Wednesday, May 30, 2012

See You at Harry's

Middle school sucks. There is no way around that. You don't know who you are yet, and you feel like you'll never know. You want to be your own person, yet you don't want to stick out. And the worst - the worst! - is your parents. They have the power to crush you with shame and embarrassment.

Welcome to the world of Fern, named after the character in Charlotte's Web, someone destined to be a good friend. As if being saddled with the name of a girl with a pet pig isn't burden enough, Fern also has to deal with her restaurant-owning parents, particularly her father, who includes the whole family - Fern, older sister Sara (named after the girl in The Little Princess), older brother Holden (named after Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye) and younger "oops baby" brother Charlie (named after the one with the chocolate factory), plus their mom - in a commercial. The tag line of the ad, "See you at Harry's," is spoken with adorable three-year-old charm by Charlie. But Fern is appalled and embarrassed. She also feels no small measure of resentment toward Charlie. Not that she doesn't love him - she clearly does - but too often she is called upon to watch him because her mother and sister do not. Fern wants more freedom, but taking care of Charlie is a burden. Meanwhile, she finds herself developing romantic feelings toward Ran, her best friend since grade school.

Then there is Holden. He battles bullies on the bus, heathens who taunt him for being gay. Not that Holden has come out to his family yet; he's 14, and he believes his family won't understand. When Fern overhears him tell a friend that his family is clueless, she feels hurt and angry.

Not all of us are, I think. We love you. You're the one who's too clueless to notice.
The family chugs along, each fighting a private battle, until a tragedy brings them together. But the coming together is not easy, and each has to discover on his or her own that they need each other and love each other. They have to be there for each other.

What starts as a breezy story of a 12-year-old girl surviving middle school develops into a family struggling to survive disaster. There are moments of joy and happiness in this book, but there are also moments of devastation. Have a box of tissues nearby.

The characters are wonderful. Fern is so lovable and sweet that you will want to adopt her. She's also very well written; she truly is a 12-year-old girl. Holden is also richly drawn; Sara is more complex than she appears, but I did want to know more about her. Charlie and the parents jump out as well.

See You at Harry's is a lovely book, perfect for pre- and early teens. Who knows - it might help them appreciate their families a little more.

Published by Candlewick and available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

What I Didn't Say

As a high school teacher, I preach the cautionary tale that one stupid decision can cost a lot more than you care to pay, so don't be stupid. It tends to fall on deaf ears. 

In this sad-yet-hopeful book, by Keary Taylor, Jake Hayes pays the price for a moment of stupidity, and the check he writes is for a lifetime. On the night of his senior Homecoming game, Jake, his fellow football players, and an assortment of classmates gather at a friend's house for some revelry and celebration. Jake, typical of teenagers, drinks a couple of beers. As the alcohol loosens him up, he decides that this is the moment to go tell Samantha Shay, a girl he has loved forever, that he does, in fact, love her. So he hops in a truck with two equally intoxicated friends and ... he winds up losing his vocal chords.

Jake must come to grips with the new question in his life: now what?

Showing almost preternatural maturity, perhaps due to being one of seven siblings, Jake decides that this accident will not define him or cage him. He will not be a victim. Yet, he does occasionally wallow in self-pity. He has moments of frustration, and he combats despair. When he returns to school after the accident, he does so with his hood pulled up, desperately trying to forestall people staring at his scar. He watches his friends move on, seemingly without a care or concern, and it dawns on him that he will never again yell at his siblings. He has to adjust.

But in the midst of this darkness comes some light: he and Samantha grow closer. She even comes with other classmates to visit him in the hospital.

"Bye, Jake," a sweet voice said as bodies filed out the door. My eyes rose to meet Samantha's. She looked at me sadly, but for once, it felt like she was really seeing me.
Something in me hardened. 
It had taken nearly getting decapitated for Sam to finally really notice me. 
I didn't even say, or rather write or wave good-bye as she gave me one more sad look and left, closing the door behind her. 
Screw them all. 
Especially Samantha.

So, yeah. He has some work to do. But despite the bitterness, Jake adjusts to his muteness with startling equanimity. 

What I liked about this book is its story and characters. Jake is a guy you root for, even when he's feeling sorry for himself or doing something stupid. He is determined that the accident will not destroy him, but there are moments when he acknowledges that he is powerless to combat some of the changes he now must make.

Samantha, too, is lovely. She has challenges of her own, which we slowly discover. Much like Jake, she demonstrates extraordinary grace under circumstances that would decimate her peers. 

And this brings me to what I didn't like about this book: Jake and Samantha are almost too good. Yes, they struggle. Yes, they have much to overcome. But despite their separately horrific circumstances, they show strength of character that most teens do not or cannot. On the other hand, I think teenagers will read this and think, "I can do it," when faced with obstacles and challenges. Jake and Samantha may turn out to be role models. 

There are some heartbreaking moments in this book, and the mistakes Jake and Samantha make are very real. In fact, it is those mistakes that ground them as characters and invest you in their stories. 

What I Didn't Say is the story of overcoming adversity, yes, but it is also a cautionary tale. Do not put off saying something that is important to you, because you may not get the chance. Do not waste time, because you might not have it to waste.

Published by CreateSpace and available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Party of Three

When it comes to reading about threesomes, I prefer two dudes and one girl. I think it's because I don't enjoy reading lesbian sex scenes; they just don't do it for me. So when a book includes a girl-girl-guy menage trois, I have a difficult time getting into it. When it's a girl-girl-boy menage trois with a graphic rape scene? The ick factor kicks in big time for me.

Such is the case with Daire St. Denis' Party of Three, which focuses on Tina, her roommate, Desi, and Desi' boyfriend, Josh. They comprise the title, and they engage in some three-way lovin'. While girls eating each others' lady parts doesn't make me moist, I'm sure it does for some readers, and I've got to say that St. Denis writes some hot sex scenes. Tina, Des and Josh rock that headboard right off its hinges.

But then there is the rape scene. And that, well, turned me off, quite thoroughly.

So the story is that Tina somewhat discovers that Desi and Josh are open to including her in their sexy times, and she's happy to join. But she has a troublesome client, Kenton, whom Des warns her about quite vehemently. But Tina continues to work for him, which winds up getting her in a heap of trouble.

