Saturday, March 29, 2014

Review: For His Eyes Only by Liz Fellows

I selected this book because it was about an artist, and as a wannabe artist, I'm drawn to stories about artists.

But I didn't like this story all that much.  A real estate agent, Natasha, is trying to sell a huge, expensive country home - which is owned by a somewhat reclusive artist, Darius.  The agent's full page ad is sabotaged by a co-worker, and to prove she's still the best at her job, Natasha approaches Darius and asks for another chance to try and sell his house.

I might have liked the story more if not for the ridiculous descriptions of the two characters reactions to each other.  Upon first setting eyes on each other, it sounded as if they were experiencing strange allergic reactions.  She couldn't breathe, could barely stand, stomach clenching - well, that's sexy.  It was too much.  And Darius was the same way, his instant attraction to her was unreasonable.

I got tired of hearing how plump Natasha was - all because of her childhood filled with illness and her parents insisting she eat a lot.  This is described as if too much custard was some form of mild child abuse.  These characters both have these sad incidents in their past, but it doesn't seem to have much effect on them.  They tell their stories then they move on.

I never felt a strong connection to these characters.  I was too busy skimming over the excessive descriptions of their bodies' weird physical reactions to each other.  I never felt like I knew much of anything about these two characters except that they were very attracted to each other.

I considered quitting this book midway through because I simply didn't like the characters very much, but I finished it, but now I really can't even remember exactly how it ended. 

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review: To Tempt a Viking by Michelle Willingham

I didn't enjoy To Tempt a Viking as much as I did To Sin with a Viking.  The two books are about a couple in an arranged marriage that isn't working out so well.  To Sin with a Viking focuses on the husband, while To Tempt a Viking is the story of the wife, Elena, in this situation.

Because I'd read To Sin with a Viking, I already had a pretty good idea as to what happens in the beginning, so I found that to be a little boring.  I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that I knew the marriage was going to end.  This story focuses more on how Elena moves on after her husband leaves.  She finds herself drawn to Ragnar, her husband's best friend, who has always been in love with her.  But he came from the poor family, and was always just the tag along friend, while it was his friend who came from an important family and got the beautiful girl.

I didn't like Ragnar all that much.  He spends an awful lot of time trying to convince Elena that he isn't good enough for her, and I often found myself agreeing with him.  I thought he was mean to her.  She was alone and she clearly needed someone and she had very strong feelings for him.  But he was so wrapped up in his own lack of self confidence and certain he couldn't compare to her ex-husband, that he couldn't see how much she wanted and needed him.

Elena's a strong character, determined to make a life for herself and figure out what she wants.   But I couldn't relate to her intense desire to have a child.  I know that's just one of my issues, and it's an issue to which a lot of readers can relate.  I'm just not one of those readers.  And this plays a pretty big role in the story.  Her inability to have a child played a big role in the demise of her marriage.  Now that her marriage is over, her yearning for a child hasn't in any way lessened.  Eventually she learns that she doesn't have to get pregnant in order to be a mother.

It's an interesting story, and held my attention, but I couldn't relate to the characters or care about them as much as I did with the other book.  

I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Review: To Sin with a Viking by Michelle Willingham

I started hearing a lot about this book on twitter.  There was quite a stir about a story focusing on an arranged marriage not working out (not sure why that's a surprise, maybe in most romance novels they do conveniently work out - but I don't read a lot of those) and the married man falls in love with someone else.  Also, I guess a lot of people have a problem with cheating in romance novels.  I've got to admit that doesn't really bother me - maybe I spent too much of my younger years watching daytime and nighttime soaps, and tend to assume cheating happens.

Anyway, the book sounded different and I'm somewhat intrigued by the idea of Vikings, so I decided to read this.

I liked this story quite a bit.  I thought the author handled the idea of married man falling for someone else quite well.  He's been stuck in an unhappy, arranged marriage for a while.  He still respects his wife and feels obligated to her.  In the intro to the book, the author explains there is no adultery, and this concerned me because I was worried I was going to be reading a Harlequin Historical with no sex, and well, I read plenty of books without sex, but when I read a Harlequin, there are certain expectations.  No need to worry though - plenty of sexy times to keep me entertained.

So this Viking in this story, Styr, finds himself being held prisoner by Caragh after his ship lands in Ireland, and through a misunderstanding, Caragh's brother and his friends attack the Vikings.  Styr could probably easily escape Caragh, but he's intrigued by her.  She's starving and she's alone.  He wants to help her.  If he escapes and abandons her, he's fairly certain she won't survive on her own.  What I especially liked about the story is the way their relationship develops.  They get to know each other and gradually begin to care about one another.  All along, Styr is determined to remain faithful to his wife.  Despite growing close to Caragh, his ultimate goal is to find his wife and make sure she's safe - even though he can't help but feel his marriage is over.  The time away from his wife and the time spent with Caragh serve to convince him that maybe it's time to give up on a marriage that simply wasn't working. 

Lots of adventure and danger in the story.  I liked that Caragh's such a strong character, refusing to be a victim of her circumstances and I liked that Styr is so noble.  His struggle between doing what's right and what he wants provides plenty of tension in the story. 

This is the first historical I've read about Vikings, probably the first book I've read set in this time period.  The environment is pretty harsh and a few things happened that did make me cringe, but nonetheless I found the setting to be interesting and different from what I'm used to reading. 

I liked the story, and quickly moved on to read the companion book to this - To Tempt a Viking, which focuses on the wife in this unhappy, arranged marriage.

I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: Vienna Nocturne by Vivien Shotwell

I’ve been on something of a reading binge this week.  Not working or traveling this week, so I’ve been spending a few hours every morning in bed reading, and going through a book a day, and for the most part loving the books I’ve been reading.  This book may have suffered as a result of having followed a really great book - the sort of book that I feel is written just for me.  So a bit of a letdown might have been inevitable.

I didn’t love this book, I’m not even sure if I liked it all that much.  For most of the story, I felt such a strong dislike for the main character, Anna.  Sometimes I felt sorry for her because all kinds of bad things were happening to her.  But still, I didn’t like her.

In the beginning, she’s writing a letter to her brother, and telling him about how much fun she’s having, and she keeps writing, after every two or three sentences.  “I’m such a silly girl!”  And for the rest of the book, that’s how I thought of her.  Such a silly girl! 

I know in the beginning, she was very young and maybe didn't understand the consequences of her behavior, but she never seemed to learn from her mistakes. 
Every man who set eyes on her loved her, including the emperor and the happily married Mozart.  But I never quite understood what was so remarkable about her.  She sang well.  But Mozart’s claiming his wife is stupid and Anna is brilliant.  What did she do that was so brilliant?  I can accept that she was talented, but she didn’t seem all that bright.

I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction recently, quite a few novels about famous artists and writers.  What I enjoy about these books is that they give life to these names, and tell the stories behind their work.  But I didn’t feel that with this book.  The characters all acted like performers in a play or an opera.  They never felt like real people to me.  Their behavior was too extreme and unnatural.   

And maybe part of the problem is unlike the artists and writers I usually read about, I don’t know a lot about Mozart.  I’d hoped this book would provide me with a better understanding of him, but he actually has a very small role in this story.  His relationship with Anna doesn't begin until almost 70% into the book.  I’d been under the impression this was a book about him and Anna, but mostly it was about Anna.

Also, even though I realize this is a novel, not non-fiction, I expect the main events to be accurate.  After finishing this book, I did a bit of reading about Anna Storace, and turns out most of the horrible things in the book didn’t even happen, at least not in the way they’re presented in the novel.  I understand it’s the author’s prerogative to take some liberties with history when writing a novel, but these were significant events that served as the basis for the character’s behavior.  All of this was created or rearranged by the author.  I felt a little cheated after learning this.

Having said all that, the book did for the most part hold my attention.  I found the descriptions about how the operas were put together and staged to be of interest.  I enjoyed reading about the locations in Vienna because I visited there a few years ago.  So when they were at certain locations, I could visualize the settings.

I think someone with more knowledge about music and Mozart might have enjoyed this more than I did.  Overall, the story was okay, but not really my thing.   

On a side note - I think the cover of this book is absolutely beautiful. 

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Review: A Countess by Chance by Kate McKinley

Lately, I've been reading very long books about heavy topics.  I wanted a break.  I wanted something fun and quick, that I could finish before going to bed.  I read the first story Kate McKinley's By Invitation Only series, so felt pretty confident that I'd enjoy this as well.

It's a cute, short story.  The couple split up years ago and run into each other at a party.  I enjoy reading stories like this, in these fun settings, someone's big, fancy house, with everyone just playing games and dancing.  Sounds so nice.

Anyway, they see each other, and the attraction is still there, but there's also quite a bit of anger.  As you can imagine, they work through this.  Very hot and sexy scene in the library.  I do love libraries. 

I liked this.  It's exactly the sort of story I wanted.  Short and sweet and hot.  Will continue to read this series.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: The Spendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

This summer, after reading a couple of her books, Susanna Kearsley became one of my favorite writers, so I’m eager to read anything from her.  The Splendour Falls is the fifth book of hers I’ve read since this summer.

I loved this book.  It is the perfect combination of all my favorite things:  France, castles, art, mystery. 

Emily’s cousin Harry talks her into taking some time off work and visiting Chinon, France, where he’s doing some historical research involving hidden treasure, secret tunnels and a castle.  But when Emily gets to France, her cousin isn’t waiting for her, nor is he at the hotel.  Instead she meets a very interesting group of people staying at her hotel, along with their local friends:  A couple of young men from Canada, an unhappily married couple from America, an English musician who now lives in Austria, a German artist and a French woman who’s ex-husband has mysteriously died.

