Category Archives: good characters

Too Fast

Too Fast
by Alexia Haynes
Published by Alexia Haynes via Amazon Digital
163 pages
Genre: new adult; romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

So you go out with friends for the evening and promise yourself you will let loose and have some fun. You even allow yourself to be open to the possibility of a one night stand. Have a few drinks, meet a hot guy, take your clothes off, and after the lovin’, say goodbye.

Simple, right?

But what if that one night stand turns out to be someone you just can’t forget? What if you want more than one night? What if he does too? Do you stick to your original plan or do you reboot?

Savannah finds herself in just this very situation when she wakes up to the gorgeous Luke. Their night of passion was more than she dreamed of, and apparently he enjoyed it just as much. When he pursues her for more than one night, she needs to decide if that’s what she wants.

I’m pretty sure you can figure out how this goes. The good news is that despite its transparency, this little novella is fun – and HOT – to read. Alexia Haynes does a solid job of letting us get to know her characters in a compressed amount of time, as well as writing some hot and delicious headboard rockin’.

Let me just say that if I were Savannah, there is no way I could settle for one night with Luke. It’s like dark chocolate covered caramels: can I stop at one? Uh, no.

Enjoy this one for what it is: a quick, hot read with characters you’ll enjoy.

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Filed under good characters, hot headboard rockin', New Adult lit

Nowhere but Home

Nowhere but Home
by Liza Palmer
Published by William Morrow
384 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5

When your mother names you after Queen Elizabeth, you might find it challenging to live up to the name. At the very least, you might find it challenging to avoid ridicule.

For Queenie Wake, the name itself is not as big of a burden as her family history. Her mother, a fairly flamboyant diner owner, met with a grisly end, and Queenie’s sister, Merrie Carol, has remained in the girls’ hometown, where she raises her teenage son without benefit of the boy’s father.

If this sounds tangled and vaguely gothic, then so be it. But I will let you know straight away that this is an enjoyable, entertaining book that will wrap itself around your heart and squeeze.

Queenie is a sous chef in a New York hotel restaurant, where she harangues customers for their gauche taste in cuisine. (Never dare to put ketchup on eggs that Queenie prepares for you.) When she loses her job and realizes that another one is not in the offing, she reluctantly returns home to North Star, Texas, population quirky.

Her arrival is not quite greeted with joy; Merrie Carol, for one, is a bit hurt that Queenie has been vacant from her and son Cal’s lives. Queenie offers a tepid apology, perhaps offset by her confusion at Merrie Carol’s refusal to leave town. Thanks to a teenage pregnancy, Merrie Carol has been branded as the town harlot. (The identify of Cal’s father is not unknown, but nonetheless kept a secret from the boy.)

Then there is Everett Coburn, the man who got away. He’s the son of a wealthy local family, and the high school romance he shared with Queenie was conducted entirely in secret. Queenie accepted it at the time – anything to be with Everett. But age and wisdom have caused her to be a little resentful. Alas, her irritation is not tempered by any noticeable lapse in attraction. When she sees Everett for the first time, all those old feelings resurface.

Queenie gets a job preparing last meals for death row inmates, a sort of symbolic gesture of her own need to find closure for her mother’s death. Queenie’s life has been a long series of “last meals,” each ushering out one stage of her life as she begins a new one.

This is one of those books that pulls you in its vise-like grasp before you realize that you can’t put it down. What could have been stock characters are instead fully realized and developed. You know these people, and you truly care about them. You want Queenie to find peace, and you want Merrie Carol to be accepted by her fellow townspeople. You want to understand Everett, and you want to hug Cal and ruffle his hair.

Nothing wildly cataclysmic occurs, although the sisters do contend with some emotional upheaval. Despite it feeling like a well worn pair of slippers, nothing predictable occurs. You don’t feel as if you read this book before, even though the characters seem to be familiar friends.

Read it. Enjoy it. It’s a good book.

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The History of Us

The History of Us
by Leah Stewart
Published by Touchstone 
386 pages
Genre: literature
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4.5 / 5

A few years ago, I read The Myth of You and Me, and I immediately was captivated by Leah Stewart’s storytelling. She is not a writer who feels it necessary to give us likable characters, nor does she back off from creating people who are deeply, almost painfully flawed.

And so it is with The History of Us, which tells the story of three adults and the aunt who raised them.

