Calling Me Home – Julie Kiebler

15793184Title: Calling Me Home

Author: Julie Kiebler

Published: 2013

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Drama

Age group: Adult

My rating:

Summary:  

A soaring debut interweaving the story of a heartbreaking, forbidden love in 1930s Kentucky with an unlikely modern-day friendship.
Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis. It’s a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie, a black single mom in her thirties, to drop everything to drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why. Tomorrow.
Dorrie, fleeing problems of her own and curious whether she can unlock the secrets of Isabelle’s guarded past, scarcely hesitates before agreeing, not knowing it will be a journey that changes both their lives.
Over the years, Dorrie and Isabelle have developed more than just a business relationship. They are friends. But Dorrie, fretting over the new man in her life and her teenage son’s irresponsible choices, still wonders why Isabelle chose her.
Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family’s housekeeper—in a town where blacks weren’t allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle’s first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way.

My review:

The first reason I picked this book in the first place was it’s time setting. I’m generally interested in what was happening in the society during the World Wars I and II. Naturally, when I choose to read a historical fiction, I expect a more or less truthful interpretation of the events. I like when authors give some details to the general course of life. Of course, I have a necessary amount of knowledge about what was going on in this or that time period. But what I didn’t learn at school was how those historical events influenced ordinary people and their lives. I like that a historical fiction, even though it’s main theme is not to show all the hardships, still gives the time setting a proper introduction and explaining. Not all books, though, manage this for me.

That is the thing with ‘Calling Me Home’. Yes, it deals with a pretty tough subject of racism, and for all its cruelty, the book did a great job telling about it. Still, though, it didn’t make me believe. Like when you read ‘Gone With the Wind’, where Margaret Mitchell builds such a vivid picture of what it was like to be a person with either white or dark skin at that time, you can’t help being overwhelmed and actually feel immersed into that time. You just sympathize with the characters and you care about them and you wish for the best.

I didn’t feel emotionally connected with what was happening in ‘Calling Me Home’. Like I know, it’s a sad story. A white girl and a black boy fall in love at a very severe time, when, even though the Civil War happened many years ago, nothing has changed much for black people. It was very dangerous and rare for the main characters to have this relationship, but to me it felt like the author sacrificed a more vivid portrayal of this situation for parents vs. kids problem, where the kids are determined to do what they want, and the parents’ naturally try to stop them to maintain the family’s reputation.

Isabelle is clearly the starter of all this mess. Robert has been working for her family for a long time, but Isabelle only notices him when he saves her from being raped. Then she becomes obsessed, seriously. Like it is all about Robert now. She stalks him and follows him everywhere, and Robert just gives in one day after trying to make her see reason for several times. Then the two get married secretly and have one night together, before Isabelle’s parents separate them once and for all.

Isabelle and Robert are such one-dimensional characters, there is literally zero information about what they actually are as persons. All there is to know about them, their story and goals are mentioned briefly in the beginning, like some kind of resume, and since then the plot was all about the doomed love story without any character growth.

I didn’t have anything against Robert, while I was reading the story, but young Isabelle simply annoyed me to no end. It was like her obsession with Robert made her completely unreasonable, desperate and selfish. No matter how dangerous this whole marriage could be for Robert and his family, she seemed to not care much. It was all about how much she loved Robert and how she wanted to be with him. Ugh… Ironically, though, she seemed to forget about her love twice in the story, each time after having had sex with Robert. I just couldn’t get over her thinking process. First she says how important Robert is for her, than she has sex with him, they are separated and she’s like ‘Okay! Everything is against us, so we’ll never be together again. I’m not going to try and reach him, I’m just glad we had sex!’ Come on! You sad that you were ready to do anything for your love and now you are all of a sudden became realistic? Don’t give up now! That’s the thing about romance books, that makes us readers swoon over them and love them, because the characters in it are ready to do whatever it takes. Isabelle, though, makes me really suspicious of this supposed love.

So, I got a bit long here, but that was my biggest concern about the book, and I actually would have given it 2 stars if it wasn’t for Dorrie. Dorrie is older Isabelle’s hairdresser, she is black and she has a whole baggage of problems, It’s her kids, her job and all the unfaithful and unreliable men in her life. That is the story I was completely engrossed in. I loved how realistic Dorrie’s life was depicted, I admired her decisions and how strong of a woman she was. I found that I was really struggling through Isabelle’s chapters and was really into Dorrie’s story.

