BOOK REVIEW (41): Persuasion

BOOK REVIEW:
Persuasion


So with the romantic Christmas reading challenge out of the way, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself…so I decided to read. Squeeze in one more book for 2014 before I called it a wrap—
That lucky book is Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I read one of her books earlier this year (Sense and Sensibility) and this one is another of her books that I watched a film version of before actually reading it.
It’s a pattern, really, between JA and I. I watch film adaptations and then get so inflamed I have to read the book. See what’s different between the two and all.
 
But I don’t really remember the movie as I watched it many, many years ago (at least something like 3-4 years ago). Save for knowing that the protagonist, Anne Elliot (doesn’t that have a lovely ring to it?) gets her HEA. The rest is a blur pretty much so I wasn’t influenced by the film so much.
What’s the deal with Persuasion? Why is it called that anyways?
I’ll tell you.
Persuasion follows 27-year-old Anne Elliot, the second eldest daughter of some fool, prissy/dandy baron and her trials with a father and older sister and younger sister who are all but useless. She’s unmarried, but she’s got a spinster-companion in her older sister. She’s not beautiful, but she’s perceptive and kind-hearted and wife/mother-material. If we were in the Victorian era, Anne Elliot would be the perfect Victorian house angel.
Though plain, Anne was once super beautiful and she had a marriage offer. Unlike the unlucky majority, she actually found a great guy when she was 19 and had been planning to marry him, but her stuck-up family thought Captain Frederick Wentworth as “a young man, who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining influence”…so to sum it up: he’s broke and nameless and will probably always be broke and nameless.
So Anne is persuadedfrom the union. (Get it? :D)
Fast forward eight years later and Anne bumps in Captain Wentworth—a successful naval officer now with his share of great wealth—and it’s like eight years of spinsterhood hadn’t occurred. Neither of them are married (or have been married) and it’s just the perfect atmosphere for a reunion romance.
And because we’re reading JA we know we’re going to get A LOT of drama. I like drama. This has great drama—not too little, not too much. I also liked Anne because not every friggin’ guy was fawning over. I think that’s why I’m all for JA—usually her books don’t have 2+ guys vying over the heroine. If there is a love triangle, it’s more an illusion because one half of the love interests actually don’t care diddly-squat for the heroine and they want some material wealth she owns or has access to. (Which is the case here…)
I liked Anne, too. For the most part, although she reminded me of Anne Bronte’s heroines—like them, Anne Elliot is sorta preachy. Not as preachy as Bronte’s Agnes Grey, for instance, but she’s up there. The novel had footnotes that explained that JA happened to be going through a religious revival or something around the time she was writing this story in 1816, so her ideas clearly leaked into the novel through Anne and her internal monologues. Overall, Anne Elliot was not as bad as the sister-duo from Sense and Sensibility (those two were annoying).
I also liked our hero, Cpt. Frederick Wentworth. He was most certainly NOT a Mr. Darcy, but although he wasn’t an alpha, he had his share of broodiness. There wasn’t too much conversation between him and Anne really, save for after he confesses his feelings for her and whatnot (umm…spoiler?). He’s a good guy. More beta than alpha that’s for sure, but every time he made an appearance I perked up and started reading faster, feeling too much like anxious Anne whenever he was around.
It’s a fairy tale. Anne Elliot is super abused…she’s neglected emotionally and mentally, even if she has everything she wants physically. She’s well off compared to most of the heroines JA writes about (the Bennett sisters anyone? Fanny?), but it’s kinda sad to see her interactions—or lack thereof—with her family. What this girl really needs by the end of it is a HEA (“one HEA please!”) and I’m all the happy she got her just reward for tempering such a silly bunch of blood-related dummies.
All in all Persuasionis almost a moralistic tale, one that applies to the social world and I genuinely believe is more of a universal message (since we don’t really interact in early 2000s like they did in the early 1800s): don’t allow yourself to be persuaded from something you want to do (as long as it isn’t anything harmful to you or anyone else).
A lot of people are held back by the people they love from things they want to do. As an example my family is HELLA supportive of my writing endeavours, but I bring up travelling with my parents and they’ll flip out (“How can you travel alone? What if someone hurts you?” and on and on)…
So take advice as just that, advice. Make sure that you don’t run along with something unless you’ve weighed it with your own feelings and happiness.
And now that I’ve gotten off track, let me return to the review and explain why I don’t give this a full 5 stars.
I didn’t like Anne’s do-goodness…I thought it was over-the-top sometimes. Maybe because I was stuck in her head and I thought it would be pretty cool if the story was told from some other character’s perspective. I mean JA writes her tales as limited third person, though she sometimes peeks into the mind of even minor character, she tends to stick fast with the heroine and generally completely avoids the hero while the wooing occurs.
The book also came to a sudden end. The version I have (Everyman publisher) included an alternative chapter that was replaced by the third and second last chapters (respectively Chapters 22 and 23 were not the originals out of the 24-chapter story). Yet this felt like the shortest of her reads…and in a way it was unsatisfying. I don’t care to read short books. As long as I felt like things are paced nicely—I don’t know what I expected. More teasing, more wooing, more conflict…compared to Sense and Sensibility there wasn’t as much twists and turns.
They meet, they are forced together in awkward social situations, they confess their love, and they get married. The end.
It wasn’t satisfying…lo my rating.
Still I recommend you read Persuasion. It’s not as bas as Sense and Sensibility (and that book wasn’t even that bad!)—give Anne + Cpt. Wentworth a chance. Who knows? It might be a perfect read for you.
My verdict:

✮✮

(4 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (40): Christmas at the Castle

