Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review: Take Me Home For Christmas

Take Me Home for Christmas
By Brenda Novak
Published: October 29, 2013

Christmas is a time for remembering….

Too bad all memories aren't pleasant. Everyone in Whiskey Creek remembers Sophia DeBussi as the town's Mean Girl. Especially Ted Dixon, whose love she once scorned. 

But Sophia has paid the price for her youthful transgressions. The man she did marry was rich and powerful but abusive. So when he goes missing, she secretly hopes he'll never come back—until she learns that he died running from an FBI probe of his investment firm. Not only has he left Sophia penniless, he's left her to face all the townspeople he cheated…. 

Sophia is reduced to looking for any kind of work to pay the bills and support her daughter. With no other options, she becomes housekeeper for none other than Ted, now a successful suspense writer. He can't bring himself to turn his back on her, not at Christmas, but he refuses to get emotionally involved. He learned his lesson the last time. 

Or will the season of love and forgiveness give them both another chance at happiness?

My review:

Book five in the Whiskey Creek series focuses on the story of Sophia DeBussi, a woman who seems to have it all until the death of her husband reveals the truth about him and the nature of the town she lives in. 

Sophia has a lot of personal demons. In high school she was a popular "mean girl" but she has changed since then. Unfortunately her former classmates don't seem to recognize that. Sophia has also been suffering abuse at the hands of her horrid husband and she is an alcoholic. In the earlier books in the series, I felt that Sophia was being treated poorly by Ted and his group of friends. It was sad to see her join them for Friday morning coffee and have her attempts at friendship be rebuffed. In this book I really felt bad for her because the whole town seems to turn on her and they kick her when she's down. 

Ted as a romantic hero takes awhile to warm up to because he is still angry at Sophia. He was a jerk to her in the past but in this book he does take up her cause and help her out against his better judgment. He makes some missteps romantically but I guess that makes him a more realistic "hero" with flaws. Over the course of the book he evolves into a more likable person and it is good to see him stand up for Sophia and bond with her daughter.

The town of Whiskey Creek comes across as a very judgmental place to live. Usually when I read small town contemporary romances, the small town is written in an idealized way with friendly people all helping each other, etc. While reading this series, I have thought repeatedly that I would not want to live in Whiskey Creek! While it is good to show the negatives to small town life, it can be off putting to those who are expecting something different in a contemporary romance setting. Thankfully a creepy town character finally gets their comeuppance in this book and maybe Whiskey Creek will be a more friendly setting in future.

Overall I really liked this book maybe for Sophia's story more than anything else. She shows a lot of strength though she isn't perfect. She has a lot to overcome and it is rewarding to see her get that happy ending she deserves. Though this is the fifth book in the series it is possible to read it as a standalone. Take Me Home for Christmas is a little darker than the typical Christmas romance  but I thought it was a good story with more depth than I'd expected and a very satisfying ending for the heroine. 

Note: I received an ARC for review courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher

Sunday, October 27, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (161)

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

This past week I read one book that was really disappointing and one that was very good but kind of sad and depressing to read. This week I decided to be more ambitious and list more books that I hope to read though I have slowed down my reading pace. I will be busy working on my last big library program of the year, a Downton Abbey themed murder mystery tea. I am very excited about it but there are lots of details to be worked out so I doubt I'll have much time for reading!

Books reviewed:

The Perfect Match by Kristan Higgins

Books read:

A Home By the Sea by Christina Skye

I decided to pick this book up because I liked another book in the series (The Accidental Bride, the sequel to this one) and wanted to read more in the series. Unfortunately this one proved to be a real dud. There was so much going on and not enough development of the characters or various random story lines. 

I am so glad that my book group chose to read this book. I didn't really know much about the history of the Dominican Republic or the Mirabal sisters so this book was eye opening (and really sad). I went to the Dominican Republic in 2009 but I stayed at a resort and only saw glimpses of the real country. This book really makes me want to learn more about the country and its history. 

Currently reading:

Longbourn by Jo Baker

It will be interesting to read about the events of Pride and Prejudice from the servants' perspective but this is more than just a retelling. The servants' lives are supposed to be front and center. Every review I've seen so far has been really positive. 

