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The Year of Starting Over: A Feel-Good Novel about Second Chances and Finding Yourself. 

The Year of Starting Over

by Karen King

The Year of Starting OverI don’t know any honest person who won’t admit, at least to themselves, that there is something that they wish they had done differently. Since there are no “do-overs” in life, I am grateful for second chances and that is what The Year of Starting Over is all about. Its subtitle is A Feel-Good Novel about Second Chances and Finding Yourself. 

In Karen King’s novel, Holly is confronted with both the need and opportunity to hit the reset button on her life when it becomes apparent her relationship with boyfriend Scott will never lead to the type of loving marriage her Nanna and Pops enjoyed. Her job as a care assistant for the elderly is not the path to fulfillment for Holly as an artist. Holly is left money by her Pops giving her a chance to change those circumstances and begin living for herself. 

Holly has to sort through relationships as she reinvents herself in this gentle romance. She travels from England to Spain to help her friends, Fiona and Pedro, establish an artists’ retreat. With an adventure in another country, the interesting characters, and a female lead who steps out of her comfort zone, you may well be pleasantly reminded of Under the Tuscan Sun. The plots play out differently, but the feel-good aura is present in both.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication:   February 7, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

Although her family had always praised her designs, Scott had dismissed it as her “hobby” and had never taken much interest.

Holly felt frustrated as she listened to them, wishing she knew the language better. She’d improved since she’d started taking lessons with Felipe, but not enough to understand conversations, especially when they spoke so quickly.

Her family had been pretty poor, he knew that from what she’d told him, but they’d been happy. His family were rich by comparison, but there was no closeness between them.

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm–starting again

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm

by Julie Houston

Coming Home to Holly Close FarmI had strong mixed feelings as I read Coming Home to Holly Close Farm. The tale begins with Charlie (Charlotte) having the worst Friday of her life when she discovers her lover is married with three children. Fallout of this revelation is that she also loses her home and job in one fell swoop. Charlie is a likable main character—smart, attractive, funny, and like many women, gullible when it comes to believing the one she loves.

Author Julie Houston’s book is actually two interwoven stories, and Houston handles that complexity well. One, of course, is the story of Charlie as she starts to rebuild her life. The other is the story of Madge, Charlie’s great-grandmother, and her love of a bomber pilot in World War II. Madge kept her past a secret from all of her family and as the story develops you can see why. It is only revealed because Madge, in her nineties, decides to sell part of Holly Close Farm with the proviso that the buyer must hire Charlie to be the architect for the house renovations. Once that decision is made, the secrets begin to trickle out.

My difficulty with the book is partly one of personal taste. I read it based on the appeal of the plot summary. It seemed like a gentle romance with a complex plot. It is a good plot, but too much of the book is about characters who bed hop, and it is replete with British vulgarisms. In the second chapter there is an extensive description of bawdy pranks on an airliner. This type of humor set a bad tone for me and though that is the worst of it in the book, the other elements continue. While I enjoy Britishisms in books to enhance the setting and characters, the vulgarisms detract for me.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Aria for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

Notes: includes bawdy humor and British vulgarities

Publication:  February 5, 2019—Aria

Memorable Lines:

Funny how sorrow makes you slop around in old trackies, eschewing the shower and make-up, but fury has quite the opposite effect.

“You know, war invades not only countries but also the mind and spirit.”

“…finance and big business and being in the centre of London was never really my thing but you get yourself on the treadmill and it’s going so fast you can’t get off.”

Life on the Leash–amusing and light-hearted

Life on the Leash

by Victoria Schade

Life on the LeashIf you want a fun, relaxing novel, try Victoria Schade’s Life on the Leash—especially if you like dogs and chick lit. Schade is an animal trainer, and Life on the Leash is her first novel. Her main character, Cora, left the corporate world to do what she loves—teach pet parents how to train their dogs in a loving fashion. Her clientele in Georgetown can afford her services, and she can afford to be choosy. 

Cora tries to be professional in all of her sessions, but that is hard to do with flirtatious Charlie whose girlfriend is out of town. Complete this love triangle with Eli, the slightly geeky boy-next-door who works for one of her clients. Cora toys around with the idea of her own dog training show in opposition to one hosted by Doggie Dictator Boris Ershovich who claims to “fix” dogs through his harsh methods. 

Life on the Leash made a light-hearted read in the wake of several suspense novels. I found myself chuckling at some of the characters’ antics, gasping at a few unwise decisions, and sympathizing with Cora’s pet friendly stances. I found myself wishing that a few of her tips and tricks could have been explained thoroughly, perhaps in an addendum so as not to interrupt the story.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction

Notes: Expletives are sprinkled throughout the book.

Publication:   September 18, 2018—Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster)

Surprise Me–will surprises keep a marriage vital?

Surprise Me

by Sophie Kinsella

Surprise MeI have really enjoyed books by Sophie Kinsella and was looking forward to reading her newest book Surprise Me. At first I felt like I was the one “surprised” in a disappointed kind of way. The characters in Surprise Me are two-dimensional, the premise is bland, and the attempts at humor are not very effective—for the first half of the book. The novel was good enough for me to plug on, however, and I’m glad I did. The pace and interest pick up dramatically in the second half. The characters grow and develop and become people you can actually care about. The original proposition seems silly: how do you live with and love the same person for over sixty years?  I know the world is changing a lot in terms of longevity of marriages, but there are many examples that demonstrate the success of long marriages and the happiness of people in such marriages.

