Book Review: "Skipping a Beat" by Sarah Pekkenan

Summary from From the outside, Julia and Michael seem to have it all. Both products of difficult childhoods in rural West Virginia – where they were simply Julie and Mike – they become high school sweethearts and fall in love. Shortly after graduation, they flee their small town to start afresh. Now thirty-somethings, they are living a rarified life in their multi-million-dollar, Washington D.C. home. Julia is a highly sought-after party planner, while Michael has just sold his wildly successful flavored water company for $70 million.

But one day, Michael collapses in his office. Four minutes and eight seconds after his cardiac arrest, a portable defibrillator jump-starts his heart. But in those lost minutes he becomes a different man. Money is meaningless to him - and he wants to give it all away. Julia, who sees bits of her life reflected in scenes from the world’s great operas, is now facing with a choice she never anticipated. Should she should walk away from the man she once adored – but who truthfully became a stranger to her long before this pronouncement - or give in to her husband's pleas for a second chance and a promise of a poorer but happier life?

I normally read in my house so no one really gets to see what book I'm reading. But I had to travel a bit while I was reading this book, so it got a lot of time out in the open. I had many people ask me what the book was about. Because I could tell that they were just asking out of politeness (you know the type), I gave a quick summary of "It's about a marriage where the husband dies, comes back to life and is a totally different person". THAT got their attention!

I loved Sarah Pekkanen's first book, THE OPPOSITE OF ME, and I was really looking forward to this new one. I think she's one of the best contemporary women's fiction writers currently out there. I find myself sucked into the story and being able to relate with the women almost completely. I really liked how she incorporate the opera into this book and I enjoyed learning new facts and tidbits from different operas.

Before knowing about Michael's past, I will admit that I got a bit frustrated with Julia. She's angry at him because he wants to spend time with her? She's getting annoyed because he want stop being so focused on work and instead be focused on their relationship? I was thinking, what is wrong with this woman? Does she not know how many wives would give up everything to be in her situation? So the beginning of the book, I was just baffled as to why she was so concerned about the money and she seemed very materialistic to me at first.

And then we learn about her father. And his gambling addiction. And how it pretty much destroyed their family. And then it all made sense to me. Reading about her father was devastating especially how it ruined his and her relationship and then pretty much made her mother suffer for the rest of her life. The worst part was seeing how he wouldn't stop gambling even when he had nothing and was at the lowest of lows. Addiction (no matter what kind) is so consuming that it takes away everything from you and still makes you want more even though there's no possible way of getting it. Reading this and then the humble beginnings of Michael and Julia's relationship helped me to understand her side a lot more.

I was also very curious about Isabelle's story and her reuniting with her birth daughter. It felt like this was just a rash decision that probably should have involved more thinking. As it stood, I would have loved to have a whole book based on Isabelle's story. From the snippets we got from Julie's point of view, I feel like there's a whole lot we weren't told about and a great story could come out of that.

One thing I was really happy to see in the book was when Julia goes to Great Falls in Virginia to spend time to reflect and do some thinking. I say this because just a few months ago, I finally got to see Great Falls for myself, though from the Maryland side. I couldn't believe that I had lived up in Northern Virginia for almost three years and I had no idea that a place like this existed. If you ever go to the DC area, take a break from the monuments and visit Great Falls because it's beautiful and so refreshing. It's just like how Pekkanen describes it and it was wonderful for me to know exactly what she was talking about.

I feel like I've sidestepped the entire story of Michael in this review but I think that it's something the reader needs to experience for themselves. It's an engrossing read and I found myself swept away in the story as it moves from past to present. This is the story of a marriage and the good and bad things that happen in a relationship like this. It's an absolutely wonderful read and I was sad when it ended. I know that Pekkanen is working on another book and I absolutely cannot wait for it.

Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen is published by Washington Square Press (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher


  1. Anonymous10:34 AM

    This is sitting in my pile from BEA because it looked interesting, but you review has made me want to start reading it now. I will have to wait a little - but thanks for getting me excited about it!

  2. I thought this book was even better than The Opposite of Me. I just loved it!!


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