Monthly Archive: December 2013

Prada & Prejudice

prada & prejudicePrada & Prejudice
by Katie Oliver
Published by Carina Press
Genre: chick lit, romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
2 / 5






I’m all for happy endings. Really. I love them. I am a hopeless romantic who believes that fairy tales come true.

Make of that what you will.

But when a happy ending seems so utterly and transparently manufactured, when it comes so easily that it wrecks the story, I lose that love.

Such is the case with this book.

Well, one of the cases. The other one is that Prada & Prejudice can’t quite decide what book it is. Cheesy romance novel? Homage to Jane Austen? Rip off of Bridget Jones? Money grab?

The plot, such as it is, is simple: Natalie Dashwood (see: Sense & Sensibility), a rich, spoiled heiress (see: Emma) to a department store scion, is faced with the unfortunate fact that her family’s store is leaking money like a BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Her grandfather brings in the cold, supercilious, enigmatic Rhys Gordon (see: Pride & Prejudice) to fix things. One of the things that must be fixed is Natalie herself; her spending habits are ridiculously silly and need rehabilitating.

Quicker than you can say “Netherfield Ball,” the two develop an interest in each other that extends beyond spreadsheets. We can see why she’s attracted to him, but Natalie is drawn as so flighty and self-involved that we cannot figure out why he’s attracted to her. He sort of explains it in one scene – she’s some kind of light blah blah blah – but it truly makes no sense.

In addition to their stories, there are a couple of subplots, one involving Rhys’ father. That one signs out with a thud. It’s sort of mysterious past – mysterious past – mysterious past – BOOM, over. We don’t even know why what happened happened. Katie Oliver completely misjudges this one, and it is to the detriment of the novel. (I blame her editor: surely someone saw how problematic this story line is.)

Another subplot involves the family of one of the senior managers of the store. Again, why? Why are these people cluttering up the tale? Is it to have the Wickham-esque story in there somewhere? At least George Wickham was entertaining. There is no entertainment in this story line at all. Much like Rhys’ father, we’re left scratching our heads, wondering why this is in there.

The third subplot, centered around the husband of one of Natalie’s friends, is equally as ridiculous. For one thing, it requires such a leap of faith to play along with what’s at play here, and we take it, just because we need to trust the writer. But it is so tidily resolved that we feel cheated.

The only worthy story, then, is the central one, between Natalie and Rhys. Where this goes wrong is in its attempt to mirror Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet’s character flaw is that she thinks she is always right – that her insight into other characters has no defects. As she discovers, time and again, how wrong she is, she has engendered enough sympathy in us that we want to pull her to us and comfort her. Natalie Dashwood, on the other hand, is so flighty and dingy that I kept hoping Rhys would tell her to stuff it.

As for Rhys, he is the most interesting character in the novel, which says a lot because he is woefully underwritten. The thing with his father? Please explain. And his brother? And his attraction to Natalie?

By about the 2/3 mark of this book, I started skimming. I had lost all interest in it, save for how Katie Oliver would wrap up her story. It wasn’t worth it.

There could be a good book here. That’s the bothersome part. With a stronger editor, this could be something better than it is.

His to Possess: #2 (The Morning After) & #3 (Perfect Storm)

his to possess #2 his to possess #3His to Possess #2: The Morning After
His to Possess #3: Perfect Storm
by Opal Carew
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin
44 pages (each novella)
Genre: erotica
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5 for each

Each of these 44-page novellas is part of a six-part story, so before you read #2, pick up #1 (The Seduction). If you read this review, it will contain spoilers for #1, and it will encompass both #2 and #3.

The Morning After picks up after billionaire businessman Dane and job seeker Jessica have shared a night of unspeakable passion. Let’s pause for a moment, girls, grab our vibrators, and salute Dane. He enjoys controlling a woman sexually, and Jessica was surprised to find that she enjoys letting him do it.

