Book review: ‘Nice To Come Home To’ by Rebecca Flowers

It’s hard to sum up a book like Nice To Come Home To. I feel the snarky coming out, but . . . Rebecca Flowers’ novel about a 30-something realizing her life has gone awry isn’t terribly original. I mean, what women’s fiction fan hasn’t seen this plot before? Woman frets over aging alone; woman winds up with immature boyfriend who isn’t good enough for her, but somehow she is still the one left behind; woman worries that, unlike her many friends, she’s unmarried and childless during her prime child-bearing years.

I wish I could say that Nice To Come Home To defined my expectations and ultimately won me over, but it really didn’t. The more I think about it, the more amorphous and nondescript it becomes. Despite reading it just two weeks ago, I couldn’t really any of the fine details when I sat down to write this review. I remembered the protagonist lived in Washington, D.C., which turned out to be my favorite part about the story. And that she comes to house a cat that initially hated her.

Beyond that? Nothing much.

So the breakdown is basically this: after losing both her job and boyfriend, Pru Whistler is wondering what has become of the orderly life she once cherished. Gone are the days she could “work” on Rudy, her cute but lackluster boyfriend, and her tiny apartment in D.C. is starting to feel like a prison cell.

Unsure of what her next step should be, Pru reaches out to her sister Patsy, an irresponsible but big-hearted single mother. Her support helps put her on a path toward change, but she doesn’t expect to meet and fall for John, a separated cafe owner who takes pity on her during a moment of need.

Some things happen, changes occur, etc. and so forth. Pru was a character who never much endeared herself to me, and much of the novel read like a whiny woman more interested in lamenting the past and pitying herself than trying to make legitimate changes. I guess that could read as “realistic” fiction, but we all have enough of our own issues. It wasn’t entertaining or enlightening. Unlike other books where the narrator struggles but ultimately reclaims her sense of self, I felt like Pru wallowed for so long that I ceased being interested in what happened to her.

Again: realistic, sure. But not very much fun to read.

Patsy irked the tar out of me, too, but I won’t even get into all that. She and her instant looooove connection with a guy she met on the Metro had me rolling my eyes so hard. The fact that she had a child to drag into that mess was scary, and she goes onto the long list of Characters I Would Very Much Like To Slap.

Verdict? Meh. I’d initially liked the story enough to call it a 3-star read, but my feelings have cooled off since finishing. I liked that Nice To Come Home To was set in D.C., which is initially why I bought the book; references to many local spots was fun to see. I enjoyed the landmark references and could visualize much of the story. But though I finished (I did!), it isn’t a book I’ll remember clearly down the road. In fact — I already don’t.

2.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1594483566 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘Sleeping Arrangements’ by Madeleine Wickham

It’s official: I’m severing all ties with Madeleine Wickham. After reading a few of her books and consequently wanting to shove most of them into a mud pit, hopefully to be swallowed whole, I’m placing her on Meg’s Banned List until I’m somehow convinced to give her a second chance.

And I can be rather stubborn about these things.

So here we have Sleeping Arrangements, a tawdry and droning little book centering on two families thrust together unexpectedly on holiday in Spain. Chloe is desperate to get away with her long-time partner, Philip, and their two sons. When an opportunity to stay at an old friend’s villa pops into their laps, Chloe eagerly accepts an invitation to get away for a much-needed break.

But when they arrive, she’s shocked to find another family already soaking up some rays on the property — and it just so happens she has quite the history with Hugh, a charismatic businessman who broke her heart more than a decade before. Hugh has his hands full with two young daughters and his wife, Amanda, a snotty and self-indulgent trophy wife who seems to be nothing more than a status symbol. And then the real fun begins.

I borrowed a copy of Sleeping Arrangements on audio from the library and listened to the whole novel quickly, though I can’t say it was with much enjoyment. These characters are annoying, spoiled and pretty insufferable. I felt zero empathy for Chloe or Hugh, both of whom acted like petulant children for most of the narrative. Philip was an affable dullard and Amanda a total twit, so that left me with . . . who? Jenna, the rebellious Australian nanny brought along to care for Amanda and Hugh’s squealing daughters? Sam, the teenage boy obsessed with what’s hidden beneath Jenna’s bikini? Gerard, the over-the-top snobby wine critic who masterminds this whole “mix-up”?

Eh. The whole novel just left a sour taste in my mouth. It’s all so faux angsty and ridiculous, and I couldn’t muster up an ounce of enthusiasm for this unhappy British lot. If I’d had my nose in a paperback or — shudder — a hardcover, I would have surely tossed it aside after just a few chapters. But since it was on loan and on audio, I stuck it out.