What I plan to read next:

The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks

One of my coworkers just read this book and she loved it. I hope I will like it but it seems to be hit or miss for me with Nicholas Sparks's novels.

Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

I liked the first book in this series though I prefer the Parasol Protectorate series. I wanted to read something light and fun however so I might pick this up soon.

Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

I am eager to start this book. So far I've really enjoyed Noah and Beth's stories (as well as the novella about Lila) and I hope Isaiah's story will be just as good.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: The Perfect Match

The Perfect Match
Published: October 29, 2013

On Honor Holland's 35th birthday, she arrives at the unwelcome realization that time is running out if she wants to start a family. The problem is that she isn't exactly in a relationship at the moment. She is in love with her best friend and while they are "friends with benefits" it doesn't seem that Brogan doesn't see her as anything but his best friend. When she finally plucks up the courage and brings up the topic of marriage, he rejects it and compares her to an old baseball glove, comfortable and familiar but not much else. To make matters worse, shortly after this, she finds out that he has just gotten engaged--to her best friend Dana and she and Honor get into a very public fight.

Tom Barlow is also running out of time. He needs a green card and his university can't afford to pay for it and his only hope may be an arranged marriage. He wants to remain in the States to be near his troubled unofficial stepson. Honor's grandmother finds out about this (Tom's great aunt is her friend) and persuades Honor to meet him. Unfortunately Tom makes a less than stellar impression and he was a witness to her bar fight.

I really felt bad for Honor. She hasn't really had a real relationship and she is in love with a guy who is using her. She also lost her mom at a young age and while her family is great she still feels lonely. I found her easy to relate to although I had to wonder at both of her toxic relationships with Brogan and with Dana who deserves an award for World's Worst Best Friend. Tom is also a character deserving of sympathy. He was previously engaged and his fiancee died, leaving behind a son, Charlie. Since Charlie's dad isn't part of his life and his grandparents are barely tolerant of him, Tom does his best to fill the void though Charlie has become incredibly sullen.

This is an interesting contemporary take on the "marriage of convenience" romance trope. In this case, if they go through with it, it would be an illegal arranged marriage with the hope that they could make a go of a real marriage. The romance has time to develop though because first they have to convince her family (and the government) that their love is real. 

I enjoyed the growing relationship between Honor and Tom though I occasionally wanted to smack them for not realizing or admitting their true feelings. There were funny parts too though I did get tired of Honor having inner conversations with her "eggs". Honor's family seems to be a fun and quirky bunch and I liked getting to know them too. Honor really cared about them and it was mutual which was nice to see, especially her close relationship with her sisters.

Overall, I think this is a good pick for fans of lighthearted contemporary romance. I wasn't sure if I would like it but I'm really glad I gave it a chance. It offered romance, humor, and good character development. This is the second book in the series but I didn't feel lost though I do plan to go back and read her sister Faith's story in The Best Man.

Note: I received an ARC for review courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher

Sunday, October 20, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (160)

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

I am kind of bummed by the fact that it is now sweater weather and my neck of Ohio might see some snow (mixed with rain) this coming week. Since I didn't go anywhere this weekend I did at least have the time to finish reading two books when I wasn't spending time on Pinterest...

Books reviewed:

Home to Whiskey Creek by Brenda Novak

Books read:

I thought this was a nice story but the title was misleading for me. I kept expecting baking to be involved or recipes but the main character is a lawyer who also enjoys photography. The title comes from something else in the story...

Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel

This is a very atmospheric kind of novel especially once Layla arrives at the tea estate. Interesting setting and portrayal of the difficulties of adjusting to married life. 

It Had to Be You by Jill Shalvis

This was a pleasant diversion but I was expecting more from it. I am planning to check out the next book in the series.

The Accidental Bride by Christina Skye

This was mostly a good book though it does have its flaws. I am currently reading the first book in the series. I didn't realize I'd picked up the second book in the series till I started reading this.