This may be a quick book to read, but it packs a lot of sex action, including some mild bondage. Daire St. Denis certainly can describe a hot kiss:

It was one thing to know how passionate a kiss felt. It was quite another to see it. Josh cupped Desi's face in his strong hands and tilted her head for better access. I liked it. Desi could be so domineering, and it was good to see her controlled, even if it was just a simple kiss. 
I take that back - there was nothing simple about the way Josh kissed her. His tongue teased her lips and the inside of her mouth and, just when she reached for him, seeming to beg for more, he pulled away. She groaned and tried to catch his mouth by turning her head but he kept his distance, licking around her mouth, her cheek, ear, throat. He didn't come back to her lips until he was good and ready and when he finally did, it was full-on. There was nothing gentle about it. Josh owned Desi's mouth.

And away we go. Tina takes a liking to Desi's, um, nether regions, and her feelings are reciprocated. She also takes a liking to Josh, which could have been an interesting area to explore, plot-wise, but St. Denis prefers to keep us in bed or in the shower or in the bathtub. Why delve deeper into Tina's feelings for Josh when we can get her raped?

I didn't like this book a whole lot, as you clearly can tell. But I'll give St. Denis props for writing some good sex scenes. It was ruined with the rape, though. We just didn't need to go there.

Published by Carina Press and available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

Brook Street: Rogues

Let's just cut to the chase, shall we? I cannot get into lesbian sex scenes. It isn't that I'm a prude - good grief, I loved that crappy Fifty Shades trilogy. I think it's just that I have no interest in it, and I can't make the leap to enjoying reading about it. Just like I'm not a huge fan of paranormal romances. They just don't turn my crank.

But Brook Street: Rogues, by Ava March, is about gay men, and I enjoyed THAT quite a bit.

This is my first strictly dickly romance novel, and I have to say, I found the headboard rockin' to be quite hot. But first, the plot.

Rob and Linus have been friends forever, and now live side-by-side (no pun intended - their homes are next door to each other) in 1822 London. Homosexuality was not in vogue, nor was it condoned. The two men hide the preferences, so much so that Linus believes Rob prefers sex with women. But Rob isn't so sure. He asks Linus to be his exclusive lover, to which Linus responds, "Thank you, but no."

Rob is devastated and confused. As far as he can tell, he and Linus are made for each other.

He'd been with enough women. The mechanics were different, but intimacy was intimacy. He and Linus were damn amazing together. Always had been. No way could Linus be fool enough to believe otherwise. And that wasn't misplaced pride or arrogance on Rob's part. It took two to create the level of heat that burned between them. One kiss was all that was needed, and every line of Linus's body shouted his desire for more. Much more.

This is not a case of opposites attracting; the two have their differences, but they are more alike than not. And, as Rob observes, they are completely simpatico between the sheets, each determined to satisfy the other.

Ava March may not create wildly unforgettable characters - I can't remember their last names, and I'm too lazy to look them up - but the sex scenes. Oh, people. The sex scenes between these two are HOT.

Brook Street: Rogues is a fast read with a negligible plot. It won't make you ponder any of life's great mysteries, nor is there much to analyze, discuss or think about. But it's got some hot sex scenes, and it may open some minds that are closed to gay lovin'.

Published by Carina Press and available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Last Good Man

There is something so quietly compelling about The Last Good Man, by Kathleen Eagle, that I struggle with writing this review. I don't know how to describe it, other than to say that The Last Good Man is one good book.

Savannah Stephens has returned home to Sunbonnet, Wyoming, from which she escaped after high school, intent on a modeling career. She achieved it, landing in a catalog similar to Victoria's Secret. But when she comes home, she is several years removed from the limelight ... and she brings a young daughter with her.

Clay Keogh, Savannah's best friend from childhood, didn't quite stay in Sunbonnet. He joined the military, eschewing his dream of being a veterinarian, but he's been back long enough to have married and divorced. When he hears Savannah is in town, he is nervous and anticipates seeing her. Their first meeting exceeds every expectation he had.

He touched his lips to hers, tentative only for an instant. His hunger was as unmistakable as hers. His arms closed around her slight shoulders, hers around his lean waist. He smelled of horsehide and leather, and tasted of whiskey, felt as solid as the Rockies, and kissed like no man she'd ever known, including a younger Clay Keogh. She stood on tiptoe to kiss him back, trade him her breath for his, her tongue for his.
"Savannah ..."
We discover that Savannah is hiding more than one secret, one of them more shocking than the other. Her friendship with Clay, which included some sexual experimentation in their teens (always to her satisfaction, only once to his, and even then ...), was eclipsed by her crush on Clay's older half-brother, Kole, the part-Indian father of Savannah's daughter. We also learn that Clay, in addition to running his family's ranch, has a weakness for horses no one else wants - horses that are imperfect or suffering.

And it is that particular symbolism that is a tad heavy handed in an otherwise good book. We get it. Clay feels sorry for sick, broken or incapacitated horses - horses no one else wants. Then there is Savannah, sick, broken and emotionally incapacitated. Yet Kathleen Eagle also shows us that Clay loves Savannah, has loved her since they were children. They are best friends, yes, but it's more than that on his part. Is it on hers?

There are some sex scenes, and while none are graphic, they are hot. Clay knows what Savannah wants as far as sexual intimacy is concerned, even if she isn't always ready to reciprocate.

A lot happens in The Last Good Man, but none of it is cataclysmic or volcanic. Instead, it's grounded in realism and truth, which makes us enjoy the characters all the more, and not just Clay and Savannah, but also Claudia, Savannah's daughter, and Patty, Clay's father. But this book is about Savannah more than anything else. She's a survivor, but she has a long way to go before she can give Clay what he wants and deserves, and what she wants and deserves as well.

It turns out that, in The Last Good Man, at least, you can go home again. It helps if you've got a good man waiting for you. 

Published by Bell Bridge Books and available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Diamond Jubilee Giveaway

There are only five days left in Romance at Random's Diamond Jubilee Giveaway.

Click on the Rafflecopter below to enter for a chance to win one of 26 prizes. Come on, kids! It's book! Free books!

