Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review: So Tough to Tame by Victoria Dahl

This is the last Victoria Dahl book I have on my kindle, and after spending the last two weekends with the first and second book in her Jackson Hole series, I wasn't sure I wanted to read this yet.  Because after I read it, I'd be done, and then what?  Her new one isn't coming out until this summer.  Could I really go that long without another of her books?  And here is where I tell you I have a long, horrible history of saving things I want until later.  I was the child who put aside my favorite Halloween candy for later, only to discover it had all gone bad by the time I found it again. I never learned my lesson.  I did this every year.  I still do this - not that I still go trick or treating, but you get the idea.  This is a problem.  A problem I need to stop.  So what the hell, I decided I'd read it now and not save it for later because why am I always putting off the things I want in life?  Okay, well, that got a little too intense for the beginning of a book review.  Anyway.

No surprise, I very much enjoyed this book.  Read a few chapters last night, and began my day with it, doing absolutely nothing other than make coffee until I'd finished it.  Perfect way to spend a Sunday - or any day for that matter.

While I didn't love this book as much as I liked the other two books, it's important to keep in mind that I loved those books just about more than I've ever loved any romance novel.  With the other books, I felt as though I could relate very well to both Grace and Merry.  Not the case with this story.  So while this book didn't turn me into a sobbing mess as the other two had, I still thought it was a very good book.

Charlie (short for Charlotte) has returned to her hometown after an embarrassing embezzlement scandal.  She's taken a job at a ski resort owned by the husband of an old high school friend because it's pretty much the only place that will hire her.  But things aren't going so well at the job.  Her old friend is behaving strangely.  Charlie decides to move out of the apartment provided at the resort and get a place in town.   That's when she runs into another friend from her past - Walker.  She'd crushed on him in high school, but she was never anything more than his friend and more importantly his tutor.  Walker was a flirt, everyone loved him and he didn't waste his time on "good" girls.

But Charlie's all grown up now, and she wants to make sure Walker knows that a lot of things have changed since high school.  Along the way, she also discovers that Walker is a lot more than the carefree, good old boy cowboy she imagined him to be.  They both have their secrets, which are revealed gradually, causing the expected disagreements and heartbreaks.  Part of the fun is seeing them get through all of this.

After reading this series, I guess I have to stop saying I don't like cowboy romances.  But maybe that's because Dahl's cowboys have a bit more depth than the cowboys with which I'm familiar.  Walker is such a funny, nice guy.  Like Charlie, he's also left his last job after a bit of a scandal.  He's trying to find work and feels like he doesn't have many options.  Charlie sees more in him than he sees in his self.  Sometimes that's the main thing a person needs - someone who believes in him - even though at first Charlie's attempts at helping him are met with anger.

Besides the very steamy scenes - and she writes some of if not the best - I think what makes Dahl's books so strong is the real way her characters behave.  They're real people.  They have real jobs.  They have real flaws and they're scared to death to fall in love.  I suppose the part where they divert from reality is that they are willing to face their flaws and try to overcome them because someone in their life has convinced them it's okay to want a better life.  But it's books like this that provide hope that even real people can move past their mistakes and have a good life.  You don't have to be a princess or a billionaire to deserve love and a satisfying job.  That's another thing I appreciate about these books - it's never a simply "love solves all" but rather a process showing that accepting love also means correcting the other things that are messing up their lives - things like screwed up family relationships and bad jobs.  These are not stories of heroes sweeping in to rescue someone in trouble, but rather the characters learning to rescue themselves.

I loved this series, and if I was a really, really nice person, someone like Walker, I'd buy multiple copies of these books, and I would give them to my friends any time they were having a bad day.  Seriously, I think they're more enjoyable and way more healthy than chocolate or cupcakes.  But instead, I will just strongly recommend that you get yourself a copy of these books.  Start with Close Enough to Touch and work your way to this one, and then move on to the Girls Night Out series.  (I actually read those books before these, now I may need to re-read them because I know some characters from these books appeared in those.)

