Monthly Archive: October 2014

Review: Us

Us

Us

by David Nicholls
Published by Harper
416 pages
Genre: literature
5 / 5

Summary:

David Nicholls brings the wit and intelligence that graced his enormously popular New York Times bestseller, One Day, to a compellingly human, deftly funny new novel about what holds marriages and families together—and what happens, and what we learn about ourselves, when everything threatens to fall apart.

Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date . . . and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen year-old son, Albie. Then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Hoping to encourage her son’s artistic interests, Connie has planned a month-long tour of European capitals, a chance to experience the world’s greatest works of art as a family, and she can’t bring herself to cancel. And maybe going ahead with the original plan is for the best anyway? Douglas is privately convinced that this landmark trip will rekindle the romance in the marriage, and might even help him to bond with Albie.

Narrated from Douglas’s endearingly honest, slyly witty, and at times achingly optimistic point of view, Us is the story of a man trying to rescue his relationship with the woman he loves, and learning how to get closer to a son who’s always felt like a stranger. Us is a moving meditation on the demands of marriage and parenthood, the regrets of abandoning youth for middle age, and the intricate relationship between the heart and the head. And in David Nicholls’s gifted hands, Douglas’s odyssey brings Europe—from the streets of Amsterdam to the famed museums of Paris, from the cafés of Venice to the beaches of Barcelona—to vivid life just as he experiences a powerful awakening of his own. Will this summer be his last as a husband, or the moment when he turns his marriage, and maybe even his whole life, around?

My Review:

To say that Douglas Petersen tells his story honestly is to somewhat understate things. Douglas is blindingly, awkwardly, uncomfortably honest. The sort of honesty that makes you read this book with your hands over your eyes, peeking between the gaps in your fingers.

Douglas and Connie have been married twenty years, and if you ask Douglas, he’ll tell you that they largely have been a good twenty. Their son, Albie, is heading off to university, and Douglas looks forward to embracing the empty nest. He loves, adores, and is in awe of Connie. Nearly a quarter century into their relationship, he still can’t believe she’s his.

So when Connie says to him, in the middle of the night, that she “thinks” she wants to leave him, believing that their marriage has “run its course,” Douglas is shocked. He wants to know why. He wants to understand why. Connie says she isn’t sure what they will do once their son leaves home, and for Douglas, that’s the whole point. They will discover what to do together. They will rediscover each other.

This news come to him on the eve of the family leaving for a “Grand Tour” of European art galleries, a gift intended for Albie, a budding photographer. Douglas decides to embrace this trip as a means of securing his wife and his son, for Douglas and Albie have what you might call a distant relationship.

If you’ve read any of David Nicholls’ books, you know that he writes in a way that almost encourages you to dislike his characters. Did you really like Dex all that much in One Day? Didn’t you think he was pretty awful at times? Emma wasn’t better, with her shrewish, judgmental personality. And so it is with Us. You want to like Douglas. You want to be on his side and you want him to win back his wife and son. But sometimes you just want to yell at him to stop being so obtuse.

Douglas is a scientist, a biochemist who studies, amongst other things, fruit flies. He’s used to observing, testing, analyzing. His job requires him to devote himself to it, and he can take no step in any process for granted. How, then, can he function outside of the laboratory? How can he be a husband to a woman who is an artist, yet doesn’t really create art? Who says she wants to try something new, when marriage is still new to Douglas? Who says she needs a change, when change is an anathema to him?

As he tells us about the “Grand Tour,” Douglas also retraces his and Connie’s relationship. She was a wild, drug-taking, heaving drinking artsy woman in her late twenties, someone to whom, Douglas believes, he offered a hand to help her hop down from dancing on table tops. She is every bit as wide open as he is closed, yet she’s drawn to him. Douglas is funny. He makes her laugh with his wry, ironic observations. He also, without any boasting intended or committed, acknowledges that he’s quite adept at rocking the headboard.

But Connie, faithful readers, is an awful woman. There will be times – many, many times – while reading this book that you wonder why on earth Douglas wants to stay married to his wife. He says he loves her immensely, but why? She isn’t particularly devoted to him (she makes a decision, while they are on the “Grand Tour,” that virtually smacks him with its disrespect of disrespect and disloyalty). In fact, she regularly mocks his tour guides and planning, which only further erodes his relationship with Albie. You never get the sense that she put Douglas first, in any aspect.

Yet love her he does, even if his behavior is not particularly indicative of that. He makes a job change that seems to be almost a test of his wife’s commitment; even Douglas knows that the move will cause problems. His fantasy of what could be is just that: a fantasy. He knows, if he can’t quite acknowledge, that things won’t turn out the way he wants with this move, yet he goes ahead and does it anyway.

As much as I disliked Connie, I did like Douglas, infuriating though he occasionally was. Not as a husband, mind, but as a father. Oh, Douglas. I so wanted to pull him aside and help him see the damage he was inflicting. Not purposefully, of course, but more because he just doesn’t know better. Douglas learns how to be a father under strikingly stressful circumstances. But he learns, and he improves.