Why a Diamond Jubilee Hop? For our hero Nev, in ABOUT LAST NIGHT, by Ruthie Knox

First, a bit of trivia:
The Diamond Jubilee takes place in 2012, marking 60 years of The Queen’s reign. The Queen came to the throne on 6th February 1952 (her Coronation took place on 2nd June 1953).
Buckingham Palace is responsible for coordinating the events of the Diamond Jubilee central weekend (2nd–5th June 2012), as well as for organizing The Queen’s program in her Diamond Jubilee year.
Now, more about Nev, he feels trapped and miserable in his family’s banking empire located in downtown London, England. But beneath his pinstripes is an artist struggling to break free. Albeit, his bohemian-self is trying to emerge, Nev is respectful of his roots and tradition & we want to help him celebrate his queen.

Enter below to win beginning 5/21 thru 5/31 – Romance at Random will be randomly giving away some of our jewels of romance, to celebrate the UK’s Diamond Jubilee including:
  • 1 winner, 1 copy – Born To Darkness by Suzanne Brockmann
  • 1 winner, 1 copy – The Proposal by Mary Balogh
  • 1 winner, 1 copy – Darker After Midnight by Lara Adrian
  • 3 winners, 1 copy of WITCHFUL THINKING by HP Mallory
  • 10 winners, 1 copy of a PREVIEW from Net Galley of ABOUT LAST NIGHT by Ruthie Knox
  • 10 winners, 1 copy of PREVIEW from Net Galley of DEEP AUTUMN HEAT by Elisabeth Barrett

  • That’s right, 26 winners in all! 
    Enter the hop using the Rafflecopter below then visit all of the participating sites to increase your chances – winners will be randomly chosen and this is a big one . . . it could be you! US only for this one - Good luck!

      a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Valley of Fire

    Sometimes while reading, I will imagine a soundtrack for the book. In the case of Janelle Taylor's Valley of Fire, that soundtrack is limited to this chorus: "A little less conversation, a little more action, please."

    Look, I admire authors. Writing a book is not easy, and I doff my wig to them at every opportunity. But sometimes, let's face it, a book just is not good. Sometimes, a book just flat out is awful.

    As far as Valley of Fire is concerned, the problems lie in repetition, failure to create engaging characters, and an entirely predictable story line. But mostly, the problem is in how it's written. Ms. Taylor's descriptive phrases are laugh out loud awful, to the point that I found myself saying out loud, on more than one occasion, "Who the hell published this crap?" There are some paragraphs in which every sentence begins with the same word. Hello, sentence variety? Do we not know about it?

    And the talking. The talking, the talking, the talking. Good grief. There are more conversations in this book than I hold in a year. And every last one of them springs from a well of the ridiculous. Brandy Alexander (for reals, people - that is her name) is a novelist specializing in, well, I can't really say. Historical romance? Science fiction? It seems to change. But anyway. She's writing a book and needs to research Las Vegas and its environs. While there, she nearly dies of heat exhaustion, but is rescued by the strappingly virile and handsome Steven Winngate, who also happens to be - of course - very, very rich. He comes to believe that she's researching him for one of her books, so he decides to get back at her. OF COURSE they fall for each other. Like, duh.

    Over lunch, during one of their interminable conversations, she confesses to all manner of inner thoughts and personal motivations. Why? Don't ask me. I can't tell you. All I know is that I lost 30 minutes of my life reading that mess that I will never get back. I also wasted too much time reading Ms. Taylor's lengthy descriptions of Steven's and Brandy's bodies and what they were wearing. To whit:

    Sturdy legs agilely straddled the motor in his jeans. [THE MOTOR IN HIS JEANS??? Oh, my God. Again, the editor. WHERE IS THE EDITOR?] He sat the girl before him, careful to keep her legs and ankles away from the hot engine and tailpipe. He placed her left leg across his right thigh and her right leg over his left thigh. He removed his yellow bandana which served to entrap his perspiration as well as dress up his western attire. He bound her hands together and slipped them over his head, allowing them to rest around his narrow and firm waist [well, of course it's NARROW AND FIRM, because we wouldn't want to be anything less than predictable] where not an ounce of excess flesh was permitted to exist [!!!!!!!!]. The span of his muscular chest and the measured reach of her bound arms brought their heated bodies into close contact. 

    It goes on. And on and on and on.

    I can't really explain the plot of this dreck, because, quite frankly, there isn't much of one. You'll get pages - and I mean PAGES - of Brandy explaining how difficult it is to write novels and love scenes and deal with editors. You'll have to sift through pages of what it means to be a woman trying to work and have it all. And pages of Steven yapping about, well, not much, really.

    Then there are the love scenes. Picture every hackneyed euphemism, amplify it by 1000%, and you have the sexy times in this book. Tongues lap around nipples, heat surges through bodies, kisses that shatter, hungry mouths, and passionate lovin' that takes them to the edge of reality and completion.

    Unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, which is written badly and edited worse, Valley of Fire has nothing going for it. There is not a captivating story here, nor are there interesting characters.

    Do yourself a favor and avoid Valley of Fire. I read it so you don't have to.

    Published by Severn House Publishing Ltd. and available on
    Thanks (I guess) to NetGalley for the preview.

    Saturday, May 26, 2012

    Nothing Special

    When your brother is an athletic phenom, renowned for his track and football prowess, it's difficult to make your mark. The shadow he casts, even if he is as insecure as you are, proves too powerful to resist.

    Until one day, when you just can't take it any more.

    Such is the situation for Andrew Reinstein, whose brother, Felton, is all kinds of special. Andrew is tired of being nothing special, so he grabs his drumsticks and heads south from his home in Wisconsin to visit his grandfather, with whom he does not share much of a relationship. Felton, meanwhile, must go "rescue" his brother, largely because it's his fault that Andrew ran away. See, Felton is, as he acknowledges, a "jackassed narcissist," so full of his own feats and successes that he continually skips Andrew's concerts. He takes Andrew's talents so lightly that he advises his brother to forego his musical talents and become a pharmacist. As his mother, Jerri, asks, "Is there no space between your brain and your mouth?" In a humorous retort, Felton says that there is a "big space" when "I'm supposed to talk."

