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

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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

After You by Jojo Moyes

after you

Book Review:  After You by Jojo Moyes

‘Write what you know’ is often bandied around as the best advice to aspiring authors, but I think we need to change this to, ‘write what you’re passion about’. That is, don’t give into the whims of what is popular right now, what you think your audience will want to read, or what your publisher is demanding you write.

Obviously Jojo Moyes was passionate about Louisa and Will’s story in Me Before You. Even more obviously, she was guilty of one or all three of those last points in the previous paragraph in After You.

Me Before You was such a fabulous book. I loved it. It’s listed as one of my favourite books. And, like many others I would think, my love for it compelled me to read its sequel, despite the plethora of bad reviews. I wish I would have listened to those reviews and resisted because After You really is a jumbled mess. There’s so many things wrong with it, I don’t even know where to start.

Actually, I’ll start at the beginning and the ending. The ending of Me Before You is perfect. There was no need for a sequel. It was written as if there was no plans for a sequel. Hence this is a major problem with After You. Where do you start with a book when there is nowhere to start? Moyes obviously had no idea either, which led to a severe lack of plot. It’s almost as if she sat down and strung some ideas together and hoped for the best. (Note — it wasn’t the best.)

Let me run through the major plot points so you’ll get the general idea. Louisa continues to mourn Will, Louisa job hunts to escape her idiot boss, Louisa meets cute (sort of) new man, Louisa finds it difficult to be with new man because of Will’s memory (this conflict drags and drags until you want to scream), Louisa meets and becomes a surrogate carer for a teenager and… that’s about it. Oh, and there is the major plot line of Louisa’s mother’s resistance to shaving her legs. (Yeah, I know it was a metaphor, Hazel Grace, but it was still as boring as bats**t.)

Louisa’s parents were such strong characters in the original book. They jumped from the page and I could picture them so clearly. They were funny and so very very real. Their return in the sequel is such a disappointment. Louisa’s mum gets about one good line (to do with a toilet attendant) and Louisa’s father loses every bit of humour he displayed in the original. In fact, he comes across as a bit of an idiot instead of the sweet funny battler we knew.

Louisa’s sister appears again. She was forthright and bitchy in the original. This time her personality came across much more abrasive and annoying. Again, there was no humour in her scenes.

And Louisa herself? If I had to list my favourite book heroines ever, Louisa Clark of Me Before You would have made my top 10. Louisa Clark from After You would not even turn up in my top 100. How a vibrant funny and heartbreaking character like Louisa can turn into such a bore within three or four chapters is beyond me.

The other new character is the teenager Louisa takes in, Lily. Lily was not an awful character but, again, she and her plot were as unnecessary and forced as this book.

Aside from the new boyfriend and Lily, there is a cast of ‘’colourful’’ characters who attend a counselling group with Louisa. I thought they were completely wasted. If I’d been the editor I would have suggested putting their scenes between chapters and/or dedicating a whole chapter for each character attending the session’s life, letting their issues reflect Louisa’s somehow. As it was, these scenes and characters are shoved in willy-nilly. I had no idea who was who (apart from another teenager, Jake) meaning I became attached to none of them and in the end skimmed over these scenes.

After reading Me Before You, I had the urge to read all of Moyes’s other books. After reading After You, I’ve now got the urge to give them all a miss. I remember her changing the book’s narrator oddly in the original book and overlooked it as I enjoyed it so much. She did it again in this novel. The entire thing was written in Louisa’s first person point of view except for this one out of place chapter that switches abruptly to Lily’s perspective. I’m sure there must have been some way to reveal to the reader Lily’s secret/conflict without stooping to this idea.

I must add too, that Lily’s sad back story had none of the impact on me that Louisa’s relating what happened in the maze did in Me Before You. That was one of the most powerful and distressing moments I’ve ever read in a chicklit book but Lily’s story was cliched and the ‘sting’ operation Louisa arranged was just plain ridiculous.

I’ve tried to spend a few moments contemplating how I would have rated this book if I’d read it as a standalone and had not had the original to compare, but I’m still not sure. There’s some irony that I read the book because of the original and I hate the book because of the original.

If you’re strong enough, I’d recommend you don’t read this sequel at all. If you do get the urge, I encourage you to re-read the original. Hell, I’d even lay bets on that there’s fanfiction sequels that are better than this.

Horrifyingly, the book actually ends in such a manner that this could become a trilogy. I can’t even…

A generous 2 out of 5

The Woman Who Met Her Match

met her match

Book Review:  The Woman Who Met Her Match by Fiona Gibson

Lorrie might be the woman who met her match, but I’m the woman who has met her perfect chicklit novel.

Of late, the quality of chicklit books I’ve read has been rather low, but happily The Woman Who Met Her Match has restored my faith.

Despite the blurb, the storyline does not revolve around Lorrie travelling to France (most of the book is set in London but, don’t fret, we do get a few pretty scenes with the French setting) and starting up a relationship with her first love, Antoine. There’s a little more to it than that.

There’s quite a bit about ageism. The plot surrounding Lorrie’s new employers especially highlights that society has a long way to go towards changing people’s attitudes about when a woman has reached her use-by date. (At 46, Lorrie is mature without being over the hill, in my opinion, but it might be something to do with the fact I’m also 46…)

Fat shaming is also a huge issue tackled in the book. I’d like to say the number of times this happens to Lorrie was an artistic exaggeration, but I know it was probably spot on. (It doesn’t help of course that, like everyone else in her/my generation, Lorrie suffers from low self esteem.)

Gibson also adds the themes of handling grief, the futility of revenge, and forgiveness with a deft touch.

In the romance department, there’s a plethora of men parading through Lorrie’s life. There’s the aforementioned Antoine, a couple of likely (and not likely) candidates she meets via an online dating site, a cutie from the dog park, and you might even count Lorrie’s old friend and boarder, Stu.

I liked that none of her potential suitors were tycoons ready to sweep her off her feet and into their sports cars/yachts/private islands. Antione was as close as we got to a millionaire, but even he was not over the top.

Choosing a hero for me to cheer on wasn’t a difficulty. Lorrie’s end game guy was my choice, so at last the HEA had me punching the air in happiness.

I also enjoyed the way Gibson wrote the romantic scenes. I thought there was just the right balance between sexy and sweet.

Well, actually, I enjoyed everything about this book. I will definitely be checking out Gibson’s other novels. Highly recommend for those looking for a satisfying chicklit read.

5 out of 5