Connie? Not so much.

Sure, she does a few things that are kind hearted, but I couldn’t like her. She’s just so awful to her husband most of the time that when she occasionally grants the big gesture, I found it false. She knows what she wants to happen, and she knows what wanting those things will do to Douglas. And she doesn’t care. It’s all about Connie and what Connie desires.

Grab your tissues, because you will need them. Nicholls does not spare his readers, and he does not aim to make us comfortable. He writes about real people in real situations, and life, Nicholls seems to say, is uncomfortable at best.

This is a magnificently written book of a physical journey – the Petersen family’s “Grand Tour” – and a psychological, emotional, spiritual journey – Douglas’ examination of his marriage and fatherhood. It’s more than the story of a guy trying to save his marriage. It’s the story of a man desperate to keep the woman he loves from leaving him, because he doesn’t know who he is without her. His son is going to leave. That’s a given. Albie is headed to college, and it’s inevitable that he will leave the home. But Connie? Connie can – and should – stay. She should want to fight for this marriage as much as Douglas does. She should want to be with him as much as he wants to be with her. If she doesn’t want these things, who does Douglas become?

Sometimes you read a book and you know – you just KNOW – that you won’t like the ending. When the book is as beautifully written as this one, you have to trust the writer to know how the book should end. Your idea of the “right” ending may be different from his, but no one knows the characters better than their creator. In this case, David Nicholls gives us – and his characters – the ending we need, if not the one we want.

Links:

Check out this video of Us.

 For more information on David Nicholls, check out his website and Facebook page.David Nicholls

For more information about the novel and to purchase a copy, head here:

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Review: Accidents of Marriage

accidents of marriage

Accidents of Marriage

by Randy Susan Meyers
Published by Atria
369 pages
Genre: women’s fiction
4 / 5

Summary:

From the bestselling author of The Comfort of Lies, an engrossing look at the darker side of a marriage—and at how an ordinary family responds to an extraordinary crisis.

Maddy is a social worker trying to balance her career and three children. Years ago, she fell in love with Ben, a public defender, drawn to his fiery passion, but now he’s lashing out at her during his periodic verbal furies. She vacillates between tiptoeing around him and asserting herself for the sake of their kids—which works to keep a fragile peace—until the rainy day when they’re together in the car and Ben’s volatile temper gets the best of him, leaving Maddy in the hospital fighting for her life.

Randy Susan Meyers takes us inside the hearts and minds of her characters, alternating among the perspectives of Maddy, Ben, and their fourteen-year-old daughter. Accidents of Marriage is a provocative and stunning novel that will resonate deeply with women from all walks of life, ultimately revealing the challenges of family, faith, and forgiveness.

My Review:

I finished this book about a month ago, but it’s taken me a while to write about it. I had to figure out how I felt about what Randy Susan Meyers is saying through her story and characters.

And I had to figure out if I dislike the book or the characters.

I decided it’s the latter.

Maddy and Ben have a volatile marriage, to say the least. It hasn’t always been this way, at least not in its current sense of borderline violence. Initially drawn to Ben’s passion and intellect, Maddy now wonders when her public defender husband will cease being verbally violent and instead become physical. It’s no way to live.

When the two have an argument while Ben is driving, an accident ensues, leaving Maddy fighting for her life. Ben’s reaction? Let’s just say that good old Ben doesn’t need to worry about giving a Husband of the Year speech any time soon. Yes, he’s overwhelmed. Yes, he feels guilty. But, Ben. SERIOUSLY?

On the other hand, at least Ben’s response is true to who he is. Maddy appears to have no understanding of herself, much less her husband and marriage. She’s someone who has let life happen to her, rather than attempting to happen to life.

The two share a precocious fourteen-year-old daughter, Emma, as well as younger children Caleb (seven) and Gracie (nine). Maddy’s accident means that Emma has to take over the parenting, because goodness knows that Ben is no help whatsoever. It isn’t that he doesn’t care; Ben loves his children, and he loves his wife. It’s more that he’s a selfish, self-centered boor, a man whose reliance on his verbal prowess has turned him into someone who uses words as a weapon.

It’s clear that Maddy and Ben’s marriage was headed for massive trouble before the accident. Afterwards, it remains in perilous shape. Ben has nothing but scorn and derision for Maddy, whether her parenting, her job, or her very existence. And Maddy doesn’t hold her husband in much higher regard. She despises him, even. She may be afraid of his moods and tempers, but even when he’s subdued, she seems unable to truly love him. Maddy acknowledges that the signs were there, early on, regarding Ben’s temper and selfishness. Yet she married him anyway. And that’s where I would lose patience with Maddy. She knew what she was getting with Ben, so playing the victim does not become her.

One thing these two have is a healthy sexual relationship, even when Maddy returns from the hospital. They are drawn to each other on almost a feral level, and that attraction does not diminish. But sex, as Maddy and Ben both realize, is a temporary salve.

