Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer Giveaway Hop

Ready for another chance to win a book? Sure you are!

The Summer Giveaway Hop, co-hosted by I am a Reader, Not a Writer

From August 1st through August 7th, enter to win your choice of a fabulous prize.

So now the good part. What can you win? You will get to choose a digital copy of one of these three fantastic YA novels. Believe me when I tell you that all three of these are terrific books.

All you have to do is complete the Rafflecopter below. And please visit the other blogs participating in this giveaway. There are all sorts of great prizes out there, from gift certificates to more books. You know my motto: if it's free, it's for me.

Thank you for participating! Good luck!!

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Storm Bound

Storm Bound (A Cabin Fever Novella)
by Alice Gaines
Published by Avon Red
Available August 14
224 pages
Available for pre-order on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

Let me tell you: Alice Gaines can write about sexy times. A previous novella, Heat Rises, another in the Cabin Bound series, was scorching hot. This one, Storm Bound, makes Heat Rises look like kiddie lit.

Much like Heat Rises, the whole point of this fabulous little nugget is S-E-X. In this case, the hot lovin' is a mènage á trois, M/F/M styles.

The "plot" that gets us to the sex focuses on a swanky resort at a tropical island. Christie Lovejoy (oh, the names - wait till we get to one of the men) looks at the resort as her "baby," and she hopes that business partners - ready for it? - Wolf (!!!!!) and Jon will invest in the resort. When a hurricane bears down on the island, Christie makes sure everyone safely evacuates, except for Wolf (!!!!!) and Jon, with whom she hopes to get better acquainted. (wink wink)

Well, our boys are nothing if not up for this challenge, so they set out to help Christie keep her mind off of the hurricane. They have some hot - and I do mean HOT - sex. And in such locations! The hotel kitchen. The hotel workout gym. The beach. Christie discovers that two is better than one, and she revels in every touch, bite and thrust.

And then the rescue ferry arrives, and our story comes to its inevitable conclusion. Sadly, Alice Gaines tries to slap a happy face on the end, which is totally unnecessary. It would have been fine for the three to say their goodbyes and have the solace of their memories.

But that's a minor quibble. You read these things for the sex, and Alice Gaines is more than happy to provide you with some hot headboard rocking.

Quick, hot and fun. That's the essence of Storm Bound.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Theory of Attraction

The Theory of Attraction
Delphine Dryden
Published by Carina
121 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

You know what? I really liked this silly little book. I liked it a LOT.

Neighbors in an apartment complex largely inhabited by a bunch of geeky nerds, rocket scientist Ivan asks computer programmer Camille to help him woo prospects for funding grants Ivan needs to continue his research. Camille gamely agrees, largely due to her growing attraction to Ivan. At first glance, he is cold, forbidding and opinionated. But as she gets to know him, Camille discovers that Ivan is complex. He is passionate, for one thing, and he craves control in all aspects of his life.

Those of you who read Fifty Shades of Grey or Bared to You know what that means, right? Our boy Ivan likes to dole out punishment (as needed, of course) and exert his influence over the woman in his life. Ivan, you see, is a Dominant, and as her relationship with Ivan develops, Camille comes to discover that she might be submissive.

There is a plot here, believe it or not. Camille tries to help Ivan get what he wants, and in return, he helps her discover things she never knew she wanted. The plot doesn't get in the way of the crux of the tale, which is a woman embarking on a venture of self-discovery while the man lowers his inhibitions long enough to allow her into his life.

Bottom line, is this a good book? For what it is - a quick, hot read - yes, it is. We don't get to know much about the characters, but that's okay. We don't need to know more about Camille or Ivan to understand how and why they are drawn together. Ivan's sexual predilections are explained, which helps, but we nonetheless are left intrigued by him, much like Camille. These two have been friends and then progress into romance.

Now on to the good stuff: these two rock the headboard and then some. Ivan likes CONTROL, and he exerts it over Camille. We empathize with her initial confusion and continue to empathize with her as her understanding, acceptance and enjoyment of Ivan's lifestyle evolve. The sex scenes are HOT. Delphine Dryden knows how to write about sexy times, people. Oh, does she ever.

Are we talking The Great Gatsby or Pride and Prejudice? Of course not. But we are talking about a fast read with some well written sex scenes. Read this, let your brain check out for a little vacation, and enjoy,

Sharing Hailey

Sharing Hailey
Samantha Ann King
Published by Carina Press
240 pages
Available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
3 / 5 cupcakes

The cover tells you everything you need to know about this book. Except how it's written.

Hailey is in her twenties, and, as we are told MANY times, she is very hot looking. What we are supposed to like about her is that she doesn't know how hot she is (at one point, she's told she is a Jennifer Aniston look-a-like). She thinks she's ordinary.

Good for her.

When we meet her, she is on her way to Hawaii for a vacation with her brother, his pregnant wife, and her brother's two best friends, Tony and Mark, who also are good friends of Hailey's.

Can you guess who shares her? HINT: it isn't her brother and his wife.

Hailey also is recovering from a break-up with her abusive ex-boyfriend Daniel. Being the approachable, just folks kind of girl she is, Hailey had no idea Daniel was abusive. Sure, he shoved her into the wall and up against a car. Sure, he left bruises. But he didn't hit her, so he can't be abusive, right? Wrong.

So anyway, while on the plane to Hawaii, Hailey gets some conflicting signals from Mark and Tony. She's loved them for years but thinks they either are not interested or, worse, gay. It doesn't matter anyway, really, because she wouldn't choose between them if she had to do so. Well, good for her, because they don't want her to choose, they want to share her!

The boys explain their plan to Hailey, and just to prove that it will be soooo good, they give her a little demonstration as to the fabulosity of this arrangement. Hailey decides this may be a great idea after all, so let's do it, boys!

Of books must have conflict, and the conflict here is found in (a) Hailey's brother, whose acceptance of her menage is feared by Hailey and her menfolk, (b) her sister-in-law's heart condition, which poses a threat to her pregnancy, and (c) the crazy ex-boyfriend Daniel, who just might come to Hawaii to confront her. Oh, and he hates Mark and Tony.

Okay, so here's the deal with this book. It isn't very good. The sex scenes are hot, I'll give it that much. I can't imagine that it's easy to write about threesomes, because everyone needs their shot (so to speak) at the action, and Samantha Ann King does a good job of writing those. The problem is the rest of the book. At times, King delivers a treatise on abuse, which, while certainly information we need, is not appropriate for this venue. The tension surrounding Daniel goes nowhere, and the worry over how friends and family will feel about Hailey's unorthodox relationship is dispensed with too easily.

If you are into M/F/M threesomes and some hot lovin', go ahead and give this a try. Just skip all of the unnecessary plot stuff.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Northwest Corner

Northwest Corner
John Burnham Schwartz
Published by Random House
304 pages
Available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

Are we destined to repeat our parents' mistakes?

That is a central question, if not THE central question, in Northwest Corner. The sequel to Reservation Road (which I had not read, nor did I even realize that this was a sequel until I read the interview with John Burnham Schwartz at the end of the book), Northwest Corner picks up twelve years after Dwight Arno went to prison for accidentally killing a young boy. In Dwight's case, it was the old refrain: it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. He served less than three years in prison, after which he moved from Connecticut to California.

Dwight's post-prison life is simple: he's fifty, works at a sporting goods store, lives alone, and occasionally dates Penny, a single mother. Yet for all the simplicity of that day-to-day routine, the fact remains that Dwight lives across the country from Sam, with whom he has had no contact since he turned himself in to the police a dozen years ago. We learn that he has had very sporadic contact with Ruth, Sam's mother and Dwight's ex-wife.

So imagine Dwight's surprise when Sam shows up in California. Sam, you see, is in a bit of trouble. After a disastrous outing in a college baseball game, he gets into a bar fight, hits his opponent with an aluminum bat, and sends said opponent to the hospital. He goes, then, to the one person who might understand him.

Except - and here is where this book gets a wee bit frustrating - Sam says nothing. He never talks to Dwight, never discusses anything. Not his anger at being abandoned, not his anger at his father's previous treatment of his mother, not his fear that the kid in the hospital might not recover. Not his terror that he has become his father.

Yet as we discover, that reticence is very much the man Sam Arno has become. It frustrates us - as it certainly frustrates Dwight - but John Burnham Schwartz is unrelenting with Sam's depiction. We alternately want to huge him and shake him. The same with Dwight, as a matter of fact. You want him to connect with his son, but at the same time, you are furious that his contact with his boy for twelve years consists of little more than a birthday card with a check. There were no visits east. There were no phone calls. What does Dwight expect?

The suspense of what will become of Sam's legal problems takes a secondary role to what will become of Sam and Dwight, and even Ruth, Penny and Emma, the sister of the boy Dwight killed. Can they recover? Can they survive the continual assaults on their emotional well-being? Can they be the people they want to be?

As Dwight observes:
To build a solid, lasting bridge between two people, let alone a father and son with a history like ours, is a mighty human endeavor, and to sit here and think I might be able to accomplish it alone, with no glue, a few pickup sticks, and a dollop of spit, is nothing short of hubris. And hubris, the Greeks tell us, will see you dead. The robed chorus chanting your name until, in the last act, they bury and forget you.
Not quite the picture of paternal optimism, is he?

Told from the perspectives of Dwight, Sam, Ruth, Penny and Emma, we get to see how each of them thinks and feels about what happens to them. Emma and Penny get short shrift, Penny especially. While I liked Penny and was interested in what she was going through, I either wanted more or none at all. As it is, she seems sort of thrown in there to have the point of view of someone with no connection to the crimes in Connecticut. Emma is intriguing and baffling. Her feelings about something change completely, or so we're told, yet we don't really know why. Or if they really did.

But boy is this a good book. I enjoyed it tremendously, and now I want to go read Reservation Road. All of these characters have flaws, but they all desperately want to feel safe and hopeful. You will want them to as well.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lazy Days of Summer Giveaway Hop!

It's summer, and the time is right for a giveaway!

I am honored to be a part of the Lazy Days of Summer Giveaway Hop,

Here are the important details:

What you can win: your choice of one these fabulous books
That's right, kids! You get to choose your prize!

All you have to do is complete the Rafflecopter to enter to win. And see all those blogs listed below? Go visit them, too! There are lots of great prizes out there, so WIN WIN WIN!

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Testament of Jessie Lamb

The Testament of Jessie Lamb
Jane Rogers
Published by Harper Perennial
256 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
3 / 5 cupcakes

I am an English teacher, so if there is one thing in which I am well-versed, it is literary symbolism. Teach it, love it, know it. When done well, it's subtle enough to present a challenge but not so obvious that a third grader can spot it.

In the case of The Testament of Jessie Lamb, the symbolism is IN YOUR FACE. You can't avoid it, even if you prefer your books simple and approachable. It permeates this book like stink from a skunk.

Let's start with the first obvious symbol: Jessie Lamb. The name? Like, duh? Jessie, which could be a feminized version of Jesus, who is the Lamb of God. Add in the rest of the title, and OH MY GOD. Could it be more apparent?

Add to that some nifty water symbolism (Jesus was baptized! In water!) and a virgin birth (FOR REAL, people), and you have yourself a hot mess of symbolism. At one point, I found myself praying (no pun intended) for relief.

But let's say you're not like me (and I really hope you aren't, because one of me is enough punishment for the world). Let's say you read your books straight up, no analysis necessary. What, then, to make of this one?

Well ... the verdict is not good. Not bad, certainly, but not good, either.

The premise is strong: At some point in the not too distant future (Facebook is still around), a virus, supposedly triggered by bio terrorists, infects all human beings, killing women who get pregnant. In other words, the human population will vanish, because women die once they get pregnant. Sixteen-year-old Jessie Lamb at first merely observes the catastrophe, but when a boy she likes gets involved with a protest group, she joins him. And she begins to think about what this virus means.

Jessie's father is a research scientist trying to find a cure. He tells Jessie about the "Sleeping Beauties" - young girls Jessie's age who elect to get pregnant. Upon conception, they are put into a coma, which allows them to bear a child. Once the baby is born, the girl is literally put to sleep more permanently. The disease, called Maternal Death Syndrome (MDS - kind of the same acronym for doctors, isn't it?) causes the pregnant women to lose their minds, eventually killing them.

As Jessie's activism progresses, she comes to discover what her role could be. She believes she realizes what she should do to help with MDS, but when she shares her idea with her parents and would-be boyfriend, they are horrified. She is determined that she make a difference, even if her loved ones beg her not to do so.

There is nothing - and I do mean, NOTHING - uplifting about this book. I'm all for unhappy endings (paging Gone Girl), but Jane Rogers seems nothing less than militantly intent on depressing the hell out of us. One of Jessie's parents might be having an affair. Her best friend is subjected to a horrific act of violence. Her boyfriend apparently rejects her. Her aunt suffers heartbreak and descends into an abyss of despair. Jessie herself is subjected to poor treatment by friends and family.

Even the bleakness of the book could be excused if we accepted Jessie's reasons for doing what she does. She tries to justify it by saying that she wants to do something that she decides and controls, something her father would be proud to see her do:
To do something straightforward, where there would be no tangled argument and no compromise. Something that would make a difference to the world. Something that was within my power to do without having to rely on anyone else. Something that would make Dad proud. I pulled my pillow and duvet off the bed and wrapped myself up on the floor, so I could go on and on staring at the beech, letting that freedom unroll. The freedom to act. The freedom to do something I had decided for myself. 
A somewhat precocious manner of thinking for a sixteen-year-old, non?

Ultimately, I did not buy Jessie's rationale. She even considers another option, one that leaves her some control and the potential to have an impact, but she shrugs it off and goes with her plan. The harder she pursues it, the less sensible she becomes. What's almost worse, I stopped caring about her. In a book like this, with such a heavy premise, you must care about the characters. Too often, I found myself not liking her or her decision.

