Monday, December 30, 2013

The Girls' Guide to Dating Zombies by Lynn Messina

The Basics:
The Girls' Guide to Dating Zombies by Lynn Messina
Potatoworks Press
Paranormal, Romance
Published November 25, 2015
Amazon.ca Kobo.com
*Note that at the time of posting this review, the book was listed at $2.08 on Kobo versus $5.25 on amazon.caI received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:
Hattie Cross knows what you're thinking: Zombie sex? Ewwwww. But she also knows that since a virus turned 99.9999 percent of human males into zombies, it's statistically impossible to meet—let alone date—the remaining 0.00001 percent. So she writes "The Girls' Guide to Dating Zombies" to help her fellow single women navigate the zombie-relationship waters.

Her practical how-to impresses the CEO of the largest drug company in the world, and before she knows it, Hattie, a reporter for a downmarket tabloid that specializes in conspiracy theories, is sitting down with the woman who single-handedly invented the zombie-behavioral-modification market. Granted access to the inner sanctum of zombaceuticals, she meets an actual, living, breathing M-A-N.

Now Hattie, the consummate professional, is acting like a single girl at the end of the twentieth century: self-conscious, klutzy and unable to form a coherent sentence without babbling. Worst of all, the human male appears to have impaired her ability to think clearly. Because all of a sudden she's convinced a conspiracy is afoot at the drug company and it seems to go all the way to the top!

Why I picked up this book:

I love zombie fiction so this book had me at the title!

My thoughts:

My feelings about Girls' Guide are pretty mixed. I was amused by it, and enjoyed the conspiracy component. I was entertained by Hattie and her journey - her rah-rah efforts about making the best of a bad situation (so few men left that women must turn to zombified men for companionship) were amusing and laudable, even as she started to discover the appeal of non-zombified men.
Unfortunately, for me, Girls' Guide is a bit slow to start. Hattie Cross' career finally picking up with the publication of her guide to dating zombies - the only romantic option available as almost all men the world over have been turned into zombies. There's a fair amount of information dumping as we learn about the history of the zombie apocalypse and about the pros and cons of dating zombies. I wanted to launch right into the potential romance with Jake, the first man Hattie's had the opportunity to really interact with, as well as the conspiracy she starts to unravel.

I wasn't entirely sure how to take some of the book - there's some amusing material that compares zombies to men and underlines all of these female behaviours that end when women no longer 'have to cater to men.' Hattie finds herself reverting back to these when she meets Jake - suddenly self-conscious, clumsy, anxious, etc.. It's kind of cute, but also insulting at the same time? 

There's also a fine line between convincing the reader that a relationship with a boyzomb is satisfying and worthwhile and completely... ew. Ignoring the sex issue, which the book does delve into, the inability to communicate combined with the need to administer various pharmaceuticals and otherwise take pretty close care of your boyzomb.... I felt like we needed to have zombie capabilities more clearly defined. It was repeatedly pointed out that they had no thought process, that they operated on instinct, but then there's some suggestion that they can learn really basic courtesies and/or be trained kind of like a pet? 

I guess I wasn't satisfied by the definition of zombies here, which I find a bit baffling because there's several chapters of the book Hattie has written included at various intervals of the Girls' Guide and I found that material enlightening. It helped shape how one would date a zombie, though it still didn't give me a hard line about zombie capabilities. I liked that I could hear Hattie's voice in all of it, and maybe part of the point of this material was to point out that she still retained some optimism about what was possible even though she knew it really wasn't.

The Bottom Line:

Even though I found some elements to criticize, my overall reading experience with The Girls' Guide to Dating Zombies was a pretty positive one. The romance isn't entirely conventional in terms of how it develops and plays out, but it was cute and I was satisfied with the conspiracy!

Pick up the ebook and enjoy this quirky story without any high expectations!

3 stars
For fans of zombies, suspense, semi-bumbling heroines.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (Dec 28, 2013)



Stacking the Shelves is an awesome meme hosted by Tynga's Review.

Basically, it's a way to share what books you've picked up in the last week. 

With Christmas, you might think I would end up with a huge pile of books, but my family definitely avoids buying me any unless I've posted a list somewhere of what I want.

I did get a gift card which will be put to good use picking up some new releases in the next few weeks.

AND! My husband shocked me by grabbing these:





Because I must be among the few people remaining who haven't read the Mortal Instruments series. He also grabbed me a copy of the movie, so I guess I'll be reading the book first and comparing!

And this:




I don't usually go in for this kind of book - it's a tie-in with a line of dolls that Mattel sells. But I love the concept - the children of fairy tale characters dealing with legacies of their parents, destined to repeat their parents' stories (or are they?). 

That's it for me this week, what did you stack on your shelf this week?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays Everyone!

To Each Their Own Reviews will be on hiatus this week because of a combination of a power outage and the holiday season. Assuming power returns before then, we'll be back next Monday for a new review!


Cheers,
Chelsea

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Christmas To Remember by Hope Ramsay, Molly Cannon, Marilyn Pappano, Kristen Ashley, Jill Shalvis

The Basics:
A Christmas To Remember by Hope Ramsay, Molly Cannon, Marilyn Pappano, Kristen Ashley, Jill Shalvis
Forever Yours
Romance
Published December 3, 2013
Amazon.ca Kobo.com

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:
Curl up with this heartwarming Christmas collection!

Jill Shalvis, Dream a Little Dream: Melissa has kept every man at a safe distance-especially firefighter Ian, a sexy friend with sexy benefits. But Ian secretly longs for more. Luckily, 'tis the season for giving love a chance . . . 

Kristen Ashley, Every Year: Holidays don't come easy for Shy and his brother, Landon. But with the magic of Christmas, along with a little help from Tabby and her family, the Cage brothers are about to get the gift of a lifetime . . . 

Hope Ramsay, Silent Night: Down on her luck and evicted from her apartment, single mother Maryanne hopes to start over in Last Chance. When the snow begins to fall, it looks like her baby might literally spend Christmas Eve in a manger. And Maryanne might celebrate the holiday with a handsome stranger. 

Molly Cannon, Have Yourself a Messy Little Christmas: Lincoln is a bachelor who's set in his ways-until a professional organizer dressed up as Mrs. Claus changes his life, one tip at a time. . . 

Marilyn Pappano, A Family for Christmas: War widow Ilena doesn't mind spending Christmas alone. But when a new doctor blows into town with the winter wind, will she get her secret Christmas wish?

Plus: Excerpts from upcoming novels!

Why I picked up this book:

I was hoping for a collection of short, sweet romances set around the Christmas holidays.

My thoughts:

So I didn't quite get what I was hoping for - this is a collection of five new short stories and five excerpts from upcoming novels by each author. This is clearly stated in the blurb so I have no one to blame but myself for failing to realize this.

Now, normally, I avoid excerpts because they're almost like an insta-buy for me - once I've engaged with a story, I have to see it through! (Unless I really, really dislike it...).  

But because I wanted to be fair, I read them all. And I've already forgotten some of them, unfortunately (or fortunately for my wallet!). A couple did make an impact though - Kristen Ashley's excerpt is actually the love story that leads into the short story included in the collection.

So a pet peeve of mine or a quirk or whatever - does anyone else not want to go back and read about how a couple came together once they've already read about the couple being a couple? Does that make sense?  If I pick up a book in the middle of the series, whichever couples are already paired off in that book, I never go back to re-read their stories. I've already seen them together, so it's... almost as though I've been spoiled? Except, of course, we all know what the end of a romance novel should result in, so have I really been spoiled beyond normal genre expectations?  Anyways, it's one of my eccentricities, I guess, that I very rarely go backwards. So though I did like the short story from Ashley, and I do want to read *Landon's* story, and I am a little curious about what happened between Tabby and Shy... Okay, I'll admit, I may end up picking this one up - though Tabby's use of the phrase "the bomb" really drove me crazy.

The other excerpt that stuck out for me was from Marilyn Pappano and finished off the series. It ends on a really low note, and while I'm sure in the book it is from, it's a great first chapter, it was a really poor way to end a Christmas collection. I was left with a bad taste in my mouth, and a lot of pity for the heroine in the last book.

The Bottom Line:

Overall, the short stories in this collection were a mixed bag. I liked "Have Yourself a Messy Little Christmas" and "Dream a Little Dream" the most. I wasn't really wowed by anything in this collection. Not all of the excerpts were Christmas themed, and as I said above, the last one ends on a really low note. I wasn't left with that feel-good romance feeling nor with a boost to my Christmas spirit.

If you're looking for a sampler of upcoming books, this might be a good choice. You get a chance to see how these authors handle the short format and then a peek at a longer work. But if you're hoping for a Christmas collection, I don't think you'll be satisfied with this.

2.5 stars
For fans of any of these five authors, contemporary romance, teasers for upcoming novels.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Best Thing I Never Had by Erin Lawless

The Basics:
The Best Thing I Never Had by Erin Lawless
HarperImpulse
Chick Lit, Romance
Published December 5, 2013
Amazon.ca Kobo.com

Blurb:
‘So much more than a love story, more of a life story.’
Five years ago they’d been six friends at university that laughed hard and loved harder.
Nicky and Miles, the couple that were always meant to be… Leigha and Adam, maybe not.
So when Harriet and Adam grew close, during those long summer days in the library and too many seminars they (well, Adam) hadn’t prepared for, they did the one thing that changed everything. They kept a secret. And when it came out, the trust was broken.
When the day comes for bridesmaids to be chosen, and best men to fulfill drunken promises, Nicky and Miles’ wedding isn’t just a wedding, it’s a reunion – loaded with past hurts, past regrets, past loves.
Can you ever relive those uni days – or would you ever want to?
The Best Thing I Never Had is in turns funny and sad, but always honest, about friendship in all its forms and the practicality of second chances.

Why I picked up this book:

The buzz was pretty positive, and I liked the idea of a book about the relationships between a big pool of people in university.

My thoughts:

I loved this book. Personally, the characters really resonated with me. It's easy to sympathize with the ups and downs of close friendships, the trials and tribulations of wanting to date within your pool of friends, the drama of crushes alongside the difficult process of making life-altering decisions about career and family. 

I found reading the material about the university years a lot like slipping on a favourite pair of slippers - cozy and warm and snuggly. Yes, there's a lot of hurt and stress and Drama! but there's also a lot of joy and discovery and potential. My first impressions were rapidly sundered as my heart started to break for one of the characters.

The chapters involving the wedding were also excellent. I've experienced that feeling of picking up right where you've left off - unfortunate that for so many of the characters involved that meant emotional pain and having to revisit old wounds. Certainly a little bittersweet, but hopeful, I think. Sometimes it just takes a little faith and a willingness to look through someone else's eyes. 

Lawless packs so much into each chapter - the only way you might consider this a quick read is if you get as hung up on it as I did.

I was left thinking about whether or not it's possible to go back and recapture friendships from our youth, what moments we can revisit and which are lost to the distance (in years). 

Bottom Line:

I couldn't put this down! Buy it! Read it! Love it! This book is a steal at ebook pricing. I'm already thinking about re-reading it.

After I finished The Best Thing I Never Had. I thought about how this was another story that toyed with the idea of communication - how much is too much/too little.... Now I'm trying to think of books wherein poor communication is not a part of the central conflict. I think I might have to go to a different genre for that....

5 stars
For fans of good books.

Our First Love by Anthony Lamarr

The Basics:
Our First Love by Anthony Lamarr
Strebor Books
Romance
Published Dec 17, 2013

I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:

Can brothers who share one life share one love? 

Since the tragic accident that changed their lives forever, brothers Nigel and Caleb have been inseparable—until one woman captures both of their hearts. Thirteen years ago, Nigel and Caleb lost their parents in a terrible accident. Today, Nigel is a thirty-five-year-old college professor, while Caleb, a reclusive twenty-nine-year-old, doesn't know a life beyond the walls of the house they share. Caleb developed an extreme case of agoraphobia—the abnormal fear of public places— and psychogenic amnesia after the accident that killed their parents.

But things are about to change. Unexpectedly, and for the first time, Nigel finds himself falling in love. He tries to keep Karen, his new love interest, a secret, but it doesn't take Caleb long to discover what’s going on. So what does Caleb do when he finds out about Karen? He falls for her, too.

As the brothers’ tight-knit relationship faces increasing pressure and the love triangle intensifies, mysteries surrounding the tragic accident also begin to unravel, bringing the story to a shocking climax. With equal doses of suspense and romance, Our First Love is a bittersweet drama about the pain of loss and the thrill of new love.

Why I picked up this book:

In a very shallow way, I was interested in reading a romance novel written by a man as I normally read romance written by women. I found the setup of the two brothers in this tight-knit relationship, falling for the same woman to be both tragic and entertaining.

My thoughts:

Oh man, I struggled with this one. It was entirely because once I finally sat down to read it, I was afraid it was going to be this horrible, emotional blowout. I fretted over whether or not the book would end in a happy place, and if I'd feel cheated or not.

In the end, I sucked it up and read. And I am so, so glad that I did.

First, I love the way the book is written. Chapters are either from Nigel or Caleb's perspective, and they're dosed with memories and thoughts. The most complex parts involve narration with Caleb inserted into Nigel's day outside of the house. Caleb relies on Nigel's recitation of his daily activities in order to exist beyond the walls of 207 Circle Drive - he pretends to have been there throughout the day, imagining it unfold during their nightly exchange.

Between the secrets of the past, Nigel keeping secrets about the present, Caleb remembering things from his childhood (whether real memories or invented ones for his blog), and then the re-imagining of Nigel's day with Caleb in tow, this book provides fantastic fodder for thinking about the flexibility of memory and the range of narration. It would make an excellent book club selection and I wish I had an active group to sit and discuss it with!

Caleb and Nigel are sympathetic characters, and I found myself rooting for them both even as I wanted to chastise them! Their relationship is easily the most fascinating component of the book, but the way they interact with the world around them, and their own inner lives also entertained and intrigued me. The book revolves around these two characters so heavily that it might have felt (appropriately) claustrophobic or limited if it hadn't been for how skillfully all the different types of narration are interwoven.

Now, this isn't an easy read. It's not a lighthearted contemporary romance, by any stretch, but I think it's definitely rewarding. There's such richness in the narrative layers that Our First Love is well worth reading.

Bottom line:

Pick this up if you enjoy books that stick with you for days after you've finished reading them. Our First Love would make a great book club selection as there's plenty to debate and unpack.

5 stars
For fans of 'meaty' books, contemporary tales, complex narrative styles, good books.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nefertiti's Heart by A. W. Exley

The Basics:
Nefertiti's Heart by A W Exley
Curiosity Quills
Book One in the Artifact Hunters 
Mystery / New Adult / Steampunk / Romance
Published Feb 4, 2013

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:
Cara Devon has always suffered curiosity and impetuousness, but tangling with a serial killer might cure that. Permanently.

London, 1861. Impoverished noble Cara has a simple mission after the strange death of her father – sell off his damned collection of priceless artifacts. Her plan goes awry when aristocratic beauties start dying of broken hearts, an eight inch long brass key hammered through their chests. A killer hunts amongst the nobility, searching for a regal beauty and an ancient Egyptian relic rumored to hold the key to immortality.

Her Majesty’s Enforcers are in pursuit of the murderer and they see a connection between the gruesome deaths and Cara. So does she, somewhere in London her father hid Nefertiti’s Heart, a fist sized diamond with strange mechanical workings. Adding further complication to her life, notorious crime lord, Viscount Nathaniel Lyons is relentless in his desire to lay his hands on Cara and the priceless artifact. If only she could figure out his motive.

Self-preservation fuels Cara’s search for the gem. In a society where everyone wears a mask to hide their true intent, she needs to figure out who to trust, before she makes a fatal mistake.

Why I picked up this book:

Steampunk romance ? Yes.

My thoughts:

Do you ever start to read a book and think the author must have been writing with your personal hotspots in mind? This book has so many of the discrete elements I love in books all wrapped together that I couldn't help but fall for Nefertiti's Heart.

First, nineteenth century steampunk. The time period is near and dear to my heart. And the steampunk element was obvious even in the cover image - a clockwork heart. I like that the book is definitely set in a steampunk world but that it doesn't go overboard playing up those elements. Yes, we have automatons and mechanical horses, messages being zapped about the aether and airships for long range transport. But these are part of the fabric of everyday life in this book, not used to sledgehammer the reader into believing the setting.  

Second, paranormal. From the first chapter, we have a house that seems to have some autonomy. Whether or not this is true, Cara certainly talks about it as if it is so. Her father's artifacts also seem to be more than simply hunks of gold and jewels - part of the book's mystery is determining whether this is true or not. 

