Two for the Road

Book Reviews Reading

Two for the Road

We’re almost in the month of August, but summer is not quite over yet. I know that many of you still have vacations ahead and there’s this pesky heat to deal with; some days, you might just want to curl up in your chair and enjoy the air conditioning! I recently read two novels that both make great summer reads, no where you choose to spend your time; if you do have an upcoming vacation planned, these are definitely two for the road…

If I Could Turn Back Time
Author: Beth Harbison
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (July 28, 2015)
Electronic advance reader’s copy provided by publisher in exchange for review

If I Could Turn Back Time by Beth Harbison

Summary (edited for length, from Goodreads):

Thirty-seven year old Ramie Phillips has led a very successful life. But despite it all, she can’t ignore the fact that she isn’t necessarily happy. On a boat with friends off the Florida coast, she tries to fight her feelings of discontent with steel will and hard liquor. No one even notices as she gets up and goes to the diving board and dives off…Suddenly Ramie is waking up, straining to understand a voice calling in the distance…It’s her mother: “Wake up! You’re going to be late for school again. I’m not writing a note this time…”

My thoughts:

Beth Harbison always writes really fun stories; her description of Ramie waking up in her childhood home/room/bed, though, takes the cake. I immediately started thinking about what it would be like to wake up, with the mind and experiences that I have now, in my 18-year-old body and accompanying situations of that time. Can you imagine? So crazy, right? One of the things I couldn’t stop thinking about is this quote:

There is something about the smell of school that you never completely forget. It stays lodged in your subconscious, ready to resurface unexpectedly, when you least need to feel anxious and uncomfortable. I couldn’t have recalled it, or pegged any particular characteristics to it, but as soon as I walked in, I knew it well. A thousand, maybe even a million, memories flooded into my head, most of which I couldn’t have put words to, but I could feel them. School.

Ramie also revels in the feel of “springing out of bed,” without a single pain, creak or stiff joint and realizes how much she took her lithe, limber 18-year-old body for granted; these days, I can’t even begin to imagine what my body would feel like at 18 again! Not only was this a humorous, entertaining read, but there is also a message to be digested; Harbison does a great job of weaving in elements that get readers thinking about the choices and decisions we’ve made and how those have directed the path of our lives. I would definitely recommend this one to those of you who enjoy funny, yet poignant, tales of self-discovery and relationships.

How to Write a Novel
Author: Melanie Sumner
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Vintage (August 4, 2015)
Electronic advance reader’s copy provided by publisher in exchange for review

How to Write a Novel by Melanie Sumner

Summary (edited for length, from Goodreads):

Aristotle “Aris” Thibodeau, age 12.5, is writing the Great American Novel. According to Write a Novel in Thirty Days! it shouldn’t be that hard—all she needs to do is write what she knows. But when a random accident exposes Aris to a dark part of her family’s history, she’s forced to confront that fact that sometimes in life—as in great literature—things might not work out exactly as you hoped.

My thoughts:

I actually snorted a few times while reading this book; not only is Aris, the narrator and main character, absolutely hilarious, but so are the other characters in this highly entertaining story of a young girl and her belief that “the fate of the Montgomery-Thibodeau family rested on my literary success.” She is a little bitter about the fact that all of the “therapy money” is spent on her younger brother, due to his “unique sensitivity to the world,” and she sees this as a way to earn a spot with Dr. Dhang, the family therapist, among other things. Her mother is a widow and, according to Aris, “Diane is the only Montgomery to ever lose a job. At fifteen, she was dismissed from the Avon sales force for convincing women that they were more beautiful without cosmetics.”

Her brother, Max, “has been searching for his talent for quite some time. Bypassing the more conventional art forms (too much competition), he has tried squirting milk out of his nose for long distances, training snails to swim (that was a sad one), and squeezing himself through a tennis racket. We’re still searching.” And then, amidst the family chaos, there is Penn, the PMI (acronym for Positive Male Influence), with whom Aris would really like her mother to fall in love.

Penn is allowed to cuss because he was in the navy. Diane says taking the cuss out of a sailor is like taking the shine out of the sun. He has a terrible, terrible tattoo that he got one night when he was drunk with some sailors, but he won’t let anyone see it, not even Diane. In the summer, when he takes us to the river to jump off rocks, he blackens it with a permanent marker. I’m always trying to imagine it.

This is definitely the most wildly entertaining book I’ve read this summer; I realize that the author is not, in actuality, “12.5 years old,” but it was so much fun to embrace a little suspension of disbelief and read this story from Aris’ perspective. I would love to hear about the experience of a reader who has a child around this age (or children of any age!) so, if you’re out there, please keep me posted! I would highly recommend this one to readers of all ages and I think it makes for a fun discussion piece; you should prepare yourself for lots of laughs that you will not be able to contain. 


  • Thank you for sharing these! I am going to the beach in a week and I am on the lookout for books to read:) These will definitely be on my list!

    • Lisa, I can’t wait to see what you read on vacation; vacation reading is THE BEST reading!! 😉 Thanks so much!

  • Both sound very entertaining, but I am really gravitating towards If I Could Turn Back Time….such a fun premise. I know if I went back to being 18 I would change a few decisions I made and definitely wear more bikinis (haha). Thanks for putting this book on my radar. I am definitely adding it to my TBR list.

    • It was really cute, Christina, and I love the concept of the story! You’ll have to let me know if you read it!

  • Both books sound good! I would never want to go back to being 18…or 12…but I think I’d get a kick out of reading about it!

    • They were both pretty hilarious, Wendy; I’m with you on not wanting to return, though – ha! Thanks so much!

  • I’ve heard good things about How to Write A Novel! I’ve been burned a few times this year by teenage narrators (Bones & All, Boo), so I shied away from it. But, I love the quote you shared!

    • Sarah, this one is so funny; I’m really glad I decided to read it. I think you’d probably enjoy it because she’s kind of snarky and sarcastic, too, which I love – ha! 😉 Thanks so much!

  • More books for me to check out! I’ve heard about how to write a novel, but I’m excited to read them both now! Thanks for sharing! 🙂 How’s the move coming along?

    • Thank you, Sarah! Um, so I think we should be finished up (mostly – ha!) by the end of the weekend; Jonathan and some friends had already started moving the furniture while I was getting dressed for work this morning (made for an interesting start to the day). I’m scared to ask how they are doing! 😉 Hope you have a great weekend!

  • Both sound like fun reads! I actually got the new Harbison book from Netgalley, but haven’t had the time to read it, yet. I’m glad to see you enjoyed it!

  • Still amazed by how much you read…. we just read Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III for book club, and I have a love/hate relationship with it…. but my absolute favorite passage was “Then she walked into the club. She wore a white sundress, her long, curly black hair held back in a loose ponytail, her bare shoulders and arms thick for a woman but tanned and hard-looking. She was with two laughing blondes, both thin and inconsequential.” Just loved this line….and I love reading your favorite passages from books that you quote.

  • Some fun books! I have boys ages 14 and 12 – may be interesting to see if I can see some of their view of the world in the narrator of “How to Write…”