Monthly Archive: June 2013

Come Alive (The CItyscape Series) (Volume 2)

Come Undone (The Cityscape Series) (Volume 2)
by Jessica Hawkins
Published by Kinshaw Press
270 pages
Genre: erotica, romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

Olivia Germaine thought she made the right decision. She abandoned David Dylan – hot, gorgeous, sexually satisfying, mesmerizing, successful, wealthy, and HOT (it bears repeating, trust me) David Dylan – for her reliable, staid, and even keeled husband Bill.

But Olivia, darling. Surely you realize you can’t do that, right?

We first met Olivia, David, and Bill in Come Undone, the first of what appears to be (yet another) trilogy. Olivia and David’s coupling was feral and passionate, and she quickly realized she cannot bear to be apart from him. But Olivia has Issues, largely relating to her parents, and she could not forsake her marriage vows. So she left David and tried to make the most of her passionless marriage.

Not so fast. And thank goodness for that.

In Part 2, Olivia and David continue their push and pull. They want each other, but Olivia cannot bear the thought of breaking her commitment to Bill. What can she do? What will she do? Believe me, you will find out, because she walks you through every step of her thought process. Sometimes to a fault. Sometimes repetitively. Sometimes maddeningly. The good thing is, though, when she and David are together, BAM. They are together.

For those of us who wonder what on earth David sees in Olivia, you do get an answer. She asks him for us, bless her. It seems that she’s as baffled as we are. It isn’t that Olivia fails in some way; she’s actually pretty interesting. She has flaws, she admits to David that she struggles with the “blackness” in her soul, and her conflicts over her marriage are somewhat admirable.

Poor Bill, though. He seems like a decent chap, although you know that at some point he will need to be demonized to a certain degree. If he stays decent and loving, Olivia will look like a monster for dumping him. If we want her with David, we need to justify her choice. To do that, Bill needs to be less than honorable. Fortunately, his negatives are revealed in a believable way.

Because it’s Part 2, you know there will be a Part 3. That’s just the way these things go, apparently. I wish I could say to Jessica Hawkins, though, that she can stop now and everything will be fine. The ending works, and it works well. We don’t need a whole lot of closure. We have enough. Don’t give in to publisher demands for a third one, Jessica. Trilogies are predictable and almost nonsensical. In fact, combine your two parts into one. You have a good, entertaining, and super hot book here.

Then again, if we don’t have the third one, we must say goodbye to David and his amazing lovemaking skills.

So forget what I said. Give us that third book.

All the Summer Girls

All the Summer Girls
by Meg Donohue
Published by William Morrow
288 pages
Genre: chick lit; women’s fiction
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3.5 / 5

Threesomes can be awkward.

There are risks involved. Someone may feel left out, two may gang up on one, the balance is off. When they work, they work gloriously. But when they don’t, well, that’s where we get interesting ideas for books.

Kate, Vanessa, and Dani have been friends since high school, and although the three have gone their separate ways, the chord between them still pulls tightly. Their closeness may not be what it once was, but they are the sort of friends who, even after months or years apart, can reunite and slip back into “normalcy.” Or what accounts for normalcy for the three of them.

They last were together at Vanessa’s wedding to the son of a famous newscaster. Vanessa and Dani got into a vicious argument, the particulars of which we do not learn about till later. The same goes for secrets the three women hold regarding a tragedy that befell them the last summer they spent together at the Jersey Shore: the death of Kate’s twin brother, Colin. Life for none of them has been the same since.

When Kate’s fiancĂ© dumps her three months prior to their wedding, she calls upon Dani and Vanessa to join her at the Shore. Secrets will be revealed, relationships tested, and friendships elasticized to embrace the changes that the three have undergone since Colin’s death. Can they find their way back to each other, back to their closeness? Each needs the other desperately, as each woman faces upheavals in her life.