So Jessica has landed a job as a “personal assistant,” only imagine her shock – shock, I tell you – that she will be assisting Dane!

Now, there is a job description I’d like to see. Because Dane’s idea of “assisting” is every bit as hot as you’d hope it would be.

He sets challenges for her, and while Jessica proves herself capable in a corporate sense, she also proves herself capable in a sex-on-the-desk sense.

But of course, all good things must have a wrench thrown into them, and that wrench is Storm, the man who broke Jessica’s heart.

When this installment ends, it leads to the third, which, given its title of Perfect Storm, tells us that Storm blows into town.

It’s hot. The sex? Hot. Dane is … Dane can rock that headboard right into the stratosphere. He doesn’t want to fall for Jessica, but he does. She, on the other hand, is equally as leery. But what’s not to love in Dane? If only there wasn’t the specter of Storm to haunt her.

I will say that I found myself wondering what Dane sees in Jessica, other than a young woman willing to submit to him. She isn’t exactly a font of scintillating conversation. Or all that much of a challenge. The other element that irked me was how easily Jessica’s live seems to come together. Frustratingly so. People who should not like her fall in thrall with her. It’s a head scratcher, faithful readers. She isn’t all that fabulous.

Then we get to Part 3.

Storm has come back, boys and girls. And sexual performance is no longer the sole bailiwick of Dane. Storm’s got it going on too. More so, even, because Storm is the object of his and Dane’s secretary’s eye. Melanie has loved him for, like, ever.

Storm, though, got to Jessica first. Can he keep her? Will he? What about Dane?

The hotness continues in this one, much as it did with the first two installments. The sexy times are scorchin’ hot. For a 44-page quickie, it’s a fun, hot read.

If only Jessica were more compelling. If only there was sustained tension.

Ah, if only.

Kiss Me at Midnight

kiss me at midnightKiss Me at Midnight
by Diane Alberts
Published by Entangled
91 pages
Genre: romance, chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5

So it’s New Year’s Eve and you’ve been in a bit of a dry spell. You want to rock that headboard HARD. Just for tonight. That’s all – no relationship, no phone calls, no dates. Just a session (or two) of headboard rockin’.

Such is the mindset of newly minted doctor Ashley, who has returned home to set up shop. She heads to a local bar with her bestie, sights set on Mr. Tonight. Well, she might have thought that her ex-high school best pal Ethan would be there.

Ethan was a nerd in high school. Glasses, stutter, no-pack abs. But he and Ashley were best friends. They told each other everything, and Ashley kind of sort of fell in love with him. But one day Ethan just stopped talking to her, and the next thing she knows, it’s eight years later, he’s living in California, and he comes back, hotter than she ever imagined. Comes back temporarily.

Cue the squeaking box springs.

With the clock running on their coupling, they decide to get the most out of it, which means connecting with each other as intimately and hotly as possible. Yeah, they talk. Blah blah whatever. They enjoy playing tonsil hockey, although Ashely finds herself hoping Ethan won’t return to Cali. Ethan hates his hometown and staunchly refuses to even consider sticking around.

So whatever will they do?

The sexy times are sweet more than graphic, and the love story, while utterly predictable, is cute enough that you keep reading. Ashley is a good role model for women who try to control relationships and wind up getting dumped. She knows just what to say and when to say it as far as Ethan’s interests are concerned.

And he’s hot, so we want him to stick around too.

A cute, occasionally sexy novella.

Pretenders

pretendersPretenders (Pretenders #1)
by Lisi Harrison
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult, pre-teens
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

When you’re in high school, don’t you hope that everyone else feels like as big of a pretender as you? Don’t you wish that those kids who seem so together and as if they have everything they want secretly believed they were unworthy or a fraud?

Sure you did.

And that’s why Pretenders is such a fun book to read.

Oh, it’s frustrating, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

This is the tale of five freshmen and how they plan to survive their first year of high school. Or at least pretend to do so.

