Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Happy Home for Broken Hearts by Rowan Coleman

4 Star

Ellen Woods edits romance novels, often getting lost in their pages, but her own life hasn't exactly been 'happily ever after'.  After fifteen years of marriage, her husband's death left her devastated and a year later, raising her pre-teen son, Ellen learns she's about to loose their family home due to a mountain of debt her he left behind. Following her sister's unwelcome advice, she decides to rent out rooms and finds her home taken over by a two women, and one very handsome gentleman. Allowing strangers into her marital home turns Ellen's life upside down and she's forced to peer out from behind the romance novels she covets. Will she get her happy ending after all? 

Lydia - 4 Star

The Happy Home for Broken Hearts was my first Rowan Coleman novel and it did not disappoint. A great chick lit read, this novel is funny, yet has heavier moments as well as a cast of great characters and a unique premise that makes it stand out.

The overall tone wasn't too depressing even with the story tackling the topic of grief, but that was probably helped because we meet Ellen a year later. Watching her stumble as she rediscovered life had me cringing at times, but others laughing out loud and I cared enough for her character to root for her to figure her life out. And I wasn't just cheering for her, but for all the other characters too. Each had complex issues that felt realistic and I loved them all.

This novel had a unique thread that I hadn't read before in any form of chick lit as well as a few surprises which I loved. I also found that although certain things were shown to the reader before Ellen figured them out herself, it didn't come over as entirely predictable which I find can sometimes  be the case when this is done.

Not being a fan of romance novels myself, my attention was diverted whenever the story paused as we entered the fictional world of Ellen's romance novels.  These departures were infrequent, but still jolted me out of the story, and I probably could have done without them. But that just might be me.

I can see why Rowan Coleman fans love her novels so much. The Happy Home for Broken Hearts has a lot of heart, fantastic characters to root for, some unique plot threads and isn't entirely predictable. I'd definitely read another!

Kathryn - 4 Star

I enjoyed The Happy Home for Broken Hearts from the very beginning as there was something very relaxed about the writing style. By relaxed I probably mean that it was easy to read and the voice was someone I found I could relate to right away so I didn’t have to struggle trying to get into her head.  Always a welcome start!

Coleman has written so that every single one of the characters is well established and realistic.  She has also interwoven them into each other’s lives completely (which I suppose may not be entirely realistic as how many renters all end up eating in the kitchen together every night? But it worked for me!).  I particularly liked the elderly author of romantic fiction, Allegra, she was such a large influence on Ellie’s emergence from her reclusiveness and encouraged her to find herself through confidence in her imagination and the ability to provide for herself.  Another particular favourite for me was Ellie’s son and I felt that Coleman gave him a voice that wavered between child and young man which tugged at my heart. 
What impressed me most about this novel was that I was taken completely by surprise a couple of times by either the plot twists or things that were brought out from the past and having read many novels with the same easy tone I wasn’t expecting to be so turned upside down by some of the events.  It kept me up reading much later some nights than was probably a good idea!  I know that other reviewers say they weren’t surprised by the twists and there were one or two that were predictable but I maintain my stand that I was still surprised at least once!

Connect with Rowan Coleman:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre

4 Star

Father Duncan MacAskill is the Bishop's right hand man, moving abusive priests elsewhere, either to rehabilitation clinics or smaller parishes further afield. When MacAskill is sent to a rural parish in Cape Breton Island to avoid the scrutiny of potential investigations, he befriends someone who appears to have been abused by one of his peers. Investigating further, MacAskill struggles with his faith, his role in the institution and his past as both a priest and a man, as well as the situations he has overlooked for years. 

Lydia - 4 Star

The Bishop's Man is a shocking and disturbing read of one of the most despicable acts in the Catholic Church's history and although it seems like a heavy read, it wasn't as depressing as I was expecting. That's not to say it wasn't thought provoking and disturbing. It was, but this novel somehow found a balance that didn't cause me to abandon it with emotional fatigue.

The sensitive topic of The Bishop's Man was portrayed with just enough detail to be uncomfortable, rather than outright description of the horrific events, invoking imagination instead of bombardment with details. I had worried about this before starting the novel, but was pleasantly surprised and found the lack of detail actually caused my imagination to run rampant where if I'd read multiple accounts of abuse, my sensitivity to the issue might have dulled or I might have closed the book.