But would I recommend it? Only if you like your chick lit with a healthy dash of unpleasant, ridiculous characters and unfeasible situations. And I don’t think you do.

2 out of 5!

ISBN: 0312943970 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Audiobook borrowed from my local library

Book review: ‘Heart of the Matter’ by Emily Giffin

Growing up, my mom was a huge fan of the Eagles and Don Henley. From the moment Emily Giffin’s Heart Of the Matter landed on my radar a few years back, I’ve had the chorus of Henley’s famous “Forgiveness” in my head. And I think it’s a clue, friends.

“I’ve been tryin’ to get down
To the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter,
But I think it’s about
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore . . .”

So here we have a tangled, tangled web of infidelity, mommyhood and loneliness between Tessa and Nick Russo, married parents to two young children, and Valerie, a single mother struggling to hold her life together after an accident severely burns her young son. Plastic surgeon Nick comes to Valerie’s rescue and begins to treat Charlie’s wounds, but it’s Nick’s actual presence in their lives that provides the most healing.

We know from the get-go that Nick and Valerie are going to become entangled. This is a book about cheating, after all, so there has to be some cheating here — right? But it takes so long for the actual cheating to take place and there’s so much angst and longing and confusion that, after a while, I just thought, “Hey, can we get on with this? Can you just do it or do whatever you’re going to do?”

Yep. It was that sort of book.

“Frustrating” would be a good word to describe the action in Giffin’s fifth novel, which features cameos from beloved Something Borrowed characters Dex and Rachel. If I’m cheering for a man to dissolve his marriage by sleeping with another woman, a woman I actually grow to appreciate in some small way, then the book has reached a confusing turn.

Valerie is a complicated and broken woman — a lawyer with little interest in the law beyond providing for she and Charlie, a young man who shows tremendous strength of character in light of the terrible accident that brings them to Nick’s hospital in the first place. Not one to succumb to the whims and fancies of the society women whose children attend Charlie’s school, Valerie seems to exist in her own bubble — and likes it that way. Nick is the first one to pierce her hard exterior, and part of me was glad that someone had finally gotten through to her.

But how could you not want to punch Valerie — I mean, really? Despite knowing all about his situation, she was somehow still wooed by — and wooing of — a married man. But Nick — Nick, the real villain here? I wanted so badly to chalk him up as a dirtbag, but I could still see glimmers of humanity in him. Tessa seemed unhappy, cold and distant, yes, but that didn’t give him a free pass to go and get his jollies elsewhere. It was worse than just a physical connection, though; it was obvious that Tessa and Nick had grown apart, and Nick truly had an affair of the heart. Instead of talking through his difficulties with his wife, Captain Plastic Surgeon went ahead and decided to play savior with a terrified woman and her son.

So actually, now that I’m typing all that, I think he’s a jerk.

I know many readers do not look kindly on books dealing with infidelity, and it’s certainly not a subject that makes me dance around in glee. But the reality is . . . well, it’s reality. And I think Giffin takes a difficult subject matter and weaves a human touch throughout this story of redemption, though I didn’t necessarily think the characters were wonderful people.

But the heart of the matter? It’s not the cheating. It’s forgiveness, just like Henley croons, and I found myself questioning what I would do in a similar situation. “The more I know, the less I understand,” Henley sings, and I think that’s what prompts us all to take a leap of faith. It’s the only way.

Fans of Giffin won’t find the heart and soul they loved in novels like Something Borrowed, a book that also tackles infidelity, but Heart Of The Matter is still a thought-provoking read. I’d recommend it, particularly on audio — and this was my first audio book ever! Cynthia Nixon (Miranda of “Sex and the City” fame) narrated and had quite the expressive voice. Sometimes too expressive, because her throaty pauses and obnoxious society lady voices could get annoying. But I still enjoyed the audio experience.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0312554176 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy won from Chick Lit Is Not Dead

Book review: ‘I Love the Eighties’ by Megan Crane

Everyone has a certain affinity for the time in which they grew up and the music defining that period — but Jenna Jenkins is taking it one step further. Her office at Video TV is a shrine to ’80s band The Wild Boys and its enigmatic lead singer, Tommy Seer. And after ending another relationship, Jenna is trying to come to grips with the fact that no man can ever live up to the fantasy of Tommy, her epic teen crush. And the fact that Tommy himself has been dead more than twenty years, a victim of a mysterious car crash in 1987? Well, that changes nothing.