Overall, the book, which was definitely planned as a tear-jerker, failed to get any tears from me. But, surprisingly, I managed to get through with it, and mostly it’s for Dorrie. So, 3 stars here, can’t give more. I was so excited about this book, and now I feel really disappointed.

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Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks

7812659Title: Safe Haven

Author: Nicholas Sparks

Published: September 14th 2010, Grand Central Publishing

Genre: Romance, Drama

Age group: Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★

Safe Haven

Summary:

Love hurts. There is nothing as painful as heartbreak. But in order to learn to love again, you must learn to trust again.

When a mysterious young woman named Katie appears in the small North Carolina town of Southport, her sudden arrival raises questions about her past. Beautiful yet self-effacing, Katie seems determined to avoid forming personal ties until a series of events draws her into two reluctant relationships: one with Alex, a widowed store owner with a kind heart and two young children; and another with her plainspoken single neighbor, Jo. Despite her reservations, Katie slowly begins to let down her guard, putting down roots in the close-knit community and becoming increasingly attached to Alex and his family.

But even as Katie begins to fall in love, she struggles with the dark secret that still haunts and terrifies her . . . a past that set her on a fearful, shattering journey across the country, to the sheltered oasis of Southport. With Jo’s empathic and stubborn support, Katie eventually realizes that she must choose between a life of transient safety and one of riskier rewards . . . and that in the darkest hour, love is the only true safe haven.

My review:

Nicholas Sparks is specifically known as the author of solely romantic stories. And while there’s nothing special or particularly new about them, nothing that hasn’t been already written about before, for some reason almost every other book of his has been filmed.

My knowledge of Sparks’s works is based on two of his most popular books – ‘The Notebook’, of course, and ‘A Walk To Remember’. I found this books quite OK, not really amazing, but nice and touching stories, and their movie versions were very romantic. I wouldn’t probably have read anything else by him in the near future, if I wasn’t sort of enchanted by the movie trailer for ‘Safe Haven‘. I can’t even explain why, as it’s quite a familiar type of story, which by the way immediately reminded me of the movie ‘Enough’ with Jennifer Lopez. But it was included in my Movies-To-Watch-This-Year List right away. Maybe it had a lot to do with Josh Duhamel in the main role 🙂

The book starts with a young woman Katie being unhappy in her marriage, no matter what she does, there’s always something to piss her husband off. Katie is used to being constantly hit by him, and with him being a policeman she doesn’t know where to ask for help. So the only possible escape for her is to run away. It actually turns out a very hard thing to do, and once Katie was already caught. But the second time she prepares very thoroughly, and though not without many complications, she manages to hide in a small town Southport, North Carolina.

Katie tries to keep low, so as not to get any attention from the citizens of the town. But soon there are two people who actually get close to her. First it’s her neighbor Jo, a woman in her thirties living alone. The two women quickly get close, and it’s Jo who Katie first tells about her past to. It’s also Jo who convinces Katie to open up her heart to Alex.

Alex is a widower with two kids, his wife died three years ago, and he hasn’t yet moved on from her. But meeting Katie and becoming friends with her makes him believe that he can be happy again. The two get closer as time passes, and Alex gets to know all about the nightmares Katie has once lived in.

While Alex is very optimistic about their future and wants to marry Katie one day, she is still cautious. Katie knows that there’s no way her husband would just let her go, he will eventually find her. And when he does, she will have to run again.

It’s really strange how my perception of this book got really twisted. The things that were supposed to be great and exciting and cute, like Katie and Alex’s romance, the way they find love and happiness in each other, didn’t really make any impression on me. The whole part of the romance was way boring and uninspiring. Sometimes it felt like a retelling of some book, only giving some basic information without spending too much time on emotional aspect. Besides, it was filled with so many unimportant stuff, like how Katie gets to settle down in her new home or her daily routine.

Alex was a really nice character, but I felt he was way undeveloped. It seemed like I only got a brief description of him, and even judging from the short trailer, I can definitely say that I love the movie Alex much better, he seemed more alive. And also the romance seems more passionate on screen, while in the book it’s rushed and plain.

