Review: Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens

coverTwo Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens is a fitting book for me to review right now, as the first rainstorm of the year blew through today.  After digging out the umbrellas and dusting off the boots it occurred to me that the kids probably wouldn’t fit into any of their rain gear.  Yes, it has been that long since we’ve had rain.  I can’t remember the last time we had measurable rainfall in Southern California, but it was probably back in March or April.

The weather is used as a metaphor in Two Years, No Rain.  Andy Dunne is a weatherman on the radio but his job is a bit dull and predictable, what with the ever-present sunshine and mild temps in San Diego County.  Not only has the climate been dry; Andy’s career and personal life have gone through a long drought as well.  But the storm clouds of change are looming on the horizon…

Andy’s marriage has failed after his wife cheated on him repeatedly.   Even so, he feels responsible because he hasn’t been an attentive husband.  For the last two years he’s been pining away for a married colleague, Hillary.  Late night phone calls with wine glasses in hand (drunk dialing?) and frequent texting (“What are you wearing?”) are as far as the relationship has gone, but there’s an emotional investment here that he can’t deny.

Hillary sets him up on an interview for a new children’s TV show similar to Blues Clues and he lands the job.  He starts a workout regime in order to prepare for his on-air gig and within weeks he looks and feels better than ever and is being recognized whenever he goes out, and not just by kids.  Hot young moms all over town want to buy him a drink or get his autograph.  He likes the attention to a point but is mostly uninterested and wants to be with Hillary.  He’s waited for her (and the rain) for a very long time.

Hillary’s husband has taken notice of all the messages between them and tells Andy to back off.  The indignant Hillary tells her husband she can be friends with whoever she wants, and soon Andy and Hillary have regular lunch dates and are getting cozier and cozier.  However Hillary is inconsistent (come here.. go away.. come here.. go away) and Andy is confused.  Hillary’s husband is neglectful and often absent, making her open to Andy’s attentions at times but also leaving her with guilt over their relationship.

Andy drinks too much, makes some poor choices, gets really angry,  holds a grudge,   passes out, falls down, ignores health warnings, finds success, carries on with a married woman, and buries his true feelings.  He’s also sweet, wounded, vulnerable, a good uncle, and a nice guy.  In other words, he’s a very realistic and relatable character.

I liked Andy and hoped he would figure everything out, but he also frustrated me.  He wasn’t exactly a man of action.  He was rather passive and just let things happen to him,.  I wanted him to be more of a take charge guy; more John Wayne, less.. I don’t know.  I’m trying to think of an actor that’s kind of bland.   He had a certain charm, especially in the scenes with his niece, and I did like him, but I was really waiting for him to be a more manly man.  But that was not to be.

I enjoyed Two Years, No Rain.  It was unusual reading a chick-lit style book with a guy as the main character.  That was a first for me and it was a refreshing change of pace. There were funny moments, good dialogue, and unusual situations.  If you like chick lit, but are looking for something a little different,  give this one a try!

A bunch of us discussed this book over the summer.  Check out this post to see the comments.  You can visit the author’s website and learn more about his work HERE.

Advertisements

Summer Reading Series: Two Years, No Rain Discussion Questions

flower summer seriesHello Summer Readers!

Our August Summer Reading Series selection is Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens.  Shawn will be popping in to answer any questions you might have, so leave your questions in the comments.  Here is a synopsis of the book, and following are discussion questions that I’ve dreamed up. Please feel free to leave your answers here, or add your own questions.

cover

An earnest journey from heartache to heartthrob and all the emotions along the way; at once an old-fashioned love story and a cautionary tale of self-reinvention.

In San Diego County, it hasn’t rained in 580 days. But for weatherman Andy Dunne, everything else is changing fast…Only a few weeks ago, he was a newly divorced, slightly overweight meteorologist for an obscure satellite radio station, hiding his secret love for a colleague, the beautiful—and very much married—Hillary Hsing. But nearly overnight, Andy has landed a new gig, flying a magic carpet in a bizarre live-action children’s TV show. So what is affable, basically decent Andy Dunne going to do now that he can do practically anything he wants? With a parade of hot moms begging for his autograph and a family that needs his help more than ever, Andy has a lot of choices. First, though, there’s this thing with Hillary, their heated text messages, a long-awaited forecast for rain – and a few other surprises he never saw coming… 

SO READERS- let’s get the discussion started! These are just a few questions to get you thinking- you don’t have to answer them all. Please feel free to respond to each others answers, too.

