Monday, April 29, 2013

My take on: Seduction


The last book I read by M.J. Rose (The Book of Lost Fragrances) was a journey for the senses. Her latest book, Seduction, is a book for the mind. What do I mean by that? There are several storylines going on, but reincarnation and the supernatural are reoccurring themes. I don't know that I believe in such things, but M.J. Rose certainly makes you think about them.

This is the fifth book in Rose's Reincarnationist series, but I don't think you need to have read all of them. But it does help to have some context on the characters. Mythologist Jac L'Etoile is back, and her life is in a state of flux after the last book. She's questioning her sanity. One moment she's having a conversation in the present day, and the next her mind is pulling her into the past. The colors, the sounds, and the smells are changing around her. Is it real or imagined? Jac is afraid to explore either possibility. She just has to focus on the present, and focus hard. If she can do that, Jac will be ok. But a friend from the past offers an opportunity that's too good to resist.

Theo Gaspard, who once spent time in a mental institution with Jac, has stumbled upon the lost writings of novelist Victor Hugo. It's possible those writings hold the key to a Celtic mystery. Of course Jac can't resist. This is an opportunity to not only prove or disprove a myth, but it's also an opportunity to learn about herself. Maybe the visions will stop. Maybe she will go back to normal. If there is such a thing as normal. I kind of felt like I was inside Jac's head. You feel the highs and lows of someone who is struggling internally.

One of the other intriguing storylines is Victor Hugo himself. M.J. Rose puts a fictional and supernatural spin on Hugo's life following the death of his beloved daughter Didine. In the aftermath, Hugo and his family are devastated. They were very vulnerable. A fellow writer convinces Hugo and his family to take part in seances. They were able to communicate with Didine's spirit with what I presume was a crude Ouija board. I loved that part of the book. It was great to imagine what life and the supernatural element was like in the 1800s. Back then (I think) people were more willing to believe in mysticism. Hugo sought out mediums to communicate with not just Didine but the devil. I would think that would be a big no-no!! But if you're grieving, I guess you'll try anything.

I think the book is beautifully written. I just think several of the storylines could have stood on their own. I had the same problem I always have with books like this. Early on, I get attached to certain characters, but I have to wait several chapters before I can get back to their storyline. I think Jac is my favorite character. She has an air of vulnerability. Unraveling the mystery might be harmful to not just her psyche, but her safety. Despite the dangers, she's still willing to push forward. I don't think her story is finished, and I will definitely be back to see what happens.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Simon & Schuster) as part of a blog tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My take on: The Great Escape

I don't read a lot of sequels/series. But if you pulled me in with the first book, odds are I will read the second book. I LOVED Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, so of course I wanted to read the sequel. By the way, if you're reading this I'll assume you have read the first book. In a nutshell, Lucy Jorik, the adopted daughter of the a former U.S. president, runs out on her fiance Ted Beaudine on their wedding day. Everyone is left to wonder why. Call Me Irresistible was Meg's story, now we get Lucy's point of view in The Great Escape.

I liked the idea of getting Lucy's point of view. By the end of Call Me Irresistible you know Lucy is in a better place, but you don't know how she got to that point. Why did she run out on Ted? It seemed like such an impulsive act for a 31-year-old woman. Maybe if she was younger, but at 31 aren't you supposed to be more mature than that? It's great that Lucy realized marrying Ted would be a huge mistake, but she probably should have figured that out sooner. Ted is everything a woman could want, handsome, rich, from a good family, and of course he's PERFECT. But does Lucy really want perfection? Of course not.

Lucy runs off without a plan or money. She runs into the mysterious biker Panda. Yes, you read that right a grown man nicknamed Panda. He's a "friend" of Ted's, and helps Lucy run from not just Ted but reality. They clash constantly. She can barely get a few words out of him. It's hard to break through his thick exterior. He doesn't want to reveal anything personal. He tries to make Lucy afraid of him, so she will run off back to her rich parents. But Lucy can't go back, not yet. Going back to a normal life would force Lucy to face her problems. Of course there is a lot of sexual tension between Lucy and Panda. They could give into their feelings. But what about all the complications that come with romance? Well it's a good thing Lucy and Panda convince themselves what they have isn't a romance. Yeah right!!

