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review 2018-07-16 18:54
A light, feel-good read, for those who enjoy choral books full of larger-than-life characters.
The Not So Perfect Plan to Save Friendship House - Michelle Gorman

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber (check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

Sometimes it seems as if all the books and movies on offer are centred on young protagonists, and I’m not only talking about Young Adult books. However, recently there has been a move towards including older protagonists and subjects. I enjoyed the two Dutch books about Hendrik Groen, a man in his eighties living in a nursing home, and have watched a few movies, usually choral, about older protagonists (like The Exotic Marigold Hotel). The setting of this novel, in a residential home, and the promise of a comedy made it sound like the perfect choice for me.

The first-person narrator of the story is Phoebe, a chef who had a very successful career in a bistro before disaster struck. She loves her job at the residential home (The Jane Austen Home for Ladies, and, as we discover, the name is meaningful in several ways), but has always felt frustrated because her parents (and her mother, in particular) do not seem to value her job and are dismissive of her career. To make matters worse, her mother (a larger-than-life character) dies suddenly at the beginning of the book, but her internalised voice keeps gnawing on her confidence.  Her best friend, June, is the manager of the home, and she fancies Nick, who is the official physiotherapist but also takes on any odd jobs going on (art therapy, gardening, handyman…). I know some readers don’t like first-person narratives, although Phoebe is unassuming, witty and an excellent friend. (On the minus side, her lack of self-confidence can make her sound paranoid and bitchy, and she keeps mulling over things, unable to decide what to do, trying hard to feel comfortable in her own skin and accept the credit for her achievements). We learn some surprising things about her family life together and by the end of the book, although I don’t have much in common with her character, I felt connected to her and appreciated her role as a narrator. Her friendship with June is convincing and their relationship is one of the strongest points of the book.

I also loved the residents of the home, and in many ways (not only due to my age, I hope), I felt closer to them than to the protagonist. We get to know some of them more than others (Maggie is fabulous and I loved Dot, Laney, Sophie, and yes, even Terence). They all feel real, with their foibles and their endearing traits, and make the book memorable. We follow the intrigues that have to do with the home and the changes that take place there (from a women’s only place to a mixed one) and learn about its inhabitants, their secrets, and their past lives. We are both observers and participants in much of the action, and we feel invested in their fates. We learn the importance of accepting people for who they are and moving beyond appearances and prejudices.

There are several romances with happy, or at least hopeful, endings (for the young and the older generations), broken hearts and disappointments, secrets and lies, and there is also the connection (pointed out through references to the book club and their discussions) to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I would not call the novel a variation on Pride and Prejudice but if we think of Austen’s text as we read it we can discover nuances that might be easily missed otherwise.

Although there are many amusing lines in the novel (and some pretty touching ones as well. As we know, humour can be an excellent defence mechanism against hurt), I thought I’d share a few (remember that I got an ARC copy, so there might be some changes to the final version of the novel):

We’ve never let something as trifling as the spectre of death stand in the way of a good snipe.

My mother didn’t get ulcers, she gave them.

He’s a perv-whisperer.

She wouldn’t like my ponytail, though. I did try taking it down, but having it up in a hair tie the entire weekend meant my hair had a ridge along the back that gave it a very White Cliffs of Dover effect.

I’m surprised he doesn’t need an oxygen tank with all the social climbing he’s been doing.

The writing flows well and fits in perfectly with the voice of the narrator, who can spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about her beau but is also attuned to the feelings of the residents and her friend. There are plenty of amusing events taking place throughout the novel that keep the action moving, but the characters are much stronger than the plot and by the end of the book (that I enjoyed) they have all become good friends (or most of them have).

The author defines her books as light reads, as beach novels, and says her readers describe them as “feel-good.” All that is true, although behind all the funny goings-on the book illustrates the importance of keeping expectations and prejudices under control, and it reminds parents that they should encourage their children to find fulfilment in their own terms rather than expect them to make their parent’s dreams come true.  If you are looking for a light read, full of memorable characters, plenty of humour, and a big deal of heart, I’d recommend this novel. And, if it existed in real life, I wouldn’t mind working at the home (and in time even living there) either.

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review 2018-07-10 20:03
Not Really Chick Lit
Bookends - Jane Green

I finished my re-read of this a few days ago, just didn't have the energy to post a review. I think the main issue I had was that the re-read was a bit of a bust. Probably because this wasn't as chick-lit as I was hoping. There are some serious issues here (discussion of HIV and AIDS) but also there is some mean-girling crap that goes on that just didn't fit the characters who were supposed to be adults in their 30s. The main character of Cath just reads as a doormat throughout this book and I just wanted her to be stronger and push back on people more. The ending was okayish, just not great.

 

"Bookends" has Cath and her best friend Si dealing with being unlucky in love. Living in London they seem to be going through the motions of things. Cath refuses to try her hand at love again after having her heart broken and Si is desperate to meet Mr. Right even though the men he is usually with are terrible.

 

Cath and Si have boring, but familiar get togethers with their college friends Josh and Lucy and things seem to be carrying along fine until a woman (Portia) from their college days pops up again.

 

Most of the book is Cath thinking about Portia and how Portia supposedly held them all together until she broke up their friend group. What gets me though is that when we readers finally get a glimpse of Portia, she's not all that Cath (or Green) makes her out to be. There is no there there, and I wanted there to be better development of her.

 

Cath stumbles upon a love interest that wasn't that interesting and Si ends up with a shocking new way of life after a betrayal. The book just ends up taking too many things on and not doing them well.

 

If the above isn't enough, we also have Cath trying to open a bookstore.

 

The writing is typical older Green (when she wrote her chick lit books taking place in London). This just doesn't read or feel like chick lit. The flow is okay, though going back to past and present was a bit much.

 

I guess I was just put out by the whole lesson to be learned about real friends that people who should be old enough should already know at this point.

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review 2018-07-05 06:45
Ain't She a Peach (Southern Eclectic Novel)
Ain't She a Peach - Molly Harper

I can't think of a single book Molly Harper has written that I haven't enjoyed on some level; even if the plots aren't always solid, the snarky humor and solid character dynamics that revolve around family and friends makes up for it.

 

This was the case with Ain't She a Peach.  It's part of a series of books that aren't serial, called Southern Eclectic; they share a common setting and characters, but act as stand alone reads.  Comparing story structures between this one and Sweet Tea and SympathyAin't She a Peach lacks the central plot that pulled ST&S together.  Here, Frankie's story is far more focused on her struggle for maturity and autonomy, as the only-child/cancer survivor to older parents.  The romance is secondary, and the resolving the break-ins to the family mortuary tertiary, and by far the weakest link in the plot.

 

Still, any fan of Molly Harper's will find a lot to like here.  Few authors I read come close to the engaging and engrossing dialog Harper spills across her pages and she creates characters that are likeable, hilarious, strong and noble - characters that really are the people you wish your friends and family could be - without making them into after-school-special paper constructs.

 

Not her best, but still enjoyable, and exactly what I've been needed to read the last few weeks.

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review 2018-07-03 15:08
Something Missing
This Could Change Everything - Jill Mansell

Ehh this was definitely missing something. I have enjoyed the last two Mansell books I have read, but this one felt a bit empty and I honestly didn't like two out of the three main characters. I was more intrigued by a secondary character and definitely wished for her to have a better love interest than the one she got in the end. 

 

"This Could Change Everything" has Essie Phillips getting kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend after an email she writes is accidentally sent to everyone in her contacts list.

 

 

Essie writes one of those weird Round Robin letters that people send out around Christmas. Instead of her lying about her accomplishments she is brutally honest about what a pain her boss is and how her boyfriend's cleaning habits are a bit much. Only problem is that her boss is also her boyfriend's mother. Essie invited her brother to say with her and a friend he meets ends up staying the night (Lucas) who thought it would be very funny to send the email out to everyone Essie knows.

 

Essie ends up meeting an older woman named Ziillah looking to rent the top floor of her home. Zillah realizes that Essie will make a great tenant and happily welcomes her to her home along with another tenant named Conner. Mansell has the story going back and forth between these three. 

 

My favorite character to read about was Zillah. Zillah is in her 80s and has some regrets about her life. Married three times, and only one of those marriages being successful, she wishes she didn't marry her first two husbands. We also find out that Zillah is up to making amends a bit by using her money to make wishes come true for dying adults. I don't know if I liked this little subplot or not. I ended up reading and not feeling much of anything about that which is weird for me. I cry at a drop of a hat usually. I think I just ended up feeling emotionally manipulated and didn't care for it.

 

I didn't really like Essie much at all. She ends up going back to being a waitress and works for Lucas. Lucas and Essie seem to like each other, big problem is that Essie blames him for ruining her life and Lucas has a seemingly perfect girlfriend. As readers you have to hope they get together which means cheating (bah). I also hated the reveal about Lucas and his life and the whole email thing. It didn't make any sense,

 

Conner is a snob. There is no way to explain his whole thing. I wasn't rooting for him and hated the fact that Scarlett (Essie's best friend) even had a crush on him. 

 

The writing was okay, but unlike with previous Mansell books there was nothing that really made any characters sing. I was bored for most of these stories and thought that Mansell took an easy route out to resolve some things instead of making us dislike certain characters.

 

The ending happens and it doesn't seem fully like a happy ending at least to me. An okay book to pass the time. 

 

 

 

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review 2018-07-03 01:03
The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes
The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes - Anne Stuart,Jennifer Crusie,Eileen Dreyer

I read this years ago, long before my vow to write something about every book I read; likely just after joining GoodReads back in the halcyon days when the site was actually fun, but I was still too nervous to write anything.  I loved it, as is evident by the 5 star rating I gave it back then (and I'm keeping for posterity's sake).  Sunday I was feeling slumpy and needed something easy, and since I've always wanted to go back and write something about all the early books, a re-read of this accomplished two goals.

 

3 sisters with powerful magic, hiding from the Aunt that killed their parents while stealing their powers.  A fabulously evil Aunt determined to get the sisters to surrender their powers to her, who attempts to bribe them all by sending them their soul mates; or in one case, a reasonable facsimile thereof.  A showdown in a small town whose residents are obviously deaf, dumb and blind in the extreme.  Heaps of humor, sass, girl power and HEA's.  An absolutely awesome, awesome cat name Pywackt.  

 

I didn't expect it to stand up very well over time.  I love a few of Crusie's non-paranormal titles to death, but she's not a consistent writer, her paranormal stuff tends to be over the top, and I remembered this being more romance than chick-lit (fine line, I know).  But it did stand up rather well.  It's not one of Crusie's best by a long shot - although it's really one 1/3 hers anyway, as she co-wrote it with 2 other authors: Eileen Dreyer and Anne Stuart, neither of whom I know anything about - but it's fun without being flaky or formulaic.  The humor stands up, and there are a few sex scenes which I'd forgotten about that are far steamier than Crusie's other works (making me think that perhaps those scenes represent some of Dreyer and Stuart's contributions).

 

All in all still a great read when you're in the mood for a literary rom-com.

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