Blog Tour: The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan

The Decent Proposal cover

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan. Harper. 320 pp.

Hello, and welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Kemper Donovan’s The Decent Proposal! Before I tell you what I thought, here’s a brief summary:

A humorous, heartfelt love story built on a tantalizing premise: would you agree to spend two hours a week with a stranger—just talking—to collect half a million dollars at the end of a year?

Struggling Hollywood producer Richard is twenty-nine, hungover, and broke. Ridiculously handsome with an easy charm, he spends his days procrastinating at the Coffee Bean and nights hanging out with his best friend, Michaela, aka “Mike.”

At thirty-three, Elizabeth is on track to make partner at her law firm. Known as “La Máquina”—the Machine—to her colleagues, she’s grown used to a quiet, orderly life with no romantic entanglements of any kind. (Her closest friend is an old man who discusses Virginia Woolf with her at the beach. Enough said.)

Richard and Elizabeth have never met before, but their paths collide when they receive a proposal from a mysterious, anonymous benefactor: they’ll split a million dollars if they agree to spend at least two hours together every week for a year. Both are shocked and suspicious, and agree the idea is absurd, but after Richard anxiously considers the state of his bank account and Elizabeth carefully conducts a cost-benefit analysis of the situation, they agree to give it a try.

As these two perfect strangers wade awkwardly into the waters of modern courtship, discovering a shared affection for In-N-Out burgers, classic books, cult-hit movies, and various Los Angeles locales, they realize that uncovering the secret identity of their benefactor will not only make clear what connects them but change them both forever.

This delightful tale is full of twists, revelations, and above all love in its multitude of forms.

MyReview

I flew through this book. It was so entertaining, and so well-paced, that I just couldn’t seem to put it down. It’s one of those books that you know would make a great movie. It reads like a film, with enough information to let you picture each of the characters and know what’s going on, good dialogue, and no unnecessary/filler scenes. I can’t imagine what they’d need to change to make a movie, which is great because I hate when filmmakers take too many liberties with a story I enjoyed.

The Decent Proposal reminds me of this New York Times article about a list of questions inclusive and intimate enough to supposedly cause two strangers fall in love. (My husband and I have been together for almost ten years, and I still learned a couple of things about him as we went through the list.) I love the idea of two strangers creating a safe space in which they really get to hear and see one another, and this novel allows the reader to catch a beautiful glimpse of this process in action. The “structure” of discussing movies and books allows the reader to see Elizabeth and Richard’s similarities as well as their differences, and it’s also great fun to sneak a peek into someone else’s book club.

The characters in this book aren’t perfect, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them struggle and develop. Orpheus’s story broke my heart (I think about him on certain highways, and my heart breaks all over again). I wasn’t a big fan of Mike (I think she and Richard are terrible influences on each other, which is probably the point), but she was wonderfully humanized during her time at Beverly’s house. And the surrounding cast is just enough to fill in the gaps without overwhelming the reader with secondary characters.

Also? There’s so much food mentioned in this book that my mouth was constantly watering. (In case you don’t know me very well, this is a selling point.) I wish someone would foot the bill for me to buy books and movies and order takeout! What a benefactor! Also, I love that Elizabeth eats. And Richard likes her — and finds her attractive — anyway. That’s not seen in too many stories. (Well, sometimes the girl eats and eats but has some crazy superhuman-mutant-metabolism and is still a size zero. That’s not what I’m talking about.)

All in all: An entertaining and enjoyable read. A smart book with a rom-com feel in the best possible way.

 

OtherInfo

 

Kemper Donovan AP

Kemper Donovan has lived in Los Angeles for the past twelve years. A graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, he worked at the literary management company Circle of Confusion for a decade, representing screenwriters and comic books. He is also a member of the New York Bar Association.

Follow Kemper on Twitter.

OtherTourStops

Wednesday, April 6th: Curling Up by the Fire
Thursday, April 7th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, April 11th: Book Hooked Blog
Tuesday, April 12th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, April 13th: she treads softly
Thursday, April 14th: A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, April 18th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Tuesday, April 19th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, April 20th: Literary Feline
Thursday, April 21st: Bibliotica
Monday, April 25th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, April 26th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Wednesday, April 27th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Thursday, April 28th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Friday, April 29th: fangirl confessions

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Review: I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios. 379 pp. Henry Holt.

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios. 379 pp. Henry Holt.

