Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: Christmas Past by Susanna Fraser

During the holiday season, when I wasn't working and could stay up as late as I wanted, I got into the habit of reading a book a day - usually a holiday novella, about a hundred or so pages.  But some nights I had less time than others, so this, at about 50 pages, worked well.

There wasn't a whole lot to this story.  A woman, Sydney, takes a time machine, goes back in time.  The machine breaks, and she can't get back home.  She's supposed to kill herself and destroy the machine if this happens.  But when Miles discovers her plans, he tries to convince her to live.  And really, what would be the point in killing herself? 

It's a cute story, interesting to see a modern woman in that time period.  Being that she's planning to end her life, she's quite uninhibited, and doesn't care much about what people might think of her spending the night alone with a man. 

I actually thought that on some level this story was quite sad.  Sydney was losing everything she loved.  I kept hoping she'd find a way to repair the time machine, but I guess that would have ruined the romance.

Perfect for a quick, sexy, holiday story when you don't have much time, but want to be able to read an entire story quickly. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Mischief & Mistletoe by Tanya Anne Crosby

I bought this book because I thought the cover was pretty.  I’m an artist, I like pretty pictures, and I’m drawn to attractive people.  Yes, I even do that with ebooks.  It’s still the cover that first gets my attention.  I thought the couple looked so attractive and into each other, and I like that it looks like a painting.  (When I was younger, I used to draw the covers of books with Fabio on them, thinking that when I grew up I would paint beautiful covers for romance novels.  I was kind of a weird kid. But I still wish that was my job.)

Anyway, it’s an appropriate cover.  As I was reading the story, I could completely see the two characters looking exactly as the people look the on the cover, on the verge of a kiss they’ve both been waiting for, but thought would never happen.

Emma’s father arranged for her to marry Lucien Morgen, the fifth duke of Willyngham, but the two didn’t really know each other.  Lucien had gone along with this because he respected and admired Emma’s father, viewing him as something of a father figure, having not been especially close to his own father.  But Lucien’s lived a harsh life and he doesn’t feel comfortable around Emma.  She seems so delicate and young, and he feels that marriage to him would destroy her.  Sounds a little silly, but it’s explained well in the story, and it’s easy to see why Lucien feels this way.  He watched his mother suffer in her own loveless marriage and he doesn’t want to be responsible for putting someone else through that same pain.  So he unofficially calls off the engagement.

He waits three years, until Emma’s father’s death, to approach her to officially withdraw his proposal of marriage.  Though he’s doing this with what he views as the best intentions, this isn’t good for Emma.  She’s already 22 (which is considered old during that time period) and people will be suspicious as to why the engagement was called off.  But she’s had three years to think about this and be angry and she wants nothing to do with Lucien.  She wants Lucien to know that she’s glad to finally be rid of him.  And this is when Lucien begins to realize that maybe she isn’t quite the fragile creature he once imagined her to be.

But this is where the mischief comes into play.  Emma lives with her brother and his family, consisting of his wife and their three young children.  And it’s Christmastime and after hearing a story about how you’ll get nicer gifts if you help people, they have a plan.  Because children are perceptive and they can’t help but notice that the Lucien doesn’t seem like a very happy guy and their aunt, Emma, whom they adore is all alone and they want to do something about this. 

The children’s attempts to get these two together are hilarious.  I was laughing aloud while reading this.  That’s what made this such a fun story.  You’ve got these two people trying to be all adult and angry and they are no match for these children. 

I enjoyed this book quite a bit.  Cute story, quick read.  Finished it in one sitting.  Would definitely recommend to anyone looking for a quick, fun, romantic holiday story.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My favorite holiday reads this year

I don't know about the rest of you, but for me, the holidays are a time for truly indulging in reading.  I remember, my first year of teaching, the day we got out for Christmas break, I went directly to the public library and checked out about ten books.  I'd been so busy that year trying to figure out what I was doing, I'd not had any free time to read. 

