Kim and Kelly’s Dueling Review of Laugh (Burnside #2) by Mary Ann Rivers

lmarIt’s not a surprise that Kelly and I are back, together again, reviewing another Mary Ann Rivers novel. We are both in love with Mary Ann’s characters, stories, and the way there are ALL the feels in her books (you can also read my review of her first novella, The Story Guy, and our review of Heating Up the Holidays.) Kelly and I jumped for joy when Mary Ann announced her Burnside series. We loved the first book in the series, Live, so much that we wrote our review as a love letter to Mary Ann about it. The second book in the series, Laugh, blew us away (as expected). Thus, we are here to fan girl all over it and its main character, Sam.

From Goodreads:

Dr. Sam Burnside is convinced that volunteering at an urban green-space farm in Lakefield, Ohio, is a waste of time—especially with his new health clinic about to open. He only goes to mollify his partner, suspecting she wants him to lighten up. Then Sam catches sight of Nina Paz, a woman who gives off more heat than a scorcher in July. Her easy smile and flirty, sizzling wit has him forgetting his infamous need for control.

Widowed when her husband was killed in Afghanistan, Nina has learned that life exists to take chances. As the daughter of migrant workers turned organic farmers, she’s built an exciting and successful business by valuing new opportunities and working hard to take care of her own. But when Sam pushes for a relationship that goes beyond their hotter-than-fire escapades, Nina ignores her own hard-won wisdom. She isn’t ready for a man who needs saving—even if her heart compels her to take the greatest risk of all: love.

Kim: I need to start off by saying that this book was a balm for my soul. Sam Burnside is in MANY ways an extreme version of myself. We’ve both been diagnosed with ADD and have had it be debilitating for us in some way, shape, or form. We’re both highly obsessed with needing the people around us be happy. This results in us trying to fix all their problems or protect them from hardship. While you may be saying, “Hey! That’s a pretty generous thing to do,” it’s my unfortunate duty to tell you that it often results in animosity from the people we love, much to our chagrin. They perceive us as interfering with their lives. Lives that they need no help with.

I can tell you firsthand it’s really difficult growing up like this. Knowing you’re struggling with concentration issues, hyperactivity (for some ADD people), and a constant sense of letting everyone around you down all the time. It certainly doesn’t help when people tell you that you don’t work hard enough, tell you everything you do is wrong, or tell you that you’re just too _____. A lifetime of feeling this way begins to make you feel less and less adequate of a person until you find people who realize you are filled with an fathomless amount of love.

Kelly: I really wish we’d known each other when we were younger. I would have been OK with a fathomless amount of love. 🙂  [Here’s my own personal rant: I will never understand why people choose to go through life thinking the worst (or, at least, not thinking the best) of the people around them. I don’t understand why it took people so long to figure out that you, Kim, are amazing. And, shifting to the fictional, I don’t understand why Sam’s own family was so perfectly blinded to his sterling qualities. I cannot fathom why anyone would tell him to be anything other than what he is.]

Kim: First, you’re the best. Second, I totally agree with your above statement. Sam is NOT a bad guy. He’s a doctor who wants to open up a clinic in his hometown to help people who are struggling. He wants to help out Nina’s farm and create a lasting partnership for his community. He wants to take care of his sister Sarah, badly injured from her racing accident. He wants to help his sister Des, who is all the way overseas, traveling and falling deeply in love for the first time. His list goes on and on. All he does is care about the people around him, to the detriment of his own self sometimes. His house is an absolute disaster zone, one that reflects how his mind is always jumping to his next task.

Kelly: Laugh is definitely Sam’s book. Sam, through a lifetime of being told what he is, being told that he’s too much this or that and (very much) not enough this or that, is not able to see himself clearly. He believes what he’s been told, and that’s heartbreaking. But let’s think for a second about ourselves: Sam’s not the only one who believes these things that are not true. He’s not the only one who can’t fathom that failure is not (or does not have to be) the motif of his story. We all suffer, to one degree or another, from the terrible messages that surround us, those sent to us by our (if we’re lucky, well-meaning) parents, friends, siblings and those sent by our society and culture. We all see a funhouse-mirror version of ourselves and need to learn how to see the shapes that are really there, learn to love ourselves — our real selves — before we can truly love anyone else. Laugh shows us what that process looks like, and it does it in such a beautiful way. I wish that Nina’s journey towards seeing herself more clearly were given a little more page time, but… I find so much value in Sam’s journey (and Nina’s involvement in it) that I don’t actually care as much about it as my brain tells me I should.

