Wish You Were Here

wish you were here

Book Review:  Wish You Were Here by Sheridan Jobbins

After suffering a break up of some kind (whether it be a death or divorce/separation), a character going off on an overseas trip to ‘find her/himself’ has become a bit of a cliche for movies, books etc.   And this is the general premise of Wish You Were Here. However, in this case, don’t let it put you off reading Sheridan Jobbins’s memoir.

Jumping in a car and driving off into the unknown without any real plan of where to stay or what to do on the way is such a romantic dream for many, including me. But as there’s no way I could afford such a trip (that whole meme about wanting to travel but only affording to get to the bottom of the stairs could have been written by me), so I’m pleased to have hitched a ride with Sheridan in Betty’s passenger seat.

Sheridan has found out her husband is cheating on her, and he’s frankly unrepentant, so… road trip!

Sheridan buys a car (the aforementioned Betty, a name Jobbins uses so much throughout the book that I can’t really remember what make or model Betty was, only that she is big, noisy, very American and the wet dream of most of the males mentioned in the book) and sets off on a cross country trip through America, with a flight to England added in for extra spice.

The best thing about the book is its humour. I laughed so many times. I especially liked the insights into cultural differences. One that stuck with me (because I really notice it an awful lot in the online world) is that an Australian’s normal way is to make jokes and try and be funny, and it’s difficult to tell when they’re being serious, and that Americans are the opposite – that is, their normal state is serious and they need to work hard at joking (might explain why their comedy shows always need 40 writers too!).

Yes, Sheridan makes fun of the Americans on her trip quite often, but she evens it out by giving us several scenes where people she has only just met in the country carry out charitable acts without asking for any reward or payment in return whatsoever.

Sometimes the trip is downright frightening: so many guns (and even though I don’t think it’s ever specified, I get the sense this book is set about 15-20 years ago, so the thought of the guns in America now, in 2017, freaks me out completely), religious zealots, hotels with creepy dolls… But then Jobbins will again throw in one of those touching scenes that will warm your heart and restore your faith and you’ll forget about fretting and travel warnings.

Although a memoir, the book reads like a novel and I quite liked that about it. If I had a complaint, it would be that I sometimes got confused about the minor characters Sheridan knows/is related to/stays with. I didn’t really know who was who on occasion, and found I didn’t really care.

Too, I’m almost loath to admit (especially considering the dedication/author’s notes etc), that I found the romantic aspect of the book slowed down its pace. I thought Wish You Were Here rolled along much quicker in the first half, and it became a little bogged down with camping and tantrums and who was saying ‘I love you’ to whom. I will say, however, that there is an endgame with the romantic plotline. Sheridan comes through her ordeal (for wont of a better word) a better person who can move on and see her future and again, this was quite touching, in amongst the humour.

A strong 4/5

Advertisements

The Child by Fiona Barton

 

the child

Book Review:  The Child by Fiona Barton

The Child is written in the first person point of view of four characters who are all affected when a child’s skeleton is found on a demolition site.

There is Kate, a journalist whose interest was sparked by the story when it was originally reported, prompting her to dig a little further into the investigation.  I enjoyed reading the way Kate went about [basically solving the mystery] garnering enough information to write her piece. The demise of the real journalist in the world of ‘social media reporters’ which accompanied Kate’s storyline was fantastic, as depressing as it was.

Emma was also an interesting character. Obviously suffering from depression and anxiety, I was always unsure whether or not she was a reliable narrator.

Emma’s mother, Jude, and Angela, a woman who might or might not be the mother of the child, were the other two narrators. I didn’t find I connected with either of these characters as much, and I thought the book could have easily been told using only Kate and Emma’s point of views.

The book uses extremely short chapters. Although this makes for an easy read, this frustrated me at times. For example, Emma might have been narrating before a chapter ended abruptly. I would then read on to find Emma was narrating the next chapter and she would recap information I’d already read previously. In these cases, I couldn’t understand why the chapters could simply not have carried on until there was a clear cliffhanger or a change of perspective.

I wouldn’t say the mystery/thriller is very creepy. There are moments when you might feel unsettled, but overall it’s rather tame compared to some other thrillers on the market.