Well, in the years since, I've finally figured out how to manage my time better, and make time for leisure reading, but still the holidays are special for reading.  It's cold and dreary out, so I spend more time inside, huddled under blankets.  My friends are all busy with their family, and my usual TV shows are all on hiatus.  Lots of travel, waiting in airports, riding in planes, sitting up late at night in unfamiliar bedrooms.  Days off work and the freedom to stay up until the early morning hours to finish a book, or not getting out of bed the next morning until the book is finished.  At least, that's how I spend my time between Christmas and the beginning of the New Year.

And I love holiday stories.  In my real life, the holidays don't hold much meaning.  Let's be honest, I spend most of that time cold and alone.  I hate being cold.  So holiday books provide me with what I don't have in real life: holiday spirit, happiness and warmth and people who care about each other.  (For the record, that's the same reason I'm addicted to holiday movies.)  Santa, I'm still waiting for the cute puppy and hot boyfriend.  Until then, I will keep reading.

I started my holiday reading right after Thanksgiving this year.  If you include the audible version of Tim Curry reading Christmas Carol, I've read/listened to nine holiday themed books this year. 

I've written reviews for all of them - except Christmas Carol, I'll try to do that later.  So if you want to read the full reviews, they're on this blog.  And I'm planning to read a few more.

But since I know a lot of you will be traveling soon and maybe wanting something to read, I've selected some of my favorites so far..

Each of them completely different stories, something for everyone - contemporary, fantasy, vampires, historical - it's all here.  They're all ebooks.  Easy to download on the run. 

In no particular order:

Stealing Time by Wendy Sparrow - Father Time's son has to claim a life at the end of the New Year.  But the year before, he couldn't bring himself to take Hannah's life, so he's been having to keep her safe from the Fates all year.  I loved this story.  It's only about a hundred pages.  Interesting twist on the holiday theme.  All about learning to appreciate the time we have and living life to the fullest.  Nice romance.  Lots of flirting and teasing, but no explicit scenes.  Also, it's only .99 on amazon

Parisian Christmas Bake-Off by Jenny Oliver - Another book I loved.  Rachel goes to Paris to participate in a competition to win an apprenticeship with a famous chef.  Along the way she learns a lot about herself and what she wants out of life.  She also meets a guy she likes quite a bit, but that's kind of secondary to the main story.  No explicit scenes at all.  The romance is limited to walks and a dinner and a few drinks.  Lots of descriptions of the beautiful city of Paris and delicious pastries.  Quick read, and it's only $2.51 on amazon.

Vampire's Christmas Carol by Cynthia Eden - The first two books I mentioned are feel good, nice stories with a touch of romance, but this one is not.  This is dark, dirty and sexy.  There are some explicit scenes in this.  This is an angry vampire who hates the world because he's lost everything he ever loved.  And as can be expected based on the title, he's visited by ghosts from his past, present and future.  Though in this case, it's a demon, shifter and an angel.  So if you're wanting something a bit steamier, this is a good pick. The ebook is only .99 on amazon.

Another book I enjoyed quite a bit, that deserves a mention is Once Upon a Highland Christmas.  It was one of the first I read during this holiday binge, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.  Simple, sweet, sexy love story about two people trying to bring Christmas/Yule to a castle in the Highlands.  Also, only .99 on amazon

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Review: Stealing Time by Wendy Sparrow

Of all the holiday stories I've read in the past couple of weeks, this is one of my favorites.  I loved this story and these characters.  I read most of this in one sitting because I didn't want to put this down.

Despite it being a fairly short story - around a hundred pages I think - it contains quite a bit of emotional weight. 

Zeit is the son of Father Time.  Each year, he has to take one life to pay for the time needed by the Fates.  (It's explained better in the book.)  But last year, he spared the life of Hannah, the person he was supposed to take, and selected an older man near her having a heart attack.  The Fates weren't happy about being tricked and he's spent the past year following Hannah around, trying to save her from the Fates' attempts to claim the life that was robbed from them.

