Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sweet Laurel Falls

Sweet Laurel Falls
by RaeAnne Thayne
Published by Harlequin
384 pages
Genre: romance; chick list
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3.5 / 5 cupcakes


One thing is for certain: this book is very sweet. So sweet, in fact, that it might induce a diabetic coma.

Maura McKnight's life at the moment is dark and sad. Her youngest daughter, Layla, passed away in a car accident, and her oldest daughter, Sage, is away at college. The girls have two different fathers; Layla's is Maura's ex-husband, and Sage's is Maura's first love, Jackson Lange. The two men have something in common other than Maura in that neither is around. Chris travels with his rock band, and Jackson bolted from their small Colorado hometown of Hope's Crossing shortly after he graduated from high school.

Jackson left more than Maura behind. She was pregnant, but did not know it when he went away. She tried to get in touch with him, but he didn't return her calls. Over the twenty ensuing years, Maura has gotten accustomed to life without Jackson, believing he will never return.

But he does show up ... as a visiting speaker to one of Sage's college classes. The two have a chat, and in the course of their conversation discover that they share some DNA. Neither is happy with Maura's refusal to disclose Jackson's parentage, but when Jackson returns to town, he manages to forget his ire when he comes face to face with Maura. Old attraction, it appears, does not die, it just lies in wait for a reunion.

The two must come to terms with their lingering love for each other, and Jackson has some fences to mend with his cranky old father. Sage is a soothing restorative, but she has secrets of her own and needs her parents to help her find solution and solace.

The romance between Maura and Jackson unfolds slowly, as they come to rediscover their feelings for each other. This is very much a G-rated romance, so no fear of any hot headboard rocking. Even the kissing scenes are chaste.

Fortunately, what saves this from complete sugar overload are Maura and Jackson. These are two flawed adults. She is too raw with hurt over Layla's death, fear over possibly losing Sage to Jackson, and heartbroken over Jackson leaving in the first place. He, on the other hand, is angry with her for not disclosing that he is a father, and he's also bitter over his father's past manipulation. They have to get past those barriers before they can come together.

The setting is as much a character as the humans, and just as charming. You will find yourself wanting to visit this tiny ski village in hopes of dining at the cafes and visiting Maura's bookstore. RaeAnne Thayne does an excellent job of showing us Hope's Crossing and its effect on its residents.

Thayne tells the story slowly (sometimes too slowly) and gently, if not occasionally repetitively. I felt like I read the same scene more than once, and the "shocking news" that Sage delivers is not all that shocking. As a means to bring Jackson's father closer to his family, it works, if not predictably so.

Sweet and gentle: that's the best summary of this book I can give.

Between the Sheets

Between the Sheets
by Robin Wells
Published by Forever
400 pages
Genre: romance; chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5 cupcakes


Schadenfreude. My favorite word. Oh, how I derive joy from the misery of others. And by 'misery,' I mean the "you brought this on yourself, you horny bastard" variety, not poverty or hunger.

So I looked forward to reading this book, because it offers an element of schadenfreude. Emma Jamison is a butler. She owns her own temporary butler business providing butler services to those who need it. Hired to work one weekend at a New Orleans mansion whose owners are out of town, she watches as the guest coming to visit is the President-elect. He does not come alone. With him is a lady-for-hire, whose services are provided with such gusto that the man is left dead. Literally.

Unfortunately for Emma, the press believes she is the woman providing the sexy times, and Emma's life is, effectively, ruined. Her reputation is down the toilet, she loses her business, and she loses considerable sums of money in an attempt to prove that another woman was present.

She winds up in a small Louisiana town, where she works as a housekeeping director at the "retirement home" where her grandmother lives. Grams meets Harold, a hot octogenarian with Alzheimer's, and the two strike up a (very ... wink wink) close friendship. Emma, meanwhile, meets Harold's grandson Max, who is running for District Attorney. The last thing Max needs during an election year is getting linked to Emma Jamison, the woman who supposedly killed a President.

Emma and Max like each other. A LOT. But she is leery of getting too close, mostly out of fear of ruining his reputation, and he is leery of not getting close enough. He wants to be with her, even if it means losing the election.

The story here is cute and entertaining, and it does give you an idea of what it must be like for those who wind up in the midst of scandal. The pervasive paparazzi, the tabloids, the half truths and complete untruths. I felt badly for Emma that she could not clear her name, no matter how hard she tried, and when she breaks down in sobs over yet another injustice done to her, it's difficult not to sympathize. In Emma's case, the bad luck brought on her was not of her own doing at all, but rather because some people thought it better to blame her than a call girl.

There are a couple of sex scenes, and neither is terribly hot or explicit. One, in fact, is more humorous than erotic. The love stories are sweet, and the characters enjoyable. My only quibble - and it's a big one - is the story's predictability. You know exactly what will happen before it happens, and that throws water on the fire.

As fun reads go, this is a good one. I still engage in schadenfreude, but not at Emma's expense.

Lip Service

Lip Service
by M. J. Rose
Published by Piatkus Books
320 pages
Genre: adult literature
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5 cupcakes


If you are trapped in a staid, sexless marriage, how do you cope? How do you adapt? What if you don't realize how staid and sexless it is until your eyes are opened by fate's whimsy?

Julia Sterling has a fairly content marriage to her psychiatrist husband Paul. She is stepmother to his college freshman son, hostess at his fundraising parties, and provides him with the comfort he needs ... outside of the bedroom. They rarely, if ever, have sex, something Paul does not appear to miss (he takes that in hand, so to speak). While Julia would like more intimacy, she convinces herself that she is if not happy, then at least comfortable.

At a dinner party one night, she meets Sam Butterfield, director of the eponymous Institute that specializes in sex therapy. One of the treatments offered patients is phone sex. When Sam asks Julia if she would like to write a book detailing the efficacy of phone sex, she agrees, much to Paul's disapproval. Paul attempts to psychoanalyze her out of this decision, just as he attempts to psychoanalyze her throughout their relationship. But Julia is determined, so determined that she begins working as a phone sex operator so that she will understand what the job entails.

Further complicating Julia's marriage is her longstanding friendship with Jack, a man she met in college. Julia suffered a breakdown in school, and Jack found and took care of her. They are attracted to each other, but have not allowed that attraction to destroy their friendship. As Julia immerses herself in phone sex, Jack's reaction surprises her. In fact, Jack himself begins to surprise her.

Julia's reactions, you see, are quite intense. Sometimes during a call, she pleasures herself physically while pleasuring her client vocally. The loss of sex in her marriage begins to eclipse what she and Paul do share, and his increasing attention to her in a doctor-patient sense frustrates her, as do his attempts to minimize her feelings. 'Sterling' is a good name for these people; in Paul's case, the sterling is tarnished and warped, while in Julia's, a true reflection begins to form.

Some intrigue is introduced relating to one of Julia's clients, and Jack comes to town to visit her. She is forced to confront what she has missed seeing reflected back at her, both professionally and personally.

This is a fantastic, taut book that will keep you turning the pages. You may not always like Julia - she certainly can cause her own problems to some degree - but you do want what's best for her. Despite being about phone sex, there is not much actual sex in this book. What little appears is fairly tame, although the language is graphic. I read somewhere that this book has been compared to Fear of Flying and the Fifth Shades series. Comparisons to the former insult Erica Jong, while comparisons to the latter insult M. J. Rose. Lip Service is neither. Rather, it is an interesting look into the dynamics of marriage and friendship. The phone sex is just a means toward that end.

Sleeping with Dogs and Other Lovers: A Second Acts Novel

Sleeping with Dogs and Other Lovers
by Julia Dumont
Published by BroadLit
254 pages
Genre: romance; chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
2 / 5 cupcakes


My first thought upon finishing this book: what in the hell was this book about?

My second thought: thank goodness that's over.

Here is your basic plot: Cynthia has started a matchmaking business, determined to use her time honed skills of sussing out who's right for whom to help out the lovelorn. An ex boyfriend shows up to test her limits, and she has to decide whether she wants to try again with him.

Oh, and dogs. There are dogs here too. One of Cynthia's clients owns some dogs, one of whom seems to be telepathic and other worldly.

Emphasis on "seems to be," because we never really know. In fact, the vast quantities of things we never really know could make up a book in themselves.

Parts of this are funny and entertaining. Cynthia has a somewhat predictable relationship with her mother - there is nothing new here, and you will feel as if you've read it before - and her first client, Lolita, is unique.

But not enough is interesting. It's as if you are reading synopses of previously published books, because this feels like you've read it before. And that, my little book loving friends, is not a good sign for a novel. Even the sex scenes are a snooze-fest.

The good news: it's a quick read.

Beautiful Disaster

Beautiful Disaster
by Jamie McGuire
Published by Atria Books
432 pages
Genre: Young Adult
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5 cupcakes


What we have here is a perfect example of synecdoche, in which the title tells you everything you need to know about the book itself.

Abby Abernathy wants you to think she is a Good Girl. She adorns herself with preppy cardigans, sticks close to her best friend, and avoids Bad Boys. When she winds up in an underground fight club-type place, she locks eyes with the victorious fighter, Travis Maddox. She is intrigued.

The cousin of her best friend's boyfriend (I know, I had the same eye roll), Travis is straight out of Central Casting for "Bad Boys," down to the tattoos and the penchant for one night stands. He never met an emotional attachment that he cared to make, other than with his family. And when he sees Abby, he is intrigued.

Abby's first move is brilliant: she acts completely unimpressed. And she is, to some degree. Yes, she is attracted to him, but she refuses to be another notch on his scarred belt. She dresses down, she is rude and sarcastic, and she tells him that he has no chance with her. When they spend the night together, they actually SLEEP together. No hanky panky occurs. Travis, for all of his overflowing testosterone, likes Abby; he genuinely enjoys her company and is determined to not mess up this friendship.

We know, however, that he will mess it up, and Abby will as well. It is just a matter of pages until they wind up romantically linked, especially when Abby loses a bet and has to move in with Travis for a month. What is good about their first encounter is that Abby makes the decision to be with him. Travis empowers her in that sense, and it's nice to read some YA lit that does not have the girl swooning uncontrollably over her hard-to-read love interest.

And that's where the "disaster" portion of this book comes into play. Travis! What in the world happens to you? What fresh hell does Jamie McGuire do to you?

Here is one answer: she takes a strong, interesting character and turns him into one that is veritably emasculated, dull, and insipid. Travis becomes the girl; he cries and screams and begs. He ditches his boxes of condoms along with his dignity, and we lose interest in him just as quickly. The man who oozed masculinity and dominance now simpers along, weak and uninspired. We are meant to see that Abby changed him from Bad Boy to Boy Worth Loving, but instead he comes across as utterly unappealing.

Don't even get me started on the ending. Not only does it defy all logic, it appears to defy its characters. We are led to believe certain things about Abby and Travis, yet McGuire ends in it a way that is so unfaithful to them that you wonder if there was a publishing error in which another book's ending was cut and pasted onto this one.

The first half of this book is 'beautiful.' Abby, Travis and their friends are created with care and creativity. We like them. We are interested in them. We care about them. And then comes the 'disaster,' and you will want to shout in frustration.

This could have been so good. But it just is not.

One word of warning: while this is Young Adult lit, the emphasis is on "adult." There are fairly detailed sexual situations, as well as alcohol usage.

Against His Will

Against His Will
by Trish Jensen
Published by Bell Bridge Books
230 pages
Genre: romance; chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5 cupcakes


Okay, it's cute. Cute story, cute characters, cute cute cute. There is even a cute bulldog named Muffin. Cuteness overload.

