Thursday, December 28, 2017

Review: Christmas in London by Anita Hughes

When I realized this was by the same author as Christmas in Paris, I probably should have stopped reading it. But I'm a sucker for a Christmas story set in London (or Paris for that matter).

As with Christmas in Paris, the setting is really nice. The author does a great job of describing the city. I've never been to London at Christmas, but it's one of my dreams and the author makes the setting sound magical. However, also like Christmas in Paris, the characters are, for the most part, not like able people and the relationships are not in any way desirable.

There are two relationships happening. One a brand new one, the other a couple reunited after many years apart. The women in the story were okay, but the men - why would anyone want to be with these men? The men are weak and whiny and have no respect for the women. It felt like in the end both women sort of thought, oh well, probably can't do much better, too busy with careers and all that, so may as well settle for these losers. I would have been much happier if both women had decided that the men weren't worth their trouble and decided to ditch them and continue to focus on their careers. I feel like their careers would be much more satisfying. As far as I could tell, there was absolutely nothing appealing about these men. I don't understand why any woman would want them.

As a romance, this didn't work for me, but I did enjoy the glimpse of London at Christmas.

I received a copy of this via Netgalley.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Review: The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Took me a while to get into this story, but once I did, I found it interesting. But I didn't love it.

There were too many different story lines and points of views for me to ever feel any kind of a strong connection to the characters. These were women who had suffered during the war and endured horrible situations, and yet I didn't feel the full impact of what they'd been through. There were a few story lines that I wish had been more fully developed. I felt like there was a lot hinted at beneath the surface of their stories. I wanted to know more.

What I did like about the book though is that it focused on an aspect that I've not read much about - the women in Germany, after the war. Their husbands had died because they tried to stop Hitler. They're trying to rebuild their lives, with the men gone.

Overall, I liked this book, especially toward the end, but it didn't leave a strong impression on me.

I received a copy of this via Netgalley. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

Review: A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

A Secret History of WitchesA Secret History of Witches by Louisa  Morgan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a bit infuriating. Took me almost a month to read - I am not usually a slow reader. But this story was not interesting in the beginning.

This is the story of several generations of witches. Each witch has a book. The first few books were boring and repetitive. Each woman has a very similar experience regarding her awareness of her powers as a witch, followed by her attempts to either win the affections of a man and/or have a child - specifically a daughter to carry on the family line of witches. But I don't know why they felt so compelled to continue the line when they never really used their powers to their benefit. They spent most of their time trying to keep it hidden away, and when it was discovered, it usually resulted in their ruin or death. I found that so frustrating. At one point, near the end of the book, a witch from another family says people have always feared their kind because they didn't need a man. If that's the case, why did they waste all their powers on seducing men who didn't want them? Why didn't they try to use their powers to protect themselves from people who wanted to hurt them or to improve their lives without the need of a man?

The first few parts of the book felt like an intro, a setup for some sort of action, so I kept reading, but then I was noticing I was almost halfway through the book, and still waiting for something to happen. I had to start skimming then because I was spending so much time on this book, and there are so many other books I want to read, but I felt like I'd spent too much time on it to just give up.

I'm glad i stuck with it, I ended up really liking, almost loving the last part of the story. That's Veronica's book. She's the last of her line, her mother died in childbirth and she knows nothing about the family history. I enjoyed reading about how she discovered her powers, and the way she was later about to use them. Hers was the only story that felt developed and had emotion. Her story had heart, romance and family. I thoroughly enjoyed the role she played in helping her country during WWII.

I think this would have been a wonderful book if it had focused on Veronica, and the lives of the women before her had been explained in more of a summary. Maybe have Veronica learn about them as she's learning about her own powers, through research of some sort or from viewing the crystal or the stories of other witches who may have been familiar with her family. The details of their lives were not essential, and almost caused me to give up on this book completely. This is why I felt this book was infuriating. The story, if told differently, could have been great and entertaining. But the format in which it's presented is not enjoyable at all. Those first few books read like a dry textbook, providing information about the women's lives, but not in a way that you care about them. There were touches of what could have been, but weren't.

