Friday, May 23, 2014

The Unfinished Mural by Jennifer D'Angelo

The Unfinished Mural
Author: Jennifer D'Angelo
Publisher:  Amazon
Pages: 290
Release Date: October 30th, 2012
Source: Free from Goodreads Giveaway

Eve Brandt has always enjoyed an uncluttered, simple life. She is a single mom, estranged from her father, and works at home designing a satirical comic strip that serves as a creative outlet for all of her pent up cynicism. She handles all crises with humor and puts off dealing with anything even slightly unpleasant in the hopes that it will all work out by itself.

But when her normally mild-mannered son starts getting in to trouble with the law, her hundred-year-old house starts crumbling around her, and her father manages to weasel his way back into her life, Eve must face the fact that things are about to get complicated. Add in a sexy handyman who wants to fix more than just her leaky roof, an unexpected visit from an old love, and a stalker who is not a big fan of her comic, and Eve’s neat little world starts to get messy.

It's hard to find a good romance that feels down to earth and believable, but I thinkThe Unfinished Mural really does a good job of this. Rather than focus on the fluff of falling in love and being swept off your feet, it looked at the real life ups and downs of life, and focuses more on the connections that get us through that. A troubled teen, a single mom, a detached family and tense relationships, everything in this book felt real to me. It's nice to read a book that just feels transparent like this.

Eve isn't perfect, but she's likable. She's trying to raise a son who is almost as rebellious as she was in her youth, and she isn't entirely sure how to go about it. Her house is falling apart, but she's doing a job she enjoys, she has a supportive aunt but is detached from her father, and then there is the attractive handyman that wandered into her life. Nothing feels forced about these interactions though. Her aunt has her own problems, Eve tries to get through stressful situations with jokes instead of handling them, and she hasn't forgiven her father ever since she left her home when she was younger. It doesn't feel overdone like a soap opera, but has enough action and drama to keep you going like a great "slice of life" book should.

I like that Eve was an artist (I can't tell you how many books I've read recently where the main character is also a writer. They all seem destined to become best selling authors to live out the author's fantasies). Best of all, the profession [artist] was done in a believable way. Eve drew comics, and did some illustrations for children's books on the side. She got by, but like many artists, she wasn't exactly rolling in the riches. Since I am an artist, I could really relate to the small things like having a messy house and a super organized desk; all the small details showed the author wasn't just bs-ing their way through characterization. I also like that Eve tries to make light of bad situations. I'm one of those people that would probably be laughing at a funeral because I don't want to cry, and it's rare to see characters fit that role. Eve seems like the type of person who doesn't want to sit into the negativity, and just wants to pick herself up and move on. She is strong, independent, but it's also hard for her to let people in. 

Most romance books feel really "swoony" to me. The guy is perfect, she's swept off her feet, he is instantly attracted to how unbelievably beautiful she is (or will become, if she is the ugly duckling turned swan sort). Yet The Unfinished Mural didn't lead with any of that silliness. Sure, Billy is good looking, but he has his moments when he has a temper or he gets tired of Eve's BS and walks away. Her son is rebellious, but he still has his moments when you see the kid he used to be. The characters all have layers that are meaningful, and you get to know everyone by the end of the story.

There is some back story, but it was spaced out well and didn't drag the story down. I'm a fan of splitting things up a bit to make the reading easier. The drama with the letters from the "fan" was interesting enough to keep me reading without drowning the rest of the story. 

Overall, I felt this was a really well balanced book I am glad I get to have on my shelf.

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