But is it hot?

Weeelllllll .....

Jake Donnelly is an FBI agent who inherited some money and property, including a beloved mountain cabin, from his Aunt Sophie. Actually, Jake didn't inherit anything. Muffin, an overindulged bulldog accustomed to spending two weeks of his summer vacation at a dog spa, inherited the whole thing. When Jake learns that he is muffin's designated caretaker, he also discovers that the mountain cabin can be his - provided he takes exemplary care of Muffin. So it is that Jake winds up at the dog spa with Muffin, where he encounters comely dog psychiatrist LeAnne Crosby. He views her with suspicion and disdain, suspecting that she might have tried to fleece his aunt. And a pet psychiatrist? Seriously?

LeAnne realizes that Jake is suspicious of her, but that does nothing to dampen her desire for him. Or his for her. They sniff around each other (GET IT?), pushing and pulling against their attraction. And then a witness Jake and his FBI partner are protecting shows up, and some bad guys show up, and we have a different chase on our hands.

The subplot is just a ridiculous farce. It's almost as if Trish Jensen knew it was silly, but she couldn't stop herself from including it. The reason for it becomes quickly apparent (let's just say that it might involve that cabin in the woods), but you can't help but think that there would have been a more plausible way to make that magic happen.

Oh, yeah. The magic. The sex scenes are ... cute. A lot more cute than hot, let's just say. After all the teasing, I wanted a bigger payoff. The sexy times definitely fit in with the rest of the cuteness of the book, though, so if that pulls your engine cord, then you will love this book.

A word about the cover: what is up with THAT? An apple with a bite out of it? I don't recall apples being a central motif of this thing, nor is there an Adam-and-Eve theme going on. That cover is a head-scratcher.

We have a winner!


Congratulations to Caroline F. for winning the
Naughty or Nice Giveaway Hop!

Thank you to all who visited my blog and supported this giveaway.

I appreciate you taking the time to stop by, comment and follow.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Blog Tour: Wellesley Wives


Have you ever looked at rich society wives and thought that
they have it all? When you read Suzy Duff's Wellesley Wives,
you might decide you have it pretty good yourself.

Let's welcome Suzy Duffy, here to talk to us about her new book.

Hi, Suzy. How is your blog tour going?
Suzy: It’s terrific.  I’ve never been on a blog tour before. Back in Ireland, we got in a car and drove around to the various shops but obviously it’s a tiny country compared to the USA!

What have you been asked about so far?
Suzy: Mostly if Wellesley Wives is my real life and before you ask it’s not!

Well, where did you get your ideas from?
Suzy: About this time twenty four months ago, I saw a woman who looked a bit like Goldie Hawn driving through Wellesley in a beautiful shiny red Ferrari – convertible, of course. Before I got home I had chapter one in my mind.  To be honest I never saw her again. I’m beginning to think she was just passing through…. Maybe she was from Weston, the neighboring town… I can feel a sequel coming on!

Is that how it happens for you? Stories evolve in your mind?
Suzy: Yep, but you have to sit down and work hard to make them transform for airy, fairy ideas into a strong credible story.  The Writers Coffee Shop, my publishers were MAZING at that.  They put the story through the ringer.  It went through TWO separate teams who dissected each character and every plotline to ensure it was all credible – even if it is all highly scandalous and a little on the wild side…

Speaking of scandalous – Swinging? I think this is the first time I’ve read about an actual swinging resort.  Suzy did that involve a lot of research??
Suzy: LOL, I know where you’re going with that and no, that’s a fine example of my imagination hard at work again, although, it’s amazing what you can learn on the internet these days!

Okay, give me something that you haven’t told anybody else in any interview so far. I want an exclusive about Wellesley Wives.
Suzy: Yikes.  Um, let me think…. Okay, I can’t believe I’m telling you this… the reason Marcus is such a nasty guy is because I once dated a pilot and he – well, he wasn’t very nice so I made Marcus into the nasty-pilot-husband.  But don’t tell anyone else!

You got your revenge. I hated Marcus.  Thanks, Suzy.  Good luck with Wellesley Wives. We loved it!


Still curious? Here is the official press release for Wellesley Wives:

Since the Real Housewives of Orange County made their network television debut, America has been enraptured by the fabulous, scandalous lives of wealthy men’s Botox-ed better halves across the country.
But it isn’t until now, with the September 27, 2012 release of Suzy Duffy’s Wellesley Wives [The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House], that the well-to-do’ers of New England finally get their shot at the glory.
Following the escapades of the fictional and fabulous Popsy Power – a pretty, popular and insanely rich Boston society wife, and her best friend, the uber-fit and massively spoiled Sandra – Wellesley Wives is a celebratory romp through the lives of women who have, lose, and ultimately triumph over it all.
While their opulent wardrobes, expensive cars and handsome husbands may at first glance appear as picture-perfect as the masterworks that hang on their walls, the cracks in their gilded surfaces don’t stay hidden for long. Life is incredibly good for these ladies who lunch – until it goes bad, and this is where Wellesley Wives begins.
Facing divorce, infidelity, financial loss and more, Popsy and the girls traipse through the affluent suburbs of Boston, the Irish countryside and Caribbean yachts, all the while negotiating the blows they’re dealt with laughter, extravagance and a resilience that every woman, regardless of social strata, will recognize as her own.
“When I moved to Boston from Dublin, I realized that women everywhere really are the same,” says Duffy, an Irish native who is already a #1 bestselling author in Europe. “We all get hit with problems through life – many of which we don’t see coming. Wellesley Wives was written to make women laugh and forget about reality for a little while. It’s white wine without the calories!”
A joyful, life-affirming story that celebrates female fearlessness and intelligence, Wellesley Wives looks at:
    • The importance of female friendship and solidarity: why life is easier when you have someone to laugh about the ups and downs with!
    • The problem-free lifestyles of affluent housewives: does money solve as many problems as one might think?
    • Handling divorce, infidelity and family problems with grace
    • Finding courage in the face of the unknown, taking risks, and following your heart!

About the Author:

Suzy Duffy is an international and #1 bestselling author. A former national radio DJ and TV presenter in her native Ireland, she moved to Boston with her husband, five children and one dog in 2009 in light of Europe’s economic downturn. Duffy’s colorful background has taken her from working in the United Nations’ Geneva headquarters to being a water-ski instructor in Greece to laboring as a corn cutter in the south of France.

Wellesley Wives, Duffy’s debut U.S. book release, is the first in a New England based trilogy of novels. She is currently working on the second installment, Newton Neighbors.

Wellesley Wives is currently available for pre-order via The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House, and will be available via all major online retailers as of September 27, 2012.

Find Suzy Duffy on TwitterFacebookGoodreadsPinterest, her website and on The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House site.

About the Publisher:

The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing (TWCS) House is an up and coming independent publisher based in New South Wales, Australia. They recently gained a great deal of attention with Fifty Shades of Grey, the international literary sensation they released in June 2011 and is now represented by Random House.

Launched in October 2010 with the vision of working alongside talented authors while providing quality e-books to the growing marketplace, TWCS publishes a wide rage of fiction titles and is sure to have something for any appetite.

Website: http://ph.thewriterscoffeeshop.com/




I will post a review for Wellesley Wives soon, faithful readers, but if you can't wait, go ahead an pick up a copy on Amazon.com or at your favorite bookstore.



Sunday, September 23, 2012

Heaven Should Fall

Heaven Should Fall
by Rebecca Coleman
Published by Harlequin MIRA
368 pages
Genre: family, literature, adult
Available Sept. 25
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5 cupcakes


Some of us grow up wishing we were part of a family, even if we had one. In the case of Jill Wagner, she has no one. Her mother died in a shocking accident, her father has never been in the picture, and her grandparents are dead. So when Jill meets Cade Olmstead in college, she falls hard. Not just for Cade, but for the promise of what he represents.

First, there is his charm. As Jill acknowledges, Cade is good looking, intelligent, and has a certain sheen of smoothness. It helps that his chosen career is politics. His passion for Jill runs unabated, even in the midst of dire moments for the two of them. And he is ambitious, intently focused on getting a job with a politician for whom he campaigns.

But as with all bright shiny things, if you rub away the pretty exterior, you sometimes find tarnish and rust. In Cade's case, he tries to cover it up by tanning. Yes, tanning. The boy spends copious amounts of time turning his pasty New Hampshire-bred skin into a more cosmetically desirable brown.

But Jill is in love, and even before she discovers she is pregnant, the two are engaged, with Jill envisioning the family she no longer has and Cade imagining the perfect political spouse. That pregnancy, however, changes the dynamic of their relationship. For one thing, Cade needs to get a job. When he can't find one in their Maryland college town, he reluctantly - very reluctantly - packs up Jill and takes her to stay with his family for the summer.

This is the first time she meets them, because Cade didn't bring her home with him for any previous holidays, believing that Christmas by herself on the deserted campus is better than spending it with his family. She has met his older brother Elias, recently home from an Army stint in Afghanistan.

It doesn't take long for us to see why Cade avoided bringing Jill home as long as he did. His family is, in a word, nuts. And not in a lovable, eccentric kind of way. More in a fear-for-the-gene-pool kind of way.

Cade's father, Eddy, debilitated from a series of strokes, nonetheless retains the meanness that helped drive Cade out of the state. Mother Leela appears to be accepting of her life, until Rebecca Coleman takes us into Leela's mind and we discover that there is a lot more going on here than we thought. Sister Candy is the stereotypical ignorant, silly blonde; her husband Dodge is significantly older than she is and they have three rambunctious young sons.

Then there is Elias. Clearly he struggles with post traumatic stress disorder, but he has been left largely ignored by military physicians who attempt to "fix" him by prescribing various painkillers and mood stabilizers. We learn that Elias has been in love with local girl Piper since his teens; we also learn that Cade stole her from his brother, even impregnating her. As Elias and Jill's relationship deepens and intensifies, we watch with our breaths held. Will Elias exact retribution?

Elias, you see, is the only member of the family with whom Jill forms a connection. Yes, she tries to bond with Leela, even hoping that Leela will become her mother, but it is Elias who Jill offers comfort and compassion. She may not know about Piper, but she certainly knows that Elias begins to form an attachment to her.

Tragedy strikes this family, and we see it coming. The way they react, though, surprises us. Dodge, unflinchingly presented as a wacko, manages to display some decency - that is until he senses weakness in others, which he exploits much the way he did Candy when she was a teenager.

We spend most of the book in Jill's mind, although Coleman sends us into Cade's and Leela's as well. When we spend time with Elias, it is in the third person, as if his trauma prevents even us from getting close to him. As the family deals with the aftermath of the tragedy, we become even more convinced that Cade was right: Jill is better off away from these people.

This is an intricate, heavy book, that is interesting and well written. Those of you who thought that white supremacists and right wing militias exist only in the south and midwest might be surprised to find that they rage in New England as well. Coleman uses them here to spotlight the plight of PTSD. If the Army overlooks its faithful servants, then what is there to stop subversive individuals from exploiting these people?

As for Jill, we alternately want to scream at her and protect her. She mistakes self-help mumbo jumbo for practical advice, and her desperation to be part of a family causes her to ignore some important signs of instability, both within Cade and his family.

Sometimes, Rebecca Coleman seems to say, the adage is true: be careful what you wish for.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Naughty or Nice Giveaway Hop

 
nautghy or nice
The Naughty or Nice Giveaway Hop was organized by Nat @ Reading Romances!