BOOK REVIEW:
Christmas at the Castle
 
 
Here is the review of the final book of the 5-book (totally random) Harlequin Christmas Challenge and the only one being reviewed AFTER Christmas. Good thing the book has a plot continuing after Christmas…so it works out! Yes, we’re at the end…time flies by and I’m sad! Sometimes it was hard cranking out these reviews. Particularly the last few days, and I enjoy reading more than gathering my thoughts into a review, but I’ll miss it all. I love the winter holiday and hopefully I’ll get to do more of these.
But I closed off with a winner because this next couple are my favourite couple out of the other 4 I’ve introduced/reviewed on here. Without further ado, let me introduce Angus and Holly…
So like the majority of the romances I’ve read in this Challenge, Marion Lennox’s Christmas at the Castle is part of Harlequin’s line of sweeter/milder romances (basically sex off-page books). But don’t let the ‘sweet’ before romance fool you: this book (like many of the other mild romances) is full of sexual tension. And, as a writer, I find sexual tension is WAY harder to writer!
It reads like a fairy tale-come-true, but Holly’s sassy personality and Angus’ down-to-earth charm ground it in reality. I don’t hate the characters as much when I know they’ve both worked hard for their personal success and wealth. That as characters—aside from the central conflict being their love—they have separate lives.
Angus is a financial wizard and Holly is a chef. He plays the chequebook for Christmas, she’s his fake fiancée. And if that couldn’t get fairy tale enough, there’s a Castle…
Yes, as the new Lord/Laird/Himself, Angus from Manhattan becomes kilt-wearing, village-pillaging, maiden-ravishing Lord Angus McTavish Stuart, Eighth Earl of Craigenstone. For a guy who’s described as the classic ‘Tall, Dark, and Handsome’ alpha, Angus is not much of an alpha. He’s super sweet and SUPER funny (especially with Holly), and quite frankly I’m smitten and I’d wish he would ravish me.
Holly McIntosh is ADORABLE. She’s a combo of ninja + teddy bear. She’s an amazing heroine and possibly the only one I could picture with Angus. To continue the fairy tale motif/plot, Holly is introduced as a talented chef reduced to rags for Christmas and answers Angus’ post for help. Now she has to keep both her hands off him—and his off her because Holly doesn’t want a fairy-tale romance. She’s got too many trust issues and problems with love in general…
“I’ll do this on my own terms, if you don’t mind,’ she said briskly. ‘I need your job. I’d also quite like your fruit cake, but I don’t need anything else.’ (p. 27)
‘Nothing.’ She peeped a smile at him and he saw the return of a mischief that he suspected was a latent part of this woman. ‘So any thought that you might be having your wicked way with the hired help, put out of your mind right now, Lord Craigenstone.’ (p.27-28)
Yeah right. Of course she wants him to have his ‘wicked way’ with her. What red-blooded heterosexual woman wouldn’t? (But did anyone else have a giggle when they read “wicked ways”? Hehe.)
Oh, and from what I’ve learned in this Christmas Challenge, at least one of the characters has beef with Father Christmas and all he stands for.
Angus is the one with the beef in Christmas at the Castle. He’s had a crappy childhood in general and celebrating Christmas (like celebrating birthdays, etc.) was not a family affair. So Angus lacked love and he’s just associated all family-oriented events (like Christmas celebrations) to his own very negative experience.
But there’s always a HEA and I can assure you, dear (future) reader, Angus + Holly get theirs eventually…you’ll have to read for yourselves to find out where, when and how though. 😉
What I disliked: Personally I’m not a fan of the insta-love thing particularly when Holly + Angus quickly move from passionate love (lust) to romantic love (that perfect…or supposedly perfect combo of passionate and companionate love)… But the plot didn’t hoodwink me. I got what I cam for—no refund of my time needed. Just ‘cause I’m an unbeliever of ‘love at first sight’ I also believe I can be convinced, persuaded (ravished?) to the dark side…
There’s hope if I love Romances. And boy, do I love romances. And since I’m going to keep an open mind (and heart), you have to let Christmas at the Castle convince, persuade (ravish?) you, fellow cynic.
 
My verdict:

✮✮

(5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (39): Snowed in with the Billionaire

BOOK REVIEW:
Snowed in with the Billionaire
 
 
Can’t believe I’m starting the review for Book 4 of my totally random 5-book Harlequin romance Christmas-themed challenge (phew. Mouthful there).
With my last review (book 3) I moved away from Harlequin’s sweeter category line to read a sexier Presents title. But now I’m back to the sweet, gooey stuff with another Caroline Anderson title (Ms. Anderson’s also the author of Book 2, Their Christmas Family Miracle). I enjoyed that book, so I was happily surprised when I recognized her name—yeah. Somehow I didn’t realize I picked up two books by Ms. Anderson. Haha.
But in the end I’m glad I did because Snowed in with the Billionaire was a great read! I was swept up from that first page—I’m also a sucked for the classic “snowed in” trope, though tbh it always helps that the H/h are lovable.
Because as the reader I’m also kinda “trapped” with these characters, and this sort of snowbound trope typically constricts plot to a short duration and there isn’t much, ohh I don’t know, travelling and episodic instances and whatnot, so the author really has to work hard to inject internal conflict in just the right doses. (I love drama—but I can only stand so much swooning, for instance).
Thankfully I didn’t want to kill hero, Sebastian Corder, and heroine Georgia/George/Georgie Pullman. They were an interesting couple with a long and even more interesting history.
By interesting I actually meant really humorous and cute and, out of all the couples I’ve read so far, I felt theirs the most realistic pairing. When they bantered, it felt so natural. Sure Sebastian was standoffish throughout most of the book—and he actually has a legitimate reason for the whole ‘my past is crap, so I’m gonna brood’ thing—and Georgia wasn’t this angelic, do-gooder AND the greatest part was that no one hated Christmas.
Usually with Christmas-themed stories, or at least the three stories I read so far, the H/h are divided in their opinion of Christmas. There has to be someone who is a cynical Grinch-Scrooge whose reason for hating Christmas links to a horrible past (and enter operant conditioning) and the other half of the couple has to woo the person over to the spirit of the season, which is all about giving and family and love, right?
But at best both Georgia and Sebastian enjoyed Christmas—it was more of a family problem and personal issues/internal conflict about where the H/h stood in regard to their family lives. For example, Georgia has a two year-old son, and as a single mother she has to put her kid first and she worries about that because she’s also saddled with a mortgage and all this other financial stuff…
And Sebastian is struggling with a 9 year-strong identity crisis that centers on his questionable birth circumstances and his journey to understanding how he defines family.
Lucky him! He chooses a pretty great gal and her little son. I’m a total sucker for kids—mostly book kids more than real kids (lol), but Josh was my favourite child so far. Out of the four books so far in this challenge, this toddler totally made me want to get started on having children. He’s too cute!
He softened up Sebastian and I sometimes wondered if I loved more scenes with Josh interacting with Sebastian versus the scenes between Georgia and Sebastian.
Only one thing I didn’t like and it was so close to the end that it sort of pissed me off because it felt totally annoying:
SPOILER!

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After the couple reconcile, Georgia divulges some (really dumb!) happy news. And here’s a quote (pg. 181):
She laughed and rested her head on his shoulder. ‘Yes, I better had. The first little Corder is due on the nineteenth of September.’
He went utterly still, and then he gave a shaky, incredulous laugh and hugged her tight. ‘Really? You’re having my baby?’
‘It would seem so. I did the test this morning. It was very faint, but it was positive.’
‘Wow.’ He laughed again. ‘I didn’t even think—that night, when I had the dream?’
‘When else? There was only the once.’
Okay. So only abstinence is 100% fool proof. I get it. But WHAT?!
What if Sebastian hadn’t come over to propose? What then? What if he just wanted to come clean and tell her his dark (really not-so dark, but sad) secret and then be off with his life and they just had remained friends…or acquaintances or whatever—what would Georgia have done?
And it’s only been like a week since they had sex. She’s already calculating that shit to the day. Man oh man! Talk about cutting me loose from disbelief heaven…oh vey.
Cue epilogue I would have not preferred after this bit of news. Seriously. That teensy part could have been excised and the epilogue could have just mentioned their marriage and latest addition the following Christmas.
But yes, other than that, this book is totally worth the read. And because that happens at the end, it might not even bother you to read another few pages of the epilogue.
Snowed in with the Billionairewill not disappoint with giving you a great couple, a cute romance, and a totally plausible internal conflict. So read it for all these great features. 🙂
My verdict:
✮✮✮.5

 

(4.5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (38): The Twelve Nights of Christmas

BOOK REVIEW:
The Twelve Nights of Christmas
 
 
Okay! #3 of the five-book Christmas-themed reading challenge: The Twelve Nights of Christmas. And this book actually totally works for the 19th—because the story opens on the 19th! Happy December nineteenth, otherwise known as the simultaneously and paradoxically Worst Day (and Best Day) of Evie’s soon-to-be enchanted love story…
Because Whoa! Is it enchanted and fluffy and just nothing but a Christmas fairy tale? I mean I feel like I haven’t read a Harlequin Presents in YEARS when in fact it’s only been 2 months-ish. I forgot how extravagant and over-the-top and fairy tale-like this specific category romance can be…
Still I love the series for the same reasons I sometimes can’t stand it. I roll my eyes and laugh so hard with only the Presents line. And I might be totally masochistic, but it’s my idea of a Perfect Literary Escape. Kinda like how I love my East Asian dramas, Bollywood films, and telenovelas…same craziness abounds in those (more visual) plotlines.
Back to our heroine Evie Anderson and hero Salvatorio “Rio” Zaccarelli. Let’s start with Evie, not because the story actually kicks off from her perspective—no we get some cryptic hint that Rio is hiding the news of a massive “deal” coming through, but more on that later!
I love Evie. And I hate Evie, too.
Oh what do I love about Evie—how can I number the stars…and such junk?
First up Evie’s a redhead. Hello? That’s cool in and of itself. Of course Rio finds out very early on she’s a *ahem* natural redhead when he finds her au naturel in his bed. Yeah. I mean that was definitely almost me falling flat on my face from the poor suspense of disbelief.
I thought that maybe she was in her panties, but apparently not. And at one point I think Rio’s body guard is still in the room with them and Rio pulls off her sheet and, though it isn’t mentioned, the bodyguard should have gotten the full monty from Evie. Which if it’s true loses a brownie point—how can I believe she cares about her barest (haha, lame pun not intended) dignity if she’s flashing her behind to everyone.
Whenever I’m reading from Evie’s perspective, I find I want to argue more. Here are two examples (the second of the pair will be a SPOILER. I’ll remind you.):
1) On pgs. 136-137, Evie and Rio are at a ball doing what guests at a ball do: dancing and Evie first notices “the heat of [Rio’s] body against hers” and then on the next page over (137) it reads “Evie felt frozen and she thought absently that there was no reason to b cold when the room was so warm, but then she realised that the chill came from him. His skin was cold to touch […]”.
Okay. What?!
Did anyone else think that Rio died on the ball floor while dancing? Haha. No I’m just over-exaggerating there, but it was pretty weird. And this dramatic body temperature change is due to Evie’s mentioning of Christmas (again) and how much she loves “this time of year” (pg. 137). And, of course, one half of the couple in an opposites attract has to totally despise Christmas. (Though to be fair, the author actually gives Rio a darn good reason to hate Christmas).
2) SPOILER ALERT:
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With that significant warning I can hopefully write/tell you that…Rio is a father. He has a little girl named Elyssa and that’s all you need to know about.
So in the epilogue Elyssa, Rio, Evie and their new baby girl, Lara, are celebrating their first Christmas (a year later! Phew. They work fast) as a family. And Rio has is now the sole caretaker of his daughter. And the proud parents are delighted when Elyssa calls her stepmother, Evie, “Mummy”. And everyone seems to be forgetting in the moment that Elyssa has a friggin’ mother. Albeit a really horrible-sounding woman, but a mother she was raised with for the first four years of her life.
And Rio totally encourages it and takes it to the next level, and I present Case #2: “It’s snowing! Mummy, Daddy, we’re going to have snow for Christmas. Can we build a snowman? Do you know how?”
Rio brushed the snow from Evie’s cheek. “Yes, I know how. We need a carrot and some pebbles and a few twigs. And we need your motherbecause she’s brilliant at building snowmen.”
Uh huh. Yeah, really?
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But thanks to Ms. Morgan for making Evie really funny! And making that whole mother bullplop easier to tolerate…
I mean she’s the only heroine who says what she’s thinking. It’s just literally out there on the page in dialogue format with the quotes around it indicating she’s just spilling her thoughts. She doesn’t beat around the bush. She’ll just belt out her rendition of her favourite Christmassy song, Twelve Nights up on the table tops of charity events. It’s all water down the open back of her silvery dress.
Sure, she talks like she belongs in a mid- to late twentieth century world (think 1950s to 70s), but then there’s the confidence. Surprisingly there are not a lot of heroines out there who will just tell a guy they like him.
“You were in a hurry last night,” he said silkily (for a second time actually! What the hell does this mean anyways? ‘Silkily’? How do you say something ‘silkily’? *_*) “Or was the champagne to blame for your sudden transformation from virgin to vamp?”
She sucked in a breath, mortified at his blatant reminder of her own desperation. “No,” she said softly. “It was you.”
See! Just lies it out there, Evie does—so thankfully Rio knows how to pick up the ball and there isn’t a lot of relationship pussy-footing that seems utterly pointless as in the couple actually has a reason not to be together.
And as much as I genuinely love that Evie’s a breath of fresh air compared to the lot of Presents heroines I’ve come to meet and get to know, she’s also not very real. She’s super giving and just the perfect friggin’ fit for Rio, it was like they were shaped out of the same cookie cutter. I mean it works that way with most romances, but I think the opposites attract was a trope that threw me off a bit from this story.
That being said, I still liked Evie more than broody Mr. Alpha. Rio was annoyingly funny. Like I hated when he made me laugh because I wanted to hate him and I had reason too. He’s an arrogant SOB, but I tip my hat off to Ms. Morgan. She totally redeemed his character by revealing his dark secret.
It’s a great dark secret, though a bit mislead with the “dark” part. It’s not as dark as it could be… Like I was thinking body bag-dark—Oops spoiler! If I stole you idea of ‘dark”—but it was more psychological dark place that actually required more help, unfortunately, than the book should have mentioned.
Nope. Whatever mental instability Rio has been bottling up for years is all cured and metaphorical past wounds are healed by the Force of Evie’s Love. Seriously, he just talks to her and tells her what the secret is (or are? Hmmm. Have I interested you into reading this yet?) and that’s it. Everyone—namely Evie and Rio—just wipe their hands clean of the sordid past and move on to HEA-affirming epilogue…
But they made me laugh like I said and a lot. I’m glad I regulated reading this book from my bed, because it would have been awkward on the commute if I just burst out laughing—“Don’t mind me, fellow passengers, just reading this really funny part”. Heh.
So if you’re going to sink your teeth into this one…maybe even extend your reading to twelve nights (though there aren’t even 12 chapters), read it because for the blend of light humour and sexy tension, and the extravagant escapism it offers.
Also since I’ve been dropping quotes all over this review, let me close off with my Favourite one (I hope you love it, too!):
From pg. 100 (a bit of background then—Rio drags Evie out of a Christmas movie premiere with Hollywood stars and red carpet A-listers and she’s none to happy about missing the movie’s end): “Thanks to you, I won’t ever find out how [the movie] ended.”
“How do you think it ended?” His handsome face was a mask of frustration and tension. “Happily, of course. It’s a Christmas movie. They only ever end happily.” (I digress, Rio! Horror-themed Christmas movies like Black Christmas).
“I know it ended happily but I wanted to know how it ended happily. There’s more than one route to a happy ending, you know. It’s howthey do the happy ending that makes it worth watching.
I bolded all the beautiful part because it deserves to be highlighted. Every romance story should follow that reasoning.
In the end, I give it four calling birds…
My verdict:

✮✮

(4 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (37): Their Christmas Family Miracle

BOOK REVIEW:
Their Christmas Family Miracle
 
Where’s Edward?
This review is part of a personal Christmas reading challenge. No rules, only that I try to aim to read and review the 5 Harlequin Christmas-themed books I grabbed for my first round of playing catch-up on literary escapism.
Book #2 on that pile is Their Christmas Family Miracle by Caroline Anderson. So that title pretty much gives a hint as to what the book is about—it’ll be, duh, set in Christmas and it’ll have something to do with a family.

 

Family usually = kids, and for some readers romances don’t equal kids.
I mean, what’s romantic about family? Squalling babies with soiled diapers crushing and sucking away the entire libido with their totally off-schedule late-night deedings and such…*shudder* Family should equal no sexlandia, and tbh (or at least imho) it does.
At least for the most part I find families are usually part of the community atmosphere in Harlequin’s sweeter romance series. You won’t find a whole lot of secondary cast support in a Harlequin Presents, or a Harlequin Blaze—babies maybe. But they sleep a lot and an average of 16 hours of sleep = a lot of time for sex. It’s when they learn to open doors…
But I personally love family stories. Because sometimes I just want to read about how the H/h juggle their work lives with their personal lives outside of the relationship. Case in point with Their Christmas Family Miracle, heroine Amelia “Millie” Jones not only has to worry about three kids and a dog with health problems, she also is homeless at the book’s opening.
Yup. Straight from the get-go I was sorta battling tears, especially when she’s being thrown out with her children and by HER SISTER of all people. Her friggin’ sister—I mean, what the heck is up with that? I sure as damn well know my sisters would never pull garbage like that, and because the relationship between the sisters wasn’t really explored, I wasn’t able to suss out if they were close or not.
I got the sense they weren’t because Millie has a best friend who acts as a WAY better sister.
What I loved about Millie is that she was industrious. Even though she’s been forced out a job and into full-time motherhood, she seems like she was the type to work out of the home. The interactions with the children brought a smile to my face—especially the ones with baby Thomas. 🙂 (I’m a sucker for infants).
I know I’ve already mentioned this in my last review, but I’m really beginning to believe that heroes who aren’t Alphas can be super sexy, too! I mean sexy nowadays = this:

 

Or in my case this:

 

And that’s all nice and now, but man oh man was Jake Forrester something smouldering… Phew. I think he’s just what I needed now with the coming winter cold.
He’s introduced as an asshole all ready to throw Mille and her kids from his home—a home he actually was supposed to be away from for the Christmas and New Years—but then he changes his mind and contracts Millie as his housekeeper in turn for a place for her family to stay.
Who changes his mind? The children and the dog. Jake is one part tough-businessman, and other half total family guy and a sap for Cavaliers in particular. So he basically adopts the Joneses family for the holidays and signs himself up for more than just a housekeeper.
And…they have sex! I’ve read three other Harlequin Romances, and none of those had sex scenes. But this one does! The one with the largest family has a sex scene! Just one is described, and not in too-great detail because of this specific category’s reader expectations, but we got one folks! (For those of us who wanted Millie and Jack to knock each other’s socks off…just saying. Hehe.)
The only thing that threw me off—for which I knocked off .5 from a perfect rating—and it’s totally miniscule but it bugged the heck out of me and I can surmise it in one word: Andy.

 

Well actually to be fair Millie’s sister, Laura, and Laura’s husband, Andy. I mean whattheflippintableland! They were SO messed up. These two were the ones who unknowingly kicked off the chain that forced Millie to accept the offer to occupy Jake’s empty home and so on…
Laura and Andy kick out Millie and then at the end: Lo and behold! There’s an explanation for all of it. Andy and Laura can’t have kids! Ah! I know right? It explains everything, right? They can’t have kids, so they couldn’t stand the sight of Millie’s children. Why didn’t I think of that at the start?

 

Seriously. ~50K of wondering why her sister was an immense butthole and it’s all explained in the next to last page…
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*sigh*
Other than that blip on one of the last few pages and the minor stain with the Millie and Jake’s HEA, I loved Their Christmas Family Miracle and I suspect you will, too, reader-who-will-now-go-out-and-buy-this-book.
Go. Now. For the love of this adorable puppy!

 

My verdict:
 
✮✮.5
 
(4.5 stars)

 

BOOK REVIEW (36): His Christmas Angel

BOOK REVIEW:
His Christmas Angel
 
 
I haven’t really read since the beginning of October when I last had free time—but now that I’m officially free for the holidays and the foreseeable beyond, I decided it was high time I got back to my idea of perfect escapism!
And since Christmas is right around the corner I figured I’d get in the festive season this year and read up on some Christmas-themed Harlequin romances (because I love my Harlequin).
So I stocked up on five books and then ordered those books by year, and I’m knocking them down one-by-one before New Years’ eve—so these will hopefully be my last TBR stack of 2014.
Here’s to the first review then!
As promising as the blurb at the back of the book, Michelle Douglas’ debut His Christmas Angel is a treat of a read. By which I mean it had more ups than downs.
Set in a small town, this holiday-themed reunion story kicks off with the return of a prodigal member of the community. Hero Sol Adams has traded his poor life in his Podunkville—the town is actually called Schofield—for his great success in the city. A big-time architect, Sol is back in Schofield with no plans to stay until Christmas. He’s returned to take care of some family matters, not to face down his overbearing, ill father. Because in Podunk/Schofield he’ll always be seen as the little boy who had an unfortunate family situation and ran away the first chance he got after high school.
The only blip of happiness in Schofield for him is the girl next door: Cassie Parker nee Campbell.
But Cassie Campbell has changed in as much ways as she still surprises him with her usual kindness and compassion. She’s now Schofield’s trophy widow. Though once upon a time ago both Sol and Cassie were the charity cases of their town.
In losing her husband, a local town hero, Cassie had gained a family in her in-laws and the town’s support for what seems to be a comfy and permanent widowhood.
Without spoiling any of the story—which is hard!—Sol and Cassie manage to work their way to a HEA and overcome the difficulty of balancing a reputation by not being together, because it would look bad for the grieving widow and the runaway boy-turned-architect, and following their desire to be together.
What got bonus points:
Cassie – is a strong heroine. She’s funny and sassy and her family story really breaks my heart. And I also love that Sol can go toe-to-toe with her. Sometimes I find one-half of the coupledom is doing all the work: all the teasing and all the chasing and asking—it gets boring to read. But Sol took as much as he gave and Cassie did pretty much the same thing.
Sol – I talked about him up there with Cassie, but to add on that I think I’ve come to a revelation after experiencing Sol (sorry! That sounded so dirty! Haha) I realize now that I can read a book WITHOUT an alpha hero. It’s possible—huzzah! Whowouldathunkit? Sol is not an alpha and I totally loved him. I mean he wasn’t a complete beta either—but he did play more as the best friend in this friends-to-lovers romance. He was, if anything, assertive when he wanted what he wanted, and usually that was Cassie. All his alpha~ness is saved for the sexual tension and pent-up scenes of moderate petting…
What lost points (or a point):
First… SPOILER ALERT!!!
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It was miniscule, but I didn’t like that no one discussed how Brian Parker, Cassie’s deceased husband, used to beat the tarp out of her during his drunken rage spells. Seriously. It’s never brought up to his family. I get that the guy’s been dead for a year and the wounds are still so fresh for his grieving parents and family and friends, and there’s that hero-image of his to maintain, but I feel there are just some things that should have been discussed.
Granted I’m all about the “let sleeping dogs lie” or whatnot, AND Ms. Douglas handled the news of Sol and Cassie’s relationship outing to the town and Brian’s family really well, I figure I can let this irksome point go.
Another thing I didn’t like: the language/speech threw me for a loop sometimes. Especially at the start when it didn’t occur to me that they were using country/rural idioms…or whatever.
Though out of context, take this first mention of the phrase “clap eyes on” for instance: “I may not have clapped eyes on you for ten years Cassie Campbell…” (p. 20). It took me sometime sans dictionary—because I’m a stubborn brat—to realize it meant “He saw her ten years ago…”. >_<
Why not just write something along the lines of “I may not have SEEN you for ten years Cassie Campbell…’? Oh vey.
Anyways, go out (or open your Kindle) and buy His Christmas Angel—I promise it won’t disappoint if you’re looking for a sweet, Christmas-themed romance.
My verdict:

✮✮

 

(4 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (35): Ghost House (Ghost House Saga #1)

BOOK REVIEW:
Ghost House
 
 
All right! Was not expecting to do a review this month actually because I’m still hovering over my non-existent plot for NaNo…and the last thing I want is the distraction of a book.
A good book.
 
Said good book is Ghost House by Alexandra Adornetto. It is the first of a trilogy YA paranormal romance—actually described more to be a “gothic romance”, but I wouldn’t call it that really. (But I’ll get to that.)
 
First I felt this book is perfect given the season—what with Halloween two days away. AND I don’t believe I’ve read a ghost romance before. I mean I know I actually liked Just Like Heaven and I’m seriously a stickler about my rom-coms.

 

Besides the Halloween spirit—haha! Get it, cuz we’re reading about ghosts—Adornetto managed to draw me in and tbh I sometimes felt like Chloe. Sometimes. Like there was a movie reel going on in my head. She definitely captured the setting and mood for her ghostly tale.
 
And since I’m kinda heading there let’s jump back to why I don’t think this should be categorized as a gothic romance. This will also explain what I liked and disliked about the book.
 
(WARNING: There might be spoilers. I tend to avoid spoilers, and I believe that I’ve generally done a good job with my other reviews. But just in case, here’s your warning.)
 
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1. Virginal maiden heroine: our heroine is…well, tbh I don’t know if she’s a virgin. But she isn’t “pure” or “naïve”. In fact I loved that Adornetto played at a bit of a role reversal where the hero Alexander, or “Alex” is trapped in his own language bubble/speech bubble. A lot of 21stcentury speech goes over his head and he often doesn’t understand Chloe’s 21stmannerism. So if anything he’s innocent.
Case in point à (Alex looks at a picture on Chloe’s cell with her help. And it’s not the new-fangled technology that fascinates him…or disturbs him. You pick.)
“Good God.” His eyes widened. “Why do you carry images of harlots on your person?” I was glad Sam and Natalie weren’t around to hear that—they’d kick his ghostly butt.
(Sam and Natalie are her friends.)
“They’re my friends,” I told him. “That’s what girls look like in the twenty-first century.”
“But why would you choose to associate with such people?” he persisted.
I didn’t think my message was getting through. “They’re not prostitutes,” I said emphatically. “They’re ordinary middle-class girls living on the West Coast.”
Alex averted his eyes. ‘In that case, I do not approve.”
(Tough.)
 
2. There is no corrupt clergy, stupid servant—or any of the other archetypes listed in the Wikipedia search for Gothic romance elements. (Yup. I did use Wikipedia, but I also have studied a bit of gothic literature in a horror lit. class. So yeah…more like a brush up really.) For instance, we are led to believe Alex has made a sacrifice for Chloe when he disappears from her for good…but I couldn’t help but ask myself while reading from that point on: is it really a sacrifice? At the point where he made this first decision I don’t believe it was; nevertheless, keep reading and I do feel there’s a point where Alex does make a sacrifice. One that is left open-ended BTW because of a—WARNING!!!!—cliffy ending to this first installment.
 
3. The setting is off a bit. I know I said Adornetto created a hauntingly beautiful image with her foggy, rainy landscape, or book scape. But the thing with gothic romance is that the setting becomes a character of its own. I think the only way I can explain this is to point you all to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. There is beautiful description of the house, and there is evocative narrative of the goings-on—present and past—in the house, yet it didn’t feel like the Grange Hall could stand all on its own.
 
So I enjoyed Chloe’s snark, I loved Joe, I loved the story with our antagonist Isobel and Alex, and I especially liked the dialogue…sometimes. Sometimes it got super cheesy. And sometimes people did over-the-top, crazy things—like *ahem*jumpinthewayoffallingchandeliers*ahem*. There was also a little bit more male presence than young females, and I guess it’s understandable given the remoteness of the setting. But when Chloe does meet girls her age she isn’t exactly open to them, or caring of their presence. She’s very nonchalant and one-tracked mind when it comes to Alex, and freakishly, freakishly obsessed with him and their oddball love.
I mean the author finds a way to work around the whole ghost thing when intimacy came a callin’ and there’s even a teasing erotic lilt to one scene between Chloe and Alex.
Chloe is also super weak in the beginning—classic damsel in distress. She even calls out for Alex.
But read on. The story actually redeems itself in surprising ways, so don’t let the whole “eff-ghost-romances” thing get in your way.

OR the unappealing cover stop you from picking this one up. Here is an alternative cover–maybe the UK version? Lucky Brits.–to tantalize you.

 
And at least read it for the ending and the potential book 2, Ghost Hour, holds.
Hint: Alex is back. And the location is sunny California. Not exactly the grey, damp world of Grange Hall.
 
 
My verdict:

✮✮.5

(3.5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (34): No Plot? No Problem!