Sheridan is so self-conscious and insecure that the only way she can cope with changing loyalties and apparent betrayals is to pretend to be different celebrities. She dresses like them (Anna Kournikova?) and assimilates their personalities into her own. The problem with this, of course, is that Sheridan can’t see what everyone else can: she has no idea who she really is.

Homeschooled Lily Bader-Huffman convinces her parents to let her go to high school when her best (and gay) friend is sent. Lily’s parents agree, provided she maintains her A+ average. This wouldn’t be a problem, except Lily is besotted with Andrew Duffy, a basketball phenom destined to make varsity as a freshman. But Duffy has his own crosses to bear, and Lily’s appearance in his life registers nary a blip. It’s a good thing she has Vanessa Riley, a gorgeous Vanessa Williams-esque girl whose beauty is only exceeded by her brains. Vanessa’s family is falling apart, and she feels the only thing that can keep them together is her report card.

Finally, there is Jagger, the requisite Bad Boy. He is an emancipated minor living alone in the family home because his parents are in jail. He tells one character that he’s being pursued by a guy bent for vengeance. Can we believe a word he says?

Their lives intersect, as you knew they would. Each character tells his or her own story in a sort of diary format, the source of which – journals they keep for an English class – appear to have been stolen. The book opens with an anonymous declaration that the journals have been “leaked” because everyone is tired of the pretending.

Just as the stories gel – just as we feel we know these characters and understand what motivates them – the book ends. Just … ends. It’s baffling, really, until you consider that Lisi Harrison has a Part 2 coming out in June 2014. Then it makes sense.

If you can put up with the cliffhanger, this is a good choice for young teenage readers. They undoubtedly will find characters with whom they relate, and, in seeing themselves in Sheridan, Lily, Duffy, Vanessa, and Jagger, perhaps they will get the strength of will to stop pretending.

Her Hard to Resist Husband

her hard to resist husbandHer Hard to Resist Husband
by Tina Beckett
Published by Harlequin
147 pages
Genre: romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5

 

So that title. You would wonder, would you not, if perhaps an editor could come up with something – oh, I don’t know – pithier? Something not so obvious?

The good news is that the novel is better than its title. The bad news, for those of you looking for a straightforward romance, is that the novel is educational.

Tracy and Ben are doctors, currently serving in Brazil. They specialize in different sorts of diseases; Tracy focuses more on general health, whereas Ben is into the freaky stuff (0h, if only – although there are hints that he’s into the GOOD sort of freak … a la All He Wants or Bared to You). They are also married, although they haven’t seen or been together in four years.

But when Tracy comes up against a vicious communicable outbreak in the village in which she’s working, she turns to the one person she knows can help her and the villagers: Ben.

These two still love each other. They still desire each other. So why aren’t they together? They are IDIOTS. That’s why.

See, Tracy can’t stay put in one place too long, and because she takes that Hippocratic Oath to heart with unbearable intensity, Ben thinks that Tracy’s need to help some sick folks caused her to lose their baby. He also thinks that she puts everyone else ahead of them – and their unborn child. It isn’t that she is ambitious so much as she just needs to help people.

Ben, for his part, is controlling, so much so that Tracy can’t quite forgive him for sicking the government on her.

So they have issues.

As they work together, though, sparks ignite. As we knew – or at least hoped – they would.

Along the way, you get quite the earful (or eyeful, as the case may be) about disease and sterilization and healthcare and poverty and all that stuff. Not quite what you’d hope for a Hot Romance Novel.

There is some hotness, although not nearly enough. Not nearly. For every scene involving illness and masks and gloves, it would have been nice to have some sexy times. There were moments when I felt like the book was over-reaching. It’s a ROMANCE NOVEL, for goodness sakes. Not a treatise on third world healthcare.

I’m giving it 3½ stars because of Ben. I liked the guy. He’s noble but not in an off-putting way, and when we finally do get Ben naked, it’s worth it. I just wanted more. MORE, I tell you.

A Christmas for Carrie

a christmas for carrieA Christmas for Carrie
by Alison Packard
Published by Carina
106 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5

 

Carrie is not a fan of Christmas. At all. She wishes you would take your jingle bells and stick them somewhere. All the way, in fact.

Her reasons for not enjoying the season are valid, although they make our tinsel loving hearts feel sad for her. So when her former high school study buddy Nick comes back for a holiday visit, he is stunned by two things: (1) Carrie is HOT, y’all, and (2) she hates Christmas?

Nick decides he will change her mind, once and for all, and he calls on his Norman Rockwell-esque family to help out.

Before you can say, “Ho, ho, ho,” Carrie’s mind is swirling. Can Christmas be better than she thought? Can you have a good Christmas? And what about Nick? She’s into him, he’s into her, but he doesn’t live in town. If they start something, can they continue?

This book is cute and sweet. There is some headboard rockin’, although not very detailed and not at all explicit. But there is enough smoochy smoochy to keep things rolling. Naturally, Carrie has to face her Issues with Christmas, which is unfortunate, because that time could have been better served having her and Nick rock around the Christmas tree … if you know what I mean.

It’s cute. It’s sweet. Think of it as a sugarplum, dancing in your head.

Forbidden

forbiddenForbidden
by Caroline B. Cooney
Published by Open Road Media
Genre: YA, mystery
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5

 

Annabel Jayquith and Daniel Ransom meet cute: they’re at a swanky society affair, and each hopes that the other has no idea who he or she really is. See, Annabel is the daughter of a rich hotel tycoon, and Daniel is the son of an assassinated senator. So they have baggage.

But they instantly fall in love with each other, and they hope to stay that way. There is the teensy little problem of Daniel’s mother believing that Annabel’s father killed her husband. Who would be Daniel’s father.

Then there is Jade O’Keefe, who thinks she is related to the Jayquith’s via Annabel’s aunt, a famous talk show host. And here is the most confusing subplot: Annabel’s father, presented to us as a driven, brilliant, hardened man, immediately accepts Jade into the family. At one point, Annabel calls him on this, pointing out that he investigates his staff more than his long lost niece. Why he does is never satisfyingly explained.

There is some suspense as the killer’s identity slowly unfolds, plus you have the suspense of Daniel and Annabel. Can they find a way to be together? But what if her father is the killer?

I wanted to like this book because I enjoyed Annabel and Daniel so much. But other than the two of them, the rest of the book is just meh. Who cares about Jade? Or Daniel’s mother? Not me.

It isn’t that this is a bad book, so much as it just isn’t all that good. There is too much to dislike and not enough to love.

Dead Gone

Dead GoneDead Gone
by Luca Veste
Published by HarperCollins
Genre: mystery, suspense
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
5 / 5

Every now and then, I need to depart from my usual smutty reading and pick up something suspenseful. Lucky for me, I found this book.

It is, in a word, chilling.

David Murphy, a Liverpool DI, needs a comeback. We learn, over the course of the novel, that David is approaching the end of his tether. He is attempting to rebound from a case gone bad, as well as the demise of his second marriage. His coworkers suspect him of being near emotional catastrophe, so when he does have an anger blow-up, no one is terribly surprised.

He is handed an apparent one-off murder, albeit a grisly one. A young woman is dead, and attached to her is a letter detailing a psychological study. David assumes someone close to the victim committed the crime, as does DC Laura Rossi, assigned to work with him on the case. But when a second dead body shows up, touting a different experiment, David and Laura begin to suspect that they are dealing with a serial killer.

In addition to David and Laura’s points of view, we also get in the head of Rob Barker, a worker at the local university, whose girlfriend has been missing for about a year. (We get in her head too.) Rob tells himself that he needs to appear like a grieving boyfriend. His mantra makes us wonder about him.

The murders here are not for the faint of heart, nor is the psychological impetus behind them. What makes them all the more chilling is that we can see how something like this could happen. How someone could take the worst of human experiments and enact them himself.

The characters are as compelling as the story. I like how Luca Veste unfolded David’s story. There is a lot we don’t know, but what we do makes us feel for him. We want to see him succeed. Laura is equally as interesting. A young woman trying to prove herself on the force, we also sense her loneliness. Their pairing is a good one for us readers, and there is hope of more to come.

This is a fantastic mystery, although I keep coming back to that word “chilling.” It will indeed make your blood run cold. But in a good way.

A Kiss is Just a Kiss

A kiss is just a kissA Kiss is Just a Kiss (A Night Games novella)
by Linda Barlow
Published by Aspendawn Books
Genre: New Adult
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5






This is one of those “it is what it is” type of books.

A slim novella, we have the story of Holly and Will, two would-be lovers who spent a fantabulous night together that Holly has been unable to forget. Will, on the other hand, not only appears to have forgotten all about it, he tries his best to forget all about Holly.

This being Christmas time, the setting is ripe for a Christmas miracle. Holly is invited to a party thrown by her campus advisor and decides to go, largely because she thinks Will will show up. (She also brings her roommate, who hopes to get intimate with the prof.)

Holly wants to see Will because she wants to know what happened. That great sex they had? Why did he pull a runner afterwards?

Will does show up, and thanks to some magical mistletoe, Holly gets her answers.

She also gets some hot headboard rockin’.

At times, Linda Barlow tries a little too much with this book. Holly dithers over the Will thing and their future, and Will’s reasons for leaving Holly in the dust the first time, while valid, are a little overly dramatic.

But it’s 88 pages, and there are some hot sex scenes. Like I said, it is what it is: a quick, easy read with some decent sexy times.

Our First Love

Our First LoveOur First Love
by Anthony Lamarr
Published by Atria
240 pages
Genre: literature
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
5 / 5

 

This is one of the most unique novels I have read in quite some time, and if you enjoy original writing, you must read it.

Nigel and Caleb are brothers, bound by a terrible tragedy involving the death of their parents. Each is affected differently: Nigel, 35, feels responsible for his brother, and Caleb, 29, suffers from severe agoraphobia. 

To compensate for Caleb’s inability to ever leave the house, Nigel allows his brother to live vicariously through him. When Nigel comes home from work, he talks to Caleb about “their” day. As a reader, this does take a little getting used to; there were a few times when I thought, “Caleb left the house?” Nigel shares every detail with Caleb, and because of this, Caleb feels as if he does get out. 

When Nigel begins to fall in love with a fellow professor, though, he decides he doesn’t want to share his developing romance with Caleb. He keeps it from him, and Caleb, ever astute, knows something is going on. Thanks to a webcam Nigel set up in his classroom, Caleb sleuths out the reason for Nigel’s occasional reticence – and his newly developed extended absences from home. Caleb even figures out who this woman is, and he, too, falls in love with her. 

Anthony Lamarr tells his story from both men’s points of view, and each mind is fascinating. The weight and burden that Nigel carries as far as Caleb is concerned hurts us. When he gets the opportunity to love someone – something Nigel clearly thought would never happen – we beg him to take it. We want him to forsake Caleb, even if just for a few stolen moments here and there.

Less sympathetic, at first, is Caleb. His sense of entitlement for Nigel’s life overwhelms us, but we slowly come to understand why Caleb feels as he does. It didn’t make me like him more, but I could see why he believes that he has a right to know everything Nigel experiences. 

These two brothers exist under the inescapable gloom of their parents’ death, something Caleb is unable to recall. When we do learn the circumstances of the tragedy, everything becomes clear. Does it affect our sympathies? Heighten them? Diminish?

Everything about this book is superb. Each brother’s voice emits its own mood and tone, and we know these two men. We become as much a part of their lives as Caleb is of Nigel’s.

Read it. You really should.