Currently reading:

A Home By the Sea by Christina Skye

What I plan to read next:

This is the book discussion book for October. Thankfully both groups are reading the same book for once so it is less stressful for me! I am looking forward to starting this as it is based on a true story.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

I am a little nervous about picking up this book. The last book was kind of disappointing and I've been really let down by dystopian series enders in the past. Maybe I will wait till the glowing reviews start pouring in...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review: Home to Whiskey Creek

Home to Whiskey Creek
By Brenda Novak
Published: July 30, 2013

Sometimes home is the refuge you need-and sometimes it isn't.  Adelaide Davies, who's been living in Sacramento, returns to Whiskey Creek, the place she once called home. She's there to take care of her aging grandmother and to help with Gran's restaurant, Just Like Mom's. But Adelaide isn't happy to be back. There are too many people here she'd rather avoid, people who were involved in that terrible June night fifteen years ago. 

Ever since the graduation party that changed her life, she's wanted to go to the police and make sure the boys responsible-men now-are punished. But she can't, not without revealing an even darker secret. So it's better to pretend.... 

Noah Rackham, popular, attractive, successful, is shocked when Adelaide won't have anything to do with him. He has no idea that his very presence reminds her of something she'd rather forget. He only knows that he's finally met a woman he could love.

My review:

This is the fourth book in the Whiskey Creek series but it can be read as a standalone. The story starts out with Noah rescuing Addy from an abandoned mine. Someone kidnapped Addy from her bed and brought her there to the same place where horrible things happened 15 years before ending with the death of Noah's brother. Now someone is upset that Addy is back in town and they are doing their best to scare her into silence or get her to leave Whiskey Creek for good.

Adelaide  is pretty strong for having gone through such trauma both in her current situation and in the past. It was frustrating though that she refused to say anything about what had happened to her even when the danger seemed to escalate. I could understand that she was afraid for her grandmother's safety but I also wished she'd come forward and put an end to it. I did admire her for facing her fears by coming home and the way she'd stand up to her attackers even if she didn't go public about it.

Noah is drawn to Addy and worried about her, unable to understand why she won't go to the police over her kidnapping. He is really kind to her though she tries to keep him at a distance. It takes her some time to realize that she can trust him and I liked the development of their friendship and relationship. She is able to be there for him too when he has a crisis with one of his friends. I didn't feel like I got to know Noah very much in the previous books in the series unlike some of the other characters so it was nice to see that there was more to his character than the image that was previously presented of a guy who was known for being a heartbreaker.

I think that this book felt like an issues book more than the others in the series. Rape, homosexuality, and family issues for both Noah and Addy made this a heavier  story for a contemporary romance. Still it had the elements that I've enjoyed from the Whiskey Creek series, particularly the strong core friendships.  The romance between Noah and Addy was really satisfactory too. She's been through so much and it was nice to see her get a happy ending.

This book made me think that I'd never want to live in a place like Whiskey Creek though. It is set in a small town where everyone knows everyone's business but the people aren't exactly friendly to outsiders and there is corruption. Some of the townspeople's negative attitude towards Addy when the truth emerged was hard to take.  Thankfully Noah and his friends are there for Addy and there are some decent people in the town but Whiskey Creek is not like the idealized small town settings I've seen in other contemporary romances.

Overall I'd say that I liked this book because it showed characters overcoming serious adversity but it was hard to read at times and made me angry-not the usual emotional response you'd expect for a romance novel! I like this series though and I liked Noah and Addy. The secondary story line with Noah and Baxter was good too (is it too much to hope that Baxter will get his own book someday?). I also wanted to see the bad guys get their just desserts and the suspense kept me turning the pages to find out what would happen. 

If you are looking for a lighthearted contemporary romance, this is not it but if you like a book that will pull deeper emotions from you then don't be afraid to give Home to Whiskey Creek a try. For those new to the series, you might want to start from the beginning even if this can be read out of order (or at least start with book 3, When Summer Comes, which is the first book I read and one of my favorites in the series and sets this one up a little.) While it did have some flaws I think this is one of my favorites in the series too.

