Category Archives: frustration

Review: The House on the Cliff by Charlotte Williams

6th February 2014

pg1*I received this book from the publisher Bourbon Street Books in exchange for an honest review.

Jessica Mayhew’s psychotherapy office is a sanctuary of sorts. She goes in, listens to her patients, and goes home. Her life is routine, and she likes it that way. But her routine is disturbed when her husband admits to sleeping with a younger woman in what he says was a one-night stand. Her teenage daughter Nella has pulled away from her. And at work, a new client, Gwydion Morgan, an actor and the son of famous film director Evan Morgan, unsettles Jessica.

Gwydion has a phobia of buttons and is concerned it may affect his work in a period film. However, as their sessions continue, a recurring dream Gwydion has dominates their sessions. In the dream, he is a child on his father’s boat. He hears a disturbance and then a splash before he wakes up, unnerved. When Jessica makes a house call after Gwydion’s mother calls her, concerned he may be suicidal, she learns Gwydion’s au pair drowned at their cliff side home, and she begins to wonder if Gwydion’s dream is reality. What really happened to the au pair?

The House on the Cliff – beginning with its cover – looked like an absolutely perfect read for the dreary January weather we’ve been having. Set in Wales, the tone and the subject matter are eery and dark. However, the longer I read, the more I had to shake my head. I thoroughly enjoy mysteries whose detecting character isn’t necessarily a detective. That said, the main character should also exhibit a sense of investigation that makes his or her foray into detecting plausible. Instead, Jessica is a bit of a mess. She is certainly curious, but she never seems to pair her curiosity with rational, measured thought. Unable to forgive her husband for the affair, she quickly entangles herself with her patient (!), delves into his family history without authorization, manages to alienate and place her daughter in danger, and make an altogether ridiculously foolish move at the end of the book. Though I enjoyed the writing, The House on the Cliff left me wondering if Jessica Mayhew is capable of leading a mystery series.

If you’re so inclined, add this to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: The Look of Love by Bella Andre

18th June 2013

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 *I received this unsolicited from Harlequin Mira.

So by now, I think we all know about my hesitation when it comes to romance novels. But when the temps get warmer, and I’ve graded essays and had to email people about plagiarism, I typically want some light fare in terms of my reading.

This book came unsolicited in all its pink and lush scenic glory, and it was perfect timing. But as is typical, I had mixed reactions to this book. In the words of my best friend, “I think you think too hard when you read romance.” Guilty as charged.

What It’s About: Chloe Peterson has left a bad (and possibly abusive) relationship when she finds herself on the side of the road in a wrecked car. Chase Sullivan is a professional photographer with his pick of women, and he hasn’t yet tired of the selection. When he comes across Chloe on the side of the road, however, something tells him this one’s different.

What Irked Me: First of all, can we just talk about the name Chase Sullivan. It’s soooo romance novel-y. Or soap opera. Chase. Sloan. Slade. These names, I swear. But that’s superficial. So Chase is pretty sure that Chloe has been abused, and recently. Does this stop him from making a move pretty much as soon as they meet? No. Also, I’m not quite sure why Chase gets so aroused as Chloe tells him about her black eye, even as he’s boiling mad about it. It’s just…weird. On top of that, Chase’s brothers and sisters (because this is book one in the Sullivan series, and there are a LOT of Sullivans) are – I’m not making this up – a famous Hollywood actor, a professional baseball player, a race car driver, and a Napa winemaker. Of course, you also have the lowly choreographer, librarian, and firefighter. I kid. Those are some damn good genes, if you ask me.

What I Liked: This is one sexy book. When I could forget long enough about how absolutely horrifying it is that Chase wouldn’t even bother to hide his arousal from a woman he knows has been abused or that he enters the bathroom she’s in without even knocking, I figured out the reason Bella Andre is such a success story. Her writing is super steamy and full of the sexytimes.

Plus, even as boneheaded (forgive the pun) as Chase is in the beginning when he meets Chloe, he’s super sensitive and accommodating, giving her time to tell him what has happened and what she needs instead of forcing her to explain herself. And after finding out who has harmed Chloe, he doesn’t charge ahead without waiting to hear what she wants to do, and this is ultimately what saved this romance for me. I’d also say that if there had been a bit more awareness on Chase’s part as to his behavior, his actions in the beginning wouldn’t have bothered me so much.

Is the bff right? Maybe. Romance novels set themselves up to be criticized. Sexual politics are so complicated that any novel that has sex in it is bound to make missteps. Do I wish I could turn off that part of my brain? No. Does it inhibit my enjoyment of a romance novel? Maybe, but I still enjoyed The Look of Love. I’d even consider reading more about the genetically unbelievable Sullivans.

I guess ultimately, breaking down a book like this helps me justify why I like it but also may clue you in as to whether or not the aspects that caused me pause would make or break the book for you. What do you think?

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

“Like Jane Eyre But Without the Crazy Wife”

21st February 2013

Twitter is a fascinating beast for many reasons, and I find some really great articles and stories there. Last week, though, I found something that piqued my interest…and led me to bemoan the “retelling” of classics yet again.

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels of all time, partly because it’s the first “big book” I read, way back in 4th grade, and though I had no clue how to pronounce rendezvous, I did know an epic story when I read it. From time to time, I read about retellings of Jane Eyre, and I cringe and look away, vowing never to pick up said book. Inevitably, these books will not live up to the original, and honestly, why should I waste my time if that’s the case? Don’t even get me started on the erotic retelling…Jane Eyre Laid Bare. [Just typing this makes me ill.]

I much prefer novels that may be reminiscent of certain novels or themes while having intrigue and beauty all their own. For example, Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca has been compared to Jane Eyre with some pretty obvious and interesting differences.

So what did I see last week? A tweet about a writer who has retold the story of Jane. Read the post if you like, but my reaction was much like the takeaway from diet soda advertisements: “Same great taste! Fewer calories!” Similarly, my take on the author’s post: “Like Jane Eyre but fun! And without the crazy wife!”

You can imagine my consternation. One of the most problematic aspects of Jane Eyre is that poor, crazy wife, Bertha. So much so that Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea in an attempt to give Bertha a bit of screen time herself. Bertha Mason lends the novel its horror and its complexity. She is also the reason so many rail against it and why many cannot understand the allure of Mr. Rochester. Without her, without the obstacle of Jane and Rochester’s union, it’s just another romance novel. Jane isn’t a typical Harlequin heroine, ripped away from the one she loves because of a misunderstanding or a silly fight over his possessiveness. She tears herself away out of a sense of right and wrong, leaving the only place where she has ever felt at home.

And you want to make Jane Eyre fun? Well, ok, I guess, but could you stop the references to a heartwrenching novel that chronicles the actual problems of a young woman with no family and no home? Just call it a novel, and be done with it.

In the meantime, I’m going to go read my novel that’s like Jane Eyre in every way except the English countryside, an orphan, a crazy wife, and a hunky man. Excuse me.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

13th June 2012

*I bought this book (and want every one of these with the new covers put out by Harper Collins).

From the back cover (because I’m still exhausted from New York):

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.

Isolated by the storm, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer among a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again.

Toward the end of the spring semester, my students and I read an ESL version of Death on the Nile. Keep in mind, we read this on the heels of two other detective novels: one, a sort of Sam Spade, down-and-out detective novel and Sherlock Holmes in Hound of the Baskervilles. My students did not take kindly to Monsieur Poirot. After the other detectives, they couldn’t understand why Poirot kept allowing people to get killed. “2 bodies!” “5 bodies!” they’d exclaim. “And he doesn’t give us any hints!”

As an avid mystery reader, this would also be my complaint about Poirot. So pompous, and he keeps things so close to his chest, proclaiming again and again that he knows the killer without letting on what exactly gave him the idea. Ah, Poirot, you madden me. Yet, I’m still a sucker for it. This mystery in particular was one I enjoyed just because the victim was so dastardly. When his past comes to light, and the suspects express their happiness for his untimely end, you can understand why. Each passenger has an express reason to want the victim dead, and the end result is one I was both surprised and pleased with, in terms of mystery telling. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read a mystery quite like this one.

Also, in contrast with Ms. Marple, whose exploits are very often close to home, Poirot is the exotic traveler, unfamiliar with his surroundings, yet in his element all at once. I read a few other Poirot toward the end of last year and wasn’t sure if I’d continue with him or not, but Murder on the Orient Express has changed my mind. I’ll still be grumpy about my own limitations and inability to determined the killer, and I’m sure I’ll complain about Monsieur Poirot as well, but as Lawrence Block says on the back of this book, “Agatha Christie is something special.”

The Darlings by Cristina Alger

16th February 2012

*This book was sent to me by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking in exchange for an honest review.

Banks are failing. New York City is full of former financial-type men and women looking for work as the American economy takes hit after hit. Paul Ross is (relatively) lucky. After his firm goes under, his father-in-law, the wealthy and influential Carter Darling hires him on as general counsel for his hedge fund, Delphic. Though Paul wishes he didn’t have to rely on the Darling’s generosity, he also knows his wife Merrill is accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and he doesn’t want to disappoint her. However, when the apparent suicide of a close family friend and business associate leads to questions about the Darling’s business practices, Paul and his wife Merrill have to decide between family and freedom.

Financial thriller. The words almost sound like an oxymoron, but The Darlings is a taut, suspenseful telling of the lives of New York City’s elite and the problems in which they find themselves in one of the city’s biggest crises. Alger breaks down one small part of the financial crisis in a Madoff-like tale of greed, sex, and deception. Though the breakdown of the legal and financial problems is extensive, it is certainly not exclusive, and the inclusion of detail is interesting.

That said, the movement of a book that depends on action does naturally have to slow for these explanations, and The Darlings seems to suffer from wanting to explain the intricacies of a pyramid scheme, seek empathy for its characters, and set readers on edge, waiting for the conclusion of the story.

While it certainly kept me up, wanting to figure out who was telling what lies, I also felt as though some of the character lines were unfinished. Sometimes that doesn’t bother me if, for example, the characters are simply extraneous, but Alger’s supporting characters were, at times, more pitiable and intriguing than the main, and to finish the book without hearing from them seemed, much like the main characters’ attitudes, graceless and self serving.

The Darlings is certainly a timely book, and though very different from Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman (a book I loved), novels set in New York and Washington during the financial downturn seem immediate and almost otherworldly.

Have you read The Darlings? I think this is a book that will garner a wealth of different opinions. Is this one you might pick up?

Read an excerpt here. Buy a copy from Indiebound  or on your Nook.