Emma’s part of the story is the most heartbreaking, as she is the most innocent of victims. She is angry that her parents think she’s nothing more than a maid or babysitter, yet when her mother is hospitalized, Emma shows that she’s the strongest member of the family. She seeks emotional support in a favorite aunt and in religious instruction, finding some solace with a boy from school – but not in the way you would think.

Maddy and Ben’s marriage suffers several “accidents,” each of them the result of foolishness on the part of one or the other. The thing about accidents, though, is that they are not intentional. They are unplanned, unpredicted, the result of a mistake in judgment or action. And so Ben and Maddy must decide how they will respond to the accidents that befall them.

This is not a happy book to read, whether the scenes before Maddy’s injury or after. There is the fractured marriage, there is Maddy’s fractured mind, and there is the fractured family. Randy Susan Meyers tells this story unflinchingly. We get into Ben’s head and see why he makes the decisions he does, although even with that knowledge, he’s still immensely unlikable. We also get into Maddy’s. Pre-accident, she popped Xanax to get through the day. Post-accident, she repeats “remember, remember, remember” to herself in hopes that even the simplest bits of information will come back to her. Emma’s mind is the most sympathetic and uncluttered, making her the only truly likable character in this book.

But perhaps that’s the point. We don’t always like each other, married or not. We aren’t always happy. We don’t always react the way we should or as we’re expected to do. We hurt each other, accidentally and purposefully. We make mistakes. We commit accidents.

The important thing – what measures us as people – is how we respond to those accidents. And in Randy Susan Meyers’ world, our responses, lacking though they are, still can bring hope.

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Review: Black Lies

Black Lies

Black Lies

by Alessandra Torre
Published by Alessandra Torre
296 pages
Genre: erotica; romance
4.5 / 5

Summary:

Brant:
Became a tech billionaire by his twentieth birthday. Has been in a relationship with me for 3 years. Has proposed 4 times. Been rejected 4 times.

Lee:
Cuts grass when he’s not banging housewives. Good with his hands, his mouth, and his body. Has been pursued relentlessly by me for almost 2 years, whether he knows it or not.

Go ahead. Judge me. You have no idea what my love entails.

If you think you’ve heard this story before, trust me – you haven’t.

My Review:

I love Alessandra Torre’s books. The Blindfolded series (otherwise known as “Reasons to Wish Brad De Luca was Real and Dating Me”), The Girl in Apartment 6E, and Sex, Love, Repeat are hot, steamy, and pretty well-written. Torre takes our traditional look at love and twists it around, forcing you to accept that love comes in different sizes and shapes for different people.

Such is the case with Black Lies.

Now, this book is terribly difficult to write about without divulging a huge plot twist, but I’m going to try my best to do so.

Layana (okay – that name is just flat out awful) is a wealthy, entitled daughter of wealthy, entitled parents, the sort who expect her to grin, bear, and present the stiffest of upper lips. She no longer lives with her San Francisco parents, but she’s close enough. No, they don’t pay her way (a trust fund takes care of that), but this isn’t to say that Layana (that name … even if she’s also called ‘Lana,’ it doesn’t help) makes her own way in this world.

Stuck at another certain-to-be-dull fundraiser, she meets Brant, a technological wunderkind to whom she finds herself immediately and irrevocably drawn. Brant is one of those men whose focus tends to be solely on his job, and no one is more surprised than he is when he and Layana (aren’t you picturing a stripper teetering on lucite heels?) leave the dinner to go rock the headboard back at her place.

A romance of sorts begins, and before too long, the two are professing their love.

But this is Alessandra Torre, so you know something bad is going to happen.

In this case, Layana has been warned by Brant’s Aunt Jillian that he harbors a Dark Secret. When Layana finds out what it is, she is utterly gobsmacked.

She is also, however, in love with Brant, and she is determined to stay with him. Then she meets Lee, and she is every bit as drawn to him. He is Brant’s opposite in nearly every way: he works as a landscaper, he’s rough and coarse, and he likes his sexy times rough and coarse.

And Layana (you know you’re at least picturing a Waffle House waitress, smacking her gum while writing out your order with a pen that has a bobble head on the end) likes Lee. A lot. A whoooole lot, in fact.

She keeps warning us that if you knew – if you understood why – you wouldn’t judge her for spending time with Lee. For falling in love with him, even. And it’s true. You do forgive.

Brant’s secret, the cause of the “black lies” between him and Layana, is heartbreaking. It makes you adore him even more, and it even helps you respect Layana’s choices. While she tells the story from her perspective, Torre occasionally gives us Brant’s point-of-view, which only cements our affection for him. He’s a good man, deserving of someone’s unconditional love. The question is whether Brant – all of him, every piece and part of him – loves Layana enough to let her love him in return.

Now, with Alessandra Torre as the author, you know you want to find out about that headboard rocking. Strap on your vibrators, girls, because you will need them as you read this one. I’d also have a spare set (or two) of batteries handy. Brant and Layana leave a scorched path on the sheets, and Lee – oh, Lee – can make the magic happen like the stuff of fantasies. When he demands that Layana drop to her knees on a cruddy bar bathroom floor, you’re surprised it takes her as long as it does. And it does not take her very long. He’s a snarling, hair pulling, hard thrusting kind of man who is intent on his pleasure. Brant, too, is a focused lover, but he demands that Layana feel as much, if not more, pleasure than he does. Lee? Lee wants his “release,” and if Layana is lucky enough to enjoy hers, so be it.

I enjoyed this book so much. The writing is not perfect, and the story has its share of holes. Torre addresses the latter in her afterword, in which she acknowledges that to tell the story of Brant and his secret, she needed to play a little fast and loose with certain facts. That’s acceptable, though. What proves more nigglesome is the occasional sappy dialogue and the straight-out-of-Central-Casting bad guy and girl.

This is Brant’s story, though. His, far more than Layana’s. Can love heal? Is it enough? Is any one of us able to love someone so completely that we can withstand their darkest, blackest secret?

Brant makes you think you could.

(As an aside: I read an ARC of this book, and I hope – I really, truly hope – that the phrase “I could care less” was fixed prior to publication. That phrase is a particular pet peeve of mine because IT DOES NOT MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS.)

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Review: Hopelessly Devoted to You

hopelessly devoted

Hopelessly Devoted to You

by Jill Steeples
Published by Carina UK
304 pages
Genre: chick lit; romance
3.5 / 5

Summary:

Meet Ruby’s fiancé, Finn. He’s gorgeous, thoughtful, successful and adoring – pretty much anyone could ever want in a man.

In fact, he’s perfect. The catch? He’s just not perfect for her. But when Ruby finally plucks up the courage to come clean, Finn’s so furious that he misses his footing as he runs down the stairs – and suddenly, it’s not just his heart that’s broken!

When Finn wakes up, he can’t remember a thing. Not that Ruby dumped him – not even that they were ever engaged! It’s on the tip of Ruby’s tongue to come clean, but somehow, it never seems to be the right time… And as the weeks pass, she sees a new side to Finn. Arrogant and a shameless flirt, he’s irresistibly bad, and the chemistry between them is explosive!

It’s not that Ruby’s lying… she’s just withholding the truth. And seeing as things are going so well, perhaps there’s no need for Finn to have his memory jogged… The trouble is, there’s every chance that Finn might remember for himself!

My Review:

When you’re engaged to the perfect guy – someone you’ve known forever, who is gorgeous and a perfect gentleman, hard working and absolutely in love with you – you would consider yourself lucky, wouldn’t you?

Well, Ruby isn’t so sure. Three months away from her wedding to Finn, she thinks, in fact, that it’s time to let him go. She loves him in that she’s fond of him, comfortable with him, and believes she should marry him. But something is missing from their relationship, at least for her. Finn seems contented and ready for marriage, but … alas, there is a “but.”

Ruby steels herself to tell Finn that it’s over, news he greets with shock and anger. The combination of the two sends him into a literal fall, which in turn causes him a nasty bump on the head, which leads to amnesia. He remembers Ruby and their life together, but as far as this memory-addled man is concerned, he and Ruby are still getting married.

Because she isn’t a monster, and because she does love Finn, Ruby sticks by him post-accident. In doing so, she meets a “new” Finn. Gone is the guy who needed everything tidy and just so, the guy who was a patient and caring lover, the guy who readily donned a coat and tie and smiled his way through cocktail parties and dinner engagements.

In his place is a man who flirts outrageously, tells Ruby if he thinks she’s gained some weight, and who takes during lovemaking as much as he gives.

And Ruby likes. She likes this Finn a LOT.

It isn’t just their sex life that has Ruby enthralled by Post-Accident Finn. It’s FINN. He’s frisky and flirty and fun and flinty. He’s Finn, but he’s not. He even tells Ruby that she could stand to lose a few pounds, something Before The Accident Finn would never do. Ruby finds herself falling in love with him – for real, this time.

Hovering over all of this is Finn’s memory. What if he recalls the fact that Ruby had just called off their engagement? What if he remembers?

Jill Steeples weaves a sweet romance together, letting us see what would happen if you could get a second chance. Yes, Finn changes. What if this is the “real” Finn, though? And what will he think of the “old” Finn? Or the “old” Ruby?

Sure, you know how this will work out. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun to read. As much as Finn changes, Ruby changes even more. She was someone who thought very little of herself, yet as she adjusts to Post-Accident Finn, she gains confidence and surety. She becomes convinced that she is enough, just as she is.

This is a quick read, with some cute love scenes. Nothing terribly explicit or even all that hot (Steeples leaves a lot to your imagination, and my imagination is quite proficient at conjuring up just what, exactly, Finn and Ruby get up to with their clothes off).

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Review: One in a Million

one in a million

One in a Million (A Lucky Harbor Novel)

by Jill Shalvis
Published by Grand Central Publishing
352 pages
Genre: romance; chick lit
4 / 5

Summary:

As the brains behind wedding site TyingTheKnot.com, Callie sees it all: from the ring to the dress, the smiles . . . to the tears. It’s that last part that keeps her single and not looking. Getting left at the altar will do that to a girl. But when Callie returns to her old hometown, she finds that her sweet high school crush is sexier than ever. And he makes it hard to remember why she’s sworn off love . . .

Tanner is a deep-sea diver with a wild, adrenaline-junkie past-and now his teenage son is back in his life. How can Tanner be a role model when he’s still paying for his own mistakes? It’s hard enough that gorgeous Callie has appeared in town like a beautiful dream, challenging his best-laid plans to keep his heart on lockdown. Though there’s something about being around her again that makes him feel like he can be the man she-and his son-deserve. Little Lucky Harbor holds their past; can it hold a beautiful new future?

My Review:

There is an art to writing good chick lit. You have to have a believable premise (no matter how often it’s been used), a hot hero, characters you love and loathe, and you have to have some spicy headboard rocking.

Jill Shalvis has cracked the code, and, with her Lucky Harbor series, she consistently delivers good chick lit.

In this latest installment, our adorable heroine is Callie, a Lucky Harbor native back in town to care for her grandmother. Callie’s parents, two kind and loving but self-absorbed souls, think Grandma is losing her mind, so they ask Callie to check on the old girl and make sure she is competent. Fortunately, Callie’s job – she’s a techie genius who runs a website focused on wedding planning – gives her the freedom to sublet her San Francisco apartment for a few months so she can come home.

Which in turn gives her the chance to bump into Tanner, her high school crush. Callie had no small amount of hero worship for Tanner, although he largely paid her no mind. He was a few years older and a few leagues more popular. It isn’t that he didn’t notice her; as the resident brainiac, she helped him with his homework. And she was cute.

She still IS cute, and Tanner finds himself immediately drawn to her. They keep bumping into each other and discover that each has a skeptical, cynical view of everlasting love. Callie’s is due to having been left – literally – at the alter, and Tanner’s comes in the form of his ex-wife, a woman he knocked up his senior year of high school. Tanner loves his chip-off-the-old-troublemaking-block teenaged son and aspires to be the father he never had.

Naturally these two are destined to be together, even if they can’t see that for themselves. Callie’s friends, Olivia and Becca (veterans of the Lucky Harbor series) sure do. As two women engaged to marry Tanner’s two BFFs, they know Tanner is drawn to Callie, just as she is to him. Every time our lovebirds get together, though, Callie admonishes Tanner by telling him that their hot headboard rocking does not change a thing.

Except, of course, it does.

Even though you know – YOU KNOW – that Tanner and Callie will find True Love Always, Shalvis writes a story that makes you feel surprised that the two do, in fact, find a way to come together. Callie nad Tanner need some emotional healing, and watching them learn to trust each other (and themselves) is fun and engaging.

The sexy times are hot (if not wildly explicit), the dialogue adorable and occasionally heartbreaking, and the characters lovable.

It’s another solid outing from Jill Shalvis.

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edelweiss

Review: The Remedy for Love

remedy for love

The Remedy for Love

by Bill Roorbach
Published by Algonquin Books
320 pages
Genre: romance
4 / 5

Summary:

They’re calling it the “Storm of the Century,” so Eric stops at the market for provisions on his way home from work. But when the unkempt and seemingly unstable young woman in front of him in line comes up short on cash, a kind of old-school charity takes hold of his heart—twenty bucks and a ride home is the least he can do, right? Trouble is, Danielle doesn’t really have a home. She’s squatting in a cabin deep in the woods, no electricity, no heat, nothing but the nearby river to sustain her. She’ll need food, water, firewood, and that’s just to get her through the storm: there’s a whole Maine winter ahead.

So he gets her set up, departs with relief, climbs to the road, but his car has been towed with his phone inside, and the snow is coming down with historic speed and violence. There’s no choice but to return to the cabin. Danielle is terrified, then merely hostile—who is this guy with his big idea that it’s she who needs rescuing? As the snow keeps mounting, they’re forced to ride out the storm together. For better and for worse.

The Remedy for Love is a harrowing story about the truths we reveal when there is no time or space for artifice.

My Review:

Eric is one of those people who seems like a human duckling: he allows himself to be imprinted upon by whatever he sees first.

He’s a great guy – don’t get me wrong. You want him as your friend, and you trust him. He’s a lawyer whose clients can’t – or won’t – always pay him, and he seems blithely unconcerned. With the forecasters calling for a tumultuous storm – I’m sure all heavy symbolism is intentional – Eric stops by the market to pick up some food. His basket, though, is full of provisions that only someone woefully out of touch with the threat of storm-induced isolation could have. He’s got elitist cheese and $34 bottles of wine wine, organic Asian eggplants and kale – stuff intended to impress more than help one survive.

In front of him in line is a woman who looks, shall we say, hygienically challenged. When she can’t pay for all of her items, Eric first wonders why she doesn’t just exchange the huge bottle of Advil for a generic brand, but then winds up helping her pay. And when he sees her walking home, laden with her parcels, he offers her a ride home.

To say that this woman, who says her name is “Danielle, for now,” is unenthusiastic about Eric’s aid is a vast understatement. She seems almost affronted by his help. He drives her home, helps her get her bags into her rickety, likely uninsulated cabin, and even chops woods for her. All of this takes time, of course, and when Eric tries to leave, he realizes that he’s stuck.

Danielle doesn’t exactly proffer hospitality, but she realizes that Eric truly is at her behest. And so begins their stay in the cabin, as they attempt to survive the storm. Sure, they have Danielle’s oranges and Eric’s disposable Bic razors, but they don’t have heat, aside from the wood burning stove, or electricity, or insulation, or enough food.

Bill Roorbach creates a story that has a couple of different threads. First, there is the burgeoning relationship – romance, even – between Eric and Danielle. They’re both married, although neither’s spouse is nearby. Danielle’s is stationed in the Middle East, and Eric’s is several hours away. His marriage is in a state of flux, with his wife not quite certain she wants to stay married to him. Danielle sees what Eric can’t – or won’t – and she derives a somewhat cold enjoyment of enlightening him. As for her marriage, there are things that Eric sees that she doesn’t, although it takes him a while. (We know the truth before he does.)

Roorbach also tells a tale of survival, whether of love and marriage or a snowstorm. It’s clear that Eric and Danielle are not in a safe place, either in terms of their emotional well-being and their physical. Something needs to be done; a remedy must be found. Roorbach builds the tension and suspense as he keeps you wondering what will happen and if Eric and Danielle can survive.

Sometimes I hoped Eric would just escape and free himself from Danielle’s weirdness. (She calls him “Mister,” which annoyed me to no end for some reason.) But as I would think those unkind things about a woman clearly in need of rescuing, Eric would do something sweet and kind and fully unconditionally, and I’d hope that the two could find a way to be happy together.

This is not always an easy read. Roorbach uses an uncomfortable tone most of the time, and there is the uncertainty about what will happen with Eric and Danielle. At the same time, he invests you fully in his story, making you feel as if your safety is every bit as tenuous as his characters’. The longer Eric and Danielle are trapped in the cabin, the greater your own sense of claustrophobia and fear increases.

When you read this one, stop by the comments and let me know what you think. Did you like Eric? Danielle? What did you think of the ending?

It’s a book that makes you think, and is one you will want to discuss.

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Review: The Perfectionists

The-Perfectionists

The Perfectionists

by Sara Shepard
Published by HarperTeen
336 pages
Genre: YA
3.5 / 5

Summary:

You don’t have to be good to be perfect.

From Sara Shepard, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Little Liars, comes another series full of juicy secrets, nail-biting suspense, and beautiful girls who will do anything to hide the ugly truth.

Ava, Caitlin, Mackenzie, Julie, and Parker are all driven to be perfect—no matter the cost. At first the girls think they have nothing in common, until they discover that they all hate the same person: handsome womanizer Nolan Hotchkiss, who’s done things to hurt each of them. They come up with the perfect plan to murder Nolan—jokingly, of course. They’d never actually go through with it. But when Nolan turns up dead in the exact way they’d discussed, the girls suddenly become prime suspects in his murder. Only, they didn’t do it. So who did? Unless they find the real killer, and soon, their perfect lives will come crashing down around them.

My Review:

Sara Shepard knows her audience. Predominately teenage girls who enjoy fashion, makeup, hairstyles, and the lives of the fabulously wealthy. Oh, and some sort of murder, bribery, and mayhem.

In this kickoff to her latest series, we have five gorgeous girls who, despite their surface similarities, actually are quite different. Each struggles with her own sort of insecurities and issues, and it is to Shepard’s credit that these characters feel relatable despite their wealth and social standing. In fat, Shepard’s message – that all the money and haute couture in the world can’t get rid of your problems – is universal throughout her books.

Back to this one.

So the girls strike you as the sort who would be pulling each other’s hair out and preying on each other’s weaknesses. Sure, there may be the occasional ostensible alliance, but you know that one would throw the other under a bus in a heartbeat if it meant ridding herself of an obstacle.

But one thing unites our fair ladies: they have all been left broken and bereft by ladykiller Nolan Hotchkiss. When the fivesome winds up hanging out during a party, they decide that it would be just fabulous if they could rid the world of Nolan. They’d be performing a public service, really.

Of course, they’re joking.

Aren’t they?

Well, see, Nolan winds up deader than the chances of these girls shopping at Walmart. And it turns out that their little jokey joke was overheard by someone. And that someone plans to use the conversation against the girls.

We’ve seen this before, of course, in Shepard’s books. It’s a staple of her story telling. And, as is her wont, we’re kept guessing as to who the eavesdropper is and what his or her motives are.

This is a fast-paced book with twists, turns, and the occasional predictable moment. Shepard strives, though, to keep her readers guessing, and she knows how to weave an intricate, twisty tale. Sure, much of it feels familiar. But the thing is, Sara Shepard can tell a tale that keeps you turning the pages and invests you in her characters.

She also knows how to end on a cliffhanger, so OF COURSE you will need to read the next one.

Well played, Sara Shepard. Well played.

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Review: Christmas with a Billionaire

xmas with a billionaire

Christmas with a Billionaire

Billionaire under the MistletoeSnowed in with Her BossA Diamond for Christmas

by Carole Mortimer, Maisey Yates, Joss Wood
Published by Harlequin
320 pages
Genre: romance; chick lit
4 / 5

Summary:

An embarrassment of riches: three sweet and sexy tales of holiday romance!

Billionaire under the Mistletoe by Carole Mortimer

When softhearted Sophie pulls off a last-minute Christmas miracle for a family in crisis, she wins the gratitude—and heart—of wealthy Max Hamilton. But at what cost?

Snowed in with Her Boss by Maisey Yates

Dutiful Amelia is stranded on Christmas Eve. (Bad.) She’s at a five-star Aspen resort. (Good!) She’s posing as her handsome boss’s girlfriend. (So bad it’s good!) But is she pretending…or practicing with Luc Chevalier?

A Diamond for Christmas by Joss Wood

Headstrong Riley’s holiday run-in with hot gemstone tycoon James Moreau is unsettling to say the least. But she soon discovers that the only thing better than resisting temptation is finally giving in!

My Review:

Here’s what you need to know about these stories: they’re hot, they’re fun, and they’re frisky.

You have three Hot Heroes, each of them loaded with money, good looks, and some serious skills at rocking the headboard. The three heroines are enjoyable, likable, and even a bit believable. Yes, the circumstances that pull our three couples together are utterly contrived, but SO WHAT?

Will these stories win the Nobel Prize for Literature?

No.

But will they make you feel cozy like a Christmas stocking?

Yes.

Will they make you reach for those vibrators, girls?

I’m pretty sure they will.

While the sexy times aren’t all that explicit, they are sure to generate plenty of heat, and they assuredly will give you some “ideas.”

Sometimes you need escapist smut, a book with a Hot Hero and some Hot Headboard Rocking, and this anthology fits that bill quite nicely.

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Review: The Good Sister

good sister

The Good Sister

by Jamie Kain
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin
304 pages
Genre: YA; women’s fiction
4 / 5

Summary:

The Kinsey sisters live in an unconventional world. Their parents are former flower-children who still don’t believe in rules. Their small, Northern California town is filled with free spirits and damaged souls seeking refuge from the real world. Without the anchor of authority, the three girls are adrift and have only each other to rely on.

Rachel is wild. Asha is lost. Sarah, the good sister, is the glue that holds them together. But the forces of a mysterious fate have taken Sarah’s life in a sudden and puzzling accident, sending her already fractured family into a tailspin of grief and confusion. Asha has questions. Rachel has secrets. And Sarah, waking up in the afterlife, must piece together how she got there.

Jamie Kain brings us The Good Sister, a stunning debut young adult novel about love in all its joyful, painful, exhilarating manifestations, and about the ties that bind us together, in life and beyond.

My Review:

There is a moment in this book when one of the three Kinsey sisters faces someone she terribly wronged. The individual expects an apology, a rapprochement of sorts, only to discover that the Kinsey girl isn’t there to apologize. She’s there waiting to receive the apology of another sister.

And that, at its most basic, is the dynamic of the three sisters.

We have Sarah, the oldest one, the “perfect” daughter with the permanent glow of a halo, who was struck with cancer, yet cancer did not kill her. Forced into a premature maturity, she had a loving boyfriend, was idolized by youngest sister Asha, and became the de facto parent when her own abandoned that role, ostensibly because it went against their hippie / commune loving mentality. When Sarah dies, a void opens in the family, and it quickly become apparent that there is no one to fill it. Is she “good,” though?

Middle sister Rachel certainly won’t. The prettiest of the three, Rachel is also the one who was overlooked. It was one thing for Sarah to get sick; it’s another that only Asha’s bone marrow matched Sarah’s and that Asha donated it not once but twice. Rachel believes to her core that she cannot make a difference, much less an impact, on her family. She is disgusted by her parents, unamused by Asha, and frustrated by Sarah. Rachel was present at Sarah’s death, and only she knows what happened. Desperate to gain some sort of attention, she commits rash, hurtful acts of betrayal. But does that make her “bad’?

Having donated her bone marrow to her sister, Asha may be the youngest, but she’s also a life saver of sorts. She, too, is as unmoored as Rachel, but whereas Rachel seeks her solace in acts of destruction, Asha looks for it with friends, especially a close male friend and his brother. Asha tends to feel superior to those around her, oblivious to any pain she causes them. She can’t see when someone tries to connect with her, only that she is the one who needs the connection. Is that enough for her to be “bad”?

With parents who abdicated their roles, the surviving sisters are forced to determine on their own their new roles in the family. It’s clear who they thought was the good sister, or at least who Asha thinks is. But as Jamie Kain makes clear, it isn’t that easy. Designating someone as “good” or “bad” is a risky move because you force that person into a role he or she may not want, one she may be unable to fulfill.

Sarah is not all that perfect, nor is Rachel all that awful or Asha all that innocent. If anything, the girls’ mother is the villain of the tale, as self-centered and self-involved a character as you’ll find. It’s almost to a fault because she becomes one-dimensional in her awfulness. Their father does not fare much better, but he, at least, seems aware of his shortcomings.

The push and pull of Asha and Rachel toward healing, both together and apart, is at times heartbreaking, at times frustrating. They are teenage girls, and as such, unformed and malleable. They need a parent who puts them first, and in the absence of that, they flounder and flail, making countless mistakes. Each girl will have her fans; for me, Rachel was the one I worried the most about. Asha seems to have an innate sense of self-preservation that Rachel lacks, perhaps because Rachel had no one to guide her or show her unconditional love. Everything in Rachel’s world comes with a prerequisite, one that Rachel often is unable to fulfill.

Grab your tissues, because you will need them. Jamie Kain does not spare your feelings, and you begin to fear that she is going to rip your heart out with this book. She does, but in a very good way.

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Review: The Silent Sister

silent sister

The Silent Sister

by Diane Chamberlain
Published by St. Martin’s Press
353 pages
Genre: women’s fiction
3.5 / 5

Summary:

In The Silent Sister, Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager. Now, over twenty years later, her father has passed away and she’s in New Bern, North Carolina cleaning out his house when she finds evidence to the contrary. Lisa is alive. Alive and living under a new identity. But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now? As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family. Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality, in this engrossing mystery from international bestselling author Diane Chamberlain.

My Review:

There is so much to love about this book. Riley is a sweet, empathetic character whose need to connect with her family is palpable. She’s just lost her father, somewhat unexpectedly, and her brother lives in a rickety trailer, where he battles the continued demons wrought by serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her revered older sister Lisa committed suicide two decades earlier, and Riley’s memories are sketchy and blurry.

But what if Lisa isn’t dead?

In preparing her father’s house for sale, Riley comes across signs that point to Lisa being alive. If that’s the case, though, then it not only means Lisa willfully abandoned her family, but that – and this is far more upsetting to Riley – her father knew about it and possibly abetted the disappearance.

Riley feels betrayed, to say the least. Her brother Danny, on the other hand, feels bitterness, resentment, and rage.

Fluttering around the MacPherson children is Jeannie, a real estate agent with deep-seated ties to the MacPhersons. Does Jeannie know more than she lets on, or is she as clueless as RIley and Danny? And if Lisa truly is alive out there, then why – WHY – has she played dead all these years?

Diane Chamberlain drops a slew of hints as to what went down with Lisa, answering some of Riley’s questions. A violin prodigy, Lisa was a child not only accustomed to solitary pursuits but one who sought them. She lived her life alone, with only an instructor to guide her. Even her parents were accessories to her life, much less a younger brother and sister. That Riley has bought in to a sort of hagiography where Lisa is concerned is unsurprising, as are Danny’s deep resentments and anger.

Danny, by the way, is the most fascinating character in this book, and Chamberlain thanks her editors for helping flesh him out. I still wanted to know more about him, though. He earned my allegiance when he makes a promise to Riley that goes against everything he wants, just because she asks and he loves her. Danny, in fact, accedes to several requests from Riley, showing us that underneath his tortured exterior lies a man who seeks – perhaps to his annoyance and even shame – every bit of a connection to his family as RIley does.

The character who gets lost in this tale, somewhat ironically, is Riley. She alludes to having ended a dead-end relationship, the demise of which Danny applauds, but she explains very little about it. Why did she get involved with this man? Why does she miss him? She’s a guidance counselor, a career she thinks she was driven to by Lisa’s apparent suicide, and Danny accuses her to treating him as if he was one of her students. The job doesn’t seem to be a particular passion of hers, though. She doesn’t miss it during the summer she spends handling her father’s estate, and you can’t help but wonder what she really wanted to be when she grew up, or if, in fact, she has.

Then there is Lisa. Dead or alive, she is not a likable person. The more you learn about her – her obsession with the violin, her role as the clear favorite in the family – the less you like her. There were times I wanted to scream at Riley to just quit looking for Lisa, because if she does happen to be alive, she most assuredly is not someone you would want to get to know, much less claim as a relative. Lisa’s consuming selfishness is so stark, so severe that I kind of – okay, I VEHEMENTLY – hoped the “Lisa faked her suicide” thing was a ruse.

And that is the weakness of this book. In order to buy in to the MacPhersons’ struggles, you have to feel sympathy toward Lisa, and I just did not. Be dead and stay dead, that’s how I felt about her. Worse, the more I learned about her, the less I liked Riley and Danny’s father, becoming convinced that the Lisa apple did not fall far from the Daddy tree. (Or the Mommy, for that matter, because Mother MacPherson’s death from cancer was eased somewhat by visions of Lisa.) No wonder Danny is so bitter. You would be, too, if your family had a Lisa in it.

The mysteries of the book – what happened to Lisa, why did it happen – are well paced and will keep you turning the pages. I’ll admit, though, that during the last third or so of the book, I was far more intrigued by whether Riley would accept that Legend of Lisa is not worth pursuing than I was by what happened to the violinist.

The problem is that you need to care about Lisa, and I just did not.

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