Kim: I agree. As much as I would have liked to see more of Nina’s journey of self-discovery, Sam’s was just perfection. I cared about Nina a lot, especially as she started telling the people around Sam to lighten up on him. Realize that his love for them was endless. Self-less. Pure.

Kelly: Nina’s journey felt very private to me, even though she has more friends and — on the outside, at least — appears that she’s got her shit together. I mean, Sam’s chaos is super obvious. His apartment is a wreck; he’s going through a crisis dealing with the responsibilities associated with opening the clinic; he’s taking extra shifts at the hospital to avoid thinking about it all; he’s not talking to two of his siblings (well, more accurately, they’re not talking to him) and is sending desperate emails to Des; he’s choosing to spend time learning about urban farming to avoid thinking about all the balls in the air that could (and will) come crashing down at any moment. He’s a hot mess. But Nina, who has built a business from the ground up, who has cultivated the earth and the people around her, is just as messed up. She’s an uprooted plant struggling to grow. She’s the other side of Sam’s coin. Where Sam is root bound by his past, Nina is surgically cut off from hers. Where Sam is certain of his ability to love, Nina is certain that she sacrificed her ability to love.

Nina resonated with me… and I know I said before that the story feels like Sam’s story and I almost wish that Nina’s journey had been a little more front and center, but I wonder if Mary Ann Rivers was just giving Nina the space and freedom (and privacy) to live out her grief and learn how to make room for love. Maybe that’s the most generous thing Mary Ann could have done for Nina (and for all of us reading the story) is give us the privacy and respect to let grief fill us up and then let it all flow out. Does that make any damn sense?

Kim:I think you’re absolutely right. Maybe it’s just me, but when I am overwhelmed with grief it all comes out as a huge scream (i.e. pounding on pillows and my bed.) I need to let it all out physically in a cathartic way. I can’t even imagine what Nina would need to do to get all the grief out that she’s felt all those years due to her husband, her dreams, her family, etc. The glimpses of her grief that we’re given are heartbreaking. And as Kelly said above, her inability to see how she can love. How she already does love, but just doesn’t see its value or weight.

I know that those of you reading this review must think this book is such a downer. But it’s really not. It’s beautiful in its honesty. In its realness. It doesn’t even matter if you see yourself as Sam or Nina – there is someone in your life that is like them. Reading this book will have you seeing them in a new light. Maybe realizing you need to be overly compassionate for someone who still grieves, and trying to understand someone like Sam (or me!) that wants the best for you and sometimes may not go about expressing that in the best way. We all have quirks within our personalities that make us puzzles to the people around us. It’s the people like Nina and Sam (and Kelly & I) that work to figure out those puzzles, knowing that once you do the love you’ll receive is boundless.

Kelly: Yes! There are a handful of books that felt very important to me for one reason or another. (I have felt that way about every single piece of writing — novels, novellas, short stories, blog posts, and tweets — I’ve read by Mary Ann, by the way.) I felt that way about Snowfall and The Story Guy and — in a huge way — about Ruthie Knox’s Making it Last. (And Laura Florand’s Snow Kissed, if we’re making a more comprehensive list.) And Laugh is another. It’s an important book. It’s important to me because it says something true that resonates with me, that lifts me up, that reassures me, and that teaches me. It’s important to all of us (if I can make such a pronouncement) because its message is universal. We need more love. We need more acceptance. We need to love and accept ourselves, and we need to love and accept each other. We need to give each other the space to grieve, and we need to step in occasionally to help cultivate the best parts of our loved ones.

Kim: So in closing, as always we’d like to write Mary Ann a letter.

Dear Mary Ann,

THANK YOU for Sam. And for Laugh. And for writing a story that gives voice to people like Sam and Nina. For showing that a disability doesn’t have to be debilitating. Its effects can be disastrous, but they can also have amazing outcomes. The ability to love unconditionally. To care more about others than yourself.

Thank you for showing the world that being “too ____” isn’t always a bad thing. For giving a voice to those of us who are sometimes so burdened with the amount of stress we put on ourselves that we have no voice. For showing that giving “too much” love is never a bad thing. But most importantly for giving me a character that I related to more than any other character I’ve ever read in my entire life. That act alone has shown me I’m not alone in my feelings. For just that, I’ll thank you for a lifetime.

Love,

Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

Thank you for Nina, for her background, her grief, her hangups, and her strengths. Thank you for her friends (and for writing a book that passes the Bechdel Test. Seriously… thank you so much for that.). Thank you for showing her full life (alongside Sam’s full life) and for writing her so generously that I was free to accept her generously (and to accept myself generously as well). Thank you for loving Nina and for allowing Nina to love Sam, to see him clearly, and to fight for him. And also to fight for herself.

Love,

Kelly

Laugh by Mary Ann Rivers
Random House – Loveswept (2014)
eBook: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780804178228

Special thanks to Loveswept for our review copies via Netgalley!

Excerpt of Live (Burnside #1) by Mary Ann Rivers

I am UBER excited to share with you today an excerpt from Mary Ann Rivers’s first full length novel, Live! And friends, this is not just any small excerpt — it’s the first three chapters of the book!

I’ve been a fan of Mary Ann’s since I read her debut work, a novella entitled The Story GuyMary Ann has a knack for finding beauty in extraordinary people and situations. Her second novella, Snowfall, was part of the anthology Heating Up The Holidays. Upon finishing both of these novellas I found myself at a loss for words. Such beauty. Such writing. Reading bestie Kelly of Reading With Analysis and I promptly told Mary Ann that we wanted her to write ALL THE THINGS.

Mary Ann is a gem of a writer and one I hope you’ll take a chance on. Check out the excerpt below and look for my review of Live next week. It was exquisite and I can’t wait to share my thoughts here. So, less of me and more of Mary Ann!  The link for the excerpt is after the blurb.

lmarAbout the Book:

If there’s an upside to unemployment, Destiny Burnside may have found it. Job searching at her local library in Lakefield, Ohio, gives her plenty of time to ogle the hottest man she has ever laid eyes on: the sexy wood-carver who’s restoring the building.

But as the rejection letters pile up, Destiny finds an unexpected shoulder to cry on. With his rich Welsh accent, Hefin Thomas stirs Destiny so completely that, even though he’s leaving soon, she lets herself believe the memory of his scorching kisses will be enough.

Hefin can’t help but notice the slender, confident woman with ginger hair who returns each day, so hopeful and determined. So when the tears start to fall, his silence -penance for a failed marriage – finally cracks. Once he’s touched her, what Hefin wants is to take her back to Wales and hold her forever. But Destiny’s roots run too deep. What they both need is each other- to learn how to live and love again.

LIVE by Mary Ann Rivers – Excerpt by Random House Publishing Group

Side note! For those of you already fans of Mary Ann’s writing – make sure you sign up for her newsletter. A little birdie may have told me that a Story Guy epilogue may be sent out soon….

About Mary Ann Rivers

Mary Ann RiversMary Ann Rivers was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals and leading creative-writing workshops for at-risk youth. While training for her day job as a nurse practitioner, she rediscovered romance on the bedside tables of her favorite patients. Now she writes smart and emotional contemporary romance, imagining stories featuring the heroes and heroines just ahead of her in the coffee line. Mary Ann Rivers lives in the Midwest with her handsome professor husband and their imaginative school-aged son.

Connect with Mary Ann:  Website  |  Twitter |  Facebook

2013 – A Year In Review

fireworksIt’s totally cliché, but where the hell has this year gone? With today being the very last day of 2013 I figured I’d do a quick “Year in Review” post to talk about my progress with reading challenges and also to discuss my favorite books of the year!

Quick rundown on how I did with my reading challenges: I successfully read 120 books this year. In fact, as of the time of writing this post I am at 199 books for the year! (WOOT!) You can see all the books I’ve read with links to their reviews here. Now, a bit of bad news. I utterly failed (for the second year in a row) the audio book challenge. I didn’t listen to 1 audio book this year (read: pathetic.) I also didn’t do so great with the Book to Movie challenge either, with only 2 out of 12 read. Now, to the good news: I completed 78% of the Color Coded Challenge, or 7 out of 9 reads. I actually had a blast doing this challenge. You don’t realize how many books use colors in their titles until you do a challenge like this! Additionally, I unsurprisingly completed the Historical Fiction Challenge as well as the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary challenge with no trouble at all.

