Julia and Michael met as high school students in their small, poverty-stricken West Virginia town. Both products of difficult childhoods—Julia's father is a compulsive gambler and Michael's mother abandoned his family when he was a young boy—they find a sense of safety and mutual understanding in each other. Shortly after graduation they flee West Virginia to start afresh.
Now thirty-somethings, they are living a rarefied life in their multimillion-dollar Washington, D.C., home. From the outside it all looks perfect—Julia has become a highly sought-after party planner, while Michael has launched a wildly successful flavored water company worth $70 million.
But one day Michael stands up at the head of the table in his company's boardroom—then silently crashes to the floor. More than four minutes later, a portable defibrillator manages to jump-start his heart. Yet what happened to Michael during those lost minutes forever changes him. Money is meaningless to him now—and he wants to give it all away to charity. A prenuptial agreement that Julia insisted upon back when Michael's company was still struggling means she has no claim to his fortune, and now she must decide: Should she walk away from the man she once adored, but who truthfully became a stranger to her long before his near-death experience—or should she give in to her husband's pleas for a second chance and a promise of a poorer but happier life? -- Washington Square Press
I should probably preface this review by telling you that I love Sarah Pekkanen! She truly is one of those authors who appreciate book bloggers (have you noticed her fabulous contests?) and she writes terrific books. Last year around this time, I read her debut novel THE OPPOSITE OF ME (my review) and really enjoyed it. I have been anxiously awaiting her follow-up novel ever since. It has felt like a long time (because I was so excited!), but SKIPPING A BEAT will be in stores tomorrow!
And I have to tell you that if you are a fans of women's fiction or Ms. Pekkanen, then you are going to want to read SKIPPING A BEAT. I absolutely adored this novel and I am confident in saying that it was even better than THE OPPOSITE OF ME. And that's really saying something because as far as I'm concerned THE OPPOSITE OF ME was a darn good book.
There are quite a few really good things that struck me about SKIPPING A BEAT. The book actually grabbed me from the get-go and held on the entire time. Just tell me the first sentence doesn't pull you right in:
"When my husband, Michael, died for the first time, I was walking across a freshly waxed marble floor in three-inch Stuart Weitzman heels, balancing a tray of cupcakes in my shaking hands."
When Julia goes to visit Michael in the hospital, she discovers that more than just his heart has started again -- he is actually an entirely different person. His suddenly realizes that his obsession with work wasn't worth what he had to give up in his personal life. He sees the errors of his ways and wants to make amends. And even more surprising to Julia is that he has now realizes how much he loves her and he wants to work on their marriage. The problem is that Julia isn't so sure she wants to be married to Michael anymore -- even if he is this "new" Michael.
I really appreciated how Ms. Pekkanen told Michael and Julia's story -- she alternated between the present and the past. It was a very effective way to pull me in and make me care about both Julia and Michael. The book follows how Julia and Michael met in high school and how they eventually arrived where they are today. Their high school romance is incredibly sweet as are their early adult years. However, when Michael becomes heavily involved in finding success and fame, Julia and Michael each start living their own lives. It's an unfortunate story, but one I'm certain many readers will relate to.
Michael realizes that he has been a neglectful husband to Julia, and he asks for just three weeks to prove himself again. During these three weeks, he not only makes amends to Julia, but also to an employee that he has wronged. I have to say that Julia is a much tougher sale than I would have been. I eventually grew to adore the "new" Michael and so wanted Julia to forgive him.
For whatever reason, SKIPPING A BEAT just resonated with me a little bit more than Ms. Pekkanen's first novel. True, I am married to my college sweetheart (Julia was married to her high school one) and I am closer to Julia's age, but that's where the similarities end. I am neither childless nor extremely wealthy, and I am still very happily married. I think that I was able to relate so much to Julia is a testament to how well the author developed her character. She was extremely real to me (despite her abundant wealth) and she was a character about whom I deeply cared. I especially loved how Ms. Pekkanen gave so much of Julia's background story (especially all of the issues with her father) because it allowed me to better understand her relationship (both past and present) with Michael.
Another thing that I really appreciated about this novel was how Ms. Pekkanen wove the theme of operas throughout the story. Julia was a huge opera fan and truly appreciated the beauty of the performances. Throughout SKIPPING A BEAT, the author demonstrated just how universal the arias were to not only Julia's life but everyone's. She paralleled various well known operas
The ending of SKIPPING A BEAT is heartbreaking and yet so beautiful. Yes, I did cry... and I didn't even mind. I love it when a book can make me feel so much. This novel not only had wonderful life lessons about love and loss, but it reminded me that I need to live each day to the fullest. In addition, I think this novel will cause me take a step back from the (sometimes) chaos in my own life and appreciate my husband, family, and friends even more.
SKIPPING A BEAT would be a perfect book to discuss with your friends. There is a reading guide available with some fantastic questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include friendships, parent/child relationships, marriage, infidelity, trust, drive, dependency, addiction, sacrifice, forgiveness, and redemption. The publisher also has some ideas to enhance your meeting as well as a fun interview with Ms. Pekkanen.
Thanks to the publisher and author for sending me a review copy of this novel. I wrote this review in connection with a sweepstakes.