Book review: ‘Maybe This Time’ by Jennifer Crusie

It’s been ten long years since Andie Miller stepped foot in the law office of North Archer — and only then to let him know she was on her way out the door. But now it’s 1992, a decade since she and her ex-husband crossed paths, and she’s finally ready to let him go. She wants to throw his alimony checks back in his face and start over . . . with Will Spenser.

But North has other plans. Now the appointed guardian of a distant cousin’s two young children, North desperately needs help — especially since the kids have already cycled through three nannies. Something strange is happening at Archer House, a property for which he’s responsible, and someone has to figure out what’s going on. Someone North trusts to tell him the truth — and get those kids out of there and ready for school. Kind but firm, Andie seems a logical — if unexpected — choice.

And, surprisingly, she’s up for the task. Andie makes her way to the old Victorian home in Ohio, transported stone by stone from England more than a century before. Complete with a moat and one surly housekeeper, Mrs. Crumb, Archer House has a distinctly creepy vibe — and meeting the two children does nothing to alleviate that. Young Alice’s pastimes include screaming for no reason, demanding unreasonable things, giving angry looks and being as uncooperative as possible. Her brother, Carter, is a quiet 12-year-old who loves art — but is rumored to have a thing for fires. As in, starting them. Everywhere.

And did we mention the ghosts? It doesn’t take long for Andie to begin feeling unexpected drafts in the home, not totally ridiculous given the size and nature of an old house like that . . . but how can she explain the visions and figures she sees lurking around the pond and Alice’s bed, or up in the old tower? And what’s frightening the children so that they refuse to leave Archer House — on risk of death?

Jennifer Crusie’s Maybe This Time is a hard novel to classify — mostly because it’s such a conglomeration of many (awesome) genres. Part romance, part mystery, part thriller, Crusie’s latest — her first solo work in six years — was a suspenseful, entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny look at woman grappling with the past not really being the past . . . and the unexpected feelings of devotion she suddenly feels for two young children. And, you know, surviving the vengeful natures of a few murderous ghosts.

Andie is a resourceful, strong and quick-witted character, and there isn’t too much not to like about her. She manages to walk the fine line between speaking her mind and being honest while not being a raging jerk, and I can respect that. North, on the other hand, comes across as cold and steel-hearted — until you get to know him and see past the lawyerly facade. And recognize the undeniable soft spot he has for his ex-wife. It’s not difficult to see what would draw her to him, a woman with such confidence — a woman he let slip away while he slogged away at his law firm, losing himself in nothing but work and old family drama.

What I loved about Maybe This Time were these two realistic, relatable characters — and the kids, too, who you can’t help but feel close to after spending so many pages here with them. Alice comes across as a borderline nutcase when we first meet her, but I absolutely adored her by the close of the book. She and Carter both act the way you’d expect children to act, complete with intelligent but still child-like dialogue, and I really appreciated that. Plus, I couldn’t help but giggle when she referred to North as “Bad Uncle,” or just plain ol’ “Bad” for short.

For as much as this is about Andie and North reuniting (perhaps?) or Andie caring for and helping the kids, it’s also a real ghost story — complete with mystery and a few bone-chilling scenes. In particular, one features an old nanny, Miss J, and Crusie makes reference to the gaping black holes in her head where eyes should have been. When a seance is held to try and rid Archer House of the apparitions, I got genuine goosebumps. But for a scaredy cat like me, the frightening aspects weren’t overwhelming — and only served to enhance an otherwise very entertaining story.

Fluid, witty and undeniably skilled, Jennifer Crusie has crafted a romantic and very readable story in Maybe This Time. Fans of contemporary fiction, ghost stories and romance will love the unique combination she’s created here — and I’ll be happy to share this one with the other fiction readers in my life.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0312303785 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher

Book review: ‘The Girl On Legare Street’ by Karen White

Ghosts surround Melanie Middleton like cobwebs — present in the corners of every encounter, but typically just filling the background of her life, feather-soft and unintrusive. After almost 40 years of practice, she’d learned how to block out the voices only she can hear — until she inherited an historic home in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. And after solving a decades-old mystery on Tradd, her attention is called to a new location: Legare Street, site of her family’s ancestral home, sold when Melanie, now a Realtor, was young. The house is back on the market and though she’s promised a big sale, the listing comes with a price — a reconnection with her mother, Ginnette Priloeau Middleton, a famous opera singer who’s emerged on the scene after spending decades away from her only daughter with hardly a word.

As we learned in Karen White’s first novel following Melanie’s escapades, The House On Tradd Street, our narrator is a determined but very vulnerable woman — still susceptible to the pain of remembering her mother’s abandonment, which is never far from the surface of the narration. Ginnette, herself a psychic, has returned to Charleston with a warning for her daughter, and with one cryptic sentence — “We are not as we seem” — events are set in motion which will require Melanie to work with her mother to figure out what — or whom — is haunting the Legare home. Before things really get dangerous. Of course, the promise of a new mystery to unravel is enough to lure writer Jack Trenholm, Melanie’s obvious-to-everyone-but-her crush, back into the picture. And thus the trio sets out on trying to make sense of the ghosts haunting Legare — and Melanie must sift through her tangled feelings for both her mother and Jack in the process. And when a reporter arrives on the scene asking some hard questions, everyone has to come up with answers.

I can say unabashedly I enjoyed The Girl On Legare Street as much — if not more — than its predecessor, which I thought was funny, well-written, interesting and romantic. It’s been a long time since I felt the familiar zing! of well-written romantic tension, and White’s book has everything: family dynamics, love, friendship and mystery. Though Melanie’s grudge against her mother did become very tedious about halfway through the novel, I knew that she’d have to forgive her eventually — and eagerly waited for that scene when all would be revealed.

The mystery in this novel — centering around an old, sunken boat discovered off the coast of South Carolina — was, to me, much more intriguing than the family saga unfolding in The House On Tradd Street. Perhaps because this novel directly impacted Melanie, I felt more personally invested in what would be discovered, and felt more about what was happening. This one also spooked me far more than the first book! Though I’m admittedly skittish by nature, The Girl On Legare Street seemed to pack much more of a paranormal punch — but never to the point of gore or violence.

All family secrets were revealed gradually — too gradually, some might argue. And I can certainly see the validity of criticism that the novel moved too slowly, left us without new information for too long, forcing readers to try and fit the myriad of random puzzle pieces White gave us into some semblance of order. And that was a little frustrating. But I guess the difference for me came with the fact that I loved Melanie and Ginnette and was totally intrigued by their muddled relationship, and I didn’t mind that we spent long stretches in the present without historical details to help us solve with the mystery. I knew all would be revealed in time, and I was content to run along for the ride.

Fans of Southern fiction will find much to love in the lush, charismatic South Carolina setting, and those who get a kick out of paranormal fiction will appreciate the ghost stories and family secrets binding the book together. The push-and-pull tension between Jack and Melanie will please romance fans — like yours truly — and I am happy that plot moved forward a bit with this book. And an unexpected ending leaves me wondering whether or not we’ll see another adventure from White yet. Would I return again to her world where nothing is as it seems? You bet, y’all!

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0451227999 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

tlc_logo copy

Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

Book review: ‘The House On Tradd Street’ by Karen White

house_on_tradd_streetRealtor Melanie Middleton meets with an elderly Charleston resident hoping to secure a listing for his home, a once-glorious but now dilapidated mansion on Tradd Street. What she gets, instead, is the house itself — when Nevin Vanderhorst suddenly passes away, leaving the estate to she and her estranged father.

Under the conditions of Vanderhorst’s will, Melanie must live in the home for a year and work on its restoration before she’ll be permitted to sell it — all that she desperately wants to do. A strange mystery has surrounded the home, which is haunted by the ghosts of the Vanderhorsts’ past — literally. Melanie’s supernatural abilities allow her to see but not communicate with the specters who currently reside at 55 Tradd Street and, persuant to Vanderhorst’s will, Melanie sets about trying to solve the mystery of why, in the 1930s, Nevin’s mother Louisa disappeared from Charleston, never to return. Even seven decades later, Vanderhorst’s pain over his mother’s “abandonment” is palpable; he wants Melanie to discover the truth about why she left and hopefully clear her name.

So she moves in, sets up shop — and quickly gets a call from Jack Trenholm, a local historian and famed author with an interest in the Tradd Street home. As Jack has fallen from grace in the historical community, he’s desperate to find a new, compelling true-to-life tale in the South — and he thinks the Vanderhorst mystery just might be it. Of course, he’s slick and handsome and charismatic . . . all qualities Melanie, single at 39, can’t help but notice. After apparitions begin to appear, the home is vandalized and the overall atmosphere turns creepy, Jack moves into the house with Melanie to help keep an eye on things — and look tirelessly for clues that could help solve the Vanderhorst mystery.

Karen White’s The House On Tradd Street functions well on several levels: it’s a mystery, ghost story, romance, family drama and slice of Southern life all wrapped up in one incredibly well-written package. White’s Charleston is alive and breathing, infused with the colorful characters you would expect to find in the South without resorting to caricatures or stereotypes. In addition to Melanie and Jack, Melanie’s father plays a crucial role in this tale — as does her mother, a woman whose absence in her life has accomplished far more than her presence. Melanie’s friends help with the restorations and add another dimension to the story, showing that beneath Melanie’s calm exterior is a frazzled woman still looking for her own version of “home.”

At several points in the novel, I started to sweat a little bit — mostly because every novel has a tipping point. The prevalent themes in a story are all fine and good when woven seamlessly through a story and not overdone, beating readers to death with the same concepts and ideas. But when we get the same whining and griping page after page, all I want to do is slam a book shut and go back to eating Peeps and making scarves! The House On Tradd Street could easily have gotten cheesy, ridiculous or campy, but White successfully kept it from going down that route. I was fascinated by all of the historical details and honestly had no clue what the clues were saying until it was all spelled out for me . . . probably because I was so interested in the story, I didn’t want to “spoil” it for myself by trying to guess!

The novel certainly has a romantic theme to it — or, should I say, some serious romantic tension. It’s obvious from the get-go Melanie and Jack have a kind of easy chemistry, complete with the witty banter and almost-kissing I adore in a good love story! I’m thankful White didn’t make that cheesy, either; there was just enough sizzle to keep me grinning, but she never resorted to cliches or gag-inducing dialogue.

I did roll my eyes a bit at Melanie’s constant slams over her mother leaving the family when she was a kid — I mean, you’re almost 40 years old . . . I know some wounds take a while to heal, but are you really going to carry that anger around like a tarnished trophy for the rest of your life? But this back story sets up the next of White’s novels following Melanie, The Girl On Legare Street, and I’m definitely eager to see what the story is there!

A multi-dimensional, interesting novel about family, forgiveness and moving forward — with the people we love and those we don’t love so much! Fans of paranormal fiction will be interested in the shiver-inducing ghost stories but if, like me, you get scared by someone just saying your name at a low volume in a dark room, none of the spooky qualities of the work kept me up at night. The romance and family dynamics tugged at my heart, too, and left me wondering what will become of all of 55 Tradd Street’s inhabitants. And while the novel could function fine as a stand-alone, I’m eager to begin the next in the series!

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0451225090 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher