Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Christmas at Tiffany's, by Karen Swan

Christmas at Tiffany's is a novel of friendship, exploration and love. It's also the story of how one woman's search for herself  impacts others closest to her and, in some cases, forces them to question their life choices as well. 

Multifaceted and engaging, the novel begins with Cassie Fraser's heartache at discovering, at her tenth wedding anniversary, her husband's duplicity. Turning to her boarding school friends for an escape route, Kelly, Anouk and Suzy each decide to help Cassie rebuild her life from the ground up, in their three different cities, in their three totally different ways. 

Cassie spends time in New York, Paris and London and in each city, she finds a little more of herself. New York gives her the confidence to handle a new job (although with interesting results) and a new boyfriend. She makes new friends and experiences life in the fast lane. In Paris, Cassie befriends Claude, a Michelin rated chef with demons of his own. In Cassie, Claude finds someone to mentor, and Cassie believes she has found her new path in life until tragedy and then betrayal strike, and she's forced to re-evaluate what is really important to her. In London, and later at Suzy's family's country estate, she's finally forced to make a decision about her marriage.

In each of Cassie's stops along her year-long tour of self-discovery, Suzy's explorer brother, Henry, leaves a list of must-sees and small gifts for Cassie. At times, he personally acts as her tour guide. And while she's amused and at the same time, confused by these gestures, she follows along in order to humor him, all the while missing out on the message he was really trying to deliver. 

Karen Swan writes with clarity and purpose. Her prose is straight-forward and tells the story so well, you feel you know every one of the characters. While Cassie is the catalyst and the main protagonist, each of the characters is really front and center along with her. The reader gets to know all of them very well, and their stories become just as important as Cassie's. Juggling so many balls in the air at once is an amazing accomplishment. And in this book, Ms. Swan lets none of them hit the floor. 

Highly, highly recommend. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Oxford Blue Series, by Pippa Croft (The First Time We Met, The Second Time I Saw You, Third Time Lucky)

I usually don't review an entire series at once, but The Oxford Blue Series, 
   by Pippa Croft (pen name for Phillipa Ashley) has me making an exception.   

The Oxford Blue Series is Pippa's debut into the New Adult scene, and it's a brilliant one at that. The series follows Lauren Cusack, daughter of a US Senator, while she endeavors to master the hallowed halls of Oxford University in search of a Masters in Art History. Told from Lauren's particular point of view as an American in an environment somewhat alien from her stateside collegiate experience, Pippa takes us along for a wild ride. From practically the moment Lauren arrives in Oxford, she's thrown into the exclusive world of
Alexander Hunt, son of a marquess and the object of everyone's curiosity at the college. Inexplicably attracted to the dangerous and handsome soldier/aristocrat, Lauren finds herself at the center of a relationship fraught with sexual attraction and deception. For every step forward in their relationship, Lauren and Alexander take two steps back, experiencing the heartache of family interference, betrayal, and class distinction.

As Lauren experiences her push and pull relationship with Alexander, we do the same. She has no idea whether to love him or despise him, trust him and feel sorry for him, or run from him as far and as fast as she can. We feel the same. While readers may want what's best for Lauren, she's young enough not to know what's best for herself. And the author does a wonderful job in conveying Lauren's confusion over the situation she has found herself in.

The first two books set the stage of their ongoing relationship and the second one, in particular, defines the parameters of Alexander's need for Lauren. It ends on a great cliffhanger. Luckily, the third in the series, Third Time Lucky, was released the same day I finished The Second Time I Saw You, so I didn't have to wait long to see what happens.

A warning to the retiring reader; the sex is HOT and PLENTIFUL.  That's all I'm going to say on the subject. When I say Lauren and Alexander are attracted to each other, I'm being a little coy. Their relationship is smoking, and the author does not hold back in this regard.  There, I've done my civic duty in letting you all know. At first it seems that this is the only glue that is holding these two together. But as the series moves on and we get to the final book, Alexander starts to open up a bit more, and we begin to see a side of him that up until this point has been well hidden. We begin to suspect that there is more to what he feels for Lauren then we've been privy to, and ultimately we come around to seeing in him what she sees. But not without quite a bit of angst and hand wringing first. And the question remains; is it too little too late?

Secondary characters add depth and conflict to Lauren's experience. They are just colorful and malicious enough to add all the necessary drama. I especially loved Lauren's involvement with Scott. Their relationship had me guessing to the very last page.

The Oxford Blue series is well-written and flows very quickly from page to page, and book to book. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I am mentioned in the acknowledgements for my slight and relatively small contribution to the author's hard work.

Well done, Ms. Croft. Highly recommend.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty's latest stab at writing is as good or better than her last, The Husband's Secret, which I previously reviewed on this blog. She has become one of my new favorite contemporary authors.

Big Little Lies is a masterful showcasing of 21st century relationships between spouses, parents and children, and parents and grandparents. The author keeps those pages turning by using police interviews at the beginning of each chapter which hint at a  future, devastating occurrence at a Trivia Night at the local elementary school. Concurrently,  the reader becomes invested in the lives of the main characters.

Jane and her 5 year old son Ziggy move to Pirriwee Peninsula near Sydney to make a fresh start. Through Ziggy's kindergarten class, she meets Celeste, mother of twin boys Josh and Max. She also meets Madeline, whose daughter Chloe is also in Ziggy's class. The three mothers form an unlikely friendship as do their children. When Ziggy is accused of bullying another girl in the class, things start to quickly go downhill as marriages unravel, personalities are dissected, life choices are questioned, and new found relationships are ultimately tested.

Written from differing points of view, Big Little Lies is, at the same time, an indictment and a tribute to parenting in the present age. But it's not just for parents. Social mores, charitable endeavors and societal taboos are also covered, but the reader never feels overwhelmed. The story is utterly believable; as believable as real life.

Recommend highly!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Between the Devil and Ian Eversea, by Julie Anne Long

Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green series continues with this lovely romance. This latest effort,  Between the Devil and Ian Eversea, will continue to enthrall fans with a wonderful, damaged male protagonist in the title character, Captain Eversea. In previous novels, Eversea brothers Chase and Colin have already met the loves of their lives. Now it's Ian's turn. Tansy Danforth, late of America, comes home to England and her guardian of sorts, Genevieve Eversea's husband, the Duke of Falconbridge who is charged with her care. The Duke's one goal is to see Tansy married and married well. With a tragic history and issues of her own, Tansy proceeds to enthrall the male population of Pennyroyal Green. Ian, however, sees right through that act, as Tansy sees through his. The eventual awakening between these two is bound to happen, but Ms. Long puts that off for as long as possible, and in the meantime, takes us for a wild, intimate ride.

Like all the books to date in the series, this one shines with love and humor. There is one pivotal scene in a ballroom that had me laughing out loud in its hilarity, and when I picture Ian and remember this book, that scene always comes to mind. You'll know it when you read it.

Highly recommended and a treat for Ms. Long's fan base, Between the Devil and Ian Eversea may be the means to convert quite a few new members to the fold. And after a little tease, I'm on tenterhooks waiting for Olivia Eversea's story, which seems to be next. I'm sure that will be quite the culmination to this well-loved series.