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review 2017-06-03 16:55
Practicing Normal/Cara Sue Achterburg
Practicing Normal - Cara Sue Achterberg

The houses in Pine Estates are beautiful McMansions filled with high-achieving parents, children on the fast track to top colleges, all of the comforts of modern living, and the best security systems money can buy. Welcome to normal upper-middle-class suburbia.

The Turners know in their hearts that they're anything but normal. Jenna is a high-schooler dressed in black who is fascinated with breaking into her neighbors' homes, security systems be damned. Everett genuinely believes he loves his wife . . . he just loves having a continuing stream of mistresses more. JT is a genius kid with Asperger's who moves from one obsession to the next. And Kate tries to manage her family, manage her mother (who lives down the street), and avoid wondering why her life is passing her by.

And now everything is changing for them. Jenna suddenly finds herself in a boy-next-door romance she never could have predicted. Everett's secrets are beginning to unravel on him. JT is getting his first taste of success at navigating the world. And Kate is facing truths about her husband, her mother, and her father that she might have preferred not to face.

Life on Pine Road has never been more challenging for the Turners. That's what happens when you're practicing normal.

Combining her trademark combination of wit, insight, and tremendous empathy for her characters, Cara Sue Achterberg has written a novel that is at once familiar and startlingly fresh.

 

I often say that I'd like to read about the everyday lives of well-developed characters simply because people are interesting and the way that they interact with the world is intriguing. This book brought me that in a satisfying way, though it had a distinct plot as well.

 

While reading this book, I truly got to know Kate and her daughter Jenna. I came to understand Everett and the way that he thought. And I came to appreciate and adore JT with his Asperger's and his unique way of viewing the world. The family itself is very insular, but I got to know secondary characters too through the ways that they interacted with the family.

 

Jenna was my favourite character--she has a tendency to break into houses and came to know many of her neighbours in that fashion. She's also quite intelligent and aware of what's going on. I loved the way she was vulnerable as she started exploring romance despite the cynicism of her grandmother.

 

And her grandmother, wow, she definitely kept things moving and provided a source of much of the conflict within this book. Her character also raised important questions of depression and the way we treat the elderly that I found to be quite poignant.

 

The plot wasn't quite interesting--if I described it to you, I'm not sure that it would persuade you to read this. In theory, it focused on a mystery of birth, and in Kate's sister trying to find their long-gone father. But instead, the strength of this book came from more of an exploration of characters as they navigated certain situations.

 

Nonetheless, this book was quite enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to more from Achterberg.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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review 2017-05-20 15:07
Practicing Normal - Cara Sue Achterberg

The title of this book is "Practicing Normal", but I'm not really sure any of the members of this family are normal. However, I did really enjoy meeting this family. The author did a great job making the characters seem real and I have been lost in their world all day and loved it!

There were lots of chuckles while reading and there was a lot of pain going on in this family. I seriously don't know how the mother did it all. No wonder she was losing weight. I really felt sorry for her. The ending has a sad part and a few surprises as we finally learn the secrets about Kate and Evelyn that their mother guarded for years. And, their mother is definitely not someone you would want to spend a lot of your day with, she's pretty crusty.

Thanks to The Story Plant and Net Galley for approving and allowing me to read this very entertaining book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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review 2017-04-17 14:35
ReCAP: A NORMAL Novella - Danielle Pearl

I enjoyed reading 'Normal' by Danielle Pearl, which was told from the heroine’s POV. I thought seeing the events unfold from the hero’s perspective would have made the story that more effective. Therefore, when I discovered that Recap provided Sam's perspective I could not resist acquiring a copy of this instalment.

The title depicts the storyline. It is a recap of some of the events in 'Normal' through Sam's aka Cap's eyes. Seeing these events unfolding through Sam’s eyes was refreshing. This was not a blow-by-blow account of Normal. What the author did was to focus on important scenes where Sam’s voice had an impact.


When I first met Sam, I believed him to be a special guy, and this instalment confirmed my beliefs. He believes that relationships and romance were not his things, but that was before he met Rory. Now he wishes for Rory to reciprocate his feelings. In ‘Normal’ Sam appeared to be in control of emotions, however, in 'Recap' we are privy to his daily struggles with anger. His issues with anger is a product of his abusive past. Growing up, he learned from an early age to protect the women in his life, so his wish to protect Rory is understandable. Here we see that Rory is not the only one who has triggers. Sam has them too, which, is clear from his emotional outbursts whenever he perceives that Rory is in crisis.

‘Recap’ gives insight into who Sam was as an individual. The author aptly portrayed his emotions. I got a firsthand look at the lengths he was willing to take to ensure that Rory was fine and that she would remain in his life.


Verdict
I enjoyed Sam’s perspective of the events in ‘Normal’. If you read the earlier book, then I recommend you read this instalment. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

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review 2017-04-01 19:56
A great book about the games families play and what love really is.
Practicing Normal - Cara Sue Achterberg

I was given a copy of this book as a gift and I freely chose to review it.

Tolstoi’s probably best-known quote: All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way fits perfectly this novel. As a psychiatrist, ‘normal’ is one of those terms that we always seem to come back to, even if it is impossible to define. It seems that normal is always what other people are, never us. Perhaps, as it is discussed in the novel in reference to Autism and Asperger’s, which are conditions that fall within a spectrum, the same is true for normality. It is not an on or off thing. Perhaps we all belong to some point within the spectrum, but we’d be hard pushed to find many people whom we’d all agree were ‘normal’, at least if we got to know them well.

The novel introduces us to the Turners, who live a reasonably comfortable life within a theoretically idyllic neighbourhood. Once we scratch a bit under the surface, we find: Jenna, the sixteen year old daughter, who is not a goth but likes to shave her hair, dye it in interesting colours, collects piercings and is an ace at breaking into neighbours’ houses (courtesy of her father’s job in a security company). Kate, her mother, is forever busy caring for everybody but herself. She has to look after her mother, Mildred, who might be dementing, or perhaps not, and who lives alone, never leaves the house and talks to her birds. She also has to look after JT, her son, with an Asperger’s diagnosis, who cycles through periods of obsession with different topics (ER Medicine, Fire-fighting…), has tantrums if his routine is disturbed, cannot read people’s expressions or understand their feelings, but is a genius at Maths and has an incredible memory. She also runs around the rest of the household and is always worried about her husband, Everett, who cheated on her once (that she knows of). The chapters alternate the first-person narrations of Jenna (who somehow becomes friendly with the rich, handsome and all-around nice neighbour, Wells, who isn’t, after all, the stereotypical jock), and Kate (whose sister, Evelyn, has made contact with their father, Frank, who left them when they were young children, and believes their mother has been lying to them) allowing the reader to better grasp, not only the secrets they all keep from each other, but also the different ways the same events can be interpreted and seen. Everett’s narration (also in the first person) joins later, giving us hints of more secrets to come,  allowing us a more rounded picture and offering us a male perspective.

I found the first person narrations served well the topic, and the voices of the three narrators were very distinct and fitted in well with their characters. Although personally, I can’t say I liked Everett very much, no characters are despicable and all of them love their family and each other, even if they might go about it the wrong way. Jenna’s strong hostility towards her father is easy to understand, not only because he cheated on her mother (and is still doing it after promising not to) but because she had idealised him when she was a child and he’s shattered that illusion. She is clever, challenging and reckless but with a great heart (she doesn’t care for rules or conventions but has no bad intentions) and her romance will bring warm memories to all readers who are still young at heart. Kate is a woman who is always at the service of others and makes big efforts to ignore what she feels she can’t cope with, even if it means living a lie. But she learns that she is stronger than she thinks and grows during the novel. She also gets to understand that her dreams of romantic love are unrealistic, and we feel optimistic for her at the end. Everett is a man who lost his way (it seems) when he left his job as a policeman. Now, to feel better about himself he’ll do almost anything, not caring what the consequences for himself and others might be, and he always puts his needs before those of the rest of his family. He does not understand his children but he loves them and tries to do what he thinks is best, within limits. JT is a wonderful character, well-drawn and realistic in terms of the behaviours he exhibits and his relationship with Kate, Jenna and the rest of the family is heart-warming and has the ring of truth.

