Friday, February 25, 2011

Staying at Daisy's -by Jill Marsell

Plot: Daisy and her father Hector own a hotel in a quiet village in Britain. Daisy, a widow, finds herself back in the dating scene a year later after having met Dev, a former ruby player. Only thing is, Daisy isn't sure she can trust him given her history.  Daisy also has two staff members who are like family to her, Tara and Barney, whom she's trying to look out for, a college boyfriend back in town, the biggest celebrity in Europe staying at the hotel, and the mistress of her dead husband living down the street. Just when Daisy thinks she's got everything under control, Maggie, Tara's aunt, holds a repair man hostage next door.  Can Daisy run the hotel, and hold off the press at the same time?

I found this book to be a fun, delightful read.

You start off meeting Daisy and her dad Hector in the middle of a party which sets the tone for the entire book.  Laughter, emotions and dogs.

The author sets the pace quickly, exposing a lie that has the lead then unsure of the people around her for much of the novel.  She learns in one fail swoop that her husband has been cheating on her for months and has been after her money.  There is a scene, where we see how gentle and honest Daisy is, when she not only lets the mistress of her husband into his hospital room one last time but when she saves someone else's life by donating his kidney.
The character of Daisy is a hero that would be rare to find,  as she goes on to help the girl, Mel, who had been her dead husbands mistress later in the novel.

Tara is a character that many of us can relate to.  Her mistake is falling in love with the wrong man, twice.  She's faced with the issue of bumping into the great love of her life at the hotel where she works, on his wedding day. Soon, both remember why they had dated in the first place and get tangled up in an affair.  You find yourself hoping it will work out for her but knowing that it just won't.

Then there is Maggie, a middled aged woman who is trying to get a fresh start on her life. She's been having an affair with Daisy's father for the last few years, only it's not something either of them are completely proud of, as money is involved.

The focus of this novel seems to be how the women at different stages of relationships, seem to handle the idea of how lies and lust mix.
Each of the women in this story, have been disappointed by the men in their lives. Some on a grand scale like Daisy, others on a smaller scale, like when Maggie has to wait months for the repair man to show up.

The author also managed to write a few male characters, Barney, Dev, Hector and Josh, as the perfect relationship ideals that so many of us dream of, but just never find.

Each of the men in this novel are also in very different stages of their own relationships, Barney being the innocent.  I can not remember the last time I read anything that lent to a man being this sweet a character, or even virginal.  The character of Barney brings a freshness that can only be found in a story like this.

The very beginning of the novel mentions a children's story that was written by Hector, "Dennis the Dachshund", which is what they built their wealth upon, and soon Daisy finds herself helping Dev picking out a dog. She talks him into buying Clarissa, which becomes the thread for their relationship as well as the second main connection; other then the hotel, for all the other characters.

I found myself very partial to the love story between Dev and Daisy.  The idea that a former celebrity would want to have a normal life, and was willing to wait around for it really drew me in. I could not get out of my head the idea that a former sports hero would be happy living a quiet life and dotting over his dog.  I could read another round of Dev and Clarissa if the author offered.

Except for a few references to British television/music, this story is one that is easily universal. Everyone who's ever been in love, or thought they were, or even heartbroken can find something and someone in this novel to connect to.

And if nothing else, we can all identify with the subplot of Maggie's washing machine repair nightmare.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Ex Boyfriend Handbook by Matt Dunn

Plot: Edward has just been dumped after ten years by Jane.  He's at a loss for what he should be doing now, and finds himself spilling his guts to Dan-his best friend- and Wendy- the local barmaid- and asking their advice. They have three months to get Dan into half the shape he was ten years before when he first met Jane. They hire a personal trainer, a decorator, and set him up on speed dates. Soon, Edward is changing not just his outer self but his inner self as well.

A light approach to a serious topic, how we view ourselves and how we relate to others.

What seems at first like a down on your luck buddy story, turns into a journey of self for the lead character. The pitfalls of no longer knowing who you really are, and what you are brave enough to try, interweave with questions "who are your real friends" and "what do you have to loose" ?

You sympathize with Edward through the course of the novel and want to strangle Dan. There are moments when, as a reader, you are wanting to point out how Dan's insults could be seen as a form of truly holding Edward down, which are then balanced out by Dan's actual helping him out of his own shadow.

There is a scene near the beginning of the novel, when the lead Edward is telling his friends what it was like the first time he dated Jane years before in college, on how he trailed after her to the bar and did as she asked.  It sets a tone for the remainder of the novel as far as how Edward lets himself be part of relationships. You see his little to no self worth until he starts to see his own reflection in mirrors, seeing for the first time, himself through the eyes of others.
But it is in fact, a conversation with a homeless man, Billy, that wakes him up. As Billy points out, he might not have a proper place to live, but he's living a proper life because he's doing it with his dignity intact.

The other lead is actually Dan. The television star playboy who without even trying, goes through a growth of his own, admitting his own fears and flaws along the way. We see him go from the hottest thing in the area to realizing he really wants what Edward had. Stability.

Through the course of the three months that the story rapidly moves, you are asked to witness the growth, the understanding, and the desperation that Edward must go through to get to the finish line. Using the metaphor of his training runs as his goal and his backdrop, we see ourselves in his earning his own levels of confidence.  As he starts off with one goal- to get Jane back at all costs- he comes out of his shell and starts to understand he's really doing this for another goal -to get his own power back.
In the end he realizes he's better then the one who left him and in a better place because of it.

What Bridget Jones' Diary brought to women  ExBoyfriend Handbook brings to men. Delightful, honest, witty and always fabulous.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Werewolf Upstairs by Ashlyn Chase

Plot: Roz Wells is a lawyer who just moved into her best friend's old apartment. In the courtroom she's tougher then nails and can take on anyone or anything.  In the bedroom, she's unsure of herself and shyer then shy. Her reason for moving into the building is to protect her friends.
One of her new neighbours, Konrad Wolfensen, is about to need her protection, as he's just been arrested for a crime that is twenty years old. Konrad on the other hand, feels he's the one who needs to protect those around him, from Nathan downstairs, to Chad upstairs, to Morgaine on the second floor.
Roz soon learns that not all is what it seems, as Nathan is a shapeshifter, Chad's a ghost, Morgaine's a witch and Konrad is a werewolf. The worst part is, she's head over heels in love with Konrad.  This is one day in court Roz might not want to loose.

Even though, this is the second book in Ashlyn Chase's paranormal series,{her first being Strange Neighbours} this was my introduction to her work.

I have to say right off,  I have mixed feelings about this book.  Part of Sourcebooks Casablanca selections, it is not your average "romance" novel.  

I felt like I was reading two different books that just managed to end up in the same covers.

I adored the paranormal angles of this story.  The idea that you would have a building that housed some of the city's supernatural characters was something I was looking forward to exploring. (such as why one building would be a magnet for them?)
Making two of these characters witches, Morgaine and Gwyneth,  who are as different from each other as can be, but still giving them "normal" jobs (sex phone operators) was a fresh way to deal with what could have turned out too much a cliche.

The werewolves mythos that she used has just enough research to be believable (protecting the pack and mating for life). Having given Konrad not just a back story that included the pack, but a twin brother added to his layers like a cake.
I do however, think too much time was spent on the human angles of this novel and not enough of the paranormal was accounted for.
A few questions that surrounded the characters of Chad and Reginald- the two ghosts- one of which being about their leaving their buildings, left me wanting to know more about their back stories and mythos, but sadly, this was something the author just left open.

As well, I felt disappointed by the court scenes.  I felt like I could have found any of the crime scenes on an episode of Law and Order.  There was just very little meat on the bones in this area of the story.

Personally, I would have loved to have seen a bit more time given to the characters of Nathan and Morgaine.  Nathan's character seemed to be where the dry wit was hiding, but rarely got to shine in the story.

I wasn't as thrilled with the "romance" angle of the story.
I myself write this way, with sex scenes that border more explicit language then what you would find offered most of the time.  But in this case, I have to say less would have been more. It just seemed like every three pages there was a sex scene, which for me was over kill. I would have like to have been given one big one at the front of the book, and one big one at the end instead of the six or so that filled the pages.
This is straight up erotica and can not be classified as a romance at all.

As I said, this is part of a series, and coming into it midway like this, I can't help but wonder if some of the paranormal issues have been explained in the other books?  If so, then it is safe to say the author's works are not very well at being "stand alone" books.

Friday, February 4, 2011

100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know -Edited by Glamour Magazine

First let me say - yes! a cookbook!
Then let me say, I wasn't sure I was going to get to review this, simply because I took the book to my mother's and between her and my sister it sort of went missing for a week.

The main editor on this is Cindi Leive the Editor-in-chief of Glamour.

This is a beautifully complied collection of tried and true recipes that the magazine has run more then once over the last decade.  The most popular being the famed "Engagement Chicken"   which trust me, were I not a vegetarian I would be making every night of the week.

The book itself, has a very witty perspective, that is easy to read with tips and highlights that even the most un-cooking cook can follow.

I was delighted to see both the Meatless Mains chapter and the Sides chapter.

I have already made my own version of their "Meatless Monday Portobello Burgers". Which according to it's personal introduction, was inspired by a recipe from the McCartney's who had a campaign to go meat free at lest once a week.
Each recipe comes with it's own little personal introduction as to how the editors came to have the recipe to begin with.
The listing of people whom have written into the magazine about becoming engaged after making the chicken dish was an added bonus. As well as their address to send your personal stories.
There is even a complete menu at the back of the book, suggesting which dishes work well together and done in themes.

My copy is in fact the editor's advance copy (my cover is different)  Each recipe has a rating of 1, or 2, or 3 shoes next to it, letting you know just how difficult or time consuming it is to make.  The recipe for the Portobello Burgers had a 2 black and 1 white shoe.  (all the drink recipes have 1 black and 2 white)

 A user friendly book that you can find most of the ingredients without much time at your grocery... unless you count standing in line at the grocery.
There are a few items in here that if you are on a budget (any form of social assistance) you might have to make substitutions for, but all in all, an excellent cookbook to have on hand.

A needful kitchen basic much like a frypan and whisk.