Sunday, April 24, 2016

Brief Thoughts: Better Homes and Hauntings

Better Homes and Hauntings

by Molly Harper

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.5 Stars

I sat on this review for a while because I really can’t think of what to say about this book that I didn’t already say in my progress update post (see below). All in all, Better Homes and Hauntings was enjoyable to an extent and had all the potential and makings for a great “Haunted Mansion Murder Mystery™” with a comedic, romance-y twist. And it took place on an isolated island and promised to delve into the historical happenings of the mansion that caused it to be haunted in the first place.

Better Homes is definitely Ani-bait. In fact, I could probably even say that this book was something I would have tried to write during my few years of “I would love to be a writer” phase when I was younger. I may have even started a story with the same premise at some point before realizing that I’m better off reading rather than writing.

But the book felt unbalanced to me. And while the century-old murder was a well-thought out background plot to spring the story from, everything else felt like insignificant side tangents that were merely fun to observe, yet lending very little to the main plot’s progression. Even the two love stories were a little bland and left much to be desired.

The Official Blurb:
When Nina Linden is hired to landscape a private island off the New England coast, she sees it as her chance to rebuild her failing business after being cheated by her unscrupulous ex. She never expects that her new client, software mogul Deacon Whitney, would see more in her than just a talented gardener. Deacon has paid top dollar to the crews he’s hired to renovate the desolate Whitney estate—he had to, because the bumps, thumps, and unexplained sightings of ghostly figures in nineteenth-century dress are driving workers away faster than he can say “Boo.”

But Nina shows no signs of being scared away, even as she experiences some unnerving apparitions herself. And as the two of them work closely together to restore the mansion’s faded glory, Deacon realizes that he’s found someone who doesn’t seem to like his fortune more than himself—while Nina may have finally found the one man she can trust with her bruised and battered heart.

But something on the island doesn’t believe in true love…and if Nina and Deacon can’t figure out how to put these angry spirits to rest, their own love doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance.

More Thoughts:
To be totally honest, the above blurb doesn’t really do the book any justice, but at the same time, it really DOES get to the point of the book’s main outline, even if it DOES leave out some things that I personally thought were significant to the book (even if not the plot itself). Ultimately, the official blurb leads you to believe that this book is more romance than paranormal... and it’s hard to say which is more true of Better Homes.

As I’d stated already, the book feels unbalanced in that it tries too hard to be both a paranormal mystery AND a contemporary romance, while juggling TWO romances at the same time, AND trying to insert a little bit of the self-revelation-esque character development for Nina and Deacon. In the end, everything just felt like they were loosely summarized rather than told as a story.

Nonetheless, it was enjoyable. I’m not going to say that Better Homes was badly written. Far from it. Molly Harper has a sense of humor and a natural style that I really love. But the story itself (progression, plotting, world-building) really just felt like it was missing SOMETHING.

And while I liked the refreshing “socially awkward” main characters with a side dish of crazy friends thing going on… there really wasn’t much else to it. And even the characters don’t quite exude the socially awkward personalities properly, really. Instead, Nina and Deacon just come off being portrayed too deliberately as attempts at socially awkward nerds with cult following tendencies. The entire thing where their relationship is based off of dropping random Star Wars or old-school pop culture references felt a little unnaturally forced.

I mean, once or twice is fine, but they do it in every conversation in almost every sentence during their awkward flirting phase. Then again, maybe the whole point of it was that they were trying too hard to impress each other with random movie fandom references ergo, the book itself came off as trying too hard to impress the reader with a refreshing couple of socially awkward love birds, because that's not typically mainstream in romances… I don’t know.

Anyway… I can say that I at least enjoyed the friendships, the witty and humorous dialogue, and some of the jokes that got thrown out there. But that doesn’t make me feel any less that the characters still felt flat and detached from their own story. Or that the story could've used a little more of... something.


This book is a pre-chosen participant in the following Reading Challenge(s):

This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in August 2015.

An Update Post  (originally posted on August 4, 2015)

"[...] Just for your information, he is very ticklish."

"How will that information ever be of use to me?" Nina asked.

Dotty wiggled her eyebrows.  "I can think of a few ways."  Nina stared at her, adopting Deacon's "impassive" expression.  "Oh, come on, I've seen the two of you together.  It's like watching a nature documentary on scientists trying to get the two most socially awkward people in the world to mate."

I'd been trying to pinpoint why I thought the romance in this book between Nina and Deacon was kind of refreshing.  And so when cousin Dotty made this point, it really made me think:  "Yea.  That's so true."

Although I still have to input that, despite being a good percentage into the book, it still kind of feels like little to nothing has actually happened in the way of Big Haunted Mansion On Isolated Island, aside from Nina's nightly dreams (only one of which was described in detail), a few sightings, and Cindy's one encounter.  Somehow, they just don't feel creepy or even significant enough to concern myself with.

And no one's even really doing anything about the whole "Haunted Mansion" thing aside from being avoid-y.  I might start getting frustrated, which will be disappointing considering I loved the last Molly Harper book I read.

However, the book is giving off a vibe reminiscent of some 90s era tacky haunted mansion on an isolated island movie-like feel where things move along for a good portion of the story without anything too significant save for a few hints here and there, and then by the end, all hell breaks loose and the excitement just comes in blasts with no holds barred.

I'm kind of looking forward to it being this way... even anticipating it a little bit.  So we shall see where this heads.  Of course, this book is also a romance as well, so I'll give it leeway to be lighter fare than most haunted house movies with a touch more cute and cuddly for the love stories unfolding.

Speaking of which--two romances occurring during this time are also kind of bland so far.  In a sense, Nina and Deacon are now sharing some kind of quiet courting relationship where they stand around and chat each other up with pop culture references, old and new, while trying to impress each other with their nerdiness.  It's cute, but I haven't seen much happening along the lines of actual romance yet... but then again, maybe something will soon.

As for Cindy and Jake, they just need to sit down and talk about their problems civilly.

And all the while, the characters just feel detached from the book, so far and I'm not feeling any connection to relate with at all.  Aside from the whole social awkward main character bit, that is.  At least I DO like the budding friendship between Nina, Cindy, and cousin Dotty--they short, quiet side quips are at least keeping me entertained.

This update was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in August 2015.

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