Saturday, November 4, 2017

Two Reviews in One: The House Between Tides & How to Change a Life, Plus Other Book Stuff

The march to the end of 2017 is picking up speed, and while this is probably the first upcoming holiday season where I don't have a zillion things to do, I expect I will be busy with last minute baking, get togethers, and *ahem* creating my homemade limoncello.  

And, my beloved books will always be at the forefront of everything I do.  I haven't read nearly everything I wanted to this year: Lincoln at the Bardo, The Hate U Give, Origin, The Underground Railroad...just to name a few.  Sometimes I wish I was more disciplined with my reading--spreadsheets, mapping out what to read when; but then I realize some of the best reads I've stumbled on purely by accident and because they weren't planned.  So I'll stick with my purely organic, absolutely no spreadsheet approach to reading and reviewing. I always believe the books I'm meant to read will find their way to me.  

With a time crunch, I'm reviewing two books I've read in the past few weeks.  Both were on my October To Be Read list.  Reviews are short mainly because I was a bit disappointed with both novels.  

How to Change a Life by Stacey Ballis. I have read some of her previous novels, and would readily recommend her to anyone who loves Chicago, foodie novels, and novels about women past the first bloom of youth, but not quite into middle age.  That part of life where you start to look at the choices you've made, and wonder if they were the right ones, or if you have to reset and do something different.  Normally I gobble up her tales--they always have a happy ending, but not the soppy ending you find in a standard romance.  For some reason, this one just didn't click with me.  Eloise is a private chef in Chicago; the death of a beloved high school teacher brings her back in touch with her two best friends from high school, and they decide to revive their lists of things to accomplish before 40--as they are all 39.  Some of the items on Eloise's list:  go out on dates, and put together a cookbook proposal. 

 I will say, the romance that comes into Eloise's life was really pretty good, but I felt like it was just a little too perfect. Eloise meets a man at a Halloween party, and things click from there.  One twist is that she's white, and he's African American.  It was refreshing that this wasn't belabored over at all, but for a few conversations that Eloise and Shawn have concerning meeting each other's parents. They have a very mature relationship (with plenty of sparks!), and an obvious drama pops up from Shawn's past that I felt didn't provide enough of a conflict to make a big difference in the storyline. I felt that if Eloise was so ready for changes in her life, it didn't take much for her to do them, and left me wondering why she didn't do them earlier.  There didn't seem to be much of a change in her besides meeting a wonderful partner and entering a serious relationship.  Not much drama between the friends, and not really any big conflicts between Eloise and Shawn.  So while it was an enjoyable read, I just wasn't terribly impressed with Stacey Ballis' latest. 
I give this novel a 2/6.
It is available in paperback and ebook. 

The House Between the Tides by Sarah Maine was another book that fell a bit short for me.  Darn it all, I was really ready for a gothic tale set in Scotland.  At first, I was completely into the novel.  Hetty Deveraux travels to Muirlan, a home she's inherited in Scotland's Outer Hebrides.  What's unusual about this home is that it sits on an island and is only accessible by foot and car when the tide is out. Muirlan's history revolves around artist Theo Blake, who lived there until his death by drowning in the 1940's.  Theo had brought his new bride, Beatrice, to Muirlan in 1910, and things didn't go well for the couple.  Theo was broody, sullen, and had lost his way artistically.  Hoping to recover that passion, he pinned his hopes on being back at his beloved home.  A failed romance from the past leaves him haunted, and Beatrice finds out the man she married isn't quite who she thought he was--now what should she do?

In present day, Hetty wants to turn the home into a hotel.  James, a local architect, has been hired to look over the house. It's in pretty bad shape, and while looking around inside, he finds disturbed floorboards, and a skeleton placed in the hollow underneath.  Who is it, and who placed the body there, so long ago?  

The novel moves back and forth between Hetty's struggle to solve the mystery, and 1910, when Theo and Beatrice arrive at the island and spend one summer there before Beatrice disappears from the scene.  I did find Theo and Beatrice's story much more interesting, but the story dragged and I lost interest, but kept plodding through.  I didn't much care for Hetty.  She seemed completely unaware that her plan was not feasible, and distrusted James to the point that it felt more reactionary than because she had a good reason.  The romance between Hetty and James was not a surprise, and I was happy about that; it certainly didn't come as a surprise.  Beatrice's story is sad, so darn sad; you do get all the answers, eventually, in the last chapter.  While this had all the promise of a good gothic mystery, it petered out and felt too long.  Nuts.  
I give this novel a 3/6 for atmosphere and setting. It is available in paperback and ebook. 

Now, book business.  Heading into November, I've got a pretty good list of books to read, and I'll have an upcoming reviews post in a few days.  December I traditionally read holiday novels--it's my way of enjoying Christmas and so far I've gathered quite a few new titles for December.  I'll be sharing those with you at the end of November.  Meanwhile, I am also taking part in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, which runs from November 1-November 30.  It's a way to nudge your inner writer into action, and requires you to write a 50,000 word novel.  No editing, no polishing--just get those words down on paper (or Word).  It is a challenge to keep writing every day; it's easy to fall behind.  I've managed to complete it once, years ago, and am trying again.  Wish me luck!  

Sue A/K/A
The Bookalicious Babe


  1. Happy November and good luck with NaNoWriMo! I am not doing a whole novel but I am writing everyday this month, so far-:)

    1. I missed writing yesterday, so I've got about 3500 words to write today to stay on track. I'd love to finish before November 30th, but I have a feeling it will be closer to the deadline.