Tag Archives: romance

Cinnamon Girl

Spin: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 448 pages)

How far would you go to get what you always wanted?

Party girl and music lover Kate Sanford comes closer than most to achieving her lifelong dream when she secures a job interview at her favorite music magazine, The Line.   The interview has the potential to be even more special, as it is slated for her 31st birthday.   However, when a friend invites her out (just for one drink) to celebrate the eve of her birthday, Kate downs a few too many – leading to a disaster the next morning.

Catherine McKenzie, in her debut novel, ably invites the reader into the story.   Just when Kate believes she has blown her opportunity, she gets a call to go on an undercover assignment for the company’s sister publication, Gossip Central, a celebrity rag.   Her task is to enter the same rehab facility as pop-phenom Amber Sheppard, “The Girl Next Door,” and produce an exclusive story that could lead to permanent employment at The Line.   The opportunity for a juicy expose gets even better when TGND’s equally dysfunctional boyfriend and James Bond portrayer, Connor Parks, enters the same rehab facility.

Things quickly get very complicated.   Does Kate herself actually need rehab?   When Amber befriends her, can so go through with the story?   Is there a more meaningful existence beyond living the life of a perpetual college student?   Can Kate get comfortable enough with herself that she can form a meaningful relationship with another person?

In rehab Kate falls for Connor’s bodyguard, Henry.   Their unlikely convergence and subsequent relationship/non-relationship/relationship form the basis for most of the second half of the book.   This is where the story either takes off or gets derailed, depending on your perspective.   McKenzie misses an opportunity to delve deeply into the pathos of the media entertainment industry and the addiction to celebrity of so many seemingly normal people.   The moral quandary as to whether Kate should write the story comes into play in the last fourth of the novel, but serves more as a mechanism to wrap up the story than a theme that’s explored.

The author could have opted to delve deeper into Kate’s behavior, background and possible addiction, but her family and past are dealt with in a cursory manner.   This oversight makes less credible any transformation in Kate at the conclusion of the story.   Several music references reveal Kate’s interests and help establish some measure of place and time but do not do much to advance the story or reveal much about her or the other characters.

What’s left is the love story which, by a process of elimination, appears to be the crux of the narrative.   Can Kate find true love?   The book leaves just enough loose ends to satisfy the reader, yet still leave us wondering.  

For readers who enjoy a light, breezy love story, this book clips along well and is satisfying.   For those who prefer to go a little deeper into some questions that gnaw at the human condition, the novel does  not go far enough.   This reviewer concludes that many will find this book enjoyable; a worthy debut effort by McKenzie.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Spin was released on February 7, 2012.   Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Beauty’s Only Skin Deep

One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls  (Vintage, $14.95, 448 pages; Random House Audio, $19.99, 13 compact discs)

If ever there was a clear-cut category for One Day, “dramedy” is where it belongs.   By now it’s likely that the book, audio book and movie have been enjoyed by countless tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people.   The story thread is not really new.   A similar example this reviewer recalls is Same Time Next Year.   In the play and movie of the same name, a couple’s thrown together by chance, has a romantic encounter and agrees to meet on the same weekend each year.   They do so for 24 years.

One Day revisits the main characters, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew each year on the 15th of July, St. Swithin’s Day, for 20 years following their graduation from Edinburgh University in Scotland.   Emma and Dexter spend graduation night together at the beginning of this saga.   Dexter is a beautiful young man from a well-to-do family who enjoys being admired and bedded by many women.   Emma, on the other hand, comes from a lower-class background and is significantly brighter academically than Dexter.   However, her life experience and confidence are seriously lacking which does not bode well for her success in life.

Post-graduation finds them in London.   Dexter exudes confidence and is highly photogenic which lands him a job as a TV show host while Emma toils away at menial jobs including as a waitress and eventually the manager of a Tex-Mex restaurant.   Their annual check-ins prove to be both funny and poignant.

The years roll by and it is clear that both Emma and Dexter are good friends, although Emma is clearly more devoted to Dexter than he to her.   Let’s face it, Dexter is devoted to Dexter.   On St. Swithin’s Day their lives don’t always intersect, although Nicholls provides the reader with ample evidence of how each is managing life.