It’s been about twenty years since Eloise Hempel received the phone call that changed everything. An ambitious professor at Harvard, Eloise is about to teach a class when she learns that her sister and brother-in-law died in an auto accident. Eloise is the children’s guardian, and she must return home to Cincinnati to raise her two nieces and nephew, something that terrifies Eloise. She tries to enlist her mother, absent even from her life, much less the woman’s grandchildren, but to no avail. Her mother allows Eloise to move into her home, but as far as parenting her wards, Eloise is on her own.

The story largely takes place in the present, with occasional flashbacks to how Eloise adapted to motherhood. Theodora and Josh were old enough to know their parents, but Claire was a toddler at the time of their death. Her memories are hazy, undetermined. She considers Eloise her mother, something that occasionally rankles not just Theodora, but occasionally even Eloise herself. Although Eloise considers herself the children’s mother, and although she is wounded thinking that they consider her anything but, there is still part of her that yearns for her pre-motherhood existence.

Such ambivalence is one reason why Eloise is so believable – and also why she is so unlikable at times. She wants to get rid of her mother’s house, and when Claire moves to New York to pursue a career as a ballerina, Eloise believes she has her chance. Theodora, however, resists. Now, there is a character we alternately love and cringe over. As the one child with the clearest memories of her parents, we understand Theo’s need to cling to anything that represents their memory. In many ways, she thinks of herself as her siblings’ mother, more so than Eloise. And with reason; she shepherded Eloise through those first few years as a mother figure.

Josh is a typical middle child, only son of three children. He’s somewhat flighty, having ditched a career as a successful musician. Whereas he could be crafted as a stereotypical screw up and slacker, Leah Stewart instead presents him as far more complex. When he begins a new relationship, we want him to succeed, even if his paralyzing self-doubt makes us want to slap him.

And then there is Claire. SHE is the character we want to slap. Claire has a secret, you see, and her secret inadvertently binds the rest of the family together. Well, sort of. Leah Stewart won’t take the quick and easy path; instead, she continues to give us complexity. Like her aunt and siblings, Claire is not so easy to categorize.

This family will fascinate you, and you will find yourself wondering if it’s possible for any of them to be happy. Stewart pulls you in to their story, making you feel fully invested in who Eloise, Theo, Josh, and Claire are, what motivates them, frightens them, frees them. Their mistakes are believable, their story told as if it could happen to one of us.

Read this. Read it for the four fascinating characters at its center, as well as for its equally fascinating supporting cast. Read it to lose yourself in good storytelling and solid writing.

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Brand New Human Being

Brand New Human Being
Emily Jeanne Miller
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
272 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes

I have got to say – really, I absolutely MUST SAY – that I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it.

Reading Brand New Human Being is kind of like watching a supermodel slip and fall on the runway, knocking out one of her teeth. You are filled with a mixture of horror, gratitude that it isn’t you, and a wee tad of schadenfreude, because, let’s face it, who doesn’t like seeing other people miserable? So long as it isn’t you, right?

Or maybe that’s just me.

Here we have Logan August Pyle, whose father, Gus, died four months earlier, leaving behind a young widow (Bennie, only four years older than Logan) who got all of Gus’s cash and the lake cabin. Logan was left with his boyhood home, a tract of land that other people want and are willing to pay for but which yields no monetary satisfaction for Logan, only a sense that he’s safeguarding his father’s legacy. Oh, and a watch he can’t find – Logan was left that, too.

Logan’s wife, Julie, works for a law firm, and by “works,” I mean she WORKS. All the time. She’s rarely home, and when she is, she is focused nearly solely on her and Logan’s four-year-old son, Owen. Logan, meanwhile, was supposed to complete his dissertation and become a doctor of literature, but with Julie’s pregnancy and the death of his father, well, you know how these things happen. They don’t happen – that’s what happens.

The real problem for Logan is that he is fast becoming a spectator in his own life.

I stand there, seemingly paralyzed, looking down. Julie’s on her side, one bare shoulder uncovered, and Owen’s back is pressed against her front, her arm wrapped around him and her hand tucked under his chin, and he clasps the hand with both of his, as if in prayer. Outside it’s begun to rain, hard, and raindrops slide down the windows, changing the light to liquid as it passes through the panes and collects on the bed, where the two of them lie curled together in such a way that it’s hard to tell where mother end and child begins. Is this hell or is it heaven? I have no idea.