Like I said, the premise is very good. But when it comes to books about viruses that cause harm to reproduction, I recommend you go with Megan McCafferty's Bumped and Thumped, which at the very least give you characters to like.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

East of Denver

East of Denver
Gregory Hill
Published by Dutton Adult
320 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4.5 / 5

What a quirky, fun, heartbreaking book this is.

They say you can't go home again, but when his cat dies, Stacey "Shakespeare" "Shakes" Williams decides to bring it back to his small rural hometown, somewhere - you guessed it - east of Denver. Things certainly have changed. Shakes's dad is in the throes of dementia, occasionally forgetting that his wife died some years previously. Conversations are repeated. The home is a fetid bowl of squalor. And when his father's caretaker is discovered dead in a locked bathroom (she'd been there for two weeks, but thanks to a disorder that prevents both Shakes and Emmett, his father, from being able to smell, no one noticed), Shakes realizes he needs to stick around for a little while.

He reconnects not only with Emmett, but with some friends from high school as well. First is Clarissa, an overweight anorexic with a fear of vomiting, who works in the local bank. Then there is Vaughn Atkins, a paraplegic who lives in his mother's basement. Shakes's interactions with these folks depend on what he needs from them. In the case of Clarissa, it might be feminine companionship, or, more likely, information about Mike Crutchfield, the bank's owner. Vaughn provides comic relief, as well someone more lucid to talk to than Emmett.

As his visit progresses, Shakes discovers that his father is beyond broke. He's lost most of the family's land, and he sold his Cessna to Crutchfield for a mere $20. Shakes goes to confront the bank owner, only to be double-talked and left even more confused and hopeless. What can he do to help his father? In a "you steal from me and I'll steal from you" sensibility, Shakes decides to rob the bank.

Of course his plans do not quite turn out the way he expects.

Gregory Hill does an excellent job of creating the lazy, constricted atmosphere of a small town on the edge of ruin. While it appears that Shakes is lucky because he did escape, he's back home, just as ineffectual as everyone else. It seems like nothing good will happen for him or Emmett, and that sense of futility is never greater than when a doctor tells Shakes to feed Emmett fatty foods, because a heart attack beats the slow decline of dementia any day.

But not all is bleak. Hill writes some funny stuff in here, and those moments of wit and humor keep you optimistic, even as you know that Shakes and his father face certain doom and misery. Even the dead cat can't rest in peace.

There isn't a whole lot of plot in this book. The characters and dialogue drive the story more than the story itself. We never find out what Shakes has been doing since he left home, almost as if because those years away from Dorsey were as insignificant and meaningless as if he had never left. Shakes, it can be assumed, is damned if he did and damned if he didn't.

This book won Amazon.com's Breakthrough Novel Award in 2011, and when you read it, you will discover why. It is witty, sad and uplifting.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Such a Rush

Such a Rush
Jennifer Echols
Published by MTV Books
336 pages
Available on Amazon.com
I purchased my own copy.
5 / 5 cupcakes

I admit that I look down on trailer parks.

There you go. I am shallow, and, having lived in Florida, I view trailer parks as kibble for tornadoes and hurricanes. I draw conclusions about people who live in them. I am, you might say, an awful person.

I certainly feel awful about that prejudice after reading Such a Rush.

When Leah Jones is fourteen, she gets a job at an airstrip in Heaven Beach, South Carolina, which is within walking distance of her home in a trailer park. Leah's mother is about as AWOL as you can get. She comes and goes on her own whims, leaving Leah behind to fend for herself. On the rare occasions that she is present in her daughter's life, it's usually to take back a television set so she can hock it somewhere.

To say that Leah lives in poverty is to be generous. Yes, she has a roof over her head. Yes, she has heat and electricity. But she is alone, lives on what little food she can carry on her walks home from the grocery store, and, worse, she is continually victimized by the mean kids at her high school. They accuse her of being a slut, pointing to her tight clothes and flirtatious mannerisms. She realizes that she does wear low cut tops and has a tendency to sweet talk people when she wants something, but those are the lessons her mother taught her.

The only time Leah feels free is at the airstrip, where she pursues her dream of flying. She works out a deal with Mr. Hall, who runs a banner advertising company at airstrip. He cuts her a deal for flying lessons, and in a few years, after she amassed the necessary hours, she flies planes that drag his banners. When she's in the air, she feels it. Such a rush.

But of course this is about a high school girl, so boys are a part of the festivities. Grayson and Alec Hall are Mr. Hall's twin sons, and they live with their mother. Grayson believes Alec needs help, and his idea of assistance is to bribe Leah into dating Alec. But Leah likes Grayson, and he appears to like her, so complications ensue.

I have read all of Jennifer Echols's books, and one of the things I appreciate about her writing is how real it is. She creates high school girls who could be in my classroom. In the case of Leah, we have a girl who presents herself sexually yet gets her rush from flying, not sex. She wants sex, certainly, but on her terms. Despite her mother's frequent absences, she does not look for love and protection in high school boys. She finds it instead in the freedom that working, earning a paycheck, and chasing her dreams gives her.

Grayson, too, is realistic. He takes on tremendous responsibility for an eighteen-year-old boy, but his reasons for doing it ring true, as do his reasons for bribing Leah. We feel his conflicting emotions - he wants Leah for himself, but he wants to protect his brother more.

Even more importantly, we care about Leah and Grayson. We want them to feel safe, secure, happy and content. We want them together, even if Jennifer Echols never promises us a happy ending. Leah's unstable home life does not magically improve; her mother does not find her missing maternal instincts and take care of her daughter.

Then there is the flying. We get as addicted as Leah does to the rush, just as we become increasingly aware of the dangers involved. Her safety - and Grayson's and Alec's, too - matters to us. And not just her safety in the sky, but her safety on the ground. We want to protect her from school bullies, from her awful mother, and from anyone trying to use her.

Such a Rush is such a good book. Teens will love it, and adults will as well.

One Pink Line

One Pink Line
Dina Silver
Published by CreateSpace
240 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Copy won in a contest
5 / 5 cupcakes

If you've ever taken a home pregnancy test, you know the nerves involved. If you want it to be positive, you are terrified it won't be. If you want it to be negative, well, that's even more stressful. A wanted pregnancy is one thing; an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster.

So it is with Sydney Shepherd, who, while mired in final exams during her senior year, flunks a pregnancy test. Her story is told in flashbacks, as we are walked through Sydney's romantic history with high school boyfriend Ethan, all the way up to the baby daddy. Who is he? Well, you need to read to find out.

I'll tell you this much: I really, really liked Ethan, and I really, really wanted it to be him. He's almost too good. He admits to harboring a crush on Sydney for a couple of years, and he begs her to increase the seriousness of their long-distance relationship. Sydney resists, mostly because she wants to enjoy her senior year without worrying about Ethan. It isn't that she wants or plans to be unfaithful. She loves him and is devoted to him. It's more that she doesn't want to think of him as an obligation, or for him to think of her that way.

In a parallel story, we meet Grace, who discovers during 6th grade sex ed that she was conceived before her parents were married. Grace is shocked. She assumed that her parents' epic romance produced her, but now she is not sure. She was two when they got married, so is her father really her father? If not, who is? Unlike Sydney's story, Grace's is told in the traditional sense, going forward in time.

I could not put this book down. I became so invested in Sydney's story that I absolutely HAD TO KNOW who the identity of the baby daddy. Please please please let it be Ethan! I also wanted to know what would happen to Sydney, so it is a testament to Dina Silver's writing that I cared so much.

Grace's story is equally as engrossing. A lot of us did the math on our conception dates, some of us discovering that Mom and Dad might have had a shotgun wedding. Grace's mortification at the timing of her birth is realistically presented. We understand her shock and sense of betrayal.

This is a terrific summer read - really, an any season read. It's engrossing, entertaining, and enjoyable.

Compulsively Mr. Darcy

Compulsively Mr. Darcy
Nina Benneton
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark
352 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Purchased copy
4 / 5 cupcakes

So on the long list of my obsessions, Pride & Prejudice might just take second place (behind Bruce Springsteen). I re-read that book at least once a year, and I became a high school English teacher just so I could teach it. I am nothing if not well versed in Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

But when it comes to reading fan fiction based on Pride & Prejudice, I approach with caution. What will the author do to my beloved characters? The story? The passion? The humor? Will I want to pluck my eyes out or will I think, "Now, THAT'S how it's done!"

In the case of Compulsively Mr. Darcy, it's something of a combination platter.

Elizabeth Bennet is an infectious disease doctor volunteering her time in Vietnam, where her sister Jane is filling in as the operator of an orphanage and adoption agency. (The agency's owner is the girls' Aunt Gardiner.) Charles Bingley and William Darcy accompany Charles's sister and brother-in-law, the Hursts, when they come for a potential adoption. Also joining them is Caroline Bingley, who harbors a deep wish of becoming Mrs. Darcy.

William and Elizabeth meet cute when Charles goes to the doctor for stitches and William faints at the sight of blood, after he berates Elizabeth and her staff for their less than prompt attention. William later spots Elizabeth and immediately is attracted to her lively green eyes. And when I say "attracted," I mean that our Mr. Darcy is AROUSED.

The two begin their romance, which of course proceeds with fits and starts. Aunt Catherine de Bourgh and her stepdaughter Anne try to cause trouble, and then there is that pesky George Wickham, who is every bit as seedy in this telling as he was in Jane Austen's.

There are some sex scenes, folks. Mr. Darcy likes to rock that headboard with abandon (le sigh - he always has, as far as I'm concerned), and he and Elizabeth enjoy some robust, if also a bit creative, couplings.

But is the book good?

Yes and no.

Darcy has OCD, which ... really? I've never seen him in that manner. Elizabeth is feisty and misreads EVERYTHING, preferring to see the absolutely wrong state of things. Lydia is not a tramp, Mary is an eco warrior, and Kitty graduated from Stanford (with honors!!). The obvious winks to the source material get old, especially references to the BBC miniseries and the Keira Knightley movie.

I think what bothered me the most was that this Mr. Darcy is not the alpha male that I pictured him as being. He is too besotted with Elizabeth. Yes, Mr. Darcy is obsessed with her, but not to the point of directing her life. And Elizabeth occasionally is just as silly as her sisters.

Still, though, it's a fun, quick read, with some reasonably hot sex scenes.

If you're looking for a frothy little romance, this is for you. But if you are easily frustrated (or offended) by mediocre P&P fan fic, then find something else.

Too Good to Be True

Too Good to Be True
Kristan Higgins
Published by Harlequin
384 pages
Available on Amazon.com
I bought my own copy
5 / 5 cupcakes

So I love Kristan Higgins. We know that, right? I rave about her all the time, I gave away one of her books, and I can't get enough of how she writes. So it will come as no surprise that I really liked Too Good to Be True.

Grace Emerson is the middle child of bickering parents. Her father is a lawyer, while her mother crafts glass sculptures in the shapes of female reproductive organs. Gorgeous older sister Margaret, also an attorney, is in a complacent marriage not improved by her caustic observations. Gorgeous younger sister Natalie is an architect. She's also dating Grace's ex-fiance.

When Grace has come up against romantic conundrums in the past, she solved her problems by making up a boyfriend. Her solution to Natalie's relationship with the ex-fiance is no different. This time she creates Wyatt the Pediatric Surgeon, who, in addition to saving lives, also rescues feral cats. Grace's intentions are honorable; she knows that Natalie will not invest herself in a relationship with Andrew unless she knows that Grace is happy, and Grace is smart and intuitive enough to know that what Andrew and Natalie feel for each other is very different - far more passionate - than what she and Andrew shared.

But then trouble shows up in the form of Callahan O'Shea, Grace's new rugged and HOT neighbor, who recently spent time in the old Grey Bar Hotel. Callahan's ex-con background may put off some people, but Grace is too attracted to him to let a little thing like a prison record keep her from finding out if he's a good kisser.

Like most of Higgins's books, you know exactly where this is headed. And, like most of her books, our heroine has a colorful family for whom she does too much and to whom she is a bit too devoted. Grace's self-sacrifice knows no end. There are times when you want to scream at Andrew and Natalie on her behalf. Thank goodness for Margaret, who often says what we think.

This book differs from others, however, in that Grace and Callahan are together as a couple more than Higgins typically delivers. We actually get to see them struggle together to work things out, and it's fun to read.

Still, this is a feel-good, happy book, full of Higgins's witty one-liners. The path to true love never runs smoothly, least of all in a Higgins novel, but fortunately she gives us heroes and heroines we can root for, along with some good, hot kissing.

Drain You

Drain You
M. Beth Bloom
Published by Harper Collins
Available July 24, 2012
400 pages
Available for pre-order on Amazon.com
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

I'll admit that I feel as if I've had it up to HERE with vampires and vampire stories. Oh, Stephenie Meyer, I do blame you, sister. And I'm sure I'll blame E. L. James when the inevitable rush of BDSM books comes my way.

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I started reading this book. Yet before I knew it, I'd been sucked in to the story. GET IT? SUCKED IN? HAHAHAHA. Okay, maybe not. I'd love to say no pun intended, but I intended it.


Quinlan Lacey is on the cusp of her senior year of high school and fighting the malaise of her life: parents who give her way too much freedom, a boring job at a boring video rental store, a best friend who is too blonde and too rich and too equally bored, and a boy who loves her a little too much. She attempts to battle her dull sheen by dressing in quirky styles, whether donning a bikini top to go to work or plaid flannel accompanied by thick black eyeliner. Quinn needs something interesting to happen, otherwise she might just float away on a flotsam of boredom.

But meeting James Sheets may be more than what she wished for, if not more than what she needs. You see, James is a vampire, but he's a HOT vampire and Quinn falls in love with him.

Unfortunately, he is not the only vampire in town. Some of Quinn's high school classmates are members of that increasingly not exclusive club, and when her best friend Libby is preyed upon, Quinn decides to rescue her. Doing so, however, puts Quinn, James and James's siblings, Naomi and Whit, in a whole heap of trouble.

But Quinn can't help herself. She can't help that she loves James and not Morgan, her video store coworker who she can't help taking advantage of, even if she knows it's hurtful. She can't help that she loves James and not his brother Whit, who, like Morgan, is HUMAN, and therefore a better bet for long-term romance. She can't help that she alternately uses and enjoys the friendship of James's sister Naomi. She also can't help that she wants to rescue Libby, because that's what best friends do.
I waited for the fear to take hold and disfigure every sweet vision I had of James's face into something awful and evil. But the fear didn't flood my mind as much as the loneliness. I felt lonely for James, for Naomi, for Libby, for myself. Loving James was seriously not okay, and I knew it. His whole life - existence, whatever - wasn't real. My taste in guys had gone from lame to dystopian.
See, every time you start to hate Quinn and hate this book, M. Beth Bloom hooks you back in with lines like that. Just as Quinn can't resist James, even though she knows better (Morgan, Whit) is out there, you will not resist this book.

That isn't to say that it's good. It occasionally is repetitive - how many times is Quinn going to leave a note for her parents just before driving off in their Lexus - and not many of the characters are all that likable. Then there is the ending. I assume M. Beth Bloom is setting us up for a sequel, because there is no other explanation for how this book ends. Believe me when I tell you that you will scream in frustration.

Teen readers will probably enjoy this a great deal, for both its romance and its characters, whether vampire or human. While much of Quinn's dissatisfaction may seem off-putting to the grown-ups, it undoubtedly will hit a familiar vein (there I go again) with the teens.

As vampire books go, Drain You is not bad, but it takes work to read it. You need to push through the frustrating, monotonous parts, much like Quinn needs to with her life. It's worth it, if only to want to wring - if not bite - M. Beth Bloom's neck.

The Next Best Thing

The Next Best Thing
Jennifer Weiner
Published by Atria Books
400 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes

I'm going to tell you fine people right up front: I have a MAJOR girl crush on Jennifer Weiner. Like, MAJOR. Ever since Good in Bed, I have lapped up her books like a chocoholic at a Godiva sale.

The Next Best Thing (not to be confused with the Kristan Higgins book with the same title) is FABULOUS, and I would think that even if I didn't know that Jennifer Weiner wrote it.

Ruth Saunders is nearing 30 and still living with her grandmother. It's a comfortable arrangement sprung from tragedy: Ruth's parents died when she was a little girl, and the accident that killed them left Ruth with a host of broken bones, including some on her face. The ensuing surgeries have marked her, both outwardly (the left side of her face is wracked with scars) and inwardly. Ruth fears she will never be beautiful.

Not that she lets such worries consume her. After graduating from college, Ruth and her grandma head west, where Ruth toils in obscurity as an assistant to a television writer. When her attempt at a romance with her boss goes horribly awry (as those things tend to do), she quits, eventually landing a job with Big Dave and Little Dave, a pair of writers who value her intellect and input. In true Ruthie form, she finds herself crushing on Little Dave, himself a victim of an accident that left him in a wheelchair.

As a Hollywood satire, this is close to brilliant. Ruthie writes a script that is picked up for a television series, only to be completely warped and revised to suit the network. Yes, she occasionally is powerless to the point of being spineless, but if we ask ourselves what we might have done differently, we might realize that we would have gotten fired over that response. Ruth is a survivor, whether from the accident or her treatment by Hollywood. She will do what must be done to get her show on the air, even if it involves selling chunks of her creative soul.

This also is a romance, and not just between Ruthie and the man she loves. There is the romance between Ruthie and her grandma, which is beautiful and touching. Grandma is not a wacky, salty old broad, straight out of Central Casting. She is a vibrant woman with her own interests, and her love of and devotion to Ruthie actually warmed my cold hard heart. Even so, she has her own life, one that occasionally eclipses her granddaughter's.

Oh, how I cried while reading this. I wept over Ruthie's fears of being alone. I wept over her loss of control over her television show. I wept over her feelings toward Little Dave. I cried like a drunk at a wedding, and I am not ashamed to admit it. Jennifer Weiner writes with such realism and heart that I defy you not to fall in love with Ruthie (and maybe Jennifer Weiner too).

Although most of us cannot relate to Hollywood's endless cycle of selling out, we nonetheless can see ourselves in Ruthie and her quest to make something of herself and find someone who loves her. She is not perfect; she makes terrible mistakes, underestimates herself, and misreads all manner of situations. But she keeps trying. She never gives up, not on herself or her dreams. When she admits to Little Dave her sadness over her scars, you don't need to be a sitcom veteran to empathize with her.

But you do need to have some tissues handy, because she will break your heart. In a good way, I promise.

Semi-Charmed Life

Semi-Charmed Life
Nora Zelevansky
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
336 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

There are some things I just do not understand about people. For instance, why are there Kardashians? Why do we allow them to exist outside of their home? Why do we allow those Jersey Shore cretins to make more money than an entire platoon of troops? Why do people watch crap like that on television?

It isn't that Nora Zelevansky answers those questions in Semi-Charmed Life, but she does get to the essence of why we so willingly follow these idiots off cliffs: fame, fortune and free swag.

College senior Beatrice Bernstein finds herself caught up in the whirlwind known as Veruca Pfeffernoose, a blonde socialite (think Paris Hilton, another parasite whose fame is beyond all rational thought) who hires Beatrice to ghost write a blog detailing Veruca's high flying lifestyle. Of course Beatrice falls in thrall with private planes, facials and Balenciaga bags. She even finds herself copping Veruca's attitude.
To the unknowing onlooker, Beatrice might easily have been the crew's queen bee. She was now a fully indoctrinated member of Veruca's gang. In observing the media princess so closely she had unconsciously picked up some habits, including the socialite's coy crinkling of the nose whenever she was digging in her heels. She'd also perfected the blank stare, which Veruca - and now Beatrice - used to avoid communicating an actual opinion, perhaps about a given reality TV star or gossip columnist.
Yes, poor Beatrice. all of that free designer footwear and top shelf champagne is like the serpent in the Garden of Eden: nothing good can come of it. Beatrice compromises her credo, not to mention warps her moral compass. She ditches friends and family, while coveting Veruca's hot boyfriend Ben.

Can Beatrice be saved?

Well, of course she can. What might have made this a better book is if she COULDN'T. But ... just because this is predictable does not mean it is not enjoyable. There are a few zigs when you think Zelevansky will zag, and Beatrice is someone we really do want to rescue. We can't leave her with Veruca and her pals, aka the Axis of Evil.

Zelevansky take us around the world with Beatrice, Veruca and their hangers-on, and we can understand why Beatrice cannot resist the pull of Veruca's orbit. Yes, you easily an predict the outcome. But this is a fun, escapist book that might even cause you to question the popularity of real-life Verucas. If we are so stupid as to condone their fame, can we blame them? Or ourselves?

Grammar Girl's 101 Troublesome Words You'll Master in No Time

Grammar Girl's 101 Troublesome Words You'll Master in No Time
Mignon Fogarty
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
144 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
5 / 5 cupcakes

As a high school English teacher, I owe a debt of gratitude to Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl. Her mission - and thank the Oxford comma that she accepted it - is to improve our understanding nd usage of grammar. This handy book walks you through 101 words that we typically confuse or misuse. What I like about it is that she explains what we SHOULD do, and she includes quotes from pop culture. For example, when discussing the difference between "out loud" and "aloud", Fogarty includes quotes from Annie Lamott (!!!) and J. R. R. Tolkein.

My favorite? "They." As in "who the hell?" You know those times when you have no idea if you're talking about a him or a her? And how when those times occur, you tend to say "they," even though you may be discussing a single person? Fogarty says to "rewrite your sentences to avoid using they as a singular pronoun. Making the subject plural is often an easy solution." And then she quotes Jane Austen as an example! SWEET!

I do love Jane Austen. I also love Mark Twain, who did NOT love Jane Austen, going so far as to say that my beloved Jane makes him "detest all her people without reserve." He even declared that reading Pride and Prejudice caused him to "dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin bone." I am all astonishment.

But I digress.

This is a fantastic reference book for those of us who like to think that we use proper grammar at all times. Let's just say that while Mignon Fogarty gives people like me a complex, she also improves our communication skills.

Elza's Kitchen

Elzas Kitchen
Marc Fitten
Published by Bloomsbury USA
224 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
3.5 / 5 cupcakes

I don't think this book can figure out what it's about. Is it a mid-life coming of age? A woman's need to right a wrong? The story of two lovers who need to be away from each other in order to grow? Elza is a chef in Hungary, but she's restless. At forty-eight, she feels like her life should go somewhere, but it isn't. Her restaurant is successful, but not recognized by Michelin. Her romance with her nearly two decades younger sous chef is equally stagnant. He wants to get married, but she doesn't. She decides that she needs to make changes in her professional and love lives, and at first, neither plan seems to work out well.
Ten years of scraping pots and gutting chickens and getting burned by pans that spit oil at her, of giving up a normal life, had led her to this: no family, no love, no respect, a filthy kitchen and an ex-lover stirring a pot of cherries with an attractive owner woman? Elza did not think herself a jealous woman, but right now she wanted to break a few dishes.
Okay. So. As a romance, this is pretty good. Elza is kind of mean spirited, but, as another character observes, she's frozen in her head. She really doesn't know what she wants. Yet we like her, and we want her to find her way. But then the book takes an odd turn. Elza accidentally injures a child, and now we're off on some rot of retribution-fueled tangent. Strange, to say the least. One observation: none of the male characters is named. They are all referred to by their jobs - the sous chef, the dishwasher, the line cook. Only the women are named. It's an interesting choice, no? This is a quick book to read, and ultimately satisfying, but there is that odd detour that sort of throws you. Still, Marc Fitten has an interesting voice that deserves to be read.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

We have a winner!

Gale Adkins Nelson won the Summer Reads Giveaway!

Gale, please check your email and reply back within 48 hours to
let me know which book you would like to receive.

THANK YOU to everyone who visited, followed, commented on
and read this blog. I appreciate it beyond words.

As I come up to my 100th follower, there will be another giveaway!
So tell your friends, tell your enemies, tell your family and
tell everyone to come on over, sit a spell, and follow.

Thank you!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Power Play: Awakening

Power Play: Awakening
Rachel Hamowitz & Cat Grant
Published by Riptide Publishing
256 pages
Available on Amazon.com Kindle
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

When we last we left off with Jonathan and Brandon in Power Play: Resistance, their Dominant/submissive relationship had gone through a bit of a rocky patch. Brandon realized that he wants to be with Jonathan, Jonathan realized that he needs to treat what they have as a relationship just as much as an opportunity to exert his Dominant side, and those two crazy love birds decided to give it another whirl.

But of course it does not come easily to either of them.

Whereas Resistance focused on Jonathan breaking down Brandon, Awakening is the story of building Brandon back up. It's also something of Jonathan's story, as we get to know him better. We meet the man who introduced Jonathan to the Dominant lifestyle, and we also meet a female ex-sub of his. Whereas Brandon's issues were obvious, Jonathan's are more subtle; he has to change every bit as much as Brandon if their relationship is going to work.

If Resistance was the set-up, Awakening is the payoff and the love story. As Jonathan and Brandon come to terms with themselves and each other - as they  fully trust each other with all that they have and are - their feelings intensify. Brandon begins to understand that with submission comes power. The power to overcome everything that has held you back, the power of confidence and trust. He also comes to see the power in giving himself to Jonathan for the latter's sadistic needs.

This is an unconventional love story, to say the least. And not because it's about two men. It's more the way they come to love each other, through domination and submission, through pain and pleasure. Unlike Resistance, there are moments of sweetness in this book, of courtship and love.

About the sexy times: they are every bit as graphic and brutal as those in Resistance. But they are not repetitive; Jonathan takes Brandon through different experiences, and because of the love story aspect, the headboard rockin' takes on a different sheen. It's still about power and submission, but it's also about love. You know, feelings and all that stuff.

Will you like Brandon more? Eh. I don't know. I still am not a big fan of his, although goodness knows the man fully gave of himself to Jonathan. I just couldn't warm up to him the way I think I was supposed to. Now, Jonathan, on the other hand? I love him.

If you read Resistance, you must read Awakening.

Power Play: Resistance

Power Play: Resistance
Rachel Haimowitz & Cat Grant
Published by Riptide Publishing
254 pages
Available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
3.5 / 5

If Fifty Shades of Grey was too hardcore for you, let me just say that (a) the BDSM community finds you precious and (b) don't even THINK about reading this book, especially if the spectre of gay lovin' scares you to death.

Brandon "Bran" McKinney is one of those men whose rough and tumble background has caused him to be arrogant, tough and unyielding. So why Jonathan Watkins thinks Brandon will make a fabulous submissive is a bit mysterious. Yes, Brandon drops to his knees during their first assignation, after Jonathan kind of forces him to do so. And, yes, Brandon does not unlock the cuff that Jonathan puts on him. So those two slim artifacts appear to be enough to convince Jonathan that Brandon will be the sub to his Dom.

Well, as anyone could have told poor old Jonathan, Brandon is a tough nut to crack, and he does not go willingly into the sub lifestyle. He agrees to a six-month contract, only because he wants $3 million to buy his own contracting company. But Brandon turns out to be woefully naive, because the whole "You are mine and you must do as I say" thing rubs Brandon the wrong way. No pun intended.

Brandon puts up a mighty fight, so much so that Jonathan finds himself at a loss. Brandon won't use his safe word, won't leave the contract, but also won't submit. What is a poor Dominant to do?

This book, folks, is raw. The sex scenes are severe, brutal and graphic. Brandon has Issues, and Jonathan is determined to beat them out of him, so to speak. Can this relationship be saved? You need to read to find out. (But here is a hint: there is a sequel.) Brandon is such a pig that it's difficult to sympathize with him, even from the standpoint of his shock at Jonathan's proclivities. Jonathan, on the other hand, is adorable, and he's the reason you will keep reading this book. Unfortunately, the focus tends to be on Brandon.

The thing about this book, though, is that ultimately it is the story of trust. How can you get someone to trust you? How can you learn to trust when doing so has brought you nothing but agony?

Give this a whirl if you have a hankering for some gay lovin', bondage styles.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Guest Book

The Guest Book
Marybeth Whalen
Published by Zondervan
336 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

Well, what do you know. We have a summer beach read that is actually set at - GET THIS - the beach! Not that The Guest Book wouldn't work at any time of the year, but its arrival this summer fits rather nicely.

Macy is twenty-four, a single mother (the baby daddy hit the road when daughter Emma was an infant), works as a clerk at a grocery store, and basically has her life's gear set on idle. She's in a perpetual state of waiting. She waits for Emma's father to come back (he does, but is that what she wants?), she waits to get over her father's death ten years ago, she waits for middle of the night phone calls from her wayward older brother Max (he needs her to bail him out of one scrape after another), she waits for her mother to heal from grief, and she waits to find out the identity of The Artist.

Ah, The Artist.

He's a boy - or at least, he's frozen as a boy - with whom she began a correspondence of sorts in a beach cottage guest book when she was five. She drew a picture of some shells, and when she returned the following year, the boy had drawn her a picture. They exchange these drawings, along with photos of each other, for nine years. But with the death of Macy's father, going to the beach becomes too difficult for her mother, Max and her. Then Emma came along, and life sort of took off without Macy realizing it.

On the tenth anniversary of her father's death, Macy's mother announces that she has rented the cottage for two weeks. Macy greets the news with joy, if not a teensy bit of ambivalence. The baby daddy is back in her life, and she needs to decide what to do with that, and she's worried about the guest book. What happened to it? Can she find it? What happened to The Artist?

Macy herself is an artist, not that she uses her talents for anything other than painting the windows of the grocery store. But she has an artist's sensibilities, and the romance of reconnecting with the guest book - and The Artist - beckons her. She also finds herself needing to reconnect with God; she loosened that bond after her father died, but now, coming back to the beach house, she feels drawn back to prayer and the Lord. Again, the guest book is like a talisman to her.
After she drew the butterfly shells in the guest book, she'd imagined the other guests who came to the beach house wondering about the little girl who'd drawn the picture. She wondered if they would say her drawing was exceptional. She wanted to do something special for God with her talents, like Daddy had told her to. She wanted to be exceptional.
And so a mystery of sorts unfolds. Who is The Artist? Can she find him when she returns to Sunset Beach? Can she help her mother and her brother? Can she figure out what to do with the Baby Daddy? Can she find romance?

This is a sweet, heartwarming book utterly devoid of any scenes featuring people rocking the headboard. What lovin' is featured is almost chaste. Romance is almost beside the point here, anyway. What drives this book is Macy and her quest to move forward in her life, to get off of idle and be exceptional, even in a small way.

Yes, there is some old time religion here, so all you Bible thumper haters need to move on to another book. God's presence is very strong, whether it's through Macy's prayers or her friendship with a hot looking minister. As she tries to find the answers to her questions, she realizes that she needs God's help. Will you be told to drop to your knees and beg for Jesus? No. But will you maybe think that maybe asking God for guidance couldn't hurt? Perhaps.

If you want a quick, happy little book, this is the one for you. And if you can read it at the beach, all the better.

Seven Day Loan

Seven Day Loan
Tiffany Reisz
Published by Harlequin Spice Briefs
38 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes

If Fifty Shades of Grey was too graphic for you, then you can click on out of this review, because Seven Day Loan might just blow your mess out.

Ostensibly about a submissive woman in a BDSM relationship, this isn't so much about domination and submission as it is about why we stay with people. Oh, who am I kidding. This novella is about SEX: lots of it, and as kinky as possible.

Eleanor is a submissive to a Dominant we only know as "him." As he heads out of town for a week, he loans her to Daniel, a friend of his who is getting over the death of his wife three years earlier. Daniel, like Eleanor's lover, is a Dominant, so when the lover snaps his fingers and makes Eleanor kneel before him, Daniel is neither shocked nor surprised.

So then the lover leaves, and it is GAME ON for Daniel and Eleanor.

Oh, people.

These two engage in all manner of sexual hijinks, including one particularly graphic encounter on the kitchen floor. Daniel reassumes his domination after a three-year mourning period, treating Eleanor as if she is his (temporary) property. She is there for him to use as he sees fit, and both of them know it. Eleanor is a willing, participative submissive, and she believes she belongs to her lover. But Daniel is so tempting, and he can offer her things that her lover cannot.

This is hot erotica, well done. If we don't understand Eleanor too much - if we don't understand her relationship with her lover at all - that's okay. What we need to understand is the passionate connection between her and Daniel, and understand it we do.

Just submit (HAHAHAHA) and enjoy.

Life is Short and Desire Endless

Life is Short and Desire Endless
Patrick Lapeyre
Published by Other Press
336 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

Woody Allen once said that the heart wants what the heart wants. (We won't go into the circumstances that prompted that musing, because ew!) Patrick Lapeyre takes that notion to heart in this book. Boy, does he ever.

Two men, a frenchman named Blériot and an American named Murphy, want Nora Neville, an English woman with some French ancestry. Blériot is married, but directionless. His "career" consists of working as a freelance translator, but he doesn't really like his job, nor is he motivated to do much with it. His wife, Sabine, brings in the money; Blériot tends to make more from handouts from his parents and friend Léonard than he does from actual work. Blériot does care about his wife, although theirs is a stagnant, complacent marriage.

Murphy is the opposite of Blériot: he has a good, stable job at a London finance agency (he graduated from Harvard, after all) and earns his money. He has an apartment, an assortment of associates (if not real friends), and a life he is moving toward, as opposed to Blériot's more circuitous route.

While the two are very different, Blériot and Murphy share one passion: Nora Neville. She has bewitched both men, and their desire for her is, well, endless. Each met her at a party, and each was immediately captivated by her to the point of obsession. Blériot happily jeopardizes his marriage, while Murphy allows the distraction of Nora to complicate his career.

We also have Vicky Laumett, who, thanks to a teenage dalliance with Nora, is as obsessed with her as Blériot and Murphy.

What do these three people see in Nora Neville? Well ... that is a question that is not quite answered in this book. Perhaps it's Nora's brown eyes, which are the only physical feature of her that Lapeyre details. She is not particularly sexual; at times she even appears to dislike sex. She does not provide either man with emotional or spiritual comfort; in fact, she deserts them every time their need for her intensifies. Even Lapeyre seems confused by Nora's appeal:
She'd had so many lovers, so many lives dovetailed into one another, you'd be forgiven for thinking she secretes an active substance when she comes in contact with men, one that singlehandedly makes them fall at her feet.