The obligatory twist towards the end was satisfying, although I did see it coming for quite some time. Barton also spiralled into the ‘recap and info dump’ writing trap after she revealed the twist. I’m not sure why authors feel the need to finish their books this way…

I’d recommend reading the book just to get to know the Kate character, however. Although standalone, at times I wished I had read the first book in Barton’s series, The Widow, beforehand.  There are a few references made by Kate which I was intrigued by, especially during her interaction with the police. And I would definitely consider another book starring Kate should Barton release one.

3 and a half out of 5

The Summer of Impossible Things

impossible things

Book Review:  The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

I’d heard good things about this book, and The Summer of Impossible Things didn’t disappoint.

Luna has been seeing things, impossible things, for a while. She thinks she might be going mad, or perhaps have some physical issue like a brain tumour. When her mother, Marissa (Riss), passes away Luna does her best to ignore the strange episodes and instead she and her sister, Pia, travel to Brooklyn to sell their mother’s childhood home. Seeing the house, however, only makes the impossible things appear stronger until Luna is time travelling back to 1977.

Luna knows quite a bit about the summer of 1977. She knows Hollywood was filming Saturday Night Fever around her mother’s local neighbourhood. She knows her mother met and fell in love with her father while he was working as a photographer on the set. She knows Brooklyn residents were in a mild panic over the Son of Sam serial killer. She knows they were also in the middle of a heatwave that would cause a major power outage. But what she doesn’t know is that her mother became a victim of a horrific crime during that blackout.

Coleman reveals not only the details of the crime gradually, but its after effects. Everyone in Riss’s life — her sister, her father, her husband, her two daughters — suffers because of this one moment in time. Luna decides, therefore, she must save her family by travelling back to 1977 to change that moment by preventing the crime happening in the first place.

As writers of the time travel genre like to point out, there’s always a consequence to changing the past. Each time Luna returns to the present, she is met with the changes she’s made happen — some good, but some heartbreakingly sad. Coleman’s pacing and the placement of the sequences showing the repercussions of Luna’s ‘meddling’ was just right. I also loved the way the differences started small and grew more significant with each visit Luna made, building the tension beautifully.

I devoured this book, desperate to find out how things would turn out for Luna in the present day. And, although I did guess one outcome, the ending tied up all the threads to my satisfaction.

If I could change one thing about the book it would be to include more present day scenes featuring Michael, the man Luna finds herself falling for in 1977. I think his and Luna’s age difference etc, could have made interesting and (even more) teary reading. It’s not a big deal though and most people would probably say the romance was perfect as is.

I highly recommend this unexpectedly charming book.

5 out of 5

The Marsh King’s Daughter

marsh daughter

Book Review:  The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

The Marsh King’s Daughter is narrated by Helena, a married mother of two young girls who lives quietly in a rural area in Michigan. Helena, however, has quite the past she hides from everyone, including her family.

Helena was raised in a cabin in the marsh, where her father, Jacob, kept her isolated from the outside world until she was twelve. Jacob, being half American Indian, taught her everything she knows about hunting and living off the land. Unfortunately he also taught her some things no child should need to learn, mostly in the form of physical and emotional abuse.

Helena’s mother was fourteen when Jacob kidnapped her and forced her to live and have a child with him. It would be fifteen years before she and Helena managed to get away and subsequently, Jacob was sent to prison for his crimes.

The book opens with Helena’s peaceful anonymous life turned upside down when Jacob escapes from prison and she suspects he will come looking for her.

Dionne seamlessly links the present day scenes with a series of flashbacks from Helena’s childhood which builds the suspense gradually. Small incidents highlighting Jacob’s misdemeanours grow into his full blown criminal acts and Helena’s growing awareness that her life is not exactly normal.

The book isn’t all Jacob’s creepiness. I appreciated how Dionne went into some detail regarding/understanding Helena’s mother’s apathy towards Helena as well as Helena’s awkward introduction to civilisation.

I can’t fault Dionne’s intricately detailed prose describing Helena’s life on the marsh. Even though I’m a world away from such a setting (guns and knives and bears, oh my!) I imagined everything clearly in my mind.