I don't know that I can recommend this book, except to say, rush through the first parts as quickly as possible to get to the story at the end. The last part of the book is really good. That's why I'm giving this three stars - I think the last part would have been four or five stars, but the first, more like one or two - so I'm compromising with three.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Review: Monsoon Summer by Julia Gregson

When I read the description of this book, I was hoping for a big romance, spanning continents. Forbidden love, culture clashes and such.

And I suppose that exists in this story, but the manner in which it's written sort of downplays everything. This is the story about an English woman who falls in love with and marries and Indian doctor, shortly after India has gained independence from the English. They move to India, and his family is unhappy with his choice of a wife and she's regarded as something of an enemy in the community. Also, the fact that she wants to work as a midwife is frowned upon.

This story should have created all kinds of emotional reactions, but it didn't.

I never felt any strong connection with any of the characters. I was not shocked or concerned or upset when bad things happened - and a lot of bad things did happen. She's attacked, she's thrown in jail, she disgraces her husband's family, she had problems with her own family. But I never felt like we were allowed enough of a glimpse into the characters emotions to invoke any kind of a strong response.

The story was interesting, and I liked learning about this time period and location, because it isn't something with which I'm familiar. I was also interested in the way the women lived during this time and place. But it wasn't quite the grand, intense romance I'd hoped it would be. Maybe that's my fault for having false expectations. I wanted something to read at the end of the summer that would completely sweep me up into the story, and this wasn't it.

It is by no means a bad book. I just wanted something a bit more.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Book review update

I am so behind with my book reviews. Hoping to post a few more in the next few days.

Have recently read Alice Hoffman's Rules of Magic - loved it so much! It's the prequel to Practical Magic. Will have a review soon, hopefully.

Also received and read a review copy of Krysten Ritter's Bonfire. Really good book.

And for romance readers, I recently read the first two books in Jennifer Bernard's Jupiter Point series, Set the Night on Fire and Burn So Bright. All of her books are great, including these.

And, I finally got around to reading Amor Towles' Gentleman in Moscow. That I got from the library. Wonderful book, highly recommend it.

Anyway - if I can get my act together - I should have reviews for those and a few more in the next few days.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For me, this was easily the most anticipated book in a long while. Was so excited to get invited to read an advance copy. And even more happy to say it completely lives up the hype.

This book is wonderful. I read Practical Magic years ago, before the movie came out. I might have read it in anticipation of the movie. (As readers know, the movie is a bit different from the book, but the spirit is the same and I love them both.) That book turned me into a huge Alice Hoffman fan. I love the books in which she so skillfully weaves magic into every day life. Rules of Magic is one of her best at doing this.

The story begins with Franny, Jet and their brother, Vincent. (Not really a spoiler, but Franny and Jet will eventually be the aunts in Practical Magic.) Their mother, an Owens, tries to keep her children away from magic, hence the rules. But her efforts are in vain.

This is the story of how the Owens children discover magic, and the effect it has on their lives, for better or worse. This story is about family and secrets and uncomfortable truths. It's filled with romance and heartbreak - as is the lot of an Owens witch.

Reviews of books I love are the most difficult to write. It's tough to say much more than, I really loved this book. I can't think of anything wrong with it or anything that bothered me or I felt should be changed. The story is beautiful and of course, magical. I also really enjoyed the New York setting during the 60s.

I found it so interesting to learn about the lives of the aunts, before they became the aunts. They had dreams and plans and lovers and they wanted more out of life than to simply be, the aunts. But the Owens curse is a powerful one.

After I read this, I listened to the audio book of Practical Magic, and as much as I love that book, I believe I like Rules of Magic more.

I am so glad that Hoffman chose to return to this world. I hope she continues to do so.

