book cover Perfect Girl by Michele Gorman

Perfect Girl by Michele Gorman • Magan Reviews

book cover Perfect Girl by Michele Gorman

Perfect Girl by Michele Gorman [twitter • website]
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Publisher: Notting Hill Press
Pages: 326
Target Audience: Adult Fiction
Keywords: people pleasing, crappy boyfriends, controlling parents, shady jobs
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Carol is barely able to tread water or find time for herself because she’s constantly attending to everyone else’s needs before her own. Her mom passive aggressively manipulates her into doing what she wants, her best friend and sister don’t see how they’re abusing her, and her boyfriend is selfishly out to have his needs met before hers. What will it take for Carol to learn to say no and stand up for herself?

• • •

The Story: Carol is everyone’s go-to girl: She helps her sister plan her wedding, goes on blind dates for her best friend as a pre-screener (because her BFF has the absolute worst radar ever), books her parents vacations, finds her “adopted” sister a job, works countless hours at a job she loves with men who overlook her talents and demean her with constant sexual innuendos and inappropriate jokes, and has a boyfriend who is throwing all his efforts into his new job with little quality time to spare.

Phew. That’s a lot, right?

The Build-up: Can Carol possibly say NO to anything? How does she ever sleep? What happens when she breaks? When does she EVER have time for herself?

The Breaking Point: Things get so big and bad and messy and uncontrollable for Carol. She is the epitome of a people pleaser. (Anyone who thinks they are a people pleaser will relate and sympathize with this poor girl.) My heart raced and I legit thought I was going to have a panic attack as things all came to a head at once. (Of course. And really — any idea I had about how things could get worse…I was wrong. They got WAY worse.) There were a lot of moments where I found myself nodding my head as I related to this young woman. I highlighted a TON of passages.

Perfect Girl is my second novel by Gorman to read (The Curvy Girls Club was the first, but I’m reviewing them out of order). TCGC was a lot more sensual and sexy, but I found Perfect Girl to have a much more serious undertone that focused primarily on Carol’s journey to stop allowing other people to manipulate her. It was really nice to see that sex wasn’t a device used to hook Gorman’s readers; this really showed me she has a lot of diversity as an author because these two books were in no way formulaic or similar.

If you’re looking for something that feels genuine and authentic with a mid-twenties character who is trying to find her footing in the world, I definitely recommend Perfect Girl. It was really nice to relate to a character and think, “Huh. So not everyone has this growing up thing figured out.”

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Blog Tour: Lies You Wanted to Hear by James Whitfield Thomson

LieYouWantedtoHear.inddLies You Wanted to Hear by James Whitfield Thomson ( web | facebook )
Publication Date: November 5, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 404
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: marriage, betrayal, regrets, parenthood
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks Sourcebooks!)

Summary: A blind date between Matt (a cop) and Lucy (reeling from a horrible breakup) leads to marriage, and a life of contentment. Or so it seems. Bits of dishonesty crack at the surface as the years go on, leading Matt and Lucy to lives they never imagined.

What is it about those bad boys? They are the hardest to get over, aren’t they?

When we meet Lucy she is still in love with passionate and inconsiderate Griffin, who totally deserted her during a pretty crucial time in their relationship. In an effort to get over him and dig herself out of this rut, she finally listens to her best friend and goes on a blind date with a cop named Matt.

Matt is pretty much everything Griffin isn’t. He’s sweet, he’s caring, he wants commitment. Slowly but surely this first date leads to marriage and two children. While life feels safe and Matt is the poster child for a great husband, Lucy is never truly satisfied. It’s like she has one foot out the door all the time, and when Griffin reemerges in her life, an already rocky marriage crumbles into dust.

Okay, I know this doesn’t sound like the happiest story. It really isn’t. It’s full of mistakes and regret and too many important concerns and emotions left unsaid between a husband and a wife.  Thomson’s detailed backstory for both characters (down to their best friends and their parents) is superb and the see-sawing between Matt and Lucy’s perspectives was uncanny. I found myself totally swept up in their stories, in their fight to find happiness for themselves and also for their children, who were bearing the brunt of this off-kilter union.

Both Matt and Lucy made mistakes, and it was so intriguing because sometimes these mistakes felt like the right thing to do. Could their problems have been solved in a more logical way? Of course. But both of them felt so strongly one way or another that their dramatic actions really drove the pace of the story and had me finishing this book in one day. I could not sleep without knowing how it all would end.