1.  The book opens on the day Andy’s wife is moving out of their house.  His wife has cheated on him repeatedly, yet he feels the divorce is his fault.  Is it?

2.  What kind of husband was Andy?  What kind of brother/brother in law/friend/uncle is he?

3.   Is an emotional affair as damaging to a relationship as a real (physical) affair?  

4.  Some reviewers have referred to this book as “dude-lit”, or chick lit with a guy as the main character. Would you agree?  What was this like as a reading experience? 

5.  What factors are instrumental in pulling Andy out of his funk, both emotionally and professionally?  (i.e. working out, encouragement from friends, having Hannah around, etc.)  What kinds of things help to pull you out of a rut?

6.  Andy’s new job on Andy’s Magic Carpet gives him a measure of fame that he is unaccustomed to.  What did he learn about himself as a result?

7.  What role do the Jasons (Andy’s twin and Hill’s husband) play in the book for Andy?

8.  Did you find the characters likeable?  Who did you like the most?  The least?

9.  Did you enjoy the weather metaphors in Two Years, No Rain?

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Two Years, No Rain! PLEASE try to avoid major plot spoilers in the comments, for people who haven’t yet read the book.  If your comment is spoiler-ish, put the word SPOILER first before leaving your comment!

These summer book discussions have been so fun!  You can check out our earlier discussions for Beach Trip in June and All We Ever Wanted Was Everything in July.

Thanks for reading along with us this summer! xoxo, Lisa and Mari


Review: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown

26317027Janelle Brown’s debut novel, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, is a satire and social commentary on the super rich Silicon Valley lifestyle.  

After a stratospheric IPO makes him one of the wealthiest men in the area, Janice’s husband leaves her for her best friend and tennis partner, attempting to cut her out of his fortune.  Janice retreats to her 5200 square foot home to lick her wounds, staying away from the club and her “friends” for weeks.  Soon she’s hanging out with the sleazy pool boy and jonesing for “IT,” crystal meth that helps her get through the day.  

Alarmed and neglected, 14 year old daughter Lizzie, who has recently shaped up a bit on the swim team, enjoys the attentions of the boys on the team a little too much and pretty soon her name is all over the bathroom walls.  She calls older sister Margaret in LA to come home and help deal with their mom, which is perfect timing since Margaret is putting up a front for her rich friends while secretly being hounded by creditors.  She is looking for a way out. 

This family is a ridiculous mess.  No one talks to anyone else.  All three of these women are absurdly self-absorbed.  Janice is like Martha Stewart on overdrive, cleaning her house for hours each day when she’s not in bed sleeping, and completely oblivious to her daughters’ pain.  Lizzie, dealing with weight issues, mean girls, and boys who only like her for one thing, is completely alone and searching for anything to make her feel better.  She ends up finding Jesus in an evangelical youth group at a warehouse-style church.  Margaret is so deeply in denial about her financial problems that she takes a job dog-walking with disastrous results and thinks about moving to Mexico with the pool boy. 

Exposing the ugly underbelly of the American dream, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is a sometimes funny, sometimes painful look at one very dysfunctional  family, and their struggle to find ways to communicate with each other and to live in a world that is less than perfect.  However, the situations felt kind of dated to me in this time of economic uncertainty, and the “ick” factor (drugs, teen sex, excess everything) was high. 

You can find discussion, opinions and comments about AWEWWE at Mari’s blog, Bookworm with a View, and a reader’s guide can be found on the Random House site.  While I didn’t love this book, or anybody in it, it was fun to read it as part of a discussion, and I would recommend it to book clubs because they’d find a lot to talk about.  Thanks, Mari, for sending it my way.

For other takes on the book, check out these reviews:

3 R’s:  Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness

Booking Mama

The Family With Three Last Names

Breaking the Spine

This book was our Summer Reading Series selection for July.  Our August selection is Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens and the discussion will take place here on August 18th.

