Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Jennifer Collin

Set Me Free


The cover was quaint and old-fashioned looking (1950s red dress). It was bright and assured me that I was getting chick lit. 

The title made me think the lead character was in a disastrous relationship and she wanted out.

The blurb told me about the main characters: Charlotte Evans and Craig Carmichael and I instantly think they are going to end up together, no bad thing, the fun part is reading how they manage it. I loved the line: It’s what they might lose that has Charlotte and Craig wondering what it is they really want. But I haven't a clue as to how that, and the title, connect.

Chapter one opens with dialogue and immediately had my attention: "Why are you sniffing me?"
"Just checking to see if you've washed that man out of your hair."

It's a brilliant opening where the reader is introduced to two sisters Emily and Charlotte. Charlotte is the main character and owns an art gallery, Emily is her married sister and the artist who supplies her with paintings to sell. 

Chapter two introduces us to the other lead: Craig Carmichael. He's stressed and over-worked and has the horrible job of telling the owners of an art gallery that their shop is going to be bulldozed--that shop is Charlotte's. She's jet-lagged and not thinking straight, and he's so smitten with her he fails to tell her why he's there, and instead ends up in her bed! 

This is where my sympathy of the characters slip: a young woman (in chick lit they can't be slappers!) takes a stranger back to her house and bed, and has condoms readily available in her bedside drawer (indicating she does this often). 

Her actions are blamed on her being jet-lagged and drunk but later, when she discovers the reason why Craig came into the gallery, has the nerve to call the guy all the names under the sun for sleeping with her. And no, before you think it's all one sided, I didn't like him either. He knew she was drunk, yet he still went back to her house and had sex with her. Eeeeeow.

I read on but the once-thought main story line has switched direction and now I'm not sure whose story this is: Emily, Charlotte's sister has discovered her husband's adultery, and we learn that Ben (Charlotte's best friend) has been holding a torch for Emily and is in love with her. The POV moves to these new characters, plus, Emily and Charlotte's mother, Diane, is on the scene and also has a POV. It's become confusing.

I wouldn't call this book a chick lit as the cover suggests, and it's clear that this story has a multi-story line. It's not as easy-reading as true chick lit with the many characters coming and going, but as I'm further in, it HAS become more interesting. 

Whereas before I HATED the main characters, Charlotte and Craig, I now like them. In fact, I think I'm a little bit in love with Craig. In the end, he came across as a true 'chick lit lovable-but-with-flaws' character. Vulnerable but strong. Charlotte strengthened too and I've forgiven her sluttiness in the beginning. 

Set Me Free also has a mystery element surrounding the gallery with Craig's business partner receiving backhanders, which implements Craig in its involvement. That is unfolded slowly, drip-feeding the reader until they HAVE to keep turning the pages to find out its conclusion.

Back to the title: It's clear that the title refers to the side dish of the book: Emily and her estranged husband. The blurb needs to clarify that this book isn't focused on Charlotte and Craig but rather two sisters and the men who are in love with them.

It has a few editorial and formatting problems such as typos and double spaces changing to single, and that being said I'm giving this book a very high three out of five (shame Amazon has no half marks). It's worth a read!

Disastrous love life aside, Charlotte Evans is rather content with her life. Her quaint little art gallery is plodding along nicely, and her sister Emily’s artistic career is about to take off, thanks to her tireless promotion. She even gets to see her best friend every day and drink his delicious coffee in the cafĂ© next door.

But when dastardly property developer Craig Carmichael comes along, threatening to demolish her gallery and take everything away, Charlotte has an unexpected fight on her hands. Not only is she battling to stop Craig’s development, she’s also struggling against the mysterious magnetic pull that has her on a collision course with Craig himself.

Craig Carmichael is fighting the Battle for Boundary Street on more than one front. The tenants of the building he wants to knock down are mounting a strong case against him and in a hot-headed moment he put his career on the line for a project that is threatening to fail. If the project doesn’t succeed he will lose everything, but for some reason he’s having trouble maintaining his focus.

As their worlds begin to unravel around them, anyone could win. It’s what they might lose that has Charlotte and Craig wondering what it is they really want.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Stephanie Elmas

The Room Beyond

An interesting cover: a key among raining jasmine. The key wasn't shiny or small and together with the exaggerated ROOM in the title it made me think of a house. A sinister house. The flowers added a sadness to the title. It made me think of Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews.

