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I bought Seventh Heaven on a whim, after searching high and low for a book that came out 25 years ago, required by my 2015 reading challenge. I looked in the New York Times book review archives. I checked Goodreads best-of lists. I asked family and friends if they knew of anything that had been published in 1990 that was good. In the end, I picked a book at random off a list, bought a used copy online, and absolutely devoured it.

I was entranced by this book from the first page. For one, I absolutely love the writing style. It’s mystical, realistic but not, and flows so beautifully. It reminded me of a Tim Burton film.

Another reason I really loved this book, though, was Nora. Nora, the only divorced woman on her block, or maybe in her whole town, who just wants a friend. Nora, who doesn’t understand why nobody will befriend her son, or why the other mothers don’t want to have lunch, or why her American Dream of a cute house in the suburbs just isn’t working out the way she wanted it to.

In fact, I really loved almost all of the characters in this book. Sure, some of them are terrible people. But they all have entrancing stories to tell. All of their stories are interconnected. All of their stories are important. Nora has such an impact on all of them.

I may have picked this book up on a whim, but I will definitely seek out more of Hoffman’s books.

For my 2015 reading challenge, I crossed off #30: a book that came out the year you were born.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

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Well, I’ve had a night to think about it, and I’m pretty sure I finally know where I stand with this book.

I didn’t like it.

It’s difficult, because it actually gets much better around the halfway point, but there’s always something off-putting lingering in the background. Let me start with the basics.

Grace Chapman, wife of literary icon Ted Chapman, has spent most of her life placating the volatile emotions of those around her. As a child, she walked on eggshells, never knowing what side of her bipolar mother she was going to get. As an adult, she has learned to make herself scarce when her husband gets in one of his moods. Despite her absolute terror at her husband’s mood swings, Grace feels that her life is almost perfect. Things change, however, when Ted’s efficient assistant is forced to quit to deal with problems in her own family. Suddenly Grace must deal with Ted’s unrealistic demands, she must organize their household and take on tasks she hasn’t had to deal with in decades. Grace is drowning, so when a young woman appears out of nowhere offering to help, she hires her without much of a thought.

Beth is perfect. Too perfect, some might say. In a matter of days, she has whipped the household into shape. Ted’s the happiest he’s ever been, and somehow, Beth has also had time to clean and organize the entire house AND help with Grace’s charity work. But then strange things start happening. The rentals for a high-end charity event never arrive, leaving the guests disgruntled and Grace embarrassed. A favorite scarf of Grace’s disappears, only to be seen on Beth a few days later. She’s crazy, Ted says, to think anything might be off, especially when their lives are so great. She should be seen by a psychiatrist.

Grace has lived her whole life in fear of becoming her mother, so the suggestion to see a psychiatrist, to become one of those overly-medicated women she’s always vowed not to be, hits her the wrong way. But Dr. Ellery is so understanding. He makes her feel validated and comfortable. So when he suggests that she try this pill, and that pill, and another four pills to combat the side effects of the other two, she agrees. After all, doctors know best, right? Soon, Grace is a shell of her former self and has no idea how to get back to what she once was.

So, overall, the premise is pretty good. It’s actually a bit terrifying, thinking that something like this could happen. So my issue is (mainly) not with the plot, although it could have used an editor to clean it up a bit. My main problem is with the writing.

First, let me start off by saying that the whole writing style is odd. Because Grace is a well-known chef, the author has, for some reason, found it necessary to include a recipe at the end of every chapter. The writing is also very distant, detached, almost like you’re watching one of those Discovery Channel documentaries where the British guy is narrating while a lion devours an unsuspecting antelope. Grace hides in the bathroom as Ted rages downstairs. Here’s a recipe for buttery kedgeree. Grace’s mother often called her ugly and useless. Here’s a recipe for salmon. Beth is surely convincing Ted that Grace is crazy, but Grace isn’t crazy, right? Here’s a recipe for ginger ice cream.

Also, several threads of the plot are started, only to be discarded later. I wanted to know what was going on with Dr. Ellery, how he got away with medicating Grace into a stupor. I wanted to know why Beth targeted Grace’s family. I wanted some justice for Grace at the end, for something to happen to Ted, or to Beth, or both. But the whole book was just flat.

The plot is highly predictable. I could have told you something was off when Grace was looking to check references for Beth and Beth couldn’t provide a current phone number. References by email? Really? And if, for whatever reason, Grace was really that naive and trusting, she had to have known that the charity debacle was all Beth’s fault. But, instead of trying to figure out why all these terrible things have suddenly started to happen after letting Beth into her life, Grace is more focused on the weight she’s gained due to her new medications.

I knew going into this book that it didn’t have great reviews, but I also knew that Jane Green is well-known in the chick lit world, so I gave it a chance. All in all, I’m pretty disappointed. I wanted to like this book, but I just couldn’t.

Thanks to the publisher and Goodreads First Reads for the free copy. 

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆


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Pretending to Dance was my second book by Diane Chamberlain, and I was not disappointed.  It’s told in the alternating voices of Molly as a teenager and Molly as an adult, and the plot twists and mysteries seem neverending.