Hannah is living on borrowed time, but she doesn't know this.  She only knows that every once in a while she blacks out and appears in strange places - like a few feet away from where she was before or in one case, almost two miles away.  This is starting to frighten her and she's been going to doctors and having tests run and she's getting no answers.  But she has begun to notice that every time she has a blackout, she notices a handsome man in a black trench coach walking away.

Every Christmas, Hannah goes away to a cabin in the woods to spend the holidays alone - and with the other people staying at the cabin.  She doesn't have family of her own, and the people here know her.  And reading about this place made me wish I could find somewhere like that to spend the holidays.  Sounds wonderful.

This year, as she's checking in, she notices the man in the dark coat also checking in.  She confronts him about having seen him before, and he's vague in his answer.  As the only two single people there, they keep finding themselves together.  Zeit's initial plan was to spend some time with her, work her out of his system before her life ended with the beginning of the New Year.  He hoped that maybe if he got to know her, she wouldn't seem so special anymore.  But getting to know Hannah has the exact opposite effect.

If you've ever read any of my reviews, you might have noticed that with regard to romances, I'm a big fan of seeing how the characters fall for each other.  This story handles that quite well.  It was so easy to see the two going from being almost complete strangers to gradually learning more about each other and wanting to spend more and more time together.  I liked these two characters so very much.

Also, what might have hit home the most for me was Hannah realizing it's time to start taking part in life, time to stop watching everyone else live.  After she learns of Zeit's true identity, and becomes aware of how limited time can be, she starts to regret all the chances she didn't take.  She feels as if the rest of the world moved one, while she stood on the side.  Now she wants to start living, but it might be too late.

I don't want to give away what happens, I'll only say that I enjoyed this a lot.  An interesting and different twist on a holiday theme - I don't think I've ever read a book about Father Time or his sons before - great, relatable characters, appropriate snowy setting and a very nice romance. 

I very much recommend this book, especially during that week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, when you want to get away from the family for a bit.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Review: Mistletoe and Magic by Katie Rose

I didn't enjoy this story all that much.  Maybe it's because it's book 2.5 in a series, and I've not read the other books.  But I never felt very close to the characters or cared much about what happened to them.

What bothered me the most though was that I found the hero, Jared, to be creepy.  Penelope tells him from the beginning that she isn't interested.  (As readers, we know she's only saying this because she's foreseen his death and doesn't want to get involved with a guy who is going to die.  I guess. Or maybe she thought if she didn't get involved with him then it would mess up what she'd foreseen and then he also wouldn't die.  Not entirely sure, but I know she did like him, but because of the vision, she wanted nothing to do with him.)  Jared has just met her, he doesn't have any way of knowing that she's pretending not to have feelings for him.  But he won't go away.  He's showing up at her house, he's buying her lots of expensive items. (I also don't like men who think they can buy affection with expensive gifts.)  He starts asking her family about her schedule so he can show up anywhere she might be.  I didn't find this romantic, I found it disturbing.  She tells him over and over again to leave her alone.  Really bothered me.  If she wanted him, she had plenty of chances to let him know.

I understand that things like that may not bother other people, but it bothered me a lot and no matter what happened later in the story, I couldn't get past seeing Jared as a creepy stalker.

Also, I never saw them "fall in love".  Yes, they both admired each other from afar, but they hardly spent any time together.  Then all of a sudden, they're in love and having sex on the sofa in the middle of the day.  Okay, whatever.  Needless to say, didn't find the love scene all that sexy.  It was so awkward.

Based on the description and title, I thought there were be more magic in this.  But other than her visions - which mostly seem to be about people getting married - there wasn't much magic.  I read this book because I thought the cover was pretty.  There, I admit it.  And I still think the cover is pretty, the story though, didn't do much for me. 

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Review: Parisian Christmas Bake-Off by Jenny Oliver

I loved this book!  I didn't want it to end.  Also, this book played a big role in convincing me I want to go to Paris for Christmas next year. 

Rachel's a school teacher in a small English village.  She doesn't enjoy Christmas though, brings back too many sad memories.  As a surprise, her friends and students arrange for her to participate in a bake-off contest in Paris the week before Christmas.  The winner of the contest will then win an apprenticeship with an infamous chef.  (We're told he was the guy everyone talked about for a while, everyone in Paris had his books, and then something happened and his fame slipped away.)