Third, romance. Cara has an attraction to Lyons from the start, but her past makes it difficult for her to comprehend that. Lyons knows what he wants, and that's Cara. His patience and determination are extremely sexy. They have a way of fitting together, sharp edges and all, that I found appealing.

Above and beyond these genre and setting components, I also loved Cara and cared about what happened to her. She's that rarely truly successful combination of spunky, capable and vulnerable. I wanted to know more about her childhood even though I kind of didn't because I knew it was going to be awful. I wanted to see her conquer her fears with Lyons' help. I wanted her to solve the murders. I liked that she and Lyons seemed to be well matched - her autonomy never felt jeopardized by his interest, and that really attracted me to this romance. 

I was reminded a little bit of Eve and Roarke from Nora Roberts as JD Robb's In Death series, in a really positive and favourable way. Cara and Lyons work even better for me than Eve and Roarke do. I think that if you're a fan of the In Death series and you like steampunk, you might enjoy this book as well. Beyond the romance, there's also a significant murder-mystery, plus the ongoing hunt for Cara's father's artifacts.

The Bottom Line:

I want to rave about Nefertiti's Heart! It's fun with a sharp-witted, plucky heroine and a sexy, supportive hero. I enjoyed the mystery, with the creepy 'from the killer's perspective' chapters. I loved the setting details and the atmosphere. The pacing was perfect for me. Love love love.  

Please read this book because I already want many, many more in the series!


5 stars
For fans of steampunk mysteries and/or steampunk romance, capable heroines and the men who want them.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Drawn by Cecilia Gray

The Basics:
Drawn by Cecilia Gray
Gray Life, LLC
Mystery/Thriller, YA
Published December 15, 2013
Amazon.ca Kobo.com

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:
Take a journey into the gritty world of political espionage through the eyes – and lies – of one extraordinary girl. A wholly original tale of friendship and betrayal.

Sasha has a secret – that she can make you spill your secret with nothing more than a question. Her strange gift makes her a burden to her foster family and a total freak of nature. Not that Sasha cares. Why should she when no one cares about her?

Then the CIA knocks on her door. They want to give Sasha a new identity and drop her into a foreign country to infiltrate a ring of zealous graffiti terrorists. They want to give Sasha something to care about.

To survive a world where no one is who they seem, Sasha needs to make people trust her. But when that trust blossoms into love, Sasha is forced to decide between duty and friendship, between her mind and her heart, and whether to tell the truth or keep her secrets.

Why I picked it up:

Having read two books from Gray's Jane Austen Academy series, I was curious about this standalone foray into the paranormal. The story also sounded like something I hadn't read before, and that appealed to me.

What worked for me:

Sasha is the star of this entertaining tale, and rightfully so. Told from her perspective, we get an intimate view of what it's like to live a life of isolation, to pretend that all that matters is keeping your focus on the future, on your goals rather than on how you live your day-to-day life.

This story is heartbreakingly good. I was rooting for Sasha to get everything she wanted in the end. I know this is meant as a standalone, but I don't feel done with Sasha, even though I felt a sense of closure here. That's the mark of a good story, in my opinion. I could spend hours happily daydreaming about what happens *next* for this girl wonder.

Drawn has all the key elements of a YA novel - we've got potential romance, a potential bff or worst enemy, secret agendas, childhood traumas.... It all comes together, leveraging the superhero genre in a really fun and, I thought, unique way.

Sasha's interest in comic books and her identification with superheroes is a clever bit of awareness. I hate when characters don't see the obvious connections, and that Sasha embraces and relishes the similarities between herself and comic heroes made me very happy.

What didn't work for me:

There's one question left open at the end of the book, and while it's entirely appropriate for it to be left open, I wanted an obvious cue regarding it. I don't want to be specific because I'd have to spoil things, so... you know.... But I'd *love* to discuss this one in more depth, so if you've read it, hit me back in the comments, or drop me an email so we can talk!

Bottom line:

I strongly recommend this one. Gray's hit the perfect combination of teen angst, spy shenanigans and a little something more...paranormal?  Sasha's longing for a real connection makes this story so engaging and relatable regardless of how fantastic her adventure is.

5 stars
For fans of teen spy thrillers, superhero stories, comic books....

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme from The Broke and the Bookish in which they post a book-related top ten every - you guessed it! - Tuesday.

This week the theme is Top Ten New to Me Authors in 2013.

In no particular order:

1. Lauren Layne - I read and reviewed two books by Layne late this year and both were excellent. I'll be watching for more written by her in 2014.
2. A. W. Exley - I discovered Exley this weekend when I devoured her Nefertiti's Heart - a book I'll be reviewing on Thursday so stay tuned! (Spoiler alert: It was a book that could have been written just for me, I enjoyed it so very much!).  I'm looking forward to reading more in her Artifact Hunters series.
3. Lisa Burstein - Burstein's Sneaking Candy was another book that hit so many of my personal favourite elements that I cannot wait to read more from her!
4. Cassie Mae - Mae makes my list because her book Switched achieved what should have been impossible - making the main characters likable even though they schemed to break up their best friends so they could steal their significant others.
5. Michele Renae - Renae's Window was the first erotic novel in a while that I had read without an "alpha male as Dom" for the hero and I so, so enjoyed it. I've already got the follow-up, Screen, on my to read list for the start of next year!
6. Robyn Schneider - I didn't review The Beginning of Everything for this blog, but I really, really enjoyed it. I would normally have been irked by the ending because I didn't get everything I thought I wanted, but it was actually pretty profound just as it was.
7. Olivia Cunning - I haven't reviewed anything by Cunning on this blog yet, but I probably will as her erotic novels are numerous and will make excellent Monday fodder if I don't come up with something else to review instead. Though I don't love the extended nature of some of her series, I do find her novels always extremely sexy, kinky and full of variety (despite revolving around rock stars!)
8. Jillian Stone - I discovered Stone at the beginning of the year, speed reading two of the Phaeton Black books. I haven't returned to her since then only because I didn't realize until looking for a link to her website just now that she's as prolific as she is! I'm sure I'll binge read more of her books in 2014!
9. Kat Martin - I borrowed a ton of Martin's "Against The" series from my local library during the last months of my pregnancy in the spring. I loved them and I loved that I was able to binge read so many of them. I suspect I'll do the same with her historical romances when I hit a lull in 2014!
10. Thomas E. Sniegoski - I read the first in Sniegoski's Remy Chandler series because my library had a later book in the series in their 'new' section and I thought - "Hey, that looks kind of like the Dresden Files meets angels. I might like that!"  I was not wrong. I always love to add new authors of urban fantasy to my 'go to' list, and I was particularly pleased to add Sniegoski because I love what he does with angel mythology.