BOOK REVIEW:
No Plot? No Problem!
(PART ONE)
So I may have decided to enter the NaNo run this year.
Okay, I did. I decided to enter. I’ve even created a novel right here.
So of course this wasn’t a whimsical decision. Nooooo way. I learned my lesson back in 2012 after jumping in on NaNo thinking I could write.
Maybe I could have actually completed my novel that month two years ago, but then maybe I wouldn’t be sitting here having had any reason to start this blog. These posts are might to document my writing journey off-and-on, but this last year I only recently realized it’s just probably something I need to do. It’s become a great place to publically announce goals and then fiercely do everything to reach them and avoid THE INTERNET SHAME. (‘Cuz real life isn’t that shaming apparently.)
But I decided to enter NaNo and before I made my decision I hashed out some hard questions and then hashed out some even harder answers. Like, why did I fail in 2012? And what motivated me to avoid attempting it in 2013?
Well I didn’t like the answers because they presented realities, such as it was plain cowardice that drove me to quit that first day in 2012 and never try in 2013. Also plotting!
Ah-ha! I’ve already mentioned—or hinted at—my dislike for plotting. Actually it’s not even mere liking or disliking, it’s a problem of fearing to plot. As if I might completely destroy my passion for the story when I find gaping holes of plot, bitter clichés and deus-ex machina prancing through my idea.
And that’s how I ‘pantsed’ both versions of Bad-Blooded Billionaire.
I don’t want to do this for NaNo. I need to plot. Lest I risk being driven insane by my internal editor…because she has a knack to do things like that…
So I did what any sane writer would do, I got myself some outside resource to help approach plotting. Because, hello!, how does one plot?
Should I write pages and pages—almost a novel worth of outlining, or should I just…well, just what?
Enter NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem!
And I can say with total confidence that this book is a really great resource tool. Albeit designed specifically for NaNo, the tips he gives can be used by any writer at the start of the first draft.
And although I really loved reading it—at least the first part (the second part is on lockdown for now because Baty set it up for readers to use the book to follow along with each week of actual NaNoing)…still I found I disagreed with some points based off of my own writing style/preferences. Style and preferences I found only after finishing two MSS.
No Plot? No Problem! has a lot of point form notes that are placed alongside advice and experiences noted from NaNo winners interviewed by Baty. Here’s a sample of this advice, and by on opinions on it:
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike at a particular day. Don’t set deadlines to publish, set a deadline to write—a reasonable one. If you decide to use NaNo to kick start a novel then great! So as long as your plan is to stick it through to the end, it could take several years. But also understand that the perfect novel doesn’t = a certain amount of time. Some stories will probably seem to write themselves, where as other require you to edit/revise until you’re sure you killed the story.
Writing trajectory after two novels does not agree with Chris Baty’s perspective. And since both of these two finished MSS of mine were novel months, I think I can safely presume I’ll have an uphill journey. The first week (particularly those first few days) will be the hardest. Why? Because I tend to wig out over words—I’m also unused to the addition of responsibility. Like an extra ball has been thrown into the loop and I have to make sure the other—very few!—balls I’m juggling don’t fall.
Plot WILL come. It will. Unlike the Second Coming which is…well, still on hold, plot is sure to come. Something will happen as you write, even if you have no clue what you’re doing in the start. If you keep at it you’ll find your characters’ separate motivations/goals will conflict with each other = BOOM! You have internal/emotional conflict. But perhaps external conflict if that character actually is a body of judges in a kyriarchy government and they’re all targeting you, trying to flush your Robin Hood organization out.
I wouldn’t call writing a “low-stress” hobby or career—anyone who has written a book, regardless of its being a month-long adventure or not would probably tell you that they had at least one point of really high levels of stress. I would amend this to calling writing a ‘high-stress, but higher reward’ hobby/career.
One of those rewards is writing for the sake of writing—that the writing will…take over. Even if you choose never to write a novel again after a NaNo run…or a NaNo jump start to a novel that might take you a more time to finish, as Baty puts it writing your “own manuscript, [he] also found [himself[ able to appreciate [his] favorite books on a different level”.
The first part of the two parts in the how-to text is split into four chapters covering topics like snacking/meals during the month-long writing retreat, generating music lists for your WIP, brief researching tips, plotting and pre-writing that doesn’t overwhelm the story, writing in groups and the use of negative and positive reinforcement—I really like the idea of betting with others over word sprints—and all in order to avoid being the “one day” novelist for…well, one day more.
Setting back your dreams until they never happen for a tomorrow that will never come not only drains you of energy, but I believe one of the things writers all share in common is the need to want to write a story? Whether that story comes fully to us, or in separate chunks that gather like pieces of a Frankenstein monster: write now and not tomorrow.

 

Okay, maybe not now, but if you already started the novel use NaNo to finish! Use the community, donate to the site and always above all, have fun.
 
I’ll be going in-depth with PART TWO of the post for this review. And, yes, I’m planning another writing series during the 30-day fiasco. I’ll be doing weekly write-ins because I went to take away the experience of community and I’ll do a chapter-by-chapter of the second part. I haven’t touched the chapters for each week, and I’m taking Baty’s word that the advice in there will get me through the hump…
 
I’ll share what I can and hopefully we’ll all cross whatever finish line we set out to cross, whether that’s 50K in a month or 100K or maybe just adding and finishing up a novel you’ve already started.
 
It’s all about quantity in November, not necessarily quality.
 
EDIT: I just realized that I didn’t give this a rating. Given that this is one-half of the review–i didn’t finish reading the book–I’ll leave it for an overall rating once I’m done NaNoWriMo. (You know, if I actually compete.)
 

BOOK REVIEW (33): Changing Constantinou’s Game

BOOK REVIEW:
Changing Constantinou’s Game

 

