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.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Review: Forged in the Desert Heat by Maisey Yates

I used to be something of a book snob, the sort who would roll my eyes at the words "romance" or "Harlequin".  Now though, I will hurt someone if they dare to take away my Maisey Yates' Harlequin Presents.  In the past year, I've read five or six of them and have enjoyed them quite a bit.

She creates these likable, complex characters and interesting couples.  These books provide the perfect escape and have become my go-to when I need a book that I can dive into immediately.

What I especially like about these books is that unlike some “millionaire/billionaire” books, these aren’t stories of rich men seducing helpless, young poor girls who need someone to take care of them. Most of these women are doing just fine on their own, at least with regard to careers and finances.  Suffice it to say that I don’t feel as if I’m handing in my feminist card when I read these books.  In most cases, the women wield as much power as the men.  And emotionally, they seem to be equally damaged.

In Forged in the Desert Heat, Ana comes from a wealthy background.  She was educated at nice boarding schools, she’s now getting ready to marry a Sheik.  But during a pre-wedding trip, she’s abducted, and then rescued by another Sheik from a neighboring kingdom.  (I said these books were enjoyable, not that they were realistic; I don’t read for realism.)  Zafar takes her to stay in his palace until he can figure out how to get her back to her fiancĂ© without causing a war.  This is where the story took a very distinct Beauty and the Beast twist (oh, and I love Beauty and the Beast).  A palace that seems frozen in time, a man who has been alone for so long, he's forgotten how to behave in civilized company.  I liked it a lot.
As Ana waits to return home, she has plenty of time to rethink some decisions she'd made in her life - or rather the lack of decisions.  She's always done what she was told to do, what she thought would make her father happy, exactly what was expected of her.  She now realizes she's on the verge of marrying a man she thinks she loves because she's supposed to love him.  But after a kiss from Zafar, she realizes that the love she thought she felt was devoid of passion.  How can she go back to that life?  Another thing I like about the books I've read by Yates, is we see her characters fall for each other.  The attraction may be instant, but it takes a while before they develop an emotional connection, as it should be. 
I enjoyed reading about Ana taking control of her life, making decisions that were best for her and being willing to deal with the consequences, even if her choices weren't what were expected of her.  And, of course, this had all the steamy romance that can be expected from these books.  Overall, I really liked this book. 
I read this while traveling over the Thanksgiving break and it worked perfectly for keeping my mind off the dreariness of waiting in airports and riding in small planes and other "fun" holiday-ness.
I received a review copy via NetGalley. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review: Mine to Hold by Cynthia Eden

Mine to Hold is the third book in Cynthia Eden’s Mine series.  This book is about a different couple, Claire and Noah, who met in the second book, Mine to Keep.  I started reading this right after I finished Mine to Keep because I really enjoyed that book a lot.

I loved the suspense and mystery in this story.  Like the other books in this series, the reader is kept guessing the entire time.  By now I’ve learned to stop assuming I know who is guilty because things will change.  I didn’t want to put this book down.  Reading this series reminded me of how much I love a good mystery/crime/suspense story.  With regard to books, mysteries were my first love. That used to be all I read.  In the past few years, I’ve made an effort to read a wider variety of books, and have moved away from exclusively reading mysteries.  But these books brought back the thrill I used to get from reading a suspenseful book.

Also, the book was pretty steamy, so that along with the suspense made for a fun read. 

However, I didn’t find the romance to be all that compelling.  The first meeting between Claire and Noah in New York City – when she goes to him to interview for a job, he informs her that he wants her in his bed.  Yes, they met in Chicago, under some extreme circumstances, but they hardly had a chance to get to know each other.  Maybe he was drawn to her because she was a victim and had been through a lot of horrible things – but that isn’t very romantic.  I usually like more of a build up, a chance to see why the two people fell in love with each other.  With the previous couple – Skye and Trace – they’d known each other for years, so their obsession with each other made sense.  But Noah just sort of decided he wanted Claire.  Maybe I would have been more convinced if he’d fallen for her after he’d gone to bed with her, but for him to be so certain she was the one without knowing her at all seemed odd.  There was never any explanation as to why he wanted her, what it was about her that made her so special to him. 

But as I said in the beginning, I enjoyed the suspense in this story enough that I wasn’t all that bothered by what I considered to be an unconvincing romance.   I still really liked the book and will continue reading any books in this series.  I definitely plan to read more by this author. 

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Goodreads Choice Awards and reading challenge

Sometimes when I look at these "best of lists" I get annoyed because I feel like I read a lot and yet, I haven't read anything on the list.  On Amazon's editors top 100, I'd not read a single one.  But I've read 64 books this year.  Most of them new books.  A few of amazon's picks are on my to-read list, but none have been read.

However, I was pleased to see that several of my favorite books from this year have been nominated for Goodreads Choice Awards.

My four favorite books from this year were written by two different authors.  Susanna Kearsley's Winter Sea and its sequel, Firebird, and Jojo Moyes' Girl You Left Behind and Me Before You.  If anyone asks for a book rec, I mention those four.  I read Winter Sea and Firebird one right after the other, so in a way, they're one big story in my head.  But I'm told it's possible to read Firebird as a stand-alone, but why would you want to do that?  Both books are great.  Winter Sea is set in Scotland, while Firebird takes place in Russia.  Wonderful settings, interesting history and so very romantic.  Firebird is nominated for best fantasy.  I would think of it as more historical, but I do understand the fantasy label.  Two people in present time are using their psychic abilities to see what happened in the past.  I'm not describing it well, but trust me, it's a great story, even if you aren't all that into paranormal or fantasy type books.  For me, I just sort of accept that psychic abilities are a real thing, so it didn't seem all that "fantastical" maybe.  But point being, you should read Winter Sea and Firebird.

Also, Me Before You is nominated for Best Fiction.  Easily my choice.  Though in the first round of voting, Girl You Left Behind was also nominated.  I loved both books and they're very different books.  Girl You Left Behind is about a painting, and part of the story takes place in France, so as an artist who loves all things French, I was a little partial to that.  But even I voted for Me Before You.  That book is amazing.  It left me an emotionally drained mess who couldn't stop crying when it was over, but nonetheless, amazing.

Other books I've read and liked that are nominated for Goodreads Choice Awards:  Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is nominated for Best Historical Fiction.  I think any fan of the Fitzgeralds would enjoy this.  And in the humor category - Wallbanger by Alice Clayton.  Such a cute, funny story.  I loved it. 

So I was able to vote in four categories this year, made me feel somewhat accomplished.  I did find it odd that I'd not read any of the paranormal or romance books - since that's mostly what I read these days.  But oh well. 

And in other reading news, I'm one book away from reading my goal of reading 65 books this year.  Clearly, I will surpass it.  Last year I read 63 books.  I sort of feel like I've cheated because several of the books were short novellas.  But at the same time, quite a few of the books were around 800 or more pages.  My page count has by far exceeded last year's page count.

A few of the books were re-reads.  I listened the Handmaid's Tale, narrated by Claire Danes - it's a great version if you're into audio books.  I've read the book a few times, but was nice to have it read to me.  I also re-read Discovery of Witches, my third time to read that.  I was doing a real-time read, following along the same days as the characters.  Doing the same with Shadow of Night now, but won't finish that until next year.  I also finally started reading the Outlander series, or rather listening to the audio versions of those.  I'm on the fifth book.  Don't like it nearly as much as the first two books, but it keeps me entertained on my commute to and from work each day.  I finally finished listening to Great Expectations, and wasn't all that impressed.  And I listened to the entire Beautiful Creatures series.  I'm becoming quite a fan of audio books.

Well, closer to the end of the year, I'll put together my best of list, just because.  Looking over the list of books I've read, I'm seeing a lot of favorites.

I'm sort of thinking after Thanksgiving this year, I'm going to read nothing but Christmas-themed novels and novellas and anthologies.  Because I want my brain to turn to candy?  I don't know.  I don't have a real Christmas, so I have to immerse myself in fictional ones.  Same reason I watch so many Hallmark holiday movies. 