I read this book in July and have every intention of reading it again, closer to Halloween because what better time to read about magic and witches?

If you like Practical Magic, if you like stories about magic or witches, if you like stories about women and families and struggling to be yourself while in opposition with a past over which you have no control, I highly recommend this book.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: Accidentally on Purpose by Jill Shalvis

Accidentally on Purpose (Heartbreaker Bay, #3)Accidentally on Purpose by Jill Shalvis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was so looking forward to reading this book. Jill Shalvis has written some of my favorite romances. I recommend her books to everyone. And I've enjoyed the other books in this series. In the other books, I'd really liked this particular couple so I thought I'd love their book.

I was saving this for when I needed a great romance to read, when I didn't want to take chances on an unknown or unreliable author. And I'll admit upfront that maybe part of the problem is me, it's been a few months since I've read a romance. They used to be my preferred escape, but lately I've not enjoyed them much or felt any desire to read them - sticking to nonfiction or mystery or historical fiction instead. But whatever the problem, this book did not work for me.

The characters were painfully immature in their behavior and the scenarios were not believable. A group of guys wanted s'mores so much that they call one of their girlfriends and beg her to drive an hour and a half with supplies. Really? S'mores aren't even that good - not good enough to expect someone you care about to drive out into the middle of no where at night.

I found the character of Elle to be so irritating. All we really know about her is that she had a bad childhood and now wears very nice, expensive clothes. Over and over again, we're told that she has on a great dress and shoes and she looks badass. But she's always cold because she's under dressed and feels it's more important to look nice than be practical. At some point, she should maybe start to pay attention to the weather and dress accordingly, but then she wouldn't need to be wearing Archer's jacket all the time. This happened several times in the book. That might have been my biggest problem with the story, it felt so repetitive. The same things kept happening, and the same phrases were used. Elle wanted to "climb him like a tree" multiple times within just a few pages. I grew tired of the word "badass" being used so often. I need to know what makes that person a badass, don't just tell me they are.

We're told that Elle's strong and independent and she cares deeply about people, but I never saw that in her actions. She seemed incredibly shallow and rude most of the time. There's playing hard to get and there's downright mean. I'm not a big fan of the whole - "he/she picks on you because they like you." These are supposed to be adults. That Archer kept wanting her kind of made him seem like a creep who couldn't take a hint. As readers, we know that Elle really likes him, but he can't read her mind, and she keeps telling him to get out of her life. Then later on we find out more about Archer that made him seem especially creepy and I wasn't expecting that because, for the most part, I liked him. Thought he seemed like a nice guy, but not so much by the end of the book. When he was turned on by seeing her barefoot and in his kitchen and "maybe pregnant", I decided he was simply gross.

Then there were her "dancing" "happy" nipples. They could sense when Archer was near and would respond, even though she hadn't realized he was in the room yet. At one point, this is how she knows it must be him in the room, her nipples were happy. What? This, along with the use of the phrase "friend zone" sort of completely lost me. I can't take seriously anything that uses that phrase.

I'm being especially harsh, and feel somewhat guilty about that. Had this not been by one of my favorite authors, and had I not been so anxious to read it, and certain I was going to love it, I probably wouldn't be so critical of it. I have every intention of continuing to read this series and anything else by this author, but I might need to lower my expectations, just as a precaution.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Review: The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

I read this books months ago, I decided to hold off on writing a review until closer to publication date and then waited too long. Now I feel compelled to finish the review because I'm seeing this book everywhere. I didn't enjoy this book much at all. I found the love story to be weak and the story line to be very predictable. I was describing the book to someone else, and they kept guessing what happened, and they were right each time.

Sometimes I read a love story, and I find myself thinking I may be missing out in life because it all sounds so wonderful, even if things do end badly. (My favorite love stories are those that end badly - Wuthering Heights, Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, English Patient, you get the idea.) But other times, I read a story in which the primary love story is so unsettling, it gives me a brand new appreciation for my single status. This book falls into the latter category.

I was looking for something romantic and tragic, and hoped this would be it. But for one, while I understood that the events in the story were pretty dreary, I never felt a strong emotional connection to the characters or their situation. The love, which seemed like more of an infatuation, seemed very one-sided.

The main character, the person telling the story, was such a weak character. Throughout the entire story, she continued to allow things to happen to her, never taking control of the situation. She meets Gabe in class, and it's a very intense situation. They share a moment on a day they'll never forget, and she thinks she's met the love of her life. Next time she speaks to him, she learns he's returned to his ex-girlfriend. They eventually do get together, but Gabe leaves her to pursue his career. For the next few years, they're in and out of each other's lives, but their whole history together seems to be about him turning to her when he's alone and can't find anyone better.

This character marries someone she doesn't love because she feels like she's expected to marry him, she has children because it's expected. I was so bothered by the situations in which she became pregnant. Despite being secure financially and loving her job (which her husband wants her to quit), she has a fairly awful life. So of course she continues to think the relationship that ended shortly after her college days is the ideal situation. To me, it didn't seem like a great love affair, but rather a desperate need to escape.

A lot of people seem to like this book. I'm not one of them.

I also don't like the way it's being marketed as "the next Me Before You." Seeing this, you know there must be some sort of tragedy. But other than that, there isn't anything similar.

I received a review copy via NetGalley. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Review: The Harlot and the Sheikh by Marguerite Kaye

First a disclaimer of sorts: I've been having some trouble reading romance novels lately. Once, they were my perfect escape, but now, what used to work so well does not. I'm finding it more difficult to disconnect from the real world and slip into these fantasy worlds. But I'm trying.

I selected this book because I wanted something indulgent. Something completely unrelated to anything in my real world. I needed a dirty, sexy fairy tale. The title made this sound like what I needed. I was thinking escape to Arabian Nights or something like that.

I found the beginning of the book to be slow. (But see my disclaimer at the beginning, this could be a me problem and not necessarily a book problem.) The book wasn't grabbing my interest. Too much about the horses, not enough about the characters or any sort of development in their relationship. I was beginning to think the book was entirely too tame for what I was wanting.

But then, somewhere around the 40 to 50 % mark, the book became exactly what I needed.

This is the story of a strong, intelligent heroine trying to move beyond her past mistakes, and a sexy prince, looking to redeem his family name and bring honor back to his kingdom.

After a mysterious illness strikes his prized horses, Prince Rafiq sends for an English veterinarian. Stephanie Darvil arrives in her father's place. She views this as a fresh start, and a way to spare her family disgrace. She foolishly fell in love and allowed herself to be seduced by a man who used her, thus earning her the reputation of a harlot. The prince isn't quite sure what to make of her at first, having not expected a woman to appear to tend to his horses, but her skill quickly wins him over. Rafiq though is having trouble seeing her as only his horses' veterinarian, and the attraction is mutual as Stephanie realizes that there are advantages and an element of liberation to her ruined reputation.

What really won me over with these characters was Rafiq's reflections on how women are treated by society. He's furious when he finds out about what happened to Stephanie, certain there must be a way to punish the man who lied to her to get her into his bed. Also, he becomes aware of how she's treated in her profession, and how she has to work harder than a man to earn any sort of respect. At the same time, he's guilt-ridden about his deceased wife, who married him as part of an arrangement and had to give up so much of what she loved to satisfy a deal made by her father. Suffice it to say, Rafiq is understanding and respectful, reflective and willing to change, as well as being an attentive and skilled lover. This, along with being a prince, makes him just about perfect. Strong women and men who love and
appreciate strong women are essential for me to like a romance novel, and this book does well in that area.

While the book may have started out slow for me, in the end, I really liked it. Great, strong, intelligent characters; angsty backgrounds the characters need to overcome, and some very steamy sex scenes.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.