Miniature reviews: Four books I haven’t finished and may abandon forever

Let’s chalk it up to the holidays. Between wrapping, buying, eating and visiting, I’ve found myself with very little time to read — and what I have been picking up? Well, nothing has grabbed my attention or heartstrings. Even Bet Me, which I’m almost halfway through, is not clicking with me. A few miniature reviews, but bear in mind that I’m probably in the minority of readers by abandoning (most) of these!

Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me
Where I stopped: Page 147

Okay, I feel bad about this one. Every review I’ve ever read for a Crusie novel has recommended Bet Me has her best and most enjoyable work and, after finishing Maybe This Time, I was intrigued. Plus, the reviews have all been stellar. It’s the story of Min, a “healthy” (read: chubby) actuary, and the man who made a bet that he could escort her out of a dingy bar: Cal, a womanizing businessman with a serious desire to please others.

It’s funny, light and humorous — but something turned me off here. Maybe it’s all the really, really annoying talk about Cal feeding Min and how she gets this “rapturous” look on her face when she bites into a donut. Um? I know the girl is starving herself to fit into a bridesmaid’s dress for her annoying little sister’s wedding, but come on. Donuts? Really?

Plus, I still feel like it’s a big joke somehow. Cal seems hot, but still like a jerk. And there’s constant talk about Min being plain, ordinary, non-descript, heavy, etc., and I think — is this a prank? Is the bet really still on? Cal doesn’t think it is, but obviously . . . it is. Plus, the constant shoe talk irks me. We’re supposed to believe our girl is in a black pantsuit that makes her look like a boxy reverend but she’s wearing high, clear heels with cherries or flowers or something on them? Did she get dressed in the dark?


Deborah Wiles’ Countdown
Where I stopped: Page 139

Takes place at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, which is about fifteen minutes from me — and a place I’ve driven past ten thousand times. With a local angle and awesome time period — the 1950s, when the Cold War touched everything and threats of nuclear attack were commonplace fears — I fully expected to love this one. Kathy at Bermuda Onion gave it a glowing review, and Lord knows I take her opinion seriously.

Maybe I was too old to identify with 12-year-old protagonist Fanny? I don’t want to believe that’s what it was, and yet . . . I don’t know. Another disconnect. It’s a fast read and one that I was originally fascinated by, but somewhere along the line I started picking up other novels rather than crack Countdown open again. And then I was going too long between pages, forgetting what happened, realizing I was ambivalent, etc.

But with an average rating of 4.12 on Goodreads and many glowing reviews, I’m obviously missing something.

Joyce Maynard’s The Good Daughters
Where I stopped: Page 37

I was bored. Really bored. I guess other people were, too, though reviews were mixed — with plenty of positive ones in there, too. I stopped reading this one in November and can’t tell you much about it, other than I recall it was about two daughters — friends — who grew up in the same town and in different families, and somehow it was . . . all connected? And there was a tornado? I don’t know. I just . . . am not sure.

Rosy Thornton’s The Tapestry Of Love
Where I’ve paused: Page 77

I’m cheating by including this one here, because I’m not actually giving up on this one. Thornton is a skilled writer and I really enjoyed Crossed Wires, her previous novel — plus, as I mentioned, Amanda really dug this one. I’m enjoying a look at one British woman’s adjustment to France, but I haven’t yet discovered what made her run away from busy life in England.

As much as I’m enjoying the plot and Catherine’s talks with her neighbors and acclimation to the French village she now calls home, there’s an emotional component missing. I haven’t identified with Catherine or her plight, and nothing has happened to endear her — or anyone else — to me. That’s usually my biggest issue with a book I’ve abandoned: I don’t feel close to any of the characters we’re focusing on.

I’m taking a short break on this one to pick up some novels for the Indie Lit Awards, and plan on returning to The Tapestry Of Love later in January.

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