Review: Beach Trip by Cathy Holton

imageDB.cgiYou might think Beach Trip by Cathy Holton would be a light, fun, summertime romp, based on the cover and the description, but it really isn’t that.  I’d call it women’s fiction, which to me means it’s a bit more serious than chick lit, and a lot less fluffy than what I think of as a beach read. 

The story is about Lola, Mel, Sara, and Annie, college roommates and close friends who get together some 20 years later, in their 40’s, for a week at the beach.  Life has taken them in completely different directions since their college years, but they still have a bond. 

Alternating between the past and present, we get to know the women as they were and are.  Lola- rich, beautiful, married to the very controlling Briggs, is sweet but childlike- she seemed medicated and in her own little world during the week at the beach.  Mel, the wild one, is a twice-divorced writer and a breast cancer survivor who gets the women talking over margaronas.  Sara is an attorney whose marriage is suffering under the strain of a difficult medical diagnosis for one of her children.  Annie is an empty nester and uptight clean freak with secrets of her own.  I related most to Sara, a former career woman with a long marriage and a couple of kids, whose life isn’t perfect, but I found Mel to be the most interesting of the four.

The women don’t connect immediately at the beach- they definitely have their guard up- and it takes almost the entire trip before they have any meaningful conversation with each other.  I doubt they would have been friends without their shared history- they are friends because they’ve known each other forever.  But as the week wears on and the secrets start coming out, their friendship grows and changes to allow for the mature people they’ve become.  

So much of the first 3/4ths of the book is made up of the women’s inner dialogue- being around their old friends brings on a flood of memories- so much so that I kept thinking, are they ever going to really talk to each other?  They are all so self involved!  But then, finally, they do talk and share their lives with each other.  That’s when the book starts to get really good. 

I like when a book can surprise me, and there are a couple of big twists in Beach Trip.  The ending was great- it totally made the book for me!  One twist was obvious to me from the beginning (I’m not sure I’d even call it a twist, but then in our Summer Reading Series discussion, several people said that their favorite part was when it was revealed, so I guess it was a twist).  The end, though, really took me by surprise.  If you’ve read the book, don’t give it away!  It’s a great ending. 

I’d recommend Beach Trip to anyone who likes women’s fiction.  For more thoughts on Beach Trip, follow Cathy Holton’s TLC Book Tour.

Beach Trip: More to Discuss

flower summer seriesWell the conversation has gotten off to a great start (check out the comments HERE) but now, let’s go deeper! REMINDER: Author Cathy Holton will be here at 4pm PST to answer our questions. Please come back if you’d like to ask her something, or just to say hello.

More questions for readers:

imageDB.cgi1.  The women drink too much on more than one occasion. Do you think the alcohol helps their conversation flow, become more honest, or just cause hangovers?

2.  Mel’s betrayal of Lola in college surprised me, considering she seemed to be the most free thinking of the four friends. Why do you think she did it? If you were Lola and you found this out during the trip, would you have been quick to forgive her?

3.  Mel is still looking for love. Do you think she can be satisfied with her life the way it is?

4.  Do you think the four friends treated each other as the people they are now, or as the people they were in college? When you are with people who have known you ‘forever’, do you feel like you revert back to old habits and old dynamics within the friendship?

5.  Mari asks: Did Lola really need to go to such extremes in the end? If I allow myself to think about Lola and/or if one of my friends did something like this I might think they were cowardly. Life can be tough but is love worth losing everything? Did I miss something? (Mari, I edited your question to avoid a major spoiler).

Questions for Cathy, with her answers:

Margaronas- real or made up? Have you tried them?

“Yes,  Margaronas are real…and surprisingly good, although the recipe sounds vile  (and you don’t want to go anywhere after sampling.  My husband and I usually just sit around and giggle.)”

What is your writing process? Do you start with an outline and stick to that or do you start with an idea with no idea where it will take you? Or do you, like John Irving, know how the story will end and tailor it to that ending?

