Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review: Portrait of a Scandal by Annie Burrows

I think Portrait of a Scandal may have been my first Harlequin Historical, and I very much enjoyed it.  I selected this book because it takes place in Paris and it’s about an artist. 
Amethyst travels to Paris to make some business connections.  She’s a wealthy, independent, single businesswoman, thanks to an aunt who trained her then left her business to her.  Amethyst was a disappointment to her family because she didn’t marry well.  She fell in love with a man who rejected her and then lost interest in the debutant scene.  So her aunt took her in, showed her that she could do just fine without a man.
But while she’s in Paris, she runs into the man who broke her heart.  He’s sitting in a restaurant, drawing portraits for the customers.  She assumes he’s living in poverty, and he thinks she’s a kept woman. This is just the beginning of some of their misunderstandings – past and present. 

The attraction is still there.  But they’re both angry and out for revenge.  And their attempts to get back at each other makes for a very entertaining, romantic, sexy story. 

I liked this book a lot.  I especially liked that the heroine was so smart and independent.  She was in complete control of her life.  She didn’t need a man, but realized it was okay to want one. 

Will definitely be looking to read more by this author and more Harlequin Historicals.
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Review: Crazy Stupid Sex by Maisey Yates

As I’ve said in other reviews, I’m a big fan of Maisey Yates’ Harlequin Presents novels.  Crazy Stupid Sex is a Cosmo Red-Hot Reads, and in some ways similar to the Presents books that I love so much. 

As I began reading this, I almost immediately thought, and probably not for the first time, that what I love about Yates’ characters is that she’s basically writing about me or rather, people like me.  Okay, I’m not gorgeous, or wildly successful in business, or come from a wealthy family, and I’m about ten or so years older than most of her heroines.  So, to be clear, if her characters were average looking, mid-thirty, school teachers, she’d be writing about me.  And by that I mean, the personality of the characters.  The way they sort of focused on getting through life, doing their job, doing what needs to be done, and not really thinking all that much about men because they had more important things to do.  (That’s my story I’m sticking to it.)  Then when they do find themselves in a situation involving a guy, they’re really awkward and not sure about how to proceed.  Hmm, am I revealing too much here?  Probably.  Oh whatever, but I do own a Doctor Who shirt, I own a few shirts, like the heroine in this book.  So there, we’re just alike, sort of.
Evie’s a 27-year-old millionaire who is working with a magazine to design an app to help people flirt and hook up.  She just got out of a long, boring relationship, so she’s out trying to gather information for her app because she doesn’t have any experience in this area.  While doing this, she meets Caleb.  He’s just looking for a good time, and Evie realizes that might be exactly what she needs.  The two end up learning quite a bit from each other. 

Fast-paced, cute, funny, sexy story.  As I figured I would, I liked it a lot.  It’s the type of story that draws you in immediately and keeps you entertained the entire time.  At this point, I’m pretty certain that you can’t go wrong with anything written by Maisey Yates. 

I received a copy of this via NetGalley. 

Review: Cursed by Cupid by Wendy Sparrow

Very cute, quick story about someone who has a lot of bad luck with regard to dating.  I think a lot of people can relate to this.  In this story, Tilly credits her bad luck to a chain letter she ignored.  She has all kinds of examples to back up her theory.  Then she meets Bryant, after tripping and spilling her milkshake all over the front of his store. 
Even though this is a fairly short story - lunch break read I think I may have seen it called - the characters are still well developed and interesting.  Reading this, you find yourself really hoping that Tilly and Bryant can figure out a way to break this curse, real or imagined.  Though, after analyzing some of the situations, Bryant points out that these incidents might be more beneficial than harmful.  Lots of humorous incidents.  I enjoyed this quite a bit.  Sometimes, I need something I know I can read in one sitting, usually before bed - because I don't want to make a commitment to a longer book, or need a break from whatever else I might be reading.  This worked well for one of those nights.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Review: I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira

I’m something of an artist, but more than that, I love art, I love looking at art, I love hearing the stories behind the art and the artists who created the art.  So I was very much looking forward to reading I Always Loved You, which is described as a romance between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas – something I had not even realized existed.  (After reading the book, still not sure it did exist, but more about that later.)

