Wednesday, December 31, 2008

House on Hope Street (audio book) by Danielle Steel

(This has spent over 5 months in my "drafts to be finished" pile - now it finally gets to see the light of day.)

Liz and Jack Sutherland have been married for 18 years and have five kids, one of whom was born prematurely and is learning-delayed. Liz and Jack have a thriving family law practice, and they usually work very well together. Unfortunately, things go wrong with their latest case, and the ex-husband of a client kills Jack. Liz tries to pick up the pieces of her life and keep everything going just as it had been before Jack died. She keeps her and Jack's practice going, despite the fact that she is coming hate family law, and she helps her youngest son train for the Special Olympics, just like Jack did when he was alive. Outside of work and caring for her family, she doesn't have much of a life, and that doesn't bother her until she meets Bill, the doctor who takes care of one of her children after he's injured. Liz comes to care for Bill, and her relationship with him helps her to further overcome her grief over Jack's death. Unfortunately, some of Liz's children, especially Megan, see her relationship with Bill as a betrayal of their father. Bill, who's used to being alone and having no commitments to anyone but himself, also has a hard time adjusting to being the new and not always liked man in this still-grieving family.

For the most part, Steel handles this story in a believable and sensitive way. This slow-paced story lingers over Liz's attempts to deal with both the emotional impact of Jack's death and the practical matters (arranging the funeral, what to say to friends and family, what to do about Jack's things). For me, there were times when it felt like Steel laid it on a bit too thick, dwelt on things a little too long. All in all, though, I thought she handled the story decently well, and I certainly enjoyed it more than H.R.H.

Jamie, Liz's youngest son, brought a groan out of me when he was first introduced, but he actually turned out to be more fun to read about than I thought. I had expected him to be used as a device for bringing Liz and some man together and for giving readers the warm fuzzies. Although Steel does use him in this way, she's not as ham-handed about it as I was expecting, making Jamie a fairly enjoyable character. Liz's eldest child, Peter, is fairly level-headed and mature, making him a nice balance for Liz's less mature (and nastier-tempered) daughters. I understood the motivations behind the daughters' behavior towards Bill, but that didn't necessarily make Megan's nastiness towards Bill and her mother easier to listen to.

Although Liz is a lawyer and Bill is a doctor, and both their jobs play a part in how they conduct their lives and react to certain situations, this book is more about Liz and her attempts to get past Jack's death and grow stronger than it is about occupations. Both their jobs provide a little bit of a backdrop, but don't expect much in the way of details.

As with H.R.H., I noticed that Steel has a tendency to be a bit repetitious, repeating characters' conclusions, ideas, thoughts, and sometimes even the things they say. However, Steel doesn't do this to same same extent in this book as she did in H.R.H. Also, (I'd have to check a print copy of this book to be sure) Steel seems to be fond of having the narrator or characters thoughts tell us what's going on and what people are feeling, rather than using characters' dialogs or actions.

Once again, as with H.R.H., someone decided that this audio book would be better read by a man (Joseph Siraro) than a woman. I wouldn't go as far as to call this a romance novel, but it was a woman's story, told primarily from the third person perspective of a woman. It would've made sense for a woman to read the book. Also, although Siraro's voice was pleasant, he often reminded me of a TV newscaster reading the evening news - he didn't always put the kind of emotion into characters' words that he should/could have, even though that might've improved the book.

I keep reading readers' reviews in Amazon.com that indicate that Steel's earliest books are probably her best. I still haven't read much by her, but the fact that I found this book to be better than H.R.H. indicates that I might be able to find something by her that I could actually enjoy. I also think I'd be better off trying one of her books in print - all these male readers for her books may be part of what's turning me off them, and certain faults (like repetitiveness) are less noticeable when you're reading a book versus listening to it.

Read-alikes:
  • Nights of Rain and Stars (book) by Maeve Binchy - Four strangers on holiday in Greece band together and become friends after witnessing a tragic boating accident. Those who'd like another character-driven story that explores the relationships between people with unsettled lives might enjoy this book.
  • A Bend in the Road (book) by Nicholas Sparks - Deputy sheriff Miles Ryan is left to raise his son Jonah alone when his high school sweetheart, Missy, is killed in an unsolved hit-and-run accident. Sarah's husband leaves her when he discovers that she can't have children, and she goes elsewhere to become a teacher. Sarah and Miles meet at a parent-teacher conference, and romance is guaranteed, but their relationship could be ruined when Missy's killer is revealed. Those who'd like another story in which someone finds love again after the death of a spouse, and in which everything works out gently and happily in the end, might like this book.
  • Above and Beyond (book) by Sandra Brown - After Kyla's husband, Sergeant Richard Stroud, dies while stationed far away, all that's left is the love letters Kyla sent him and the newborn son Kyla must now take care of on her own. Trevor Rule had been Richard's best friend, and he now carries with him the letters Kyla sent her husband. With each one he reads, he falls more in love with her, and he becomes determined to convince her of his feelings and that they both have a right to be happy after Richard's death. Unfortunately, Trevor's prior reputation could nip any potential romance at the bud. Those who'd like another story involving a widow who must figure out how to move on, deal with new love, and care for a child might like this gentle romance.
  • Good Grief (book) by Lolly Winston - At 36, Sophie feels far too young to be a widow, and this gentle romantic comedy explores how Sophie tries to get past her grief, reexamine her life, and deal with her feelings of loneliness (along with the help of a troubled, pyromaniac teen and a charming actor). Those who'd like another story that believably and heart-breakingly explores (with a bit more humor than Steel's book) a young widow's attempts to deal with her grief and move on with her life might enjoy this book.

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