Panda is really Patrick Shade, a former Army vet and police officer Lucy's parents hired to look after her. When Lucy realizes that she is furious. Was anything with him real? Was he with her simply because he was paid to? Lucy runs off again, but not far from Panda. She ends up taking over his vacation home. This is where the book got a little too convoluted for my tastes. If the plot was just Panda, Lucy, and a few minor characters, it would have been fine. But there are several subplots, and they take away from Lucy's storyline. There's Bree, a white woman who has returned to the glory of her youth, and her mixed race 12-year-old charge Toby. Why do I bring up race? A big deal is made about it in the book. Bree is rebounding from divorce, at the same time she is made the guardian over the grandchild of a long-time family friend. Bree and Toby alone could have carried their own book. Then Panda returns with a client in tow, Temple Renshaw, a demanding reality TV star. I didn't like Temple at all. She came across as the typical spoiled and entitled reality starlet. Yet Lucy finds the good in her, and as readers we are supposed to as well. Quite frankly, I did not. I don't think her character was necessary, but I guess as a plot device Temple was necessary. Without her how would Panda and Lucy have been able to reconnect?

Overall, there were some things I liked and some things I didn't. The ending felt a little awkward and rushed. But I loved Lucy and Panda's chemistry. Right off the bat, they sounded like an old married couple. They can crack jokes on each other. They can be rude to each other. They can pretend to not like each other. But you know all of this is in the name of love.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 22, 2013

My take on: Heart Like Mine

I didn't know it was possible, but I think Heart Like Mine has surpassed Outside the Lines as my favorite book by Amy Hatvany. She is extremely adept at tapping into the complex nature of families. Heart Like Mine is no exception.

Grace McAllister never wanted children, but everything changed when she met Victor Hansen, a handsome restaurant owner and divorced father of two. Victor is everything Grace has ever wanted. He makes her laugh. He's attentive. He doesn't want anymore children, which is a big plus in Grace's book. She could see herself having a future with Victor. His children, 13-year-old Ava and seven-year-old Max, live with their mother Kelli and are only around Victor on weekends. She can do this. She can be a stepmother, albeit an evil stepmother in the eyes of Ava and Kelli. Max is always sweet to her, while Ava is full of teenage angst and resentment. But, Grace can do this. The kids are only around on weekends, she can put up with the rude comments and looks. The kids are only a slight blip in her long-term goals. She doesn't have to be a mother. The kids have a mother.

Of course there's a twist here, otherwise there would be no point to the book. Kelli dies suddenly, leaving Victor and Grace to pick up the pieces. How did she die? Amy Hatvany's writing certainly hints at suicide. Growing up with strict and unloving parents, Kelli always felt alone. She was always looking for love. She always needed someone to love her and pay attention to her. There was a hole in her heart, one that not even Victor or her kids could fill. A long-buried secret comes to the surface just before her death. But is it possible Victor's engagement to Grace, sent her over the edge? Reading the book, I wasn't so sure of that. The book alternates between Grace, Ava, and Kelli's point of view. Each chapter that Kelli narrates reveals a little more about her past. Initially, Kelli comes off as the bitter ex-wife. But as the book progress, I just felt so sorry for her. She's one of those characters that you just want to give a hug. You want to tell her that it's going to be ok. Kelli was never able to pull herself out of that hole before she died. It was just so sad.

Kelli's death was so abrupt. Grace and Victor don't understand why she died. The kids don't understand why she died. Her death left everyone in a position they were unprepared for. Victor was used to Kelli handling everything. Now, he has to get into the parenting routine. It's no longer taking them to his house on the weekends and dropping them off at Kelli's afterward. He has to get them to school. He has to help with homework. He has to shuffle them to after-school activities. It was so much easier when all of this was Kelli's problem. But now, the kids aren't just his responsibility. Ava and Max are also Grace's responsibility. Victor says he will take on much of the burden, but even he can't do it all. When a crisis at work takes up all of his time, Grace is thrust into the role of co-parent. A role she didn't want. Can she handle it? Ava and Max both act out, but that's to be expected after losing a parent. After some time has passed they should snap right out of it. Right? Max is so much easier to handle, and he will also have his dad to teach him how to be a man as he grows up. But what about Ava? She was so close to her mother. Will Ava want or even be receptive to any type of guidance from Grace?