“I used to start with the characters and put them into conflicting situations.  But over the years, I’ve changed.  I still start with the characters but I think a lot about plot now before I begin writing.  I’ve been reading Kate Atkinsons’s series about Detective Jackson Brodie; I like the mystery element to those novels and the way the entire story only comes completely into view in the last few pages.   I knew I wanted that same element in Beach Trip; you don’t really understand the novel in its entirety until that last piece slips into place.”

Are you reading anything right now? What kinds of books do you enjoy? What books can you recommend? 

“I’m reading Alice Munro’s short story collection, “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You,” and Brock Clarke’s novel, “An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England.
 
I like books that entertain, amuse, or so captivate me by the writer’s style or imaginative plotting that I can’t put the book down.  Literally.  I don’t like mindless reading.  I want to be engaged and challenged.  I love Alice Hoffman, Peter Carey, Hilary Mantel, Alice Munro, and Kate Atkinson.  My favorite Southern writers are George Singleton, Lewis Nordan, Flannery O’Connor, and Ellen Gilchrist.”

Where do your characters come from? Are they based on people you know or part of your imagination? Do you have a favorite character? 

“I think that, initially, each character comes from the author’s own psyche.  But the way that character grows, changes, or reacts comes from some place else.  Writers are like big sodden sponges; we soak up bits of dialogue, atmosphere, the way people walk, talk, or express themselves in groups or alone.  And later all these bits, these observations, come through in the writing.  I don’t consciously create characters based on people I know.
 
I have a special fondness for Mel in this novel.  She has a fearlessness, a certainty of purpose in her life that I admire.  She understands early on that she can’t “have it all”, that in her life, at least, the desire to be a writer takes precedence over everything else.  I think it’s a dilemma many writers face; do we sacrifice family for the discipline and solitary demand’s of a writer’s life? Or can we, indeed, have it all?”

Do any of these characters resemble you in any fashion?

“My mother says she sees “something” of me in both Sara and Mel.   Certainly I identify with Sara’s love of her family, her desire to be a good wife and mother (and feeling, sometimes, like she’s not quite up to the mark.)   I also identify with Sara’s more quiet, introspective character.   I share Mel’s dark sense of humor; and certainly the fact that she’s a writer, has wanted to be a writer since an early age, parallels my own life.”

Mel-very abrasive and harsh at times…where did draw her from? People that you’ve encountered in your life?

“People either really seem to like Mel, or they don’t.  She’s entirely fictitious.  Mel is a strong, intelligent woman and she makes no apologies for who she is.  She says what she thinks and is brutally honest.  I kind of like that aspect of her personality.  She is overbearing at times and I think were it not for her sense of humor, I’d have a much more difficult time with her.  She makes me laugh, so I forgive a lot.  She’s had to grow up tough in order to survive Leland, but it’s that toughness that helps her later through the difficult time of her illness. ”

I love the dynamics surrounding these women and how after 20+ years apart they fell right back into perfect sync with each other…do you have any friendships like that?

“You know, it’s interesting, but my entire high school class seems to have discovered Facebook at the same time.  So I’ve gone through almost thirty years of sporadic Christmas cards and emails to suddently reconnecting with this group of friends I had throughout grade school and into college.  When we talk to each other now, it’s as if we’re sixteen again; we fall back into the same patterns of friendship, the same slang, the same playful or antagonistic relationships.  And it’s really lovely.  It makes me feel youthful and optimistic again.”

Where did the idea for Beach trip start?

“It started over a martini night with some friends (imagine that.)  One of the women was talking about a beach trip she takes every year with some of her college friends.  She was describing how much fun it was, how they all acted like girls again; and then she mentioned quietly that it always got a little tense towards the end of the week because there was something between two of the women, some incident that had occurred in college that everyone else had forgotten about, something that only surfaced after a week of drinking and constant togetherness.  

And that got me wondering what it could be, what could go unsaid for so long and yet still crop up years later when the women let their guard down.  It got me thinking about friendship and memory and forgiveness, of the importance of honoring the past and yet letting it go, too.”

Summer Reading Series: Beach Trip Discussion Questions

flower summer seriesHello Summer Readers!