This novel has been reviewed twice previously on this site.   The prior reviews were written based on the hard copy.   This review is based on the unabridged audio book.   The word “unabridged” is key here because, unlike the book, the movie version is highly abridged and offers little more than snapshots of some of the July 15th episodes.   This reviewer is grateful to have heard the audio version prior to viewing the movie because the film was no more than a shallow glimpse into the characters’ actions.   Sadly, the serious and deeply moving aspects of the book were lost in the movie version.

Author Nicholls is a genius at dialogue and fortunately for this reviewer, the audio version was captivating.   Anna Bentinck lends her talents to the character voices and manages to do a good job on both the men and women’s parts.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

The audio book was purchased by the reviewer’s husband.

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The Last Worthless Evening

The Last Blind Date: A Real-Life Love Story by Linda Yellin (Gallery Books, $15.00, 316 pages)

As I was finishing the Prologue (“Some Pertinent Information You Should Know Up Front”) of The Last Blind Date, I was thinking that this was going to be one entertaining popular fiction novel about love and romance.   Also, a very funny one…  It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I noticed the subtitle on this book, “A Real-Life Love Story.”   Oh, so this is not a novel but a memoir.   Interesting.

Linda Yellin’s book arrives at the  right time for those impacted by either Seasonal Affective Disorder – the aptly abbreviated SAD – or the holiday period blues.   Or maybe you’ve just done too much shopping or quaffed too much eggnog and you need something to bring your spirits up.   Belly up to the bar run by Ms. Yellin, a Boomer who offers healthy servings of humorous observations about life and living.   (Yes, she’s a baby boomer and you will find yourself asking, “How old could she be if she can remember watching Sky King on TV as a child?”)

In our household the mark of an engaging read is the number of times that I read excerpts to my wife or vice-versa.   In this case, I interrupted many episodes of Law and Order to read passages such as this one:

Commenting on other women’s relationships has always felt dicey for me…  I never know when to scream Red flag! and when to keep my trap shut.   I figure if you tell a friend she’s dating a jerk, don’t expect to be a bridesmaid if she marries the jerk.   Then, again, couldn’t at least one of Eva Braun’s girlfriends have sat her down and said, “Eva, sweetheart – trust me.   You can do better.”

What is the book about?   Glad you asked.   Yellin lost her first husband to cancer, lives in Chicago and had pretty much given up hopes of ever  being happy again when she’s set up on a blind date with a resident of New York City.   This is her true tale of how she found the right man, even if by blind accident, and became his second wife and the stepmother to this two children and their robot dog, Eddy.   (Yes, everyone needs at least one robot in their happily ever after home.)

The Last Blind Date is also about the culture shock experienced by a Midwesterner moving to the Big Apple, where everyone wears black and comments on one’s “strange” accent.   It’s also a story of learning to  love what you already have, and appreciating the fantastic experience of being a parent:

…along the way she’d break some hearts of her own, followed by lonely nights when she doubted herself and wondered why love came quickly for others but not for her.   Until there was finally a matching up of souls, and it seemed that every event in her life had led up to this one man, and she realized that if love were any easier, any less fateful – it wouldn’t feel like magic.

That’s Yellin writing about her stepdaughter Phoebe, but once you finish Blind Date, you’ll realize that it’s also about Yellin herself and her long, strange road to meeting and marrying her husband Randy.   Read this book and play Don Henley’s song, The Last Worthless Evening.   You’ll be so glad you did.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Last Blind Date was released on October 4, 2011.   Linda Yellin is also the author of the novel Such a Lovely Couple.

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If I Fell

After the Fall: A Novel by Kylie Ladd (Doubleday; $25.95; 304 pages)

I had been married three years when I fell in love.

Kylie Ladd presents an intriguing story of infidelity told from all sides of an affair in her novel After the Fall.  

Energetic, spontaneous Kate has a reliable, loving and dedicated husband, Cary, but senses what she is missing when she becomes intimately involved with her close friend Luke.   Denying and risking the security that their spouses and friends provide, Kate and Luke  continue to manipulate their lives to be together.   But nothing so risky and passionate can last forever…   Or can it?

