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Book Review: Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne

January 15, 2017 2 comments

Book Review: Honeymoon Hotel by Hester BrowneSummary:
The Bonneville Hotel is the best-kept secret in London: its elegant rooms and discreet wood-paneled cocktail lounge were the home-away-from-home for royalty and movie stars alike during the golden age of glamour. Recent years haven’t been kind, but thanks to events manager Rosie, it’s reclaiming some of its old cachet as a wish list wedding venue. While Rosie’s weddings are the ultimate in romance, Rosie herself isn’t; her focus is fixed firmly on the details, not on the dramas. She lives with a professionally furious food critic and works tirelessly toward that coveted promotion. But when the hotel owner appoints his eccentric son Joe to help run Rosie’s department, she’s suddenly butting heads with the free spirit whose predilection for the unconventional threatens to unravel her picture-perfect plans for the most elaborate—not to mention high-profile—wedding the hotel has ever seen, a wedding that could make or break not only the hotel’s reputation, but also Rosie’s career.

Review:
Although not every Browne book is a hit for me, they often are, and this one was incredible. One of the blurbs says it’s in the vein of The Wedding Planner. My comeback would be it’s everything I thought The Wedding Planner was going to be but even better. It’s a story that showcases a woman building her career while craving a relationship and ultimately getting the next level of her career and the relationship she’d been dreaming of.

I often find that in chick lit I have to be willing to give up on either seeing a woman with ambition or a woman desiring a traditional relationship. You often don’t get both. Both is what I want out of my comfort reading, and both is what you get here. Plus, both the career and the love interest are something you want to root for. Rosie isn’t a heartless workaholic but she’s also not someone who’s just working until she nails down the guy. She wants everything, and she keeps wanting everything even when the going gets tough. And the tough going is realistic, both in the romance and in the career. The realism kept things relatable even with things ultimately working out great for her in both ways in the end. And you know what? I like that things work out in both ways. I like that hope. We all can use some more hope in our lives.

In addition, the setting is just stunning. It’s a hotel that had its height in the Art Deco era, and all of the beauty and splendor of it is eloquently described. It was a place I wanted to keep coming back to because it just felt so divine, even with seeing the behind-the-scenes of the staff rooms and the stress of running the special events.

One other thing I must mention is that yet again Browne does a great job of presenting positive female friendships. There’s more than one woman to women relationship that Rosie has where both women help each other out. Women are shown as having differences of opinions and other difficulties to work through but ultimately being there for each other. It might not always work out that way in real life, but I really like seeing female friendships validated and other women not being demonized just to make a scene work.

Overall, this features everything I like in the best Browne books with the added dash of a setting that really suited me. The final scene was so pretty I had tears in my eyes on public transportation, and that’s really saying something. Highly recommended to lovers of quality chick lit.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella

July 11, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie KinsellaSummary:
Workaholic attorney Samantha Sweeting has just done the unthinkable. She’s made a mistake so huge, it’ll wreck any chance of a partnership.

Going into utter meltdown, she walks out of her London office, gets on a train, and ends up in the middle of nowhere. Asking for directions at a big, beautiful house, she’s mistaken for an interviewee and finds herself being offered a job as housekeeper. Her employers have no idea they’ve hired a lawyer–and Samantha has no idea how to work the oven. She can’t sew on a button, bake a potato, or get the #@%# ironing board to open. How she takes a deep breath and begins to cope–and finds love–is a story as delicious as the bread she learns to bake.

But will her old life ever catch up with her? And if it does…will she want it back?

Review:
Long-time readers of this blog will know that I’m a Sophie Kinsella fan, so it should come as no surprise that I liked this book. But let me say I love love loved this book. It’s my favorite Kinsella book I’ve read so far. It was funny but also a beautiful love story and also great commentary on life and priorities. It gave me the warm fuzzies, you guys.

I think one of the things I like best about Kinsella books is how they present all of women’s life options as totally valid ones, even if the heroine herself doesn’t realize that at first. What matters most is the heroine doing what makes her happy, and often the drama comes from the heroine forcing herself to be something she’s not or align herself with life values she doesn’t have. In any case, this book walks a great line of neither demonizing career women nor women who stay at home. It also doesn’t present doing a high-powered, high-education track as better than doing a traditionally blue collar job like housekeeping or cooking. Yes, at first Samantha thinks one of them is better and looks down on the other, but ultimately she realizes the pluses and minuses of both types of jobs, and I really like seeing that in chick lit. A lot.  I also really enjoyed seeing the struggle Samantha has between part of herself wanting the high-powered career and part wanting the quiet life at home. I think that’s a feeling many modern women can relate to.

The romance is also quite sweet. The early on playing between Samantha and her man and how that progresses made me feel like I was cozied up in a just the right temperature bath. But I also really liked that the book shows that compromise in a relationship is necessary. Both of them have to adjust their perceptions to fit the new reality of each other and both are willing to make compromises and meet in the middle.

Of course it’s also funny. What’s not funny about a lawyer trying to keep house when she doesn’t know anything about cleaning or cooking? At some point though the humor transitions into scenes that I can only describe as warm and glowing. That focus in on what really matters in life.

I was entertained. My life goals and ambitions were strengthened and validated. And I (maybe) (ok, definitely) cried happy-ever-after tears at the end of the book. I suppose if you’re a reader who doesn’t understand people who want to work a job they at least moderately enjoy and live life at a reasonable pace with lots of time with those they love then you might not enjoy this book. But I’d also say you need to read it and take a hard look at Samantha’s life before and after her lessons.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Addicted by S. A. Archer and S. Ravynheart (Series, #2)

August 13, 2012 2 comments

Woman with short hair standing in front of a city skyline and the moon.Summary:
If a human is touched once by a Sidhe, they become addicted….heroin addict level addicted.  Since London’s Sidhe died, she now has to periodically put her private investigator for paranormal clientele job aside in order to seek out more Sidhe for a fix. This time, a bunch of young vampires say they know where she can have a changeling teleport her to an enslaved Sidhe….for a price.

Review:
Series of fast-paced novellas are becoming more popular in urban fantasy and paranormal romance.  I know I enjoy them as a kind of single-serving of ice cream.  Fun and delicious and able to get through in those 40 minutes your bread is in the oven or something.  I read the first book in the Touched series, and since I enjoyed it, Archer, one of the authors, was kind enough to send along the next entry in exchange for my honest review.  It was still fun, but not quite as well-written as the first.

The world of the paranormal in the UK and Ireland that Archer has created continues to be creative and engaging.  While some of her paranormal creatures are typical (such as the vampires) others are more unique, like the changelings and fairies.  For instance, having a changeling run the whole come party and suck the blood or touch a Sidhe thing was pretty unique!  In other series, that would definitely be the sort of thing run by vampires.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the characterizations as good this time around.  London comes off as a bit flat, as do the vampires around her.  Most distressing to me, though, as an American reader is her American character she put in.  London meets a guy when doing a job for the changelings.  She can tell he is American because, I kid you not, he is wearing a flannel shirt and a cowboy hat. Erm, ok.  More annoying though is the fact that this American dude twice says, “shite.” Americans don’t say “shite,” except perhaps for some 20-something hipsters who are trying to be ironic.  This 40-something mercenary is definitely not a hipster. He would say “shit.”  If you are going to have a character from a country besides your own, you really need to fact-check how they speak, and especially how they swear.  He’s not a major character, and I probably would have noticed it less if this was a book and not a novella.  He was a lot more noticeable since he was present for most of the novella.

Overall, then, the world is interesting but the characters could use a bit of work.  If you’re just looking for some light, quick urban fantasy to brighten up your day, though, it might be worth your 99 cents.  Personally, though, I won’t be continuing on with the series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Previous Books in Series:
Cursed (review)

Book Review: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Four sets of feet in a circle with the sky in the background.Summary:
On New Year’s Eve, four incredibly different strangers accidentally meet on Topper’s House a popular local spot for suicides.  Somehow running into each other leads to them taking the long way down that night instead of the quick one.  What happens after is a continuance of their life stories that no one could have predicted.

Review:
I distinctly remember that this book made it into my tbr pile because of the suicide theme.  What makes these four different people want to kill themselves, and what makes them not do it.  Clearly this is a book about depression and suicidality.  But it is not a depressing book. Not by far.

Without revealing too much, since the revelations are part of the fun of the read, I will just say that the four suicidal people span different generations, reasons, and nations of origin.  Different levels of conservatism and liberalism.  But what makes them come to understand each other is their universal depression and suicidal thoughts.  This fact that someone out there gets them….well oftentimes that can help get a profoundly depressed or mentally unwell person over the hump.  Feeling less alone.

Her past was in the past, but our past, I don’t know…Our past was still all over the place. We could see it every day when we woke up.  (page 253)

In spite of this being a book about depressed people bonding over their depression, it doesn’t read as such.  I was reading it on an airplane and found myself literally laughing out loud at sections.  Because these people are brilliant.  They have a great understanding of the world. Of art. Of relationships.  Even of themselves.

I had that terrible feeling you get when you realize that you’re stuck with who you are, and there’s nothing you can do about it. (page 208)

That is, after all, frequently what depression can be all about. A profoundly clear understanding of how royally fucked up you are or your life is.  What’s hard is seeing past that moment.  The book is kind of a snapshot of the process of them learning to do that.  And that’s what makes it so eloquent and poignant.  Nothing is done melodramatically. Things are just presented as they are.  Even down to the four being able to laugh together periodically (and make you laugh in the process).  Depression isn’t just oh everything sucks nonstop.  There are moments of laughter.  It’s just that those moments are outweighed by the weight of the depression.  Getting rid of that weight is a cleansing, uplifting process, and that’s how it feels to read this book.  You bond and you laugh and you maybe even cry (if you have more susceptible tear ducts than this reader).  And in the end you come to an understanding of that suicidal dark place without being abandoned in it.

Overall this book manages to eloquently present depression without being a depressing book.  It is compelling to any reader who has ever struggled with a depressed period of life.  Highly recommended to the depressed and the sympathetic.  Both will be left feeling lighter and less alone.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Cursed by S. A. Archer (Series, #1)

January 9, 2012 1 comment

Woman with short hair in a red shirt in profile.Summary:
London works for hire doing investigations mostly for parahumans, and her best friend is a vampire who keeps hoping she’ll consent to being turned.  Her life isn’t run-of-the-mill, but it isn’t too bad either, until one day she gets Touched by a Sidhe and finds herself sucked into the Fey world bubbling just beneath the surface of the regular one.

Review:
This is a fast-paced urban fantasy novella, ideal for fans of the genre who can catch onto tropes without needing everything explained to them in detail.

London is a typical kick-ass heroine.  Her problem of having been Touched is achieved quickly, though, lending her the uniqueness of aching for a Fey.  Anybody who’s been a while without getting laid can relate to that. 😉

The paranormal world Archer has created uses the urban fantasy tropes but is still unique.  The shapeshifters are Changelings.  The Fey can look grotesque or beautiful (similar to a demon).  The vampires are what we have all come to expect from vampires.  Silver is still a force against the paranormals.

What bumped this novella up from average to highly enjoyable for me was the use of the paranormal world to comment on the relationship between Ireland the UK.  The UK consists of Wizards, and Ireland contains the Fey.  The Fey have been persecuted by the Wizards for generations, and it is this battle that London finds herself in the middle of.  This whole concept could really go places, and I like the freedom that urban fantasy gives Archer to comment on a touchy area of international relations.

My two quips with the novella are relatively minor.  I can’t stand the main heroine’s name.  It’s rather confusing to read about a London in the setting of the UK and Ireland.  I also was a bit disappointed to find no sex scene, but I suppose that’s what makes this urban fantasy and not paranormal romance.

Overall, I recommend this fast-paced novella to urban fantasy fans with an hour or so to kill and a kindle or other ereader handy.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from the author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Hungry For You by A. M. Harte

August 8, 2011 4 comments

Brain in a bowl.Summary:
A collection of zombie-themed short stories and poetry with the twist that they all have to do with romantic relationships in some way, shape, or form.

Review:
This is a solid collection of short stories and poetry that can be enjoyed one at a time or inhaled in one sitting.  I went for the one sitting option.

In some stories Harte sticks to zombie tropes but in not all.  The ones where she varies or surprises the reader in some way are definitely the stronger ones.  She has an ability to imagine multiple different possible zombie apocalypses that are all, if not equally believable, still believable.  Her dialogue is a definite strength, reading as incredibly realistic in the midst of fantastical happenings.

Where she excels though, and where I would encourage her to focus future horror writings, is when she uses the zombies and zombie apocalypse as a metaphor or an instigator for something in a relationship from women’s perspective.  My three favorite stories from the collection–“Dead Man’s Rose,” “Seven Birds,” and “Alive”–all feature this element.  In “Dead Man’s Rose,” the zombie is a metaphor for an abusive lover who refuses to grant the woman her freedom.  In “Seven Birds” the surprise of the zombie apocalypse coincides nicely with an unexpected break-up (I particularly enjoyed that female character’s reaction to both).  In “Alive” the female character must deal both with the zombie apocalypse and the emotional fall-out after a one-night stand with a co-worker.  These are all three things modern women face in relationships and getting to see them take place in a world infested with zombies (one of my favorite kinds) was such a welcome change!  Too often, especially in zombie movies, we see the apocalypse from a man’s perspective and not from a woman’s.  I found myself saying to Harte in my head, “Ignore the male perspective and switch to just writing from the female perspective, because you do it so well!”  For instance, it’s not every day in a female zombie fiction fan’s life that you come across a resonant passage like this:

When I am lonely for boys what I miss is their bodies. The smell of their skin, its saltiness. The rough whisper of stubble against my cheek. The strong firm hands, the way they rest on the curve of my back.  (location 1206)

Never have I come across a passage in zombie fiction that so struck at the heart of what it is to be a modern straight woman, and to have that followed up by oh no zombies was just awesome.

There are a few shortcomings though.  A couple of the stories simply felt too short, and a couple of them–“A Prayer to Garlic” and “Arkady, Kain, & Zombies”–just didn’t make much sense to me.  I think the former would have benefited from being a bit longer with more explanation, whereas the latter actually felt too long and had a couple of plot holes that I couldn’t wrap my mind around.  This collection is periodically more British than at other times.  One short story revolves around tea to an extent that I’m afraid a Boston gal like myself just couldn’t quite relate to.  I know that those more British stories will definitely appeal to the type who love Doctor Who for instance, though.  I also really wish it included a table of contents.  That would be super-helpful in revisiting those stories readers would like to revisit.

Overall this book is definitely worth the add to any zombie fan’s collection, but particularly to female zombie fans.  It’s different and fun simultaneously.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Smashwords copy from the author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: White Fang by Jack London

June 8, 2011 1 comment

Wolf.Summary:
White Fang is born in the wild 1/4 dog and 3/4 wolf.  He soon finds himself back in the realm of man when his mother returns to the Indian camp she had left.  Thus begins the struggle between White Fang’s desire for the companionship of the human gods and the call of the wild inside him.

Review:
This companion novel to The Call of the Wild flips the original story on its head.  Instead of it being a dog feeling the call of the wild, we have a wolf feeling the call of the companionship of man, in spite of mistreatment.  The story doesn’t quite work as well when reversed in that way, though.

Both White Fang and Buck suffer mistreatment at the hands of men that is incredibly painful for an animal lover to read about.  Whereas this served to make it understandable why Buck leaves for the wild, though, it makes it difficult to understand why White Fang doesn’t do the same.  Yes, eventually he meets a master who loves him and cares for him, but for years prior that is not the case.  Perhaps London is attempting to demonstrate the intense loyalty of dogs to their masters whether or not they deserve it.  It is true that animal rights workers see this sort of situation over and over again, yet White Fang is mostly wolf.  It is difficult to believe his wild nature would not take over at some point, particularly when being mistreated.    If this story was told of a dog and not a wolf, it would make more sense.

That said, London’s strength at delving into the animal world without personifying them to be more human than they are is still incredibly strong here.  The animals are not personified but they are humanized.  By that I mean, their personalities and instincts are clear and understandable.  It is difficult to imagine anyone reading this book then proceeding to abuse an animal.  They are truly remarkable creatures, London excels at demonstrating this.

Overall, this book is not as amazing as The Call of the Wild but it is well-worth the read for more time spent seeing animals through Jack London’s eyes.  Recommended.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Companion Book:
The Call of the Wild, review