I am excited to take part in this giveaway!
What you can win here: a digital copy of your choice between a naughty book -




 The Siren by Tiffany Reisz










or a nice book - The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge








Number of winners:  one
Open to (INT, US or US/CAN):  INT
How to enter: complete the Rafflecopter below


Hop and enter the other giveaways!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Champagne: The Farewell

Champagne: The Farewell
by Janet Hubbard
Published by Poisoned Pen
250 pages
Genre: mystery; romance
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5 cupcakes


You know those days when you are in the mood to waste a few hours on something fun and frivolous? Sometimes, you just want - you need - to escape for a little bit into a book that asks no more from you than to simply read and enjoy.

That is Champagne: The Farewell.

Max Maguire is a lieutenant in the New York police force, and when her best friend Chloé invites Max to her French countryside wedding, Max packs up and heads to Europe. Shortly after arriving, she meets Oliviér, a judge, and the two instantly are drawn to each other. But just as the two start to enjoy their own version of a wedding dance, they get interrupted. Léa, Chloé's cousin, has been murdered. And thus begins the mystery portion of this mystery-romance.

Max and Oliviér set out to discover whodunit, albeit with neither terribly excited about working with the other. Max prefers to work alone, and Oliviér does not understand Max's propensity to use intuition when it comes to crime solving.

Our dynamic duo faces a host of prospective bad guys, both together and separately they interpret clues and identify the culprit. There are some red herrings, but if you pay attention, you will know who it is before they do.

The romance here is fairly tame, but it's sweet and fun. Max and Oliviér court each other, with her just as aggressive as he is. The sex scenes are very mild (almost too mild), which makes this book a fun, inoffensive choice.

Just like its namesake, this is a bubbly, intoxicating story with a romance and mystery that hooks you. Be warned, however: the characters drink a LOT of champagne, and you might find yourself craving some.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Blast: Freedom Road by T. M. Souders


Freedom Road by T.M. Souders

Book Summary:

Since the tender age of eight, music served as Samantha Becker’s source of solace against her father’s tyranny and her mother’s alcoholism. Now at eighteen, her only dream is to study classical guitar at Juilliard. But when her father’s careless actions lead to an “accident,” which threatens her ability to play the guitar, Sam becomes despondent. Losing all confidence in her future, Sam hides behind the emotional barriers that have protected her for years.

Just when Sam has given up, two unexpected people enter her life, giving her the confidence she needs, and forcing her to evaluate all she’s ever known. Battling her father’s plans for her future, band mates using her for personal gain, and a permanent injury, the odds are stacked against her. With auditions approaching and time running out, Sam must relearn to play the guitar, or be destined to give up her dreams forever.



About the Author:

T.M. Souders was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and grew up in the suburbs outside of Pittsburgh. She graduated in 2004, from Youngstown State University, with a degree in Psychology and minor in Women’s Studies. She is the author of bestselling women’s fiction novel,Waiting on Hope, as well as the novelette Dashing Through The Snow and the newly released young adult/crossover novel ,Freedom Road. In her spare time when she is nor writing she is an active volunteer for The World Literary Cafe, a site dedicated to authors and readers. She currently lives in rural Ohio with her husband and children.


Links:
Website: http://www.tmsouders.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tmsouders

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5044358.T_M_Souders
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/TM-Souders-Author/181198815275423


Book Blast Giveaway:
$50 Amazon Gift Code
Ends 9/27/12
Open to anyone who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent's permission. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.



a Rafflecopter giveaway a Rafflecopter giveaway

Those We Love Most

Those We Love Most
by Lee Woodruff
Published by Voice
320 pages
Genre: adult; literature; family
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4.5 / 5 cupcakes


I will kick off this review by stating that I really liked this book, although I really did not like many of its characters.

Meet the Corrigans, a typical suburban Chicago family of five: mother Maura, father Pete, and three adorable children.

Cue foreboding music now.

One sunny morning, as Maura walks her sons to school, an accident takes the life of her oldest son, nine-year-old James. The circumstances behind this death are slowly revealed, just as the guilt Maura feels slowly attempts to undo her. How Maura and Pete react to the loss of their son is the central story of the novel. Pete disgusts his wife, whether by talking to the person ostensibly responsible for James's death or by drinking too much. But Maura has her own issues, and we are not quick to forgive her.

The other story is that of Maura's parents, Roger and Margaret. These two are a bit more stereotypical than Maura and Pete: Roger is an aging banking wizard who has enjoyed the company of a woman not his wife, largely due to Margaret's flinty personality. She is not a demonstrative woman, preferring to let her caretaking actions speak for her. Roger, on the other hand, believes he is entitled his flings, and the way in which he treats his Florida lover wins him no fans. Roger and Margaret face their own crisis, and the way in which they approach it echoes the differences between Maura and Pete.

Lee Woodruff writes with compassion, but she does not shrink away from her characters. They say and do loathsome things, and Woodruff makes no apologies for them. She lets us see what motivates them, but she does not excuse them, nor does she ask us to do so. What would you do if you lost a child? What would happen to your marriage? Pete and Maura are not held up as an example of how to deal with a tragedy, yet we do cheer for them to find their way. That is a testament to Woodruff's writing, because there are times that Pete and Maura seem to beg for unhappiness.

The same goes for Margaret and Roger. Try liking one of those two. Just try! Margaret bestows her affection with great reluctance, and Roger's inner whinging makes us think Margaret has a point. But his treatment of her is unkind at best.

I hated having to put this book down, because I got so engrossed in the stories of its characters. It is not light reading in the least, but it is good reading.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

We have a winner!


Congratulations to Kelly!

She won the Books to Movies Giveaway Hop.

Kelly has 48 hours to respond to the email notification regarding
her big win.

Thank you to everyone for participating. I truly appreciate
you taking the time to visit this blog.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Speechless

Speechless
by Hannah Harrington
Published by Harlequin Teen
288 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Genre: YA
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5 cupcakes


If there is one word that is synonymous with "high school girl," it would be "drama."