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Review: Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision to Not Have Kids by Meghan Daum

A couple of weeks ago, I read one of the essays included in this book in the New York Times.  As someone who has made the decision to not have children, I very much enjoyed the essay and could relate to much of what the author said.  I was happy to discover it was part of a book with other essays on the same topic.

This is a collection of very well-written, thoughtful essays about why each of these people chose to not become parents.  I started reading this, and read through several of the essays in one sitting.  However, then I got to a very boring essay, all about statistics and the decline of white people.  I had to pick up the book three different times before I made it through that one essay.  I'd have to check to see who wrote it, but I feel like the book would have been much more enjoyable had that essay not been included.  The author focused on statistics and other people whereas the other essays in the book were very personal and reflective - not weighed down by facts.  I wasn't in search of a textbook.

The goal of the essays is to show that despite what most people think, choosing to not be a parent is rarely a selfish or shallow decision.  We have our reasons.  Some are well thought out decisions, while others have always known parenthood wasn't the right path.  Most of the writers told stories to which I and I suspect anyone who has made the same decisions - could easily relate.  Their choices were varied, some based on wanting to put a priority on their careers, they feared repeating the mistakes of their parents and reliving their bad childhoods, they didn't want to pass on their depression, or were afraid their depression would severely affect their ability to be a parent, or they simply enjoyed their lives too much to disrupt it with a child, or simply, they waited too long.  I liked that most of them addressed things like the possibility of regret.  But as one writer said, we all have regrets, such not having children will probably be one of those regrets - but that wasn't a strong enough reason to have a child you weren't sure you wanted.

Even the essays to which I couldn't relate, I found to be interesting.

Mostly, as I read the book, I had this strong feeling of "these are my people."  Anyone who doesn't have children - especially women, but I'm sure also men - is constantly being expected to explain why they don't have children and then justify their reasons.  Mostly I get this from strangers or casual acquaintances.   Anyone who knows me understands well why I don't have children.  I like my life.  I like my lack of responsibilities.  I like being able to sleep in, or take long trips during the summer and change up my plans while in the middle of the trip.  I like taking last minute weekend trips, and being able to spend absurd amounts of money on concert tickets.  I like being able to do whatever I want without having to consider how this might affect someone else.

But also, some of the things my friends may not realize, as many of the writers mentioned, I worried that having a child consume my whole life.  I noticed this whenever I was in relationships, the things I cared about were set aside and my lover became everything - not because it was ever asked of me but rather because that's how my mind worked.  I'm an extremist.  I don't know how to do anything halfway.  I notice this with my job and it frightens me.  If I'd had a child, it would have become my entire life and I like my life too much to give up all the other things I enjoy about it.

And yet, another of the essays pointed out something I've lamented for years.  I've often said that I wish I'd gotten married and had a few kids - not because that seems like a good life, in fact, to me, it seems like a horrible life - but rather because then I would have a valid excuse for not having become a successful writer or artist.  How nice to say, "Oh, I could have written my novels or painted my masterpiece, but I fell in love and had these babies," and everyone would nod knowingly.  Now though, my only excuse is that for much of my adult life, my bouts of depression have forced me to spend most of my free time curled up in front of the TV, unable to do anything else.  That kind of answer is horrifying and a quick way to lose friends.

Overall, I really liked the book because it said things I've said to people for years.  Rarely did anyone understand.  But now it's in writing and I know that someone else does understand how I feel about this topic.  Also, I feel this would be a good book for people who are so baffled by those of us who have made this choice to not have children.  Maybe these essays would explain something that seems so odd to them.  But then again, probably not.  They would just claim the writers are being defensive, at least that's what I always get told when I try to explain my decision to people who chose something different.  We're constantly bombarded with stories about why having children is the greatest thing ever, would it really be so awful to try and understand why some of us think not having children is also kind of great?