Lies You Wanted to Hear spans many years, and morphs into this unexpected psychological thriller in some ways. What would be the repercussions of Matt and Lucy’s actions? Would karma come into play at some point, and would it permanently damage their bond with their children? Were their moves propelled by selfishness, desperation, or an extreme need to protect? Or all of the above? The material is so discussion worthy, and I felt like it was possible to root for either side at various points in the novel, making it that much  more of an enjoyable experience to gobble up.

I love when a book takes me by surprise, and I was even more shocked to see this was Thomson’s debut novel. It was so clear how much he cared for all of his characters, and worked to tell a well-rounded, detail-oriented story showcasing the grays of commitment and just how far we would go for happiness.

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Book Report: Nowhere but Home by Liza Palmer

As promised, friends, we’re trying to continue reading books together so we can chat about them for more Book Reports! As you’ll read below, we were highly, highly encouraged to read Nowhere But Home by some of our very favorite people. See if we agree with them about this adult fiction book!

book cover of Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer

Nowhere but Home by Liza Palmer (website | twitter)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Pages: 384
Target Audience: Adult Fiction
Keywords: small town Texas, head chef, long lost love, parental legacies
Format Read: We both purchased paperback copies.

Summary: After leaving behind her small-town roots in pursuit of bigger and better things, Queenie is forced to return home to Texas after being let go of her latest head chef job in New York City. She’s forced to face the legacy her mother left behind as well as her long-lost love, Everett.

Just in case you need a reminder of who we are, here ya go:

 Magan

 Estelle

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It’s impossible to start this joint chat about Nowhere But Home without mentioning the biggest book pusher I know. Cassie from Books with Cass successfully threatened… err… convinced us to buy Liza’s book and I am so so very glad that she did.

Yes! Same here. After seeing her enthusiasm (as well as Hannah from So Obsessed With and Asheley’s from Into the Hall of Books), how could we NOT read it?

We certainly didn’t want her (or any of those fabulous girls) to disown us.

 

Hahaha!

 

Okay, let’s start from the top. Queenie just lost her job in New York City, and after being everywhere and never finding her place, she sort of decides to make a trip home. She hasn’t seen her sister or her nephew forever, so she makes herself believe she is going on a temporary trip to visit.

Yes. Queenie, in the beginning, is a little bit abrasive and rough around the edges. I think all of her traveling must have been so isolating. She’s never really connected with anyone or made any friends. Do you feel the same?

So true. I think she was so focused on getting out of her small town with her two suitcases… she didn’t have time to make any roots.

Yes, for sure. I could relate to her need to flee her small town so, so much. In fact, Dustyn and I were back in the town I grew up in on Monday and I felt so overwhelmed by the people who approached me saying “it had been so long.” I mean, for one person, I hadn’t seen her since my high school graduation 10 years ago! I CANNOT imagine moving back there and I applaud Queenie for sucking it up and returning even though it was the last thing she wanted to do.

How much did you love her sister, Merry, though? Going back to her town in Texas was like turning on Steel Magnolias for me, and hanging out with the gossip queens at the hair salon. I could see why some of it could be draining (small town, so much gossip) but others were so so welcoming.

Merry was so fantastic. I really just wanted to sit down with her for a cup of coffee and listen to her talk about how she fell in love with the football coach.

My gosh, yes. Merry’s relationship with her son Cal (Queenie’s nephew) was seriously precious too. Cal was such a winner in my book. I love the high school football star but he was so polite and just such a family team player. I think he was a great bridge between Merry and Queenie.

And has such a great understanding of all that was going on, despite the entire town’s refusal to be honest and admit a lot of truths. I loved how everyone really knew what was happening with everyone, but how naive Queenie was about most situations.

Speaking of naive…let’s talk a little bit about Everett?

 

Oh, yes. Hopping right into the good stuff! You know for as much as Queenie’s internal struggle was with him, I was quite surprised by how little he really appeared in the book overall.

That’s an amazing point. I think Palmer did a great job of like establishing this romantic conflict (even so far as rich vs. wrong side of the tracks relationship) but didn’t allow it to take over the book. This was so much more about Queenie coming to terms with her past, being able to live with nosey people thinking they knew her family’s business, and just finding a way to be happy. (Even if it wasn’t the way she thought she would find it.) Still the chemistry between Everett and Queenie (who were like secret childhood sweethearts) was very very real.

Definitely. I loved that Queenie explored her options and sort of found herself through (very) uncommon activities, such as working as the chef who made last meals for prisoners on death row. I love that she gave herself time to be separated from Everett despite them being in the same town again. I admired that she didn’t immediately gravitate toward what she knew.

Yes, she gave herself some room to breathe. What did you think about the prison work? It was so so so intense for me.

Yeah, I really have to admit that this was one of the least expected surprises for me. I just never really would have guessed that element would have been added to the story. I think it provided a really huge dose of reality, but also was really hard for me to read through at times. Especially when the Starburst were involved and Queenie was trying really hard not to figure out who she was cooking for.

It was a great way for us to really see her too.
Her tough facade started to crack… and how could it not?

Oh, definitely. And I loved how she was really realistic about how ironic it was that she was finding herself (or her groove) in a kitchen that was making meals for people who were about to die.

Unexpected things happen in unexpected places? haha. Especially in the hometown you never think you are going to return to?

Oh, for sure. Do you think if you had to return to your home town, you would have to face as many hurdles as Queenie did? Would it feel like such an obstacle for you?

I think even without this family “legacy” that has sort of ostracized them from the town … it would be difficult to go back. I think my hurdles would be more internal? Not so much caused by the people in the town? Does that make sense? It would be my own head. I can appreciate people finding their own happiness in the place they grew up but I do fear that sometimes those people don’t always take some chances.

Yes, that makes sense. I don’t intend for this to seem like I’m badmouthing my small town, but I would almost feel like I’d taken a step backward. Like I wasn’t following my dreams and “proving” myself like I said I would.

I think leaving is also about leaving for the right reasons? I’m not sure Queenie was in the right frame of mind when she left the first time.

In a sense, a lot of what Queenie felt was internalized. She did have drama with the cliquey group of women in her town, but I think what we began to see is that almost everyone had baggage. She was just so wrapped up in trying to distance herself from her mom’s “legacy” that she was blind to everyone else’s misgivings. And yes, for the wrong reasons skipped town.

Yes. So so true. I know you just finished How to Love and you loved it as much as I did… but after reading Nowhere But Home… I really felt like the books had similar themes.

Oh, yes. I can definitely see that. And what an interesting comparison. Queenie flees her small town because she needs to separate herself and Reena is stalemate and cannot move because of decisions she made — two women in very different circumstances, but yes, very similar themes.

And also just the opportunity to embrace second chances?

 

Yes! With both books, I really appreciated the opportunities both girls had to really get some answers and dig into their pasts.

Yay! I’m glad you felt the same way. Kind of related to that, how did you feel reading a grown up book? Do you think Nowhere But Home is a book YA readers could love?

I found Nowhere But Home to be really refreshing. I am such a YA reader 99% of the time, but it felt like a nice break from everything I’d been reading. And yes, I definitely think there could (and should be) some major cross-over between fans of both books.

I’m so glad you felt that way! I think the book had a great balance of some heavy moments but also really vibrant ones? The supporting characters are some of the best I’ve read in a really long time. You got a sense of everyone… it was like your own neighbor or something.

I definitely felt like there was such a complete story here. I suppose sometimes I get frustrated with YA because the focus can be so narrow and a lot seems to be missing, but that can be true of any book. It all depends on how far the author wants to develop the backstory and secondary characters. And setting.

So so true. Did anything not work for you in the book?

 

Gosh. Nothing really stands out as being out of place for me. What about for you?

 

Same. I really have no complaints. I was happy with all of it. I think that’s a ringing endorsement. Do you feel inspired to pick up more adult lit books? Or maybe something with a Southern setting? Or is that just us Northeast people? haha

Hahaha — well, maybe more adult books for sure. I think that while the small town setting was pretty accurate, it doesn’t entirely encompass where I live now. So maybe something in the future that sort of straddles the extremely southern without pushing the boundaries and making it seem like we ride horses to work. (Not that Nowhere But Home did.)

Oh gosh. I’m imagining me riding a horse to work + I am sensing danger. Much danger for a lot of innocent people.

Oh! I do want to mention that I read in the author’s notes that she did research on Smithville, TX for Nowhere But Home. That’s where my dad grew up!

That’s so awesome! Speaking of setting, I loved the author’s NYC beginning. She did such an accurate job with that subway description. I could picture the Dunkin Donuts she was talking about. I have to say so many times I read about NYC in books and it is just… obvious no research was done. Not even a little but so that made me really happy. A silly subway. haha

Yes! It really did seem like she put a lot of hard work into making the settings as authentic as possible. I applaud that. And also really think that adds so much to the story.

It shows that she really cares about her work, down the smallest details. Really nice to read a book like that. Are we ready for some final thoughts? Who would you recommend this book to?