In the present, Molly and her husband are working to adopt a child, knowing that Molly cannot conceive.  They undergo interviews, background checks, and home visits, all of which put them one step closer to their future child, and all of which send Molly’s thoughts back to her adolescence.

In the past, Molly as a fourteen-year-old girl adores her father, a therapist with a particularly quick-progressing form of multiple sclerosis.  Her mother, on the other hand, is cold and distant.  As Molly spends the summer helping her father, she also experiences her first love and learns about family secrets that she might not have expected.

Pretending to Dance is an easy, fast-paced book.  The characters feel alive, the story never drags, and the writing is wonderful.  For fear of spoilers, and since the book’s release date is so far off, I don’t want to go into too much detail in this review.

Let me just say that this book is not to be missed, and I would highly recommend pre-ordering it.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the ARC!

Final rating: ★★★★☆

Book review: The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White

The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: July 1, 2015
Source: Kindle First

From a distance, Felix Fitzwilliam, the son of an old English family, is a good husband and father. But, obsessed with order and routine, he’s a prisoner to perfection. Disengaged from the emotional life of his North Carolina family, Felix has let his wife, Ella, deal with their special-needs son by herself.

A talented jewelry designer turned full-time mother, Ella is the family rock…until her heart attack shatters their carefully structured existence. Now Harry, a gifted teen grappling with the chaos of Tourette’s, confronts a world outside his parents’ control, one that tests his desire for independence.

As Harry searches for his future, and Ella adapts to the limits of her failing health, Felix struggles with his past and present roles. To prevent the family from being ripped apart, they must each bend with the inevitability of change and reinforce the ties that bind.

Seventeen-year-old Harry Fitzwilliam suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, and anxiety. His loving mother, Ella, has dedicated her entire life to his well-being, while his father, Felix, avoids dealing with him by working non-stop. Ella and Felix have accepted their way of life, and while neither is fully satisfied, it works for them. That is, until otherwise health Ella suffers a heart attack and their whole family structure begins to crumble.

At the beginning, it seems that Ella is perfect, a devoted mother who tirelessly manages her son’s medications, therapists, physicians, school activities, and emotions. Felix is supremely unlikable. Even when he’s not working himself to death, he’s criticizing his wife and child. Why can’t Harry be more normal? Why does Ella baby him so much? Why can no one remember to put their shoes away?!? When Ella’s health takes turn after turn for the worse, Felix finds himself absorbing more and more of her tasks, and understanding just what it takes to keep their family running smoothly.

Harry is an impressive character, never letting his conditions get in the way of his life. He has good friends and does well in school. There are, of course, moments when he struggles. When he tries with everything he has to stop ticcing, but he just can’t. When he realizes that his Tourette’s could get him in a lot of trouble. When he struggles with his mother being in the hospital and having to deal with his father. But overall, Harry is a beacon of hope and happiness.

But it’s Felix that really steals the show. He develops so much as a person of the course of the book, coming to love both his wife and his son more as he realizes that Harry isn’t the only one with issues. As Felix delves deeper into his past, he confronts uncomfortable truths about his relationship with his own father, and how that may influence the way he treats his own son.

The Perfect Son is an unexpectedly touching book about family and mental illness, and I would highly recommend it.

I received a free copy of The Perfect Son from Amazon’s Kindle First program.

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Room 702 is the story of Emma, a Spanish accountant, who has somewhat of a one night stand with John Davies, a famous British actor.  Not usually one to swoon at the sight of a celebrity, Emma is surprised when she not only feels attracted to John, but also feels that the two of them share an instant connection.  She can’t stop thinking about him after their night together, but it’s hard to build a lasting relationship with someone whose work keeps him away for months at a time.

Honestly, this is an enjoyable book, but it’s nothing new.  Every conversation, every plot line, every character quirk has been done to death.  The entire book is cliche after cliche – which isn’t automatically a bad thing.  The writing was lively enough to keep me going, but I still had the whole book figured out by approximately page 30.

The biggest thing for me was probably the characters and the strong dislike that I felt for most of them.  Nobody was particularly likable, including the two main characters.  Emma’s incessant whining, complaining, and clinginess was exhausting.  John was a jerk, regardless of his charismatic jokes or generous gifts.  Emma’s friends were offensive and annoying, and Emma’s mother was obviously written to be hated – only tolerable in the presence of small children.  The only character I found remotely likable (and even he had to grow on me) was Leo, a mutual friend of Emma and John.

But even though I disliked the characters and could predict literally everything that happened, I still more or less enjoyed this book.  I feel that the quality of the translation was a big reason for this.  As someone with a degree in both Spanish and Linguistics, who has done translations for fun and for grades, I have to give this translator a big pat on the back for avoiding all the telltale signs of a translated work.

Final rating: somewhere between 2.5 and 3 stars

Room 702 is currently available to Read Now on Netgalley.  Goodreads also has 20 copies available in a giveaway that closes on August 18.

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #44: a book that was originally written in another language.