Tag Archives: romance novel

If I Could Turn Back Time

The Repeat Year: A Novel by Andrea Lochen (Berkley, $16.00, 400 pages)

Some things are better the second time around…

“You have to pay to get out of going through these things twice…” Bob Dylan

This is a book that I wanted to like more than I did. Andrea Lochen came up with a great premise for a debut novel. A young nurse named Olive experiences a terrible year in 2011, when her numerous losses include a breakup with her longtime boyfriend. On New Year’s Day she suddenly wakes up to find that it is not 2012, but rather 2011. It’s a repeat year. (A year that she will repeat with full memories of what happened the first time around.) Will she use it to rectify her personal mistakes and save her ragged personal relationships?

Unfortunately, Lochen fails to make the most of her storyline. The tale begins in a very engaging fashion, but about a third or half-way through it becomes difficult to read. The dialogue seems less true to life, and some happenings made it harder to suspend disbelief. For example, instead of allowing Olive to be the only “repeater,” another character is brought into the story — someone who happens to be a friend of Olive’s mother — who also relives years in her life. That seems like a bridge too far.

The topic of time travel is a fascinating one. Since Olive is a nurse, she could have used her knowledge of the patients that had been treated in the hospital during 2011 to prevent medical errors and conceivably save lives. Lochen uses this notion just once, and by page 200 of 400 the story becomes a pretty standard romance novel.

Clearly, Lochen has some skills as a writer, so let’s hope she herself gets it right the second time around. Perhaps she’ll write The Repeat Novel.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Repeat Year was released on May 7, 2013.

The Repeat Year (Amazon)

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Long Train Runnin’

Carrie Goes Off the Map by Phillipa Ashley (Sourcebooks Landmark, $9.99, 384 pages)

Carrie Goes Off the Map is a very enjoyable road trip novel through England.   Carrie is two weeks away from marrying her long-time boyfriend Huw, when he drops a bombshell; he is breaking up with her.   Carrie had put aside her own dreams of becoming an actress for Huw and had spent the years since graduating from college helping Huw run his family dairy farm.

Suddenly, without a purpose in life, Carrie moves in with her friend Rowena and tries to determine what her next move will be.   Rowena tries to cheer Carrie up by planning a European road trip in a vintage VW camper named Dolly.   Unfortunately, Rowena is unable to go at the last minute and has found a new companion for Carrie, the handsome Dr. Matt Landor.

Matt is back from his work in Tuman after an unfortunate accident.   Commanded to take four months off to rest and get himself together, he is not sure what he is going to do with his time off.   Matt was friends with Huw back at the University, and after meeting Carrie again at a bad moment (it’s a classic moment in the book, I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t read it yet!) he is officially intrigued.   Together they go on a tour of Southern England and learn how to move on with life.   And also learn more about each other.

I really enjoyed this book.   At one point, a barber cuts Matt’s hair and says that he looks like a modern-day Mr. Darcy.   There were indeed elements of that classic story  in this book with Carrie and Matt meeting again after so many years and having a misunderstanding that sets the two at odds at first.   Carrie was much more against Matt than he is against her.   Their delightful friction kept me entranced throughout the book.

I also enjoyed the description of the road trip in the campervan.   It sounded like a lot of fun.   Phillipa Ashley traveled in a campervan as part of her research for this  novel.

I also really liked an odd thing, that Huw was a dairy farmer.   The descriptions of the mega-farm and life on the farm reminded me a lot of life around Wisconsin, AKA Dairyland, USA.   It made me realize that things are really not that different between the United States and England.   It was funny that HUW was considered quite a catch as he was a rich farmer, which is the same as some of the farmers in my county who are millionaires.   Family farms are not the same as they used to be anywhere anymore it seems.

Overall, I found Carrie Goes Off the Map to be a delightful book with great characters, romance, and a wonderful journey.   Phillipa Ashley has become one of my new favorite contemporary romance authors.

Laura Gerold

This review by Laura Gerold was reprinted with her permission.   You can see more of her interesting and helpful book reviews at Laura’s Reviews, http://lauragerold.blogspot.com/ .

Carrie Goes Off the Map is available as an e-book (Kindle Edition and Nook Book) download.   Phillipa Ashley is also the author of Decent Exposure: A Novel.

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One Fine Day

One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls (Vintage, $14.95, 448 pages)

David Nicholls’ novel One Day was recommended by my friend and colleague Joseph (the passion and dedication behind Joseph’s Reviews) who shared that this book was “just about the best love story I’ve ever read.”   So with high expectations I sat down and finished the novel over the course of “one day” without disappointment.

Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew meet on their college graduation day.   Although their backgrounds are far from parallel and they have nothing in common when it comes to their future plans, they make a commitment to a lifetime of friendship.   Following a failed attempt at a romantic interlude (that we discover toward the end of the story), Emma continues to hope that the relationship will evolve into more than friendship as Dexter desires Emma but finds distractions in just about every woman he encounters.   The reader witnesses the ebb and flow of their relationship as Nicholls presents a synopsis of their lives written on the same day each year over a 20-year time span.

I enjoyed both characters as the story evolved.   Even during Emma’s continuous search for her life’s purpose and throughout the stages of Dexter’s egocentric lifestyle, I found their relationship heartwarming.   Emma’s ability to see the “real” Dexter and love him desperately even during his destructive phases, and Dexter’s continuous need for Emma’s support without the constant need for her companionship, presents an honest portrayal of the challenges and benefits of long-term friendship.   I enjoyed the cultural references outlined throughout the decades and was amused at the familiarity of the relationships I have with some of my own lifelong friends.   I won’t reveal any more of the details of Emma and Dexter’s story but will assure you that it is unpredictable and won’t disappoint.

Nicholls has great skill in blending humor, wit, devastation, and confidence in his characters and storyline, which he presented through detailed and vibrant dialogue.   I agree with my friend Joseph; this is one of the best love stories I’ve read.   It was an immensely enjoyable read and truly deserves the accolades it has received.   I am also a fan of actor Anne Hathaway so I believe that this wonderful storyline, combined with Hathaway’s talent, will make the movie version (coming out next week) well worth seeing.

Highly recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “Every reader will fall in love with it.   And every writer will wish they had written it.”   Tony Parsons

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The Show Must Go On

Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen (Algonquin; $14.95; 448 pages)

Following a tragic accident, where Jacob Jankowski finds that not only has he lost both of his parents, but everything he owns, he is forced to immediately recreate his life.   Jacob walks out of his Ivy League veterinary medical exams and while wandering aimlessly decides to hop a train, a decision that alters his future.   The train, it turns out, belongs to the Benzini Brothers, a second-rate traveling circus act.   At the ripe young age of twenty-one, Jacob becomes the circus vet, an undesirable position working for a relentless boss.

To make matters worse, Jacob falls in love with Marlena, a star performer and the wife of an abusive paranoid schizophrenic, who is in charge of training the animals that Jacob cares for.

Told from the perspective of a ninety-something Jacob, now living in a nursing home, Gruen spares no details as she depicts the story of life with the circus.   Through descriptions of the grimy, disgusting living conditions, the filthy abused animals that eat unspeakable food, and the corrupt coworkers, we wait with bated breath to read what dangerous, life-threatening situation Jacob will be privy to next.

Sara Gruen has done her research and truly brings each circus act alive as you, the audience, watch Jacob’s life in the circus unfold.   The ending is surreal but quite lovely.   I look forward to seeing the film, which will be released this month.

Highly recommended.

Kelly Monson

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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Building a Mystery

The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw (Anchor; $15.00; 320 pages)

“I will never get enough of you.   I will never have enough.   I will never have enough.”

Author Holly LeCraw has produced something quite distinctive in this, her debut, a male romance novel.   It’s a romance novel, told from a male’s perspective (and from the perspective of the woman he pursues), about a young man who wants something he cannot have – his late father’s mistress.

Jed McClatchy leaves his big city job to join his harried married sister Callie in Cape Cod.   There he happens to encounter one Marcella di Pavarese Atkinson, who seven years earlier had an affair with Jed’s dad.   As a teenager, Jed was attracted to Marcella from the moment he spotted her in a sexy swim suit at an adult pool party.   Now he finds the very same swim suit stored in the attic of his late parents’ home.

Jed is attracted to Marcella physically, while emotionally and psychologically he’s tied to her in a desperate search for answers…  It seems that after Jed’s father, Cecil, promised Marcella that he would leave his wife Betsy for her, Betsy was found brutally murdered.   And then soon after Cecil died under mysterious circumstances.   Was Marcella involved in these events?   If not, what exactly did she know about this cataclysmic time?

“He was furious, again, that he could not stop wanting her.”

Subconsciously, Jed must wonder (as does the reader) whether he wants Marcella because she’s the one thing his very important father was never allowed to possess; or perhaps it is because she was the dangerous woman who was involved in eliminating her only competition, Jed’s straight-laced mother.   At any rate, this is a very powerful story of obsession – a young man’s obsession with love, lust and the need to solve a family mystery.

“Marcella was trying hard not to tell him that she felt the cooling late-summer days ticking by like she was a condemned woman.   Every night she could physically feel that the sun was setting earlier, the world darkening in response to their looming separateness.   She was having trouble sleeping.   Her life was broken and she did not know how to fix it.”

LeCraw has a fine, calm and sophisticated style that becomes more engaging the farther one is into the telling.   If there’s a weakness here, it’s that making one’s way through the slow opening pages takes a bit of persistence.   (I put the book down after a few dozen pages, but I came to feel well-rewarded once I resumed the read.)   LeCraw’s strength is that the sexual scenes strike just the right balance – they do not simply drop down from the sky, nor are they included for mere titillation.

It’s a bit disorienting to find a debut novel that is truly one of a kind (sui generis) in tone and nature, but this is precisely what LeCraw has delivered here.   Let’s hope for more to come.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Swimming Pool will be released in a trade paperback version on April 19, 2011.   “A fearless novel full of fresh insights and casually elegant writing…”   Atlanta Magazine


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Isn’t It a Pity

13 rue Therese: A Novel by Elena Mauli Shapiro (Reagan Arthur Books; $23.99; 288 pages)

Initially this appears to be a beautifully presented novel based on the possessions of a woman who once lived in the early 1900s (experiencing both World Wars), in Paris.   The graphic reproductions of items owned by Louise Brunet, which came into the author’s possession as a young girl, are reproduced in a high-class manner.   Unfortunately, this story also contains some troubling characteristics which ruined the experience for this reader.

In the early 1980s, the author’s mother salvaged a small box of mementos formerly owned by Mrs. Brunet:  “This box is the sepulcher of Louise Brunet’s heart.   The story behind the objects is lost; the objects are now the story…  As I have carried this strange box through life and across the world, I have always intended to make a book out of it.   This book now exists; you hold it in your hands.”

It is a charming and promising premise – fleshing out an unknown life via the author’s imagination.   A great deal of the content involves the lives of French people, men and women, during World War I.   The read is initially quite engaging as we encounter an American historical researcher-professor, living in the present day, who comes across Mrs. Brunet’s possessions and begins – as he charts out the happenings of her life – to fall in love with her.   It will be an unrequited love except for the fact that through a miracle of time travel he comes to meet her face to face.   Having met Mrs. Brunet, the researcher is essentially freed to fall in love with a woman of his own time.

All of this has a Somewhere in Time or The Time Traveler’s Wife aspect to it, which seems wonderful on its face.   And yet, the Louise Brunet that the reader comes to identify with in the first half of the novel turns into a madwoman in its concluding portion.   This is a happily married woman – a woman who has never had a child – who engages in an affair with a married neighbor, knowing full well that it is wrong and that she takes the chance of getting pregnant; something that would destroy her marriage and world.

This female protagonist also engages in crimes and enjoys confessing her sins to a Catholic priest, to the point where she laughs hysterically after confessing her adultery.   It all seems strange and disjointed, as if the two halves of the novel do not fit together properly.   But this is not the biggest issue with the telling.

“She does not understand the power of that man’s body over her…  He is like a poison in her, all the more potent because she doesn’t want an antidote.   She welcomes this disease of desire.”

The major problem with 13 rue Therese is that the sex scenes are described in terms more than a bit reminiscent of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – rude, crude and shocking.   The polite language of an earlier time gives way to terms that appear to be deliberately intended to shock the once comfortable reader.   Perhaps this was done deliberately as an attempt to demonstrate the lack of control that overtakes Louise, a woman ready to destroy her life for a man she’s attracted to even while she does not understand that attraction.

In summary, 13 rue Therese is like one of those schizophrenic films (the movie version of Steve Martin’s Shopgirl comes to mind) that is quite pleasurable for the first hour, but hard to watch for the second.   This is a novel with great potential that simply self-destructs, and concludes in a rather mundane fashion.   It’s a pity.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   This novel was released today.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of 13 rue Therese: A Novel by Elena Mauli Shapiro, which will be released by Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown and Company tomorrow.

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