But when a sudden thunderstorm strands Jenna at her office, the line between reality and pretend becomes hopelessly blurred. With a lightning strike and fall in a supply closet, Jenna blacks out . . . and finds herself in 1987. She’s still working at Video TV, but in its heyday — a time with Tommy and the Wild Boys graced every music chart and big hair was the norm. She’s now working as an assistant to a corporate big-wig and rocking a cool new desk, but Jenna is worried she’s going completely insane.

But the first time she sees Tommy, Jenna is overcome with the weight of her fascination and obsession. Like the Justin Timberlakes and Justin Biebers that would follow him, Tommy is even more beautiful in person. And as Jenna becomes further ensconced in his world, she realizes there may have been a purpose for her time travel after all.

Megan Crane’s I Love The 80s is a funny, unexpected look at the teen idols who define us and the second chances we just might get. I went into this book expecting a light, amusing story, and it delivered that — and then some.

Jenna is a hilarious lead I could relate to from page one. Perpetually in love with my own teen idol, Taylor Hanson, no amount of time (or his subsequent marriage and scads of children) can change my feelings. It’s easy to get lost in fantasy — especially when your life isn’t going as hoped. And as Jenna is smarting from the end of a long relationship, it’s comforting to imagine life with handsome, amazing and talented Tommy Seer.

Of course, I’ve never gone back in time to save Taylor Hanson from anything. Jenna is given an opportunity that requires readers to suspend their disbelief, but Crane’s storytelling makes this surprisingly easy to do. She fits the implausible within workable parameters, and it suddenly didn’t matter if time travel is, you know, impossible. I bought into it because Jenna was a believable mix of terrified and exhilarated. Because the whole thing was just too amusing not to believe.

I loved getting to know Tommy as Jenna did — the things he felt; the secrets he kept. He was wonderful and tortured, sexy and absolutely crush-worthy. It was obvious why Jenna fell in love with him — both the idol she knew as a child, and the 1987 version who came crashing into her world. I Love The 80s felt like a voyeuristic peek at the life of a celebrity — even a fictional one. And I loved that Jenna was an everyday woman who had the possibility of capturing his heart.

So we have a love story and a mystery; a funny book and a poignant one. Light, quick and very readable, I Love The 80s was the perfect novel to giggle, swoon and grip as I tore through the book waiting to learn Tommy’s fate. Crane did a wonderful job tying up the many threads balanced to form this story, and I wouldn’t hesitate to devour another of her novels soon. Children of the ’80s will take particular pleasure in all the synthesized, giant-hair references that made the ’80s great!

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1849169993 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy won from Chick Lit Is Not Dead

Book review: ‘Tales From My Hard Drive’ by Megan Karasch

Nothing does wonders for the spirit — and matrimonial bliss — quite like coming home to find your husband sprawled out on a diving board — um, your diving board — with another woman. But this is just the fate of 40-year-old Melissa, a magazine writer who thought she was in a committed relationship until . . . well, until she wasn’t.

Gathering the pieces of her broken heart and pressing for a divorce, Melissa leaves sunny Los Angeles for the concrete jungle of New York City. She settles into a friend’s spare bedroom,  picks up freelancing jobs and, with time, starts to humor friends’ advice to “get back out there.” Not convinced she’s ready to meet someone but needing a distraction, Melissa signs up for a few online dating sites — and immediately begin to gather both anecdotes and war stories. And once her tales begin to run in a city newspaper, Melissa finds herself with a booming freelancing gig . . . albeit anonymously.

It’s not until she meets Ted, a funny filmmaker who becomes smitten with her immediately, that she starts to question whether or not exploiting her love life in the press is such a great idea. Coupled with a few hair-raising experiences with online dudes, Melissa must decide how to move forward with her life . . . even if that means doing it alone.

Megan Karasch’s Tales From My Hard Drive is a funny, erudite and quick read that will appeal to women shuffling through the dating game and those who have sought love through channels like eHarmony and OkCupid. As someone who found her hunky hunk (ew, sorry — too much?) in just such a way, Karasch’s novel immediately piqued my interest. I wanted a fast, hilarious ride with heart, and that’s just what she delivered.

Though I’ve seen the “OMG my boyfriend/husband is cheating on me I have to get the heck out of here so I’m going to New York City on a plane tomorrow” shtick before, that doesn’t mean I don’t still lap that stuff up like a gingerbread latte. It’s pure delicious escapism, friends, and just the sort of novel I like to cuddle up with on a Wednesday evening. From the beginning, I saw through Melissa’s prickly exterior and knew that, deep down, she possessed the heart of a romantic. Even if she didn’t always see it that way.