We a readers draw the same conclusion. Nora must use some sort of alchemy - secretions, potions, trances - that bind these men to her, because truly, she is not a likable girl. She is manipulative and selfish. She knows how Blériot and Murphy (and Vicky) feel about her, but that doesn't stop her from her sudden desertions, as she flits back and forth between the two men. She tells one of them that she loves him, while she tells the other that she loves his innocence. What she likely loves more is that they make themselves available for her on her schedule. She certainly loves her freedom, because the second she feels crowded by Blériot or Murphy, she bolts.

As for our boys in love, this really is Blériot's story, more than Murphy's. Blériot is almost a tragic figure, with his inability to do anything about his career, his marriage or his relationship with Nora. When he finally does do something, it doesn't take, because he reverts back to obsession, allowing himself to be driven by his endless desire.

Is this a good book? Yes, it is, but you have to be patient with it. You cannot expect neatness or tidiness. It unfolds slowly and evocatively, and as it does so, it pulls us into Blériot and Murphy's need for and obsession with Nora. Much like Nora does with her men, the book spellbinds you, and before you realize it, you cannot stop reading it. You must see it to its completion.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker
Published by Random House
288 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes

Sometimes, you get to read a book that grabs your mind and doesn't let go, even when you finish reading it. You might even feel angry when it's over, because you don't want to say goodbye.

Such is the case with The Age of Miracles, which made me so nervous and anxious while I was reading it that I thought I would have to self-medicate with some chocolate chips with walnuts. And now that I finished reading it, I'm PISSED OFF. How dare Karen Thompson Walker write this and then end it? I mean, the nerve of some people.

So here is the premise: for reasons no one seems to understand, the world starts spinning slower. Days take longer, the earth's magnetic field is disturbed, and life as we know it changes radically and unsparingly. Told from the point of view of 11-year-old Julia, the "slowing," as it's called, is a metaphor for the changes Julia experiences on the cusp of puberty. You remember middle school, right? How your best friend one day won't speak to you the next? What it was like to have a mad, secret crush on a boy who seems oblivious to you? And what it felt like when he finally - FINALLY - paid attention to you? Oh, and the boobs. Remember what it was like waiting for those to come in?

While Julia and the rest of the world try to adjust to the slowing, Julia also has to adjust to the circumstances in her own life. Her parents' marriage seems problematic, to say the least, and Julia's allegiances fluctuate as she tries to figure out how much of her parents' problems are due to the slowing and how much to them just being them? The same goes for her friendships and even her piano lessons. When whales wash up on the shore, she hopes that by cooling them with cups of water, she can save them. She is desperate for her small gestures to be useful and effective. She wants things to stay the same, yet she craves change. Most of all, she wants to figure out who she is and what is her place in the world.
What I understood so far about this life was that there were the bullies and the bullied, the hunters and the hunted, the strong and the stronger and the weak, and so far I'd never fallen into any group - I was one of the rest, a quiet girl with an average face, one in the harmless and unharmed crowd. But it seemed all at once that this balance had shifted.
While so much of her life changes - her waking day may begin as early as 2:00 a.m., when the sun rises - some things stay the same. Julia still has to go to school, she still feels slighted when someone throws a birthday party and doesn't invite her. She still has soccer practice. She needs those remnants of stability to ground her in her unstable world, a place where she learns that "so much that seems harmless in daylight turns imposing in the dark. What else, you had to wonder, was only a trick of light?"

You should know that there are moments of bleakness in this book. Gut wrenching, heartbreaking moments of extreme sadness. They make Julia - and us - savor her moments of joy, because we know how tenuous and fleeting those will be.

The only problem with The Age of Miracles is that it ends. And, okay, the ending is not fabulous. I have tried to figure out how it could have ended, and I'm left with no ideas. Karen Thompson Walker does not slap on a happy ending, and for that she should be commended. She ends with just as many questions as she started, but then again, that's life, right? Do we ever get the answers, even in an age of miracles?

Summer Reads Giveaway

Hey, kids! Don't forget to enter to win your choice of a copy (print or digital) of one of these three FABULOUS summer reads:
On the Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves
Temptation Island by Victoria Fox
Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker

See the post below for information on how to enter.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

One Breath Away

One Breath Away
Heather Gudenkauf
Published by Harlequin MIRA
384 pages
Available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

Before you begin this book, make sure you have a few hours free from any distractions. Take the phone off the hook, send the kids outside, and lock yourself in your room. You will not be able to stop reading until the last page.

Broken Branch, Iowa, finds itself in the grip of a Columbine-type nightmare. A gunman has taken over the school - it houses all the students in the community, kindergarten through high school - and no one knows why. They don't even know who he is. One thing they are certain about is that they are, as the title tells us, one breath away from rescue or tragedy.

Heather Gudenkauf tells the story from several points of view. Holly Baker has two children at the school, but if it wasn't for a disaster of her own, those kids would be home in Arizona with her. As it is, Holly had to send them, much against her will, to her parents while Holly heals. Her father, Will, provides the sole male pair of eyes through which we get the story. With his wife and daughter in Arizona, the caring of his grandchildren falls to him. He is determined to help them and Holly. Augie Baker is Holly's thirteen-year-old daughter, and she is full of all of the angst and attitude of a thirteen-year-old. Her soft spot, though, is her brother, P.J., and when she discovers that the gunman is in P.J.'s classroom, she knows she must help her brother. P.J.'s teacher, Evie Oliver, tries desperately to help her charges while dealing with the gunman. Her mantra to herself is that she will save them; she will not be a person who sits and does nothing. The final point of view comes from Meg Barrett, a police officer whose daughter Maria is one of Evie Oliver's students. Fortunately, Maria is not at school that day, but Meg fears a personal connection to the gunman nonetheless.

This is a tightly wound, gripping thriller that does not let go of you until its very last words. Who is the gunman? Why does he take the school hostage? What will happen to Holly and her children? To Will? Can Evie Oliver save the day? And Meg. Can she rescue the children and prevent casualties?

As we go through the hours of the hostage situation, Gudenkauf fills us in on each character's background. We find out about Holly's marriage and some of the shenanigans she was up to before the accident that landed her in the hospital. (Holly, by the way, is very unlikeable. Very.) We see Will's regrets, hurt and determination. We are in Meg's head, as she reflects on her own marriage and Maria. We understand why Augie is so focused on saving her brother, just as we understand Evie's strength through the prism of her life. By the time the book is over, we feel a kinship with the characters and want them to be okay.

And that's what makes this book so good: the characters, and not just the five who tell us the story. All of them are wonderfully crafted, whether they are schoolchildren, a diner owner or Meg's fellow police officers. This hostage taking is not limited to the school, but to the community as well. Gudenkauf does an excellent job of creating a suspenseful atmosphere that affects everyone - characters and readers.

The only problem in this otherwise excellently written book is the bad guy. His rationale for doing what he did requires a leap on our part. We understand his anger and desperation, but we question whether it was enough to provoke him into such an extreme reaction. That's the part that rang hollow to me.

Even so, this is a terrific book. But when you read it, please don't make the mistake I did and start it about an hour before you plan to go to bed. Unless, of course, you want to be up all night.