    Told entirely from Felton's point of view and written as journal entries from Felton to his estranged girlfriend, Aleah, Nothing Special, by Geoff Herbach, is a sequel to Stupid Fast, but you do not need to read the predecessor in order to appreciate Nothing Special. I haven't read Stupid Fast, and I didn't think Nothing Special was difficult to understand.

    This is a witty, fun read that teenagers will enjoy. Felton is occasionally unlikeable. It isn't a stretch to see why Aleah chose to spend the summer in Germany, nor is it difficult to understand why Felton's best friend, Gus, gets aggravated with him. And it certainly doesn't take a stretch to see how Andrew gets fed up with the whole thing and just runs away.

    The first half of the book details Felton's mad cap trip from Wisconsin to Florida, a journey fraught with all manner of obstacles and challenges. The second half focuses on Felton's attempt to rehabilitate his relationship with Andrew while trying to forge one with a grandfather he barely knows, largely because Grandpa distanced himself from his grandsons after their father's death. Meanwhile, Felton's coaches are no amused. He is missing workouts and competitions, which can lead to lost scholarships.

    Nothing Special is a road trip, a buddy story, a family story and a mournful comedy. There is much that is bittersweet here, with an emphasis on "sweet." But it is an approachable sweetness. We see how much Felton wants to mend things with his brother, even as Andrew accuses him of being a "big, fat, stupid jerk all the time!" who "ran away without me. Left me to the dogs." Andrew's pain and frustration at being "nothing special," compared to his brother, is palpable. And Felton's slow realization of his brother's feelings is as realistic a portrayal of teenaged, well, "jackassed narcissism" as you'll find. When Felton writes to Aleah, "I'm a really terrible person and Andrew has finally figured it out," we know he isn't really terrible. He's just a kid who's been told his whole life that he is special. Andrew, on the other hand, has not.

    Teenagers, especially boys, will enjoy this book a great deal. Herbach's writing style is so much fun, and you will find yourself alternately laughing out loud, cringing, and maybe even shedding a small tear for Felton, as he comes to terms with forsaking what makes him special.

    Published by Sourcebooks Fire and available on
    Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

    Sabrina's Window

    I have a bone to pick with Al Riske, author of Sabrina's Window. I'm all for cliffhangers, but dude. Seriously. You didn't just leave me hanging, you left me clinging by my shattered fingernails to the edge of an abyss.

    The premise of Sabrina's Window is a good one: seventeen-year-old Joshua breaks thirty-one-year-old Sabrina's window with an errant newspaper toss, and a friendship is forged. He pays her back by helping her with yard chores, and she tries to help him with girls. Joshua is dating Ronni, Sabrina dates Barry. Both relationships are unsteady at the moment; Joshua and Ronni seem to want different things, while Sabrina might be hung up on an ex.

    In the book's summary, we're told that Joshua and Sabrina go out on a date, but really, all they do is go to dinner. Their fellow townspeople, however, think it IS a date, and that starts tongues wagging. But this thread is dropped quickly, if not unsatisfactorily, in lieu of pursuing bigger issues that confront Joshua and Sabrina. Can he figure out his way around girls, and can she allow herself to settle down and be happy?

    All the while, their friendship progresses.

    The really remarkable part, he supposed, was that he didn't feel shy or awkward around Sabrina - at least not as shy or as awkward as he normally did around, let's face it, any attractive female. He trusted her. Right away. He could tell she had a good heart and wouldn't hurt him. He could expose himself without feeling vulnerable.
    Sabrina's Window is a love story of sorts, but not in the way you're thinking. Yes, there is love, and yes, there are passionate feelings, but Al Riske takes us in different directions than we perhaps expect. There isn't really a climactic scene or event; the story just unfolds, in a sleepy, unhurried way, reflecting, in a way, its setting of Taos, New Mexico.

    But it's frustrating. It isn't that I demand closure; I enjoy books that leave you guessing as to what happens next. Sabrina's Window, though, REALLY leaves you hanging. Not only will you have no idea what will happen to Sabrina and Joshua, you won't have any idea where to begin. Oh, sure, Riske gives us some hints, but given the direction of the story, you can't be certain you really know anything. It's frustrating. Really frustrating.

    I don't like happy endings slapped onto books, but in this case, no ending is almost as bad.

    Or maybe it's that I just really enjoyed the way Al Riske writes, so when he ended his story so abruptly, he left me wishing for more. I look forward to reading more of his work.

    Published by Luminus Books and available on
    Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

    Wish You Were Here

    Have you ever read a book that frustrated you SO MUCH because you know that it could have been better? That was my experience with Beth K. Vogt's Wish You Were Here. I liked it up until the end, which just ticked me off in the worst way.

    Allison and Seth are five days away from their wedding day. They dated for six years, and now it's time for them to finalize their commitment. Allison doesn't like her wedding dress, which she felt coerced into buying, and she isn't wild about the flowers. But she and Seth have been together for so long, and she does love him, so the obvious next step is marriage, right? Right? 

    Well, not so fast. When Seth's older brother Daniel shows up to help her pack, an innocent farewell peck on the cheek turns into a passionate kiss. What will Allison do now? Quicker than you can say, "Runaway Bride," she heads in the wrong direction down the aisle.

    So far, so good. It's a cute set up, and we can all see that Daniel is better for her than Seth. Her best friend Meghan puts it perfectly:

    "Think about it. You let Seth make all the major decisions, from what dress you wore to our high school prom to where you were going for your honeymoon." Teal polish glinted off Meghan's nails when she pointed an accusatory finger at Allison. "You're a smart woman - except when Seth Rayner's in the picture. And he's been hogging the picture since you were sixteen."
     Seth, you see, is a major control freak, and he controls every aspect of Allison's life, from her college major to what she orders at a restaurant. He isn't a bad guy, though; Vogt does a good job letting us see that he is oblivious to his Machiavellian streak. And it's good that he's a character with depth and not rote or flat. Daniel, too, is fleshed out. Both may be predictable, but they aren't dull.

    But then the problems come.

    Vogt tells us why Allison enjoyed, if not needed, Seth's control. We also learn about how she coped with a painful period of her childhood. We understand her, and it makes sense to us. But quite suddenly, those issues are resolved with great alacrity and neatness. Allison's fractured relationship with someone in her family is mended with no explanation as to how. Why does she trust this person with seemingly such lack of hesitation? What about the way she soothes herself? Why does she suddenly stop? Or does she? We never really find out. And what about her relationship with God? Allison has questions for Him, and she struggles with relying on Him. One quick conversation with Meghan, though, and everything is fixed. It doesn't really work that way.

    Look, Wish You Were Here has a sweet core. Allison and Daniel are adorable, and you will cheer for them. Daniel earns our sympathies and affections, and we cheer him on in his pursuit of her. But the ending feels cheap and forced. It's almost insulting, as if Vogt doesn't think we can handle the anguish that Allison surely suffers as she rights the listing ship of her life.

    Here is a lesson for authors: do not sell your audience short. Don't assume that we want neat and happy. If you spend three fourths of a book giving us realism, don't patronize us at the end.

    Published by Howard Books and available on
    Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

    The Immortal Rules

    Well, here is a new trend in literature: the dystopian vampire novel.

    Julie Kagawa takes an apocalyptic view of the United States, with Chicago as a sort of Eden, and mixes it up with vampire bad (for the most part) guys and comes up with the story of Allie Sekemoto, a 16-year-old living on the "fringe," where she is neither vampire nor protected human. But then one day, Allison gets mauled by "rabids" (vampires for whom the whole vampire thing doesn't quite stick) and the mysterious Kanin, a Master Vampire, rescues her by offering her a choice: life as a vampire (which really means death) or just plain old death. Allie chooses the former.

    Kanin trains her, helping her navigate the vampire lifestyle. But he does so assuring her that, at some point, she will have to go off on her own.

    He glanced down at me, his expression softening. "Allison, how you live your life is up to you. I can only give you the skills you need to survive. But eventually, you will have to make your own decisions, come to your own terms about what you are. You are Vampire, but what kind of monster you become is out of my hands."

    Ah, yes. Monster. Allie has a difficult time reconciling that she is a Vampire, the breed she abhors and from whom she spent her life avoiding and hating. And now she's one of them. She has to feed off of humans, and to do so, she might have to kill them. Allie has a very difficult time reconciling this.

    Allie eventually does find herself on her own, and that ushers in a whole new set of problems for her. She winds up sort of on the run with a band of humans who seek Eden, and she has to conceal her Vampire-ness.

    And this - this sort of merry troupe of wanderers story line - is where I have some issues with an otherwise enjoyable The Immortal Rules. I'm not sure I ever really understood why Allie went with these people. What did she want to get out of it? Eden? What good is Eden to her? And how did she come to trust them so quickly, when she trusts no one? It didn't click with me.

    The Immortal Rules is part Divergent - the Chicago setting, the warring factions, the different strata of vampires - and part, um, Twilight, in that we have some human / vampire lovin' going on, and the whole "we are two different people" vibe. This is not necessarily a good thing. While Divergent is just so awesome and addicting - who can stop reading it? - The Immortal Rules is not difficult to put down. When Allie is running around with the humans, I lost interest, mostly because I found her involvement with them to be pointless.

    But ... The Immortal Rules has its good parts. When Allie is with Kanin, I was captivated. I wanted more Kanin. I wanted more of their relationship, and more of his tutelage of her. He drops out of this book WAY too early. The ending gives me hope that his loss will be rectified. (Clearly, Kagawa intends The Immortal Rules to be the beginning of a series.)

    Give me more Kanin, and I'll keep reading this series. Give me more humans, and I can't make that same promise. I was far more invested in Allie when she was with Kanin than I was when she was with the humans.


    Published by Harlequin Teen and available on
    Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

    Thursday, May 24, 2012

    I Only Have Eyes for You

    In Bella Andre's I Only Have Eyes For You, true love must run its course through a family of eight siblings, a bar and a handful of tattoos.

    Sophie Sullivan, the youngest of eight Sullivan offspring (along with her twin, Lori), has loved Jake McCann for twenty years, ever since she was five and he ten. But she believes the love is entirely one-way. Her six brothers make romance difficult for her, as they strive to protect the twin they call "Nice" (Lori is "Naughty") from untoward advances.

    So imagine Jake's surprise when Sophie shows up on his doorstep the night of her brother Chase's wedding, demanding that they continue the kissing she initiated during the reception.
    Jake had thought about Sophie every second since their kiss in the vines. Working  behind the bar all night, it had been torture watching her dance with an endless stream of men. Even knowing many of them were old family friends didn't stop the bile from churning in his gut and his hands from turning into fists. He was an old family friend and look at what he wanted to do to her: rip her clothes off and take her again and again.
    Working to ignore the way his body was responding to her nearness, he stepped out onto the front step and closed the door behind him.
    "There's nothing to talk about. Nothing to figure out. And we're not going to kiss again. Ever."
    She should have run at his harsh tone. Instead, she moved closer. Close enough to mess with whatever brain cells were still functioning in the bloodless zone of his brain.
    Sweet little Sophie, librarian by day, seductress by night. Jake tries to scare her off, but Sophie is determined. It turns out that Jake, too, is determined - first to fight his attraction to her, and then to make her his.

    The thing about predictable romance novels is that sometimes the "I know exactly how this will go" stuff turns out rather dull. But in I Only Have Eyes for You, which is part of Andre's Sullivan Series, predictability does not necessarily mean boring. It means sweet and fun, and it packs some hot headboard rocking. Bella Andre knows her way around love scenes, my friends. Sophie and Jake enjoy their way around a bar stool, a swimming pool and a few different beds. She may be a librarian, but Sophie has no problem taking her clothes off and demanding sexual satisfaction from Jake. And he has no problem pleasuring her.

    If we don't know as much as we'd like about Sophie and Jake - what we do find out is predictable and generalized - it is difficult to get too frustrated, because we do feel like we get to know them. He's the bad boy bar owner, she's the book loving librarian. Jake is far more stereotypical than Sophie, but you've seen characters like them and read stories like this before.

    I haven't read other books in the Sullivan Series, but I imagine they are as nimble and fast-paced as I Only Have Eyes For You. This is a quick read that will leave you feeling warm and cozy.

    Published by CreateSpace and available on
    Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

    Wednesday, May 23, 2012

    We'll Always Have Paris

    Before you think the title implies that you will read the literary equivalent to Casablanca, let me disabuse you of that notion. While We'll Always Have Paris is fun and frothy, it isn't perfection or beauty. But golly, it is cute.

    Jessica Hart spins the tale of Clara and Simon, two extreme opposites who wind up attracting. She is colorful, bright, animated and open to whatever life brings her. A perpetual optimist, she smiles her way through the negative, hoping that the shape her lips form will transform into true happiness. When all else fails, she breaks into song, relying heavily on July Andrews tunes, especially those from The Sound of Music. Simon, on the other hand, is straight-laced, focusing on facts and reality. He needs things proven for him; he is not one to rely on feelings and emotions because they are unreliable.

    Yet he is drawn to Clara, despite all attempts on his part to not be. What he finds quirky and plain about her becomes beautiful and intoxicating. Clara finds herself in the same position. The cold, buttoned up, facts and figures man becomes virile and passionate. The two meet when Clara stalks him at an economic speech he delivers. Her production company wants him to co-present a documentary about romance, with Simon taking the "there is no such thing as romance" perspective. The woman hired to present opposite him leaves the production, so Clara, as production assistant, fills in. They travel to Paris, a tropical island, and the wilds of Scotland, testing the theory that romance can happen anywhere. Simon says that romance comes down to economic security; Clara says it's all about giving in to the feeling.
    'I thought you could kiss me,' said Simon. 'I'm prepared to be persuaded that there's something romantic about this situation,' he added, looking down at his sodden shoes, 'although I've got to say that I'm not convinced so far!'
    His gaze came back to Clara's doubtful face and he raised his brows. 'No? Fair enough. I suppose it's not that romantic, but if nothing else I thought it would take my mind off my feet.'
    'Oh, I expect I could do that,' said Clara with an assumption of nonchalance that covered a pounding pulse and a mouth that was suddenly dry. 
    But even she has to question the realism of a relationship with Simon. What works in these romantic locations may not work in the cold light of a London day. And is it really love that they feel for each other, or was it just the heat of the moment?

    We'll Always Have Paris is a quick, breezy, cotton candy confection of a read. It's sweet and charming, and if we don't get to know the characters as well as we'd like, or if some of the plot lines are too tidily resolved, then so be it. If you want Pride & Prejudice, you read Jane Austen. If you want fun, you read We'll Always Have Paris.

    Published by Harlequin and available on
    Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012

    Fifty Shades Freed

    There are life's guilty pleasures, and then there is the guiltiest spectacle of them all: the Fifty Shades of Grey spectacle. It's time to review this precious pearl of literary genius, so I'm going to dive on in. Hold me.

    When we last left our romantic icons, Ana Steele and Christian Grey, they were newly engaged and facing (a) Ana's ex-boss, Jack Hyde, whom Christian fired in a fit of jealous pique when Jack made a pass at Ana and (b) Christian's "Mrs. Robinson," the woman who initiated him into his life of BDSM. Can these two crazy love birds find happiness and contentment? Thank goodness E. L. James doesn't keep us hanging and gives us the GIFT that is Fifty Shades Freed.

    The tale opens just after Christian and Ana's wedding, as the two bask on their European honeymoon. They bicker, rock the headboard, bicker some more, and have make-up rocking of the headboard. While enjoying their romantic interlude, Christian learns that someone apparently tried to sabotage part of his building. Enter the "plot" portion of the festivities. The threat to Grey Enterprises increases, and we are meant to be on the edge of our seats in anticipation of how this AWFUL THING will transpire. There also continues to be friction in the Grey marriage. These two argue about the same damn thing all the time, followed by furious headboard rockin'.

    So there's your story.

    While this one shares certain similarities with Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker, in Fifty Shades Freed, James actually attempts - gulp - style. There are flashbacks, seemingly set at even intervals, but then mysteriously dropped. Until, that is, the epilogue, where they show up again. Clearly E. L. James realized that we don't read these books for STYLE. I mean, really.

    Let's get to the good stuff, shall we? Because, let's face it: we also do not read these books for their plot. Please. There are more important things to anticipate.


    I know some of you have waited in breathless anticipation, and you will not be denied! We also meet the flogger AND the cross is used AND the grid. Insert jumpy claps here. Christian and Ana continue to Know Each Other in the Biblical Sense in different locales, including - but not limited to - an airplane, a yacht, a couch, a shower, a bathtub, a picnic blanket and - thank GOD - the red satin bed in the Red Room of Pain.

    But you know what is not used in any romantic situation whatsoever? The grey tie! I am bereft with grief. I got attached to that tie, and while it makes a brief appearance, it does not do so wrapped around anyone's appendages. It's a tease, and I am not amused.

    Also missing: any sign of a competent, coherent editor. What IS present is the same repetitious writing. It takes less than three pages for the first smirk to appear. And this time? Christian and Ana aren't the only two who smirk. Other characters get in on the action. I suspect that E. L. James is f-ing with me. We also get bitten lips, rolled eyes, lips pressed into a hard line, frowns and sighs.

    But a new play has entered the repertoire: Christian rubs his nose down the length of Ana's nose.

    Naturally, this being E. L. James, he does that A LOT. Almost as often as one of them says, "Hmmm." Clearly the message is that in the absence of the ability to write dialogue, insert a breathy moan.

    And now, an excerpt. Feel free to use this as an interpretive dialogue:

    Hmm ... my Fifty wants to tumble. 
    "Don't bite your lip," he warns.
    Compliantly, I release my lip. "I think you have me at a disadvantage, Mr. Grey." [They call each other Mr. and Mrs. Grey ALL THE TIME, as if they forgot their first names.] I bat my lashes and squirm provocatively beneath him. This could be fun. 
    "Surely you've already got me where you want me?" He smirks [!!!!! - of course he does] and presses his groin into mine once more.
    Ah, language. Its mellifluous use is a lost art, isn't it? Thank goodness E. L. James is here to reinvigorate writing.

    As I typed that, I mistakenly wrote "goddess," rather than "goodness." That brings me to another repetition: Ana's subconscious, complete with the half moon glasses and disdain, shows up again. The inner goddess is not as present, but that subconscious school marm sure is. Oh, lucky us.

    So is Fifty Shades Darker worth the read? OF COURSE IT IS. You can't stop at their engagement! You need to read about the wedding and the honeymoon and the corporate intrigue and the early months of their marriage and the in-laws and the Evil Ex-Employee and the Evil Ex-Dominatrix. You can't stop at the second one! You must read this!

    Oh, it's awful. Don't get me wrong about that. It is just as badly written and edited as its predecessors. But, as I have said before, it is literary crack. So bad for you, but so addicting.

    A plus: at the end, we get a brief glimpse of Christian's point of view. And then - AND THEN - E. L. James says, "That's all ... for now."

    OH MY GOD - THERE WILL BE MORE! Please let it be. For the love of Mark Twain, PLEASE LET THERE BE MORE.

    Published by Vintage Books and available on
    I bought my own copy, thank you very little.

    Sunday, May 20, 2012


    What if you had the power to affect electricity and electrical devices? Would you struggle, daily, if not hourly, to keep your power under control, or would you allow yourself the freedom to let go? This is one of the dilemmas facing Daisy Jones, the 16-year-old protagonist of Andrea Buchanan's teen lit novel, Gift. As Daisy says:
    I told her how when I was a baby my mom noticed the radio garbling or going static if she happened to be holding me while she touched it to switch stations or fiddle with the volume. I told her how as a toddler I was able to change the channels on our television when I pressed my hands against the screen, trying to say hi to Cookie Monster. How anything - everything - electric went on the fritz when I touched it. Cordless phones, digital watches, microwaves, blow dryers. I told her how it was kind of a family joke when I was little, or a joke between me and my mom anyway, since that was all the family we had - there goes another toaster, Daisy must have sneezed - and how for a while that's all it was: a joke. How as I got older it got more intense. How people started noticing, how stuff happened at school, how it stopped being funny.
    To combat her "gift," Daisy practices yoga breathing exercises, which keep her emotions under control. Over the years, she discovered that if she can't moderate herself, things tend to go haywire. This, of course, could be a metaphor for teenagers everywhere, electrical gifts or not.

    But then Daisy starts to experience bad dreams, nightmares in which she knows she is in danger. She is not "Daisy" in these dreams, but rather a woman named Jane. Her best friend, Danielle, is in the dream, too, as is another classmate, Vivi. Like Daisy, they are not themselves, but she knows that it's them, nonetheless. One of them wields a bloody knife, another one is missing, and the third is in peril.

    The girls struggle to interpret the dreams. Brought together when Daisy rescues Vivi from an apparent suicide attempt, the three bond. Daisy and Danielle have the same dreams, and Daisy begins to be visited by Vivi's ghost/soulmate/guardian angel, Patrick. Also helping them out is Kevin, who is smitten with Daisy and determined to help her understand what is happening.

    Is Patrick the beacon of goodness that Vivi believes him to be? Does he have Daisy's best interests at heart when he urges her to use her powers? Or is there a darker, more sinister motive afoot? And what about Kevin and Danielle?

    Gift is an engrossing, entertaining book that middle and high school kids will enjoy. Most teenagers experience friction in their friendships, and this book explores that. They also struggle with accepting themselves, the good and the bad. Daisy's gift symbolizes that torturous high school experience.

    As I tend to do, though, I found myself distracted by questions I wanted answered. If Daisy short circuits electronics by touch, what will happen when she needs to do schoolwork on a computer? Does her mother write a note or something? What about when she goes to college? How will she avoid computers then? One scene that took place in a hospital room also kind of threw me, because I started wondering what would happen if she got ill and needed treatment or tests.

    But those questions are not the point of Gift. Entertaining, relatable characters and an interesting story are.

    Published by Open Road Media and available on
    Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

    Romance at Random Giveaway!

    Click on the the icon below so you can just win, baby! Up for grabs are, of course, books.

    Enter below to win beginning 5/21 thru 5/31 – Romance at Random will be randomly giving away some of our jewels of romance, to celebrate the UK’s Diamond Jubilee including:
  • 1 winner, 1 copy – Born To Darkness by Suzanne Brockmann
  • 1 winner, 1 copy – The Proposal by Mary Balogh
  • 1 winner, 1 copy – Darker After Midnight by Lara Adrian
  • 3 winners, 1 copy of WITCHFUL THINKING by HP Mallory
  • 10 winners, 1 copy of a PREVIEW from Net Galley of ABOUT LAST NIGHT by Ruthie Knox
  • 10 winners, 1 copy of PREVIEW from Net Galley of DEEP AUTUMN HEAT by Elisabeth Barrett

  • That’s right, 26 winners in all! 

    Enter the hop using the Rafflecopter below then visit all of the participating sites to increase your chances – winners will be randomly chosen and this is a big one . . . it could be you! US only for this one - Good luck!

      a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Saturday, May 19, 2012

    In the Flesh

    There are some Hot Romance Novels that scatter the rocking the headboard around the plot, taking you through the story and using the sex scenes as an accompaniment. Then there are books like In the Flesh, by Portia Da Costa, that use the opposite tactic: you move from sex scene to sex scene, with a little plot thrown in for fun.

    The basic story here focuses on Beatrice Weatherly, the so-called Siren of South Mulberry Street due to her posing nude for some racy photos, and Edmund Ellsworth Ritchie, a wealthy rake who is utterly captivated by her. Ritchie proposes that Beatrice become his courtesan, and in exchange, he will cover the debt her brother has incurred. Beatrice figures why not; everyone thinks she is a woman of loose morals, thanks to those pictures, so she might as well shed her virginity and hop into bed with Ritchie. Within minutes of meeting each other, Ritchie has her skirt up and his finger You Know Where, and we are off to the races.

    A side story involves Beatrice's brother, Charles, who enjoys not just women, but men. Yes, kids, we have a threesome! I'll say that the threesome scene is pretty hot. Sadly, there is only one.

