Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

When I was in London this summer, I kept seeing big billboards for this book on the subway and the brief description of the book provided made me want to read it.

This is the story of a family that seemed perfect and normal.  Then tragedy struck and everyone handled it their own, self-destructive way.  The story is told in flashbacks, as the family gathers to death with a member's death and the settling of affairs.

I liked this book, but there were parts of it that may have hit a little too close to home for me, forcing me to face things about my own life that I have tried to ignore.  That might have hindered my full enjoyment of the book because parts of it felt almost painful to read.  One of the main characters in this book is a hoarder.  While I'm not a hoarder, I do need to get rid of some things in my house. There's a line about a bag of items set aside for Oxfam that had been there for years, and it reminded me that I have a bag of items for Goodwill in the guest room - and it's been there for a very long time. Things like that frightened me.  I'm an art teacher, so I save things for projects, cardboard and empty containers.  Reading this book made me want to start throwing everything away.  So maybe that's a good thing.

Clearly, the book evokes some strong emotions.  While the mother and her hoarding is the central part of the story, that isn't the only storyline.  We see the effects of the mother's mental illness on the rest of her family - her husband and three children.

It's a good book, but a very sad book. While there's an attempt at showing some sort of hope at the end, I didn't feel fully convinced, at least not where one particular character was concerned. I don't want to give away what happens, but I couldn't help but feel as if Beth's situation in the end was just as bad as ever. It's described as if she's finally recovered from her past issues, but she's only put herself in a situation that will most likely lead to many more years of twisted family issues.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: Flirting with Disaster by Victoria Dahl

I've gotten behind on my book reviews, and I feel like I've done everyone a big disservice by waiting so long to write this review.  Especially with all this cold, snowy, icy weather most of us have been having.  Because this book, Flirting with Disaster by Victoria Dahl, is almost guaranteed to keep you warm.  Perfect for those cold days when you can't leave the house, and want to spend the day curled up with a good book.  You need this book.

I liked this book so very much.  Actually, I loved this book.  It's early in the year, so if I say one of the best books I've read all year, the compliment doesn't have the kind of weight it deserves so let me add that I feel certain when the year nears its end, I'll still be able to say it's one of the best books I've read this year.  Easily going on my list of favorite romance novels.  This book is so good.

The book immediately caught my interest in its description of the heroine.  Thirty something artist, Isabelle, living in a cabin on her own, with a decent distance between her and the next person.  She's happy with her life, content to be on her own.  And I thought yes, this is someone to which I can relate.  Someone who isn't pining away for a husband and babies.  Someone who is happy with her work and her solitude.  And she's an artist.  As an artist, I was impressed by how well Dahl captured the life and mind of an artist.  Sometimes I read books in which a character in an artist and I find myself thinking, painters don't really think like that, weirdo.  But this character resonated with me.

There are some great characters in this story, besides the main couple.  My favorite secondary character was probably Isabelle's neighbor who was always cooking for everyone.  I usually don't like small town contemporary romances, but I love this Jackson: Girls Night Out series and the people in these books.  I have read the other books in the series, Looking for Trouble and a novella, Fanning the Flames, and enjoyed them, but it isn't necessary to read them before this one.  This stands alone just fine.

Everything is going well in Isabelle's life, when Tom, a U.S. Marshall shows up at her door, claiming he's there to protect a judge whose life is in danger.  But Isabelle panics, certain he's figured out her secret.  She isn't who she claims to be.  She's in hiding because of crimes her father committed and she's afraid she's been caught.  Eventually she realizes Tom was telling the truth - the story about the judge is all over the news, but her behavior has now made him suspicious, and he's attracted to her and wants to know more about her - as you can guess, he does figure out her secret.  So there's a bit of crime drama/mystery to this story, along with a very steamy romance.

So steamy.  This book has some of the best sex scenes I've ever read.  Ever.  I'm trying to think of some educated, mature way to write about this and all I can come up with is, "This book is so hot!"  Because it is.  I mean, the story is great, the characters are interesting, and yes, the sex is so very hot.

I loved that the characters are intelligent and independent and they know what they want.  This is romance for grown-ups.  These are real people, living real lives, working on creating a real relationship.

I'd recommend this book to anyone.  Grab it before all the snow melts, and pretend like you've got your own little cabin in the snowy woods and enjoy!

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Review: Gentleman in the Street by Alisha Rai

I wanted to read this book because several people who usually like the same books I like seemed to love it. But it really wasn't my type of book.  

I'm beginning to realize I'm something of a Goldilocks with my romance novels and what I find to be the perfect mix of steamy sex and romance. This seemed to be lacking in the romance department. After reading a few comments, I think maybe this was my fault in assuming it was a romance novel when, in fact, it's more erotica. Usually I'm okay with erotica though, but I felt this book was trying to provide a nice romance story, and it wasn't working for me. (Also, for an erotica book, took them a long time to finally get together, yes, they fooled around some but they did a lot more talking about it and wanting it than doing it.) I just didn't find this to be especially hot or sexy or at all romantic.  There's plenty of sex in it, but to me it was more shocking and not what I considered to be hot - which I'm fully willing to admit may mean that I'm kind of boring.

In over simplified terms, this is the story of a good guy who is struggling with his desires to be a bad boy and a very "bad" girl who deep down wants to be a good girl. Or something like that. Jacob is described as a hermit, he's an author who has no friends and has spent his life raising his three young step-siblings. Akira was an unloved child (she's in her 30s and still fixated on her parents and childhood) who acted out in need of attention, did drugs, got in lots of trouble, but is also brilliant - was accepted at all universities, but chose Harvard - and posed nude in her younger days, has big orgies at her house, and owns a string of successful clubs, thus making her a billionaire.   And secretly, she's in love with "boring" Jacob, but thinks she isn't good enough for him. This is supposed to be the main conflict of the story, but I honestly never understood what they saw in each other. We're told they want each other, but not really why.

Both characters were just so good and flawless, it made it difficult for me to feel anything for either of them. They're both successful in all areas of their lives, both confident and willing to experiment with no hesitation ever.  Maybe I would have like the story more if there had been some sort of struggle or reluctance to overcome in their experimentation.  But no, Jacob about six seconds to go from "boring" guy to a guy who would do and try anything.

Also, Akira's family reminded me too much of the Kardashians and I very, very strongly dislike anything associated with the Kardashians, so that might have turned me off from the book early on.

I like that Akira is strong, and confident and successful. The heroine as the billionaire is a nice change because I'm getting so tired of billionaire heroes. I think it was Jacob that I never warmed to, he simply didn't seem all that great or worth all that much angst. I wanted to know why she found him so appealing, was it because her current lifestyle wasn't that satisfying - we are certainly not led to believe that. She wants to make him a part of that. But why, when she already has so many other men? Clearly she didn't want his kind of life.

As I've said, just not for me, but a lot of people love this book. I'm just not one of them.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.