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Synopsis:

Julia and Michael Dunhill are fabulously successful and wealthy, living the kind of lifestyle most Americans merely dream about. They reside in a Washington, D.C. mansion and have a vacation home in Aspen, drive luxurious cars, and shop in the most exclusive boutiques and designer showrooms. After growing up humbly in West Virginia, Julia has established herself as a sought-after party planner and Michael founded his own company after developing a line of beverages. Sales soared and the profits rolled in after Oprah herself was pictured with a bottle during an interview. Julia and Michael have loved each other since they were sixteen-year-old high school students.

Julia’s father was a gambler who lost the family business and home because of his addiction, making the last year Julia lived with her parents virtually unbearable. The experience left her unwilling and emotionally unable to gamble on Michael’s dreams, so prior to eloping, they signed a simple prenuptual agreement and have always kept their financial holdings separate, including the debt Michael incurred in order to launch his company. That arrangement has never stopped Julia from enjoying the benefits of Michael’s success, however. She has a collection of beautiful jewelry that he has purchased for her over the years, and the houses were both purchased with his money and remain vested in his name only.

Just as Julia is overseeing an important event, she gets word that Michael has been rushed to the hospital. As he stood in the conference room, about to make a presentation, Michael collapsed. He suffered a cardiac arrest and was clinically dead for four minutes, eight seconds. Although Michael’s survival, sans brain damage, is nothing less than miraculous, Julia quickly realizes that the Michael who came back from death’s grip is a profoundly changed man. He plans to completely alter the manner in which they live their lives, the roadmap for their marriage and future. Without consulting Julia, Michael has made arrangements to give all of his holdings — including his company — and assets to charity! Julia is so upset and beside herself that she does not know, in light of his decision, whether she can remain married to Michael. But Michael has asked her to give him three weeks in which to consider her options and decide whether to leave him. After all, Michael tells Julia, he survived the cardiac arrest, but has no idea how much time he has left, and he is determined to change his life for the better. The only question is, can Julia accept and embrace the “new” Michael?

Review:

Author

In her debut novel, The Opposite of Me, author Sarah Pekkannen explored the concept of assumptions within the context of the relationship between fraternal female twins. In particular, Lindsey’s assumptions about her sister, Alex, contributed to her own struggles with self-esteem and self-confidence. As the story unfolded, Lindsey learned that the assumptions — some quite erroneous — about both Alex and herself upon which she based life choices and decisions, and the very way that she viewed the world and her own place in it, had contributed to her both her successes and failures. Replacing inaccurate assumptions with the truth allowed Lindsey to see her sister differently, forge a better relationship with her, and move on with her own life.

, Pekkanen’s second book, available in bookstores today, is an equally insightful, engrossing, and entertaining exploration of the foundations upon which relationships are built. Through the eyes of Julia Dunhill, the narrator in Skipping a Beat, Pekkanen looks at how two people met, fell in love, and built a life together. Of course, the only constant in life is change, and their relationship naturally changed and evolved over the course of time as they both achieved career success. In Michael’s case, his business accomplishments far exceeded his own dreams, bringing him both wealth and the power that accompanies it. Julia achieved professional success in her own right. But as the two fretted over their businesses’ trajectories, they failed to invest as wisely in their marriage.

The story opens with Michael’s medical crisis, but the focus of the book immediately shifts to Julia’s reaction to Michael’s sudden and completely unexpected personality change. She is totally unequipped to deal with his transformation from a workaholic, driven man, consumed by the demands of the business he built with one great idea and some borrowed capital, into a man looking for redemption for all the mistakes he made along the way, many of which Julia was blissfully unaware. As the story unfolds, the foundations of Julia’s world are threatened and she quickly loses her equilibrium. Everything that she has assumed to be true and relied upon is brought into question by Michael’s sudden metamorphosis. Pekkanen establishes just how far apart Michael and Julia have drifted when Julia ventures into Michael’s separate bathroom and realizes that she is completely unfamiliar with his personal belongings — even the type of toothbrush he uses — as she attempts to pack a bag to take to him in the hospital. Julia is rattled — and extremely angry — when she realizes that the man with whom she has been living is now a stranger to her, especially as it gradually becomes obvious that Julia has either been denying or suppressing the extent to which the two of them have been estranged from each other for some time.

Julia agrees to give Michael the three weeks he has requested in order to decide whether she wants to stay with him or move on. She recalls how, as teenagers, they grew close in the small West Virginia town where they were raised, both having grown up in dysfunctional families, both scarred in their own unique ways from the pain inflicted upon them by their imperfect parents. Those early experiences were, in part, what drew them together. Their relationship was built upon the trust they felt for each other that was born out of an inability to trust or rely upon family members who let them down and abandoned them, literally and emotionally. When Julia first becomes aware of Michael, he tells her that he has always been right behind her, referring to his assigned seat in their high school classes . . . and, perhaps, the fact that he has been drawn to her for some time.

Still . . . Julia has always held back, reserved a part of herself and her assets as a safety mechanism. In particular, she was unwilling to incur debt with Michael in order to found and grow his business, keeping her own business accounts separate, even to the point of entering into a prenuptual agreement. In light of Michael’s determination to give all of his assets to charitable causes, it is indeed ironic that Julia ponders the enforceability of that agreement and resents Michael’s plan to disburse his wealth, to which she plainly feels entitled. Her desire to “have her cake and eat it too” makes her a flawed, but very authentic protagonist.

It becomes clear, as Julia considers the events of the past several years and realizes that some of her assumptions about Michael’s conduct were not accurate, that both Michael and Julia lost their footing as the demands of their careers increased. They also lost sight of the reasons they came together, and Michael seems desperate to rekindle their relationship, even as Julia struggles with her resentment and anger. She has been hurt many times by Michael, but not confronted him with her feelings, allowing grudges to fester and threaten their marriage. But Michael is persistent and, as Julia studies his behavior, she wonders what is really fueling his determination. Gradually, in spite of herself, she sees glimpses of the young man she fell in love with back in West Virginia, and the two begin ignoring their Blackberries and actually having conversations again.

Pekkanen deftly pulls readers along with Julia on her emotional journey, initially creating empathy through glimpses into the lavish and secure lifestyle the Dunhills have come to enjoy. Julia has every right to be angry, disappointed, and afraid. After all, who would want to give up a full-time maid, gardeners, drivers, and chefs? Julia particularly can’t bear the thought of losing the heated tiles in her shower or her jacuzzi tub. But through Julia’s memories and realizations, Pekkanen unveils the real Michael, the young man who rescued Julia — in so many ways — and never stopped loving her, all appearances to the contrary. Pekkanen describes her approach this way:

As Skipping a Beat opens, Julia and Michael are thrust into a crisis, and it’s unclear whether their marriage will survive. In order to move forward, they also need to look back at the decisions and moments, both big and small, that shaped their relationship. So I wove in scenes from their past to show how complicated their life together has become, and to reveal why Julia feels so conflicted. But there are two sides to every story — so even though everything is unfolding from Julia’s point of view, it’s not necessarily the complete picture. She, like the readers, discovers how much more there is to the story of her marriage.

Pekkanen’s expository technique is extremely effective. As Julia’s resistance crumbles and her anger gives way to forgiveness and healing, the reader’s understanding of the two characters’ backgrounds and foibles makes them increasingly endearing. And just as Julia cannot bring herself to turn her back on the only man she has ever loved, despite all the disappointments, loneliness, and miscommunication, Pekkanen convinces her readers that Michael and Julia truly love each other and deserve another chance at happiness. Because, after all is said and done, the foundation upon which their relationship is founded is actually still intact and next time they might be able to get it right.

Will they get the chance? Like me, you may be able to guess the ending to the Dunhills’ story, but that won’t spoil the joy of finding out if your hunches are accurate because Pekkanen proves again that she is one of the most talented new novelists writing women’s fiction today. With Michael and, especially, Julia, she has created fully developed, believable, empathetic characters about whose lives her readers want to know more and for whose futures the readers want only the best. Pekkanen has crafted a storyline that puts a new and contemporary spin on a classic theme: Does money change people and impact their relationships? Does wealth corrupt to the point that it can erode the foundation upon which a marriage is built? The result is a nuanced, emotional roller coaster that inspires readers to ponder their own relationships and the foundations upon which they are built, and contemplate whether those relationships might survive a near-death experience such as Michael’s — or any event, really — that results in such a profoundly changed outlook on life and the future.