    Most of the sex scenes involve Ritchie and Beatrice, as he brings her to "crisis," as Da Costa calls it. In one of their first assignations, Ritchie actually achieves "crisis" in his pants. Each is nervous; in fact, it takes a while for Beatrice to actually see Ritchie's throbbing male member, the reasons for which somewhat relate to one of the plot threads, and she has to overcome her own sense of feeling self-conscious. Still, Ritchie is bewitched by her.
    Last night she'd been delicious and responsive and he knew she could and would be just as willing soon. Yet still she seemed nervous about exposing herself. 
    How strangely contrary. You'll pose unclothed for photographs that are circulated to hundreds of avid men, yet you won't show your naked puss to me in private. You're a conundrum, Beatrice Weatherly, a veritable mystery. 
    The man behind the pictures also becomes a plot point, as Da Costa tries to shake up the monotony of puckered nipples and aching erections with story lines.

    In terms of literary merit, In the Flesh can be found wanting. But in terms of hot sex scenes, it's pretty good. The headboard rocking got a little repetitive, but the threesome scene? THAT was hot.

    Published by HQN and available on
    Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

    Friday, May 18, 2012

    The Lifeguard

    I'm all about Young Adult literature. Seriously (or, as they say in Bumped and Thumped, for serious). And I'm not all that difficult to please. All I ask is for interesting characters and a story line that captivates me. I don't care if it's realistic or fantastic - just give me something. Please, for the love of Rowling, give me SOMETHING.

    Which brings me to Deborah Blumenthal's The Lifeguard, which is so supremely frustrating that I want to reach into the book and smack someone. I'm not sure if it's Deborah Blumenthal herself or her characters. But at least one of those people needs to be smacked and smacked thoroughly.

    So we have Sirena. Her parents, on the verge of getting divorced, ship her from her home in Texas to spend the summer with her Aunt Ellie in Rhode Island. Within moments of going on the beach, Sirena locks eyes with - gird your loins - Pilot. Yes, PILOT. As in "he who can guide you safely on your trip." That sound you hear? Is the heavy hand of Metaphor, thumping you upside the head.


    Pilot is tall, blond, hunky and a lifeguard. Yes, a LIFEGUARD. As in "one who guards lives." Cue Metaphor for more thumping. Pilot and Sirena lock eyes, and she instantly is smitten. Pilot, however, tells her that they can't be together. Not to be deterred, Sirena buys a bikini and attempts to woo him. She also becomes convinced that Pilot has Healing Powers and can save people. Cause he's, you know, a LIFEGUARD.

    Meanwhile, budding artist that she is, Sirena meets Antonio, an eighty-year-old shaman-slash-painter. She confides in him her love for Pilot, and he encourages her pursuit of art. She also volunteers at the hospital, where she comes across a young boy attempting to survive an accident. 
    I want to draw on all the power in the universe to make him better so that he can go home. I want to make my parents love me too and I want to have a real home to go back to and a real life again.
    I want to fix everything at once.
    I ask for help as hard as I can as if there's a giant healing machine you can call on to steamroll over all your problems at once and make them disappear. I want to fix the road ahead and make it freshly paved without any bumps so everything in life will be smooth and easy and filled with joy. I don't care if that sounds like total make believe. It's what I want. 
    No, Sirena. It doesn't sound like make believe, just as it doesn't sound like a 16-year-old girl. In fact, I think that's my basic problem with Sirena: she never sounds true to a teenage girl. She sounds like she's thirty.

    And, of course, one day, our piloting lifeguard must rescue Sirena. Can he save her? 

    It isn't that this is a bad book. I read it, cover to cover, and stayed mildly interest in it. But Sirena annoyed the daylights out of me, and Pilot ... well. Pilot is just so fantastical that I occasionally laughed out loud in places where I probably was not supposed to find humor. Aunt Ellie seems kind of nice, and she has a boyfriend, but they are props in this story. 

    I kept thinking that somewhere in this book was a better book. I think I'd like to read that one.

    Published by Albert Whitman and Company, and available on
    Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

    Thursday, May 17, 2012

    Ecstasy is Necessary

    No, this is not a Hot Romance Novel ... at least in the traditional sense.

    Instead, Barbara Carrellas delivers Ecstasy is Necessary as a sort of guide to discovering your own path to ecstasy. This is a very individual journey. Yes, you can have a partner. Heck, you can have more than one. But that person is irrelevant if you don't understand yourself. You will not achieve fully realized ecstasy in an intimate relationship until you know your own needs, desires and fantasies.

    Carrellas is a new agey kind of girl who tells us about her 18 piercings. If you think this sounds weird or that she would be too weird to take seriously, allow me to say that I am about as new age as a '72 Buick LeSabre, and I could relate to a lot o what she has to say.

    This isn't so much a how-to book as an exploration. Carrellas gives you exercises, and you need a journal for recording them. She also gives you a lot to think about. How do you define ecstasy? What are your fantasies? What secretly kinky thing have you wanted to do but haven't? And why haven't you?

    The biggest message in Ecstasy is Necessary isn't the title, but rather that ecstasy is a journey, and you have to know yourself in order to successfully traverse it. My idea of ecstasy may be different from yours, and that's okay. As Carrellas puts it, "Ecstasy is available through so many avenues! I point this out to clients when they claim that joy, pleasure, or ecstasy is not possibile in their lives because, for some reason, sex is not available to them. Yes, orgasm and sex are hugely important, and for many people sex and orgasm are either the easiest or the only ways they know to access an ecstatic experience. But ecstatic experiences are available in a myriad of other ways." You need to figure out what ways are YOUR ways to ecstasy.

    One of the journal "prompts" she gives you is to write down sensual "elements" that make you feel safe, centered and special. Carrellas is big on safety and centeredness as pathways to ecstasy. She also stresses communication. All of this self-exploration is worthless if you can't explain your needs to your partner. For instance, when she guides you through determining an "erotic risk" that you would like to take, you must be able to communicate those desire with your partner.

    In these days of Fifty Shades of Grey making BDSM a coffee break discussion, Barbara Carrellas' guide arrives at an opportune moment. If you think that your sensual life needs a little boost, this is a non-threatening guide to getting you on the right path.

    Published by Hay House and available on
    Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.