Contemporary and Romance

 

Someday in Paris starstarstarstar

by Olivia Lara

This one had a lot of consistency problems, yet I couldn’t put it down! With short chapters alternating between two protagonists, there was always just one more chapter and a few late nights ensued.

Leon and Zara meet very young, hiding in a dark museum. They share a love of art and especially for Monet. Zara comes from a family where the women have dreams about the man meant for them, seeing things though his eyes. Some of them ignore the ability and slough it off as superstition and imagination. Some believe it whole-heartedly.

Among the problems with this book is Zara, whose real name is Dominique, sharing the story of her star-crossed romance with Leon with her granddaughter and switching between present and past tense to maximum cringe effect, yet the story itself comes through and it was easy to care about the characters and to want to slap them when they made stupid decisions that made them miss each other.

 

Widow of Pale HarbourThe Widow Of Pale Harbour starstarstar

by Hester Fox

In a small coastal town, a widow is a recluse and the townspeople call her a witch, accuse her of murdering her husband, and tell the new minister to avoid her. The new minister is not really a minister, but in homage to his dead wife, took an opportunity to fill the shoes of the man who was supposed to be the new minister but died in transit. Of course after all the warnings, he goes straight up to visit the reclusive widow.

It doesn’t take long before an attraction forms between him and the widow, portending the romantic nature of the tale ahead, but it is also a mystery with various parts of the widow’s history coming out in drips and drabs and reports of her by her staff that conflict with what the townspeople have to say.

I have to admit that this story balances between Romance and Mystery genres. I’m not a big fan of Romance for exactly many of the elements included in the plot, especially the sudden reveals at the end that had no real foreshadowing and the absolute stupidity of some of the choices the main characters make.

From a Mystery point of view, it has some strong merits, especially in that guessing who the culprit is could keep a Mystery reader’s mind busy, as the whole town hates the widow and it could literally be anyone. There’s also a secondary mystery about what exactly happened to the widow’s husband. The reader gets a lot of teasers about this before it is finally revealed.

There was a lot to like about this story, but it lacked subtlety in both the romance and mystery aspects. The detailed clues were too sparse and the blossoming romance feels rather contrived. The connections at the end reminded me of an American soap opera, where suddenly you learn things that had no build up of any kind.

Having said that, it was easy to be sympathetic with the characters and there was good pacing to the plot and some drama at the end which while fairly predictable, kept my interest.

 

One Summer in Paris starstarstarhalf

by Sarah Morgan

I don’t read many Romance books but I did enjoy this one. I’m always drawn to stories set in Paris.

The chapters alternate between the pov of two protagonists: Grace, a mature woman whose daughter is about to travel in Europe before going off to college and Audrey, a girl the same age as Grace’s Daughter. Grace likes her life planned and ordered. She thinks she has the ideal life, until it all comes crashing down. Audrey has spent her life looking after her alcoholic mother and is used to complete chaos, but looks to Paris as her escape.

The two meet in Paris and with a few hitches, become unlikely friends. Each have their own problems, but they support each other and find they have complementary talents.

So first the negative: Many plot points were easily predictable or really stretched belief. Near the end the moralising got rather thick and I didn’t like the turn things took for Grace. My decisions would have been different.

However, as a complete fantasy romance story, it was entertaining. I did care what happened to both women and wanted them to find happiness in their own ways. The characters were well done, even if the plot hit me over the head with both moralising and obvious clues of what was to come.

On the bottom line, it was a fun story if you don’t mind a little insta-love and unlikely human behaviour in favour of a light fantasy romance.

 

The Age of Misadventure starstar

by Judy Leigh

I really enjoyed the author’s previous book and was looking forward to another fun adventure with this one. The title is intriguing and full of promise! Imagine my shock when I saw that it was written in present tense. Generally when an author turns to the dark side and uses this abomination perspective, I never trust them again.

I did persevere, although the rather miserable beginning seemed to go on too long. I have to admit that I was really disappointed that I didn’t like this story. I gave a lot of thought as to why and concluded that it’s the characters. The author’s previous book had a main character who I really liked. A strong woman who despite being elderly, decided she wasn’t ready to be dead yet and went on adventures. This one, all the characters were whiners, complainers or both.

I felt it took too long to get to the traveling part and then everything seemed to go wrong so that it was just depressing. Even a satisfying ending couldn’t make a stressful journey into something fun or daring.

 

The Labyrinth of the Spirits starstarstar

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This is part of The Cemetery Of Forgotten Books universe, along with Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven. They are stand alone stories but are connected through a common setting in Barcelona and some characters that appear in all of the stories. They are Literary, Gothic, Mystical Mystery stories that have helped define the Magical Realism category of fiction.

The book description tells us, “As a child, Daniel Sempere discovered among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books an extraordinary novel that would change the course of his life. Now a young man in the Barcelona of the late 1950s, Daniel runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop and enjoys a seemingly fulfilling life with his loving wife and son. Yet the mystery surrounding the death of his mother continues to plague his soul despite the moving efforts of his wife Bea and his faithful friend Fermín to save him.”

They say you can read this series in any order and this was my first Zafón. I found it very slow in the beginning and with the characters changing in different segments, found it very difficult to find a linear plot line to follow. The second half was much easier as the various elements start coming together. The writing itself was undeniably good and there were definitely some exciting passages, but I think I might have to read it again with more familiarity with the characters and how they relate to each other. Hopefully the other books in the series will be easier as a result.

I think I would advise first time readers to start with Shadow of the Wind first.

 

A Grand Old Time starstarstarhalf

by Judy Leigh

This reminds me a little of a senior version of Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. A 75-year-old woman is bored with life at a retirement home and regrets getting talked into selling her house and moving into the facility. One day she takes her purse and cards and wanders out for a day in the city of Dublin for a change of scene.

Her adventures start pretty quickly. She buys a hat and coat to change her image and falls into ‘interesting’ company who leads her into trying things she has never done before, like gambling. It all escalates from there and becomes a fascinating journey with many twists and turns, sometimes relying on the luck of the Irish in ways that nudge belief a little far.

I like Evie, the main character. I also like that she was an older character and brought both life experience and attitude to her role. There were a lot of surprises in her story and I enjoyed the read for the most part. I thought a secondary storyline about her son and his wife was drawn out a little too long in the later chapters. I started out not liking Maura and ended not thinking much of Brendan either, but they did add some comic relief to the story.

The later part of the story settled into predictability but I’m glad all the loose ends were tied up. The majority of the tale was great fun and appealed to my sense of rebellion and the sort of old lady I aspire to be when the time comes.

 

Devil’s Day starstarhalf

by Andrew Michael Hurley

Every autumn, John Pentecost returns to the farm where he grew up to help gather the sheep down from the moors for the winter. Usually his grandfather, known as the gaffer, tells tales that always begin with the devil and local rituals are believed to keep the sheep safe over the winter, but this year the gaffer has died and John has brought his wife along where they will both attend the funeral.

This story is a slow burner. It starts out following a lot of what looks like conversation with no real point, though eventually it begins to reveal some of the local happenings that suggest the town really is plagued by the Devil. There is some Yorkshire dialect which was very well done, though I wonder whether it will translate well to people who have never heard Yorkshire people speak. Beginning sentences with “It were…” might look like bad grammar, but it’s part of the local colour.

The one thing I found difficult was that there are no chapters, though there are a few section breaks starting nearly halfway through. It’s one never-ending read with the occasional skipped line where I could decide to use my bookmark and continue later. The thing is, the lack of any real action in the first 75% of the book didn’t inspire me to want to keep reading. It’s like a snapshot of life in a rural Yorkshire Parrish with a dark secret or two. I finished wondering what was the point of the story and still waiting for something to happen, especially as there were some good hints of foreshadowing.

Not a lot of action, but the writing was good.

 

First Person starstarstar

by Richard Flanagan

Penniless writer Kif Kehlmann is hired to ghost write a memoir for a corporate criminal, Siegfried Heidl, in six weeks. His research to write the autobiography takes a frustrating form when his subject is reluctant to answer questions that might only further incriminate him when he’s already facing prison.

The need for money keeps Kif on board, even when his better judgement tells him to walk away. The story is told in first person, in a style reminiscent of old detective noir, yet portraying a man who was anything but in control of his own destiny.

The story takes a while to get to the meat, but slowly Kif starts getting inside the mentality of a professional con man who doesn’t really want the actual details of his life story displayed so much as a comfortable fiction that will serve his purposes.

As the struggle to glean details goes on, Kif starts to question everything he thinks he knows about his world, even who he is, why he got married, how he feels about having children and why he calls himself a novelist when he’s never managed to finish a novel. Worse, Heidl begins to tell the truth.

This is a real psychological mind bender that falls into place gradually, the details of what physically happens secondary to the play on perceptions. I found it interesting, but depressing.

 

light parisThe Light of Paris starstarstarstarhalf

by Eleanor Brown

This is a story of two women, each of whom discover Paris in their own way. We first meet Madeleine in 1999. She is drawn to art and loves to paint, but her family circumstances place her as a corporate wife to the sort of very controlling husband who makes a woman dream of being single and free to wear what she wants, eat what she wants, and spend her time painting instead of schmoozing with the wives of business contacts with whom she has nothing in common.

Madeleine finds her grandmother’s diary and reads about Margie in Jazz age Paris, 1916. Margie lives in a time and culture where young women debut when they reach marriageable age and expect to find a well-to-do husband and have children. But Margie is having none of it, she wants to be a writer and live a Bohemian lifestyle. Her first encounter with a man her parents approve of, what might be called a rich wastrel, gives her a push in the direction of an unconventional life ahead.

I was struck by the writing in this and how eloquently the personalities involved were portrayed, from Madeleine herself down to the peripheral characters. Each of them came alive in just a few paragraphs of lyrical prose and made their indelible stamp on the story.

Madeleine and her grandmother had much in common. Both were born into ‘society’ families that had expectations of how young women thought and behaved, both had artistic urges that made then want to break out of the molds created for them and both were given the chance to sample what life might be like if they rebelled against the ‘expectations’ thrust upon them.

I could appreciate how difficult it was for each of them to break loose from the training of their lives, of family expectations and all that they knew to try to enjoy something of life beyond the prescribed formula for their social strata. More interesting still was experiencing Paris through the eyes of Margie, the grandmother, and wondering if she would find a way to maintain her newly discovered freedom.

The book kept me interested and wanting to know the fate of each of the women and what choices they would make for their lives, given the limitations thrust upon them. The end didn’t disappoint, though I would have liked to see how Madeleine fared in Paris.

Definitely one of my best reads this month.