Which authors were you happy to discover this year?

The Happy Endings Book Club by Jane Tara

The Basics:
The Happy Endings Book Club by Jane Tara
Momentum Books
Romance
Published December 1, 2013
Amazon.ca Kobo.com

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:

This Christmas, the women of the Happy Endings Book Club are about to uncover a world of love and magic as they discover how to have their own happy ending … or beginning, as they're often the same thing.

Once a month, seven very different women come together to discuss books. They all love a happy ending, but have lost sight of how to get their own. Paige misses glimpsing the magic in the world. Sadie doesn't see the beauty inside people. Amanda wonders what she ever saw in her ex husband. Tilda literally can't see herself. Michi can't bear looking at her family, while Clementine is blind to what's right in front of her. And Eva looks for romance in all the wrong places.

But things are about to change ...

Meet the women of the Happy Endings Book Club as they celebrate Christmas, and themselves, in London, Paris, Vienna, New York, Sydney … and in love.

Why I picked up this book:

A book about a book club called the Happy Endings Book Club?  That's my club!  Or it should be. I need a happy ending!!

My thoughts:

This was a sweet, startling efficient book. It's basically a collection of stories featuring different women achieving their own happy ending. There's women in all different stages of life here, with very different romantic and family backgrounds.

What I found most incredible about this book was how quickly each story was communicated, but always in such a way that it tugged on my heart strings. I never felt the tale of romance was rushed, I was always satisfied by it.  I did shed a few tears during Eva's story, it was a direct emotional bullseye, which was pretty incredible given that it only occupied thirteen pages of the book. Excellent writing, smart story-telling. I was really entertained and impressed by how much was packed into each chapter.

There's a thread of the paranormal or magical weaving throughout the story. I did find it a little strange in that some of the stories feature a fantastical element and others don't. It was a bit jarring for me to move from a less fantastical tale to a more fantastical one. I think if there'd been a more even distribution across the book, it would have been less strange.

The other thing that kind of irked me was that though the book club connects everyone together, it was really only a reference point. I kind of wanted books with happy endings to feature more prominently. Still, this was definitely a book store that I could appreciate, and a book club I would *love* to participate in.

The Bottom Line:

Pick this one up. It's a sweet collection of generally happy, Christmas-time stories. It makes some interesting points about women, love, families and I think it's well worth a read.

4 stars
For fans of contemporary romance, the paranormal/fantastical, happy endings

Monday, December 16, 2013

This Man Trilogy by Jodi Ellen Malpas

The Basics:
This Man Trilogy by Jodi Ellen Malpas
Forever
Erotica
Published starting June 18, 2013 (amazon.ca date for Kindle edition)

I purchased these books.

Basic Plot (my own words):

Ava O'Shea is a young interior designer making it big. She's personally requested by the owner of The Manor - Jesse Ward - to take care of some decorating for him. Only she doesn't understand the purpose of The Manor, he's determined to have her, and there's a whole bunch of secrets floating around....

As the two come together, break apart and then come together again, Jesse must confess about his past and their present and Ava has to decide if this complicated, sexual man is worth all the trouble.

Why I picked it up:

These books seem to be all over the place if you're looking for erotica to read. I bought the first two on sale after reading some pretty good reviews, and hoped for the best.

My Thoughts:

*sigh*

So the first one wasn't great, but there were some pros.  This series features some reasonably hot sex scenes, which, of course, is important for erotica. There's some variety, some kink, and I think it was pretty satisfying on that front (certainly it was for the Ava and Jesse!)

There's some interesting plot ideas here - we've got a woman who works with Jesse who is determined to usurp Ava's position in his life, there's a rival titan of industry who wants revenge on Jesse, there's layers of secrets for Ava to unravel....  

My problem? Jesse. He's beyond controlling to manipulative, and it made me hugely uncomfortable. The labelling of their sexual encounters as "retribution", "sense" or "reminder" and so on really drove me up the wall. Sex became a weapon between them rather than something more profound or simply passion. I found it hard to see it as creating a connection between Ava and Jesse when it was always about teaching a lesson. Even if I viewed the lesson-teaching as play between them, it still made me uncomfortable because it was a game that was *always* on.  

Meanwhile, the driving plot point of the third book, for which Jesse is responsible, was also really frustrating. I felt like it was a real violation of Ava, and that it was really the cherry on top of how manipulative Jesse was.

Now, Ava's not really a prize. She was pretty immature and I think if she'd been more capable of making a decision and sticking to it AND of sticking up for herself - then these books might have been quite a bit different and perhaps more enjoyable. But because she waffles, and doesn't hold Jesse to any kind of reasonable behaviour....  