And now for the difficult part: Picking my favorite reads of 2013.

  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  2. The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley (look for my review next week!!!)
  3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  4. The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers/Making It Last by Ruthie Knox
  5. Beauty and the Billionaire by Jessica Clare
  6. Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson
  7. Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander/Easy by Tammara Webber
  8. Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
  9. Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost
  10. The Secret of Ella and Micha/The Forever of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen

Having read almost 200 books this year, choosing 10 (really 12) of my favorites almost killed me. So, in the effort of easing my conscience I’m giving you some of my runners-up (in no particular order)!

  1. Pride, Prejudice, and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brant
  2. The Edelstein Trilogie by Kersin Gier (Book one, two, & three)
  3. The Westfield Wolves/Regency Vampyre Series by Lydia Dare
  4. Return to Longbourn by Shannon Winslow
  5. The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
  6. Losing It by Cora Carmack
  7. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  8. Bittersweet by Noelle Adams

This was hands down the hardest year yet to pick my favorite books. When you read almost 200 books in a year I guess that should be expected, no?

Ok, the burden is being passed to you. What did you love reading this year?!? Please let us know below. And finally, enjoy the rest of your New Year’s Day, hopefully with a great book. See you in 2014!

The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers Blog Tour + GIVEAWAY

Joining me on the blog today is Mary Ann Rivers, author of The Story Guy, which I reviewed yesterday!  Mary Ann is here today to share Carrie and Brian’s (the heroine/hero of The Story Guy) favorite books.  But first, a little about the book!

The Story Guy Cover - FinalBook blurb:

In this eBook original novella, Mary Ann Rivers introduces a soulful and sexy tale of courage, sacrifice, and love.

 I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.

Carrie West is happy with her life . . . isn’t she? But when she sees this provocative online ad, the thirtysomething librarian can’t help but be tempted. After all, the photo of the anonymous poster is far too attractive to ignore. And when Wednesday finally arrives, it brings a first kiss that’s hotter than any she’s ever imagined. Brian Newburgh is an attorney, but there’s more to his life . . . that he won’t share with Carrie. Determined to have more than just Wednesdays, Carrie embarks on a quest to learn Brian’s story, certain that he will be worth the cost. But is she ready to gamble her heart on a man who just might be The One . . . even though she has no idea how their love story will end?

Mary Ann now gives us her insight on Carrie and Brian’s favorite books…

Books on Brian Newburgh’s Nightstand (which is really an overturned milk crate):

BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey

Brian can’t resist a woman in glasses, or a funny one. I feel like he would be unable to stay away from a fronted display of this book on shelf at the library. Fey’s manifesto about bitches getting stuff done with hilarious recollections of theater camp and trying to write 30 ROCK scripts in her living room while nursing her baby would cover a whole range of Brian’s late night needs as a reader.

SHADOWHOUND by Suki Malahar*

After that edgy kiss in the park, when they were both a little, or a lot, turned on, Brian’s attention would have been on high alert. Carrie mentioned this author as a favorite of her teen population and tells Brian that maybe he should check her out. Of course, of course, he does. He probably read it in one night, thinking of Carrie and that kiss the entire time.

*I should mention that Malahar is a totally fictional author, but is one I will evoke in my work and you, if you’re reading me, and will find along the way, like an Easter egg.

MAUS by Art Spiegelman

This graphic novel about a father and son with a complicated relationship would appeal to the young Brian who liked to secretly draw and write his own comics, and also to his own meditations about loss and the meaning of family.

TORTILLA FLATS by John Steinbeck

A classic novel of insouciance featuring characters rambling from one scene to the next, would be nothing less than a completely compelling fantasy for Brian–warm desert breezes, drinking, improbable scenarios, lack of routine–all heaven for our story guy.

THE DA VINCI CODE by Dan Brown

He meant to get around to reading it when everyone was talking about it, but never did. This one actually fell off his milk crate and slid under his bed and he owes outrageous library fines on it.

Books on Carrie West’s e-reader

IT by Stephen King

If you’re an insomniac doomed to staying up all night, you might as well ride wave after wave of horrified thrills–or at least that what Carrie does. She knows she should be looking for thrills elsewhere, but this will have to do.

ALL OTHER THINGS by Charlotte Stein

Internet messaging, secrets, two hot enigmatic men. Carrie has this on her reader FOR REASONS.

GHOSTBOY by Suki Malahar*

Malahar’s first book has always been Carrie’s favorite. It has a kissing scene to die for.

*Bonus points, I mention this book, but not the title, in a free short on my website

1-800-HOT-RIBS by Catherine Bowman

This book of outrageous poetry would appeal to the language lover in Carrie, and her witty sense of humor.

ELEGY FOR IRIS: A MEMOIR by John Bayley

Carrie’s favorite stories have crying at the end, and this spare memoir of John Bayley’s life caring for his wife, the brilliant novelist Iris Murdoch, as she loses her battle with Alzheimer’s fits the bill and may have given Carrie a kind of perspective on Brian’s life.

THE STORY GUY on Goodreads | Barnes & Noble  |  iBookstore  |  Google Play  |  Other Retailers

Mary Ann RiversAbout Mary Ann Rivers

Mary Ann Rivers was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals and leading creative-writing workshops for at-risk youth. While training for her day job as a nurse practitioner, she rediscovered romance on the bedside tables of her favorite patients. Now she writes smart and emotional contemporary romance, imagining stories featuring the heroes and heroines just ahead of her in the coffee line. Mary Ann Rivers lives in the Midwest with her handsome professor husband and their imaginative school-aged son.

Connect with Mary Ann:  Website  |  Twitter |  Facebook

THE STORY GUY GIVEAWAY! 

Click on the link below to be taken to the Rafflecopter giveaway generously sponsored by Loveswept Publishers:

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

The Story Guy Blog Tour

Kim’s Review of The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

The Story Guy Cover - FinalMy super bestest reading friend Kelly and I were on Twitter a few weeks ago discussing how much we both loved Ruthie Knox’s latest novella, Making it Last (look for my post about it coming in the next week or so.) Anyway, we started telling Ruthie on Twitter how much we loved Making it Last because how real and realistic it felt.  It was a romance novel completely embedded in real life.  She responded back to us, thanking us for the praise of her book and telling us that we needed to read The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers.  Knox’s recommendation was all I needed to give this debut novelist a shot.  And goddamn it, I am so happy I did.

From Goodreads:

I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.

Carrie West is happy with her life . . . isn’t she? But when she sees this provocative online ad, the thirtysomething librarian can’t help but be tempted. After all, the photo of the anonymous poster is far too attractive to ignore. And when Wednesday finally arrives, it brings a first kiss that’s hotter than any she’s ever imagined. Brian Newburgh is an attorney, but there’s more to his life . . . that he won’t share with Carrie. Determined to have more than just Wednesdays, Carrie embarks on a quest to learn Brian’s story, certain that he will be worth the cost. But is she ready to gamble her heart on a man who just might be The One . . . even though she has no idea how their love story will end?

Before I begin my review I want to quickly explain what a “story guy” is, because I’ll use that terminology again later.  It’s best I let Rivers explain it in her own words:

“Story guys are like life highlighters.  Your life is all these big blocks of  gray text, and then a story guy comes in with a big ol’ paragraph of neon pink so that when you flip back through your life, you can stop and remember all the important and interesting places.”

Mary Ann Rivers is MY story guy.  I’m going to look back on my time reading this novella and realize that it had a profound impact on my life.  Her prose is poetry.  Her story is perfect.  Her observations on loneliness and human nature are profound.  Her writing…exquisite.  I sit here trying to formulate words adequate enough to convince you to spend the $0.99 and read this work.

My first thought when I finished this novella was that Rivers is going to have an extremely long and successful future as a writer.  Well that was the first coherent thought I had.  Mostly at first it was all WOW. WOW. WOW. Rivers’ gift as a writer is in her ability to study human nature and the human psyche and make it relevant, significant, and relatable.  Carrie and Brian are two of the most beautifully flawed characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  Their flaws and insecurities are what make them and their story so unique and important.  The two of them make me think of a quote Augusten Burroughs wrote in his book Magical Thinking:True Stories: “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”

I know that this review is vastly shorter than my normal ones, but I find myself truly incapable of finding any more words to tell you how amazing of a read this is.  It’s simply an experience you need to have for yourself.  Reading The Story Guy will be one of the best reading decisions you make. I guarantee it.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers
Random House (Loveswept) (2013)
eBook: 120 pages
ISBN: 9780345548740

Special thanks to Random House/Loveswept for my review copy via Netgalley!