The narrative was complicated with multiple stories and characters to keep straight via real time and flashbacks which grew tiresome. At times I had to reread passages to figure out where in the past we jumped to because there were multiple past events MacAskill has memories of throughout the novel. As much as this may be the way a person's mind works, I'm not sure it translates into writing and his jumbled thoughts and memories caused me more grief than I would have liked.

Seeing the priest as an actual man was eye-opening for me having grown up in the Catholic faith. Although not a practicing Catholic anymore, it was still interesting to catch a glimpse into the thoughts the priests my religious past held - the good, bad and the ugly. And there's a lot of ugly in this novel, so be prepared if you're highly invested in the faith and even if you're not.  

I didn't love any of the characters in The Bishop's Man, but I didn't expect that I would and while I found myself sympathetic at times to MacAskill, it wasn't frequent. All of the characters were well drawn, and rendered so human with their imperfections, that without it, I'm not sure this novel would have worked.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Scattered Life by Karen McQuestion

3 Star

Skyla Plinka has found security in her reliable husband, Thomas, and as they live in rural Wisconsin and raise their six year old daughter, Skyla starts to feel restless. With a budding friendship in her new neighbour, Roxanne, whose life is in constant disarray, Skyla starts to yearn for more and begins spreading her wings, much to the dismay of her over bearing mother in law, Audrey, who feels left out of her son's life. Three very different women narrate this tale, each with their own lessons on love to learn. 

Lydia - 3 Star

A Scattered Life was a pleasant, easy read, but unfortunately it fell a bit flat for me. When we were contacted about reviewing this novel, I was wary with it being previously self-published (it is now available in print through Amazon Encore). I was pleasantly surprised to find the writing itself was a refreshing change from much of the self published works I've attempted and struggled to read (and I apologize to the self publishers out there and wish you all success, but I have a hard time reading past the first few pages most of the time and don't want to fling around negative reviews, which is why we don't review them). With A Scattered Life, although I found the writing easy to read and thought it flowed smoothly, there were a few plot and character issues that had me less connected with this work than I wanted to be.

I didn't find as much depth to the characters as I would have liked and they all came across as one dimensional to me. Skyla herself seemed a bit wooden and although searching for more in life, I don't know if she really found it. Her husband came across as controlling and I couldn't find any other way to see him. With Skyla figuring out her life, I wanted her to see more of this in him and spread her wings further, but never saw much of a change with their relationship which I found really disappointing. I liked Audrey's story and it was interesting to see an overbearing mother in law's side of the story instead of just from the daughter in law's perspective. I thought her transformation was slightly more realistic somehow. Maybe because I just had more of a grasp on her character or that I really felt sorry for her, but even with seeing more of a change, I would have liked to see her take some more action towards the end. 

The story seemed to wrap up with a twist I wasn't expecting which was a pleasant surprise, but I found the ending so rushed that it just fizzled out, leaving a few strings dangling that were never followed up on. With Roxanne having such a pivotal role in the climax, I would have appreciated a passage from her perspective as well as Audrey at the end of the novel, but all we see is Skyla's perspective.

All in all, I didn't mind A Scattered Life, and can see how McQuestion has become a self publishing success and might very well read another.

Kathryn - 3 Star 
A Scattered Life for me was very much like the title in that my feelings about the characters and the plot were quite scattered- I would therefore like to assume that I got out of it what the author had hopefully intended. 
My gut feeling tells me that I liked the main character, Skyla, but felt like we were given a mere hint of her family and her past at the onset and then nothing for the rest of the story. This is one of the complaints Skyla’s mother in law seems to have- there’s just not enough family there to make her have roots and yet she settles almost without question into marriage and motherhood- as if she was looking for someone to take care of her.
 I think that this was meant to create an air of mystery surrounding Skyla but instead it left me frustrated as the Skyla from the opening chapters just got swallowed up by this boring and conventional husband. Occasionally we are given a glimpse of a fun loving man -but it’s taken away again.  Having said this I don’t think I ever felt him to be controlling in a problematic way- just boring and far too concerned about making sure his family gave the right impression to the outside world.  Their marriage just seemed a strange match to me.
The relationship between Skyla and Roxanne is my centre of the story and Roxanne’s kids made me tired just reading about them.  I think that this story line is what made me keep turning the pages and it is well worth reading this novel just for the wonderful way in that the author develops the friendship between these two women.