I found the details and interactions between this odd assortment of characters to be so interesting and entertaining.  Though, I’m also rather jealous.  I travel all the time, have stayed in plenty of little hotels in Europe, and never have I met a group like this.  (I suppose that's good and bad in some ways.)

The best thing about this book is how all the connections between the characters and the castle and the past begin to unfold.  One surprise after another.  While it may appear to be a fairy tale like setting, there are some villains hidden behind the castle walls, or more aptly within the castle tunnels, maybe.  So many secrets and connections to the past.

I couldn’t put this book down.  I was completely immersed in this story.  Picturesque setting, well-developed characters, intriguing story, lots of surprise twists, and even a bit of romance. 

After I read this, all I could think about the rest of the day was how much I want to go to France to visit castles.  Someday.  Maybe in a few months.  After reading this, I made a few decisions about where I’ll be visiting this summer.  Not Chinon, but  hoping to include a few castles in France.

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Review: Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

I enjoyed Under the Wide and Starry Sky quite a bit.  This is the story of Fanny Osbourne and her relationship with Robert Louis Stevenson. 
Before reading this, I didn’t know much about Robert Louis Stevenson, other than what he’d written.  This story though paints such an attractive picture of him as a young, determined writer.  He was the only son of parents with very high, specific expectations for him.  Being a writer was not part of their plan for him. 
Stevenson met Fanny after she left her philandering husband in America and moved to Europe with her children.  She was there to learn art.  She wanted to live a creative life because she’d already spent too much of her life being trapped in a miserable marriage. 
She’s older than Stevenson, with a daughter closer to his age than she is, but that doesn’t seem to bother either of them. 
Their story is very romantic.  I told my friends as I was reading this that I was developing quite the crush on Robert Louis Stevenson.  He’s so sincere and devoted to Fanny.
But after a while, reality sets in, and things are far from perfect.  But throughout it all, I think despite any problems they had, the two remained devoted to each other. 
I felt like the author did a very thorough job with her research, following the couple from the time they met until Stevenson’s death.   As I was reading this, I felt like I knew these characters and understood what they were going through.  At times, I felt that maybe they weren’t entirely good for each other, that maybe they’d have been better off if they had tried to go their separate ways early in the relationship.  (Actually they did go their separate ways, but Stevenson nearly died trying to make his way to her as soon as he got the word that she wanted to see him again.)  Seeing the flaws in their relationship though is what made this story seem so real.
My only complaint is that toward the end, I felt as if we got too much information.  I didn’t need to know every conversation and every island they visited and outfit worn and all that.  The details got boring.  I was more interested in the emotional turmoil that was brewing below the surface of their seemingly happy relationship. 
Overall though, I liked this book a lot, would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in Robert Louis Stevenson and the time period during which he lived.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley. 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Review: Mine to Crave by Cynthia Eden

I really like Cynthia Eden's Mine series.  Reading this series reminded me of how much I used to love good mystery/suspense novels.  I was so happy to get this fourth book in the series, I set aside everything I was doing or was supposed to do, and read the entire book beginning to end in one sitting on a Saturday morning.  Suffice it to say, time well spent, loved this book.

This series focuses on a group of men who share a very dark, dangerous past.  They were involved in the military, went on some top secret missions and did things they don't like to talk about or think about now.  They've moved on, each successful in their own business - security, hotels, and in this case, casinos.  They bonded over the shared events in their past and are always there to watch out for each other.

Mine to Crave is Drake's story.  In the earlier books in the series, we've seen his friends succumb to obsession, or in other words, fall in love and get married.  He thinks he's above all that "falling in love" stuff, thinks his friends are fools for falling as hard as they've fallen.  Then one night he notices Jasmine sitting at the bar as a casino he owns in Vegas.  Some time with Jasmine has him thinking all kinds of things he's never thought before.

I especially like the heroine in this book.  Jasmine is tough and knows what she wants and what she has to do to get it.  There are so many layers to her character. Nothing weak about this woman at all.  She's the perfect match for Drake. 

I enjoyed reading about how their attraction develops.  While it may be instant lust, it's their time together than turns that into something more.  (One of my big complaints about some romance novels is the lack of buildup before the characters decide they're "in love".)  This book handled that well, had me thoroughly convinced of their feelings for each other.

As always with this series, the suspense and danger is there.  Lots of bad guys, mystery, secrets from their pasts, cool Vegas and New Orleans settings, explosions and trips on private jets.  So good.  And did I mention how hot Drake and Jasmine are together?        

If you are a fan of romantic suspense - the kind with all sorts of action, twists and turns and no clue who the bad guy is until the very end, and lots of hot, hot sex - this series is for you.  Anxiously awaiting the next in the series.  

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.