I’m not all that knowledgeable about the group of artists known as the impressionists.  My tastes tend toward the Renaissance painters – Michelangelo and da Vinci, and then the surrealists – Dali and Miro. 

I never though much of the Impressionists when I was younger, I thought their work was too pretty – gorgeous landscapes and beautiful portraits.  I didn’t understand all these artists went through before they reached a point in which almost every home in the world owns at least one Monet or Renoir print.  I don’t think I fully appreciated the Impressionists until I visited the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, and saw so much of the work on display together.  Seeing the work in person, it’s impossible to not appreciate the effort that went into these paintings, an attempt to paint the light, to capture the moment, bodies at rest or in motion – not carefully and prettily posed. 

Before I read this book, I knew that Mary Cassatt was an American who was best known for painting pictures of mothers and children, despite never marrying or having children of her own.  I knew that Degas painted ballerinas.  I knew that Manet is the artist who painted the picture of fully clothes men having a picnic while a nude woman sat with them.  I Always Loved You brings to life the stories of the people associated with those familiar names and works of art.

I’ve Always Loved You is the story of those artists – Cassatt, Degas, Manet, Berthe Morisot, and to some extent Camille Pissaro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Gustave Caillebotte, who financed everything to keep his friends from starving for their love of art.  In this novel, Robin Oliveira captures a time when the work of these artists was trashed by critics and called lazy, strange and ugly – all because they were trying something new and different.  People had never seen art like this and they didn’t quite know what to think about it.  These artists were no longer following the rules, they weren’t catering to the Salon – though a few in their group were still trying to get accepted into the Paris Salon, in hopes of changing the way art was viewed from the highest levels.

This is the story of their struggles as they staged their independent exhibitions and the internal battles as these tempermental personalities clashed frequently, as well their small gradual successes that eventually led to them no longer being the “other” artists.  They had no guarantee of success, most of them were struggling financially, barely able to pay the rent or even eat on a regular basis.  But eventually their hard work paid off, most of them saw great success, eventually living comfortable lives.  Because of their persistence, their art became the art people wanted to see.  They changed the art world.  Now their work hangs in museums all over the world, and long after their deaths we know their names and recognize the pictures they painted.

Oliveira kept their story interesting, focusing on the aspects of their life that affected their art, as well as how art affected their personal lives. 

What this story isn’t though is a love story between two people, which is what I was initially expecting.  If a reader embarks on this book expecting a passionate romance between Cassatt and Degas, I feel they might be disappointed.  The two have a close friendship, there’s some flirting, teasing, it’s hinted that more may be wanted from each, but it never develops into much – at least not in my opinion.  The great love story that exists within these pages is that between and artists and art. 

As an artist, I especially loved reading about the mental process of these artists.  Their ideas about color and line and light bring their work to life.  I felt that Oliveira captured that very well, providing insight to people who may not be familiar with painting and how much thought goes into the work.  Seeing with the heart is how Degas explains it.  I could also relate to their fears and doubts about their ideas and abilities.  And as a woman, who learned early on that I lack the ability to give the necessary attention to both my work and my relationships, I could relate too well to Mary Cassatt’s struggle to choose art over love.  She knew that when she was involved with someone, thinking of him, that her work suffered.  She had to decide what mattered more, art that would last forever or a man she could never entirely trust.  I don’t know how historically accurate any of this was.  As I said, I’d never heard of a romance between Cassatt and Degas, but these are also people I’ve not studied extensively.  It is certainly an interesting idea though and I enjoyed reading it.

I really liked this book and consider it a must read for anyone who has any interest in art history and the people behind the paintings that are now so familiar to us.

This book will be released on February 4, 2014.  I received a review copy via NetGalley.