Teenage girls love them some drama, and if you doubt that, come on and hang out in my classroom. You will discover that I speak the truth. Some girls like to stir up drama, others like to be in the middle of it, and then there are those who enjoy watching it unfold. In Speechless, sophomore Chelsea Knot tends to be one of the stirrers, although she really can't help it. She speaks before she thinks, rarely - if ever - considering the consequences of her blabbing.

A New Year's Eve party changes everything when Chelsea blurts out something she witnessed between two classmates. Just as she realizes the implications of what she says, she also realizes that she is powerless to stop them. When a near tragedy results, Chelsea responds by deciding to keep quiet. Seriously quiet. As in, she decides to say nothing to anybody.

Alas, Chelsea is a high schooler, which means her peers do not respond well, either to her actions during the party or afterwards. She soon is left without her best friend, or really anyone else. Forced to go it alone - and mutely, at that - Chelsea soon discovers a new circle of friends and even gets a job as a dishwasher at a kitschy diner. A new coworker also happens to be her partner in art class: the cute, adorably dorky and charming Sam.

Much of this book speaks to the cold hard truth about high school: it sucks. It really, really sucks, whether you are part of the "in" crowd or left standing in its shadows. Chelsea's decision to staunch her voice allows the rest of her senses to be more perceptive. She begins to realize the false front of her friendships, and she comes to see the torture and reward of striking out on her own.

The thing about high school is that kids profess to want to be different. They decry homogeneity, yet they need it to survive. Be different, but be the same. Change, but be more like everyone else. Hannah Harrington understands this, and her characters and dialogue delivery a pretty realistic picture of the ugliness of the high school experience.

Harrington does take some short cuts, but given how well she crafts Chelsea, we can forgive her for too safe of a conclusion, including that regarding Chelsea's relationship with her parents. Chelsea frustrates us, perhaps all the more because we see a bit of ourselves in her. Who didn't want to be popular in high school? Be honest. You know you did, even if doing so made you a little sick to your stomach. And so it is with Chelsea, who craves being a part of something, yet comes to see its danger.

Speechless is an excellent YA novel and sure to interest teens and even those of us a few (cough) years removed from high school. Give it a try, and maybe in doing so, you will discover just how much you gain when you give up your voice.

The Angel

The Angel
by Tiffany Reisz
Published by Harlequin MIRA
416 pages
Available September 25, 2012; pre-order on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley and edelweiss for the preview
Genre: erotica; scorching hot romance novel
5 / 5 cupcakes

When last we saw Nora Sutherlin in The Siren, aka Eleanor Schreiber, she had broken up with her roommate-slash-would be lover, the young Wesley, and returned to her soul mate and true love, Søren. AKA her priest.

As The Angel begins, Nora and Søren have been together for a couple of months when trouble appears to be afoot. Søren is being investigated as a potential Bishop, both by the Catholic Church and, he tells Nora, the press is after him as well. On top of that, Nora's secret file, held securely in Kingsley Edge's safe, has been stolen. To protect Nora, Søren sends her to stay with the wealthy and adventurous Griffin Fiske at his estate in the New York countryside. Søren also dispatches Michael, the boy whose virginity Søren gifted to Nora.

But this is Nora Sutherlin we're talking about, and nothing she does is traditional, predictable or reasonable. She is supposed to train Michael, whom she nicknames The Angel (GET IT? Michael the Archangel?), to be a sub, but Nora quickly realizes that Michael's interests may lie elsewhere. Meanwhile, Søren weaves his considerable magic on Suzanne, the reporter looking into his past and present.

Typical of Tiffany Reisz's Original Sinners series, The Angel has equal parts scorching sex scenes and discussion of the BDSM lifestyle. Reisz understands her characters and presents them, faults and all. She makes us care about Nora, who remains drawn to Wesley. She does love him, in a pure, vanilla, dare she admit sweet way, even as she knows that Søren is the man she cannot, will not quit. As the heroine of the trilogy (the third installment, The Prince, comes out later this year), Nora is complex and maddening. She makes stupid mistakes, and her feelings for two men cause us to battle between the two just as she does.

Michael, too, is sympathetic. He has to navigate his way through his tortured upbringing to allow himself to love and love fully. As he and Griffin develop a friendship, we hope that Nora's host will help Michael learn to understand and accept himself.

Then there is Søren, the mysterious center of the tale. If you felt cheated by lack of insight into him in The Siren and Reisz's novella Seven Day Loan, you will feel much more satisfied by what you learn here. Reisz delivers his story, and it is full of as many surprises as Søren himself. Whereas he seemed cold and ruthless in his previous appearances, here we get to know him better and even begin to empathize with him. He becomes more likable. We might have wished Nora to be with Daniel or Zachary from the previous stories, but the closer we get to Søren, the more we like him for Nora.

This is a good thing, because a sadistic priest who needs to beat a woman in order to become aroused, who has had a long-term affair with her, whose sadism is both feared and admired within the BDSM dungeon club The 8th Circle, whose exquisite Nordic handsomeness overwhelms both men and women, and whose job - he's a PRIEST, for goodness sakes - intimidates and distances us as readers. The closer we get to him, the more we like him. And Tiffany Reisz needs us to like him in order for us to keep investing ourselves in the series.

The sex scenes will burn you up. Nora Sutherlin doesn't just rock the headboard, she rams it into next month. I thought the sexy times in The Siren were too few, but we have just the right amount in this installment.

Hot, interesting and HOT. If you haven't started this series yet, DO IT.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Books to Movies Giveaway Hop



Guess what, kids! It's time for another giveaway, courtesy of Kathy at I am a Reader, Not a Writer, and Sweeping the USA. The theme is "books to movies," so the prizes available for winners are books that were made into movies. Simple, non?

