Review: A Year After Henry by Cathie Pelletier

 

Title: A Year After Henry

Author: Cathie Pelletier

Published: Sourcebooks Landmark August 2014

Status:  Read from June 02 to 03, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

It has been a year since forty one year old Henry Munroe unexpectedly passed away. While his mother arranges a a memorial service for her ‘golden boy’, Henry’s wife, Jeanie, is stalking his ex mistress, Evie, his teenage son Chad is drinking and smoking pot, and Henry’s brother, newly divorced and unemployed, is sleeping in the room they shared as children. A Year After Henry by Cathie Pelletier explores the process of grief, loss and letting go.

Each of Pelletier’s characters are struggling to come to terms with the emotional aftermath of Henry’s demise, as well as the changes it has has wrought in the direction of their lives. As the memorial service approaches they are forced to confront their angst and reconcile both their love and ambivalence for the son, husband, father, brother and lover they have lost.

Jeanie is the most conflicted character as her husband’s death occurred just as she had mustered the courage to confront him about his history of adultery. This complicates her mourning process and she develops a mild obsession with one his last lovers, Evie.

I was surprised by the paranormal aspect that Evie brings to this story. It is not really a significant element, but allows Pelletier to explore another facet of grief. Evie is a local bartender and Spiritual Portraitist whose brief fling with Henry haunts her, especially as she realises she is falling in love with his brother Larry.

Larry misses his brother despite having always lived in Henry’s shadow. Henry’s status as the family golden boy is only elevated by his sudden death, particularly in contrast to Larry’s messy personal crisis which includes being forced to move back in with his parents after his recent divorce, and being fired from job as a school teacher.

A low-key character driven novel, there are flashes of humor and pathos in this poignant story of grief, loss and letting go. A Year After Henry is Cathie Pelletier’s 11th book.

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Review: Mating For Life by Melissa Stapley

 

Title: Mating For Life

Author: Melissa Stapley

Published: Washington Square Press July 2014

Status: Read from June 29 to July 01, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Mating For Life is an ambitious exploration of love, relationships and the search for happiness by debut author Marissa Stapley.

The narrative unfolds from multiple perspectives, primarily those of Helen and her three adult daughter’s, Liane, Ilsa and Fiona, who are all variously struggling with romantic entanglements. Helen, a former wild child who essentially raised her daughters, fathered by three different men, on her own, is in her mid sixties and after years of eschewing tradition is wary of her lover’s urging for commitment. Liane has been with Adam for three years, but while holed up in her family’s lake cabin trying to finish her PHd thesis and imagining her future, she realises that he is not who she wants or needs after all. Fiona has invested everything she is into her marriage and children and when cracks begin to appear in the facade of her perfect family, is left angry and floundering. Ilsa, an artist and mother of two is growing increasingly dissatisfied with her passionless marriage to her much old husband and becomes embroiled in an illicit affair.

As the story unfolds, each woman is forced to negotiate the complications of mother-daughter and sibling dynamics, confront the choices they have made and reevaluate their priorities. What becomes obvious is that to successfully mate for life, they must first learn what it is they honestly want and need as individuals.

Each chapter is prefaced by a snippet from the mating rituals of a Canadian animal or bird which relates directly to the content. I thought the writing style was lovely overall, the descriptions of both place and emotion evocative, though at times a little over detailed. I found I was distracted by the additional perspectives added to the narrative from several minor characters and while I think the author chose to do so in order to explore another facet of her theme, I didn’t think it necessary.

While I could relate to some aspects of the themes of Mating For Life, neither the story, nor the characters really resonated with me in the way it has seemed to with other reviewers. For me, Mating for Life was a pleasant read but not a memorable one.

Mating For Life is available to purchase from

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Review: Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z Martin

 

Title: Deadly Curiosities {Deadly Curiosities #1}

Author: Gail Z Martin

Published: Solaris Books June 2014

Status: Read from June 19 to 21, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Deadly Curiosities is the full length introduction to a new urban fantasy series by Gail Z. Martin, preceded by seven related short stories self published by the author.

Cassidy Kincaide is the owner of Trifles & Folly, an antique/curio store and high-end pawn shop in Charleston, South Carolina. Cassidy inherited the family business, in operation since 1670, upon her uncle’s death, finally learning of the family secret and the truth about her own unique skill with psychometry – the ability to know the history associated with an object by touch. Her gift allows Cassidy, with the help of her 500 year old business partner, Sorren, to assist The Alliance – a group of mortals and paranormal beings, in identifying and removing dangerous items harbouring supernatural power from public circulation. In Deadly Curiosities, antiques previously assessed as inert are suddenly creating problems for their new owners. It’s up to Cassidy, along with friend and colleague Teag, to determine the cause of the black magic igniting Charleston’ deadly history and put a stop to it.

I was excited by the premise of Deadly Curiosities, and I still think the concept is strong, but the style of the narrative didn’t quite work for me. I struggled with the incidences of repetition, not only in the information presented, but Martin’s tendency to state and then restate lines. I also felt the way in which Cassidy’s visions were presented, in the past tense with Cassidy as an observer, dampened the sense of immediacy and gave the narrative a somewhat disjointed feel.

I do think there is real potential in the characters for Martin to develop an interesting cast. Cassidy is likeable, and her talent is interesting though I didn’t feel like I learned much about her outside of what she is capable of. I was quite intrigued by Teag’s abilities as a ‘weaver’ that not only gives him in an infinity for traditional materials such as fabric and knots but also the world wide web. Sorren is a bit of an enigma however I’ve since learned that his character is established in the short stories prequels.

I really liked the atmospheric setting, Deadly Curiosities is set in Charleston, a town rich in history, which Martin exploits to good effect, though I have to admit I have no idea how much of what is presented is actually based on truth.

Overall I would have to judge Deadly Curiosities as an ‘okay’ read for me, though I can see, in the story and characters, the potential.

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Review: Temptation by K.M. Golland

 

Title: Temptation {Temptation #1}

Author: K.M. Golland

Published: MIRA: Harlequin Au April 2014

Status: Read from April 28 to 29, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Australian writer K.M. Golland captured the imagination of erotic romance readers when she self-published Temptation, her first novel in a series to feature the sizzling relationship between Alexis Summers and sexy hotel billionaire, Bryce Clark. The buzz eventually caught the attention of Harlequin Australia, who are releasing the series under their MIRA imprint during 2014.

In Temptation, thirty-five-year-old happily married wife and mother of two, Alexis Summers, decides it’s time to return to the workforce but when, on her very first day as a Concierge Assistant at one of Melbourne’s most exclusive hotel complex, City Towers, Alexis spills her coffee all over billionaire owner Bryce Clark, she panics her career is over before it has begun. Surprisingly, instead of firing her, Bryce offers Alexis a Versace dress to replace her Target blouse, and a promotion to the role of his personal assistant. Alexis is stunned by her good fortune, the job is a dream come true but so is her charming, sexy and gorgeous boss, and when Bryce makes it clear he wants her to fulfill his more intimate needs, Alexis struggles with temptation.

Temptation is about sexual fantasy, which rarely conforms to real world standards, but I do wish Golland hadn’t chosen to place Alexis in a situation where to be with Bryce means she is cheating on her husband. Infidelity makes me uncomfortable, no matter the justification, and especially when children are involved, so I couldn’t really lose myself in the fantasy. That said, there are scenes that stir the umm… imagination, Alexis is a likeable character and Bryce is portrayed as a man who would tempt most women.

There is, as to be expected, plenty of sexual tension in Temptation but surprisingly little action. Golland teases the reader with loaded glances, thrilling touches and Alexis’s vivid daydreams, so the actual consummation of Alexis’s and Bryce’s attraction comes after a long period of heightened anticipation.

I was pleasantly surprised by the humour in Temptation, Alexis’s thoughts tend to be unfiltered by social graces. There are also some playful interactions between Alexis and Bryce, as well as funny conversations shared between Alexis and her girlfriends. Golland also makes an attempt to introduce suspense, having to do with Bryce’s cousin Gareth, but it doesn’t really go anywhere within the framework of this novel.

The writing could do with some more polish, as could some of the dialogue, both are, at times, clumsy and unsophisticated but in general its okay. Alexis’s crude language doesn’t bother me, though it may offend readers sensitivity to profanity.

Though Temptation has its weaknesses, the blistering chemistry between Alexis and Bryce is appealing and the overall, the story is entertaining. This is a novel, and a series, sure to tempt fans of erotic romance.

Get to know Alexis Summers with Golland’s character profile posted earlier today on Book’d Out

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Review: Guidebook To Murder by Lyn Cahoon

 

Title: Guidebook To Murder {A Tourist Trap Mystery #1}

Author: Lynn Cahoon

Published: Kensington Books April 2014

Status: Read from April 16 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Set in the small coastal town of South Cove, California, Guidebook To Murder begins with the death of an elderly woman befriended by local bookstore/cafe owner, Jill Gardner. Detective Greg King, is of the opinion that Miss Emily’s passing was due to natural causes but Jill is suspicious and insists on an autopsy which reveals Miss Emily was murdered. Convinced that the sleazy developer that had been putting pressure on Miss Emily to sell her home could be responsible, when Jill discovers she has inherited Miss Emily’s house, she risks becoming his next victim.

The story of Guidebook To Murder is surprisingly busy despite only a single murder taking place. Jill finds herself juggling extensive home repairs in order to meet a council order with attempting to solve the murder of Miss Emily, locate some missing art and defend her reputation from Miss Emily’s scheming relatives, all while receiving regular death threats. And if that wasn’t enough, Jill is also trying to reign in her meddlesome, if well-meaning, aunt, search for her missing best friend, and fight her attraction to the handsome, but off-limits, Detective King. Though Cahoon manages to tie everything up neatly in the end, the story feels a little overcrowded and despite the plethora of suspects and motives, the plot of Guidebook to Murder is still fairly predictable.

I liked Jill well enough, once a city lawyer, Jill moved to South Cove on a whim after her divorce, investing her life savings into “Coffee, Books, and More”. We are told by Cahoon that Jill is a bit of pushover but I don’t really see evidence of that, she has no problem standing up to the developer, the council or even the detective when he writes off Miss Emily’s death as natural causes.
We don’t learn too much about the other characters, Amy, Jill’s best friend, is missing for much of the book, and her Aunt Jackie is busy running the store while the villains are little more than stereotypes. I never quite worked out the Mayor’s role in the story, nor why the developer was so desperate for Miss Emily’s land.

I did take issue with few small details within the story too, for example, probate usually takes two to three months (and generally longer) to complete, whereas Jill had control of her inheritance in days.

Guidebook To Murder is the first novel in Lynn Cahoon’s, ‘A Tourist Trap Mystery’ series. I found it to be a quick, and easy read but not a particularly exciting one.

 

Guidebook To Murder is available to purchase from

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Review: Betrayed by Jacqui Rose

 

Title:  Betrayed

Author: Jacqui Rose

Published: HarperCollins UK: Avon March 2014

Status: Read from March 24 to 26, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publicist}

My Thoughts:

Betrayed is the fourth standalone novel by Jacqui Rose, who gained noticed as a self published author and then was picked up by Harper Colin’s Avon imprint.

Del Williams owns the streets of Soho, running drugs, prostitutes and protection rackets alongside his legitimate businesses. Rich, powerful and ruthless, few are willing to make an enemy of him but even hard men have their weaknesses. Del’s is his mistress, Bunny Barker, and their precious seven year old daughter, Star and when Del is betrayed by his allies it is they who will pay the price.

I found Betrayed interesting because I haven’t ever read anything quite like it before. It is set within London’s criminal underworld where everyone operates outside the normal rules of society. Betrayed is a gritty novel without the patina of glamour usually ascribed to the gangland lifestyle. Rose portrays a brutal underworld aided by corrupt cops, greedy lawyers, violent intimidation and well greased wheels.

Bunny didn’t quite play the leading role I expected and I thought Del was the stronger and better developed character of the two. There are no real hero’s, nor innocents in this novel. It is a little strange when you realise you are hoping the violent, drug dealing gangster will prevail, but in Betrayed the alternative is unimaginably worse.

The pace of the story is good, as is the writing. It is quite visual in style and could be described as Eastenders meets The Soprano’s. Some readers may struggle with the fairly graphic elements related to the victimisation of children, as well as the coarse language.

The gangland crime fiction sub genre doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for me in general but I liked Betrayal well enough. It was a fast read, and the plot and characters kept me interested for the length of the story.

Betrayed is available to purchase from

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Review: The Grass Castle by Karen Viggers

Title: The Grass Castle

Author: Karen Viggers

Published: Allen  & Unwin February 2014

Status: Read from January 27 to 29, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Grass Castle is a quiet, introspective novel exploring the themes of displacement and belonging, grief and healing.

Abby Hunter is a struggling PhD student who prefers the isolation of her fieldwork in the Brindabella mountain ranges to the bustling activity of the university lab. Wary of relationships since her mothers death, she is content with the company of the Kangaroo’s she is studying, but a chance meeting with elderly matriarch Daphne Norrington, and the gentle persistence of journalist Cameron Barlow, penetrates her reserve and Abby is finally forced to deal with her tragic past.

Unfortunately I found I didn’t particularly connect with Abby, she is too passive and reserved for my tastes, and while I had some sympathy for her difficult past I didn’t really understand the choices she had made since, nor some of her behaviour during the story. I did admire eighty five year old Daphne, who weathered so much tragedy in her life, including the compulsory acquisition of her home by the government, and the deaths of her son and husband. The friendship between the women develops from their connection to the land and their mutual need for both for a confessor of past trauma and support in the present.

The romance between Abby and Cameron is low key, part of Abby’s journey rather than a focal plot point. There are political elements in the novel in regards to the efficacy of kangaroo culling, indigenous land rights and media/political spin. I found them a little intrusive at times, even though I largely agreed with the sentiments.

This is a reflective novel that mediates on the need to accept and learn from the past and though The Grass Castle didn’t fully engage me, I could appreciate the way Viggers evoked the setting, in both the past and the present, and the emotions in her characters.

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Review: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Title: Someday, Someday, Maybe

Author: Lauren Graham

Published: Penguin AU January 2014

Status: Read from January 24 to 26, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Said to be loosely based on Lauren Graham’s {Gilmore Girls, Parenthood} own experiences in pursuit of her acting career, Someday, Someday, Maybe is the story of a struggling young actress trying to get ahead, and keep it together, in New York City.

Franny Banks promised herself that if she hadn’t found success in three years she would give up on the idea of becoming an actress and gracefully accept a settled, ordinary life. With just six months until her self imposed deadline expires, and a holiday sweater ad her only acting credit, her future depends on an upcoming Showcase. When she stumbles in the performance, Franny is ready to concede defeat but two agents express interest, one of them from an elite agency, and suddenly her future seems bright…

Someday, Someday, Maybe is often witty and charming but truthfully it offers little more than light escapist reading.

The story is narrated in the first person, with the occasional inclusion of Franny’s filofax pages, call sheets and messages left on her answering machine. i often thought Franny endearing, but she is also neurotic and pityingly self absorbed which I found a little tiring. It won’t be a surprise that Franny nominally supports herself with a job waitressing, has talent but little confidence in herself and is beautiful but considers herself plain. There is some growth for her character but not in any unexpected way.

The plot is predictable, from Franny’s career trajectory to the romantic triangle with the handsome star and the nerdy roommate. Not a lot actually happens as Franny blunders around in the hopes of being discovered, overlooking the obvious, mired in self doubt and panic. She may finally get the agent, and boy, of her dreams but it all falls apart leaving her floundering which finally galvanises her into action.

Despite the endless cliche’s I must admit Graham can write, her prose is easy, often witty, and it’s easy to visualise the characters and the setting. I’m not at all surprised that the book has already been optioned to develop into a televison series.

I found Someday, Someday, Maybe a light, easy read, fine for mindless consumption, but not in any way memorable. It definitely seems to have struck a chord with fans of the Gilmore Girls series though.

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Review: The Tailor’s Girl by Fiona McIntosh

Title: The Tailor’s Girl

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: Penguin October 2013

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from November 29 to 30, 2013 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

I’ve been eager to read The Tailor’s Girl, having liked everything I have read by Fiona McIntosh, in fact a glowing quote from my review of her last novel, The French Promise appears on the book jacket of this novel. Yet I have to confess that I was disappointed by this story that is essentially a historical romance, which is not my favourite genre.

The characters are appealing, ‘Tom’ is a charming wounded war hero who inspires sympathy as he struggles with amnesia after fighting on the front. Eden is a sweetheart with an innate core of strength who wants more than to be just a wife and mother, with dreams of being a successful designer and seamstress. I desperately wanted them both to find happiness and I was invested in their relationship, which is wildly romantic.

The setting and period are vividly drawn from the English countryside, to the streets of Paris, and the grandeur of London’s Savile Row. McIntosh touches on the post Great War challenges faced not only by the returning soldiers but also the women whose new found freedoms were curtailed upon their return.

But I was dissatisfied with the story of the The Tailor’s Girl. I found the plot to be entirely predictable, and its major turning points were horribly cliche, though I can’t reveal them without risking spoilers. The entire story also felt oddly familiar but it wasn’t until another reviewer pointed out the strong similarities of this story to an old movie, ‘Bitter Harvest’ (based on a novel) released in 1942 (starring Ronald Colman and Greer Garson)that I realised why. To be fair though the details are McIntosh’s own, different from the film’s, and the amnesia trope is common in both film and fiction.

I want to be clear that my disappointment with the novel is purely a matter of genre preference, the writing is of McIntosh’s usual high standard and I found the characters and setting appealing. As such, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Tailor’s Girl to any reader who enjoys historical romance, but I have to admit this isn’t a favourite of mine.

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Review: The Happy Endings Book Club by Jane Tara

 

Title: The Happy Endings Book Club

Author: Jane Tara

Published: Momentum December 2013

Status: Read from December 02 to 03, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

When bookstore owner, Paige, first formed the Happy Endings Book Club she was somewhat apprehensive, but the seven single women, a mix of regular customers and local shopkeepers, bonded quickly. All yearning for their own happy ending, none could have imagined just how different their lives would be a year later.

After a brief introduction to the women of the Happy Ending Book Club in the first chapter, the narrative shifts time and place to follow each member as they confront their obstacles to finding the happiness they yearn for. I expected a touch of magic having read Jane Tara’s Trouble Brewing, so Paige’s startling discovery didn’t surprise me, nor did Eva’s otherworldly encounter. Tilda’s ‘affliction’ was unexpected, though I liked the message about ‘seeing’ yourself. Michi’s story was both funny and sad as she struggled with her parents unusual life style choice. Clementine’s story has a neat, unexpected twist, as does Amanda’s. Sadie’s story is perhaps the most traditional as she discovers beauty is more than skin deep.

While each story clearly reinforces the main theme of the book, best summed up by a single line in the last pages of the novel: “Happy endings come not through events but through a shift in perception”, this book seems more a collection of interlinked short stories that Tara has attempted to conform into a novel structure, but the format doesn’t quite work given the book’s brevity (less than 200 pages) and the large cast of characters. As such it feels disjointed and forced at times, emphasised I think, by the contrast between the fantastical and mundane elements, which I didn’t feel really worked with one another.

I know that this book has special meaning for the author from reading her blog, earlier this year Jane Tara was told she was at risk of losing her sight and, as she waited for further results, many of the issues her characters face in The Happy Endings Book Club, are ones she grappled with. At the end of her post about her real life experience Jane writes, “I hope my new novel The Happy Endings Book Club entertains you. But more than that … I hope you come away from it asking yourself, how do I see myself? How do I see the world? How do I see?” and despite my opinions about the flaws in the execution of this novel, I do think  The Happy Endings Book Club was an enjoyable and thought provoking read.

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