She's reluctant to go to Paris, but feels like she can't let her friends down after they've worked so hard to make this happen for her.  Also, she decides getting away might not be such a bad thing.  She's realizing there are some changes that need to be made in her life.

I loved the descriptions of Paris at Christmastime.  Her first night in her drab little room, she looks out the window and sees the lights and realizes this may not be so bad.

The competition is tough though.  The chef is mean and the other people participating all have interesting stories of their own.  I enjoyed reading about their different personalities and seeing how they worked together.  They all had their own reason for wanting to win. 

Most of all, I enjoyed reading about how Rachel began to find a new strength in herself as she began to take the competition seriously.  She started to let go of the feelings that had been holding her back and she began to focus on what was important to her.

There is a romance in this story, and it's very nice and sweet, but it's secondary to Rachel's own discoveries about herself and I really liked that about this book.  It's not about her finding a man for Christmas, it's about her finding herself. 

Also, there are lots of descriptions of delicious Parisian treats.  I've been to Paris a few times, and one of my favorite things about visiting the city is selecting pastries to take back to my room at the end of each day of sightseeing.  So loved reading about all of that. 

Great book, I recommend it to anyone and everyone in need of a nice, quick holiday read and escape.  I mean really, where better to escape to than a Paris bakery?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Review: Midwinter Magic by Erica Ridley

This was a cute story.  Not one of my favorites, but I liked it.  I think it may have been a little too light-hearted and a bit silly to win me over completely.

After a congressional hearing in which Jack realized all the bad things in which he and his company were
involved, he decides to devote himself to helping others.  While in a Bolivian village during the Christmas holidays, he runs into a strange woman though.  She seems to appear out of nowhere, wearing a Lakers jersey and a cupcake in her hair. 

The strange woman is his guardian angel, Sarah Phimm.  She was supposed to remain invisible.  But she starts breaking a lot of rules, because she's fallen in love with Jack. 

As I said, I thought parts of this were a little too silly - like her clothes.  If she's been following Jack around his whole life, as well as many humans before him, shouldn't she have a better understanding of what people wear?  A Motley Crue tshirt and a poodle skirt, while in a village in Bolivia.  I'd think that living and observing for thousands of years should have provided her with more wisdom, but she seemed a little clueless.  I don't stories in which the women are silly and goofy, especially when that woman is an angel.  Angels should be strong and intelligent.  At least that's the kind of angels I like to read about.

Anyway, Jack is drawn to Sarah because she knows exactly what he wants and likes.  And being around Jack and interacting with him - not just watching him - makes Sarah realize she's tired of living the solitary life of a guardian angel.

Things get complicated, there's all kinds of drama as Jack takes all sorts of foolish risks now that he knows he has a guardian angel watching him.  Sarah is certain she's going to lose her job and live the rest of eternity in misery.  But in the end, of course, they work things out.

It's an okay story.  I like my stories a little darker and intense, but that's just me and that isn't very holiday-ish of me.  Would suit anyone looking for something fun and lighthearted, with a holiday message about helping others and doing what you think is right.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Review: Million Dollar Christmas Proposal by Lucy Monroe

Despite this having Christmas in the title, it didn't feel like all that much of a holiday story.  The story takes place over several months, there's more information about Thanksgiving.  Not all that much about Christmas or Christmas traditions or anything like that.  Despite that, it's still an enjoyable story. 

I am not a huge fan of stories that involve children.  And I knew going into this that children would be involved.  The basis of the story is that a wealthy man is looking for a mother for his niece and nephew, so of course the kids are a big deal.  That is what I liked least about the book, but didn't by any means ruin the story for me.

Audrey finds out that her boss, Enzu, is searching for a wife and a mother to his adopted children.  Audrey is in dire need of money to help pay for her brother's college education.  Also, she likes the idea of making a difference in the lives of these children who have lost their parents.  So she approaches her boss, letting him know she would like to interview for the position.

The idea of someone buying a wife is a little icky to me.  The interview process and the way it was handled seemed creepy.  Also, turns out Audrey has had a big crush on her boss for a while, even though he didn't know who she was until she walked into his office to express her interest in the job of being his wife.  However, immediately, he's attracted to her.

I found all the scenes in which Audrey is lecturing Enzu about how to be a parent to be kind of boring.  She sounded like such a know-it-all.  Like one of those parents you really hate being around because their way is the only way.  Yes, she'd raised her brother, but only since he was twelve, so it wasn't like she was an expert on small children.  She claimed she'd done lots of research.  But still.  As I said before, I'm simply not a fan of stories that involve children, that isn't romantic to me. 

Despite not feeling very strongly about the characters, they had some very hot scenes. Surprisingly hot, considering I felt they were fairly boring people - all work and family and do everything by the book, according to rules and contracts.  Honestly, their steamy scenes together was probably the redeeming quality of this book.  Otherwise, I doubt I would have liked this book as much at I did.

I read this one day while I was iced it.  Quick read.  Not especially deep or emotional, but entertaining.  I almost felt as if the ending was actually the beginning of the real story - like it ended and my first thought was wait, this is just getting started. 

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Review: Never Desire a Duke by Lily Dalton

I have mixed feelings about this book.  It held my interest, I thought it was well written, not at all boring.  Being that I’m iced in this weekend, I spent all day reading it and found the story entertaining.  Coincidentally, the characters are also trapped due to icy weather conditions, so that seemed fitting.  Of course, I didn’t have a sexy husband begging to reconcile with me.  All I had a bag of Candy Cane Oreos to keep me company.  So maybe I’m a little bitter.

I disliked this heroine so very much.  She seemed spoiled and selfish with completely unrealistic expectations about marriage and her husband.   

In the beginning of the story, Sophia and Vane have been separated for seven months.  After reading one of Vane’s letters from a former lover, Sophie stormed out of the house, slipped on the ice and had a miscarriage.  This caused a rift between them, Sophie blaming her husband for the loss of their child.  So he goes away for business reasons.  When he returns, he wants them to give their marriage another chance.  But she has decided she can never trust him or love him again.  No matter that he didn’t actually do anything wrong.  The letter that upset her so much was from someone her husband knew before his wife.  He was never unfaithful to his wife.  The accident was the result of her acting like a brat and running away instead of an adult and talking to her husband about something that was bothering her.

As for the story, after her husband shows up at her family’s house and wants her to go home with him, she runs from him.  She goes off to the house that was his childhood home - and hasn't been occupied in years - to compose a letter requesting a separation.  But he follows her and because of the weather, they’re trapped there for almost a week.  The week before Christmas, of course.  And lots of things happen during this time.

We find out about her husband’s childhood and people in the village where he lived.  There are all sorts of misunderstandings and new revelations.  And during it all, her husband is doing his best to win back his wife, and she keeps pushing him away.  All she wants is to get home to spend Christmas with her family and get to work on formalizing her separation from her husband.

She spent almost the entire book punishing her husband because he had been with women before he met her.  That doesn’t make sense, does it?  I never understood this.  She made him write out a list of all the women he’d been with – before he knew her – and she carried this list around under her clothes, next to her heart as a reminder to not trust her husband or fall in love with him.  What the hell?  It would have served her right if he’d said to hell with it and gone off and found him a woman who didn’t expect him to have been a virgin on their wedding night.  I kept thinking, how can you treat someone you claim to love with so little compassion?  And worse, I couldn’t help noticing that she treats him almost exactly the way his father treated his mother, who was never able to forgive her for a past love, always assuming the worst about her and making her life miserable.

However, despite my very strong dislike of Sophia, I still, for the most part enjoyed the book.  I didn’t feel as if I’d wasted my time reading it.  It provided the holiday atmosphere I want from books like this.  There were several fun, side storylines.  I liked reading about Vane and Sophia trying to perform a quest and challenging each other at baking cakes.  But I couldn’t help thinking that if I’d been iced in with someone like Vane – instead of only my bag of Oreos to provide me comfort – I would have treated him so much better than Sophia did.
I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Review: Once Upon a Highland Christmas by Sue-Ellen Welfonder

I enjoyed this story quite a bit.  I read it because after a week in Edinburgh this summer, I developed something of a fixation on all things Scottish.  This story certainly satisfied my interest with its details of life in the Highlands around Christmas/Yuletide.

This is a very nice romance.  I liked the characters involved.  A highland warrior, Grim, and a woman, Breena, who views her status as something of a servant - she was kidnapped from her home in Ireland, and ended up at Duncreag when the men who took her tried to take over that castle.  The men who took her were defeated, and she's remained at the castle because she doesn't have a home to which she can return. 

Breena's always been attracted to Grim, but feels as though she isn't worthy of a warrior like him.  Grim has feelings for Breena, but has kept them hidden because he heard she had a man waiting for her in Ireland.  (Turns out she just said this because she wanted people to leave her alone and because she didn't think she had a chance with the only man she wanted - Grim.)

They find themselves alone together one night when Breena thinks Grim is taking down the Christmas decorations she put up.  This year, there is to be no Christmas at the castle because of recent tragedies.  But Breena is determined to add a touch of holiday cheer to the castle.  Turns out Grim has is own plans to create a Yuletide celebration at the castle.  Learning this, Breena decides to help Grim carry out his plan.  And, of course, while they're doing this, they become very aware of their mutual attraction for each other.  

Not a lot of angst or drama, it's a simple story about two people falling in love as they work to bring Christmas to a sad old man and the castle over which he presides.

I found their story to be very romantic and I especially liked how their first kiss seemed to go on for about three pages (maybe a slight exaggeration, but nonetheless, I enjoyed reading it).  Very good chemistry between the characters.  Also, loved the descriptions of the "secret" tower room with the view of the moonlight.

Very nice story, perfect for a quick holiday read.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Review: A Vampire's Christmas Carol by Cynthia Eden

A while back, I decided I would begin my holiday reading a little earlier this year.  I always stock up on holiday reads, and then never get around to half of them because I tend to wait until the beginning of the winter break to start reading them.  So this year, I decided I would begin reading nothing but Christmas stories after Thanksgiving.  And then, after making that statement, I added that I was doing this to turn my brain to candy – because maybe that would make the holidays more tolerable.

Having spent the week of thanksgiving binging on Cynthia Eden’s Mine series, I decided to begin my Christmas reads with her novella, A Vampire’s Christmas Carol.  In terms of candy, I would consider it delicious, sinful dark chocolate, with just a hint of peppermint.  (And in case you haven’t guessed, dark chocolate with peppermint is my favorite holiday indulgence.)

I love vampire stories, especially when the vampires are tormented and guilt-ridden, angry and desperate and broken-hearted.  I don’t like boring vampires, I like them hot and sexy and Ben, in Vampire’s Christmas Carol is very hot and sexy and angry at the whole world because of all he’s lost.

As indicated by the title, the story is a twist on Dickens’s Christmas Carol.  Ben, a vampire who hates Christmas, is visited by a demon to show him his past, an angel to show him the present, and a shifter to provide him a view to his possible future. 

After becoming a vampire, Ben lost the love of his life, the woman with whom he’d planned to spend forever, and it was around Christmas time.  He’s been angry ever since.  This particular Christmas, he’s in a place called Desolate.  He thinks he’s doing the right thing by killing people he feels don’t deserve to live.  But the ghosts of Christmas are about to show him the error of his ways and the things he’s missed through his haze of anger. 

I really enjoyed this story.  Not too sappy or simple.  Had the perfect mix of danger and emotion and romance.  And did I mention hot and sexy? Yeah, I think I probably did.  It was short, easy to read in one sitting.  Definitely marking this as one of my favorite holiday stories, one I can return to when I need a guaranteed good, steamy read with a nice holiday message. 

I received a review copy via NetGalley.