Tag Archives: romance

Review: Best Day Ever

bestday_narrowRecap: Paul Strom has the best day ever planned for him and his wife, Mia. He’s planned a weekend away at their lake house with a special dinner and surprised the night they arrive. The kids are at home with a babysitter. The weather is perfect. But then Paul takes a phone call. They arrive too late to their favorite bakery to get the snack Mia’s so badly craving. Mia finds out Paul never left money for the babysitter. When they arrive to the lake house, Mia immediately greets their good-looking single neighbor who helped with her garden last summer. At the grocery store, Paul’s credit card is declined. Slowly but surely, the “best day ever” is slipping out of Paul’s grasp, and he is panicking. Slowly but surely, we, the readers, are realizing something’s going on with Paul.

In his anger, he begins reflecting on other aspects of his life, including his mistress, Gretchen, his dead parents for whom he doesn’t seem to care, the fact that he actually lost his job after he was reported to HR for harassing a woman in the office. Paul’s crazy shifts in mood and temper have been apparent to the reader from page one. Mia puts up with it, but it’s still unclear why this is the best day ever when Paul and Mia so clearly hate each other. What does Paul have planned? And at this point, we must begin to wonder whether Mia will make it out alive?

Analysis: A gripping story of love, hate and betrayal, Best Day Ever feels like a new version of Gone Girl with a different kind of twist. The format used is storytelling at its best. Where we usually read “man attempts to kill wife” stories from the victim’s perspective, Best Day Ever flips it, instead telling the entire story from Paul’s point of view. That decision allows the reader to understand how scary Paul is without knowing whether or not the victim realizes it. It’s that uncertainty that adds another layer of terror to the story. The question is not “what’s he going to do?” but rather “is she going to be able to stop it?” We don’t get any insight into her thoughts, feelings, or plans until the book’s epilogue.

It sounds like an obvious way to switch up the format, but considering how infrequently we see this perspective, it’s really not that obvious. Where in other books, an unlikable narrator makes you want to quit, here the book is still a page-turner despite the narrator becoming vehemently more and more unlikable as the book goes on.

MVP: Mia. Without spoiling the end, we inevitably learn that Mia is a strong, smart, caring and loving woman who is not afraid to ask for help when she needs it in the most dire of situations.

Get Best Day Ever in paperback for $15.99. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: The Hopefuls

28007954Recap: It’s one thing to move to Washington, D.C. to support your husband’s work. It’s another to then move to Texas for a year to support him as he runs a campaign for his frenemy. But that’s exactly what Beth does in this scandalous political novel. Beth has always known of Matt’s dream to run for office. But it still comes as a surprise when, after years of living in New York together, he becomes serious about moving to D.C. She follows suit, but hates her new city — too full of pomp, circumstance and pompous politicians and their wives. Not to mention, it’s closer to his family in Maryland, including her mother-in-law with whom she does not get along.

But in due time, Matt and Beth become friends with Jimmy and Asheleigh. Matt and Jimmy work together, and Asheleigh is epitomizes everything a politician’s wife should be. Despite their being complete opposites, Beth and Asheleigh become inseparable, as do Matt and Jimmy. But Jimmy always seems to be one step ahead of Matt in his career, and soon Matt’s friendship also becomes partially built on envy.

After several of Matt’s job prospects fall through, Jimmy asks him to run his campaign for a position available in his and Asheleigh’s home state of Texas. So they all move there, with Beth and Matt taking the Dillons up on their offer to live in their house. One can only imagine the stress, the exhaustion and the changes that develop after months of campaigning. Matt spends little time with Beth. Asheleigh seems distant. Jimmy is aggravated with everyone. But as some relationships sour, others start to bloom anew — and therein lies even more problems than the ones that have to do with politics.

Analysis: Just in time for the 2016 election, The Hopefuls dives into the inner-workings of D.C. politics in the most delectable way. It includes the honest political hard work of The West Wing, the simmering desire of Scandal, and questions about these couples’ pairings a la House of Cards. What makes this a standout is that it’s not about the President, but about some low-level White House employees, trying to make it big. As inundated as pop culture is with political drama — both real and not — we’ve yet to see a story about a person at the start of their political career and not at the peak.

Jennifer Close (Girls in White Dressescover equally the political aspects of the story and their effects on relationships. I love that the story is written from the perspective of Beth, both because she’s a woman in this world and because she’s completely uninterested in the universe of politics. Usually in this kind of story, the women are vicious and want to be a part of the political landscape as much as their significant others. It was a refreshing new angle on what could have been a redundant tale.

The Hopefuls felt like it could have been a sequel to Girls in White Dresses, focusing on one of the characters from that novel. Close’s writing here feels a little more mature, subtle (in a good, smart way) and relevant. The ending here is a little sad, a little lost, but in D.C.’s world of young hopefuls, I imagine there is plenty of sad and lost to go around.

MVP: Beth. Yes, she’s the protagonist and no, she doesn’t always make the best choices, nor does she seem particularly motivated. But she puts up with a lot, and at the end of the day, she’s still the most likable of all the heinous — yet amusing! — characters in this book.

Get The Hopefuls in hardcover for $17.85. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99. 

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‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ ‘Committed’ Author Separates from Husband

liz_03Normally, I wouldn’t blog about gossip-related items, but in this case, it’s the subject of Elizabeth Gilbert’s books. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love and Committed is separating from her husband. Her husband is the man she met on her trip to Bali and the same man she wrote about and called “Felipe” in her memoir.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the author posted about the separation on Facebook, explaining “Because I have shared details of my private life with you all so intimately over the years, I feel the need to share with you this recent change in my personal life…He has been my dear companion for over 12 years, and they have been wonderful years. Our split is very amicable. Our reasons are very personal.”

Much of Committed was about her fascination with marriage and discussion about why we, as modern-day Americans, make such a big deal out of getting married. Her reasons for marrying weren’t want and desire. She married because of obligation. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she and her husband are separating. After all, is that what she really wanted to begin with?

It’s hard to know the answer to that. And it’s hard to write about this and her, knowing that she’s not, in fact, a character, but a real person. All I have to say is I commend her for her openness and honesty. I respect that she announced it and agree that because she wrote about her love and marriage to “Felipe,” it’s only fair she acknowledge her separation from him as well. Their story may be over, but hopefully her stories are not.

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Review: Sunsets of Tulum

sunsets-of-tulumRecap: A near-death experience at work encourages Reed Haflinger to live his life to the fullest, and that includes repairing his relationship with his wife. They head to Mexico for a spontaneous vacation, but after a few days of fighting, Reed’s wife flies back to their home in Boston, leaving Reed to enjoy the rest of his romantic getaway. The romance winds up sparking between Reed and someone else.

Clione is half Reed’s age, but observant and wise beyond her years. The two connect on a level deeper than Reed ever reached with his life. Not to mention their sexual chemistry is off the charts. Reed extends his trip, and the two of them spend their time away from the resort in Cancun where Reed had been staying with his wife and instead explore Tulum, Mexico together. Reed realizes this is the great love he’s always been searching for and decides to end his marriage. But when he receives devastating news from home, he must truly decide if he’s ready to make the change he’s been considering.

AnalysisSunsets of Tulum is a romantic travel novel that explores living your life to the fullest and finding yourself, even if it happens a little later than planned. At the age of 38, Reed seems to experience what most men experience during a mid-life crisis, but he has bravery to actually take the plunge and make changes that many other men aren’t necessarily willing to make. I found it to be a bit unrealistic. It’s hard for me to imagine that someone would actually opt to end a ten-year marriage for a 21-year-old girl who he met a week ago. But I respect the character’s ballsiness in doing it anyway, despite how it looks to other people.

The book uses heavy-handed metaphors to tell the story. For example, Reed is afraid of water, and it’s his new girlfriend who gets him in the water and forces him to face his fears. With water symbolizing change and his obsessive fear of water established early on, there’s a good amount of foreshadowing happening in the water scenes, making it a bit overstated and predictable.

That said, Tulum is extremely sexy in detail I hadn’t expected but certainly can’t complain about, and I think the sex scenes helped to show the feeling of desire, excitement and ecstasy that so many people crave on vacations.

MVP: Reed. He was the most complicated character in the story, who had a very clear arc in growth and development. Though I initially found him unlikable for cheating on his wife, I understood why he did what he did. He later redeems himself, and comes away from it seeking and starting a new life most of us could only dream of.

Get Sunset of Tulum in paperback for $14.99. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $4.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Me Before You

me before youWhen Louisa Clark loses her job as a waitress, she is struggling to figure out what to do next. Her family relies on her and the money she brings in to support them, especially since her father’s been out of work. She goes through a ton of crazy jobs before finally landing a six-month deal as a caregiver for a paraplegic man named Will. Will is a bitter, condescending man who was paralyzed from the neck down in a crash two years earlier. Prior to that, he was an active, adventurous, wealthy man who had want for nothing. Within a few days, Louisa learns she’s mostly been hired to cheer Will up — a seemingly impossible task.

After several months and finally making some headway in terms of cheering up Will, Louisa learns there’s a reason she’s only been signed to a six-month contract. Will doesn’t think his life is worth living, and she makes it her mission to prove otherwise — to show him how he can live a fulfilled life despite his disability. Louisa has a boyfriend, but they eventually break up as her feelings for Will become stronger. But will her plans for travel and deep love for Will be enough to convince him to stay alive?

Me Before You is a beautiful romance novel that also deals with the issues of the disabled, doctor-assisted suicide and learning to live life to the fullest. While Louisa is busy trying to show Will how grand life he can be, he’s the one to actually do that for her — the story turning around on itself. It’s a truly moving book, and the movie is just as emotional and effective.

Sam Claflin as Will and Emilia Clarke as Louisa have ridiculous on-screen chemistry, and while Emilia Clarke’s acting at the beginning of the movie includes some serious over-acting, she grows on you as the movie continues. In the movie, her character is also more perky, quirky and silly than she is the book. Having read the book before seeing the movie, I initially found that kind of personality off-putting, but that, also, grew on me. I realized that where the book could sometimes be incredibly dark, the movie lightened things up a bit. The movie also does a good job of excluding the some of the other darker undertones that both weren’t necessary and didn’t really seem to fit in with the novel anyway — like Louisa’s dark past and the secrets held between Will’s parents. The movie also ends the relationship between Louisa and her boyfriend a little earlier — something for which I was grateful, considering her boyfriend is horrible.

The movie Me Before You is certainly this year’s version of The Fault in Our Stars, and luckily for viewers and readers both the book and movie live up to the romantic, tear-inducing story we all need every once in a while.

Get Me Before You in paperback for $6.73.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: The Nightingale

515p3orn1kl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Recap: Viann and Isabelle are two sisters at different points in their lives, who are both dealing with the same struggle: surviving in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. Just because they’re not Jewish doesn’t make things any easier. Viann and her daughter are forced to house a Nazi while Viann’s husband fights in the war. While she prays daily for her husband, she also must continue teaching students at school and being the primary support for her Jewish best friend and neighbor. She carries on with her duties while watching her hometown fall apart and witnessing death and destruction.

While Viann tries to get through each day, Isabelle decides she must do something and joins rebel group. She moves back to France to live with her father, with whom she has a tumultuous relationship. After months of passing notes between other rebels, she takes up an even greater cause: saving injured foreign soldiers by leading them through the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain.

The story goes back and forth between WWII and a time 50 years later, when one of the sisters considers returning to France for the first time since the war.

Analysis: As much as I love books, it takes a lot for one to make me cry, and The Nightingale had been sobbing, but not in a depressing way like My Sister’s Keeper, and not in a unnecessarily depressing way like One Day. The ending of The Nightingale was simply so perfect, so beautiful that it brought tears of joy to my eyes in the best way. These sisters suffered through so much and made so many sacrifices. Their lives didn’t go the way they wanted or expected them to, but the way they lived them was worth it in the end. Without giving away too much, it was just beautiful.

The mystery of which sister was telling the story 50 years later kept me turning pages as much as their own individual stories. Even the less interesting sections about Viann cooking dinner were still fascinating because of the greater issues going on around her.

I also loved that this was a Holocaust fiction novel about two non-Jews. It makes it obvious that even for the groups that weren’t targeted, there was still so much pain and anguish, and that’s not something we hear about too often when reflecting on Europe during WWII.

MVP: Isabelle. She received the least amount of love. Her family constantly pushed her away. She never received the support she needed or deserved. And yet, she showed more love, gave more support and exhibited more strength than any of the characters in the novel. She made life possible for so many people, and that cannot be ignored.

Get The Nightingale in hardcover for $16.13. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: Inconceivable!

Recap: Everyone loves a good fairytale. That’s why when Hatty, a young college student from the South, meets an equally young, hot prince near where she’s attending school in Europe, she can’t stop thinking about him. Her reporting internship gives her more opportunities to run into Prince John, and those opportunities turn into dates, love and a proposal. It all happens very quickly — a period of just a few months. But in those months, they’re thrown their fair share of curveballs, including paparazzi masked as friends, an ultimatum leading to Hatty leaving her reporting career and…well…in-laws.

But the biggest curveball of all comes when, after about a year of marriage, Hatty is having trouble getting pregnant. All tests show both Hatty and John are perfectly healthy and fertile, but for whatever reason, Hatty’s periods continue to come. Then come the procedures to finally help them have a baby, but those, too, prove to be unfruitful. Now Hatty and John are faced with the possibility of a divorce forced by John’s royal family, since Hatty’s unable to produce a legacy. Will they stay together? Will the royal family pull them apart? Or will Hatty be able to finally get pregnant after all?

Analysis: Unfortunately, the only thing more inconceivable than Hatty is the entire plot of this novel. Infatuated yes, but no one falls in love and marries as quickly as Hatty and John did in the novel. And maybe this is the reporter in me, but for Hatty not to follow her career dream of being a reporter and not formally graduate from college is far-fetched to say the least. Not to mention her parents supporting her these decisions. Before Hatty and John had even been married a year, Hatty’s top priority became getting pregnant, which did not align with her initially career-driven character who never seemed to have a particular focus on children. I won’t go into the ending of the novel here because of spoilers, but suffice to say it is the most improbable part of the novel.

The novel was promoted as a story about a royal couple having trouble conceiving. I assumed the book would start with them already being married and trying to conceive. But the two trying to have a baby doesn’t happen until about halfway through the book, and by that point I already had a sour taste in my mouth about how the two fell in love and that Hatty left her career.

Not only was the “romance” rushed and forced, but Hatty became a less interesting character as the novel went on, and she became more controlled by the prince and royal family. It was disappointing that she gave up her future and career for a man — and rather antifeminist. Her character played even more into gender stereotypes when she became so focused on having a child at 22. I always wanted to know how the couple ended up, so I kept reading. But none of it seems real, and most of it had me rolling my eyes.

Inconceivable! debuts November 16th, 2015. Get it in paperback for 7.99.

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