I can see myself lending this book to my mom who is an avid reader (usually of books with sexy cowboys on the cover). Or just my really good girlfriends who randomly need a good read. Anyone really! What about you?

I actually just lent it to my mom this past weekend. I was like… stop everything you are reading and READ THIS ONE.

Hahah! YAY! You’ll have to tell me what she thinks when she reads it!

 

Let’s see if she actually listens to me… Big thanks to our fellow bloggers who put this book on our radar!

 

Yes. Big huge thanks! And yay to us for listening to our book pushers!

 

It’s a lesson to all of us: listen to the book pushers in your lives. (Or else?)

 

Words of wisdom and the perfect ending!

 

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So, friends — what are you waiting for? Pick up a copy of Nowhere But Home ASAP!

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Book Review of The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins

Magan: The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins

Book Review of The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins

The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Pages: 400
Target Audience: Adult Fiction
Keywords: loss of a spouse, dating and remarrying, family curses
Format Read: ARC from Pub
Other Books Reviewed by KH: Somebody to Love

Summary: Five years after the death of her husband, Lucy decides she’s ready to begin dating again. She’s looking for someone safe, someone she won’t become too attached to should the Black Widow curse take her next husband too.

Five and a half years ago, Lucy’s husband, Jimmy, died in a car accident. Present day her sister is having a baby. This makes Lucy realize that the clock is ticking and if she wants to have a family, she needs to open up again and begin dating. But she doesn’t really want to date someone that she could love as much as Jimmy. She wants someone safe and predictable that she’ll have a good life with. She’s scared the Black Widow curse will strike again and take her second husband should she remarry. What is the Black Widow curse, you ask? Her mother and her aunts all lost their husbands at entirely too young an age. Lucy’s following in their footsteps with the loss of Jimmy.

There’s one catch to Lucy moving on with her life: she needs to cut ties with her “friend with benefits.” Oh, and surprise, surprise — guess who this person is? Jimmy’s younger brother, Ethan, who is completely and overwhelmingly in love with Lucy. She refuses to let herself fall for him though because he’s a daredevil and he could die easily from all of his shenanigans. Full disclosure: this was so difficult for me to wrap my head around, especially in the beginning. I wasn’t quite sure how Lucy and Ethan would have decided sleeping together was a good idea. I mean, I just couldn’t do that with Dustyn’s brothers because they’re like my brothers. Eww eww eww.

I was really excited to read about Lucy’s mishaps as she ventured back into the dating world, but I was a little underwhelmed by the sheer amount of backstory that was included in the first 40% of the book. There was little progression and the story felt much more sluggish than I would have liked because Lucy was so hung up on actually acting on her decision to begin dating. How could anyone replace Jimmy? It does make very logical sense why this would be so tough, but the actions and decisions that followed felt jerky and abrupt because the story, later, needed to propel forward. There could have also been some thinning out of details as some were overly repetitious — I knew a lot, lot, lot about Ethan’s beard, the psychic, and other descriptions that felt unnecessary.

I am a woman who is madly in love with my husband. I can’t imagine life without him, and in that regard, I completely connected with Lucy’s hesitancy to move forward with her life. However, she seemed so closed off and distant to me. That’s possibly because I could see the flaws in her plans and wanted her to so badly see what (or who) was right in front of her. Though Lucy wasn’t the most relatable I did love the secondary characters, particularly Nicky, her sweet, hug-worthy nephew, best friend, Parker, who always always said what I needed Lucy to hear, and Corrine, her sister who would have wrapped her husband in bubble wrap to protect him from the Black Widow curse should it be guaranteed to save his life.

The Next Best Thing was a really nice break from all of the heavy books I’ve found myself reading lately. Take it along to the beach and pair it with a nice umbrella-clad drink!

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Estelle: The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen

The Best of Us by Sarah PekkanenThe Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 9, 2013
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Pages: 352
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: college friends, marriage, Jamaica
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: Knee-deep in marriage, kids, infidelity, and secrets, college friends reunite for a fully-paid trip to Jamaica for Dwight’s 35th birthday.

There are many days where I sit around and pray for a very successful and kind friend to sweep me out of my routine 9-5 life and take me to a tropical island (all expenses paid!!), where I can frolic in the waves with friends, sipping margaritas, and chatting to all hours of the night.

(Note: Any of these friends can step forward at anytime… really.)

Sadly, I don’t see this happening to me any time soon but I can be happy (cough hate cough) that it happened to this group of friends, while I drool over their opportunity of a lifetime. But in all seriousness, this group of college pals needs this trip more than anything. Case in point: Tina is feeling totally rundown as a mom; Savannah is reeling from her unfaithful (soon-to-be ex) husband; Allie receives some unfortunate news about her health; Pauline is tired of the persona she has built as Dwight’s wife.