But what I liked about the story is actually Nicholas Sparks’s portrayal of Katie’s husband Kevin. He is a real maniac, simply crazy, and I loved how realistic he felt in the book. I felt both scared and annoyed by him. He is a true psychopath, his inner monologues show how mentally unstable and aggressive he is. This is the character that I think Nicholas Sparks really nailed. In this case I don’t need to see a movie version to imagine him, and it’s sad that the bad character is so great, while the good ones, those at the forefront of the story, are so bland.

I struggled with the most part of the book, there weren’t many exciting scenes, but the ending was really intense. Once again, though, as I’m happy with the way things turned out, I’m also disappointed. First, I’m really skeptical about the way Kevin died, and secondly that twist with Jo was just strange. I know it was supposed to have some big sentimental effect on the reader, but I was like – ‘What???’.

In general, I’m more happy that I’ve read this book as a sort of basis for watching the movie later, but standing by itself this book is quite boring. It definitely wasn’t something I expected.

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

10507792Title: Perfect Chemistry

Series: Perfect Chemistry, Book 1

Author: Simone Elkeles

Published: December 23rd 2008, Walker Books for Young Readers

Genre: Romance

Age group: Young Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★

Perfect Chemistry (Perfect Chemistry, #1)

Summary:

A fresh, urban twist on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.

When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created ‘perfect’ life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she’s worked so hard for: her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect.

Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.

In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart.

ii

Judging by the synopsis, ‘Perfect Chemistry’ seems very familiar. I can’t even remember how many books and movies with the similar plot I have read/watched in my life. Probably hundreds. So, the reason I started this book, even though I knew it wouldn’t have anything new, was unexplainable. Maybe it was Valentine’s Day;s influence, or simply because I’ve had this book on my e-reader for way too long, so it was probably time to get it off my TBR list.

The first thing that came to my mind, when I started reading, was that this book was yet another modern rendition of Romeo and Juliet. Alex and Brittany are very different. Not only they belong to different social circles, they also maintain absolutely opposite public images. Brittany is this highly popular, beautiful girl, who seems perfect in every way and can do no wrong. And Alex is a bad boy all around, he is part of some criminal organization, and he seems very dangerous and angry.

So of course, opposites attract. But that would be too simple for this story to go this route. So, to spice it up, the author adds some new twists to it. First of all, it is told that not everything is so perfect in Brittany’s personal life, and Alex is not the jerk he pretends to be. The two don’t actually have any interactions at school they both attend, but it’s hinted that they do notice each other. And this attraction would have probably never got any continuation, if Alex didn’t make a bet with his friend, that he could easily bed Brittany.

I liked the first part of the story, where I first got to know what secrets both Brittany and Alex hide. And then, when the bet was made, the scenes of them spending time together and getting to know each other were very sweet. I wasn’t even particularly bothered by this absolutely old-news bet idea.

But the second part of the story was not that great. I just thought, that everything suddenly started happening way too quickly. In the beginning there’s a sweet and natural progression of Alex and Brittany’s relationship. I liked how they slowly got to know each other, shared their secrets, while their attraction grew deeper. But then everything just sped up, and the proper development of romance was really ruined for me. It’s like one day Brittany is really unsure of whatever feelings she has for Alex, and then next day she says she loves him and has sex with him.

And I just couldn’t get over this whole story of Alex’s misfortunes with his gang. I just found it very contradicting to the whole vibe of the story. While the story mostly focused on romance, which no matter of all the character’s troubles was written very lightly, the scenes of Alex getting out of the gang, getting beaten and having his friend killed, seemed very intense and way out of place. Especially this was notable when I got to the end, which was once again very very sweet and romantic. There was just too much violence and cursing for the story, which in the beginning promised just another teenage love story, yet quite likable.

But still I did sympathized with Alex, who I think had come through too many sufferings to last a lifetime. And I was glad he and Brittany got together in the end. This  story actually gave what it promised – a new twist on the classic, well-known story. But while the author did try to make it different, the attempt didn’t really translate that great to me. So all in all, this book was fine with nothing particularly new or exciting. The writing wasn’t very strong, but it was definitely an easy read, and I’m glad I could finish it real quick, otherwise I would really regret too much time spent on it.

