Lightning Reviews: Dukes, Sophie Kinsella, and Lit Fic

This trio of Lightning Reviews is coming to you hot and fresh, and the books below are all February 2018 releases. There are some disappointing heroes, literary fiction with romantic elements, and a married couple.

 

    Things to Do When It’s Raining

    author: Marissa Stapley

    This book is more fiction than romance but I was tempted by the reconciliation storyline mentioned in the cover copy:

    After more than a decade, Mae and Gabe find themselves pulled back to Alexandria Bay. Hoping to find solace within the Summers’ Inn, Mae instead finds her grandparents in the midst of decline and their past unravelling around her. A lifetime of secrets stand in the way of this unconventional family’s happiness. Will they be able to reclaim the past and come together, or will they remain separate islands?

    Alas, there wasn’t much there.

    The story opens with Mae learning that her fiance has been running a Ponzi scheme and has fled the country. She’s in an emotional fog of grief and confusion when she heads to Alexandria Bay to her grandparents’ inn. Meanwhile, her grandmother Lilly is sliding rapidly into dementia, and one night reveals a painful secret that causes her husband George to leave abruptly. George has no idea that Lilly has been having trouble remembering things, though I was suspicious that there would have been no other external signs of her mental confusion. Anyway, George splits, Lilly is alone, Mae shows up lost and with her ex’s dog – whom he also abandoned lest anyone have any sympathy for this toerag – to find that her home is a hot mess of loss and confusion, too.

    The plot careens from point to point, but the emotional development remained very shallow. There is hardly any description of space or environment, and a lot of the time I pictured the characters spinning chaotically against a white backdrop. Moreover, the story skips over the happy moments, such as Mae and Gabe reconciling part way, and spends far more time in the misery and grief. The romantic reconciliation is also very unsatisfying because a few weeks prior, Mae was engaged to an entire other person (who pops up in a minor moment midway through and then at the end in an abrupt and contrived way). Suddenly she’s exchanging “I love yous” with Gabe like there isn’t several years of secrets and bad feelings standing in the way. The positive, happier emotional moments have very little build up and payoff, and the characters spend a more time in their misery and grief with little progress.

    The grief portrayal is layered, sometimes poignant though more often melodramatic. The writing from Lilly’s perspective is particularly moving as she recognizes that she’s missing parts of her memory, but doesn’t know how to ask for help. The characters take responsibility for things that aren’t at all their fault nor within their control, but don’t take adequate responsibility for the actions that were. George as a character in particular bothered me greatly, especially because of how he treats the dog, Lilly, and Mae.

    There are a few lyrical phrases and some moments of palpable bittersweetness, but while I really wanted to enjoy this story set in a summer town with multiple generations of secrets, I was more frustrated than pleased. The main protagonists’ relationships jump forward in emotional progress far too quickly to a payoff they don’t earn, while they remain stuck in past wrongs and secrets, and that imbalance was dissatisfying. This was not a book for me.

    SB Sarah

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    Surprise Me

    author: Sophie Kinsella

    Waaaay back in the day, I used to work at an independent bookstore, and between customers I would sneak-read the Shopaholic books by Sophie Kinsella. This was when chick lit was all the rage and half of the spines on the books I shelved were neon pink.

    I remember liking the Shopholic series, so I thought I’d see how I’d enjoy Kinsella’s work all these years later. Surprise Me is sometimes funny, sometimes a little too twee, but the plot isn’t able to bear the weight of the book. The premise is that London couple Sylvie and Dan have been living in married bliss, and until they get medical exams and realize that they’ll probably be spending the next 68 years together. I guess they’re really healthy or their doctor is a psychic. The idea of all those years ahead of them (and indications that Dan’s parents’ marriage isn’t great) brings them anxiety. What if they get bored? So they decide to spice things up by surprising each other with gifts and outings mostly. Of course it all goes adorably awry.

    There are genuinely funny sections of this book, but mostly I was confused at how the prospect of maybe having another 68 years together derails the main couple. First of all, no one knows how long they have to live. Even if you are exceptionally healthy, accidents happen. That aside, I would love to have 68 more years with my husband. That’s why I married him. I kind of thought that was the point. Sophie and Dan are also raising five-year-old twins and managing busy careers, so I wondered how they even had time for that kind of marital existential crisis.

    To top it off, the ending bothered me because we learn Dan is hiding a big secret from Sylvie (we know that from the beginning but we learn what the secret is at the end), and I had a hard time being sympathetic to him. Surprise Me is cute, but I just didn’t buy most of it.

    Elyse

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    My Once and Future Duke

    author: Caroline Linden

    I really wanted to like My Once and Future Duke but despite a heroine I loved and a great depiction of female friendships, the hero ruined it for me.

    Sophie Campbell was orphaned at a young age and her aristocratic grandfather wanted nothing to do with her, so he paid only for her education until she was of age and then he cut her off. Sophie has (successfully) been working her way toward financial security by playing cards at The Vega Club and saving her earnings. The Vega Club welcomes women as well as men, providing everyone can pay their debts. Although it’s not explored deeply, Sophie’s skill at cards is a result of her being a math whiz and being to quickly calculate odds (and count cards, basically). Sophie is emotionally supported by her two best friends, and I loved that part so much.

    What I didn’t love was the hero. Jack Lindeville, Duke of Ware, shows up at The Vega Club because his brother is gambling away all his money and Jack has to make good on the bets or risk his brother ruining himself. He believes that Sophie is trying to fleece his brother and makes a bet with her over a game of cards. He offers her enough money to secure her independence against one week with her. Jack assumes that his brother is in love with Sophie and sees this as a way to punish him.

    I’m so sick of heroes using heroines for revenge or to punish another man. Jack doesn’t think about what his bet will do to Sophie’s reputation if he wins (and he does). She’s seen being dragged into his carriage, plus everyone at the club knows about the bet. He’s ruining her reputation, subjecting her to humiliation and gossip, and he can only think of himself. To add insult to injury, Jack is aware of how his actions will impact the feelings and reputation of another woman of his station. It’s Sophie who doesn’t matter to him.

    So while I adored Sophie and her friends, I just couldn’t get over Jack’s total disregard for Sophie as an individual, and there was no possibility of his redemption for me. I expect better of my heroes, and I felt like Sophie deserved more.

    Elyse

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