There is no cliched twist like most other thrillers in the current market feel they have to include. Instead the tension escalates as we read. Until, towards the end, I needed to sit up late into the night to finish.

Highly recommended and I’ll definitely be giving Dionne’s other books a go.

5 out of 5

The Chateau of Happily Ever Afters

chateau

Book Review:  The Chateau of Happily-Ever-Afters by Jaimie Admans

Chicklit is a genre that is difficult to get exactly right. And unfortunately Admans hasn’t got every element exactly right in this book.

Admans writing is not awful, but it is quite simplistic. There isn’t any gorgeous turns of phrase that make you want to read paragraphs again and again or capture you with their imagery. This type of writing isn’t a prerequisite for me to adore a book, but the plot is also a little too basic for my liking.

Perhaps my biggest issue is how Admans uses popular romance tropes in her plot. It’s like she wasn’t letting the plot flow (and the characters develop) organically as she wrote and instead had a schedule of cliches/tropes she just had to fit in at certain times.

We start out with the ‘shared inheritance’ one when a neighbour, Eulalie, leaves Wendy her chateau in France. It turns out, however, that Eulalie has a great nephew, Julian. According to French law, the property must pass equally to surviving relatives as well as those specified in the will. So, obviously, Wendy and Julian are not impressed when they learn about each other and this stipulation hindering either of them taking full possession of the chateau.

The next cliche is Eulalie leaving a letter saying there is a treasure within the walls. We all know the treasure will be Julian and Wendy finding love with each other. We do expect that. This one might have worked if there was a little more to it. Perhaps if Julian and Wendy joined forces to search? Or if there were more supernatural or unexplained happenings in the house. There is a part in the letter that mentions the house has a way of forcing couples together. I think I would have perhaps liked this explored further. (This is odd, because I’m not usually a fan of ‘magical happenings’ in chicklit but, in this case, I think it would have worked.)

The chateau in France itself is a cliche. I mean, it’s in France. It’s a chateau. The overseas romanticised setting is almost mandatory.

I thought the use of chestnuts as the main crop at the chateau was an original idea and a nice touch. I think I would have liked Wendy to have experimented more with the chestnut recipes than the cakes. A cake-making heroine is actually cliche number four. I don’t mind foodporn in books, but cakes etc have been done to death. Using chestnuts as the main ingredient could have given the baking a fresh spin. (Or maybe that’s just me as chestnuts aren’t exactly commonplace in Australia.)

Julian is a cliche. He’s a gorgeous male model. Funnily enough, I just realised Wendy is hardly described in the book, so I’m unsure about her appearance. The book is written in her first person point of view, but thinking about it now, there seems to be pages and pages dedicated to Julian’s looks and zero to Wendy. Odd.

The cliche of Julian showing off his pretty bod was downright uncomfortable. Would you really just accept a man you hardly knew walking around starkers? I know Brits have this habit of stripping off their shirts every time they get a tiny bit of sun, but Julian removes all his clothes. It’s a very strange part of the book. While I’m struggling with making sense of it, Wendy just looks away and carries on as if everyone gardens in the nude.

But it’s the misuse of my favourite trope that grated on my nerves the most. The old chestnut (see what I did there) of having to share a bed is one of my absolute favourites but in this novel is so forced and so ridiculous. The chateau has forty rooms. From what I can make out, there’s beds in more than one. And yet, Wendy and Julian must share a bed because… wait for it… only one room has a light bulb. Yep, light bulbs are essential when you’re sleeping. *sigh*

I did like Wendy’s backstory and her reasons for distrusting Julian, but every time she mentioned rushing back to England because of her job I must admit I got the giggles. Surely anything would pay more than offering samples in a grocery store, including selling cakes at a market in France.

I don’t want to be too harsh. The book isn’t completely bad. I did finish it. And I’m sure if you’re looking for a pleasant book to while away the hours, this book should suit. I was perhaps just hoping for more.

2 ½ out of 5

 

 

 

The Dating Game

dating game.jpg

Book Review:  The Dating Game by Avril Tremayne

The Dating Game is actually a sequel, but obviously it works as a standalone.

Sarah thinks she is cursed. Every man she dates breaks up with her before they reach the three week and one day mark. When she meets ladies man David, she agrees to pose for a painting in exchange for some lessons on how to keep a man.

The first part of the book made everything light and didn’t take itself too seriously. It almost fell into chick lit territory. There was conflict in the shape of Sarah’s best friend, Lane. Sarah believes Lane is in love (or, at least, lust) with David but there was never any doubt everything would be sorted and we’d get our HEA. I was just enjoying a bit of fluffy fun along the way. The sex scenes, and the build up to them, were well written. The heat factor was higher than average but there was nothing too crude that put me off. It all worked well.

Then, Tremayne added a couple of new complications, and unfortunately I found my interest wanned along with the book’s humour and sexiness.

The scenarios she introduced were even what I would describe as a little far fetched. The book lost its chick lit feel and dove directly into a pool of 70’s anti-feminist cliches.

I did like Sarah’s backstory which David decides is the root cause of her relationship issues. David’s backstory was probably where I baulked the most. This is 2017…

David’s past experience with women also made me shudder and reminded me of vintage romance. For example, at one stage we find out that he usually has sex every 2 days, at the very least 3 times a week, and always with a different partner who he’s randomly met for the last 9 years.  This equates to at least 1404 different partners.  Er… You’re getting into creepy Gable Tostee territory here.  Keep that condom on, girl!

I found that once Sarah learned of David’s ‘tragic’ past which was affecting his future with her, the book dragged. The time it took from then to resolution was far too long. The dialogue heavy scenes read like a Days of Our Lives script on a couple of occasions.

4 out of 5 for the first part of the book, but my disappointment with the added silliness that screamed 70s Mills and Boon in the second half of the book pushed it down to a very generous 3 out of 5.

PS I don’t understand the American spelling and terminology in a book by an Aussie author with an Aussie setting Yes, removing confusing slang is one thing, but I found the almost… dumbing down? (for wont of a better term) for the American market disappointing.

My Summer of Magic Moments

magic moments

Book Review:  My Summer of Magic Moments by Caroline Roberts

This is a sweet book which could have, with a few tweaks, made my Favourites list.

We meet Claire, our heroine, while on a holiday at a small Northumberland town. She’s just come through her battle of breast cancer, but not without some emotional baggage. Other than the usual emotional turmoil that goes with fighting cancer, her husband waited until she received the all clear health-wise before he broke the news that he wanted a divorce.

Anyway, Claire decides to spend three weeks in a cottage by the seaside to recover. The cottage proves to be quite rundown but it does a lovely outlook, and not only of the water. Claire’s neighbour, it turns out, has a tendency to swim naked and Claire is quite impressed with the view.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Claire and her neighbour, Ed, eventually go down a romantic path. Actually, I should probably remove the word ‘eventually’. Claire and Ed seem to go from saying hello in passing to kissing passionately quite abruptly. It wasn’t awful, but I wasn’t completely sold on the whole thing. It needed more a build up for me.

I would have liked to have read more plot conflict in the book other than Ed. I didn’t think the ex-husband or the cancer were used to their fullest in this respect.

It was difficult for me to find too much ill will towards the ex-husband. After all, what would have been worse? Him asking for the divorce in the midst of her treatment? And really, he only featured in one or two chapters and this wasn’t enough for me to truly dislike him.

The cancer too is not used enough. It’s mentioned with regards to raising money towards its cure, and the fear of its return, but I would have recommended a few flashbacks to the actual treatment and more of Ed’s reaction to the scars it left on her body.

Instead, there are large chunks of the book devoted to describing mundane activities such as Claire baking bread, moving house, and participating in a charity run. I didn’t mind this during the first few chapters but after a while I found myself skimming.

I also need to touch slightly on Claire’s age. She is supposedly thirty. Everything about her had me thinking she was quite a bit older. Now, I know young women get cancer too, but I just found that the way she was written seemed to point towards her being more in her mid- to late-forties. I do wonder if Roberts wrote the character older originally and an editor or publisher in their ‘wisdom’ made the change.

Overall, I liked the book, but didn’t love it. 3 out of 5