Take A Peek Book Review: Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

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Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Dominic Alistair, Marquis of Vidal is a bad lot, a rake and seducer, reckless, heedless, and possessed of a murderous temper. He is known by friend and foe alike as the “Devil’s Cub.” Yet as the handsome and wealthy heir to a Dukedom, he is considered a good prospect on the marriage market. Vidal currently has his eye on the young, lovely, and unintelligent Sophia Challoner, and Sophia’s greedy mother is more than happy to encourage his dubious attentions.

When lovely, saucy Mary Challoner had practiced her bold deception upon the hot-blooded, fiery-tempered young Marquis of Vidal–substituting herself for her young sister he had thought to carry off to France–she had little notion he would grimly hold her to her part of the bargain. Now he had left her, and she was alone, a stranger in a strange land, prey to the intrigues of glittering, heartless, 18th century Paris.

Only one person could rescue her–the Marquis himself. But how could she ever trust this man? How could she even hope to overcome the contempt in which he held her? And how could even the sudden flowering of her love ever bridge the terrible gap between them?

My Thoughts:

Until Devil’s Cub, I’d never read a Georgette Heyer novel before, despite knowing several readers (of excellent taste, in my humble opinion) who absolutely adore her work. Georgette Heyer was such a prolific writer that I had no idea where to even start, but fortunately, my book club decided to go with something on the “classic romantic” side for our February book of the month and came up with Devil’s Cub, so I was spared the dilemma of having to choose.

The description really says it all. There’s a Marquis — such a scoundrel! But devilishly handsome. A sweet, decent young woman. A flighty sister. Oodles of lovers’ quarrels and misunderstandings. Elopements and escapes by carriage. Reputations and ruining on the line!

Devil’s Cub is a galloping piece of entertainment with never a dull moment, as social niceties are observed and broken, all in the name of love and honor. The characters are quite endearing. Mary has a backbone and makes for a great heroine, and although the Marquis’s use of threats to get his way rubs my modern sensibilities the wrong way, he’s exactly the sort of decadent lord with a heart of gold that would have been popular in the romantic fiction of the time.

This was a very fun read, light and entertaining, and a diverting little showpiece of social norms and scandals during the Regency era. Devil’s Cub is actually a sequel of sorts to These Old Shades, but it works perfectly fine as a stand-alone (although I do want to read that one as well, as soon as the library has a copy available).

I’m not going out on a Georgette Heyer binge right this second, but I do want to read more of her books. Any suggestions? Any must-reads? Let me know!

Meanwhile, as always, I’m so thankful to be part of an amazing book club that gives me incentive to read books outside my usual reading habits.

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The details:

Title: Devil’s Cub
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: Originally published 1932
Length: 323 pages
Genre: Historical romance
Source: Library

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Book Review: Always by Sarah Jio

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While enjoying a romantic candlelit dinner with her fiance, Ryan, at one of Seattle’s chicest restaurants, Kailey Crane can’t believe her good fortune: She has a great job as a writer for the Herald and is now engaged to a guy who is perfect in nearly every way. As they leave the restaurant, Kailey spies a thin, bearded homeless man on the sidewalk. She approaches him to offer up her bag of leftovers, and is stunned when their eyes meet, then stricken to her very core: The man is the love of her life, Cade McAllister.

When Kailey met Cade ten years ago, their attraction was immediate and intense everything connected and felt “right.” But it all ended suddenly, leaving Kailey devastated. Now the poor soul on the street is a faded version of her former beloved: His weathered and weary face is as handsome as Kailey remembers, but his mind has suffered in the intervening years. Over the next few weeks, Kailey helps Cade begin to piece his life together, something she initially keeps from Ryan. As she revisits her long-ago relationship, Kailey realizes that she must decide exactly what and whom she wants.

Alternating between the past and the present, Always is a beautifully unfolding exploration of a woman faced with an impossible choice, a woman who discovers what she’s willing to save and what she will sacrifice for true love.

Warning: This review contains spoilers!

And a disclaimer: This just isn’t my kind of story, and that fact probably influences my reaction quite a bit… but maybe not. I’ll explain, I promise.

I like a good romantic tale every once in a while. A nice, contemporary story about falling in love, or rediscovering love, or the memory of love… what’s not to — you know?

So why didn’t I love Always? For starters, everything was so completely obvious. In chapter one, we see Kailey sitting down to dinner with her super rich, too handsome to be true, perfect gentleman from a fine family fiancé, and I could tell you already that these two will never work out. He’s a developer; she wants to save the homeless shelters in the square of his next big development project. He’s being kind of insistent in an incredibly outdated way about her changing her name when they get married. They seem to read home decorating magazines for fun. There is just no way that these two should ever get married — so when she stumbles across the former love of her life dressed in rags and seemingly out of his mind, there’s really no dramatic tension. OF COURSE she’s going to end up with Cade. I mean, there isn’t the slightest shadow of a doubt about it.