I signed up for this one immediately because some of my favorite books have been made into films. Although I love movies - a LOT - the books are always better.

If you win my portion of the giveaway, you get to choose which of these books-made-into-movies you'd like:



The Godfather by Mario Puzzo.
If you've seen the first two movies, then you know the story. The movie versions are brilliant, and perhaps the only exception to the caveat of book being better than film. If you enjoy books about dysfunctional families and the Mob, this is an excellent choice, should you win.


Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
The movie. Oh, the movie. I loved the movie so much that I almost didn't want to read the book version. It turned out that my fears were for nought, because the book is hysterically entertaining. Helen Fielding knew her character, and it shows.


Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Oh, people. If you have not read this, you absolutely must. Now, I will be honest and tell you that I judge - and judge severely - those who read this book and do not like it. I might just find you wanting. It is not an easy read, nor is it quick. But it is beautiful, lyrical and will stick with you for years. Absolutely sublime.




Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Meet the reason why I became a high school English teacher (the second reason is the previous book). This novel is everything: romance, intrigue, societal examination, family drama, and wit. I tell my male students that Mr. Darcy sets a high bar, and if they want to know how to get a woman and keep a woman, they best take notes. If you have not read this one, shame on you.



I can be persuaded to give a copy of The Hunger Games or East of Eden, or even The Blind Side, if you'd prefer one of those.

The winner will receive a digital copy of his or her choice of one of the above mentioned novels, and has seventy-two hours to respond to the email notification regarding winning the giveaway.

Good luck to all of you, and please check out the other blogs. There are some fantastic prizes to be had!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Riptide Rentboys: The 2012 Collection

Riptide Rentboys: The 2012 Collection
by Anne Brooke, Cat Grant, Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
Published by Riptide Publishing
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5 cupcakes


If this is THE collection of 2012 for Riptide Rentboys, I'd hate to read what was left on the cutting room floor.

This trio of stories is kind of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: one is unfathomably bad, one kind of meh, and the third is cute.

Let's start with the one most likely to result in a WTF? reaction.

"Cruce de Caminos," by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane (the authors' names sound like romance novel heroines, don't they?) seems to be one of those paranormal, "this is what the underbelly of society is really like" kind of tales, but really it's just an awful short story. Sean, who is Irish but apparently looks Hispanic (don't ask - seriously, do yourself a favor and DO NOT ASK), has a girlfriend with whom he fights and rocks the headboard. An industrial, entrepeneurish kind of guy, Sean decides to make bank by selling his services. But good old Sean either has appallingly inferior gut instincts or he is just plain stupid. He winds up in the clutches of one of New Orleans' famed netherworld practitioners, with whom he shares quite the night, as the two service a wealthy businessman. It isn't so much that the story is convoluted and ridiculous (and it is), but rather that the sex scene is so unfulfilling. Evidently, the best part happened after Sean passed out, so we don't even find out about it except in a rather cursory way. This short story is a Fail.

What "Cruces de Caminos" lacks in depth and compelling characters, "Priceless", by Cat Grant, makes up for, almost too much for a short story. Connor is a college professor whose bestie decides to fix him up with young Wes, a hot student. The socially repressed and stifled Connor turns Wes down, however, but the two later are reunited most fortuitously. And then reunited again. A lot of time is spent discussing Connor's isolation and Wes's financial desperation. A whole lot. Still, though, you can't help but like Connor, even if Wes is a bit too annoying and helpless for me. The sex scenes are hot, although there aren't enough of them for this type of story. It's a cute tale, if too long.

Thank goodness, then, for Anne Brooke's "Where You Hurt the Most," which is the jewel of the collection. Adrian is an escort for hire whose boss fixes him up with his cousin Dan, whose face was horribly disfigured in a car wreck. Dan hides his face in a hoodie, and Adrian is sensitive to Dan's fears and vulnerabilities. The two share a HOT night together, and then Dan disappears. Of the three, this is the most romantic tale, not to mention the hottest.

So this collection is hit or miss. I can't hep but wonder how much better it would have been if "Cruces de Caminos" had been replaced by something better written and certainly something hotter.

Thy Neighbor

Thy Neighbor
by Norah Vincent
Published by Viking Adult
320 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5 cupcakes


Try to sum up this book. Go ahead and just try.

A guy whose parents died in a murder-suicide sits in his house, spying on his neighbors, and comes to discover that he is being watched? That's certainly part of it. A man learns to come to terms with his dark past and discover that the gene pool does not have to dictate who he becomes? Sort of. Sometimes everyone in a family can love the same person? Yes, in a way, but ...

Let's start with the basics. Nick Walsh festers, whether alone in his home, studying his neighbors via spy cameras he had installed in their homes, or in the local bar, where he drinks too much. Nick drinks too much at home as well, but can you blame him? There was the murder-suicide of his parents, after all. His one friend is a loathsome creature, and his few human relationships are a study in dysfunction. The one constant he has are those monitors trained on his neighbors. We know Nick needs to be rousted from his miasmatic existence, even if he seems a bit resigned to it.

There is a woman in his life, the elusive Monica, who comes and goes as she pleases. I would not call theirs a romance, but it isn't merely friendship or adversarial, either. For the most part, Nick is blithely uncurious about Monica; when he finally decides he wants to know her better, he is unprepared for what she is willing to divulge to him.

As Nick observes about himself:
I have only an idea of a person, even the person that I call myself. That's all. And when I love another person, or think I do, it is only the idea of that person that I love, and it is only the idea of me that is doing the loving. 
... Show me where love is, where it exists, and I will show you a cerebral circuit board of signals and crossed wires. Saying you are in love with a person is like saying you are in love with a radio, or a TV, the box itself, not the broadcast coming from it, which is always hopelessly muddled anyway with the broadcast that is coming form yourself.
Nick unwittingly sets forth his inner turmoil, although he clearly is not aware that he has such self-knowledge. Monica pushes and pushes him to give up that "broadcast" that flits within him, but he does not. In Nick's case, it is not an issue of won't, but an issue of can't. He is not ready to face his parents' death and the ramifications of it, nor is he ready to admit his own failings, separate from dear old Mom and Dad.

This is not an easy or simple book to read. It is very complex, both in Nick's creation and portrayal, and in its supporting characters. When Nick befriends an elderly neighbor across the street, it is clear that he has found someone more complex than himself.  Then there is the young girl he allows into his life. She breaches a sort of lingering childhood innocence in him; Nick responds by alternately pushing and pulling her away from and into his life.

There is a considerable amount of conversation, both internal and those Nick shares with us. A lot of contemplation goes on. For the most part, Nick's observations are interesting and thought provoking. Some are just annoying and ridiculous.

Overall, Thy Neighbor is pretty good. It is not a book I care to read again, only because when I finished it, it left a ponderous sensation. Yet it did make me think, and some of Norah Vincent's lines are meant to be debated.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

How to Mend a Broken Heart

How to Mend a Broken Heart
by Amy Andrews
Published by Harlequin Medical Romances
262 KB; 134 pages
Available on Amazon.com Kindle
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5 cupcakes


First, let's talk about that cover.

This book is about a couple who divorced shortly after the death of their young son; ten years later, they reconnect, bent and bowed under the weight of grief that still shrouds them. Does that cover look like two people in their late thirties? In his case, Fletch, the man in the photo, is forty. The hell? Do the people who come up with these covers even read the books? And Tess, the woman, has short spiky hair. The cover couple looks like two college kids hiding in the library stacks, desperate for a naughty study interlude.

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, on with the show.

How to Mend a Broken Heart is saddled with, in addition to that awful cover, an awful title. Yes, Tess and Fletch's hearts are broken. It's been ten years since their son Ryan's death, but in those ten years, Tess left their home in Australia to move to a small town in the English countryside. Fletch stayed behind, and now must deal with his mother's dementia. When he sees Tess during her annual graveside visit on the anniversary of Ryan's death, he asks her to move in with him and his mother and help take care of the latter.

This is a "medical romance," or so the cover tells us. And it is, to some degree. Fletch is a doctor, Tess a nurse, and some scenes do take place in a hospital. But it's really a character study of two people still mired in grief, both of them clinging to it out of fear that if they get past their loss, they will lose their memories of their son. Mirroring this is Fletch's mother, who actually is losing her memory. If Fletch and Tess ease up on their grief, will they experience their own form of dementia?

There is a romance to be found here, as Tess and Fletch independently remember their life together. He is determined to keep her, just as she is determined to leave him again, absconding to England to get away from memories of Ryan.

And this being a romance, we are treated to some loving, touching and squeezing. Just ... not enough. And what we get can be a bit of a tease. Then again, given the heaviness of the story lines, would it make sense for these two to rock the headboard? Probably not.

There is nothing lighthearted about this book. It is serious, from start to finish, with almost no let up. Tess is not always likable; she's frustrating and self-focused. Not that you can blame her, really. Fletch, on the other hand, wears his wounds like his three day stubble. We want to comfort him and help heal him.

You have to be in the right mood for this book, even if it is a fast read. If you want an excuse to shed a tear or two, this is one to pick up.

That's Amore

That's Amore
Wendy Markham
Published by Forever
352 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5 cupcakes

Are you? Are you singing the song? Do you hear Dean Martin waxing romantic about the moon hitting your eye like a big pizza pie?

When you read That's Amore, however, you will find yourself singing "Has Anybody Seen My Gal." I know that sounds odd, to say the least, but Wendy Markham quotes that song in the book, not the one that first springs to mind.

Daria Marshall, all 5'2" of her (GET IT NOW?) is what you might call a runner. She does not like to stay put for long periods of time and has speedy departures down to an art form. She packs light, doesn't get attached to anything - not belongings, not people - and is always itching for a new place to be. When we meet her, she's in New York, staying with her sister Tammy, a psychic with whom Daria has maintained a long distance relationship. Tammy and Daria share certain psychic abilities, only rather than seeing into the future, Daria sees dead people.

For reals.

Her complete opposite is Ralphie Chickalini, who has lived in the same house all his life, even after the deaths of his parents. His family is close by, together they all have a hand in the running of the family's pizza parlor, and Ralphie is nothing if not entrenched in Queens. Sure, he thinks about moving, but he can't bring himself to leave his home. He feels his father's presence there. But one thing he doesn't feel is peace. Ralphie is engaged to Francesca, a woman his family adores more than he does. When she breaks up with him, Ralphie is not exactly heartbroken.

Naturally, Daria, the girl who can't stand still, and Ralphie, the boy who can't move, meet. They have an instant attraction, one that strikes Daria most fearfully. She knows she can't - or really won't - stick around, but Ralphie. Oh, Ralphie. He begins to mean something to her. That he cares for her concerns him, but only because he is afraid she'll leave.

There are some pesky ghosts, both those whom Daria sees and the more emotional variety, that must be dispensed with before these two can truly come together.

This is a cute, sweet story. Ralphie is instantly likable; Daria takes some time to warm up to, only because she gets a bit annoying with her insistence that she MUST move and frequently. Ralphie's family, straight out of Central Casting for "big Italian clan", is likable as well. Not all is as it seems within the Chickalini herd, however, which adds a little unexpected zest to the story.

In terms of hot romance, it is here, albeit briefly. There is a scene that entails rocking the headboard, and while it is not particularly spicy or likely to linger in your mind, it is very fitting for a cute, sweet book such as this.

My biggest beef is the way Markham spells Chickalini. It's so .... un-Italian. Ciccialini seems to be the more traditional, not Americanized way to spell it, but even I know this is a ridiculous thing to complain about.

Cute, sweet, nice. That's That's Amore.