Review: Mine to Keep by Cynthia Eden

Mine to Keep is the continuation of Trace and Sky’s story, which began in Mine to Take.  (I recommend reading Mine to Take first, it's a shorter book, but very good.)  In Mine to Take, the couple was reunited after being apart for ten years, when Skye goes to her Trace, the owner of a big security company, asking for help when she felt she was being stalked.

The two met in a foster home as teenagers, but went their separate ways when Skye moved to New York to pursue a career in dance and Trace joined the military.  Now, Sky’s back in Chicago to open a dance studio, her career as a dancer over after a car accident, and Trace is a wealthy business owner, having used his military experience and connections to create a successful security company. 

The first book was about the two of them reuniting, and then hunting down who was after Skye.  Now, they’re finally together again, engaged and ready to spend their life together, but Trace’s past has returned to haunt them both. 

People from Trace’s past keep dying, brutal murders, and whoever is doing it is trying to frame Trace.  And a man like Trace has made a lot of enemies and has a lot of secrets.  As if trying to discover the identity of a murderer roaming the streets of Chicago isn’t enough, Trace is also trying to salvage his relationship with Skye.  Skye is tired of his secrets and wants Trace to be completely honest with her, but Trace is afraid he’ll lose her if she knows the whole truth.

Much like Mine to Take, this book kept me guessing.  As soon as I thought I knew who was guilty, something else would happen to change my mind.  That’s what I really enjoy about these books.  The mystery kept me hooked.  I wanted to set this book down last night because I could feel my cold medicine kicking in, but I couldn’t stop reading.  I think it was almost 4 a.m. when I finally finished the book.

I like this couple so much.  They have scorching hot chemistry and are so completely in love with each other.  I felt like Skye’s emotional conflict regarding Trace’s secrets was handled well, her desire to just ignore it all or force him to be honest with her. 

This book has everything I want for an enjoyable escape read – danger, suspense, emotional angst and lots of hot sex.  I liked it quite a bit and will continue reading more by this author.  In fact, I’ve already started reading the third book in this series, Mine to Hold, which is about a different couple who met during this book.
I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Review: Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

I assumed Daylight Gate would be a quick read, but once I started it, felt like it went on forever.  I had to force myself to keep returning to the story.  And yet, I felt like not much information was provided about what was happening in the story. 
I didn’t enjoy this story because I was never clear on what exactly was happening.  Some people were accused of witchcraft.  Alice Nutter is trying to help them, but then she’s also accused.  And she’s trying to save her lover who everyone seems to be after.
It all just seemed kind of jumbled together.  Alice is trying to explain that these woman are simply ignorant and poor, but then we see that they are attempting to practice magic.  But their magic doesn’t seem to be powerful enough to save them. 
Alice has a connection to these women, one of them having been a former lover.  So it seems that Alice also has some connection to magic and that she's been given a special anti-aging cream from John Dee.
I felt very confused by the story, as if I were only being given bits and pieces of what was happening, as if the real story was still concealed. 
I’m usually a big fan of stories about witches, but I didn’t find this very interesting.
I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review: A Duchess in the Dark by Kate McKinley

I wanted something quick to read one night because I was in the middle of several long, drawn out storied and needed a change.  This worked perfectly.  It’s not very long and can be read in one sitting.

I liked this quite a bit. I had low expectations, because quite honestly most stories listed as erotic novellas aren't all that great. But this was a cute story. It's a little silly - Daphne is trying to climb into her boyfriend's bed to "compromise" herself so that her brother-in-law with have to allow them to marry. But it's dark, and she's nervous and she climbs into the wrong man's bed. I liked that the story wasn't the usual - they had sex, instantly fell in love and that's it. Turned out, there was a bit of history between the characters, they'd been eyeing each other for years, never thinking there was a chance they could be together, so that was nice.

Anyway, the characters are very likable and I look forward to reading more by this author.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley. 
This has a release date of December 3, 2013.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Review: Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

Because Diane Setterfield’s Thirteenth Tale is one of my favorite books, I was looking forward to reading Bellman & Black. 

However, Bellman & Black is very different from Thirteenth Tale.