The blurb introduces Serena who is on her way to a job interview at Marguerite Avenue for a nannying position, and also introduces the time shift to another family from the late 1800s. It's clear the book's going to be full of mystery with supernatural going-ons. The blurb is enticing and I'm looking forward to reading.

In the 'look inside' the story begins straight away. There aren't any dedications or TOC to wade through. I like that.

The Room Beyond moves between two time periods (present day and 1892-early 1900s) but both are centred on Marguerite Avenue. It's atmospheric, but the characters were all alike, even characters from the different times, and I had problem knowing who was talking or whose POV I was reading from. Neither era stood out, although the flowery prose and the haunting way the story is told kept you suspecting something big was about to happen urged you to keep reading.

I found Serena's story easier to follow because there was just the one point of view, but I found it hard to identify with her...I still didn't know her even by the end of the book. Why did she want a nannying job? Had she been looking before she went to this interview? She wasn't qualified, so why was the job offered to her? And why did she accept the job when it's obvious the family didn't want her there?  Neither could I understand why Serena fell in love, and into bed, with Seb so fast. There was no passion between them. There were many unanswered questions, I felt.

And Beth, four-year-old Beth is unbelievable. No child of those tender years would act or speak the way she does: on Eva who was discussing which university she would get into with her grades, young Beth replied: 'What about Cambridge?' A simple question, but she is four years old. And there were lots of incidents with actions that, even though it was pointed out often that "Beth wasn't a normal child", still didn't ring true.

When the book went back to 1892 the story was almost impossible to follow because of all the characters pushing for centre stage. Many times I had to scroll back wondering if I'd missed something.

In this part of the book we have four major characters: Lucinda, Alfonso, Tristan and Miranda. Lucinda's husband has left her for another woman. Lucinda takes Tristan for a lover. Tristan is married to Miranda. I felt this story could have been a book on its own. I LOVED the character Miranda, disliked selfish and flighty Lucinda and the nasty Tristan. I really wanted a HEA with this story but the author turned the tragedy into a horrorfest.

It was a sad, tragic, tale although I wasn't sure if the paranormal activity from Tristan (after he'd died) was real or just the work of Miranda's imagination. 

True, it wasn't an easy read and some of the writing was so over-the-top I threw it down many times in disgust, but somehow I needed to keep with it to find out what happens at the end. It's probably the type of book you'd want to read again and then come away with another perspective.

The ending was a surprise, and one I didn't see, but when it came things slid into place a little better. The Victorian story HAD to end the way it did, I see that now, and I'm glad the present-day had a HEA (of a sort). 

Editing problems such as missing or wrong punctuation, over-writing (lots of it) and unneeded characters cluttered the book, which added to the problem of a disjointed story line.

Present day: Serena arrives at the beautiful mansion on Marguerite Avenue to interview for a position as a live-in nanny to Beth, the 4-year-old granddaughter of Arabella and Edward Hartreve. Beth's teenaged mother, Eva, also lives in the house along with several other interesting characters. The job is given to Serena on the spot and when she returns for her first day of work, she's shown to her beautiful turret room "like a nest perched amidst London's rooftops" that she falls in love with immediately. Serena is perplexed as she begins to live with the strange family in that mansion -- one thing she notices right away, it seems there is an oddity with the house numbering. House 32 is occupied by the Herbert family and 36 by the Hartreves. House 34 is missing. There are some other quite strange goings on inside house 36 and at another unusual family home -- Druid Manor -- where the Hartreves go for Christmas. Does Serena sense things that others do not see? What strange connections exist between the family and whatever dark past they all share.

1892: Miranda and Tristan Whitestone live at 34 Marguerite Avenue. Imprisoned and almost invisible in a miserable marriage to a man she adores, Miranda watches as her husband takes the neighbor from 36, Mrs. Lucinda Eden, as his most recent lover. Events transpire that turn Miranda's world into a nightmare and she leaves her home and life behind, escaping with damaged cargo in the dead of night.

This twisted tale shifts between those two time periods weaving together a story of evil and destruction that centers on MargueriteAvenue. Pervasive themes of loneliness and pain linger throughout as the reader is drawn into the lives of the families that lived on this street over a hundred years apart. Serena is lured into a shadow world that exists within the houses on that street and is tormented by unanswerable questions about who these people are, what happened there, and what they want from her. 

Recommended for anyone who loves a mystery with supernatural elements.