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The One Saving Grace–love or lust?

The One Saving Grace

by Julie Houston

The One Saving GraceAs I went through each one of three books I chose to read as an introduction to author Julie Houston, I watched her develop as a writer. Her plots have become more complex, her characters have more depth, and she has found a balance that uses less vulgar language.

The One Saving Grace is the second book about Harriet and her long-time friend Grace. They did everything together as children, adored and hated “Little Miss Goodness” Amanda in unison as teenagers, and now they find themselves torqued around as adults by Amanda again. But Amanda is the least of their worries as the past becomes enmeshed in the future with unpredictable romances popping up and Harriet’s husband’s ex-girlfriend lurking the the background with revenge on her mind.

In the first book about Harriet and Grace, Harriet is confronted with an unplanned pregnancy she can not cope with on many levels. In this book, her moral dilemma is an affair. As I read the book, the author led me to somewhat understand Harriet’s temptation. As I stand back, book finished,  and look at her predicament, however, I have a hard time reconciling the Harriet who was devastated by the suspicion of her husband having an affair with the the Harriet who is willing to lose her family to temporarily satisfy her carnal desires. Sex is a major theme in the book, but is never described in detail.

The best part of The One Saving Grace is the surprises that reveal motivation and the resolution of conflicts. The theme of postnatal depression is also important in this book and one not to be overlooked as it affects not only Grace, who desperately wanted a baby, but also her family and friends.

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: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance

Notes: This is the second book about Harriet and Grace, but works great as a standalone as Houston inserts background information as needed.

Publication:   February 19, 2019—Aria

Memorable Lines:

I actually felt a bit miffed that someone else was after Mrs. Doubtfire…like when you were a teenager, you might not fancy that spotty, tongue tied guy with the bum fluff on his top lip who’s been drooling over you for months, but you certainly don’t want him going off with anyone else.

I’d make my way up to the gym machines to face Tina Trainer, who had obviously taken her instructions at the same place Dante got his inspiration for the Inferno.

Envy I’d always reckoned to be the most corrosive of all emotions, eating into one’s soul like a particularly pernicious acid….Envy is a mere novice, a total non-starter compared to her grown-up sister, Guilt.

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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.”

The Spirit in Question–mysteries abound in the old playhouse

The Spirit in Question

by Cynthia Kuhn

The Spirit in QuestionHaving enjoyed the first two cozy mysteries in the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery Series, I was looking forward to another. This book has many good features. Readers are filled in on background quickly. The series branches out from the typical college professor tenure issues by focusing on Professor Lila Maclean’s role as dramatic consultant to a play written by one Stonydale professor and directed by a visiting professor from France. The play is embroiled in conflicts over changes the director wants to make as well as picketing by the local historical society over potential damages to the Opera House, an old theater with a flamboyant and murderous past. 

Cynthia Kuhn, the author of The Spirit in Question, chooses to develop her plot with a lot of paranormal activity, even bringing in the Spirit Wranglers who try to prove ghostly existence for their TV viewers. Is a ghost responsible for accidents and murders or is there a human element at work? Not a fan of paranormal novels, I did not enjoy this cozy mystery as much as the others in the series. I did enjoy watching Lila unravel some of the mystery threads and obtain a confession. I’m assuming the author will drop the paranormal focus in future books and resume mysteries that look more at life in the Colorado university town of Stonedale and Lila’s role there as a professor.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #3 in the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery Series, but effective as a standalone

2. Author and characters seem to be unable to decide if there was paranormal activity involved in the mysterious happenings in the theater.

Publication:   October 2, 2018—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

I knew I needed to focus the conversation so that she wouldn’t begin regaling me with a cascade of memories about the time she went here or there with future celebrity x, y, or z. Once that train left the station, there would be no stopping it.

Gavin scratched his head, resulting in a dry little scratchy sound that made me want to run for the nearest tank of hand sanitizer.

…somehow it was difficult to think of him as actively guilty. He was more like a casualty swept up in the tsunami of her relentless determination.

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?”

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