The story lines are interesting, if not a little predictable. Happily married Vanessa may not be so happy after all, Kate needs to feel attractive to men, and Dani needs to find herself. We’ve seen this before. But Donohue puts a fresh spin on the tales by unfolding her stories in a way that keeps us engaged and reading. The mystery of Colin’s death directs the book, and we becomes as invested in finding out what happened as the friends do. Each thinks she knows the full story, but none do.

When you have three “heroines,” the worry is that one will get short shrift. Again, the problem of threesomes. That is here to some degree. Kate is the most fully realized in that we see her not just through her own eyes but through Dani’s and Vanessa’s as well. She’s a neat freak with OCD tendencies, a bad driver, the daughter of two loving parents, a twin without a twin. When we see her through her friend’s perspectives, we feel we know her. We can’t say the same for Dani and Vanessa, who appear more cookie cutter than Kate, more predictable. What we learn about them from their friends is what we expect to learn. Unfortunately, there are no surprises.

There is a little romance here, but the real romance isn’t between the women and any men. It’s between the friends themselves. They care about each other, and although they betray one another in various ways, their love and loyalty binds them as strongly as any romance or marriage would.

It’s a good summer read. Enjoy.

The Silent Wife

The Silent Wife
by A. S. A. Harrison
Published by Penguin Books
323 pages
Genre: literature
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
5 / 5

I read once, perhaps in a college psychology class, that marriages go through seven-year cycles. Hence the seven year itch. Supposedly, every seven years, couples face their biggest struggles. It has something to do with boredom and complacency.

Jodi and Todd have been together for twenty years, and like most couples with long marriages, they have a reasonable idea of what to expect from each other. Todd knows that Jodi will keep a nice home for him, make sure his laundry is done, and prepare him delicious meals. Jodi knows Todd will cheat on her, but always return to her.

If only it were that simple, kids.

As they approach a multiple of seven, their relationship hits its roughest patch. Jodi accepts Todd’s dalliances and even justifies them somewhat. So long as he does not embarrass her or their marriage, he can cheat. Todd tacitly agrees and tends to abide by this. Sure, there have been slip ups, but for the most part, he’s behaved accordingly. But he has a new girlfriend. Young, a bit more demanding of his time, and far more willing to give him something Jodi refuses to do. The price of that gift, though, is the bulls eye on the dartboard of his marriage.

The problem for Todd is that Jodi doesn’t want to give in or give up. She likes what she has.

This book has been compared to Gone Girl in its exploration of a marriage that has disintegrated into bitterness on both sides. It’s an unfair comparison, I think, because The Silent Wife is not similar to its genre companion. Yes, it’s told from both points-of-view, and, yes, Jodi’s willingness to play for keeps is quite … um … intense. She means to keep Todd at all costs. This differs greatly from Gone Girl, in which the happy couple will resort to any measures necessary to stay apart.

A. S. A. Harrison crafts a delicious tale, Her ability to switch from Todd’s to Jodi’s perspective is one thing, but the way she capably shifts in tone and mood between the two is impressive. Both characters are fully developed and not at all predictable. Todd, for all of his apparent mold-ability, surprises us more than once. Despite the philandering, he seems to be more of a victim than Jodi, who clearly holds the greater power in their relationship. Again, Todd deceptively appears to do so, but it’s all Jodi.

That Todd cedes power over his life to the women in it also surprises us. He doesn’t appear to mind in the least; in fact, on the few occasions he could determine his own fate, someone else jumps in and does it for him before he even realizes what’s happened. That’s perhaps what bothers Jodi more than Todd’s cheating: she no longer controls him. Yes, he cheats, but he did so within parameters that Jodi established. When he breaks from their arrangement, Jodi is outraged. The cheating she can live with; his abandonment of their carefully choreographed dance she cannot.

There are a few holes here and there, and the ending feels a bit too tidy. (That was the “BOOYAH!” card with Gone Girl – the ending. Oh, that ending.) But this is a terrific story, told in a way that will keep you turning pages in shock, anger, curiosity, and concern.

The Rules of You and Me

The Rules of You and Me
by Shana Norris
Published by Amazon Creative Services
Genre: young adult
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

I am a sucker for Young Adult lit. I believe it gets short shrift from most readers, who consider themselves above it (for some reason) or that it is inferior to “literature.” Well, you go ahead and read Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series and get back to me on your misconceptions, okay?

In The Rules of You and Me, we get to know Hannah Cohen, a seventeen-year-old whose life has been sunk to near lifelessness by the floods beset on her by her parents. Her father, a banker, is struggling to right his ship (if I may continue with the metaphor) after his coping skills turn out to be less than successful. As awful as his current predicament may be, he looks like Parent of the Year next to Mother Cohen, whose attempts to drown her troubles does nothing but forestall the inevitable. When she heads off to Paris rather than support her husband – or her only child – Hannah is forced to spend the summer with Aunt Lydia, whom Hannah used to love and revere. Aunt Lydia decamped from eastern North Carolina to Asheville, right when Hannah needed her most, and Hannah has some forgiving to do.

Of course a boy is involved. Jude Westmore. And, yes, someone does say, “Hey” to Jude. (Those of you too young to understand why this is humorous need to listen to this. And you also need to seriously revisit your lack of music history knowledge.) Jude has his own abandonment issues: his father left the family, his brother died while in the military, and his mother, much like Hannah’s, chooses to self-medicate her way through her grief. Jude’s way of surviving is to hang one of his brother’s shirts on the tree in front of his home, as well as retreat away from his friends.

Like two fractured magnets, Jude and Hannah find each other. The two become close, quite emotionally close. But Jude doesn’t fit with Hannah’s rules, the strictures set forth by her parents. There are thirty of them, and their control over her life provides her with structure in which she can function. But they also control her to such a degree that she has no idea who she is.

A teenager’s relationship with control is faced realistically here. Teens like rules – they really do – but yet they want them on their terms. Rules are comforting to some degree, even as teens chafe against them as they strive to exert their individuality. Hannah holds her parents’ rules like a security blanket, although when she begins to look at how the rules served Mom and Dad, she begins to realize that she is her own person.

This is not a great book, but it’s entertaining and interesting. It’s hard not to like Hannah, whose flaws are on full display. She means well, and her earnestness is kind of sweet. She becomes focused on “fixing” Jude, perhaps because she thinks that if she can fix him, she can fix herself. It’s always easier to obsess over someone else’s problems than your own, and Hannah is no different.

There are some plot holes (Jude is accused of doing something, but we never know the full story), and the ending is very neat and tidy. Too neat and tidy, which is a disappointment after such a realistic approach. You hope things can turn out like that, especially for Hannah, who needs a happy ending, yet you know better.

Teens will enjoy this one, and those of us who kicked out teen years to the curb quite a while ago will too.

The Abomination: Book One in the Carnivia Trilogy

The Abomination: Book One in the Carnivia Trilogy
by Jonathan Holt
Published by Harper
448 pages
Genre: fiction; mystery
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
5 / 5

Jonathan Holt, where have you been all my life? And when are you going to write another book?

First, I suppose, we should discuss your debut novel. I really enjoyed it, every intricate, detailed page. I love the characters you created, although I will tell you that I have some – shall I say – questions pertaining to Aldo Piola. I’m sure you understand what they are.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

I like the setting you chose. Venice. So rich with possibility, so ripe for crime, secrecy, and passion, right? You don’t just have Venice around, you use Venice. She is as much a character as Kat, Holly, or Daniele. Or Aldo … You also educate us a little about the city. I found it interesting that you so rarely allude to gondolas or the canals; instead, you focus on the water as a source – or conduit – of death and crime. The canals that are so breathlessly romanticized in film and literature are here stripped of that sheen and examined with a dispassionate eye.

Your story is gripping, fast-paced, entertaining, and even educational. I like how it starts off with a fisherman fearing for his life, then moves into a murder investigation of a woman dressed as a priest, and then morphs into an investigation into a prostitution ring filtering from Croatia into Italy. Against these big issues, though, you have small, personal stories. Kat and Aldo’s pursuit of truth in the face of corruption. Holly’s fears of being branded a whistle blower combating with her inability to ignore crimes potentially committed by her own country. And Daniele. I liked him so much. His website, Carnivia, is a fascinating creation, especially given his background of having been kidnapped as a young child and his need to solve puzzles. I like how Carnivia, with its absolute secrecy, is the piece that brings Kat, Holly, and Daniele together. There is a murder to be solved, yes, but there are other puzzles to be solved. What role does the Mafia play? What about the American government?

In fact, I’m glad this is the first of a series, because I’m not ready to say good-bye to Daniele. I like how Holly saw through him and accurately pinpointed his motivation for creating Carnivia. It’s little personal details like that that make this such a superb novel. Or Kat’s reaction to seeing what anonymous people say about her online. I like how she questions it based not on a “this is how it’s done in Italy” position but rather “this is how it shouldn’t be done to women.” I like how she and Holly stood up for themselves, each in her own way.

For a novel packed with so many characters and so much detail and action, you might assume it would feel unwieldy. It should be difficult to know the characters as well as we do. But neither is the case. The story is far more straightforward than it appears, largely because you stick to the principal that we cannot stop future crimes until we account for those from the past. You do an excellent job of presenting fully realized characters. The only stereotype or flat character is Avvocato Morcello, right down to his greasy hair.

I hope people read this book, I truly do. It’s an excellent mystery, fast-paced and loaded with action and characters we enjoy.

Now, about the next installment in the trilogy. When can we expect that?

Lingerie Wars

Lingerie Wars
by Janet Elizabeth Henderson
Amazon Digital Services
Genre: romance; chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

It’s cute. Predictable, but cute.

Former model Kristy Campbell has not had an easy time of it. She was in a horrific auto accident that left her scarred and without a fiancé, so she returned home to Invertary, Scotland, to start over. She opens a lingerie shop and attempts to begin again.

But then Army vet Lake Benson shows up. His wacky sister bought a competing – and financially disastrous – lingerie store, and Lake has had to come help her with the business. He and Kristy are immediately attracted to each other, but they’re at war, at least in terms of lingerie sales. It doesn’t help that Lake is an Englishman. All good Scots know the English are rubbish, even if they do have a certain James Bond panache to them.

This is a book that is all in good fun, and there is considerable fun to be had. Kristy and Lake like each other, and even their battles are shaded with humor and affection. Kristy has to overcome trust issues and diminished self-worth, and Lake has to decide whether he’s ready to settle down. Together, they have to figure out how to build lingerie businesses in Invertary.

There is a small mystery, easily solved by astute readers, but the focus here is on fun and romance. The sex scenes are reasonably hot, if not wildly detailed. Lake and Kristy are so darn likable, as are their fellow townspeople, that you will not read this without a smile on your face.

Good, fun summer fare.

Bedding the Wrong Brother

Bedding the Wrong Brother
by Virna DePaul
Published by Create Space
210 pages
Genre: erotica, romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
2 / 5

Well, as premises go for books, I suppose there are worse out there. That isn’t quite a glowing endorsement, I know. But seriously? A woman wants to learn how to improve her sexual performance so she asks her friend – the identical twin brother of the man she really loves – to teach her?

Seriously.

Melina has always loved Rhys, not Rhys’s twin Max. But after the latest in a string of lovers condemns her lovemaking skills, she asks Max for help. He agrees, but then he implements the old switcheroo. Hence, the wrong brother.

Now that I think about it, the title is the cleverest part of this experience. Is Rhys the wrong brother because Melina intends it to be Max, or is Max the wrong brother because she loves Rhys?

A point to ponder, no doubt.

Okay, back to the book.

Not that I want to return to it.

The sex scenes are hot. There you go. They have just the right amount of detail, just the right amount of action, to be solidly written. Then again, Rhys has had a lot of practice. Granted, it’s been loveless practice born of need more than connection. But he knows what he’s doing.

As for Rhys and Melina, well, you need to read it to find out what happens between them. Suffice it to say that theirs is not an easy path, and both of them face trust and commitment issues.

Read it for the sex. That’s why it was written, after all.

The Unexpected Wedding Guest

The Unexpected Wedding Guest
by Aimee Carson
Published by Harlequin Kiss
224 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5

Poor Reese. She got married at nineteen, and that lasted a year. Now, ten years later, she’s due to marry the staid, respectful, responsible Dylan. There she is, trying on her big pouffy wedding gown, and who should walk in, but that ex-husband of hers.

Mason is freshly returned from his third stint in Afghanistan with the Marines, but his difficulty sleeping and adjusting led a therapist to suggest he make peace with Reese. Mason also has other, um, performance issues (wink wink), and those concern him as well.

Sure. You know what’s going to happen, and you are correct. First Dylan postpones the wedding, and then Mason decides to stick around to “help” Reese. And by “help,” I think we all know he particularly intends to rock his naughty bits and hers against the headboard.

We are told – time and again – that under Mason’s tutelage, Reese unleashed her inner vixen. Mason recalls how dirty she would get, how insatiable. Never in detail, though, and that’s unfortunate. We get detail on Reese’s wedding dress and some frozen ice sculptures, but aside from a couple faints mention of their past, we don’t know a whole lot. We know what caused their marriage to end, and that undoubtedly is important, but aside from their sexual connection, what did these two have together?

Now, sexually, they are quite copacetic. Mason’s manly appendage may not have been responsive prior to him showing up for Reese’s wedding, but it sure is now. And it doesn’t take long for Reese to crave the sexual intensity she shared with him. But again I ask: what else is there between them?

The sex scenes are hot, and the book is a quick, fun read. If it ends a little too neatly and easily, I wonder if I expected too much from it. The point here is to show a romance, dabble in some sexy times, and end on a happy note. This book accomplishes those three directives.

Island Girls

Island Girls
by Nancy Thayer
Published by Ballantine
320 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3 / 5

Rory Randall was quite the ladies’ man when he was alive. He wound up with three wives and three daughters, one from each marriage. When he died, the three daughters discover that his will has one important stipulation: if you want your inheritance, you will spend the summer together in his Cape Cod home.

If this sounds similar to The Summer Girls, that’s because they share a similar premise. But that’s where the likenesses end.

Arden, the eldest daughter, is a New York based hostess of a television show about simplifying your life. Oh, the irony. She is unattached, and not too bothered by it. What does rankle is a young woman hired to co-host the show with her. Paging All About Eve! She gamely heads to the Cape, certain that she will secure future segments for the show and thus prove her worth.

A community college professor, Meg looks forward to spending the summer on the island, believing that the relative isolation will help her complete a manuscript on the life of May Alcott, Louisa’s younger sister. She’s also hoping for some clarity regarding a potential romance with a fellow faculty member.

The baby of the family, Jenny, has lived in the home that her sisters come to visit. She never truly felt a part of them, even though she and Meg are the same age. Rory left Meg’s mother for Jenny’s and adopted Jenny, making her not biologically his. It did not affect his feelings for her, though; it’s clear that Rory loved Jenny as much as he loved his other two daughters.

Arden and Meg are returning to the Cape after the summer they refer to as The Exile, during which they were banished from the summer home thanks to a transgression Arden is accused of committing. Both women harbor some resentment, against Jenny and each other. The three sisters require considerable healing in order to broach a rapprochement.

The premise here is very solid. Three women, three different mothers – all of whom are very much alive – coming to terms with a father two of them did not know all that well and who had no role in the life of the third until she was nearly ten. There is quite a bit of accumulated animosity between the three, and each has a lot of work to do on herself.

At various times, none of them are all that fabulous. Arden is bitchy, Meg judgmental, and Jenny defensive. And then sometimes they switch, with Meg defensive, Arden judgmental, and Jenny bitchy. Like I said – there is a lot of work to be done.

While the sisters are interesting and intriguing, we also get in the heads of Jenny’s mother, and that’s where the story becomes muddled. You wonder why only Jenny’s mother and not the other two, yet you also wonder why we need Jenny’s mother at all. Another issue is that introducing this fourth point of view reveals the central weakness of the book: we don’t really get to know Rory or his wives. We see all of them through the sisters’ eyes, and perhaps that’s the point. No one’s recollection is entirely reliable, which ought to tell the sisters that they should not necessarily trust their own version of events. But you are left wondering about those four people, and you sense that knowing them better would enhance your understanding of the sisters.

The plot resolutions come too easily, especially given the complexities at play. You feel a bit cheated, especially since this is not a very lengthy book. It would have been better served by more background on the mothers and Rory and certainly by tougher struggles for the sisters to work things out.

Still, though, it’s entertaining. Perhaps its lightness is a good thing, actually. Its lack of depth makes it a fine summer beach read.

Time Flies

Time Flies
by Claire Cook
Published by Touchstone
320 pages
Genre: women’s lit; chick lit
Thanks to edelweiss and NetGalley for the previews
5 / 5

I am a big fan of Claire Cook, having enjoyed Wallflower in Bloom tremendously. I was excited to get my hands on Time Flies and discovered that I had been looking forward to another book from her more than I realized.

I was not disappointed in the least.

High school reunions are similar to dentist appointments in that we know we need to go get checked out, but we dread the process entailed. Afterwards, though, we’re glad we were cleansed.

So it is for Melanie, who moved away from her small Massachusetts town years earlier. She and husband Kurt headed south to Atlanta, where they raised two sons. Now Kurt has left her for another woman and the sons are grown, leading their own lives. But when the invitation to her reunion shows up, Melanie is determined not to attend.

Her BFF B.J., though, has other plans. She cajoles, begs, bribes, and attempts to blackmail Melanie into going. For all of B.J.’s force of nature personality, however, it’s the prospect of meeting up with a former flame that truly nudges Melanie to show up.

Kurt’s betrayal aside, Melanie has other issues she needs to face. She has a crippling phobia of highways and will drive as far out of her way as necessary to avoid them. This becomes the symbol for Melanie’s literal and metaphorical journey: she needs to overcome her fears, whether of highways or of being alone or rejection.

Be prepared to laugh out loud. B.J. is the friend we all want to have. She is relentlessly on your side, but she isn’t afraid of calling you on your crap, either. She and Melanie adorn their conversations with cultural references to everything from Romy and Michelle to Thelma and Louise. We are never told just which reunion this is, but given the song titles, shows, and movies, it appears to be around 35 years, putting the two women in their fifties, an age where we know better but that still doesn’t stop us.

The two women meet up with high school friends, discovering just how starkly out of touch they are with each other. Yet Claire Cook also wants us to know that those childhood, teenage bonds are some of the strongest of our lives, because for all of the distance between them, the friends rediscover and reclaim their connections. Melanie also has to reconnect with her sister, from whom she has been estranged throughout adulthood.

Melanie’s fears are realistic and relatable. The older we get, the more conscious we are of mortality, of time running out. We become a little more fearful. Does that twinge signify something serious, or is it minor? We worry about our children, our spouses, our parents. We worry. We have fears. For Melanie, those fears are exacerbated by Kurt’s departure. Now she has added fears: will she be alone? Will she be able to support herself? Will she be a burden?

The reunion proves to be cathartic in ways Melanie (and B.J.) could not have expected, nor in ways we expect. We grow to care about those two women, and that’s thanks to Claire Cook’s ability to write a story and create dynamic characters.

I can’t wait to read her next novel.