - Paula McLain Ernest Hemingway's First Wife Tells All

The movie Midnight in Paris showcased the ex-pat writers in 1920's Paris: Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Their stories are enthralling. As Mary Chapin Carpenter says, "After nearly a century, there is a reason that the Lost Generation and Paris in the 1920s still fascinate. It was a unique intersection of time and place, people and inspiration, romance and intrigue, betrayal and tragedy."

Paula McLain adeptly captures this intersection in her novel The Paris Wife--a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway's marriage to his first wife, Hadley Richardson. I definitely experienced the spark of burgeoning art, the lost feelings following WWI, and the sadness of an unraveling marriage.

Hadley is a twenty-eight-year-old from St. Louis who has a humdrum life until she meets Ernest Hemingway in Chicago. He's a war hero who wants to be a writer, and she falls for his passion and strength. He continues to pursue her when she returns to St. Louis, and they eventually marry. At times they're barely scraping by, but Ernest pursues his art with the support of Hadley. They move to Paris to help his writing career.

It seems like both Ernest and Hadley suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder--him from the war and her from multiple deaths in her family. They are solid midwesterners who have lost their footing, and socializing with the hard-drinking, amoral crowd in Paris doesn't help their marriage.

I really enjoyed insights into Ernest honing his writing craft. Gertrude Stein tells him:

"The poems are very good. Simple and quite clear. You're not posing at anything. . . Strong declarative sentences, that's what you do best. Stick to that . . . When you begin over, leave only what's truly needed."

Excellent advice!

Yet it's not an easy road for one of America's greatest writers. The struggle to pen his first novel is fraught with rejection from publishers and his family. When he finally breaks through with his first publication, Hadley knows:

He would never again be unknown. We would never again be this happy.

How sad. There's a real melancholy feel to this well-written novel. The few choices available to women in the 1920's are frustrating, and the way Hadley has to deal with Ernest's wandering eye is appalling.

After finishing this book, I want to reread [b:The Sun Also Rises|3876|The Sun Also Rises|Ernest Hemingway|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1331828228s/3876.jpg|589497], and I look forward to the movie version of The Great Gatsby.
Losing It - Cora Carmack Love On Stage

Here’s another great contemporary romance addition to the New Adult genre.

Bliss Edwards is a senior theater major in college who has never had sex. She likes to party with her classmates, she does a private happy dance when something good happens in her life, and she has a best friend Kelsey who constantly tries to get her laid.

The night before university classes begin, Kelsey dresses Bliss up in a hoochie-mama outfit and takes her to a bar, where Bliss proceeds to have FOUR tequila shots in a row. Yikes! The bartender’s flirtation sends her heart racing. She thinks he might be the boot-knocker she seeks, until she meets a blond-haired blue-eyed Brit reading Shakespeare in the bar: Garrick. (Bliss, Othello is my favorite too.)

Turns out Garrick just moved to town and got locked out of his apartment, so awaits the locksmith in the bar.

Turns out Bliss takes Garrick home and they get ready to make love, only for Bliss to have a panic attack, mutter something about her nonexistent cat, and run away.

Turns out Bliss and Kelsey go to their first theater class of the semester the next morning, and run into the handsome new professor . . .


Whoops. Bliss got some ‘splaining to do! This plot reminded me of [b:Slammed|13372690|Slammed (Slammed, #1)|Colleen Hoover|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328530463s/13372690.jpg|18602144], but what kept it unique was the theater setting. Acting fascinates me, and I enjoyed hearing about Bliss’s process on stage, moving forward with her career, and deciding how and when to have sex the first time.

I believe Cora Carmack did a realistic job portraying what a virgin endures in our sex-crazed, mixed-message culture. Bliss is curious to experience such intense intimacy, but she feels so much pressure that her nerves almost make her want to get it over with.

Bliss has a fun voice, like when she hides outside her apartment after dashing out on Garrett their first encounter:

Garrick stayed in my apartment for a good ten minutes after I left. The entire time my mind was like a five-year-old who just drank a bathtub full of energy drinks. What was he doing in there? Was he looking through my things? Was he trashing my place because I’d run out and left him there like the biggest jerk this side of Kanye West at the 2009 VMA’s?