While Thirteenth Tale evoked the ghosts of the Bronte sisters, Bellman & Black seems to pay tribute to Edgar Allan Poe, with its mysterious black birds (rooks) and a protagonist who becomes his own worst enemy as he’s consumed with guilt for an act he committed in his youth.

I expected this story would be scary or creepy or suspenseful.  I even saw some people call it a ghost story, but after reading this, I wasn’t convinced there was an actual ghost.  Mostly, I found this book to be very sad, too sad even. 

Bellman is an interesting character, and I felt he had a lot of potential.  In the beginning, we learn all about his complicated childhood, and his connection to the Bellman family.  I assumed more would be made of this, that family secrets would eventually come back to haunt him.  In fact I kept waiting for that to happen, but never did.

We’re told that Bellman does something when he’s young.  He’s showing off for his friends, but he had no malicious intent, and in my opinion, the act was pretty minor.  I can see how a child might view this as something major, but I can’t accept that the act itself would have such horrible repercussions.  I try not to give away important information in my reviews – I hate spoilers – but the horrible thing he did was kill a bird.  A bird.  And for the rest of his life, he’s punished because he accidentally killed a bird?  I used to work in an office building in Dallas, the walls were mostly windows, and birds flew into the glass and died on an almost daily basis.  Birds are not that important.  I can’t accept the idea that ending a bird’s life should result in Bellman’s life being ruined, forever.

This is why I think maybe the punishment existed only in Bellman’s mind.  Maybe he didn’t feel he deserved to be happy.  Maybe he associated all the bad things in his life with that one act.  But the author kept adding these bits at the end of each chapter, about the birds, as if to convince the readers that the birds were some important, powerful creatures who were out to get revenge.  If we were really supposed to believe the birds were so powerful though, I needed more than a few paragraphs about myths and powers associated with rooks.

The general story though is Bellman works very hard for everything he has.  He gets married, has a few children, and loves his family very much.  He tries to take care of everyone, while also running the family business – which he earned through hard work, more than family connections.  But he seems to be cursed because he killed a bird as a young boy.  By the end of the book, I guess we’re also supposed to think he worked too hard?  In his worst moment, he’s being told to remember, as if he’d somehow forgotten all he had and lost.  But I never got that impression, I never felt that he didn’t appreciate all he had.  I felt he did appreciate what he had and that’s why he worked so had to keep it and always improve upon what he had.  I couldn’t get past the idea that he was unfairly punished.  I felt that even when he was fully committed to his work, he still always showed he loved his family and cared about the well being of the people who depended on him. 

I cared about Bellman, so in that aspect the author succeeded.  There were moments that especially broke my heart, like when he’s looking through old books, and finds notes from his daughter where she’s added “Kiss Dora” to his to-do list.  Or when he’s not allowed near his sick baby, so he climbs the ladder so he can look through the window.  At one point, I set the book aside thinking I needed to stop reading because it was much too sad. 

Despite my anger at what happened in the books, I will concede that it is well written.  I didn’t want to put it down.  Though mostly I kept reading in hopes there would be some big revelation to explain why all of this was happening.  I suppose any book that makes me feel something so strongly, happy or sad, must have some merit. 

In the end, I felt cheated.  I’m not saying I needed a happy ending, but I wanted a reason or explanation of some sort for Bellman’s suffering.  Maybe I missed something or didn’t fully understand what I was reading, but I can’t accept that so much bad should happen to one person because he killed a bird – I don’t care what kind of bird it was. 

I received a review copy via NetGalley.
Read October 6, 2013.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review: Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

I enjoyed this book, but I had expected it to be more dark and creepy.  It being a story about Edgar Allan Poe, I thought it to be more along the lines of his stories.  One description of he book claims it’s a story of sexual obsession, but I didn’t get that impression from reading the story.  I think of obsessed as being out of control, risking everything, and the characters in this story didn’t behave that way.  In fact, they seemed incredibly in control of their feelings and actions.