I love summer-after-high-school graduation stories. There’s so much potential for growth and change as the characters try to figure out what they will become in a new setting. But there’s also room to tie up loose ends. It’s closure and the promise of a bright new tomorrow all in one. I won this book in a Fierce Reads giveaway, along with five other books, and so far it’s the only one I enjoyed enough to keep and re-read. It’s so. good.

I’ll Meet You There is about a girl named Skylar, a gifted artist who can’t wait to escape her small town and go to college. But during the summer after graduation, her mom loses her job and falls off the wagon, and Skylar starts to wonder if maybe things aren’t going to go as smoothly as she hopes. Should she stay and support her mother or pursue her dream?

And then there’s Josh Mitchell, a former Creek View resident who’s returned after being enlisted in the military for a couple of years. He’s not unscathed, though; he’s lost a leg and gained a slew of experiences that the people around him just can’t understand.

Josh and Skylar used to work together and reconnect over the course of the summer. They each have their own issues and try to keep them hidden, but eventually (of course) they end up meeting halfway and helping each other through some really tough times. Some love stories can be cheesy, but this one featured a couple that I couldn’t help but root for.

Skylar’s relationship with her mom broke my heart, her constant wonderings of “What if?” with Josh kept me on my toes, and her tendency to hope even in the darkest of times was beautiful. Josh’s flashback scenes hit me harder than I expected them to. I’m fairly anti-violence and don’t usually enjoy war narratives, but this book reminded me of how much more there is to returning soldiers than meets the eye.

All in all: Moving, romantic, and heartbreaking, this is one of the best contemporary YA books I’ve read in a while.

Review: The Next Breath by Laurel Osterkamp

TheNextBreath

The Next Breath by Laurel Osterkamp. 313 pp. PMI Books.

“I kiss him, choosing love over honesty, which is a choice nobody should ever have to make…” 

Robin loves sweet, responsible Nick, with his penchant for Beethoven and Ben Folds Five. But she also still loves her college boyfriend Jed, an irreverent playwright plagued with cystic fibrosis. Now Robin is struggling to reveal her secrets and confront her past, as she finally performs in the play that Jed wrote for her, eleven years ago. Will Robin have the strength to keep her promise and stay true to her heart?

Alternating between present-day scenes, college flashbacks, and segments from Jed’s play, this tear-jerking yet uplifting tale illustrates how life is finite but love is infinite, and the road to recovery begins with the next breath.

***WARNING: This review gets pretty spoiler-y at the end, but I’ll warn you before we get there so you can jump ship if you so choose. I want to tell you how much I loved this book, but I can’t tell you why (at least, not entirely) without giving something away.***

The Next Breath tells the story of Robin, a character I first encountered in another of Laurel Osterkamp’s books, The Holdout. I flew through The Holdout because it was engaging and enjoyable to read, and I hoped that I’d be similarly sucked in to this book, especially since it’s a sort of companion piece (though you don’t need to read one to enjoy the other). When I like a book by an author, I’m always a little nervous about starting another of their books because I don’t want to set my hopes too high. I needn’t have worried in this case, though, because The Next Breath was just breathtaking.

There are so many things I liked about this book: the symbolism in Robin’s dreams, the clear differences between college Robin and Robin-in-her-thirties (some flashbacks can’t pull this off, and the characters feel exactly the same), Jed’s deeply touching play, and Robin’s struggles and failures and ultimate determination to pull through. There’s really nothing I didn’t like, except that sometimes the flashback segments ran a little long and I forgot what was going on “in real time.”

Robin is a character that I like quite a bit. Since the story’s told in the first person, the reader is privy to her thoughts, both deep and shallow, and this makes her immensely relatable. There are some books that I love because the protagonist considers the “big issues” in ways that make me think, but there are other books where the protagonist thinks about the silliest, most neurotic things in a way that makes me realize I’m not alone in my all-over-the-place brain. Robin is a nice middle ground, her thoughts a combination between the two that I loved. I also like the fact that Osterkamp allows Robin to make some really cringe-worthy mistakes and ultimately recover from (most of) them.

All in all: I’d definitely recommend this one. It’s a great story of love and life and letting others in, even when it’s scary.

Okay, here come the SPOILERS.

(Leave now if you wish!)

 

You know all those tear-jerking books about a young person who loses his or her beloved all too soon? (I’m looking at you, Me Before You and The Fault in Our Stars!) I’ve read a few of them and shed some tears, sure, but there’s something I always think when I finish reading: what will become of the surviving lover? Most writers end with the survivor making a valiant effort to come to terms with being alone. That makes sense, in a way, but I’ve always wondered what comes next. Did Hazel Grace ever meet someone else that caught her eye, or could nobody hold a candle to Augustus Waters? Love, loss, grieving, and loving again are tough subjects to write about, and most writers tend to write about one side of things or the other, i.e., an entire book about falling in love and losing that person or a book about a widow(er) who meets someone interesting and learns to love again. This is not to say that I disliked the books mentioned above; I was actually very moved by both. I just wanted to know what came next. And until now, I’d never read a book that included both the lost relationship and the newly-found one.

Obviously, this a tough order for a writer to fill. In the case of The Next Breath, in order to fully appreciate Robin’s loss, the reader needs to feel the intensity of her relationship with Jed (who, in case you hadn’t guessed, sadly doesn’t have a successful lung transplant). However, in order to root for Robin to move on, the reader also needs to see how well she works with Nick. Laurel Osterkamp manages the dynamics of both relationships well, so well that I could feel my heart breaking for Robin multiple times throughout the book. Add the touching material that Jed’s play deals with, along with Catherine’s heartbreak at losing her son, and I was a teary mess.

This is a beautifully moving book, one that I hope you find the time to read.

Summer Reading List: Did. Not. Like.

I always feel a little guilty when writing a poor review. But if I raved about everything it wouldn’t be honest, so here we go.

The Little Prince, written & illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Scholastic. 111 pp.

The Little Prince, written & illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Scholastic. 111 pp.

I picked this one up at a local book sale. I grabbed it because I was looking at literary tattoos a while back and noticed that a lot of people had tattoos from this book. I figured that if it meant enough to that many people it would be worth checking out. Well…I don’t know if I’m remembering things wrong (maybe there were far fewer tattoos than I recalled) or if this book just wasn’t for me, but I pretty much hated it. It’s just over 100 pages but it took me forever to get through it.

It’s written in a grand storytelling style that makes it seem like it will have something mind-blowing and important to say, but in the end, it’s a series of not-that-deep observations about humanity held loosely together by a character that I didn’t find all that interesting. I’d say skip it.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Wordsworth Classics. 245 pp.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Wordsworth Classics. 245 pp.

Maybe I’ll be lambasted for this one, but I thought this book was highly overrated and…well…awful. It’s billed as a classic love story with sweeping descriptions of the moors, but I didn’t get that at all. Catherine and Heathcliff’s love is talked about more than shown, and the one time it is shown, it’s poorly done. I didn’t care about their “relationship” at all, so I didn’t care about whether or not they ended up happy and whether or not Heathcliff got to exact his revenge. And the depiction of nature? Nonexistent, except to say things along the lines of “We walked through the field and there were mountains in the distance.” (Okay, a bit more eloquent than that, but not half as much as you’d think.) Also, there’s not a single likable character in this book (apart from maybe Hareton). I don’t always need to like characters — sometimes I love to hate them — but when I don’t care at all about them, one way or the other, the book falls flat for me. This is one of the worst classics I’ve ever read, and I’d advise you to stay far, far away.

Unraveled by Gennifer Albin. Farrar Straus Giroux. 286 pp.

Unraveled by Gennifer Albin. Farrar Straus Giroux. 286 pp.

In my review of Crewel a while back, I mentioned that the second book, Altered, didn’t hold up to the promise of the first installment. I still wanted to know how the trilogy ended, though, so I was thrilled when I won a copy of this book via a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. However…it’s even worse than the second book. Why do publishers insist on writing up contracts for trilogies in instances when a single, finely-tuned novel would be much better? (I know, I know: Selling three books is far preferable to selling one. But they’re filling the world with crappy books!) There wasn’t much of interest in this book: the predicament wasn’t frightening enough, the characters were all flat and boring, and the ending was laughable. Not worth reading.

That’s it for today, folks. Here’s hoping that I have some good books coming up soon! 🙂

Review: A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence . Europa Editions. 416 pp.

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé. Europa Editions. 416 pp.