Note: I received a copy of this book for review purposes through Amazon Vine

Sunday, October 13, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (159)

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

I didn't have as much time to read as I thought I would this past week. Lately I've been finishing 5 books a week but this time I only finished one that I worked on from Tuesday till this evening. I did spend the weekend visiting family which was a lot of fun. Maybe I'll have more time for reading this week.

Books reviewed:

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas
Her Perfect Earl by Beth Pattillo

Books read:

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

I thought this book was fantastic! I can't wait for the final book, The Blood of Olympus.

Currently reading:

I plan to make every effort to finish The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe this week. We'll see how that goes. Last week my plans were derailed because I just had to read the new Percy Jackson book right away.

What I plan to read next:

Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel

I've already read a few chapters of this book and I really like it. I think I will learn a lot by reading it too. It is set in India in the 1940s so there is all this information about the political climate as well as the history of tea in Assam and what it was like to live on a tea plantation.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: Her Perfect Earl

Her Perfect Earl
By Beth Pattillo
Published: August 16, 2013

Note: This book was originally published in 2005 and written under the pseudonym Bethany Brooks

One priceless manuscript. Five untamed children. A widowed earl in search of an heiress. And a scholar-disguised-as-a-governess with designs on his library. Has a happy ending ever been more unlikely? 

Plain Esmerelda Fortune must make her own way in the world, which is difficult for a lady when the men of her class seem to want beauties with no brains. She plans to take employment with the Earl of Ashforth for as long as it takes to gain access to the Life of Corinna-a rare manuscript rumored to belong to the earl and the key to her paper for a scholarship prize. That prize will allow her to open a school for young ladies who want more from education than painting and embroidery skills. 

Julian, Earl of Ashforth, needs an heiress or the Ashforth name and estates are forfeit. Julian is no stranger to sacrifice and duty in the name of maintaining the Ashforth facade of perfection. He's resigned to marry for money, but first he must tame his unruly children. Miss Fortune seems the perfect candidate for the job-that is until the gray-eyed governess arrives at Ashforth Abbey and proceeds to turn his life head over ears.

My review:

I  have previously read the author's Christian fiction novels (Jane Austen Ruined My Life, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, etc.) so when I saw that she had a new book, I wanted to give it a try. This book is a straightforward Regency romance as opposed to Christian historical fiction. I also found out that this is a reprint of a book first published by Signet in 2005. It is also the companion novel to Princess Charming, a retelling of Cinderella featuring Esmie's stepsister.

I like when the heroines of historical romance novels are intelligent and scholarly. I also appreciated the fact that Esmie is plain (as opposed to thinking she is plain while everyone else in the book sees her as drop dead gorgeous). When the Earl first meets her, he isn't even attracted to her. His attraction grows as he gets to know her and he falls in love with her mind and heart as well as her body. I did wish that Esmie didn't have the low self-esteem issues but it is what makes her an authentic character. The development of their romance is truly enjoyable. So is the relationship that Esmie has with Julian's children. I was expecting there to be a lot of animosity and friction between the kids and Esmie but she quickly wins them over.

The secondary characters are not fully developed. Miss Lambton as the wealthy would-be fiancee is vile but her father Mr. Lambton did take me by surprise in the end at least. They serve as the stumbling block for the romance. Julian owes Mr. Lambton quite a bit of money and the marriage is how he hopes to save the Estate for his family. 

The other issue is Esmie's plans to start a girls' school and instruct students in the Classics. In order to see her dream come true, she has to win a scholarly competition and for that she needs the rare manuscript that Julian possesses. The problem is that he is also writing about the manuscript to win the competition and then the manuscript goes missing while in Esmie's care. The story line involving the manuscript is an important plot device to bring Julian and Esmie together but it didn't quite work for me. It didn't seem believable that he would keep what is supposed to be a Medieval manuscript in such an unprotected location and that they'd handle it the way they did. The pages should have been very brittle even at that time. That small issue might not bother everyone but it did bother me a little.

While there are some minor flaws, I still liked the romance and the way that both Julian and Esmie grow during the book. Julian is dealing with some painful issues surrounding his marriage as well as his fears about being a father and failing his children by losing their property. Esmie has to deal with insecurity both because of the way her mother treated her and because of the scorn she has received in academic circles because she is a woman.

Overall I thought this was a nice romance. I liked Esmie and Julian and even the kids were not very annoying. It was a quick read and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. I will note that this is not a Christian romance and there are some mildly steamy scenes but nothing out of the ordinary for this genre. There are some flaws but the romance is well developed and the main characters are likable enough that the flaws did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: The Burning Sky

The Burning Sky
By Sherry Thomas
Published: September 17, 2013

It all began with a ruined elixir and a bolt of lightning.

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's been told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of the Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the most powerful tyrant and mage the world has ever known. This would be a suicide task for anyone, let alone a reluctant sixteen-year-old girl with no training.

Guided by his mother's visions and committed to avenging his family, Prince Titus has sworn to protect Iolanthe even as he prepares her for their battle with the Bane. But he makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the tyrant closing in, Titus must choose between his mission—and her life.

My review:

Iolanthe is from the Domain and Titus is its powerless ruler. The realm is really ruled by Atlantis (controlled by the Bane and the evil Inquisitor) with Titus as sort of a figurehead to keep the populace happy. When Iolanthe calls down lightning, she gets the attention of the Bane who is determined to capture her. 

The Burning Sky is a creative fantasy novel with an appealing heroine. Iolanthe is smart, brave, loyal, and resourceful. She may be prophesied to be this great mage but she has to work really hard to master her abilities. I enjoyed the parts of the book where she was at Eton passing as a boy for safety reasons. She is something of a tomboy and has had an unusual upbringing which made it plausible. 

I enjoyed the relationship between Iolanthe and Titus. While Titus is attracted to her right away, the romance develops at a slower pace because of more pressing concerns (and the fact that she has to pretend to be Archer Fairfax, a fellow student at Eton). I also liked the friendships that Iolanthe developed with the other boys at Eton, especially with Kashkari. I look forward to seeing more of the secondary characters. They added much needed humor at times.

As much fun as her life at Eton was, I really found myself intrigued by the magical world too. To help her learn to harness the elements she hasn't mastered yet, Titus trains her in The Crucible, a place that reminded me of the Holodeck from Star Trek. The entrance is through a book of fairy tales and you have to proceed through various levels, fighting dragons and wyverns and other challenges. I also found their mode of transportation to be interesting. People "vault" from place to place but they can only vault certain distances and so many times in a day. It reminded me of apparating and disapparating from the Harry Potter books. 

While the book has excellent world building, I thought it read like a page turner and didn't get bogged down in detail. It was easy to catch on to the rules of the magical world and it also helped that part of the book was set in historical London too. I definitely had some questions that were not answered at the end of the book though I have some suspicions about the Bane. He is really a mysterious figure for most of the story and doesn't get as much page time as the creepy Inquisitor. I found her to be very menacing and she added suspense to the story whenever she appeared.

I thought this was a strong beginning to the Elemental Trilogy and I am definitely looking forward to the next book. The Burning Sky is an entertaining blend of humor, suspense, and fantasy with engaging characters. I think this book would appeal to fans of Rae Carson, Chantress by Amy Butler Greenfield, Poison by Bridget Zinn, and other teen fantasy. 

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Amazon Vine

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Waiting on Wednsday (131)

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly meme to discuss upcoming books we can't wait to get our hands on. Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week, I'm waiting on:

Cress by Marissa Meyer
Release date: February 4, 2014

Description from Goodreads:

Rapunzel’s tower is a satellite. She can’t let down her hair—or her guard. 

In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army. 

Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker—unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice. 

When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing stop her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only ones who can.

I thought Cinder and Scarlet were excellent and I can't wait to read more of this series. I hate winter and February has to be one of my least favorite months of the year so this will definitely give me something to look forward to next February!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Top Ten Best/Worst Series Endings

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. There is a new subject each week and this week's topic is "Top Ten Best/Worst Series Enders".

I think it is easier to find disappointing series enders compared to books that get it right. 

Best Series Endings:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

United We Spy by Ally Carter

Taken By Storm by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

Disappointing Series Endings:

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

Reached by Ally Condie

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Timeless by Gail Carriger

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman