Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl

Dear friends, fellow readers, and/or anyone who thinks they may enjoy a fun, sexy, summer romance, do yourself a favor and get a copy of Victoria Dahl’s Taking the Heat. Pour yourself a drink, locate a spot by the pool – or a comfy chair in the air conditioning – whatever works, and block out a few hours for yourself and enjoy.
The title is appropriate because this book is so hot. So very hot. Perfect summer escape. 

This is the third book in Dahl’s Girls’ Night Out
series, but no worries if you’ve not read the others.  (Though I guarantee you’ll want to read them all after you read this, and while you’re at it, go ahead and read her first three books connected to this town of Jackson Hole.)

Veronica has returned to her hometown after having to admit to herself that New York City wasn’t working for her.  (On a side note, reading about Veronica and her decision to leave New York City is maybe the first time I felt okay with my own decision to not stick it out in New York City. That’s always been this big disappointment of mine, that I didn’t try harder when I was younger, but I read this and thought, hey, NYC isn’t for everyone and it’s okay to admit that.)  She’s also the judge’s daughter and she doesn’t have the best relationship with her dad so returning home wasn’t the easiest of decisions. But she’s doing what’s best for her. She has a job writing an advice column at the local paper, but she feels like something of a fake because truth is, she isn’t nearly as experienced as she seems to be.  She’s not the typical virgin heroine. This wasn't really intentional on her part. She was just sort of busy with life, focused on school and work, and by the time she got around to dating, well, guys get a little freaked out when they learn someone has reached adult age without well, you know.

Enter Gabe. Hot new librarian in town. Hot guy who reads. Enough said. Like sighting a unicorn. He’s kind of perfect. (Okay, not entirely perfect, he’s got his issues, as you’ll find out later, but completely manageable issues.)  He’s from New York City and he’s escaped the city to enjoy the outdoors offered by Wyoming. At first, when learning Veronica once lived in New York City, he thinks he wants to avoid her, because he had enough of New York women. But he gets over that quick enough. And when he finds out about Veronica’s little “secret” – he’s not freaked out. Not at all. 

This book is so hot. So damn hot. I don’t know how else to describe it. You’ll just have to read it for yourself to understand.

Unlike several of Dahl’s other books, this one didn’t break my heart before putting it back together, and there was no sobbing. There weren't any devastating betrayals or anything like that. This is a fun book. This was a case of even if the relationship didn’t work out, Veronica would be just fine.

Veronica isn’t simply learning about what she wants in the bedroom. We see her become more involved in her career, taking her advice column to another level as well as working on her relationship with her father.

My favorite thing about Dahl’s book are her heroines.  They’re real. They’re people to which I can relate, I understand why they do and say the things they do. They’re a little quirky, a bit nerdy, flawed and confused, and yet, they still manage to find love, as well as some sort of purpose to their life – if they don’t already have one.  I read these books and think, oh wow, people like that really can find someone who will want them. And then I remember it’s fiction, but whatever. I love these books. They make me happy. When I can’t deal with work or people or I’m overwhelmed with oh-my-god-what-am-I- going-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life – I escape to my room, I clear my calendar, I tell everyone I’m much too busy for ______ whatever it is I’ve been asked to do – and I dive into these books.  There is no happiness quite like knowing there’s a brand new, unread Victoria Dahl book waiting for me on my kindle.

So I repeat, do yourself a favor, and get a copy of this book.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Review: Bad News Cowboy by Maisey Yates

This book was okay. I didn't dislike the story quite as much as I disliked the second book in the series.  But I still had issues with it.  Time to accept that cowboy stories and small town, family stories are really not my thing.  I think I'm probably a little too picky about romances, I seem to like certain ones a lot and others not much at all.  There's rarely any in-between with me. This one didn't fit into my "type."

This story is about the Garrett's little sister, Kate. She's in her early twenties and has never even been kissed.  She was raised by her brothers after her mother left and her father was too drunk to be of much help. I'm usually a fan of awkward characters, but this character wasn't a sort of awkward to which I could relate. I grew up around rodeo people, spent many weekends at rodeos.  I kept picturing some of the rodeo girls I knew and well, Yates captured the character fairly accurately. But at the same time, I never much liked those people, because of their awkwardness and weird clothes - the big hair and the starched shirts.  There's a scene in which Kate attempts to get dressed up for a date and I cringed picturing the clothes she put on.