You can see how escaping from real life couldn’t come at a better time.

Pekkanen does a great job of weaving the stories of these four women; I really liked seeing how differently each of their lives turned out and how their views on marriage and life-after-college were so vast. There is such truth in how everyone’s relationship is so unique. How do you balance your own interests when you are a mother? Can you forgive someone who betrays you? Does your relationship have what it takes to go the distance? Is it ever too late to let your guard down?

While this crowd is chumming it up like they are back in college, tension builds in paradise when old feelings resurface, flirting speeds into overdrive, unwanted guests arrive, and that hurricane they hoped they would miss is heading right for their house. There’s nothing like being in close quarters to really confront your problems. Despite the drama that ensues, Jamaica proves to be a turning point of every single person in this house — whether that’s good or bad is up to you to find out.

The Best of Us is a book that is meant to be scorched in the sun, stained with your sunscreened fingers, and maybe even splashed with a little ocean water. I was practically salivating over the luxuries these characters were offered, and I literally could not wait to figure out how this little trip would change them all. There’s a great balance to the sexy, sweet, tough, and nostalgic moments that fill the pages. I’m definitely looking forward to checking out more of Pekkanen’s work.

Tequila shots, anyone?

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Estelle: Where You Are by J.H. Trumble

Where You Are By J.H. TrumbleWhere You Are by J.H. Trumble ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: December 24, 2012
Publisher: Kensington Books
Pages: 316
Target audience: Adult/mature young adult
Keywords:  bullying, social media, LGBT, student/teacher relationships
Format read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Robert may be a star student, a popular addition to the marching band, and absolutely comfortable with his sexuality. But his dad is also deteriorating from cancer, his aunts are taking over his home, and his boyfriend never wants to touch him. At 24, Andrew is Robert’s calculus teacher. He’s a father to a young daughter, and does his best to keep his private life private. But for some reason, he can’t help but reach out to Robert, especially as he sees this bright student fading into the background. Will they both be able to maintain their respected boundaries?

When I wrote my review of J.H. Trumble’s Don’t Let Me Go in March, I wrote about how I kept thinking of the main characters of that story like they were people I had actually known in real life.

Fast forward almost nine months later, and I’m standing in a store parking lot in the freezing cold, on the brink of what is going to be a difficult two days for my family, and I am thinking about Robert and Andrew in the same way. What are they up to? What are they thinking? If they lived in my hometown, would I be calling them to hang out right now?

I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure out how Trumble makes her characters so human — flaws and all — and I come up short every single time. Because it just happens. It is so natural how these characters live and breathe on the page, even when I disagree with their actions and especially when everything becomes right in their worlds.

For many of you, a little red flag is going to pop up when you see “student/teacher” relationship. I’m not here to talk about a moral code or the importance of maintaining boundaries. Because as soon as I started reading about Andrew and Robert, all of their labels seemed to dissipate and I was left with two young men who really cared for each other. Two men who needed each other in different ways, and two people who actively tried to keep themselves at a distance (time and time again).

One of the most fascinating details about these characters is just how differently they deal with their sexuality. Robert was very open, and frustrated with a boyfriend who would rather hang out with “his girls” and not bother to kiss him, while Andrew was very focused on keeping his private life private (those nosey teachers!), even if it meant allowing people to think he was attracted to women. As the novel goes on, this difference created many scenes of role reversal where Robert actually seems to be the older one and Andrew, the more giddy.

On the surface, Where You Are was this kind of epic love story but the author also developed complex and intertwining back stories that allow the reader  to dig deeper into these characters and help us to understand who they really are. I really loved Robert’s relationship with his mother (even the messy parts) and Andrew’s ex-wife, Maya, who always kept me guessing. (This is a good thing.) Trumble also skillfully integrated the influence of social media in our lives — from the accounts Andrew chooses to follow, secret fan pages, and a partner in bullying.

I read this book twice before I wrote the review (and I’ve only done that one other time this year with Marisa Calin’s Between You and Me) because I had to relive it again. I had to make sure I didn’t miss out on any one detail. Trumble has officially spoiled me with rich characters, feelings that make me feel everything, intricate details, the cool balance of family and school life, and a controversial topic that is dealt with so delicately and so passionately.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Trumble is an author to look out for.

(And I apologize in advance because if you react to this book like I did, you will not be able to get much done before you finish it.)

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