The road ahead is very bumpy for this family. Will Victor allow Grace the freedom to discipline the children? Or will he take their side? How much is too much? Grace might not be their biological parent, but that doesn't give them the right to disrespect her. Everything changes when a once comfortable existence is thrown into turmoil. Every family is different, but I think a lot of people, young and old, can relate to the themes in this book. I have a step-parent, and I could very easily identify with Ava. But I could also see Grace's point of view. Does she really have the strength to continue this relationship now that she has to be a parent? This isn't what she wanted. Is Victor worth it?

By the end of the book, I wanted more. I kept thinking, this family's story isn't done yet. There is hope for them, but I wanted to keep reading about their journey. This is a book that's definitely worth reading!!

Rating: O.M.G. !!!

Note: I received an e-galley from the publisher (Simon & Schuster) in exchange for an honest review. But since I'm such a big fan Amy Hatvany's books......

of course I had to pick up a hard copy when I say it at Target!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Calling all real-life heroines!!!


HARLEQUIN'S MORE THAN WORDS AWARDS, 2014:
CALLING ALL REAL-LIFE HEROINES!

Each year, the Harlequin More Than Words award is given to three women who have worked hard to change people’s lives for the better. Inspired by their accomplishments, Harlequin donates $15,000 to each winner's charity of choice and then pairs each winner with a bestselling Harlequin author who turns her story into a novella that's released to the public as a free e-book.

Nominations for the 2014 awards have just opened and will be open until August 9th. To nominate someone you know who is making a difference in the world, or to nominate yourself, you need to submit a few sentences on the nominee, the charity she's involved in, what inspires her and how she's inspiring others. The nomination form is available here:
http://www.harlequinmorethanwords.com/nominate/.

After the nominations are closed in August, the entrants are narrowed down to 5 finalists and the public votes for 3 winners (in November). Then, winners are announced in December, and honored through the $15,000 donation, the novella written about them and feature coverage on Harlequin's site! (http://www.harlequinmorethanwords.com/). It's a great program to honor all of the women who spend their time and energy doing things for others and might not be getting the recognition they deserve!

As a bonus, you can check out the 3 ebooks about the 2012 winners - available for free!

The books are:

- Good Neighbors by Sheila Roberts (inspired by Sally Spencer, who manages a mentoring program that rescues at-risk children)
- Just Joe by Carla Cassidy (inspired by Helen McGovern, who oversees Emergency Food Network, a food bank that serves all county residents, including those with health restrictions)
- Light This Candle by Cindy Dees (inspired by Mindy Atwood, who runs Patches of Light, a nonprofit organization where anonymous angels pay the rent for parents of desperately ill children)
Download them for free from Harlequin here: http://www.harlequinmorethanwords.com/novellas/.

Download them for free from Amazon here (Kindle-friendly versions): http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D1286228011&field-keywords=%22Harlequin+more+than+words%22&rh=n%3A1286228011%2Ck%3A%22Harlequin+more+than+words%22

Download them for free from B&N here (Nook-friendly versions): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/harlequin-more-than-words?store=allproducts&keyword=harlequin+more+than+words

Monday, April 15, 2013

My take on: Evidence of Life

Abby Bennett is looking forward to a little alone time. Her son, Jake, is away at college, prepping for exams. Her husband Nick and daughter Lindsey are set to embark on a camping trip. It should be a nice, relaxing weekend for Abby, but it quickly turns into a nightmare in Evidence of Life by Barbara Taylor Sissel.

A rain storm rips through the Texas Hill Country. Bridges, roads, and highways are flooded with water and debris. Worry and fear set in quickly for Abby. Everyone fears the worst -- Nick and Lindsay must have died in the deadly storm. Everyone that is except Abby. The police, her best friend, Katie, her son, her mother, her mother-in-law, and her husband's law partners all want Abby to face facts. She can't accept that the life she once knew is over. They've vanished without a trace, but Abby refuses to give up hope. Nick will come home and listen to his beloved jazz music. Lindsay will come down the stairs with a brush and ask her mother to braid her hair. Jake will come home from school with a heap of laundry, and then Abby will make a big family meal. Everything will go back to normal as long as Abby doesn't give up hope.