Our first read of the summer is Beach Trip by Cathy Holton, and what a great way to kick off the summer! Cathy will be answering any questions you might have here on Tuesday, June 16th, so leave your questions in the comments. I’ll compile them into another post to be published on Tuesday. She will be answering your questions in real time at 4 pm PST so if you’re interested in discussing Beach Trip with her, come back then! Here is a synopsis of the book, and following are discussion questions. Please feel free to leave your answers here.

imageDB.cgiA reunion of four friends becomes a cathartic journey into the past in Cathy Holton’s luminous new novel.

Mel, Sara, Annie, and Lola have traveled distinct and diverse paths since their years together at a small Southern liberal arts college during the early 1980s. Mel, a mystery writer living in New York, is grappling with the aftermath of two failed marriages and a stalled writing career. Sara, an Atlanta attorney, struggles with guilt over her son’s illness and her own slowly unraveling marriage. Annie, a successful Nashville businesswoman married to her childhood sweetheart, can’t seem to leave behind the regrets of her youth. And Lola, sweet-tempered and absentminded, whiles away her hours–and her husband’s money–on little pills that keep her happy.

Now the friends, all in their forties, converge on Lola’s lavish North Carolina beach house in an attempt to relive the carefree days of their college years. But as the week wears on and each woman’s hidden story is gradually revealed, these four friends learn that they must inevitably confront their shared past: a failed love affair, a discarded suitor, a betrayal, and a secret that threatens to change their bond, and their lives, forever.

Darkly comic and deeply poignant, Beach Trip is an unforgettable tale of lifelong friendship, heartbreak, and happiness.

SO READERS- let’s get the discussion started! These are just a few questions to get you thinking- you don’t have to answer them all. Please feel free to respond to each others answers, too.

1. What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?

2. Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)? Was there one you identified with more than the others?

3. Did you have a favorite part in the book?

4. Did the end surprise you? Was it satisfying?

5. Which character do you think changed the most from college to mid-life: Lola, Mel, Sara, or Annie?

6. What did you think of the men in the book?

7. Have you kept in touch with close friends from high school or college? Do you still get together?

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Beach Trip! Thanks for reading along with us! xoxo, Lisa and Mari

UPDATE:  Find more to discuss HERE

Summer Reading Series: August Selection

coverMari and I are super excited at the response we’ve received for our Summer Reading Series!  If you missed it, you can read more about it HERE.  The books for June and July have been snapped up already, but you still have a chance to get your hands on the book for August, Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens!  A Skype call with the author is in the works for the discussion too.  You won’t want to miss it- Shawn’s really funny and smart and it’s bound to be a great time!

Shawn has generously donated 20 copies for our August 18th discussion, so if you are interested in Two Years, No Rain and can come back to Books on the Brain to talk about it in August, drop me an email with your address and “Two Years, No Rain” in the subject line.  We’ll get it in the mail right away.  

Shawn Klomparens will be on tour with TLC Book Tours in July and August.  Read more about that HERE. And if you are a Twitter-er, be sure to follow him.. he’s on a constant search for the Tamale Lady, which I don’t fully understand, but it’s pretty funny.

Two Years, No Rain will be released in June.  In case you miss out on the freebies and want to read with us, you can pre-order it now on amazon.com.

Here’s a synopsis of the book:

An earnest journey from heartache to heartthrob and all the emotions along the way; at once an old-fashioned love story and a cautionary tale of self-reinvention.

In San Diego County, it hasn’t rained in 580 days. But for weatherman Andy Dunne, everything else is changing fast…Only a few weeks ago, he was a newly divorced, slightly overweight meteorologist for an obscure satellite radio station, hiding his secret love for a colleague, the beautiful—and very much married—Hillary Hsing. But nearly overnight, Andy has landed a new gig, flying a magic carpet in a bizarre live-action children’s TV show. So what is affable, basically decent Andy Dunne going to do now that he can do practically anything he wants? With a parade of hot moms begging for his autograph and a family that needs his help more than ever, Andy has a lot of choices. First, though, there’s this thing with Hillary, their heated text messages, a long-awaited forecast for rain – and a few other surprises he never saw coming… 

Hope you will read with us!