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Review: Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl

I loved this book so much.  I liked it as much as the first book in this series, which I didn't think was possible because I loved that more than just about any other book I've ever read.  But this one was pretty great.  I was in my room sobbing at one point, and that doesn't usually happen.  Oh, sure I say, a book made me cry, but rarely does a book reduce me to the ugly cry like this one did.

In the first book of this series, I felt I could relate to Grace, in that she kept people at a distance.  I couldn't relate to Merry's happiness and need to always be positive.  But the awkwardness felt so familiar.  And yesterday, when I started reading this book, I was wearing my Keep Calm and Remember You're Wonder Woman sweatshirt, and today, as I finished up the book, I was wearing an "Are You My Mummy" Doctor Who shirt.  You'll have to read the book to understand why that's relevant.

I really enjoyed this story, and seeing how Merry and Shane got to know each other, and were gradually able to overcome the issues in their life that had been holding them back.  Such a well-written story that felt real.  And the thing is, I always claim I have no interest in reading about reality - that I read romance for the fantasy.  But these stories give the illusion that people in real situations - people who are drifting through life, trying to figure out what they want to do, struggling in their careers, bitter about their childhoods and still dealing with family issues well into adulthood - can also find some very real happiness.  Not perfect, fairy tale, happy ever afters, but rather some very satisfying, "hey, maybe I don't have to be alone forever and be really happy with someone" sort of stories.

I'm going to recommend this series to anyone who will listen to me, because seriously, you need this book in your life.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.  Have no idea why it took me so long to get around to reading it. So glad I finally did.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Review: Moonlight and Diamonds by Michele Hauf

I've always been a fan of paranormal romances, especially those involving vampires and witches.  However, because of Michele Hauf, I'm also starting to become something of a werewolf fan - something I never thought I'd say.

Moonlight and Diamonds is a very nice, sexy romance between a werewolf from Minnesota and a Paris socialite (who is also a werewolf, but takes medication to keep her werewolf tendencies hidden.)  Stryke is in Paris for a family wedding.  He's hoping to enjoy some sightseeing in the city and maybe meet some beautiful Parisian women.  His first night in the city, he attends an art gallery displaying jewelry, and ends up having a quickie with the owner of the gallery, Blyss in the backroom.  Nice way to begin his trip.

Stryke isn't sure what's going on with Blyss, she seems a bit out of his league, being that he considers himself a country boy/wolf from Minnesota and she's what he calls a "glamour girl."  He's especially surprised when he discovers she's a werewolf, and doesn't understand why he didn't realize that sooner.

Blyss' life isn't quite as comfortable as it seems.  She's been spending a lot of money on the medication she takes to suppress her werewolf and now she'd in debt and desperate.  What Stryke doesn't realize at first is that he was being used that first night in part of her attempt to gain some money to pay off her debt.  (She slipped a diamond in his pocket during that quickie, will plans of retrieving it later.)

I admit to being a little bit confused about the details of the theft of the diamond and who wanted it and why.  That's probably my own fault though, because I was much more interested in the developing relationship between Stryke and Blyss.  I liked the way they both started out with such clear ideas about what they wanted in life and how they envisioned their futures, only to be later be willing to rethink things due to their attraction to each other.  Styke was in search of a female werewolf to start a pack of his own, Blyss wanted nothing to do with werewolves.  Rather than one deciding to give up what they wanted, they were each willing to compromise - without being asked to do so.  (I have difficulty believing any scenario in which someone is willing to give up Paris - anyone remember the last episode of Friends? - so I thought this was handled well.)

Michele Hauf writes some of my favorite paranormal romances.  I know I can rely on her books for an enjoyable story. Lots of action, danger and plenty of steamy romance, plus very nice descriptions of Paris.  I love her characters and as I've begun reading more of her books, I especially enjoy seeing characters from other stories popping into these stories.    (I've got quite a few of her older books on my to-read list so I can learn more about some of these characters.)