Poe, who is married, falls in love with Frances Osgood, a married woman.  Her husband has abandoned her and her children, but in order to protect her reputation, she must still behave like a married woman.  We find out that Poe has a very unhappy marriage.  His wife is described as a child bride, but at this point in the story, they’ve been married ten years and she’s 23 years old, not at all a child, but still behaves much like one.  Also, she’s very sickly. 

For most of the book, we are aware of the attraction between Poe and Frances, but they don’t act on it.  They walk together in the cold a lot, they touch hands sometimes, there are a few kisses, they write some poems to each other that create quite a scandal, but for the most part, they behave themselves.  They have one weekend together, but that’s near the end, after they’ve wanted each other for a long time.

What I suspect was supposed to be the big, dark revelation at the end was a bit anti-climatic.  Not what I was expecting at all, but not that shocking.  It all happened within the last few pages of the story.  However, I’m not going to give it away, in case you want to read the book for yourself.  Like I said, it is a surprise, but not exactly earth-shattering.

This is a well-written story.  I very much liked the setting of Old New York City and all the characters – well known writers and artists – that filled the pages.  The author clearly did her research.  I’m not sure I agree with some of her conclusions, but it did make for an interesting read. 

I liked the book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Edgar Allan Poe’s life.  But I remain a little bit disappointed that it wasn’t quite the dark, dreary rainy day read I was hoping for yesterday.  I guess I should stick with Poe’s work for that.       

I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Expected release date:  October 1, 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Because I loved Girl You Left Behind so much, I immediately began reading Me Before You, another book by the same author.

It’s a very different story from Girl You Left Behind, but equally wonderful and beautifully written.

Me Before You is the sort of book I want to tell everyone to read, because it’s really that good and I want to be able to talk about it to my friends.  But it’s so intensely emotional.  I don’t cry easily.  I sometimes say I cried when really I meant I could have cried, but I didn’t allow myself.  I had no choice in this matter.  By the end of this book, I was a sobbing mess, lying on the bed, so emotionally drained, I couldn’t think clearly.  Any book that has that kind of effect on a person is a book that needs to be read.

But at the same time, I know there are people who avoid things that make them feel that deeply.  I’m a cold-hearted person, and it broke me.  I can’t imagine what this would do to someone who actually has a healthy, normal relationship with their feelings.

This is the story of Lou, who needs a job after the cafĂ© where she’s always worked shuts down.  She is hired to sit with Will, who is paralyzed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair.  He already has a nurse, his family just wants someone to spend time with him and keep him company during the day.

One day though, Lou overhears a conversation in which she learns Will has decided to end his life in six months.  Hearing this, she decides to make it her mission to change his mind, to show him that his life is still worth living. 

Before his accident, Will had a big, bold life.  He had an amazing job, he went on exciting adventures.  And he lost everything that he loved about life one rainy morning. 

But in Lou, he sees potential.  She’s chosen to put her life on hold, and Will can’t stand to see that.  She has the chance to do all the things he couldn’t do and she chooses not to. 

And this is the story of the two of them trying to show each other how to live again. 

I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll end my summary of the book there.  I’ll only say this story is beautiful.  It’s well worth reading.  This is being added to the list of my favorite books.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review: The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

I liked this book so very much.  It’s about art and lost love and France – all things I adore in a story. 

The story revolves around a painting – a painting titled, The Girl You Left Behind.  There are two storylines, one focuses on Sophie, the original owner of the painting, who was also the subject of the painting and married to the artist, and her life in occupied France during the First World War.  The other storyline is about Liv, the current owner of the painting, a woman living in present day London.  What connects both of these women – besides the painting – is that, they’ve both lost their husbands, and have, in a sense, been left behind.  One woman lost her husband to the war, and the other to an early death.

And here’s where I’m going to suggest that you read the novella Honeymoon in Paris before reading Girl You Left Behind.  The novella focuses on the two couples immediately after their marriage.  That will give you a better idea as to the depth of loss these women are enduring now that they’re alone.

They both loved their husbands very much and they’re both struggling to go on with their lives now that they’re alone.  One is waiting anxiously for hers to return, the other is trying to figure out how to move on with her life, knowing he’s gone forever.  Both of them cling to the painting, as a symbol of what they once had and what they long to hold onto.