As the book progresses, I kind of wanted Abby to give up. At some point you have to face facts and move on. She has another child who needs her love and attention. She needs to move on. She needs to find a way to get back to normal. But it's easy for people who aren't in her situation to pass judgment. Immediately after their disappearance everyone is understanding. Right away everyone wants to help. Right away everyone has empathy for your situation. But... Soon a month goes by, then another, then another, and another. There are moments when Abby is ready to face facts, but some strange occurrences prevent that. An open door, a missing jacket, and strange phone calls. Maybe Abby's mind is playing tricks on her. Or maybe it's all real, but who will believe Abby?

With each chapter, Abby learns something new about Nick, his job, and her marriage. Nick was accused of stealing money from a big settlement. But he was cleared. Abby never believed he was that kind of lawyer. He wasn't that kind of man. He might have been hiding things from her, but at his core Nick was a man of integrity. Whatever he was worried about or might have been involved in, Nick would never jeopardize Lindsey's safety. There has to be some explanation.

This book will remind you how fragile life can be and how quickly a once comfortable life can quickly fall apart. The resolution is very satisfying, but I think it took a little long to get there. Everyone in Abby's life says over, and over, and over that she needs to move on. That can get a little repetitive. But the last 60-80 pages were very suspenseful. Towards the end I was speed-reading, I couldn't wait to find out the truth. You start to wonder if Nick and Lindsey are alive or is someone playing a cruel joke on Abby? This is a book worth reading.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy from Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc. in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 12, 2013

My take on: And Then I Found You

On paper, Kate "Katie" Vaughn has the perfect life. A loving family, a loving boyfriend, and a successful business. She should be happy. She wants to be happy, but something is missing in her life. Actually someone is missing in her life. A very painful, but loving, decision has always nagged at Kate. If she can find a way to move on, maybe she can find true happiness. In a novel inspired by her own family, Patti Callahan Henry explores love, loss, courage, and family.

Since she could remember, Kate has always been in love with Jack Adams. With him she was Katie. With him she knew she was loved. With him she knew they had a future, if only he could just wait for her. Wait? Wait for what? After college, Katie knew she wanted to be with Jack. But Katie wasn't quite sure who she was as a person. What was her purpose in life? Could she be doing more? A job as a camp counselor for at-risk young girls proved worthwhile for Katie. She become attached to these girls. The only problem with this new career, it was in Arizona several states away from Jack in Alabama. What was supposed to be a short-term gig, became a long-term one. Every year there was another excuse for Katie not to begin her life with Jack. Were those girls really more important than him? Or does Katie believe Jack will wait for her. Their love should be strong enough to survive a long-term separation?

How long can she keep stringing Jack along? How long before he wants more out of life? I was truly in their corner. They seemed to belong together. But sometimes things don't work out the way they should. Sometimes you have to go through strife before you can find true happiness. That's the case for Katie and Jack. Years of waiting proved to be too frustrating for Jack, and he marries someone else. But not before one final goodbye with Katie, resulting in a pregnancy. What do they do now? Will a baby bring them together? Maybe now Jack will realize how much he misses Katie and want to raise this baby. It would be so nice if life worked out so easily. Katie makes the painful but selfless and loving decision to give the baby up for adoption. Loving a child and being able to care for a child are two separate things. Katie realizes that. As much as Katie wanted to keep her baby, a little girl she named "Luna," love alone wasn't enough. Her parents think Katie is giving away her baby. It's hard for them to understand. Katie knows she is giving her daughter the best gift possible -- parents who are ready to provide a loving home.

Thirteen years pass, everyone has moved on in the best way they can. Katie is now Kate. She owns and runs a clothing store, and has a loving boyfriend Rowan. The name "Katie" is part of a past she would like to forget. Jack is now a divorced, single father. And...somewhere out there their daughter, whose name is Emily Luna Jackson, wonders where she came from. They should be happy. But for all three of them, there is something missing from their lives. Kate is afraid to fully open herself up to Rowan. She can't tell him everything. She can't tell him about "Luna." Telling him would just open up old wounds. She constantly yearns for someone who is no longer hers -- Luna. But maybe she should deal with those old wounds. For Jack, the past is in the past. His heart has healed, going backwards could only make things worse. Emily knows she has loving parents, but she often wonders if her birth parents ever really loved her.

Of course, you know that's not all there is to the story. Otherwise...what would be the point of the book. In this age of social media, it's not all that hard to find someone. A Facebook request by Emily to one of Kate's sisters sets off a chain reaction of events. It's euphoria at first. Finding someone you thought was lost to you forever is sheer euphoria. But what are the consequences? What happens once the honeymoon stage is over? Nothing is ever the same. Now that Emily and Jack are back in her life, there is a renewed sense of happiness for Kate. But why couldn't she be happy before? Is Rowan not enough?