Still, we get the alternating timeline effect, following the story of Kailey and Cade’s first meeting (Seattle in the 90s) and early romance, intercut with chapters set in the later timeline (2008) as she discovers Cade on the streets and decides that she has to save him. The more we see of Kailey and Cade’s relationship, the clearer it becomes that Ryan is all wrong for Kailey. But anyway…

Cade is homeless, begging for food, and clearly has been through something awful. He only shows a glimmer of recognition when he sees the tattoo on Kailey’s shoulder — because of course, he has the same one. She’s desperate to help him, and he doesn’t actually know who she is. Meanwhile, she never tells Ryan the truth, so she’s living a lie, missing work, and disappearing from life with her fiancé — not a good sign.

Plot-wise, there are just too many pieces that make no sense to me. (As I said earlier, SPOILERS!);

  • Cade just up and disappeared 10 years earlier, but it’s not clear whether Kailey actually did anything to find him. A guy, even one who’s been drinking too much, doesn’t just evaporate from his own life for no reason. Did she go to his apartment and notice that all his possessions were still there? Did she call the police? File a missing persons report? Hire a detective? Try to figure out who last saw him? If she’d done any of that, no matter the state of their relationship, I have a feeling she might have actually found him. Although then we’d have no big romantic reunion all those years later, but still.
  • So what exactly was wrong with Cade? “Traumatic brain injury” — what does that even mean? I know this isn’t a medical drama, but a little bit of a reality check might have helped. What part of the brain was affected? What’s the prognosis? And why is the treatment so vague? Living in a facility with unspecified treatments, medications, therapies… and suddenly he can talk and remember? More detail and grounding would have helped sell Cade’s condition better.
  • And what exactly happened the night of the accident? Apparently, Cade was the victim of some sort of crime… maybe? Or hit by a car? Or really, anything at all? We don’t know. And for that matter, why didn’t James, the former best friend, bother finding out afterward?
  • We find out, through Kailey’s barely-making-an-effort detective work, that a John Doe was admitted to the hospital with a brain injury right around that same time, but was checked out by a family member before treatment could be provided. AND THEN WE NEVER GET A RESOLUTION ON THIS PLOT POINT. Who checked him out? Why? Did something nefarious happen? No answers.

Okay, so the more I write, the more I realize how much the plot didn’t work for me. It felt formulaic and utterly predictable, with very little tension (Kailey’s choice is a forgone conclusion), and a romance that gets a pie-in-the-sky ending that feels like it glazes over any and all obstacles. Heck, they even recover Cade’s missing fortune by barely lifting a finger (and the story I expected, of insidious business dealings and a financial motivation, never actually materializes.) The storybook ending is yet another element of a paint-by-number love story that lacks any basis in the real world.

Sure, some may find this an inspiring story of true love finding its way. When two people are meant to be together, nothing (NOT EVEN A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY) can keep them apart. Love conquers all, yo!

Clearly, this was not a book for me.

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The details:

Title: Always
Author: Sarah Jio
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: February 7, 2017
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: The Chocolate Thief

Chocolate ThiefLet’s be perfectly clear: This is not my usual kind of read.

My lovely online book group picked The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand for our February group read. Don’t get me wrong — I have nothing against chocolate! And if you don’t believe me, just send me some and see if I eat it.

I do have a problem, though, with romance novels, and The Chocolate Thief belongs firmly on the romance shelf.

All that being said, I will admit that I didn’t hate The Chocolate Thief, and actually, once I accepted that I was reading this book and sticking with it, I kind of got sucked in — at least, enough to read for a couple of hours straight this morning so I could see how it all turned out.

Enough preamble.

In The Chocolate Thief, 20-something American businesswoman Cade Corey has come to Paris to see if she can make a dream come true. Cade is the youngest generation of the Corey chocolate dynasty of Corey, Maryland. Think Hershey — Corey is a multi-billion dollar corporation that thrives off of its 33-cent chocolate bars sold at Walmarts and in supermarket checkout lines across America.

Cade’s dream is to launch a line of gourmet, high-end chocolate as a flagship enterprise for Corey, but to make it happen, she needs a Parisian chocolatier to sign on to the scheme, agree to let Cade buy him for millions, and then mass-produce his type of chocolate, stamped with his name, as part of the Corey brand.

Cade gets a nasty awakening when she pursues the #1 chocolatier in Paris, Sylvain Marquis, and is given an angry and emphatic NO. (Or “non”, I suppose). Not one to give up, Cade eventually ends up breaking into Sylvain’s laboratoire, fingering all of his chocolate-making supplies, leaving chocolatey fingerprints everywhere, and winding up covered by gourmet blogs as the mysterious “Chocolate Thief”.

Needless to say, it doesn’t hurt a bit that Sylvain is gorgeous and manly and has beautiful hands. Cade falls hard. He falls right back. The chemistry grows and the heat rises. And it goes pretty much where you’d expect it to go.

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Okay, my thoughts:

Well, as I said, I did read all the way to the end, so clearly, it’s a compelling story. Of course, there are things that bugged me. Such as Cade stubbornly running around the city in heels while thinking about how much her feet hurt. Or having to describe every outfit she wears and how much makeup she puts on. Or the fact that Sylvain’s early refusal and dismissal of Cade seems to be the key to what keeps her coming back. Or looking at every attractive woman as competition.

There are positives: I liked that the main character is a successful professional who’s devoted to her family and to the family business. I liked that she and Sylvain are both outwardly cool and confident, but have lurking insecurities underneath — she, that men only want her for her money, and he, that women only want him for his chocolate.

They spend a lot of the book mistrusting each other’s motives and getting either hurt or angry, when if they’d only talked a bit more, they’d have reached an understanding (and happiness) a lot sooner.

The writing is a bit bumpy. Lots and lots (and lots) of decadent, sensuous descriptions of the flavors of chocolate, the way it melts on the tongue, the scents and textures of every food, every piece of clothing, every touch of skin. These bits are all quite delicious (sorry…), if occasionally overdone. By the time I was further in the book, it was like — enough already! We get how good the chocolate smells. Can we get on with the plot?

Where was I? Yes, the writing. Some bits just made me groan, and not from ecstasy:

Long, phallic eclairs in shades of coffee, chocolate, and pistachio stretched in rows like some nymphomaniac’s dream.

Okay…

Chocolate melted on her tongue, melted into her body. Its warm, rich sweetness combined with the pounding adrenaline until she felt … the closest she could think of was aroused. Desperately, intensely aroused, as if someone could come out of the shadows with his sorcerer eyes glinting and lay her down on the dark counters and …

Is it getting hot in here?

This clunker just did not work for me:

She had hunted him. She had tethered herself out there like some kid goat to his Tyrannosaurus rex.

Wait, what? Goats hunt T-Rexes? Not sure this makes the least bit of sense.

The plot is a fairly standard romance arc — two beautiful people, intense instant attraction, lots of tingly bits leading up to hot sex, misunderstandings and obstacles, and finally, the HEA you know is coming at the end. Sorry, that’s not a spoiler — that’s just how these things go.

Speaking of hot sex — there’s quite a bit, including two especially… um, let’s say VIVID… scenes, one on the marble countertops of Sylvain’s workplace, and one quite memorable escapade taking place during the ascent of several flights of stairs.

Do I recommend this book?

Well, that depends. I actually had fun reading it, despite not being a fan of the genre, and despite the muscle strain I developed from all the eye-rolling. The Chocolate Thief isn’t a book I would seek out on my own, and I probably would have stopped after a chapter or two if not for not wanting to bail on a book club book. But, it wasn’t unpleasant to read, I did end up getting caught up enough in the story to want to see it through, and overall found it pretty fun. Especially all the chocolate. Yummmmmm.

For readers who enjoy romances with aloof, strong but secretly fragile men and the powerful but secretly looking for love women who break through their defenses, well, this might be just about perfect.

Overall, it’s sweet and romantic and full of the sights of Paris and an absolute walllowing in flavors. Not a bad choice for a quick and light read. And if you just want to get to the… um… vivid bits:

There in his arms. Yielding to him. Pulling at him. Yielding. Her mouth, her tongue, her body that flexed to him and grew softer and softer, as if all strength failed her, even as he grew stronger and stronger, too hard, hard to bursting with himself and his power over her.

… turn to chapters 13 and 18. You’re welcome.

Word to the wise: Stock up on chocolate before reading The Chocolate Thief, and splurge on the good stuff.

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The details:

Title: The Chocolate Thief
Author: Laura Florand
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: July 31, 2012
Length: 303 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Library

Take A Peek Book Review: Catching Jordan

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

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Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

What girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn’t just surrounded by hot guys, though — she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys and that’s just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university.

But everything she’s ever worked for is threatened when Ty Green moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he’s also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan’s feeling vulnerable. Can she keep her head in the game while her heart’s on the line?

 

My Thoughts:

Miranda Kenneally’s young adult novels take place in and around Hundred Oaks High School in the fictional town of Franklin, Tennessee. Each book has a teen girl at its center, and while the stories interweave a bit, with familiar faces from earlier books popping up later in supporting roles, each book stands alone nicely as well.

I stumbled across these books more or less accidentally, when I picked up an ARC of the 4th book, Racing Savannah. Since then, I’ve read two more, and now I’m finally going back and trying to read the first three Hundred Oaks books, starting with the author’s very first novel, Catching Jordan.

Jordan Woods is a high school senior, an amazing quarterback, and captain of her school football team. She’s the daughter of a world-famous NFL quarterback, and sees no reason why she shouldn’t follow in his footsteps and pursue her dreams of QBing a top-tier college team — despite her dad’s lack of support due to fear of her getting injured.