Anyway, after a lifetime of never giving boys much thought, suddenly Kate is lusting after her brothers' friend Jack, who she has known since she was a small child.  That isn't completely strange - he was a familiar, attractive presence in her life and it isn't like she knew many other men. He seems like an obvious choice for her.

My biggest problem with the story though was Jack. Over and over again, we're told that he helped Eli and Connor Garrett raise their little sister Katie.  So he's sort of a big brother to her, in spirit if not in blood.  Again, this made me think of people I know, family friends who were like family. The idea of there being any sort of relationship really creeped me out.  He knew her as a small child and helped care for her.  Maybe if Katie had gone away to college or been out riding the rodeo circuit for a while and then returned and he realized she was all grown up, I would have be more okay with the relationship. But that isn't the case. He sees her on a regular basis, having dinner and playing poker at her brother's house, always thinking of her as a little sister. Then she makes clear she wants more and without much hesitation, he goes for it.

I didn't find their relationship very realistic or convincing. The jump from seeing her as his best friends' little sister to his lover was a bit too abrupt.  And him deciding he loved her seemed to be more a case of simply wanting something stable for once in his life and being flattered that she wanted him.

Overall, I just didn't like this book much.  Simply not my kind of story.  I need to be able to relate to the characters somehow in order to fully enjoy a book like this, and nothing these characters did made sense to me.

I did enjoy reading about the wedding of Eli and Sadie (from Part Time Cowboy, the first book in this series, which I liked quite a bit.)  Some of my favorite scenes though were not between Jack and Kate, but rather the interactions with Connor, or Jack dealing with his own family.  I continue to strongly dislike Connor's wife, Liss. She may have been even more annoying in this book.  Even though the story didn't resonate with me, the writing is still strong. And even though I wasn't convinced by the romance, the sex scenes are still pretty hot.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Review: Last Summer on Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff

I devoted a significant portion of my day to reading this book - when I really needed to be doing other things - and in the end, I didn't even like it very much.

It did hold my attention, but the main character and her frequent running away got to be a bit much, and she sounds so meek and plain and yet these wonderful men are crazy in love with her. (To the author's credit, at one point a character does very bluntly say to her that she can't quite figure out why it is two great guys are falling all over themselves for her.)

I would have liked the book much better if it had ended before part three. I could have handled the book ending with the conclusion of part 2, it was sad, but it made sense to me and made Addie seem like a stronger character. But part 3 is what sort of ruined the rest of the story for me. It just made me angry.

What I did enjoy about this book was the London setting during WWII and the characters' involvement in the war. That's what kept me reading. The writing really brought this era to life. Overall the story is okay. Other people may not feel the same sort of disappointment I felt at the way the story ended.

**** possible spoiler ****

In the acknowledgments, the author mentions this story being somewhat influenced by Little Women and it figures because even though I love Little Women, it's one of my favorite books, I get so angry about Jo not ending up with Laurie and him marrying Amy and Jo settling for some boring old man. The romance twist in this story created very similar feelings of anger within me. I dislike the ending so much. Parts of this book were leading up to being a great love story. I would have been okay with the love story not ending well and Addie going off on her own, but instead she ends up in a relationship that to me, seemed very much like settling for damaged leftovers. It was like she'd learned nothing from all of her experiences. So disappointing.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Review: Past Encounters by Davina Blake

I enjoyed this book. Parts of it were slow and bits of the story seemed to drag on for a little too long, but overall, it was a good book.

The backdrop for the story is the filming of the movie Brief Encounter - a really beautiful movie about a couple who meet on the train on a regular basis, gradually fall for each other, consider having an affair, but don't. If you're familiar with that story - and now that I think about it, the movie is never thoroughly explained in the book and is only mentioned by name in the beginning when one of the characters is watching it - the story of that movie sort of echoes throughout the lives of the characters.