Changing Constantinou’s Game—a title with a name I actually can spell! I was surprised, although I don’t think I’m pronouncing the hero’s Grecian last name correctly. Well it can’t always go both ways, right?
So this is the fourth novel of Jennifer Hayward. (In other words I caught up to her releases! Yay me! I’ve always wanted to follow an author I like and be able to have read all of their published titles. Right now Ms. Hayward is that only author. :D)
Okay, now really to the review.
We have yet another sexy couple who work…really well together. (Double yay for chemistry!)
Isabel “Izzie” and Alexios “Alex” are not exactly like fire and ice though. They’re way more alike than most couples I’ve read. The only big difference is that Alex is supa-rich and Izzie isn’t. Oh and I guess Alex is a tall, cool drink of Greek on a hot summer Manhattan day and Izzie…isn’t.
The body issues touched briefly on in this book are really concentrated all in the beginning…like that first chapter because unlike most books I’ve read Izzie and Alex are not drawn together by a sham of a convenient relationship to do a slew of things, usually the most common character motivation being a quick need for money, protection of some sort and/or throwing a lifejacket for a floundering reputation.
I repeat: there is NO contractual obligation binding these two people together. The glue is all sexual tension.
Do I hear a triple ‘yay!’???
I also liked that not ever dropped thread from the past was neatly wound up. I already mentioned Izzie and Alex are WAY more alike, and one of those similarities they share is an insecurity that stems from a crap relationship with one of their parents which then prompts the theme of trust-building issues that riddle their relationship.
Neither of these pasts is fully, neatly tucked in at the end. For instance I don’t imagine Alex’s father is going to get an invite to a wedding anytime soon.
And that’s realistic.
Or as realistic as it gets during some points—which brings me to why I’m not going to give this a full-star rating.
I didn’t really like how Alex handled Izzie. I get that he went through so much, and there was this huge plausible reasoning that was entirely rational for his behaviour…yet at the same time it felt rehashed.
His anger at the media no longer seemed like a genuine concern. And Izzie kinda just took his bullshit reactions. Like so many times he yells at her, totally freaks out on her and she’s not in the wrong. And, okay, Alex acknowledges that…but as he says in the book and which I totally was hoping Izzie might throw back at hime: “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”.
She kept running back to him and in any other situation where she didn’t’ have a really cool boss and a great work environment, she’d probably have been fired.
Essentially when this couple gets hot—welllllll *ahem* they get hot. But sometimes it felt rushed.
I should also probably forewarn about pacing. This book moves like Kat Cantrell’s Marriage with Benefits. The timeline I think works out over 8 months, and it makes sense because the book really captures the early relationship of Izzie and Alex and its ups and downs—totally normal given Alex’s billionaire status and Izzie’s larger-than-life experiences.
And although they weren’t my favourite book couple of the year, I would still rank Izzie and Alexios as part of my top…well, actually I don’t know how many romances I’ve read but they’re up there. Trust me…actually don’t trust me. Go read the book for yourself and if you have time to spare a comment, let me know what you think of Changing Constantinou’s Game.
My verdict:
✮✮✮.5

 

(4.5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (32): Marriage with Benefits

BOOK REVIEW:
Marriage with Benefits
 
 
Told you I was coming back with some books and reviews!
Here’s #2 (or should that read #32?) from my have-been read queue.
But first FUN FACT about today’s book: Author Kat Cantrell’s debut, Marriage with Benefits, won Harlequin’s (you know that big romance publisher’s) first SYTYCW writing contest.
AND that contest happens to be happening again this year right now!*
 
Ahem. That business aside back to the review:
So I, umm, really liked Marriage with Benefits. I know can fully appreciate its win back in 2011.
Ms. Cantrell knows her stuff—and she knows how to write a really great tension-filled, sparks flying off the page, laugh-out-loud romance. And yet somehow it balances what I would expect from a “chicklit” read with the passion and heat needed for this particular category line from Harlequin. (The Desire® line is one of the sexier/racier category romances offered by the publisher.)
 
What I took away was a great story and time well spent. The hero and heroine felt real—like real people with real emotions and believeable problems, EVEN IF the scenario was utterly ridiculous. (Pfft! I mean do people really orchestrate fake marriages for other than green card-worthy marriages and then all you want is a sham matrimony with a guy who looks like Ryan Reynolds.)

Shower scene w/ said fake husband.

 

Yes, anyways, Lucas and Dulciana ‘Cia’ were lovable in their own ways, and they worked better together. Which is win-win because I expected, you know, chemisty and lovey-dovey stuff. Cia is a tough-as-nails kinda girl. All girt and very little of the ‘girly’, which I typically dislike but she actually really likes pretty things: diamonds are a girl’s best friend and all. She also likes talking parrots. Really pretty birds, those parrots are.
 
And if I’ve worried you about Cia’s attitude please don’t let this turn you off. She comes off exceptionally strong, and she reminds me so much of my most recent review’s heroine, Quinn Davis from The Truth about De Campo. Really I make her sound like a beyotch and she totally will come off in the first couple chapters like a total beyotch, but you know I think everyone has someone like this in their life. Someone who isn’t the best in their social game—like Cia is SUPER AWKWARD and that was refreshing given that she was constantly being pushed in social soirees to uphold her end of the deal which is to make Lucas look good in the eyes of his upper crust, charity-sponsoring social world.
Thankfully like Matteo Lucas is an easy personality to swallow. He’s a laid-back, cowboy-type hero. While he emulates the cowboy, he isn’t all talk and is quite the charmer. IRL we would totally get along (I mean it would be me – clothes, but we’d get along. *nods*)
 
Yet the ending through me for a bit of a loop…
I can’t really put my finger on it, which totally makes me sound unprepared—though TBH I usually am when it comes to these off-the-cuff reviews.
 
It’s just that Cia and Lucas kinda just fell in for the long run…and I don’t know. I think the timeline threw me off as well. The story covers about the first 3 months of a 6-month marriage of convenience contract, so I immediately knew there would be time skips. The time skips were marked by social occasions that the “fake” socialite couple would attend to keep up the appearance of wedded bliss, but it felt forced a bit. Like sometimes I realized a time skip happened—fast forward a few weeks or even a month and there would have been a problem that felt unresolved, and I wondered how it kind of continued on for that time without being resolved.
 
I’m being Super vague, but I don’t want to spoil the story too much for my own hang-ups. Small as they might be, hang ups nevertheless. I say this as a plural because I also didn’t really like the ending and there was a SPOILER! … right here. –> death
 
—not the sort you’re thinking either. Trust me. We’re talking romance and HEAs (or HFNs) here, readers. Anyways. There’s that and the ending itself along with the pacing that don’t entirely make this a perfect star read.
 
But perfection is old news and despite the VERY minuscule problems (IMHO) I wholeheartedly recommend you purchase this book. Kat Cantrell is an author to watch out for…and if at the very least pick up this book in order to read Lucas’ brother, Matthew’s story, Pregnant by Morning. (Because, yes, pregnancy can happen that quick…can it? –runs off to do google search-)
 
Oh yes, my verdict:

✮✮
 
(4 stars)
 
*SYTYCW 2014 contest site AND Harlequin’s SOLD! blog for all your romance writing and reading-related jollies.
🙂