The Bottom Line:

This trilogy is really popular - I think if you're a fan of Fifty Shades, you might like it. Unfortunately, it just did not do it for me, and though I held out through the third book hoping for a climactic turn around.... Not so much.

I cannot recommend the series, but I acknowledge that your experience with them could be vastly different.

2 stars
For fans of Fifty Shades, erotica featuring control, manipulative men.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Blue Lines by Toni Aleo

The Basics:
Blue Lines by Toni Aleo
Random House Publishing Group - Loveswept
A Book in The Assassins Series
Romance
Published December 9, 2013

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:
Opposites do more than just attract in Toni Aleo’s latest Nashville Assassins novel about a very bad boy and the good girl he can’t resist.

The instant Piper Allen sees Erik Titov, she wants him—wants his rock-hard body, sure, but the strength and mystery that lie behind that superstar hockey jock demeanor, too. So when he sidles up to her at a bar and slinks his arm around her waist, she’s lost. What follows is the wildest night of her life . . . followed by inevitable heartbreak the next morning. And then, a few weeks later, a very big surprise: two blue lines on a pregnancy test.

Only a check to the head could make Erik fall for a nice girl like Piper. But since their crazy-sexy night together, he’s been trying to forget about her alluring body by falling into bed with every woman in Nashville, and it’s not working. So when Piper shows up at his house with a baby-bomb to drop, it doesn’t take much for Erik to suggest the nuclear option: marriage. While it’s supposed to be all for show, the second they say “I do,” the ice between them starts to melt into sizzling steam.

What worked for me:

The language, though foul, seemed pretty realistic to me, and Aleo didn't shy away from some of the realities of pregnancy and labour. 

I was intrigued by Piper's relationship with her family. While on the one hand, she seemed to help out all over the place, they still seemed to treat her like a screw-up because she hadn't settled on a career. I'd like to think that this attitude - that we have to settle into a single career - is a throwback at this point because in today's economy - who stays in the same industry for long?  That she had to cope with it, and with her family treating her in a really negative fashion, intrigued me. I was definitely on her side when she was pointing out that she was a functioning adult and didn't need anyone's permission or approval. 

What didn't work for me:

There was nothing redeeming about Erik. After the first hundred pages, I would have quit reading if I wasn't committed to reviewing the book. He was a jerk, through and through. His behaviour was completely unforgivable - not only was he a 'man-whore,' as pointed out to him in the book (and usually I can forgive this as in the past), but he was also completely self-involved to the point of mistreating Piper. Telling her that she owed him because she got pregnant? Really? REALLY???  He was so oblivious to her needs and so focused on not hurting her in the one way that he didn't want to hurt her that he cut her in million other ways.

He was also patronizing - every time Piper stood up to him, his internal monologue - and sometimes his responses to her! - were that she was so sassy and such a spitfire. It completely wrote off his bad behaviour, which irritated me. Yes, he had a terrible upbringing and I felt some sympathy for that, but not enough to forgive the way he treats Piper. His gut reaction to so much of what happens in the book is so off-putting. 

I didn't love Piper either, but Erik was the real downfall of the book for me. I couldn't get behind this romance because I couldn't understand why she was so love with him in the first place!

Bottom line:

I definitely did not get this book at all, so take this review with an extra grain of salt. There wasn't enough time spent with Erik when he was likable to override or redeem the many ways in which he was *not* likable.

Going to have to recommend you skip this one - but if you don't, please let me know what you thought, or what it was that I missed! Because I feel like I had to have missed *something*. 

1.5 stars
For die-hard fans of hockey-themed romance.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Love the One You're With by Lauren Layne

The Basics:
Love the One You're With by Lauren Layne
Random House Loveswept
Sex, Love & Stiletto
Romance
Published December 9, 2013
Amazon.ca Kobo.com

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:

Lauren Layne’s Sex, Love & Stiletto series simmers to a boil as two high-powered magazine writers find love amid a war of words.

As a leading columnist for Stiletto, Grace Brighton has built a career warning women about rotten, cheating liars. She just never suspected her fiancĂ© would be one of them. After Grace takes a heart-mending hiatus, her first assignment is to go on a couple of dates with a counterpart from the men’s magazine Oxford and report her impressions. Grace 1.0 may have been instantly smitten with the gorgeous correspondent, but Grace 2.0 has sworn off relationships for six months, and she’s not falling for his outstanding bod and trophy-winning kisses . . . or is she?

Jake Malone wants to get back to the fly-by-night, who-knows-what’s-next guy he used to be, and he knows exactly how to do it. Oxford is adding a travel section, and Jake—with no wife and no kids and a willingness to live anywhere, eat anything, do everything—is perfect for the job . . . except that his playboy reputation makes his new editor nervous. To get the gig, he must agree to a fluffy joint article with Stiletto. But after just one date with snooty, sumptuous, sensational Grace Brighton, Jake starts taking this assignment a whole lot more seriously.

What worked for me:

This book has a double-dose of flirtatiousness. The repartee between Grace and Jake is quick and clever. I love good wordplay and intelligent, sharp dialogue. I find chemistry between characters really pops when they've got good banter, and these two have it in spades!

Layne leverages social media to amp up the tension between her endearing romantic leads - not only are all their moves being analysed by each other, the world is watching. And the complication of trying to decide what's part of the game and what's real and whether there's a line between those two any more.... It's all so delicious, I loved it! 

I also really enjoyed the back and forth as they each tested the waters for something more, and then pulled back, remembering their own, independent goals. The give-and-take here was excellent.     

What didn't work for me:

The book started a little shaky for me as I was worried Jake's slightly superior attitude was going to rub me the wrong way - it was a little alpha, a lot manipulative. BUT, he quickly won me over by being willing to admit his errors and by being a good sport about Grace's revenge.