Skipping a Beat is a beautifully powerful story about the enduring quality of love and the challenges a relationship can withstand if that relationship is founded upon genuine love, affection, and respect for one another. As with The Opposite of Me, both the story Pekkanen has told and the characters she has created will resonate with readers long after they have sniffled their way to the last page and closed the book. The Opposite of Me was one of the best books I read in 2010, and even though it is only February, I have no doubt that Skipping a Beat will be on my list of 2011 favorites. I look forward to reading more of Pekkanen’s work and strongly encourage you to do the same!

The comment posted by Lisa McGreen at Lisa’s World of Books was selected at random, so a copy of Skipping a Beat was sent to Lisa. Thanks to all who participated!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Skipping a Beat free of charge from the author. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

57 Comments

  1. Pam Keener

    I have not read The Opposite of Me although it is on my TBR pile.
    What intrigues me most about “Skipping A Beat” is how you take so much for granted until such time when the present presents itself harshly to you. Julia’s wanting to keep things as they are & Michael wanting to right wrongs is an interesting concept.
    Love & Hugs,
    Pam
    pk4290(at)comcast(dot)net

  2. Pam Keener

    I follow your blog via Google Reader.
    Love & Hugs,
    Pam
    pk4290(at)comcast(dot)net

    Thanks for the review and giveaway.

  3. I have not read “Opposite of Me” yet but it is on my extensive wish list. I am interested in this book based on the great reviews it is getting and because I love books about the struggles of relationships and the power of love.
    karen.hofmaier@gmail.com

  4. I’m a follower. I have not read The Opposite of Me. I am intrigued by the story of redemption. captainliss40(at)gmail(dot)com

  5. I haven’t read The Opposite of Me.

    I am interested in the story because of the relationship component and medical issues, which are close to home.

  6. Pingback: West Of Mars — Win A Book! » Blog Archive » Skipping a Beat

  7. I haven’t as yet read The Opposite of Me. The family dynamics and exploration of the marriage intrigues me about this new book. I would like to know how the situation plays out, and the part that good communication plays in the outcome.

  8. Mona Garg

    GFC(MonaG)
    1) I have not read OPPOSITE OF ME

    2) A few things intrigue me about this book:
    a. I enjoy books about marital relationships
    b. The life of luxury depicted
    c. Event planning profession
    d. How life can make a 180 degree turn

  9. I haven’t read Opposite to me
    I want to read intrigue me because it tells us about how we take thing for granted until we are about to loose it.

    GFC follower

    vidishamun@Gmail.com

  10. I haven’t read The Opposite of Me though I have had it on my tbr list since it was published. I’m a fraternal twin so Sarah Pekanen’s first book really intrigues me. I really like how Sarah gets deep into the intense aspects of relationships and looks at what makes them tick and how much people are willing to sacrifice for each other. Skipping a Beat sounds like an amazingly powerful and riveting story. The premise completely hooked me. I don’t want to read reviews or summaries about the rest of the story. I want to discover for myself what happens between Julia and Michael and if their marriage can withstand this major change.

    Thank you for this wonderful giveaway!
    ~ Amy
    Aimala127(at)gmail(dot)com

  11. I follow on Facebook Networked Blogs (Amy M.)

    Aimala127(at)gmail(dot)com

  12. Colleen Turner

    I love Sarah Pekkanen! I did read The Opposite of Me and LOVED IT! I loved it so much I even bought it for a few people so I could spread the love 😉 . What intrigues me so much about Skipping A Beat is really the basis for the whole story. What do you do when the person you married, loved and built a life with wakes up and is totally different? I can’t imagine if this happened to me and the prospect of changing everything or staying the same and not being together is terrifying! What to do, what to do! Also, I know it will be witty and touching as her last novel, so I was really good to go no matter what it was going to be about 😆 !

    I am an old GFC follower (Colleen Turner).

  13. Colleen Turner

    I am a Facebook Networked Blogs follower (Colleen Turner).

  14. Andrea I

    GFC follower

    1. No I haven’t read The Opposite of Me

    2. It sounds interesting about how couples can move apart and become strangers and then how they try to resolve it.

    lillieblue613(at)gmail(dot)com

  15. Andrea I

    Subscribe via e mail.

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  16. Andrea I

    Facebook Networked Blogs follower – Andrea Infinger

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  17. Andrea I

    Follow on twitter
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  18. no, i haven’t read ‘the opposite of me’ yet!
    i have read excellent reviews of this novel…thanks
    for the opportunity to read it 🙂

  19. GFC follower. Thanks for the wonderful giveaway

  20. Two very important things. Hummm. I’m sticking to my New Year’s resolution.

    I’m attempting to be practical with my spending.