The tale is presented in the first-person.   Ladd creates a realistic portrayal of how people’s lives are affected by other’s actions and choices, especially when dealing with moral dilemmas such as betrayal and infidelity.   Her characters are presented with depth and the prose is intriguing, captivating and believable.   Ladd delves into the psyche and demonstrates the true-to-life feelings and life changes that can occur in sensitive situations such as the ones provided in her story.

Readers should  not be discouraged by this topic, as there is nothing voyeuristic about this story.   Although the elements of the story are somewhat foreseeable, the story line definitely has elements that are unpredictable, which make it an even more entertaining read.   I was captivated by the characters and so interested in the outcome that I was unable to put the book down.

That’s the thing about falling.   It doesn’t go on indefinitely, and it rarely ends well…  plunge, plummet, pain.   Even if you get straight back up, even when you regain your footing, after the fall nothing is ever quite the same.

Recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “…a subtle, moving and perceptive story of love, loss and hope.”   Sydney Morning Herald

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Coming Up Next…

A review of After the Fall: A Novel by Kylie Ladd.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Pinch Me: A Novel by Adena Halpern.

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Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

The Stuff That Never Happened: A Novel by Maddie Dawson (Broadway, $14.00, 336 pages)

If you’ve ever caught a glimpse of a former lover and let your mind travel down the “what if…” path, however briefly, you’ll enjoy The Stuff That Never Happened.   It’s the debut novel by Maddie Dawson, who captures the silent desperation of pinning for the excitement of the “bad boy” who got away when all of your friends think the good guy you married is God’s gift to wives.

Annabelle McKay, at 46, is well aware that she is the envy of the faculty spouses at the New Hampshire college where her husband is a big-wheel professor.   Grant is solid and dependable.   He’s not the type of husband who would leave her for a younger woman just as her upper arms are starting to go flabby and she and Grant are losing their biggest common denominator – their two kids.   Besides, there’s still enough of a spark in their marriage that they schedule sex every week in the morning he doesn’t have an early class to teach.   But Annabelle has never squelched the memories of the passionate affair she had 26 years ago that left wounds too deep to speak about.   It’s that vow of silence between Annabelle and Grant that is the fat finger on Annabelle’s contentment scale.  

Dawson lets Annabelle tell her own story, and she does so in a voice that draws you in like a new friend who’s just starting to open up and confide.   Therein lies the real treat of this novel.   Annabelle tells her life in two parallel story lines, the one that takes place in 2005, the present; and the one that set her on her present course in 1977.   You watch the mature Annabelle wrestle with her emotions and her choices when she unexpectedly meets her old lover at a juncture when life’s possibilities seem to be opening up again.   You see Annabelle at 20 as she is struggling to emerge from a dysfunctional family and chart her own course – with very little perspective and few emotional navigation aids.

Woven together, the stories are compelling in the way that celebrity divorces are:  The central problem is as old as the human race, and the details are riveting as much for what they divulge about a couple’s private life as for the mirror they hold up to one’s own life.   The Stuff That Never Happened will be the book you pass to a friend and say, “Let me know when you’ve read this.   I want to know what you would have done.”

Dawson’s characters are insightfully drawn and convincingly flawed.   Even the characters that only make cameo appearances are fully formed.   Padgett, the grad-student trophy wife of Clark, a colleague of Grant’s, texts through the couple’s getting-to-know-you dinner at a restaurant.   And when Clark announces that he’s taking a sabbatical so he and Padgett can travel the world, Dawson shares his gum-revealing, fool-in-love grin, and says, “He puts his big bald forehead into her unlined one, like a mind meld on Star Trek.”   With just a few sentences, Dawson sketches a guy who’s very much like a guy you know at work and a woman one-third  his age whose lack of apparent charm is a throwback to the very serious, Gloria Steinem wanna-be of the early seventies, only Padgett’s social consciousness is directed at saving the environment, not womankind.

Maybe you can tell:  I thought this was a great read.   It’s an astute people-watcher’s take on a timeless conundrum.   It would make a great beach read.   But if you take it on vacation, load up on sun screen.   You’re not going to want to put it down.

Highly recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell

The Stuff That Never Happened was released in trade paper form on August 2, 2011.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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The Joy of Cooking

The Secret of Everything: A Novel by Barbara O’Neal (Bantam, $15.00, 400 pages)

Barbara O’Neal presents an enjoyable story about self-discovery, healing, romance, and adventure in her novel, The Secret of Everything.

Tessa Harlow is a woman in her mid-thirties on a quest to discover the details of her hidden past.   Following a traumatic accident that occurred while leading one of her adventure trips, Tessa attempts to heal both physically and emotionally by returning to her birthplace in Los Ladrones, New Mexico.   While Tessa allows her wounds to mend, she begins to do research for a possible upcoming adventure tour in her hometown.   On her journey she becomes romantically involved with a widower, and begins to make instant connections with the townspeople of Los Ladrones, most of whom trigger a memory from the past.   As she delves into the culture and history of this town, she discovers more than she had envisioned and slowly uncovers the secrets of her past.

O’Neal does a remarkable job of bringing her characters to life through description and dialogue, while exposing the true beauty of New Mexico.   Each character is likeable and interesting and, although they become unrealistically connected as the tale unfolds, the reader will enjoy the storyline and become entranced with her novel until its very end.

O’Neal also add a literally delicious touch to her story by describing the culinary dishes that Tessa explores and provides her readers with some of her favorite recipes.   If you’re not a “foodie” then you will no doubt be entertained by the charming dogs that are connected to Tessa throughout the story, each of which has a tail (or is it tale?) of their own.

This novel would make a great summer beach book, or serve as a fun focus for Book Club discussions.   It is light and enjoyable and, therefore, well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet

Exposure: A Novel by Therese Fowler (Ballantine Books; $25.00; 384 pages)

Author Therese Fowler has written the 21st century version of Romeo and Juliet.   Fowler portrays the complexities of the modern-day teenage romance highlighted by cell phones, computers, and on-line social networking.   She does an excellent job demonstrating the dangers of our advanced technologies when it comes to teenagers and the sharing of personal information in her upcoming novel, Exposure.

The star-crossed lovers, Anthony Winter and Amelia Wilkes have everything in common, excluding the financial status of their families.   Their shared passion for theatre brings them together in their affluent high school’s production of As You Like It, which in verse summarizes their own love story:

No sooner looked but they loved

Their commitment to one another begins with a secret romance shielded from Amelia’s arrogant father, Harlan, who shelters Amelia with the primary goal of ensuring that she ends up with the ideal partner who will provide her with a rich life, not the poor unfortunate one he had as a child.   He hopes for Amelia to pursue a business degree at Duke University and to find a shadow of him, a man with money and power who will provide her with the wealth that he finds essential for happiness.

Anthony, the talented and non-conformist son of a single mother was abandoned by his father before he was born.  He is fortunate to attend Ravenswood, the esteemed private school where he meets Amelia, only because his mother, Kim, has been hired to teach Art and French.   Kim, a supportive mom doing the best she can to raise Anthony with the limited resources she has, supports the relationship between her son and Amelia, knowing all too well the power of love and romance.

As Amelia and Anthony spend their time contemplating their plan for the future they become closer and, as a result, intimate.  Following graduation Amelia will reveal both their relationship and plans to attend New York University for drama while they both pursue careers on Broadway.   Months away from graduation their relationship becomes physical and, being the artists that they are, commemorate their relationship through writings, texts, e-mails, and photos.   This intensifies their relationship, which is presumed to be private and innocent (Anthony is 18 and Amelia 17), while they are away from one another…

One unfortunate day Amelia’s father hacks into her computer and finds explicit photos of Anthony.   Outraged and presuming that his innocent, naive daughter has been the victim of a heinous crime, he instinctually calls the police and begins an investigation that results in a series of events altering the lives of everyone involved.

Fowler expresses the true nature and concerns of sexting, and the repercussions of the open access that our children have to the Internet and other related avenues for sharing information.

Yes, Exposure may also take you back to relive the story of your first love… or the one that got away.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Exposure will be released on May 3, 2011.

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