There are many secrets, some that come from a long time back and some much more recent, and the narrative is good at revealing them slowly, even if we might strongly suspect some of them, partly because we have access to the thoughts of several the characters (as they don’t communicate with each other that well). There are also many love stories and many different kinds of love that are explored. Ultimately, love must be about more than just saying the words and looking into each other’s eyes. It isn’t something we should feel automatically entitled to; it has to be proven and worked on, as Cassey, a friend of Jenna and later Kate, explains.

The secondary characters are also interesting, mostly sympathetic (with the exception of Wells’s family, and Evelyn, who comes across as self-centered and domineering) but not drawn in as much psychological detail as the members of the family, but they are far from unidimensional. I really liked Cassey, the hospice nurse who understands all the females of the family and helps them without asking anything in return, and Phil, a good man who, like Wells, disproves Mildred’s generalisations about men. Mildred, the grandmother, can be at once annoying and endearing, but eventually, we get to understand her a bit better, even if we might not necessarily agree with her actions. I also loved the animals, especially Marco.

This is a well-written book, where plot and characterisation go hand in hand, that offers good psychological insights into the nature of family relationships and the games members of a family play with each other. It also will make readers think about what love means and will remind them of the risks of keeping secrets, not only from others but also from ourselves. The narration flows well and once you get to know the characters it’s difficult to stop reading and you feel bereft when you come to the end as they’ve become part of the family. A great read.

I couldn’t leave you without sharing a few of the sentences I highlighted.

Never break more than one law at a time.

Kate talking about JT, her son, with Asperger’s: but I focus on what JT can do, not what he can’t.

Kate again, wondering about her son’s inability to read other people’s expressions and know what they’re feeling or thinking:

Maybe it would be easier to sail through life unaware of the emotions of the people around you.

And Jenna, on one of her typical (and oh, so accurate, sorry gentlemen) pearls of wisdom (although this one she keeps to herself):

If men didn’t have penises, they’d probably be a lot smarter.

 

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review 2017-03-31 00:29
Review: Normal
NORMAL (Something More) - Danielle Pearl

‘Normal’ by Danielle Pearl was anything but normal. It completely blew me away. It was inspiring and heartbreaking. It was nothing like I expected, but what it delivered was all I hoped for and more. I believe that every female, teen or adult, should read this book.  This is the type of story that will stay with you days after you have finished reading. It is a story of one girl’s desire to get her life back to normal.  It will break your heart into tiny pieces.

 

Now and again, I come across characters that are inspiring and make my reading experience worthwhile. Rory is one such character.  She is relatable and it helped that I got the story from her POV. Seeing the story through her eyes helped me to understand her emotional turmoil.  I admired her strength in conquering her demons.  She may not have seen it, but it was there. I could not fathom all she had been through, but one thing I knew is that she was a survivor. Her desire to get her life back to normal was a perfect demonstration of her survival skills. The pain, the grief and struggles she faced daily were heart-wrenching, but watching her overcome them one day at a time was inspiring. I know there are persons who would be quick to judge her, thinking that she made poor choices, and as a result placed herself in her current position.  In addition, some may believe that because she lived in the electronic age, she should not have made those choices, but I consider that as sheer rubbish. I haverealised that it is easy for persons who have never been in the situation to passjudgement, but until they are in the position, they will never truly understand. Yeah, her actions may seem frustrating, but who are we to judge?

 

The highlight of this story was that Rory did not have to fight her battles on her own. Rory had trust issues when it came to the opposite sex, so meeting Sam and becoming his friend was a life altering experience.  I appreciated how he treated her. At no time did he judge her. He was patient and gentle with her, even when herbehaviour bordered on erratic. He was just what she needed. Thanks to him, she was taking charge of her life and finally living again. He showed her what it meant to enjoy life and helped her acknowledge that she was a survivor.

 

‘Normal’ is a well-written story that took me on an emotional journey, which I may not recover from anytime soon. There were times I found myself putting the book down so that I could absorb the events, as they were intense and overwhelming. The story was well- developed, captivating and the pace fitting. It moved between the past and the present, thus providing readers with insight into Rory’s life and the events that led to her current state. There was some repetition, which was due in part, to how the story was presented.

 

My advice to you is, read this book. However, do not expect a sweet and fluffy story. It is definitely not a story for the faint of heart. It touches on sensitive issues of abuse and assault so if this is a trigger, then this is not for you. However, if these issues do not bother you, and you take my advice be ready for an intense and emotional journey.

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