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys paranormal romances, especially those involving sexy werewolves in Paris.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Review: Close Enough to Touch by Victoria Dahl

I loved this book so much. Last night, or rather in the early morning hours, when I went to bed, I told myself I'd just read a chapter or two.  I didn't stop reading until I'd finished - and then I went to sleep after the sun was up and the birds were singing.  Worth it.

This is such a great book, and normally I avoid cowboy stories.  I don't like cowboys.  I grew up in rural west Texas, surrounded by cowboys, and I don't think there is anything sexy about them.  But I didn't even bother reading the description of this book, decided to read it based on the author.  So I was hesitant for a moment when I realized this story involved a cowboy, but I got over it quickly.  Alas, Dahl is a magician for creating a cowboy character that even I find to be appealing.  So very appealing.

What I love most about this book is Grace.  She's the sort of character to which I can relate.  She has big dreams, but has trouble putting those dreams into action.  She's supposed to be a grown up, but can't quite get her act together.  She's spent so much of her life simply trying to survive and stay safe and not get hurt that she's not had much chance to really live her life, much less enjoy it. Now she's reached a point in which she wants to change but isn't quite sure how.  I know this is supposed to be a "fun" romance, but there were scenes in this book that brought tears to my eyes when Grace starts thinking about her life and how it feels to be so tired you just want it to end, and the fear of growing older and realizing you've alone because you worked so hard at keeping a safe distance from anyone who might hurt you.  Maybe those scenes hit a little close to home, which is why I loved the book because stories like this make a hard, jaded person like me believe, if only for a moment, that things won't always be this way.

Also, Grace is not the sort of person who would ever fall for a cowboy, so again, I can relate. She's a city person.  She's just passing through.  But the cowboy across the hall is very tempting.  And he's got secrets of his own.  He's not quite the simple, easy-going cowboy Grace first imagined him to be.

This couple despite, or maybe, because of their differences, have amazing chemistry.  The sex scenes are so damn hot.  Add the actual romance and emotion to that, makes for easily one of my favorite romance novels.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Review: Need Me by Cynthia Eden

I very much enjoyed this book, the third in Cynthia Eden's Dark Obsession series.  This was another that I devoured while traveling - this one on the return trip from New York City.  Really the perfect kind of book to keep the mind occupied while waiting in an airport or passing the time on an airplane.  Fast paced, lots of action, danger and suspense, along with plenty of steamy romance.
I liked this one a bit less than the other two in the series, I didn't find the heroine to be as likable.  But I still enjoyed it.  The book is a stand alone, but I really liked how the same characters appear in each book.  I recommend reading all three, and in order.  Because I read them all so close to each other, it sort of formed one big story in my head.  

As in each of the stories, a woman in danger hires a body guard to protect her after she feels her life has been threatened.  In this case, the woman is the beautiful young wife of a man found dead.  She's accused of the murder, but she claims she's innocent - even though she can't remember the details of the night her husband died.  Now she's worried the person who killed her husband is also after her.  There are several suspects, quite a few twists and turns.  And of course, the hot bodyguard falls for the woman he's protecting.  

I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys quick, fun, romantic suspense.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Review: Want Me by Cynthia Eden

I began reading Want Me, the second book in Cynthia Eden's Dark Obsession series, as soon as I finished the first book in the series, Watch Me.

I was traveling from Dallas to Newark, NJ, on a Saturday, and I found myself looking forward to diving into this book.  This type of story is perfect for travel.  Lots of action and suspense and romance.  After I got on the plane, I was only slightly aware of the delay because I was absorbed into the book immediately.  Of course, then it turned into an hour on the runway, get off the plane, get on another plane and then another hour on the runway.  Flight was delayed again, this time something to do with catering.  Whatever the case, I finished reading this book before we landed and was able to start the third in the series - though I wouldn't get back to it until the return flight.