Jordan’s closest friends are the guys from the team, especially Sam Henry, the quintessential boy next door who’s been her absolute best friend since childhood. Jordan and Sam’s friendship is tested when a hot new guy moves to town — a guy who not only is competition for the QB role but also wants to date Jordan.

Jordan is a total jock, and she’s not ashamed of it. She also refuses to cede any ground in her fight to be taken seriously, and throws herself into her love of football wholeheartedly. (I’m a big fan of Jordan’s, even if I’m not at all a jock myself!)

One of the things I love about these books is the fresh take on teen friendships and social roles. Yes, there are some mean, gossipy cheerleaders — but there are also a couple of nice, positive cheerleaders who actually are supportive friends, once Jordan drops her guard and allows herself to hang out with girls. Jordan is always afraid of looking soft in front of the guys, but she eventually learns that she can wear a dress and makeup if she wants to (and she very rarely wants to) without giving up any ground as the football authority.

I also appreciate the honest look at high school relationships in Catching Jordan. These teens definitely do hook up, and sex is a pretty casual thing for most. Jordan faces her first kiss and losing her virginity within the space of a week, and it’s not because she’s taken a stand or hasn’t been interested. She’s just never before figured out how to balance having a love life with her status as captain and one of the guys.

I almost hesitated to include the book synopsis while writing this “Take a Peek” review, because frankly, the synopsis makes the book sound kind of cheesy and stereotypical, and that’s so misleading. I mean, “what girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out?” and “amazingly hot”? Really?

Ignore all that, and just pay attention to this: Catching Jordan is a terrific young adult novel about a strong, self-sufficient young woman who values friendship and loyalty, knows what she wants out of life, but has to figure out who really matters to her and how to find the kind of love she really craves. The small-town, Southern vibe is lots of fun, and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the two remaining Hundred Oaks books that are calling my name.

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of other books by Miranda Kenneally:
Racing Savannah
Breathe, Annie, Breathe
Jesse’s Girl

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The details:

Title: Catching Jordan
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: November 11, 2011
Length: 283 pages
Genre: Young adult contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

Introducing… Destiny’s Plan by Victoria Saccenti

I’m absolutely thrilled to spotlight Destiny’s Plan, a brand new release and first novel by Victoria Saccenti. I’ve known Victoria through our online book club for a few years now, and I’m delighted that my friend is now a published author! Please join me in celebrating Destiny’s Plan!

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Synopsis:

When Raquelita Muro and Matthew Buchanan meet by chance on a Greyhound bus between Texas and Tallahassee, neither suspects Fate is about to take over.

Raquelita, a gentle girl under the heel of her abusive mother, finds this kind young man a miracle.  Matthew, an idealistic young soldier, discovers this sweet-natured girl is an angel in need of a guardian.  However, the next stop on Matthew’s journey is Fort Benning to report for deployment to Vietnam, while Raquelita’s destination is set at her mother’s whim.  Regardless of the forces tearing them apart, they discover a way to secretly span the distance, to end up closer than ever.  But Fate is rarely kind.  The vagaries of war—and the unstable tempers of Raquelita’s mother—intervene, leaving both ill-fated lovers feeling there is no hope for their love.

Set in the turbulent era of the Vietnam War, Raquelita’s and Matthew’s story is one of love, loss, lost faith, shattered memories, deferred dreams and broken promises.  Will Fate tear apart these two damaged souls, leaving them desperately alone forever, or will they finally overcome Fate, their bond stronger than they ever thought possible?

Author Q&A:

Victoria was gracious enough to answer some questions about her writing, her book, and her life:

Congratulations on the release of Destiny’s Plan! How do you feel, now that your book is out there in the world?

Hi Lisa, thank you for the good wishes and the wonderful opportunity to speak about my baby, Destiny’s Plan. Now that it’s published, I have an internal revolving door of emotions. Happiness, excitement, and trepidation are taking turns in and out.

What was your inspiration for this book?

I worked for an international airline for many years. During my travels I observed young servicemen, either in groups or alone, journeying back and forth on orders. More than once, I wondered about their lives, their loves, their fears, and their beliefs. The idea sprouted there.

Is this a personal story for you? How much of the characters’ lives represent your own experiences?

It is not personal, in the sense that I didn’t use anyone I know. For the rest, I suppose all writers inject into their stories topics and themes they’re familiar with. I grew up in a Spanish-Latin environment. I used that as a reference for the interaction and conflict between Raquelita and her mother, Isabel.

Why this particular time period? Is there something about the era that really speaks to you?

At the risk of sounding a bit schizophrenic, Matthew, a central character in the story, was pretty adamant. He demanded this time period.

Have you always wanted to write? This is your first novel — when did you realize that you needed to write it, and how did you get started?

I’ve been writing on and off for years. As a child, I wrote fairy stories to act out during playtime. When I was stationed in London, my letters were full of tales about the different regions I visited. I never thought I would go this far. Not until the night when Matthew popped into my head with his story from beginning to end. It was kismet <g> — here comes that theme again — because the next day a friend suggested I should write a book. Here we are today.

What does a typical day of writing look like for you? What’s your overall process?

After trial and error I realized, my best writing is in the morning. Initially, I tried to write late at night, after coming home from work. What a disaster. The next day I had to delete everything. I need sleep to see the images and scenes clearly. If I’m rested, I hear the characters better, the dialogue is crisper, and I have to be in my cave with the door locked. This doesn’t mean transmission ends when I stop writing. By now my husband recognizes the blank stare, when I’m connected to the other voices.

I know you went through a lot of ups and down on your path toward getting published. What words of advice or encouragement would you offer aspiring writers?

Neil Gaiman’s quote, “Write your story as it needs to be written” doesn’t always apply to the business/ money aspect. Nevertheless, writing is magical, so I say, hang in there, it takes patience, believe in your book, prepare for rejection, surround yourself with supportive friends – my friends kept me sane. If anyone decides to go Indie, hire a good editor—massive emphasis on the last bit. Despite the challenges, don’t give up on the dream. Persevere for the characters, they’ve sent out an invitation into their world, go with it.

Are you working on anything new yet? What will we see next from you?

I’m almost finished with Book 2 of the Destiny Series. Marité’s Choice should be ready to roll by spring of 2016. I also have in mind a spinoff story based on Richard, a surprisingly attractive character from Destiny’s Plan.

I know you’re a big reader – what are your favorite genres, authors, books? What do you consider the biggest influences on your writing?

I am an equal opportunity, avid reader. If it’s good, I’ll jump right in. I’m a total sucker for historical fiction. <g> In that genre, the incomparable Dorothy Dunnett sits way on top, she’s followed by Salvador de Madariaga, Anya Seton, and Diana Gabaldon. I also love magical realism, a la Isabel Allende, Gabriel García Márquez, and Laura Esquivel. I adore Tolkien, Frank Herbert’s Dune series, Ray Bradbury, and the list goes on. I only hope these outstanding writers left an imprint, however small, in me.

For someone picking up Destiny’s Plan for the first time, what would you want a reader to know?

Destiny’s Plan is a story about love in times of war, duty to one’s country, and spiritual growth. Expect a few twist and turns along the way.

If you had to use just five adjectives to describe Destiny’s Plan, what would they be?

You had to ask. <g> Epic, Romantic, Emotional, Entertaining, Powerful.

Please join me in wishing Victoria great success with Destiny’s Plan and the books yet to come!

Author Bio:

VictoriaA native of Cuba, Victoria loves writing generational sagas and romances with complex, emotional content. In Destiny’s Plan, the readers travel from stately San Antonio, to peaceful Central Florida, to the jungles of Vietnam, and to the hectic streets of New York during the turbulent 60’s.  She is currently writing Book Two of the Destiny’s Series.

 

 

 

 

Links:

Facebook: http://ow.ly/Sosyi
Twitter: http://ow.ly/Spbvm
Webpage: http://www.victoriasaccentiwrites.com
Google+:  http://ow.ly/Sot9m
Amazon: http://ow.ly/Qn9xj
Smashwords: http://ow.ly/QPPrA
Barnes & Noble: http://ow.ly/QPPcF
Kobo:  http://ow.ly/QPP4A
iBook, Apple: http://ow.ly/QPPmJ

And be sure to check out the YouTube book trailer: https://youtu.be/0-ky8VA6nrE

 

Take A Peek Book Review: Jesse’s Girl

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Jesse's Girl

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Everyone at Hundred Oaks High knows that career mentoring day is a joke. So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she never imagined she’d get to shadow *the* Jesse Scott, Nashville’s teen idol.

But spending the day with Jesse is far from a dream come true. He’s as gorgeous as his music, but seeing all that he’s accomplished is just a reminder of everything Maya’s lost: her trust, her boyfriend, their band, and any chance to play the music she craves. Not to mention that Jesse’s pushy and opinionated. He made it on his own, and he thinks Maya’s playing back up to other people’s dreams. Does she have what it takes to follow her heart—and go solo?

My Thoughts:

I wouldn’t normally pick up a book about a romance between a small town girl and the superstar she meets cute… but this is my third book by Miranda Kenneally, and I went into Jesse’s Girl expecting something special. And that’s exactly what I got.

Maya dresses goth/punk, loves 80s music (especially Madonna and Queen), and wants to spend her life rocking out with an awesome guitar. The band she started has kicked her out, though, and her dream of auditioning on Wannabe Rocker seems to be slipping away. But meeting Jesse opens her eyes to the idea of taking risks to get what she really wants, as well as seeing that celebrity and superstardom come at a price… and that the lives of the rich and famous can be awfully lonely without a loving family to back you up.

That may sound like a lot to pack into one young adult novel, but it works. The first half of the book is a “one special day” type of story, where Maya and Jesse start as semi-hostile strangers, have a ton of crazy adventures as they both break rules and defy expectations, and end up connected in ways that go way beyond the attraction they both feel.

Maya is shown as a strong girl who needs an even stronger infusion of confidence. She learns to open up, and in turn gets Jesse to start realizing that he doesn’t have to give up his own dreams in order to be loved.

Jesse and Maya are well-developed characters, with flaws as well as talents. I appreciate the economic diversity that the author features in her novels. Maya’s family is proudly working class, and every dollar counts. Maya can’t take anything for granted, and meets her financial challenges head on without shame. It’s interesting to see how she views Jesse’s financial success and life of creature comforts, and yet still values her messy, loud family with their beat-up cars more than anything money can buy.

Fans of Miranda Kenneally’s earlier books will be delighted by this return to Hundred Oaks, especially as favorite characters from earlier books show up here in supporting roles. Reading Jesse’s Girl makes me realize that I need to go back and read the three other books by this author that I’ve missed!

Jesse’s Girl is a moving story of teens finding their way, a tribute to the power of romance, and a nice spotlight on the unbelievable strength that a loving family and supportive friends can provide. I’m really impressed with the author’s ability to create characters who seem both familiar and fresh, as well as her engaging storytelling. I was really swept up in the fun and feelings of this book, and recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good contemporary tale… particularly if you like a bit of a Southern twang in your fiction!

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of other books by Miranda Kenneally:
Racing Savannah
Breathe, Annie, Breathe

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The details:

Title: Jesse’s Girl
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: July 7, 2015
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Young adult contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Book Review: The Last Letter From Your Lover

last letterJojo Moyes is quickly becoming one of my go-to, auto-buy authors. After reading a few of her more recent books, I decided to look into some of her previously published works, and picked up a copy of The Last Letter From Your Lover, which was originally released in 2010.

In Last Letter, we follow two timelines: a contemporary story bookending the novel and then a 1960s story, the major part of the book both in terms of length and where the heart of the tale is concentrated. Within the two timelines, we follow three different narrative arcs, all of which come together by the book’s end.

In the prologue, we meet journalist Ellie Haworth, whose career is suffering while her private life consumes her every waking thought. Ellie is one year into an ill-advised affair with a married man, and despite absolutely no evidence to support her hopes, Ellie can’t help dreaming of the day when she finally gets more from her lover. As part of a retrospective feature at work, Ellie starts going through her newspaper’s archives and comes across an old letter that knocks her socks off. Drenched in romance, the letter-writer (identified only as “B.”) declares:

I’ll be at Platform 4, Paddington, at 7:15 on Friday evening, and there is nothing in the world that would make me happier than if you found the courage to come with me… I’ll be waiting on the platform from a quarter to seven. Know that you hold my heart, my hopes, in your hands.

Ellie doesn’t know who wrote the letter or to whom it was addressed, but she’s reduced to tears by the passion and the emotion. The letter seems to awaken something in Ellie…

From there, the action switches to 1960, in which a pampered, sheltered wife of a very powerful man meets a brash and disrespectful reporter. Jennifer Stirling is beautiful but bored; Anthony O’Hare despises the spoiled society members who flit through life above and apart from the world’s real troubles. Of course, sparks fly between Jennifer and Anthony, but obstacles keep the lovers apart.

In yet a third narrative stream, we see Jennifer waking up in a hospital after a car accident, suffering from amnesia and brought back home by her husband Laurence to recover. Jennifer feels certain that she’s missing something important, but has no idea what has truly happened or what that key piece of information about her past might be.

Eventually, the story streams come together. Ellie traces the mysterious love letter to Jennifer, now  in her 60s, and sets out to discover whether the lovers ever did manage to unite and start a new life together. At the same time, Ellie faces some unpleasant truths about her own love life, and must make decisions about who she is and who she wants to be.

I enjoyed Last Letter, although perhaps not quite as much as some of the author’s other novels. The mixed timelines didn’t especially work in favor of narrative tension. After meeting Ellie in the prologue, we don’t see her again until about halfway through the book. Meanwhile, the story of Jennifer and Anthony’s relationship is interwoven with Jennifer’s post-crash story, and sorting out what came first and what resulted is a bit of a challenge.

By the end of the book, I was very invested in Jennifer and Anthony’s story and in finding out what had happened between them, but given the mixed narratives and the shifting point-of-views, it was always a struggle to piece together the actual events versus the characters’ perceptions of events, which were often two different things. I didn’t quite buy the build-up of the love affair or believe how instantly and passionately they fell in love, yet as the story moved forward, it was the descriptions of their thwarted yearnings that were more convincing than their stolen moments together.

Jennifer reminded me strongly of Mad Men‘s Betty Draper, although a less childish and selfish version. Still, she’s the quintessential beautiful but useless society wife, a woman whose job is to be ornamental and a credit to her husband, with no actual skills or education and no chance of forging a life of her own. As the story progresses, it’s heartening to see Jennifer face up to her reality and try to find a way to take control and pursue a path that gives her life meaning, despite the cost.

Ellie’s story is a bit pale by comparison, and the parallels aren’t always comfortable ones. We’re meant to sympathize with and root for this young woman, but it’s hard to do so while she’s enmeshed in a very stupid affair, refusing to acknowledge the real damage she may be doing to herself and to others. An awakening eventually comes, of course, thanks in large part to Ellie’s growing fascination with Jennifer and her exposure to what real love looks like. Perhaps Ellie is meant to be the reader’s entry point into the story, but Jennifer is the far more compelling character.

One especially fun feature of this novel is the lead-in page for each chapter, each featuring an excerpt from a real break-up letter, text, or email. Some are wistful, some are harsh, and some are downright comical (like the text message “U n me finished”), but all add a touch of spice and poignancy to this sentimental and occasionally sorrowful book.

All in all, The Last Letter From Your Lover is an engaging and often moving look at how love doesn’t always work out, how life can get in the way, and how sometimes it isn’t too late to start over and find happiness. For those new to Jojo Moyes, I’d probably suggest starting elsewhere, but fans of the author shouldn’t miss this one.

Want to know more? Check out my reviews of other books by Jojo Moyes:
The Girl You Left Behind
One Plus One
The Ship of Brides
Me Before You

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The details:

Title: The Last Letter From Your Lover
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publication date: First published in UK in 2010
Length: 390 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

Book Review: Since You’ve Been Gone

Since You've Been GoneIn this romance, a young widow learns to start enjoying life again two years after the tragic death of her husband, when she falls in love with the handsome man who unexpectedly swoops into her life. And it doesn’t hurt that he has oodles of money, lives in a mansion, and drives a flashy sports car.

To be fair, Holly is emphatically not interested in Ciaran when he first appears, and she is so not impressed by his millions or by his allegedly playboyish love life. Holly just wants to live a quiet life in the unfinished cottage she and the late Charlie had moved into, where she can be left alone with her troubled dreams of her lost husband and with a big slobbery dog for company. But when Holly’s bakery (deliciously named Cake) is commissioned to make and deliver a specialty item to Ciaran’s father (a loud, often drunk man prone to inappropriate displays of what’s beneath his kilt), she meets and then can’t stop running into lovely Ciaran — and Ciaran is smitten enough to woo Holly despite her rather rude attempts to make him go away.

Since You’ve Been Gone doesn’t hold much in the way of surprises, but for a straight-forward romance, it veers just enough from the expected formula to keep it interesting. Holly herself is a well-drawn character, clearly suffering when we meet her and not ready to let go of her loss and grief. Yes, the money angle is a little obnoxious and obvious, but Holly makes clear that she falls for Ciaran despite the status and glamour, not because of it.

I enjoyed the emphasis on the natural settings, Holly’s love of nature and the outdoors, and the tenderness Ciaran displays in honoring Charlie’s memory. There are some stock characters, to be sure, including the gold-digging personal assistant who is icy-beautiful and constantly needles and undermines Holly — but the rest of the supporting cast, including the lonely older woman next door and Holly’s hugely pregnant and over-involved sister, are off-beat enough to keep the story lively.

Yes, in some respects this is a by-the-numbers romance novel, and anyone who’s not a fan of the genre might want to steer clear. I’m not much of a romance reader ordinarily, but I was drawn to Since You’ve Been Gone by the adorable cover as well as by the synopsis, which made it sound not very run-of-the-mill — and I’m pleased that I gave it a try.

Since You’ve Been Gone is a fast, light read, with some nice emotional moments (and some super-steamy sex) to keep things moving along. It’s an enjoyable book about finding love again, and is a perfectly entertaining way to spend a summer day.

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The details:

Title: Since You’ve Been Gone
Author: Anouska Knight
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Publication date: July 29, 2014
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Review courtesy of Harlequin via NetGalley

Book Review: City of Jasmine

Book Review: City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

City of JasmineLove, intrigue, and adventure are set against a backdrop of gorgeous desert vistas and an ancient Middle Eastern city in this new novel from Deanna Raybourn, author of A Spear of Summer Grass and the Lady Julia Grey series.

In City of Jasmine, lovely but broke Evie Merriweather Starke is gaining lots of attention as an aviatrix setting out to fly over the seven seas of antiquity — hoping to keep sponsorships coming in just a little while longer before her cash and stamina run out. Evie has spunk and daring, but she’s also still nursing the heartbreak of her failed marriage. Evie eloped with Gabriel Starke on the day she met him, ringing in the new year of 1915 together. But their marriage quickly soured, and when Gabriel was lost at sea with the sinking of the Lusitania, no one but Evie knew that she’d been about to divorce him.

Now, five years later, Evie is trying her best to move on with her life, with her eccentric Aunt Dove for companionship, when she receives an anonymous piece of mail containing a picture of Gabriel, dated 1920 and captioned “Damascus”. What does it mean, and why would someone send it to Evie? Seeing how she’s in the area anyway, Evie sets off for the ancient city to either find her presumed dead husband or to lay his memory to rest for good.

Adventure awaits. Damascus is dusty, confusing, and full of old-world glamor and mystery. Evie finds herself in the company of a group of archaeologists, who have apparently made a startling discovery way out in the desert at their dig site. Meanwhile, the Middle East is simmering with post-War political tensions, as the European powers attempt to carve up the former Ottoman Empire — which doesn’t necessarily sit very well with the Arab locals and the desert-dwelling Bedouin tribes.

City of Jasmine is at heart a romance, and that shines through despite occasional dives into historical politics that get a bit too dry at times. The love story is really what this book is all about, and it’s at its best when the mystery of Evie and Gabriel’s marriage and estrangement is explored. Why did the lovely man Evie married turn into a cold-eyed stranger so quickly? Why did he fake his own death? What is he doing in Damascus, disguised as an antiquities expert in dusty robes and a nasty beard? And why, even now, must he treat Evie with such aloofness and mockery?

There’s quite a bit of action in City of Jasmine, and at times it has a frantic, almost Indiana Jones-ish feel to it. There are double-crosses and triple-crosses, chases through the desert, gunfire, escapes via camel, truck and airplane, hostile tribes and friendly tribes, and all sorts of talk of relics, artifacts, and priceless treasures. This being a romance, though, there are also quite luxurious descriptions of Turkish baths and spa treatments, flowing robes, absolutely scrumptious-sounding food, and desert tents filled with lovely carpets and cushions.

The history feels somewhat shoe-horned in. There’s a lot of talk about the politics of the time and their implications, but this mostly just scratches the surface of the complicated issues involved. I suppose the political atmosphere of the day is necessary for the events and setting to make sense, but between that and the archaelogy and the action sequences, the romantic elements are often in danger of being buried by plot.

I did enjoy City of Jasmine, but felt that the relationship between Evie and Gabriel needed to be explored further. Interestingly, the publisher released a prequel novella entitled Whisper of Jasmine in early February, several weeks before City of Jasmine‘s release. Whisper of Jasmine tells the story of Evie and Gabriel’s first meeting at a New Year’s Eve party, their intense and immediate attraction, and their elopement. It’s all quiet breathless and passionate and very, very romantic. I have to wonder, though, if the overarching story might have been better served by including this prequel as a prologue within City of Jasmine itself. Without having read the prequel, it’s hard to see the marriage as anything but an impulsive decision that ended in failure, and we don’t see enough of Evie and Gabriel together to get a sense of the feelings between them. Of course, I can’t really judge since I did read the prequel first — but I wonder what impressions a reader might have who hadn’t read Whisper of Jasmine ahead of time.

If you’ve read A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn, then you’ll be happy to recognize a few familiar characters popping up here in City of Jasmine, kind of like encountering old friends unexpectedly. If you haven’t read A Spear, no worries. It’s nice to have the connection to the previous novel, but not essential to understanding the characters and events of City of Jasmine.

I enjoyed the flapper-esque sensibility and dialogue of Evie and her aunt, who is the quintessential elderly relative with a notorious, scandalous past:

“We’re travel-fatigued,” Aunt Dove pronounced. “It happens when one passes too quickly from one culture into another. I’ve always said trains were uncivilized. One ought only ever to travel by steamship or camel.”

Likewise, there are moments of prime bantering between Evie and Gabriel that are quite charming:

When I reached his side, he paused and gave me a penetrating look. “How much did you enjoy pulling that trigger at me?”

I thought a moment. “Less than I expected but more than I should have.”

He nodded. “That sounds about right.”

Overall, I found City of Jasmine — while overly hectic in places — an engaging, romantic tale of adventure and love. If you enjoy a light taste of history mixed in with your exotic locations and passionate pairings, give City of Jasmine a try!

And if you’ve read City of Jasmine, I’d also recommend:

  • A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn: A terrific historical romance set in colonial Africa in the 1920s, with a remarkable, memorable heroine.
  • Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell: For those wanting a deeper dive into the history and politics of the Middle East in the years following World War I, you really can’t do better than this brilliant historical novel.

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The details:

Title: City of Jasmine
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publication date: February 25, 2014
Length: 354 pages
Genre: Romance/historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Harlequin MIRA via NetGalley

Wishlist Wednesday

Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday!

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Do a post about one book from your wishlist and why you want to read it.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to Pen to Paper somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My wishlist book this week is:

Letters from Skye: A Novel

Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole

From Goodreads:

A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.

June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

Why do I want to read this?

Letters from Skye suits so many of my reading preferences: Historical setting, Scotland (!), war-time romance, multi-generational narrative. I love the idea of the contrast between the romances that happened in the lives of the mother and daughter in the different World Wars — and how one could affect and change the other. It all sounds very dramatic and dashing and so very romantic! I’m really look forward to reading this one.

What’s on your wishlist this week?

So what are you doing on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!