Heart On A Chain by Cindy C. Bennett

10295484

Title: Heart On A Chain

Author: Cindy C. Bennett

Published: December 22nd 2010, Createspace

Edition: ebook, 322 pages

Genre: Romance, Drama

Age group: Young Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★

Heart On A Chain

17-year-old Kate is the school’s biggest loser and the constant object of abuse and ridicule. She doesn’t have any friends or simply someone to talk to. Expecting everyone to play a joke on her or punch her she mostly stays aside and hides from people’s eyes. And she can’t actually have any solace at home, as it’s no better. In fact, this is where it all started, this is the reason why Kate considers herself unworthy of anything good.

Her parents are really mean, her mother is a drug addict and her father is an alcoholic. But if only they could leave her alone. On the opposite, it’s a daily routine for Kate’s mother to command her to clean the house, to cook dinner (which she’s not aloud to eat, and so Kate may go days without eating anything) and then to physically abuse her. So badly that Kate is used to constant bruises on her body and face. But she can’t do anything to stop it, as she blames herself for the way her family became.

When Kate was 9 years old, her mother had a miscarriage following one of her constant fights with Kate’s dad. And when she came from the hospital without a baby, she made Kate her target. Being too young to understand why this was happening, Kate was made to think this was all her fault.

So when the new year at school starts, Kate has learned how to deal with her life. She tries to spend as less time at home as possible to avoid her mother’s anger. And at school she tries not to get in anyone’s way or to catch anybody’s attention.

But this year there’s a new boy at school and he won’t let her get away. He would try to be nice to her, which is something Kate is not used too. She expects him to play a joke on her and it really makes her sad as Henry was her friend 6 years ago, but he had to move away.

Now that he’s back again Henry’s really surprised with what has happened to the girl that was once not only his best friend but also his first love. He is determined to make her trust him again and to maybe become something more to her than just a friend. But Kate can’t reciprocate his feelings, though she wants to so much. She knows that Henry is too good for her and it’s only a matter of time that he will find out how undeserving of him she really is.

This books was a tough read for me, very emotional. There were some moments that I really liked, but some parts were really disturbing.

I liked Kate for her unselfishness and inner-strength, because she didn’t just fall apart after everything that happened to her. In the end she took her life in her own hands and made it the way she really wanted it to be. Henry was great too, but just seemed too ideal and unrealistic, especially for an 18-year-old. He was like a knight in shiny armor, always there to save Kate. Their love story seemed very intense and too romanticized with all these love professions from Henry. And the proposal? Well it just was way over the top, but I won’t deny it, it was really romantic and I liked to read every scene of Kate and Henry together.

If Henry was too knight-y, than his family was even more ideal. It’s the typical kind of family you would only see in a movie or read in a book, with a big beautiful house, plenty of kids of different ages, all loving each other, hugs and kisses. Oh, and they are very rich, so it’s no problem for them to add Kate into their circle, let her live at their house and take her to Florida with them for Christmas. There wasn’t any bad trait about them, so of course I liked them, but they were just too sugary, especially in comparison to Kate’s family.

There was given an explanation to why Kate’s mom and dad were the way they became, but what bothered me the most were the excessive rage her mother felt toward Kate. The scene where she would constantly beat Kate almost to death were very hard to read, and it was the thing that I didn’t like about the story. Yes, I know there does exist abuse in families, but I just couldn’t understand the amount of this fury or why Kate didn’t try to defend herself even instinctively through all these years. Or considering that everyone at school including teachers could see Kate come and go with bruises all over her face and not wonder who did this to her. She couldn’t have been that invisible.

As for the general course of the story, I think the second half of it was very tough, and I just felt that there were too much sufferings inflicted on Kate. It was like I would read about her fight with her mother and think that’s probably it, but then I turn the page and there’s something more. Well I just think it was too much, as I already had my eyes filled with tears for Kate.

But the ending turned out very rational and believable. I liked that despite Kate and Henry’s romance being too vanilla in the beginning, in the end they became normal, and their love no longer seemed forced and actually then the proposal wasn’t so out-of-place.

So I can say the story was OK, but not too impressive. But I generally liked Cindy C. Bennett’s writing and will check more of her books any time soon.