    Thanks for the wonderful giveaway

  21. Book interests me as I have neighbors who are twins. Thanks

  22. I have never read Opposite of Me and Skipping a Beat intrigues me because it is getting such great reviews and I love relationship stories!

  23. Samantha Cheng

    Hiiiii 😀

    1. I actually have not read The Opposite of Me but I plan to as soon as I’m done with finals and boring school stuff.

    2. I love how Michael decides to change his life because of life’s uncertainty. I mean, I’m not glad about his cardiac arrest or anything, but at least he’s trying to change for the better. What intrigues me the most is how Michael plans to win Julia back; it’ll be like falling in love with each other all over again!!! 😀

    I follow as “Samantha.”

  24. Meredith Miller

    I loved Sarah’s last book. I can’t wait to read this one.

    Meredith

    meredithfl at gmail dot com
    GFC follower

  25. Meredith Miller

    Twitter follower @tessaa99

    meredithfl at gmail dot com

  26. Meredith Miller

    Email subscriber

    meredithfl at gmail dot com

  27. 1. I have not read The Opposite of Me YET, I am planning to read this as soon as I finish my TBR pile first! I have already placed an order on Amazon so rest assured, I shall be reading that in the near future =)

    2. Well, what prompted me to really want to read this is through your review. Your review was excellent. I really want to see how Julia and Michael pulls through from their struggle and how they overcome it and the outcome. I love stories about struggles during married lives, it’s so much more real and interesting! (Maybe cause I’m married haha)

    Thanks for the giveaway!

    Email: yiliang0124[at]hotmail.com

  28. Twitter Follower! – YWenLiang

    Email: yiliang0124[at]hotmail.com

  29. Email subscriber! 🙂

    Email: yiliang0124[at]hotmail.com

  30. I follow under Lisa McGeen, I have read the the Opposite of Me and really enjoyed the book. I really want to see how they come through this. It has been a while since I read a book that dealt with a marriage and how they get through issues. I am looking foward to it.

    lisasworldofbooks@charter.net

  31. Shana S.

    1. I haven’t read The Opposite of Me.

    2. I’m intrigued by the way the author tells us about the way this couple (and family) can move through crises, and whether they become closer as a result.

    I follow on GFC as shanaelyse

    shanaelyse@gmail.com

  32. Patricia

    Haven’t read The Opposite of Me —- yet! Follow via GFC as Patricia. Love that it’s set in DC (my hometown) and am intrigued by the notion of giving up one way of life and choosing another —
    patricia dot mariani dot esq at gmail dot com

  33. Patricia

    Follow on Networked Blogs.

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  34. Patricia

    Subscribe via email.

    patricia dot mariani dot esq at gmail dot com

  35. First-time visitor…beautiful blog.

    ..Stopping by from Cym Lowell’s Book Party.

    Stop by my blog for a book giveaway:

    LITTLE PRINCES BY CONOR GRENNAN

    http://silversolara.blogspot.com/

    Chelsey Emmelhainz of HARPER COLLINS is graciously providing FIVE copies for five lucky winners.

  36. I loved The Opposite of Me and I love the whole premise of this book. As a psych major I am particularly interested in how life altering events, especially physically life altering events affect a person’s psyche, desires, emotions and everything else just like it seems in Michael’s case in Skipping A Beat. I can’t wait to read how the saga unfolds and what Julia does. Sarah Pekkanen has quickly become one of my favorite authors. Thanks for hosting the giveaway! cgraceh at gmail dot com Follow on friend connect as cgraceh

  37. I am a new follower of yours on Twitter!cgraceh at gmail dot com and follow on friend connect cgraceh

  38. Nancye Davis

    Wow! This book sounds amazing! After reading the description above, I kept putting myself in Julia’s shoes and felt immensely sorry for her. I am eager now to see what ends up happening to them and if they ever worked things out and stayed married. I have not read The Opposite of Me, but would like to.

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  39. Nancye Davis

    I follow you on Twitter
    @NancyeDavis

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  40. Nancye Davis

    RSS Subscriber

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  41. Nancye Davis

    I follow you on Networked Blogs

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

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