This is my second go-round with Patti Callahan Henry. I loved Coming Up For Air, so of course I wanted to take part in a review for And Then I Found You. I'm sure it couldn't have been easy for Patti Callahan Henry to write this book. Her younger sister also gave up her daughter for adoption, who later found her biological family via Facebook. This latest book is a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Yes it feels a bit like a love story, but that's more of a backdrop. You start questioning what makes a family? Emily might be ready to know where she came from, but what about her parents? Maybe Kate would have been better off ignoring Emily's friend request. On the one hand, it's great that Kate and Jack are reunited with their daughter. But on the other hand, is it really in their best interests to be reunited? What if Kate and Jack want more than Emily or her parents are willing to give? What happens if someone oversteps their bounds?

Overall, the book is dealing with very heavy subject matter. But Patti Callahan Henry handles it with a lot of grace and dignity. Definitely worth reading.

Rating: O.M.G.!!

Notes: I received a copy of the book at the request of Wunderkind PR. And I Found You is also the April selection for She Reads. I received a copy of the book from the publisher (St. Martin's Press)

Monday, April 8, 2013

My take on: Beautiful Ruins

I'm not sure where to start with this one. There is so much going on with Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Some of it is really good, and some of it is just ok. I've wanted to read this one for a while. Not because I knew about the storyline. Why did I want to read it then? The cover. That cover is gorgeous. That village by the sea looks so inviting. It looks like a place to just relax. A place to sit by the sea with a glass of wine and a book.

The story begins in the coastal Italian city of Porto Vergogna in 1962. Spanning several decades and countries, Beautiful Ruins (in my opinion) is a love story. Do you follow your heart, no matter who it hurts?

Following the death of his father in 1962, the young Pasquale Tursi has just come home to Porto Vergogna. He has plans to revitalize the family hotel, but a young American actress is about derail those plans. A promising acting career and a part in the upcoming epic Cleopatra, is put on hold on when actress Dee Moray is exiled to this small coastal city. In this world, it seems Elizabeth Taylor wasn't the only one having an affair with Richard Burton. Only in the case of poor Dee, she is pregnant with his child. A shady doctor and a shady Hollywood exec, Michael Deane, convince the beautiful blond that she is dying of stomach cancer. It sounds so cruel, but given the time period I could totally see it happening. Sure Cleopatra was shaping up to be a flop, but does the studio need an additional scandal attached to the picture? Shenanigans like this probably still go on, no matter who they hurt.

If Dee had been told the truth, would she and Pasquale ever have crossed paths? Probably not? Pasquale can't fully understand English, and Dee doesn't fully understand Italian, but they can still communicate. No words are needed to show how devastated Dee is. No one, except Pasquale, cares what happens to her. No one appears to be coming for her. No words are needed to show how much Pasquale cares for her. Over the course of a few days, Dee and Pasquale form a bond that spans 50 years. Somehow you just hope they can find their way back to each other. Outside forces brought them together, maybe those same forces can bring them together again.

In the present day, Michael Deane is still mixing things up in Hollywood. When Pasquale shows up at his studio searching for Dee, I thought this would be Deane's chance at redemption. Throughout the book, Deane is portrayed as a conniving, egotistical jerk. Maybe he is ready to make amends. You will have to read the book to find that one out.

The present day aspects of the book were a little slow for me. I was more engaged in the 1962 storyline. Getting a glimpse into the past was far more interesting for me. The book isn't a linear narrative, and it goes back and forth between the past and present. Sometimes the breaks between the past and present were too long for me. I kept reading because I wanted to get back to the 1962 angle. Towards the end the book, it starts to pick up again, but then the ending fell a little flat for me. I'm thinking, "that's it?" But...I'm glad I kept reading because a certain passage near the end stuck out for me.

"All we have is the story we tell. Everything we do, every decision we make, our strength, weakness, motivation, history, and character -- what we believe -- none of it is real; it's all part of the story we tell. But here's the thing: it's our goddamned story!" -- Pg. 266

It's said in a drunken moment, but it makes a lot of sense. I took it to mean that no one can take your story from you, it's your own tell and your own to shape. Good words to live by!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as a part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

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