There are many surprises for the reader and the main character Sylvie as she discovers that she does not really know the people close to her as well as she thought she did. In encountering difficulties, she discovers a strength she never knew she had. There are a lot of negative feelings associated with this book and a lot less fun fluff than initially appears to be the case or is usually associated with Kinsella’s books such as the Shopaholic series. Although I came away with mixed feelings, I also took away some serious musings about the ability of testing in life to help build character.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Dial Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance

Publication:  February 13, 2018 — Random House (Dial Press)

Memorable Lines:

Living with five-year-old twins is like living in a Communist state. I don’t quite count out the Shreddies into the bowls every morning to make sure things are equal, but… Actually, I did once count out the Shreddies into the bowls. It was quicker.

“Oh, marriage.” She makes a snorting sound. “Did you not read the disclaimers? ‘May cause headache, anxiety, mood swings, sleep disturbance, or general feelings of wanting to stab something.’ ”

“If we don’t stick up for the ones we love, then what are we good for?”

The Boyfriend Swap–great beach, plane, or cozy afternoon

The Boyfriend Swap

by Meredith Schorr

The Boyfriend SwapI like to vary my reading occasionally by throwing in a Chick Lit book. Meredith Schorr’s The Boyfriend Swap was a good change of pace at the the right time. The first half established characters, varying the viewpoint in clearly marked divisions between elementary school music teacher Robyn and hard driven lawyer Sidney. It is quite funny as they both have family situations coming up at Christmas where they don’t want their families to meet their respective boyfriends for various reasons.

When the boyfriend swap occurs, the book still has humorous moments, but things don’t always turn out as expected so there are some anxious times as well. Is swapping boyfriends a good idea in anyone’s mind? Will it all work out in the end for Robyn, Sidney, and their boyfriends? Come along for a fun read, but don’t model your romantic life on theirs!

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction, Romance

Publication:   November 7, 2017—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

How were children supposed to nurture their creative sides if schools focused entirely on academics?

Giving him a quick once-over as he absently pulled his finders through his longish hair, I was taken aback by his blatant beauty. The gods of looks certainly didn’t hold back the day Perry was born. Too bad they were so stingy with his humility.

Usually, the scent of garlic from my mom’s roasted chicken made my mouth water, but the guilt-and-anxiety cocktail I was drinking rid me of an appetite.

My Not So Perfect Life–is your life as perfect as your social media says it is?

My Not So Perfect Life

by Sophie Kinsella

my-not-so-perfect-lifeHaving read most of Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series as well as several other books by this best selling author, I looked forward to a work of chick lit that is neither trite nor cliché. I was rewarded with a story that contrasts the glamour of London with the authenticity of rural Somerset.  It presents characters with depth who react to their experiences with change and growth.

The first setting is a branding/advertising agency in London where difficult work relationships take center stage, as well as survival in a very expensive city. The second is a sheep farm that reinvents itself as a glamping (glamour camping) center. The main character, known as Cat in London and Katie on the family farm, tries to survive by straddling two worlds.  Katie’s complicated home life leads her to lie about her “perfect” London life, creating unintended consequences. Complications don’t end there, however, as one already difficult boss seems to suffer from mental issues and another sets off romantic fireworks.

I know a book is good when I repeatedly succumb to the temptation of glancing at the opening paragraph of the next chapter. Once I have gotten that far, it is hard to put the book aside, and so it happens again and again. My Not So Perfect Life keeps luring the reader back just like that. As I read, I initially thought I could see a direct path to a happy ending, but Kinsella has lots of surprises in store before the tale reaches its conclusion.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Dial Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: moderate profanity (including some specific to British English)

Publication:   February 7, 2017–Random House (Dial Press)

Memorable Lines:

 It’s amazing how an otherwise intelligent person can become a credulous fool as soon as you mention the words “organic,” “authentic,” and “Gwyneth Paltrow.”

“Every promotion requires you to do less of the thing you originally wanted to do.”

“Whoever started the rumor that life has to be perfect is a very wicked person, if you ask me. Of course it’s not!”

From the Sideline–chick lit for football illiterates

From the SidelineFrom the Sideline.jpg

by Amy Avanzino

From the Sideline is the second book in The Wake-Up Series by Amy Avanzino. Many reviewers praised the first book, Wake-Up Call, as a very funny novel.  This is confusing because From the Sideline has humorous notes and certainly moments I can relate to, but they are more than balanced out by the difficulties, past and present, of the main character, Autumn Kovac.  In fact, the major problems in the lives of Autumn and her son Zachery are rather dark. My other point of confusion is that Wake-Up Call’s main character is Sarah Winslow, not Autumn Kovac.  While it is fine to write a series based on a theme rather than a character, there is a supporting character named Sarah (no last name given) in From the Sideline.  I guess I will have to read Wake-Up Call to find out if it is the same Sarah and to read a book with a more generous serving of humor.

From the Sideline combines a number of themes.  It focuses on an overly protective single mom, a survivor of several abusive situations, whose awkward, intelligent, and bullied son wants to play football. Autumn Kovac receives an in-depth, rapid introduction to youth football: terminology that seems like a foreign language, coaches who range from caring mentors to frustrated men trying to recapture the glory days of promising sports careers, enthusiastic football moms and dads, and pressured players who are really just kids who want to play.

Another theme is, of course, one that most people experience–the wake-up call.  Bad habits and ways of responding to others creep up on us, and Autumn learns to recognize that as well as how to disengage herself and make healthier choices.

Although circumstances vary, most women can probably identify with some parts of this story and engage with the main character who, like all of us, has some difficult choices to make.  It’s “chick lit,” and while I enjoyed this book as an entertaining read, I came away with food for thought as well.

I extend my thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Henery Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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