After noticing her husband's strange behavior - this usually very calm man puts his fist through the window - Rhoda becomes suspicious and starts going through his letters.  She finds a note thanking him for flowers. Thinking her husband of almost ten years is having an affair she decides to confront the woman who sent the note.  When she does, she learns that this woman, is actually the wife of her husband's best friend, Archie, who recently died. From this man's wife Rhoda learns that Archie and her husband, Peter, were in a Prisoner of War camp together for five years.

Rhoda begins meeting with this woman in an attempt to learn more about her husband's past. She doesn't understand why he's never shared any of this information, and yet, at the same time, we learn that Rhoda has been keeping her own secrets about the years when Peter was away.

She was only 18 when she said she'd marry him, moments before he left for war.  The next time she saw him, she was 24.  Both of them suffered through life altering experiences during their time apart.

The story is told in flashbacks, revealing the details of Rhoda's life at home as she waited and Peter's life as a prisoner.  My only complaint about the story is it felt very choppy, a few moments of Peter at war, then a couple of pages about Rhoda. I wish there hadn't been so much back and forth.

I really liked Rhoda's story, though it broke my heart. (I'm not sure why I seem to be reading all these tragic love stories lately, but whatever, I do seem to be drawn to them.) And Peter's experience was harrowing. It hurt to read those parts, but I suppose that was necessary to show why Peter acted the way he did.

I liked the book, it showed the horrors of war and the lasting effects on the individuals who went through it at home and in battle.  But it was also very much about a marriage and communication and learning to accept each and understand each other and move forward when necessary.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: The River Witch by Kimberly Brock

I bought this book for my kindle a while back, but never got around to reading it. I bought it thinking it was more "witchy" than it appeared when I read the description later.

But I needed an audio book for a road trip from Dallas to Austin, and I wanted something different from what I've been reading.  And this sounded about right.  I got the audible version for only a few dollars because I already had the kindle version.

So I listened to this on the way to Austin and then while driving to and from class during my stay in Austin.

I really liked this book. It is different from what I usually listen to, it's contemporary and it's very Southern. I'm more a based in London/France, historical type of person. I really loved the character of Rosalyn. She was a successful dancer, thought she had her life together, and then it all fell apart. She got involved with a married man, got pregnant, was in a terrible car accident and while recovering from the accident at her mother's home, delivered a still born baby.  She's hit rock bottom. Her injury is too severe for her to return to dancing at her age - around 30, I believe.

She rents a place at an island, hoping to be alone for a few months to find some peace and figure out what she's going to do with the rest of her life now that all her dreams and plans have died.  The career she's worked on for most of her life is over, the child she thought she would have is gone. She's a lost soul.

But what she finds at the island is far from solitude. There's a child in search of a mother who is growing pumpkins near her house and there's the child's aunt and her strange, eccentric father. Without wanting to, Rosalyn becomes entangled in their lives. Along the way, as she's trying to help everyone around her, she begins to realize she's also saving herself.  She has to put her old life behind her because there's nothing she can do to bring it back and she has to figure out her next move in life.

She makes connections through music and dance and nature and developing an understanding of the old magic that inhabits the area.  While there wasn't quite the element of magic I'd hoped for when buying this book, it was there nonetheless.

Also because I was not reading, but rather listening while driving - and sometimes having to pay attention to the road and not the story - there were a few parts I'm not quite sure I understood, so I have every intention of going back and reading some sections.

Overall though, I liked this book. Very powerful story about learning to save yourself and forgive yourself and letting go of the expectations you have about life, and that others have about your life and doing what's right for you.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: Stealing Venice by Heather Redding

This is one of my new favorite books.  I loved this book. I have been talking about this book to anyone who will listen to me. It's such a good story, so interesting and complex and I want people to read it. For the past few weeks, anytime someone says, I'm looking for a book to read, I mention this one.

This book is about Venice and love and art and history and heartbreak and figuring out what you want in life and getting older and accepting what you have and what you can and can't change and it is just so very, very good.

Also, there's a bit of a Susanna Kearsley time slip happening throughout the story, so I think this book will appeal to fans of hers (and everyone I know is a fan of hers because her books are amazing.)  There are two story lines happening. In present time, Anna goes to Venice to visit her more adventurous friend.  Anna's taken the safe route, gotten a job in finance and a flat in London, remaining close to her family, while her two best friends have taken risks, one living with a boyfriend in Venice while teaching English and the other in Paris, writing crime novels.  After a series of events - a death and a breakup and the realization that her job isn't her whole life - Anna decides to take her father's advice and travel, beginning with an extended stay in Venice.