The stories are fun, not exactly literature or deep or thought provoking.  Beautiful woman in danger, hires sexy guy to protect her.  Their lives are in danger multiple times, lots of fighting with bad guys and gunfire, and along the way the couple falls for each other and has some very hot sex.  But what makes these books stand out, and what I especially like about them is that the women are really tough and badass.  These aren't weak, flailing beauties dependent on a man for their very survival.  They hold their own.  Yes, they hired a professional body guard because they're in danger.  But they aren't curled up a corner watching their bodyguard save them.

In this book, Sophie, a successful attorney, hires Lex for protection, when she suspects she is being stalked.  She's made a lot of enemies and she's got friends with some shady pasts.  This makes for a lot of twists and turns in their attempts to figure out who is stalking her.  Lots of suspense here.  Along the way, as their lives are put in danger numerous times, the intensity of the situation ramps up Sophie and Lex's attraction to each other.

I love these books.  Love this series.  For a moment, after I climbed onto the plane and noticed my excitement at having a few uninterrupted hours to read this book, I thought of how odd it might seem that I like these books so much.  I almost felt a craving for them.  In another review I described the book as "mind candy."  It's danger, action and romance.   All the fun things that don't exist in my real life.  I feel like there's an essay topic there waiting to be explored.  Why an independent, educated woman gets so much satisfaction in stories about big, strong protective men?  Maybe because in the real world, in my experience at least - I have no statistics to back this up - big, strong, hot men don't like strong women.  They'd prefer someone frail, someone who needs them.  But in books, it's okay for a woman to be strong, and in books like this, the men respect that, they think it's sexy.  This may be why I love books like this.  Perfect escape from the real world.

Like I said, essay topic I'll explore further at some point.  For now though, I highly recommend this book - this whole series, really - to anyone who wants an action packed story with plenty of suspense and romance.

The book works as a stand alone, but I'd recommend reading the whole series, because they're really good and the characters reappear in each story, which I think adds to the story.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Review: Watch Me by Cynthia Eden

Late last night, I got the text letting me know work would be closed due to inclement weather.  Not completely a surprise, as there was already a thick layer of sleet on the ground.  For a brief moment this morning, I considered using the unexpected day off to clean house, so I wouldn't have to spend so much time doing that during spring break next week.  But all the World Book Posts I was seeing on social media convinced me reading a book was a better idea.  (Not that I needed a lot of convincing.)

I wanted a book I could finish during the day.  Something quick and fun, something with plenty of danger and romance.  I wanted what I consider to be mind candy. Having read and loved Cynthia Eden's Mine series, I figured Watch Me, the first of her new romantic suspense series, Dark Obsession, would be a safe choice.  Every once in a while, I do make good decisions, and this was one of them.

Fast-paced, plenty of action, suspense and a very steamy romance.  Your typical "boy gets hired by girl's dad to protect her from stalker, and girl and boy end up falling in love as he's protecting her from crazed stalker."  No, actually, there's a bit more to it than that.  Like the body guard had worked for the dad years before, when dad was a big shot government official, and that's when he fell in love with the daughter, but he was too professional to act on those feelings.  The woman he loved took this as a rejection and was very hurt.  Now he's not working for her dad, or at least she doesn't think he's working for her dad.  That gets a little complicated.

One of the things I very much enjoy about this book is that the women - even though they have men who want to save them and take care of them - are perfectly capable and willing to take care of themselves.  From the daughter who doesn't want to be controlled and is willing to fight to save herself and the people she loves to the police officer who makes clear she can get a promotion without having her boyfriend call in any favors - these women are great.  I can never get enough of this in books and I will always return to authors who feature women like this in their stories and recommend their work to others.

This book reminded me quite a bit of the books in the Mine series - the guys have the same type of job and similar backgrounds and the romance has that same type of intensity.  But I loved the Mine series, so I am perfectly okay with the similarities.  I have every intention of continuing to read as many of these books as are released because I enjoy them quite a bit.  As I was reading this I was thinking of how the love story almost has a Heathcliff and Cathy-like quality in that the love borders on unhealthy obsession.  But the characters are willing to acknowledge that they may not exactly in a healthy state of mind, (the series is called Dark Obsession) and while in reality that might be a little distressing, in a book, it makes for a very enjoyable read.  (And to be clear, in case it wasn't apparent, Wuthering Heights is my all time favorite book.)

Glad I read this, made for some delicious mind candy.  I've already started reading the second book in this series, Want Me.  Would recommend this to anyone who wants to read a fun, sexy romantic suspense novel.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Review: Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell

I'm feeling some annoyance with this book because it took me so long to read.  The story moved so slowly, with hardly anything of significance happening in the first half of the book.  Also, the way it is written with one chapter happening in 1920 followed by a chapter in 1995 seemed to kill any sort of urgency to keep turning the page.

But at the same time, I have to acknowledge that the story is interesting and the book is well written.  The two story lines of two very different women provide a compelling story of the struggles of women then and now.  The expectations of family and society along with the conflicting desires of independence and love always make for a thoughtful mix.  Also, I loved the London setting and the time period - both time periods.  I liked reading about London after the war, and the shops and Bloomsbury and Soho areas.  Also, I found the 1995 setting to be of particular interest because I graduated from high school in 1994 and was out on my own for the first time in 1995, so I felt a connection with Betty in that way.

The story is about Arlette and her step-granddaughter, Betty.  After Arlette dies, she leaves everything a person named Clara Pickle, someone no one in her family has ever heard of, nor are they able to locate.  So Betty, who has spent the past few years caring for Arlette, decides she'll move to London and find Clara.  As Betty is making the transition to living in London and beginning her search, we are also told the story of Arlette moving to London as a young woman.  We see them both falling in love with the city, exercising their independence, getting their first jobs, making new friends and attracting the attention of men.  They're both young and beautiful and on their own in London for the first time their lives.  And here's something of a spoiler, but both of them gradually watch as their dreams fall apart.  This story is so sad.  I'm something of a fan of sad stories, but this may have been too sad, especially where Arlette was concerned.  Betty is still young, so there's still some hope for her.  But we already know how Arlette's life ended, and knowing the life she had before, the life her family knew nothing of, makes the rest of her life especially bleak.  I suppose this is why the book is called, "Before I Met You."

This is another book I would place on my imaginary shelf titled, "an abortion would have solved most of your problems."  So many women - and men - in this story have their lives destroyed by the result of unwanted or unplanned pregnancies - whether it be the result of rape, ignorance or carelessness.  From the woman who feels obligated to marry her rapist to the alcoholic mother with a houseful of young boys to the pop star with the failed marriage and three children under the age of three.  There's something so sad about children being viewed as dreaded responsibilities and punishment.  They're doing these children no favors bringing them into a world in which they aren't wanted and are in turn neglected or resented by angry, sad or unprepared parents..  In this way, maybe this book is a bit too painfully realistic.

Maybe I need more happiness in the books I read or if it's going to be sad, I want there to be some value in it.  As I said before, the book is well-written, it's given me quite a bit to think about.  But I don't know that I gained much from the reading experience.  Maybe it isn't so much happiness that I need as some sort of a strong emotional impact.  This was simply dreary.

This is the second book I've read by Lisa Jewell in the past few weeks, and yet again, I found myself disappointed with the attempt to create a "happy ending" in a case which was far, far from happy.  To be fair, this ending was not quite as bad as House We Grew Up In, which left me horrified, but still, so depressing.  While, yes, there was some resolution, it wasn't especially satisfying.  The choices made didn't seem to be choices that were great, but rather, not as bad as the alternative.

Not sure I'd recommend this book to anyone, though it might work well for a book club.  Again, like House We Grew Up In, there's quite a bit I'd like to discuss regarding this book.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.