And Garrick is a dream. Who wouldn’t love a smart, handsome man with a British accent? He’s both strong and gentle with Bliss, and I love the respect he shows her when she’s vulnerable with him.

At first I wasn’t completely drawn into the characters, and at times the writing seemed a bit forced. But as I got into the story, I liked it more and more. I love how the story ended, with Bliss doing one of her spastic happy dances. She thinks her dance is in private but maybe she has a secret observer. ;-)
Tenth of December - George Saunders Bizarre, Clever, and Dark

Holy Weird, Batman. My colleague chose this collection of short stories for book club, and it's rather unique! I've never read George Saunders before, but it seems he has a twisted, complex world view. His characters are not likable at all, and I felt frustrated trying to figure out what was happening in some of his kooky stories.

One of my favorite stories was Escape from Spiderhead--a lab where prisoners were subjected to injections of various chemicals to test their scientific effectiveness. Verbaluce makes you eloquent, Vivistif is a version of Viagra (ha ha), Darkenfloxx makes you feel so horribly depressed that you want to kill yourself, and an unnamed chemical makes you horny. It was creative world-building with despicable characters.

In Exhortation, a manager writes a letter to his employees performing some ghastly duty (are they working at a morgue?). The parody of psychobabble cracked me up:

If we spend the hour before the shelf-cleaning talking down the process of cleaning the shelf, complaining about it, dreading it, investigating the moral niceties of cleaning the shelf, whatever, then what happens is, we make the process of cleaning the shelf MORE DIFFICULT THAN IT REALLY IS. We all know very well that that "shelf" is going to be cleaned, given the current climate, either by you or by the guy who replaces you and gets your paycheck, so the question boils down to: Do I want to clean it happy or do I want to clean it sad? Which would be more effective?

But most of the stories left me confused, frustrated, or icked out. Did I really need to take that stuff in my consciousness?

The colleague who chose this has very different reading tastes than me, and I bet he loved it. If you enjoy creative, dark literary short stories, you may love this! I tend to enjoy romance novels and this wasn't for me.
The Exercise Balance: What's Too Much, What's Too Little, and What's Just Right for You! - Pauline Powers, Ron Thompson Informative and helpful. We often hear that we all need to get more exercise, but what we really need is a healthy balance of exercise. Life is all about balance. Ron Thompson, Ph.D. is an expert in the field of athletes and eating disorders, and Pauline Powers, M.D. provides physiological expertise about what our bodies need.
Last Man Standing - Cindy Gerard Save the Best for Last

Is the Black Ops, Inc. series really over? *cries*

Thank you to Buggy for recommending romantic suspense author [a:Cindy Gerard|195778|Cindy Gerard|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1244677466p2/195778.jpg]. Though this series is over, I have more of her wonderful books still left to savor.

In [b:Last Man Standing|11527280|Last Man Standing (Black Ops, #7)|Cindy Gerard|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1323132839s/11527280.jpg|16464994], we finally get some resolution to fallen brother Bryan Tompkins' story. Back when the BOI men were involved in the US military and government, Bryan died on an op gone wrong. And "Mean" Joe Greene has never forgotten his brother in arms.

Joe protected Bryan's beautiful sister Stephanie in a prior novel, and they developed strong feelings for each other yet Joe could not commit. When Joe gets a clue about who was behind Bryan's death and secretly heads to Sierra Leone to expose the killer, he gets himself imprisoned, falsely accused of murder. It's up to Stephanie to try to protect Joe this time. Can the gentle intelligence operative "man up" to save the one she loves?

Prison scenes fascinate me, and Joe is in the worst stifling squalor imaginable. He's starved, beaten, and bereft, knowing when he dies that Bryan's killer will go scot-free. He even had to kill a viper slithering its way into his cell!