In another story line, Ginerva who lived centuries before Anna, during a time when women had much less freedom.  She's struggling to pursue her interests. Despite the many years separating their lives, we see similarities in their lives and the two are connected by a painting. The painting will play an important role in both their lives, as it ties them to their loved ones, and reflects their losses and they both try to preserve this work of art, in different ways for different reasons.

The author does a wonderful job of bringing Venice to life, both past and present.  I recently returned from a trip to Italy, which included a stop in Venice, which is why I wanted to read this book. I was happy with how vividly the city is described and it felt as if I was allowed to extend my trip beyond the three days I spent wandering around this beautiful city. I was also impressed with the depth of art history included in this book, I kept my iPad next to me, looking up paintings as I read.

Along with the history and art though are some very real, heartbreaking stories about love and friendship. These characters don't have neatly tied up happily ever afters. This book has a very harsh element of real life to it. It made me angry and sad, but then hopeful. There's something powerful about the way these characters overcome the heartaches and put their lives back together and move on.  In the end, it all returns to art, and as artist an an art teacher, I very much appreciated that.

I will admit, my one qualm about the story, I thought Anna forgave a bit too easily at one point, I didn't feel as if the extent of her forgiveness was deserved - because I'm the type who stays angry forever. But upon further reflection realized she was in a position in which she didn't have anything to lose. Even if it ended up not working out, she'd still probably be right back where she began, not any worse off than before and she'd made sure she was in a pretty good place to begin with.

I highly recommend this book. It has everything a great story needs - art, history, love and heartbreak.

And the ebook is only 99 cents on amazon at the moment. I like this book so much, I'd seriously consider buying copies for all my friends if I could be certain they'd read it.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Review: Playing by the Greek's Rules by Sarah Morgan

I liked this book well enough. Quick, cute, nice little romance.

The main character, Lily, irritated me some. She was so very perfect. This even with the awareness that she'd had an affair with a married man - but even then, she had no idea he was married and she was so upset about what she'd done. (Obviously, that's not the romance in the story, it's something that happened right before the story begins and she's feeling so guilty about this.) We find out later that she had this horrible childhood, but she's still so very optimistic and full of sunshine. There's only so much of that I can tolerate.

She's never been one for casual relationships. She gets too involved and she falls in love and then she gets hurt. She decides she's going to stop that and have sex with someone simply for the pleasure of having sex. Rebound sex, even though this is not something she's ever done before and doesn't really know how to go about behaving this way.

She's working on a archaeological dig in Greece, but because it pays so little she has two other jobs. While doing her house cleaning job, she runs into Nik, the owner of the house, who also happens to be her boss at her office job. He ends up needing a date for the night, because he's attending some important event involving the archaeological dig and just so happens, that he needs someone who knows about Greek pottery.

This is a Harlequin Presents, so of course there are some convenient coincidences and a few absurd situations. These books are like modern day fairy tales - handsome, wealthy, successful men who didn't realize they needed love in their lives and beautiful, kind-hearted women to show them the way, and exotic settings.  Nothing wrong with that. I like these stories quite a bit. Perfect choice when you want something fun and quick and romantic, something you know will have problems solved quickly and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Lily thinks she can have a casual fling with Nik, but the more time they spend together, the more they realize they care about each other. You can guess how it ends.  I could have done without all the story about Nik's dad and his half-sister. They seemed to be added for mush factor and it irritated me. I want more sexy, less sweet.  But that's just me.

Overall though, I liked the book. Very fast paced, nice, beautiful Greek setting, allowed me to avoid the world for a while so served its purpose quite well.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Review: Suddenly Last Summer by Sarah Morgan

I loved this romance novel. It's the first thing I read after returning home from a three and a half week trip to Europe and it was exactly what I needed. After all that traveling, I was in no shape to do much of anything except read and this was the perfect book for that.  Something very sexy and romantic, with just enough angst and conflict to keep the story interesting and emotionally satisfying.