I also have to admit that I was already over the Grace 1.0 / Grace 2.0 device after the cover copy. I have no problem with conflicted self-dialogue, nor with a character torn between their old habits and the new ones they're trying to deliberately adopt, BUT.... But. This really made me think of the inner goddess thing in Fifty Shades of Gray (which I admittedly have only skim-read), and that was cringeworthy.

Bottom line:

The second title I've read written by Lauren Layne, and I'm becoming a, dare I say it? - a fan. This book was a witty, flirtatious, fun read that I recommend you check out.

There's obvious leads to the next books in the series, and I'll be watching for them!

4.5 stars
For fans of contemporary romance, witty banter.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Devil's Flower by Lisa Collicutt

The Basics:
The Devil's Flower by Lisa Collicutt
Curiosity Quills
Book One of The Eternal Beings
Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
Amazon.ca kobo.com

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:

Killing isn’t exactly on Rosalie Lockwood’s list of things to do when she runs away from home. But, despite the search for peace, guns and motorcycles become her latest fashion accessories as Divine interference leads her to Steele, co-leader of the Fallen Paladins motorcycle club. 

Leathered and tattooed, Steele’s presence scares off most people he comes in contact with—but not Rosalie. She’s immediately drawn into the dangers of his biker world—and into his heart. 

But Steele guards a secret that if Rosalie knew, could shatter their new love—and destroy the human race. And the truth comes at a price. 

Will Rosalie risk her soul to prove her loyalty to Steele? 

The Dark and Light Realms collide as Rosalie chooses between life, death, and the ever-after to become that which she is fated to destroy.

Why I picked up this book:

I liked the idea of an innocent getting wrapped up in 'the dangers of his biker world.' I was also intrigued by the angel wings alongside the gun on the cover.

My thoughts:

This story revolves around the existence of angels and demons on Earth, locked in battle. Rosalie's looking for a fresh start and inadvertently gets sucked into Steele's orbit, as it were. 

There are some definite highlights to this book - I loved the use of demons and angels. I liked that there's a strong personal component underpinning the conflict between them (that I won't spoil!). I liked that the book stuck with the darker side of grey. The biker gang at the center of the story participates in various illegal and immoral activities, operating in a violent, drug-infested space, and there's not really any attempt to gloss over this. It's happening, Steele and his friends participate in it, it is what it is. 

What didn't work so well for me was how the book started. There's some business about a bear that drives the heroine towards the hero that I thought was kind of silly, to be honest.  There's also some pacing issues - a lot of the action is back and forth between the five main characters. Rosalie spends a lot of time hiding out in Steele's cabin, occasionally going forth for some event only to return to hiding in the cabin. She doesn't have a real confidante nor any real aim in life beyond starting fresh. This made it hard for me to really get into the book. Rosalie's kind of stuck on Steele but without any real motivating factors beyond time and place (okay: he's really hot). HOWEVER, by the time she starts involving herself in the gang's business, getting closer to Steele and uncovering some of his secrets, the book picks up the pace. I was hooked by about halfway.

The second half of the book exceeded my expectations. There was at least two places where I thought the story could end - and was quite pleased that it didn't. The extra action is so much more satisfying than any of those earlier potential stopping points would have been. I was so pleased by the entirety of the story told - kudos to Collicutt for not cutting the story short.

Bottom line:

If you commit to it, and make it through the slow start, I think you'll find this one is worth a read. I'm optimistic that more in the series will benefit from the foundation that this book sets!

3.5 stars
For fans of angels and demons, paranormal romance, biker gangs

Dr No Commitment by Virginia Taylor

The Basics:
Dr No Commitment by Virginia Taylor
Random House Australia eBooks Adult
Romance, Women's Fiction
Published December 2, 2013
Amazon.ca  Kobo.com

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:

A mischievous romantic comedy, about a man who’s always run from love and the girl who just might catch him.Ally was warned about Rohan Sinclair when she first moved to town – and she is determined she won’t let this gorgeous, model-dating doctor distract her from being the best nurse she can be. Problem is, this bad boy just happens to live in the room next door . . .It’s hard enough to resist his persistent charm at home; almost impossible when they are thrown together at work . . . But a little innocent flirting never hurt anyone, right?Wrong. Ally knows it’s a terrible idea to fall for a man who will never commit, but what if in every other way he’s her perfect guy?

What worked for me:

There's some sweetness in this tale of a young nurse trying to avoid embarking on a relationship with her new housemate. He's presented to her as being both commitment-phobic and apparently in a relationship.... Regardless of that confusing bit, I did like the slow dance that Ally and Rohan did. 

I also kind of liked that I didn't have a good read on Angus through most of the book. As the meddling housemate/cousin of Rohan, he was sort of all over the place for me, until near the end when I realized what his deal was.

There's plenty of foreplay in this book, because of the slow, teasing escalation of the relationship, and I liked that. A genuined, good-natured, long tease is often missing in these books, and while it wasn't deliberately that, the pacing of the relationship worked out that way (for me, at least).

What didn't work for me:

There wasn't a lot of hearty plot here beyond the romance, and there wasn't a whole lot standing in the way of the romance either, other than the need to open up the lines of communication.  

Ally seemed pretty naive about things - I'm not sure how she managed to avoid knowing who Rohan was, but she was so blinders on about it and the comments dropped by people around her, not to mention the clues around the house (and pool). It seemed to me that she should have picked up on things a bit more quickly.

Bottom line:

A non-memorable medical romance, I enjoyed reading it, but it didn't stick with me. I didn't dislike it, but there's nothing to rave about here either. A light read for a rainy afternoon, perhaps? 

3.5 stars
For fans of medical romances, light reads.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sneaking Candy by Lisa Burstein

The Basics:
Sneaking Candy by Lisa Burstein

Entangled: Embrace
New Adult, Romance
Published December 9, 2013
Amazon.ca Kobo.com

I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:
All I ever wanted was to make a name for myself as Candice Salinas, creative writing grad student at the University of Miami. Of course, secretly I already have made a name for myself: as Candy Sloane, self-published erotic romance writer. Though thrilled that my books are selling and I have actual fans, if anyone at UM found out, I could lose my scholarship…and the respect of my faculty advisor, grade-A-asshole Professor Dylan.
Enter James Walker, super-hot local barista and—surprise!—my student. Even though I know a relationship is totally off-limits, I can’t stop myself from sneaking around with James, taking a few cues from my own erotic writing…if you catch my drift. Candy’s showing her stripes for the first time in my real life, and I’ve never had so much fun. But when the sugar high fades, can my secrets stay under wraps?

Why I picked it up:

Liked the cover - it's a little bit rock and roll, and I loved the description - creative writing graduate student who secretly writes erotica? Yes please.

My thoughts:

A completely enjoyable read, Sneaking Candy wasn't sugary sweet - there was some heat in this book! Kind of like cinnamon hearts - if I loved cinnamon hearts. (Which I don't because I think they taste really gross).

I love the tension between academia/'literary' publishing and self-publishing. It's a lamentable reality. Why should there be such a divide when most of us have read books of both variety that have touched us deeply, that have made us laugh, cry, emote! I think a well-written self-published piece can be every bit as evocative and touching as a well-written 'literary' piece. Candace's fear throughout the book about whether or not her secret identity will be revealed is spot on - I was worried right along with her.

I'm a sucker for a romance novel featuring books and even better, a writer - hero, heroine, doesn't matter to me. Bring writing and books into the story, and I'll admit I'm halfway to loving it already. How can I not be when these are two of my favourite things? I loved the way Burstein handled the idea of acceptance and approval, woven around the issue of writing. Family & friends, fans, critics - all play into the writing experience and can cause extreme highs and lows. Burstein's got a great handle on this and I enjoyed reading about Candace navigating the minefield that was not only her own position as a writer but also her faculty advisor's and her boyfriend's.

And can we talk for a minute about James?  Swoon. Smart, sexy, forgiving. I will definitely re-read this book to spend more time with him. Candace's confession that she's fantasized about being his white t-shirt, just to lay flat against his muscular torso, amused me - but also made me consider it, for just a moment.

The only disappointment I had when reading Sneaking Candy was that I went into reading it thinking it was erotica. Because I really wanted to read more sexy times with Candace and James. However, that was my own fault, not a problem with the book. It delivered as a New Adult romance, and I had no disappointment in the book.

Bottom line:

Buy this one. It's an entertaining look at life as a creative writing graduate student in the modern age - one in which self-publishing online is becoming a very attractive (and legitimate!) option. You'll be cheering for Candace to get everything she wants (and deserves). You'll swoon for James! You'll add a post-it note reminder to the corner of your monitor to check out other things Lisa Burstein has written! (Well, I did!)

5 stars
For fans of books about books/writing, New adult romance, good books!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Santa Wore Leathers by Vonnie Davis

The Basics:
Santa Wore Leathers by Vonnie Davis
HarperImpulse
Romance
Published November 28, 2013

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:

Take one man-shy reporter, a gorgeous ex-Navy SEAL turned firefighter, add in a thong-stealing dog… and Christmas will never be the same again!
There’s only one thing on Becca Sinclair’s Christmas list this holiday season – her very own column in the local paper. And if she can build a huge blog following, her wish just might come true.

Enter Dan ‘Wolf’ Wolford aka the man-whore next door and the new star of Becca’s popular, post-divorce blog about men. A Navy SEAL turned commander of the Florida Marine Rescue Unit, Wolf’s the very definition of the word alpha – and with an endless rotation of women on his doorstep, this hunk on a Harley has Becca and her female followers all hot and bothered!

All Becca wants for Christmas is her newspaper column, right? But when she finds herself the target of Wolf’s irresistible attentions, her snarky comebacks become less and less convincing and, suddenly, she’s not so sure anymore…

Why I picked up this book:

I was looking for some light sexy fun, and this sounded like it had some potential!

My thoughts:

First things first, I have a love-hate relationship with this cover.  I love the gorgeous guy with a dog and Santa hat. I love the color scheme. I hate that the line at the top of the book cuts through the guy's chin. I have to stare at it every time, as though it's a seriously demented cleft chin.

This novella-length book was really inconsistent, I thought, in terms of how Becca and Wolf treat/talk to each other at any given moment. One second they're arguing, the next discussing their families, then back to arguing again.

I also found the hot button issue of Becca being a reporter, and Wolf's reaction to that. really offputting. It was so blindly angry and because it came *after* he'd already started trying to get to know her.... I really thought he should have been smarter than to lump all reporters together without any kind of action on Becca's part to support his concerns.

I did like the ways in which Becca's first impressions of Wolf were turned upside down. And I liked that Wolf pursued her - nothing hotter than someone who knows what they want and is willing to put themself out there to get it.

I think that the motorcycle side could have been leveraged a bit better - perhaps only in a longer story though. I almost would have preferred to have the book start with the parade and Santa wearing leathers and move forward from that very sexy moment.

Bottom line:

An average romance novella with a holiday theme, some cute neighbour moments and a lot of odd arguing-not-arguing moments. Very hot and cold, I wanted to like this but it found the back and forth too jarring to enjoy.

2.5 stars
For fans of Christmas-themed romances, neighbour romances.