 

Onyx by Jennifer L. Armentrout

13047090

Title: Onyx

Series: Lux, Book 2

Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout

Published: August 14th 2012, Entangled Publishing

Edition: ebook, 338 pages

Genre: Fantasy, romance

Age group: Young Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★

Onyx (Lux, #2)

‘Onyx’ is the second book in the popular Young Adult fantasy ‘Lux’ series by Jennifer L.Armentrout. With the first one, ‘Obsidian’, ending after a very impressive fight scene between Luxen and Arum, the questions are still not answered and the mystery is more alive than ever. ‘Onyx’ takes start right after the fight and it’s first half is pretty much uneventful, and may seem pointless until you read the book till the end.

The main characters Katy and Daemon now have a new problem, aside from Arum. It’s a secret no one knows besides them, for after Katy was seriously hurt during the fight, Daemon had to use his powers to save her. And now they have to face unexpected consequences. First there’s developed a strange and powerful connection between the two of them, like they can feel each others presence from afar. But most importantly Katy comes to notices something strange about herself, too. It seems like she acquired the same powers Daemon possesses, as she would randomly move or freeze objects. It terrifies her to no end, but she’s afraid to tell anybody, especially Daemon, who has to focus on protecting his sister Dee.

The help for Katy comes unexpectedly from a new boy in school, Blake Saunders. He knows all about the things Katy’s dealing with, because once he was saved by a Luxen, too. It’s very rare and forbidden for the Luxen to heal humans, because when this happens, humans will mutate. Their DNA would change, thus giving them the abilities only a Luxen is capable of. But it’s highly dangerous for a human to manage this power, to control it. Some can’t make it and would destroy themselves. Blake doesn’t want it to happen, he wants to help Katy and to teach her to control herself.

Their trainings go on with Katy’s indifference to Daemon’s disapproval. There is something about Blake that sets Daemon off, but Katy wouldn’t listen. But everything gets even more complicated when Daemon and Katy learn that the DOD’s main interest is not specifically the Luxen, but the mutated humans, and Katy may probably already be on their radar.

I’ve passed onto this story right after I finished ‘Obsidian’ and while I was impressed with the first one, with this story not so much. I can’t remember a case where I would read a book and be engrossed in it’s plot, yet feel completely indifferent towards the characters.

That’s how I felt about ‘Onyx’. Though the first half of the story was boring and made my eyes roll at scenes with Katy and Daemon, I was still intrigued about this whole new development with the mutated humans and the DOD’s interest in them. The fight scenes were very impressive and I can’t say that this cliff-hanger in the end didn’t hook me up on reading the next installment. Of course, I guessed about Blake being untrustworthy from the beginning, his sudden appearance and know-it-all attitude were very suspicious. But all in all the story’s plot turned really unexpectedly and now there’s even more mystery and questions about it than after ‘Obsidian’. I’m really interested what would happen next in ‘Opal’.

My main problem about ‘Onyx’ was Katy and pretty much every other character. Is it possible that mutation for Katy meant not only obtaining some power but also a complete personality change? It’s no longer the Katy from the first book, the one to gush about books and her blog, to spend time with her friends or her mom. That Katy was a really nice person. But I can’t stand the way she became in ‘Onyx’. She was illogical, reckless, stubborn and rude. She became obsessed with her powers and training, and the whole story was pretty much about her adamant desire to become Daemon’s equal. I didn’t like how distant she became with everyone, even Dee, but suddenly it was all about Blake for her, and it was really off for me. Whatever danger Blake would inflict on her, Kate would still trust him. And the way she acted with Daemon, you would think he was the demon incarnate. The person who saved her life and tried to protect her apparently wasn’t worth Katy’s time, but a suspicious boy with a dark past becomes her go-to person.

Katy and Daemon’s romance was just unappealing to me. The whole book through Katy would act like it’s just their connection due to the healing that actually made them want each other. She would push Daemon away, only to come to a realization it’s real love and almost have sex with him all in one scene in the very end of the book. Well, knowing there are more books to come in this series I would rather have a slower yet a more realistic pace than these rushed love confessions.

All the other characters were pretty much unremarkable, and all of them, even Daemon, were in Katy’s shadow. And by the end of the book I came to a realization that there’s nothing to turn me back to like Katy or Daemon or care about their love line. I’m more interested about the ending of this Luxen-Arum-DOD confrontation.