I read the first book in this series, Sleigh Bells in the Snow, around Christmas and I absolutely loved it. As anxious as I was to keep reading about the O'Neil brothers, I decided to wait until summer for this one.  And I'm going to make myself hold off until closer to Christmas for the third one, as that's also Christmas-themed. But it will probably be the first book I read when I get started on the holiday books.

This book is about Sean, the doctor who doesn't live at his family's resort in Vermont. There's some animosity about this, their grandfather not understanding why he doesn't want to be more involved in the family business. But for Sean, this was just never the life for him. He wanted to be a doctor and he wanted to get away. However when his grandfather becomes ill and ends up in the hospital, it's the doctor in the family they want there to translate the medical speak.

A few months earlier, Sean had a one night fling with the resort's French cook, Elise. Even though they're both adults and knew exactly what they were doing, with no intention of it being more than a fun night, there's a little bit of awkwardness between them. Elise, not realizing the extent of his family issues was concerned he was avoiding the family because of her.

With Sean back home more to help his grandfather, he and Elise keep spending more time together, and the attraction that led to their one night together is still very much there.  Over time the two begin to learn more about each other, about Sean's family and Elise's reason for leaving Paris.  Gradually, their attraction becomes more than just a strong physical connection.  I really love books like this, where you see the characters begin to fall for each other and their attraction makes sense. We aren't simply told they like each other, we understand why they want to be together.

But of course, falling for each other isn't that easy, Sean's still having issues with his family, and Elise promised herself long ago that she would never fall in love because it only led to destruction.  I really loved how they resolved their issues. Very nice love story here.  

Am very much looking forward to reading the third book in this series.  The first two have been wonderful. 

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Review: Leonardo and The Last Supper by Ross King

I was talking to my tour guide in Florence about books about the city.  She mentioned Ross King's Brunelleschi's Dome, which I think I may have a copy of, but have never read, and then someone else mentioned that Ross King had also written a book called Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling. That's when I remembered that I had an unread copy of Ross King's Leonardo and the Last Supper on my kindle. Well, I felt like a fool because in the weeks leading up to my trip, I was trying to find books that might enhance the trip and didn't even think of these.  And days earlier I'd visited The Last Supper in Milan. So I debated between downloading Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling and trying to hurry and read it before visiting the Sistine Chapel (Rome was the next stop after Florence) or going ahead and reading Leonardo and the Last Supper.

I went with the book on Leonardo because, well, I've developed something of a fixation on Leonardo da Vinci over the past couple of years.  The more I learn about him, the more interesting he becomes and the more I want to know.  Also, I decided to read this because I already had it. Duh. I ended up really enjoying this book.  I think part of the reason I liked it so much is because I had recently viewed The Last Supper and spent some time in Milan and Florence - both cities that feature in this story.  So I almost think I got more out of it by reading the book after viewing the work rather than before. The book reinforces the things I'd learned from my tour guides and I could more easily recreate what I'd recently seen as I was reading the book.

I'd also visited an amazing da Vinci exhibit in Milan, and during that saw a lot of the work the book mentions, especially the model and sketches for the horse sculpture Leonardo wanted so much to make. 

But at the same time, I do not by any means think you need to make a trip to Milan to view The Last Supper in order to appreciate this book.  There are quite a few photos and illustrations in the book to provide you with necessary visuals.
This is a great book. So much information, presented in a way that is accessible to someone, even if they don't have a strong art history background. It's nonfiction, but written in such a way that it is thoroughly entertaining and reads like a story, not a history lesson. (Not that there's anything wrong with history lessons, but you know what I mean.) King brings da Vinci to life and discusses, not only the Last Supper, but also the events in the artist's life that led him to that point, and the circumstances of the area in which he was living.  I thought I was fairly knowledgeable about da Vinci, but I learned a lot I didn't already know. Reading this also made me realize that quite a few scenes in the show da Vinci's Demons that I thought were pure fiction are actually based on facts.

I was on vacation while reading this, and supposed to be spending most of my time out sightseeing, the book was just for times when I was waiting on trains or planes or something to read before going to bed at night. But I found myself staying up later than I should, or taking longer at breakfast or lunch than necessary to get in more reading time because I didn't want to put this book down.  

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in art history or Leonardo da Vinci or Italian art and/or history.  Very enjoyable read.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.