Review: Heroes are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Heroes are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

3.5 out of 5 stars

The dead of winter.

An isolated island off the coast of Maine.

A man.

A woman.

A sinister house looming over the sea …

He’s a reclusive writer whose macabre imagination creates chilling horror novels. She’s a down-on-her-luck actress reduced to staging kids’ puppet shows. He knows a dozen ways to kill with his bare hands. She knows a dozen ways to kill with laughs.

But she’s not laughing now. When she was a teenager, he terrified her. Now they’re trapped together on a snowy island off the coast of Maine. Is he the villain she remembers or has he changed? Her head says no. Her heart says yes.

It’s going to be a long, hot winter. (Blurb from Goodreads)

I started my 2017 off with a little bit of an SEP re-read marathon. This one still strikes me as very different from the rest of SEP’s books. The winter in Maine setting and the Gothic inspiration she took seem to be the main reasons for that. It’s a welcome dose of variety in SEP’s collection of mostly Texas or Chicago stories.

The odd thing about SEP is that despite almost all of her books having horrible premises, she still manages to pull off a fun, charming, sexy book. It’s like she has the opposite problem of what most romance writers have. I feel like most romance writers who come up with pretty intriguing premises but then fall back on the same cliches, tired dialogue, and hollow-sounding, emotional descriptions. Compared to them, SEP’s premises sound like they come directly from somebody’s weird dreams after watching too many sitcoms with a fever, but somehow she always makes them work.

The premise in this one is that the heroine Annie, after taking care of her mother as she died of cancer, has to move into a small cottage on an Maine island. Partially so she can keep the cottage as part of her inheritance (it was part of her mother’s divorce settlement that the cottage must be occupied for at least two months of the year), but also she can find the artwork in it that her mother promised would bring her money. The cottage though is on the property of her former step-brother, who was also her teenage crush and oh yeah, also tried to kill her. And this guy, Theo, turns out to be (yup, you guessed it) the romantic interest of the story.

So, yeah, completely ridiculous, complicated, odd premise that gets even weirder really. I don’t even think I explained that at all clearly. But you get it. Yet, somehow I enjoyed the story, the dialogue, and I liked Annie a lot. I thought the secondary plot involving Annie’s old friend/Theo’s current housekeeper Jaycie were a little on the weak side for SEP, but overall, I liked this read enough to go back to it. There’s something about SEP’s dialogue that is just absolutely delightful. And unlike other romance writers, she knows how to use sex in a story to highlight the good and bad aspects of a relationship rather than just having it meaninglessly shoved in.

This book is far from perfect, but like the rest of SEP’s books there’s just something about it.

Advertisements

Review: The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand

The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand

4 out of 5 stars

Paris

Breathtakingly beautiful, the City of Light seduces the senses, its cobbled streets thrumming with possibility. For American Cade Corey, it’s a dream come true, if only she can get one infuriating French chocolatier to sign on the dotted line…

Chocolate

Melting, yielding yet firm, exotic, its secrets are intimately known to Sylvain Marquis. But turn them over to a brash American waving a fistful of dollars? Jamais. Not unless there’s something much more delectable on the table…

Stolen Pleasure

Whether confections taken from a locked shop or kisses in the dark, is there anything sweeter? (Blurb from Goodreads)

Delicious! Surprising emotional depth and sexiness from this chocolate-centered romance. And rest assured this doesn’t have an “omg I love chocolate, I keep a bar in my desk at work sometimes!” kind of heroine. Cade Corey is the heiress of and executive at her family’s global chocolate company, kind of a Hershey’s style enterprise. So she has legitimate reasons to be traveling to Paris to meet with the city’s best chocolatier owner, Sylvain Marquis.

In all honesty, I actually don’t quite get the big deal about French guys. So I didn’t have high expectations for Sylvain Marquis, but wow, what another pleasant surprise! It would have been easy for Florand to just make her hero exactly what you would expect: worldly, snobby Frenchman who can’t help but be attracted to the brusque American heroine even though he is so much more sophisticated and rich. While Sylvain definitely has high standards for chocolate and immediately turns down Cade’s offer to put his name on a line of chocolate, he’s actually rather insecure and spent most of his younger, awkward days being rejected by women who he only managed to attract in the first place through chocolate. His insecurity and immediate crush on Cade made him completely endearing.

Another plus (it’s small but it almost never happens in romance novels) is that Cade is actually richer than Sylvain and yields a lot more power overall at her job. It’s a refreshing change of pace for a romance novel. And rather than going down the simple hate-to-love route that could have been easy in one where the protagonists are set apart by business, their relationship goes a kind of lovers-to-love sort of route. The main speed bumps come from Cade’s family/work obligations and from Sylvain’s insecurities.

Overall, basically anytime Florand could have gone for the cliche, she didn’t, and that’s what makes this romance so rewarding. The use of chocolate also as something that Cade and Sylvain both love and are vulnerable about worked really well. Genuinely after reading this, I want to go blow $20 on some ridiculously elegant and expensive kind of chocolate.

The only major negative to me was the too neatly wrapped up and cheesy epilogue. You know where each character’s family just happens to stumble in and you see the beginnings of the next novel being set up. Would have been much better if it had just ended the scene before that.

Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

2 out of 5 stars

It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.”

Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, a member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan, his servant and constant companion, is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste. Their uncommon bond is torn by Amir’s choice to abandon his friend amidst the increasing ethnic, religious, and political tensions of the dying years of the Afghan monarchy, wrenching them far apart. But so strong is the bond between the two boys that Amir journeys back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs against the only true friend he ever had.

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies. (Blurb from Goodreads)

For this year, I’m trying to catch up on some popular books that I’ve missed out on. I remember in senior year, my English teacher being shocked I had never read The Kite Runner. Now, three years later, I’ve finally read it. And I did not like it.

The Kite Runner is the story of Amir, a wealthy boy growing up in Kabul with his father, his father’s servant, Ali, and Ali’s son, Hassan. Hassan and Amir grow up together, almost like best friends, though there is always a line between them. Hassan and Ali are Hazara and Shi’a Muslim, and while Ali suffers from a leg disability, Hassan has a cleft lip in the beginning of the novel. Basically Amir’s life is better than Hassan’s in every way. The only really negative aspect in Amir’s life is that Amir’s father Baba, whose wife died giving birth to Amir, can be a little distant sometimes. So despite Hassan’s unwavering loyalty to him, Amir betrays him one day when his friend needed him most, and their relationship crumbles. Hassan and Ali leave, and Amir never confesses to anyone why. Years after that the war breaks out and Amir and his Baba flee Afghanistan for America. The second half of the novel focuses on Amir’s decision to go back to Afghanistan to try and atone for his childhood trespasses against Hassan.

If I had to use one word to describe this book it would be heavy-handed. Heavy-handed symbolism. Heavy-handed parallelism. Heavy-handed foreshadowing. In the first few chapters, we can barely go a full page without Hosseini reminding us that something bad is about to happen and that this moment is the last moment Amir and Hassan get to do this and that.

And Amir. I really disliked Amir. What he did to Hassan is honestly unforgivable to me. Which is not to say the story necessarily needed to be bad after that. I probably would have enjoyed this book more if it had explored that dark side of Amir. Instead, it basically spends the first third of the novel explaining how Amir will betray Hassan and then the next two thirds setting everything up to give him the chance to be a hero.

The last third of the book basically just links back to every piece of symbolism it can from Amir’s childhood. Everything arranges itself perfectly to allow Amir to redeem himself. At one point he even gets a scar that guess what? Looks exactly like the scar Hassan had from his cleft lip operation! The novel tries way too hard to make the ending parallel with the beginning, sacrificing a lot of realism in order to do so in my opinion. It’s aimed at making Amir into this hero when I as a reader didn’t really want Amir to get the chance to be a hero.

My main issue was with the ending part of the book, but there are also a lot of small details that bugged me about this book. Hosseini doesn’t seem to think too highly of the reader’s intelligence and does a lot of show and tell. Like a character will say something that clearly is supposed to remind us of something in the past, but rather than trusting the reader to know that, Amir has to jump in about how that thing reminded him about his childhood in some way.

So yeah. I really probably could have been better off just continuing to have never read this one. The reason why I am giving it 2 stars is because I do like the portrayal of Afghanistan. I obviously have no idea how much of it is accurate, but I liked the descriptions and found the parts describing Afghani culture to be engrossing. And while I disliked a lot of the symbolism in this one, I digged the kite metaphor. Hosseini made a cool choice on that at least.

 

Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

4 out of 5 stars

BOY Novak turns twenty and decides to try for a brand-new life. Flax Hill, Massachusetts, isn’t exactly a welcoming town, but it does have the virtue of being the last stop on the bus route she took from New York. Flax Hill is also the hometown of Arturo Whitman – craftsman, widower, and father of Snow. SNOW is mild-mannered, radiant and deeply cherished – exactly the sort of little girl Boy never was, and Boy is utterly beguiled by her. If Snow displays a certain inscrutability at times, that’s simply a characteristic she shares with her father, harmless until Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister, Bird. When BIRD is born Boy is forced to re-evaluate the image Arturo’s family have presented to her, and Boy, Snow and Bird are broken apart. Sparkling with wit and vibrancy, Boy, Snow, Bird is a deeply moving novel about three women and the strange connection between them. It confirms Helen Oyeyemi’s place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of her generation. (Blurb from Goodreads)

I really liked this one. My advice if you read it though is to not treat it like a Snow White re-telling as the blurb of the book describes. There definitely are some elements influenced by Snow White, but if you waste too much time thinking about the comparison, you’ll miss all the good aspects of this one.

I got very invested in Boy, who escapes life with her abusive father in New York to live in Flax Hill, Massachusetts. She eventually marries the widowed jewelry maker Arturo Whitman. She is not desperately in love, but Arturo’s daughter Snow is so endearing. A few months into her marriage though, a secret comes out that has Boy sending Snow away from them to live with Arturo’s sister.

This is a good book if you like lyrical language that still sounds realistic. The two dual protagonists (one is Boy, to say or explain who the other one is would ruin a bit of the surprise) both have voices that felt genuine to me. Boy, especially. I haven’t read an opening of a novel that got hooked me right away in a while so I was so happy when I picked this up at random at the bookstore and bought it right away.

Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy…”

I do think the novel loses steam in the second half. And there is a second twist to the novel that takes place right at the end that has very little impact. Overall, I think the ending of the novel is the weakest part of the book.

Still, I breezed through this book. It felt like a great story paired with great writing. Both protagonists felt just complicated enough without any kind of overdramatic or tortured soul-type of over-exaggeration. I’d read a short story by Oyeyemi that was just as good so she’ll definitely be an author I revisit.