But Liv’s first real attempt at dating results in her putting her painting at risk.  The man she allows into her home specializes in recovering art stolen by the Nazis, and her painting is one he’s been hired to locate.  Liv isn’t aware of the painting’s history.  Her husband bought it from a woman who was throwing it out on a street in Barcelona. 

The ensuing story is about the path the painting traveled, from Sophie to Liv, and how this painting and all that it represented affected their lives.  But also, it’s a story about surviving and figuring out when to hold on and when to let go and take a chance, even when there seems to be no hope in sight. 

This was the first book I’ve read by Jojo Moyes and I thought it was wonderful.  She writes in such a way that I could feel the anguish these characters were experiencing.  If I was the type of person who cried, I would have been bawling by the end of this book.  This story broke my heart and then put it back together again, only to break it some more.  Such a beautiful story that I would recommend to anyone who wants to read a good book. 

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Review: Honeymoon in Paris by Jojo Moyes

Honeymoon in Paris is a prequel to The Girl You Left Behind.  It’s a short story, or rather, novella, about two couples, early in their marriage and very much in love, but struggling to adjust to married life.  They’re trying to figure out how to balance work and marriage and issues from their past.  But as upset as they get, they realize they’ll make things work.
As a stand alone story, there isn’t much to it.  However, when read before The Girl You Left Behind, it adds quite a bit to the story.  While I understand that it was released before Girl You Left Behind as sort of a teaser for what to expect, I think it would be of move value if it was included as the first part of Girl You Left Behind, not a separate novella.
Girl You Left Behind focuses on the two women in Honeymoon in Paris, who as the title indicates, have now been "left behind."  It's the story of what happens to them after their husbands are gone – one because of death, the other because of war.  Knowing how they felt about their husbands, and having read about them when they were with their husbands, rather than simply relying on their memories enhances the emotional aspect of the story.  I think you have a better understanding of why the women did the things they did after having read Honeymoon in Paris.
So I very much recommend reading Honeymoon in Paris before reading Girl You Left Behind.  If you don’t plan to read Girl You Left Behind, not any reason to read this, however, I very much recommend reading Girl You Left Behind, because it’s a great book.  (Will post review of that book separately.)
I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: Cake by Lauren Dane

I knew I would be spending a large part of my day in waiting areas - my day started with a dentist appointment, followed by a hair appointment, then car maintenance type things.  So I needed a book that would keep me occupied during those times.  Something fun, not too heavy.  I'd just finished reading Bronze Horseman (800+ page epic set during WWII) and was not looking for any sort of heavy, long-term commitment.
And Cake was perfect for what I needed.
This is exactly what something called Cake from a line called "Red-Hot Reads" should be - quick, sweet and very hot and sexy.
I liked the setting, an art student and a successful artist, their circle of friends and social activity all being in the art world.  As a former art student, I enjoy revisiting this world - even though my own experiences weren't quite this entertaining.  No hot Russian artist to mentor me, darn it.
I liked Wren and I liked how she was so determined to succeed in art as well as go after what she wanted.  However, I didn't really love Gregori.  When Wren decided to make the big gesture and tell him how she felt, I cringed a bit, thinking that in most cases, with a guy like Gregori, she would face mortifying rejection.  To me, he didn't seem worth all the effort.  Yeah, I know things worth having take a lot of work and all that, but relationships shouldn't feel that one-sided.  But this is fiction and this is a romance story, in the end, of course we find out the guy feels the same way, but really, I didn't see a lot in the story that indicated he did.  Wren and her friend just assumed that Gregori must feel the same way and went with it, her friend assisting in setting up Wren's plan.  Part of me kept thinking, he's okay for now, but do you really want to be with a guy like that in a "real" relationship?  Yes, I know, I'm overthinking this. I ruin everything that way.  I've noticed I do this a lot with novellas.   
Overall, this is a quick, fun story.  Nothing too intense or deep.  And it kept me fully engaged during my day of running errands.  I'd readily recommend this to anyone wanting a quick, sexy story.
I received a review copy via NetGalley.