Connect with Karen McQuestion:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Life After Yes by Aidan Donnelley Rowley

2.5 Star

Prudence 'Quinn' O'Malley, a New York attorney, has an unsettling dream the night after her romantic engagement involving three grooms, handcuffs and a courtroom setting full of unusual jury members. Unable to forget the bizarre dream when she returns home, Quinn starts questioning her future as well as her past, making impulsive decisions as she continues to deal with engaged life as well as still coping with the grief of losing her father on 9/11. Will she figure out how to move forward? 

Lydia - 3.5 Star

Life After Yes is a smart read about love, family, grief and understanding that was well written, poignant and amusing at times. I appreciated some of the laugh out loud moments amidst the uncertainty and grief Quinn was dealing with and thought her father's death in the 9/11 attacks was handled well and wasn't overly depressing. This novel held many insights into love and imperfect relationships, but unfortunately I just didn't find myself connecting with Quinn as much I would have liked to. 

I found Quinn was too preoccupied with the gym and partying, coming across insecure and whiny at times.  Maybe my age is starting to show or I'm just looking for a happier read at the moment and the fact that she wasn't sure about the man she'd just agreed to marry didn't go over well for me. I did love that she explored her concerns and questions instead of simply ignoring them as so many make the mistake and do.

I got immersed in this novel from the first few pages, enjoying the voice and story, but some flashbacks threw me. When it moved forward again after a sequence of them, I wasn't as attached or as interested as before they began and I can't quite put my finger on whether it was the flashbacks themselves, what they contained, or that I just didn't love her character when returning to the story.
The supporting cast was well developed, however I did occasionally have a hard time telling the difference between her two closest friends. I thought the character of Quinn's future mother in law, was portrayed so vividly I could picture and understand her as well as her fiance, whose changes towards the end I found interesting.

In the end, I wasn't as enthralled by this novel as I would have liked, but I'll definitely check out another by Donnelley Rowley! I did a little digging and found others were much more taken by Life After Yes than I was. Check out the reviews by Write Meg and S Krishna's Books where they rave about this novel.

Kathryn - 1.5 Star

I’m afraid I found this novel it a bit of a struggle to read at times.  Though the general concept was interesting - (made me wonder just how many people accept marriage proposals from serious partners and really aren’t sure they made the right decision?) I didn’t warm to Quinn or most of the supporting characters but I kept pushing through hoping that a connection would gradually creep up on me. 
From the very beginning I had a hard time getting into the novel because of the way it began with a bizarre dream and then immediately put her in a sexually implied position with a man (who turns out to be her trainer)?  This person didn’t mesh for me with the girl who had recently lost her father and was trying to find her place in her own life.  I concluded in the end that despite liking the concept and feeling that there was a lot of potential in all the characters it was perhaps the writing style of this particular story that didn’t work for me- I found Quinn’s voice a bit whiny and self-involved.  I don’t think this was intended by the author- I think I was supposed to feel like she was having a difficult time weighing her choices & how her heart really felt- but it came across as a bit self-involved and even a little selfish at times. 
Although there were a few details that I liked (the fact that her parents named her Prudence after the Beatles song was a sweet thought) and I eventually liking her fiancĂ©e and her mother- it wasn’t enough to make me love her so I’m afraid I wouldn’t call this one a favourite.

Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

Connect with  Aidan Donnelley Rowley:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Random Acts of Publicity Week

Have you heard?  It's Random Acts of Publicity Week! 

I love this idea! It appeals to me as both a book reviewer and an aspiring novelist and it's something we do every day here at Novel Escapes when we read a great book (and unfortunately, on the flip side, some not so great ones).  Do you?

Do you shout it out when you've read a fantastic novel to your family and friends? Or do you shelve the thought like you do when you have a fantastic customer service experience and think you should write in a letter, but never do?  (Or is that just me with my past customer service career?)

What about taking a few moments to craft a few words and post it on Amazon, Goodreads or Library Thing?

Taking just one novel you've loved and spending a few minutes to post a review could mean all the difference for an author when potential readers are looking for opinions.  Support your favourite novelists and post a review today!  It could mean the difference to their career and have them writing more fabulous novels for you to devour.

Here are three debut novels I've read this year that I adored and want to shout it out again how fabulous they are:

Catherine McKenzie started an initiative several months ago through an online campaign directed at promoting other novelists she feels haven't received the appreciation they deserved and it fits so well with the Random Acts of Publicity Week that she's doing some great giveaways. Find more information on her group here. We've read the books she's promoting and really enjoyed her choices! 

Read more about the Random Acts of Publicity Week for tips on how to write a review, how to post it on Amazon and how it all began.

We hope you'll take a few minutes to show your favourite authors some love!

Happy Reading,


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