And I loved Ted. Loved him. He’s geeky and sloppy and a terrible, terrible dresser (I agree with Melissa: a wallet chain? Are you a 13-year-old emo skater kid?), but that makes him all the more endearing — especially because of the way Melissa constantly keeps him at bay. Though I’m surprised that she would find herself dating so quickly after a shocking and unexpected divorce, I felt that Karasch’s development of Ted and Melissa’s relationship was realistic. And Melissa’s issues were realistic. Overall, it just worked for me.

And this book? This book is funny. Aside from the hilarious dating anecdotes (of which there are many), Karasch’s dialogue simmers with wit and warmth. Melissa’s conversations with Wendy, her friend-cum-unexpected-roommate, had me snorting Diet Coke and giggling like a fool. The banter between Ted and Melissa worked really well for me, too, and further endeared them both to me as a couple . . . they’re intellectual equals, after all. Oh, I love equality.

Basically, this story delivers.

Though I feel Tales From My Hard Drive would work best for those who have played the dating game (which, you know, is almost everyone), I wouldn’t limit this book’s appeal to merely ladies — or single ones, either. Because I dated online and having plenty o’ stories of my own to share, I related on a personal level to Melissa’s misadventures . . . but I don’t think you have to have taken that route to appreciate this one, either.

So if you’ve loved, lost, loved again or just dig fun chick lit . . . this could very well be your book. I’d also like to make special note of that fact that it’s written by a fellow writerly Megan. Rock on, girlfriend.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1456315404 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by author in exchange for my honest review

Giveaway winner chosen. Congrats, Jen!

Book review: ‘A Desirable Residence’ by Madeleine Wickham

One house in Silchester, England, brings together three unlikely groups of people in this novel of deceit, debt and escalating — but unrealized — hopes.

Liz and Jonathan Chambers are homeowners up to their eyeballs in money troubles, scrambling to pay both the mortgage on their Russell Street house and the loan against a local tutorial college they’ve purchased. When their bills reach towering heights, they’re forced to take action — and must move with their rebellious 14-year-old, Alice, to a small flat above the school they run. Scared by the turn of events, Jonathan and Liz approach Marcus Witherstone, a real estate agent, about how to handle the mess their unsold home is bringing them, and he makes a proposition: lease it out.

The new tenants are Ginny and Piers, a fashionable couple from London seeking to escape the hustle-and-bustle of the city as they wait for Piers’ acting prospects to finally pan out. With their friend Duncan, they arrive in Silchester to rent the Russell Street property — and soon meet Alice, who frequently sneaks into her old garage to smoke clandestine cigarettes. While that treachery is happening, Liz finds herself in a precarious situation, too . . . with Marcus. As kind, well-meaning Jonathan is left to solve their financial troubles and Marcus’s wife, Althea, becomes obsessed with getting their eldest son a fabulous scholarship, Liz and Marcus’ lies begin to stack up neatly . . . and then become frayed at the edges, threatening to destroy everything.

As much as I became initially engaged in Madeleine Wickham’s A Desirable Residence, all the attraction here is centered on unlikeable, misanthropic people finally getting their just desserts in the end. From scheming, bored Marcus to ungrateful, uncharitable Liz, I struggled to find one character with whom connect in this British novel.

Bratty Alice couldn’t have been more unjust to Jonathan, her bumbling but sweet father, and more than once in the book I found myself wanting to reach in and slap her. She’s a self-absorbed teenager, yes, and I could respect the fact that her behavior was realistic, but who wants to spend 293 pages reading about a rude, deluded 14-year-old? As she began forcing her presence on Ginny, Piers and Duncan, I became more and more agitated. Couldn’t she see she wasn’t wanted? That she was intruding? That she was annoying? Even if the new residents of her old house didn’t feel that way, I certainly did.

What could have saved this book from becoming a soulless mess was a dash of humor, warmth or humanity. Demonstrating some growth. Some maturity. Some sincerity. And though I did find myself smiling inwardly toward the end at an unexpected turn of events, for the most part? The bad people stayed bad. The selfish people stayed selfish. Marcus redeemed himself slightly in my eyes, but Liz — Liz, one of our central characters — didn’t get what she deserved. I wanted a blow-out, a reckoning . . . I wanted an epic battle complete with tears and divulsions. But I was disappointed.

Wickham is better known to most of us as Sophie Kinsella, the nom de plume under which she wrote the best-selling Shopaholic series. While her writing is fluid and enjoyable, her characters — the anchors of any story — were terrible. You won’t find me complaining about any “distance” between myself and these people, because I definitely felt like I got to know them through the course of A Desirable Residence. The real question is would I actually want to know them?

And the answer to that is, of course, a resounding no.

With so much great women’s fiction and chick lit out there just waiting to be devoured, I can’t recommend this one. It was boring, lifeless and grating — though I did manage to finish it, so I guess that says something . . . mostly about the quality of Wickham’s writing, which was fast-paced and readable. I didn’t hate it — but didn’t love it, either. For good British chick lit, look no further than Jill Mansell — and don’t waste your time reading mediocre books.

2.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0312562772 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program

Book review: ‘I Heart New York’ by Lindsey Kelk

After catching her fiance in The Act with some hussy at her best friend’s wedding, writer Angela Clarke can’t escape London fast enough. It’s as though a decade’s worth of anger, confusion and suffocation has exploded to the surface as she boards a plane bound for New York City. With no real plan of action, Angela checks into a hotel and immediately befriends Jenny, an aspiring life coach who works at the front desk.

Armed with a new buddy and the endless possibilities that come with being a stranger in a strange land, Angela gets a makeover, begins to hang out with Jenny’s stylish friends and begins to think about life beyond her immediate pain. It doesn’t take long for her to meet not one but two gorgeous — and different — men, both vying for her attention. And when an unexpected break comes for professionally, she has to make a big decision: continue building her life in the Big Apple, or hurry back to England. And it won’t be as easy she thought.

Lindsey Kelk’s I Heart New York was an entertaining — if predictable — novel about a young woman’s late blooming. Though our main character is hardly a teen, it read like a coming-of-age story; Angela’s awakening to life beyond Mark, her stodgy and boring ex-fiance, and the hum-drum life they’d formed together.

Knowing how much I’ve hated other OMG-let’s-go-to-New-York-and-change-our-lives novels, I can tell you that it’s quite a shock for me to be writing . . . a positive review for this one. Well, a semi-positive review. Because I’m in an interesting situation here, friends: despite the fact that many aspects of this book had me shaking my head, I actually . . . liked it. But with caveats, as outlined below.

See, everything in I Heart New York felt totally implausible to me. To say that life just happens to Angela — so easily, so effortlessly — is an understatement. At more than one point in the book, I let out this condescending chuckle, like, “Really? Really, it’s that simple?” For example, the fact that Angela has been in New York less than 24 hours before meeting Jenny, the woman who becomes her BFF 4 Life and later shares an apartment with her. It’s pretty convenient that Jenny has an opening to completely take over Angela’s life, rearranging her grief and anger at Mark into something bordering on productive. Oh! Oh! And how about a friend of Jenny’s who can hook her up with a contact at a very popular women’s magazine . . . and said magazine happens to have an opening for a blogger? A dating blogger. And Angela? Angela’s dating. Two dudes at once, in fact, and she’s a writer, y’all. So she’s perfect for the position.

That pretty much made me want to vomit, yes, considering that I’m a columnist, too. And though I might have fallen into my position, it really irked me that Angela’s columns — and they weren’t terribly funny or entertaining, by the by — became this overnight sensation. Totally, totally unrealistic.

And the guys she’s dating, Tyler and Alex? It’s the classic bad-boy/good-guy tripe, pitting one against the other. Tyler can give her wealth and stability, lavishing her with expensive gifts, while Alex, a musician, has the hot emo skinny-jeans thing going on. Despite all her back-and-forth about what to do, it was obvious who she was going to pick — and I didn’t blame her. What I did find fault with was the fact that both men apparently knew about Angela’s dating blog and didn’t care. I mean, girlfriend was writing a blog — about them, their dates, hinting at their sex life — and neither of them seemed concerned. Um, what? As someone who routinely writes about her life in a variety of public forums, I’ll say this: dudes are a little hesitant to have you write about them. Just a little.

See what I mean? Unrealistic.

But, to my surprise. . . um, you know? I liked it. Kelk’s writing was funny and endearing; Angela, for all her ridiculousness, was a character I enjoyed reading about and rooted for. Even though her life became just so picture-perfect and awesome, I didn’t begrudge her that. Lord knows our girl went through some tough times to get there. The book flowed seamlessly and featured realistic dialogue — even with the unrealistic plot twists.

Also, New York really functioned as another character in the novel. Seeing the city through Angela’s eyes was a treat, especially as she grew used to American customs and the Big Apple’s cultural landmarks. She fell in love with New York just as she was learning to love herself, and that was an important lesson. By the final page, I did feel as though Angela had undergone a great change — an instrumental part of me enjoying any book. If I feel like characters haven’t evolved by story’s end, I feel cheated. And annoyed.

This book was pure candy for me: sweet, non-filling, enjoyable. I turned each page and was wildly entertained by Angela’s misadventures, which equaled a pretty fun romp to me. Lovers of chick lit and British women’s fiction will find likely enjoy our heroine’s story — as long as they can suspend disbelief for about 300 pages.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0062004352 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher