2 out of 4 stars
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As Heraclitus once said, the only constant in life is change. This would ring true for Miriam Bennick, the heroine of A House in Brooklyn, a romance novel by Roxanne Jolie Renard. Miriam is a middle-aged woman enjoying new opportunities in her radio career. She is content in her apartment with its view of the East River in New York City. The fact that she and her husband haven't been intimate for some time acquires a new significance when she walks in on him having sex with another man.
A shaken Miriam returns to her old family house in Brooklyn, which is let out to lodgers. She starts to channel her energy into converting the garage. Changes are afoot here too when a rugged firefighter called Jesse answers Miriam's ad for a new tenant. Jesse, who is newly separated, is ready to roll up his sleeves to help with the garage project. The two start an affair, but patterns of problem drinking and erratic behaviour soon emerge. After Jesse goes missing with a fellow alcoholic, his call to Miriam from jail heralds a transition from a fling between a younger man and an older woman to something more layered and complex.
I was excited to read a story about a cougar, and this one delivers a thrilling ride through many plot twists. Change was indeed the only constant, and I loved the unpredictability. Jesse's mood swings seem attributable to his alcoholism, and Miriam grows in self-knowledge when she learns how her background may have primed her to be attracted to such men. I commend the author for tackling the theme of relationships between alcoholics and their codependent enablers.
A codependent heroine can be a liability as well as an asset, however. Establishing reader empathy with a character who prostrates herself like a doormat can be tricky. Ultimately, this was hard to reconcile with the portrayal of Miriam as a mature woman with a flourishing career. I know codependents can exhibit such contradictions, but the upshot here was that Miriam lacked relatability and depth. As a result, the explicit sex scenes felt more distasteful than erotic. This is particularly problematic in a romance with many sex scenes.
This lack of sensuality was compounded by the shadowy depiction of the hero. Since the story included detailed information about the eponymous house and the work done on it, the building felt more authentic than the man. The author attempted to show why the couple should bond and to give Jesse some redeeming features, but that all felt hastily sketched. The story gained more substance in the middle, which made it feel like two pieces of writing haphazardly spliced together. Consequently, this book feels like a rough draft, an impression amplified by the lack of professional editing. As with the general plot, there was an improvement in the middle section, but typos and other errors appeared frequently throughout.
In sum, this book has its better parts and shows promise. I enjoyed all the details about interior decoration. However, given the shortcomings in the editing and general execution, my rating is two out of four stars. I could recommend this to anyone looking for a quick and compelling read. It has a soundtrack in that every chapter heading includes a song title, so it might appeal to music fans. It is appropriate for a mature audience as it includes graphic depictions of extramarital sex, which could deter some on religious grounds. I'll also note here that the characters' faith is quite an important theme throughout. This book has great potential, but it still needs work.
A House in Brooklyn
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