Logan loves his son, and he loves his wife, but he’s jealous of both of them. He’s jealous of a lot of people, even if he can’t see it himself. His father was destroyed by a cancer that ate him up for four years, and Logan is being consumed by a disease as well: inactivity. He can’t even rake his lawn, much less work on his marriage and fatherhood.

But then one day, he catches Julie in an apparent compromising position, and he leaves. He grabs Owen and heads to the lake cottage where Bennie lives. Lest you think he heals, you would be wrong. Things go from awful to horrible. At one point, he “baptizes” both Owen and himself, believing that the two of them can be brand new. But when an adult is baptized, he accepts his shortcomings, professes faith that they can be corrected, and surges forth, determined to be a better person. In Logan’s case, he believes other people need more improvement than he does.

This is a funny, sweet, sad story, and I enjoyed it so much. Logan does some awful things – so does Julie, for that matter – and there are times you want to wring his neck. But you can’t help but like him, and that’s a testament to Emily Jeanne Miller’s writing. She creates characters who are pretty unlikeable, but she inspires us to like them anyway.

Give this book a try. It’s a quick read, and worth every minute.

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The Good Father

The Good Father
Diane Chamberlain
Published by Harlequin MIRA
368 pages
Available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
3.5 / 5 cupcakes

The Good Father is as much the story of what one man would do for his daughter as what two mothers would do for theirs. It is also the story of how one little girl can heal three broken people.

Travis Brown is twenty-two, an age when most people are fresh out of college, bursting with the promise of what they will do next and believing that the world is their oyster. But for Travis, the world seems more like a dark, gaping wound. His high school love, Robin, had a life-threatening heart ailment, worsened by an unexpected pregnancy. Her father took advantage of her ill health to force a breakup between her and Travis, but when Travis found out about the baby, he refused to cede custody. He and the baby, a little girl named Bella, lived with his mother in Wilmington, NC, where Travis, who once dreamt of being a marine biologist, struggled to find construction jobs. But then his mother’s house burns down, and Travis and Bella find themselves homeless.

Meanwhile, Robin, who believes Travis is married, tries to forget about Bella. She is engaged to Dale, a mayoral candidate in Beaufort, working at his family’s bed and breakfast. Dale’s sister also finds herself unexpectedly with child while as a teenager, and experiencing her future niece’s birth forces Robin to remember Bella … and wonder about Travis.

Then there is Erin, a thirty-something pharmacist from Raleigh. Erin recently moved into a small apartment, away from her husband, Michael, and their fractured marriage. Erin and Michael lost their daughter ten months earlier in a freak accident, and each mourns in a different way. Erin cannot understand Michael’s grief, and he cannot understand hers.

Erin and Travis meet at a coffee shop when Travis comes to Raleigh for a potential job. Erin finds herself drawn to Bella, who is close to the age of Erin’s daughter.

I breathed in the musty smell of her hair again. I couldn’t pull the scent of her deeply enough into my lungs. Beneath my hands, I felt her ribs and the little knobs of her spine. She was tiny for four. Tiny and way too thin. Carolyn at three had been bigger than Bella at four. I rested my chin on the top of her head and opened the only book she seemed to own, and while I read to her, I thought of all the books and toys in Carolyn’s room. I could go to the house and get some of them for her. If I could make myself go into Carolyn’s room. 

Unfortunately, Travis’s job prospect turns out to be both less and more than he expected, and he needs Erin’s help. As Robin discovers that her in-laws have secrets of their own, Travis desperately tries to take care of his daughter, and Erin struggles to not succumb to her grief.

This is a gripping story, told from the points of view of Travis, Robin and Erin. We feel Travis’s hopelessness and despair. We sympathize with Erin’s disconsolate loss. We cheer for Robin, who has survived so much in her life and yet has so many more challenges to come. And Bella. Oh, Bella. We understand Erin’s need to clutch her tight and protect her. We need the three grown-ups to persevere because we need Bella to be safe, loved, cherished.

The only problem with this otherwise very well written book is its predictability. We know Travis’s job is not what he expects. We know that Dale and his family are not as perfect as they appear. At no point, will you be surprised by any of the events of this book.

Fortunately, though, the characters will keep you turning the page. And the characters are the reason why this book is as good as it is.

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