I love Stephanie's character development in this story. She hardly seems like a badass who can break a man out of prison. But she knows who to ask for help -- a local boy named Suah who feels loyalty to Joe for saving his life. Here Stephanie is with a very weakened Joe in a safe house:

He looked away, overcome by emotions that ran the gamut from guilt to humility to gratitude to absolute astonishment, before ending with a frustrated sense of failure. HE was the protector. HE was the caretaker. Right now he couldn't take care of a paper clip.
"Joe. Look at me."
The softness in her eyes told him she'd read his mind. "You don't always get to be the hero. Some of us lesser beings need to get a shot at it every now and then, okay?

Cindy Gerard knows how to make me cry with Suah's storyline. He's an orphaned boy who was forced to fight for terrorists, who puts on a tough front but underneath is only a boy. Stephanie sees right through him:

She joined him at the door, placed both hands on his slim, bony shoulders, and turned him around to face her. "There may be no time for this tomorrow, so I want to say it now. You're a good man. A very good man."
Clearly uncomfortable with the praise and affection in her voice, Suah nodded stiffly and made to leave. This time she stopped him by wrapping her arms around him and hugging him. She kept on hugging him, even though he stiffened like a thin tree trunk in her embrace.
When she pulled back and gently brushed her fingers across his cheek, she saw that he was anything but rigid on the inside. For a brief, heartbreaking moment, those huge brown eyes spoke to her of longing and loss and a sorrow that cut straight to her soul.

Perhaps Joe and Stephanie won't see the last of Suah in Sierra Leone?

This was a tremendous series and I highly recommend you read it! Cindy Gerard is a crack researcher who has taught me a lot about exotic locales and the strong men and women who protect our country.
Hopeless - Colleen Hoover Stunning Heart-Breaker

You know that moment when you're reading and you come to a realization about a character that rocks your foundation? That moment you gasp and start to weep?

That moment happened several times to me while reading this masterpiece New Adult story.

After her adoptive mother home-schooled Sky for years, Sky finally has the chance to experience public school for her senior year. And what a ride it will be. Sky's bff Six has built a promiscuous reputation for herself, and Sky is guilty by association. It's not that Sky never makes out with guys, but she doesn't let boys get too far because she feels absolutely numb when they kiss her...

...until Sky meets bad boy Holder. He's got a tattoo on his arm that says "HOPELESS" and a reputation of his own as a homophobic bully. When she first sees him, she notices:

1) His amazingly perfect white teeth hidden behind that seductively crooked grin.
2) The dimples that form in the crevices between the corners of his lips and cheeks when he smiles.
3) I'm pretty sure I'm having a hot flash.
Or I have butterflies.
Or maybe I'm coming down with a stomach virus.

Holder is an adorably sweet and deep book boyfriend. Sky feels unmoored when he's in her presence, and she's puzzled by his strange fascination with her. They happen to share a love of running...but what exactly are they running from?

Serious pain.

As Holder helps her uncover her past, Sky will need to keep Six's words of advice in mind:

Life is real and sometimes it's ugly and you just have to learn how to cope.

What amazes me about Colleen Hoover is that she writes about horrible ugliness, but somehow makes it okay as I watch the characters realistically struggle on their path to healing. Instead of hopeless, she makes me feel hopeful.

This is my favorite read of 2013. If you're looking for something fluffy, look elsewhere. But if you're looking for a real story about love, pain, loss, and gain--get this book now!
Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple Skewering Seattle Soccer Moms

Thank you to my friend Sue for choosing this hilarious epistolary novel for book club! The first half had me laughing almost every page. I suspected it would be difficult to maintain the intensity of the humor for the whole novel, and unfortunately I was correct. The characters and storyline were so farcical and shocking that it was a bit disappointing when the reality of consequences hit the story. But it's still a fantastic, unique read.

Bee Branch is a fourteen year-old super-star student at Galer Street School in Seattle. From the first words of the novel--the mission statement of Bee's school--I knew I was in for a parody:

Galer Street School is a place where compassion, academics, and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet.

Um, connectitude? It's no surprise when we learn that school parent Audrey Griffin wrote the mission statement. She's neighbor to Bee and her family, and Bee's mother Bernadette Fox can't stand snooty do-gooders like Audrey. Bernadette refers to the school moms as "gnats" and doesn't want anything to do with them. It's hard to tell if Bernadette is eccentric or mentally ill. I loved her architectural genius backstory, revealed later in the novel. Here Bernadette teases Bee that she's going to follow her to boarding school at Choate:

"Oh, didn't I tell you?" Mom said. "I'm going to move to Wallingford and rent a house off campus. I already got a job working in the Choate dining hall."
"Don't even joke," I said.
"Nobody will know I'm your mother. You won't even have to say hi. I just want to look at your gorgeous face every day. But a little wave every now and then would sure warm a mum's heart." She did that last part sounding like a leprechaun.
"Mom!" I said.
"You have no choice in it," she said. "I'll be lurking behind the sneeze guards with my plastic gloves, serving hamburgers on Wednesdays, fish on Fridays--"
"Dad, make her stop."

Bee's dad Elgin is a brilliant manager at Microsoft and has the third most-watched TED talk in the world, when he unveiled an amazing microchip that harnesses the power of mental imagery to do tasks for you that you don't want to do. (HELLO, can I get one of these to clean my cat's litter box?)

Meanwhile, intrusive neighbor Audrey is planning to host the "Prospective Parent Brunch Committee" organized by the paid consultant Ollie-O, who sends emails to motivate the school parents to recruit high profile parents (aka "Mercedes Parents") in order to elevate the school's reputation, like:

From: Ollie-O
To: Prospective Parent Brunch Committee

We're up to 60 RSVPs! I'm just throwing out some fertilizer, but: Pearl Jam. I hear they've got kids entering kindergarten. If we get one of them--it doesn't have to be the singer--I can grow it.

Later Ollie plans the brunch at Audrey's house:

Principal Gwen Goodyear will be stationed at the door, bidding adieux, and handing out Galer Street swag. There is no way to overemphasize the importance of this. Just because they're Mercedes Parents doesn't mean they're not highly receptive to free shit. (Excuzey-moi!)

When the brunch turns disastrous, the school calls on a famous PTSD psychologist to intervene. The psychologist's letter had me howling!

I truly enjoyed the correspondence between Audrey and her friend Soo-Lin, who also has children that attend Galer. Soo-Lin ends up being the administrative assistant for Bee's father Elgin at Microsoft. Soo-Lin's part of VAV: Victims Against Victimhood, and spreads the word wherever she goes. The ridiculous VAV acronyms remind me of self-help groups gone wrong (so wrong).

Seattle is a wonderful setting. The author even mentions my favorite restaurant Wild Ginger!

Bernadette off-handedly promised Bee they would go on a trip to Antartica if Bee gets straight "A"s in middle school (or in Galer's case, straight "S"s for "surpasses excellence" since they don't believe in grades). Naturally genius-child Bee achieves the grades and now the social recluse Bernadette and her workaholic husband need to follow through on their promise.

Will Bee's family ever be accepted by the Prospective Parent Brunch Committee? Will they make it to Antartica? Will Bee's father become part of her life again instead of holing himself up at Microsoft? Will Bernadette stay eccentric or succumb to mental illness?

Read it and find out yourself!
Recaptured Dreams - Justine Dell A Past Love Recaptured

Justine Dell's debut contemporary romance has a regal, formal air about it, making the novel feel not so contemporary. It's a romance between the lovely English lass Sophia and the dashing fashion designer Xavier.

Most of the story occurs "across the pond" in England's upper-class circles, where Sophia Montel lives with her mother. Sophia is twenty-seven and lives a somewhat aimless existence following a horrible car crash that stole her memories ten years ago. Her mother refuses to tell her about her past, which greatly frustrates Sophia (as well as me!) Sophia's good friend Anne Marie takes her to a fashion show featuring Sophia's favorite designer.

American Xavier Cain has ascended from humble roots to worldwide success with his "XS" fashion line. Yet his life is incomplete without the woman he fell in love with at age seventeen who has since gone missing. When he spots Sophia at the show, his mission to find his lost love is now complete! There she is!

The bad news: Sophia doesn't remember him.

The good news: Sophia feels a strange attraction to him.

Sophia and Xavier slowly rekindle their love despite obstacles thrown their way by her mother and snooty grandmother. Then the lovers manage to get in their own way by running off or acting incomprehensibly.

When Anne Marie talks to Sophia about why she isn't directly asking Xavier about their past, I cheered when she asked "Here's a thought, darling; why don't you ask him about it?" Why, indeed?

The reason for the mystery and misunderstanding later reveals itself, which blew me away and helped dissolve my frustration.

I really enjoyed the character of Xavier and his fashion creations (reminding me of a favorite TV show . . . Project Runway!) I believe that earlier revelations may have drawn me into Sophia's struggle more deeply. Without understanding her motivation at times, I grew frustrated by her choices. I still haven't decided how I feel about Sophia's mother. I'm not sure I buy her explanation for why she acted the way she did.

With a flow of melancholy, Recaptured Dreams is a well-written story about recapturing lost love.
Trust in Advertising - Victoria Michaels Trust in This Story’s Greatness!

I’ve been hoping to read Victoria Michaels’ contemporary romance Trust in Advertising for some time. The romance is fun and flirty, the villain unspeakably vain, and the character development quite strong.

Lexi White is a twenty-something young woman trying to find her way. A wallflower in high school, Lexi had a major crush on the popular Vincent Drake (but of course he didn’t know she existed). When her father became ill, Lexi decided to forgo an Ivy League scholarship to take care of him until his death. Now she’s going nowhere in her job and love life, but at least she has a feisty best friend living in the apartment across the hall -- Hope.

Hope convinces Lexi to take a chance on her dream job in advertising. She lands a position assisting the meanest advertising VP around – an executive who’s dating the supermodel “Jade” – you guessed it . . . Lexi’s high school crush Vincent Drake.

Vincent doesn’t recognize her from their high school, and he behaves in his typical disrespectful way with her. But Lexi the former wallflower is no shrinking violet. She stands her ground with sweetness and determination.

It’s great when Lexi antagonizes the narcissistic Jade, who refers to herself in the third person:

”Just know Jade’s watching you.”
“Lexi will try to remember that.” Lexi got up from her desk.

Hope gets into the act when she comments on why so many of the male models around Jade are gay:

”If they’re stuck working all day with ball-devouring hags like you, I can see how that would turn them off to the entire female population,” Hope remarked.

I loved Lexi and Vincent’s dance at a charity event, which shows Lexi’s complexity –- she’s competent and clever, yet also insecure:

Immediately, Lexi felt something hard beneath her foot. “Sorry.” Her cheeks flooded with a deep blush.
“Something tells me that you’re used to being in charge. Why don’t you let me lead, and I’ll take care of you for a change?”

Hope calls the dance a “close encounter with the hunky kind.”

Vincent’s niece Madison is adorable, and she allows Lexi to see the gentle, caring side of Vincent. They attend Madison’s tea party together:

Madison rummaged through the bag before pulling out the biggest, pinkest, most disgustingly feather-laden hat. Lexi cringed.
“That one would be perfect for her,” Vincent quickly said with a wicked grin.
“No, silly, this one is for you. Lexi’s allergic to feathers. She told me when she got here.”
Lexi smirked triumphantly across the table as Maddie planted the hat on top of Vincent’s head, the feathers falling in front of his eyes.

Vincent’s mother plays a key role by infusing Lexi with a sense of professional confidence.

This won’t make sense unless you’ve read the story, but I loved Vincent’s simple text:

It was a very big deal.

I really enjoyed the exploration of trust in the story, and I totally swooned for Vincent. My one criticism is that I think the editing could have been tighter. In particular, I think the dialogue toward the end was a bit too long and flowery.

Trust me . . . this is an excellent read!