Ivan, a one-time world traveler, and Francesca, a ravishing Italian heiress, are the owners of a bookstore that is anything but ordinary. Rebelling against the business of bestsellers and in search of an ideal place where their literary dreams can come true, Ivan and Francesca open a store where the passion for literature is given free reign. Tucked away in a corner of Paris, the store offers its clientele a selection of literary masterpieces chosen by a top-secret committee of likeminded literary connoisseurs. To their amazement, after only a few months, the little dream store proves a success. And that is precisely when their troubles begin. At first, both owners shrug off the anonymous threats that come their way and the venomous comments concerning their store circulating on the Internet, but when three members of the supposedly secret committee are attacked, they decide to call the police. One by one, the pieces of this puzzle fall ominously into place, as it becomes increasingly evident that Ivan and Francesca’s dreams will be answered with pettiness, envy and violence.


I think the first (and only) time I saw this book in person was on a table display at Borders. (Oh, Borders, how I miss you!) I bought something else that day, but this book’s beautiful cover — and the fact that it’s about a bookstore — earned it a spot on my TBR list. It took me years to order it, though when I finally did I flew through it in a matter of days.

I’m going to start with the negative aspects of this book, because I have less to say about them: the love story fell flat and the mystery’s solution was disappointing at best. At times it read stiffly — in other words, I could tell that it was a translated work. (More ideas on translated works here, in case you’re interested.)

Predictably, my favorite parts were the ones dealing with literature: the founding of the bookstore, the system of selection for The Good Novel’s stock, and the fact that the characters always seemed to find time to read. I appreciated the fact that, although The Good Novel only stocked…well…”good” novels, the author’s attitude toward more mainstream bestsellers didn’t seem too much like an attack. Let’s be honest: some books are better than others. But a lot of the time, this preference is heavily subjective. It’s interesting to consider where the line between objective and subjective literary merit lies.

There are lots of favorable blurbs on the back of this book, but my favorite is from The Huffington Post:

A deeply satisfying manifesto of book love and a sharp indictment of those who would use such love for their own evil purposes.

More than being a mystery, or a love story, this is a book about pure, unyielding love for the well-written word.

As elitist as it might seem, I love the idea of The Good Novel. I’ve been known to pick up a Dan Brown book from time to time, sure, but I like the idea of walking into a shop where every item for sale has been selected with the utmost care. In a neighborhood where I used to live, there was a store called Second Story High End Thrift. The owner shopped other secondhand stores and came away with what she considered to be the best of the best: no tears or stains, of course, but the items also fit her style preferences. I shopped there frequently because I loved the stuff she found, and I never left empty-handed, even though I never went with a particular item in mind. Why? I trusted her taste preferences. Was her selection more limited? Of course. But if you want a little bit of everything, there’s still The Salvation Army (where I also go to browse). The point is, there’s room for both. And there’s no love lost on either side. Why can’t literature be like that? If I’m not missing the point entirely, that seems to be what Cossé is suggesting.

All in all: Would A Novel Bookstore be found on the shelves of The Good Novel? Probably not. It’s too uneven. But I’d say it’s still worth checking out.

Fallen: Giveaway & Interview with Author Traci L. Slatton

Fallen

Fallen by Traci L. Slatton. Telemachus Press. 294 pp.

FALLEN is a darkly romantic, dystopian tale, a mystical odyssey. Lethal mists have scourged the Earth, leaving billions of people dead. Destruction, fear, and survival seem to be the only things left; but love, love was there all along. Emma, the main character, is on a perilous journey, accompanied by eight children, in hopes of finding refuge.  
 
At every turn, a threat to their survival.
 
This is a thrilling page turner, a bittersweet story of love and survival.

GiveawayClickHere

I’m thrilled to be featuring Fallen by Traci L. Slatton. I’m always a bit nervous when I agree to feature a book on the blog before I’ve read it. What if it’s terrible? I worry. What do I say? But I’ve been pleasantly surprised lately; most of the books I’ve been asked to review have been good, so good that I breathe an enormous sigh of relief when I realize that reading them is a pleasure and not an obligation.

Interview

After reading Fallen, I got to pick the brain of author Traci L. Slatton about the story, her characters, her upcoming projects, and how she would fare in a situation like Emma’s. Thanks, Traci, for taking the time to answer my questions.

What challenge that Emma faces would you find the most difficult?
Emma is challenged by loving two men at the same time. She loves them equally but differently, and she has to make a choice. That situation would be hard for me.

If you could choose one character from this book to have by your side in a post-apocalyptic world, who would you choose and why?
The one character from this world whom I would want by my side is Theo, because he’s caring and devoted and strong. He also has many useful skills, and he’s funny.

What was the hardest scene in this book to write?
The hardest scene in FALLEN to write was the one where she goes mad in order to save her daughter and Alexei. Madness is something everyone fears in the dystopian world, and I had to write the scene so Emma was facing her fear but willing to risk everything to save Mandy.

What comfort (technological or otherwise) of modern society would you miss most if you were thrown into the dystopia you created?
If I were thrown into a post-apocalyptic world, I would most miss refrigeration and ease of cooking with electric stoves. Those two inventions free up a lot of time for other pursuits. They also ensure viability and longevity of food. WIthout them, there’s a lot of hunting and gathering, followed by smoking, drying, curing, and cooking over a fire.

What upcoming project(s) are you working on?
I am currently finishing an eBook called “How To Write, Publish, and Market Your Book, Yourself, Independently: A manual for the courageous and persistent.” I am also working on a book called “THE YEAR OF LOVING,” about a woman in a love triangle with a younger man and an older man, while her daughter from her first marriage goes off the rails and her best friend faces cancer.

MyReview

Let’s start with the opening scene. It’s gripping. I started reading Fallen in the car on the way home (relax…my husband was driving, not me!), and I asked my husband to let the car idle in the driveway for a minute…I needed to finish the scene and find out what happened!

The rest of the book holds up to the promise of the first pages. Slatton’s writing is smooth and efficient; she crafts scenes so easily that you can’t help but see them in your mind’s eye, and the writing doesn’t get in the way of the story, which is always a good thing in my book. (I HATE pages upon pages of description, analysis, or backstory. It’s distracting to get yanked in and out of the plot like that. This book manages to incorporate all of those things seamlessly.)

I really enjoyed Emma as a protagonist. She’s passionate and devoted and real and funny and imperfect. At first, I was disappointed not to hear more about how she was feeling — but consider all that she had been through, it made sense that she needed to sort of stop up her feelings in order to survive. The rest of the characters are full of life and personality; I enjoyed watching the eclectic members of the camp work together to form a safe place.

There were only two things about this book that I didn’t care for: one, I felt that too many chapters ended ominously, like (and I paraphrase), “I wish I had known that was the last time I would touch him,” or “Little did we know what was still to come.” Doing this once is okay, but when there’s too much foreshadowing it distracts from the flow of the novel (for me, at least). And two, there’s a forced-sex scene that just didn’t sit right with me and didn’t seem to fit with the characters’ overall relationship arc. I know that “rape” is a very charged word, and maybe a forceful sexual encounter doesn’t immediately spell “rape” for everyone, but…call me old fashioned, but I like things to be 100% consensual.

All in all: Worth reading. There are two other installments in the series, which is a plus in my book, because I hate waiting to find out what happens!

Review: House of Miracles by Ulrica Hume

HouseOfMiracles

House of Miracles by Ulrica Hume. Blue Circle Press. 208 pp.

House of Miracles proclaims itself to be “a collection of interrelated stories about love.” And it is. But it’s also much more than that. This is a collection of vignettes that, when combined, give piercing insight into the lives of multiple characters. And it is softly, quietly, mightily beautiful.

This book reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Love Actually, with its eclectic, interrelated ensemble cast. In this case, though, time changes as well as point of view, and the narrators aren’t revealed at the start of the stories, so the reader is kept guessing. I enjoy being kept on my literary toes, so to speak, and had great fun trying to guess whose story I was in as well as “when” I was and how this character would tie in with the others.

Ulrica Hume’s writing has a soaring, airy, yet realistic quality that I truly enjoyed. I found myself underlining sentences, not because of their profundity, but because of the beautifully simplistic way she has of making the everyday seem poetic. For instance, of Leong, an immigrant from Thailand whose husband’s life had come to a violent early end,

Her heart was a rain-filled flower.

Or this gem, as Janet ponders her future while assisting the elderly Mrs. von Meurs:

I feared that one day I’d find myself in the same situation: old and alone in a crumbling gingerbread house of sweetly decaying, once beautiful dreams.

Don’t let all my talk of beauty fool you, though: there is sadness in these stories, too. Heartbreak, loneliness, and uncertainty abound. But through it all, there is love. And isn’t that what life is all about?

All in all: High-quality writing and interesting, touching subject matter. Much more moving than I expected. (I’m still not entirely sure why, but the parts about the hope chest made me well up. [I’m about to cry just typing this, actually.])