Book Review: How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

 

Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future ahead of her: a fiancé she adores, her dream job, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in one tumultuous moment.

In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Margaret must figure out how to move forward on her own terms while facing long-held family secrets, devastating heartbreak, and the idea that love might find her in the last place she would ever expect.

How to Walk Away is Katherine Center at her very best: an utterly charming, hopeful, and romantic novel that will capture reader’s hearts with every page.

Margaret seems to have it all on the day we meet her, but as she tells us right up front:

The biggest irony about that night is that I was always scared to fly.

Her too-perfect-for words boyfriend Chip has been working toward getting his pilot’s license. He’s gorgeous, head over heels for Margaret, and has told her to prepare for a special night. She knows they have a dinner reservation at a nice restaurant, and has a hunch that this is the moment when he’ll propose. But there’s an unwelcome surprise waiting for her — instead of heading toward dinner, Chip drives them to the airfield instead. He’s taking her up for a flight, and does not want to take no for an answer. Margaret realizes that this is a test of sorts. Does she have enough faith in Chip to accept the flight despite her absolutely not wanting to?

She does. Big mistake.

After a mid-air proposal and the presentation of a ring (that’s too big and not her taste — could that be a sign?), the weather turns on the way back to the airfield. They make it to the ground, but then the wind flips the plane. And it takes quite a while, from Chip running for help to the ambulance arriving to the helicopter flight to the hospital and beyond, for Margaret to realize that something might really be wrong.

In fact, things are very wrong. Margaret’s face and neck are burned, and she has a spinal cord injury. She may never walk again, and she’ll have scars from her skin grafts for life. And where is Chip? Poor dear is so effin’ distraught that he’s out getting drunk, too upset to actually see Margaret or, you know, be there for her.

Chip is a total dick, by the way, in case it’s not perfectly evident by now. I mean, for starters, you know your girlfriend is scared to death of planes, but you force her into one anyway through emotional blackmail when you don’t even have your license yet? And then he makes it all about himself. Boo hoo. I feel so bad. My girlfriend isn’t perfect anymore. I’m not even kidding — he actually says this:

“You used to be so beautiful — and now you look like a pizza.”

It takes Margaret a surprisingly long time to realize that he’s a total asshole. I’m sorry, but perhaps this pre-flight moment should have tipped her off:

Then he pulled me into a kiss — a manly, determined, all-this-can-be-yours kiss, digging his tongue into my mouth in a way that he clearly found powerful and erotic, but that I, given how the sheer terror of what I was about to do had iced my blood, was too numb to feel.

Like I say. Dick.

But as Margaret passes the initial weeks in the hospital, learning about her future and starting physical therapy, other pieces of her life start to come together. Her sister Kitty, estranged from the family for three years, comes home from New York and commits to spending every night in Margaret’s hospital room, giving the sisters a chance to reconnect and rediscover the joy in their relationship. Margaret’s mother is a lot to take, but certain truths come out that have an impact on the family as well.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Margaret’s physical therapist is a gorgeous, brooding, terse Scottish fellow who’s a genius at therapy and exuding quiet manliness, practically begging for just the right woman to find the key to his bruised heart. (Okay, I exaggerate, but not by much.) It’s not a spoiler to say that Ian the PT becomes Margaret’s new love interest — it couldn’t be more obvious if it was written in cotton candy-colored glitter paint.

So… did I enjoy How to Walk Away?

Actually, I did. Despite being fairly predictable and having some truly groan-worthy dialogue, the story itself kept me turning the pages — basically, a one-day read since I couldn’t stop once I started. I did care about Margaret and wanted to see how her life would turn out. I admired her bluntness, her honesty, and her ability to keep going at the worst of times. She’s deluged by advice and unwanted input, all about how staying upbeat is the answer to everything, and yet, she’s straight-forward in showing how staying optimistic isn’t easy or a cure-all, and despite all her best positivity, isn’t going to repair the damage to her spinal cord.

There was always a kind of backward logic to my mom’s crazy. I got it now. She hadn’t accidentally revealed to me that I was facing a possible lifetime of being unfuckable. She was doing it on purpose. She was attempting to motivate me. To get me focused. To rouse some unsinkable part of my soul that would stand up in outrage and simply refuse to give in.

Mother of the year award, anyone?

Despite the seriousness of Margaret’s condition and the challenging prospects ahead of her, the writing still manages to include plenty of humorous moments as well, in addition (of course) to a few swoonier bits too.

The ending includes a pretty farcical trip to Europe for a wedding, with lots of near misses, odd encounters, and physical comedy. It’s all a little silly and slapstick, but it was nice to get a happy ending after all of the ups and downs.

Do I recommend this book?

Yes. As I’ve said in plenty of reviews of contemporary romances before, this is not my usual genre. I like contemporary fiction, and every once in a while, I enjoy the hell out of a good romantic tale. But in general, modern-day love stories don’t really rock my world, so take my somewhat snarky comments with a grain of salt.

Bottom line, it’s a good sign that even a curmudgeon like me (kidding, mostly) enjoyed reading How to Walk Away — so if you are in fact a fan of romances and stories that explore family relationships and dynamics, this would probably be a great choice.

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The details:

Title: How to Walk Away
Author: Katherine Center
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: May 15, 2018
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Having way too much fun with My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran & Larissa Zageris

Thank you, Quirk Books, for providing me with a review copy!

You are the plucky but penniless heroine in the center of eighteenth-century society, courtship season has begun, and your future is at hand. Will you flip forward fetchingly to find love with the bantering baronet Sir Benedict Granville? Or turn the page to true love with the hardworking, horse-loving highlander Captain Angus McTaggart? Or perhaps race through the chapters chasing a good (and arousing) man gone mad, bad, and scandalous to know, Lord Garraway Craven? Or read on recklessly and take to the Continent as the “traveling companion” of the spirited and adventuresome Lady Evangeline? Or yet some other intriguing fate? Make choices, turn pages, and discover all the daring delights of the multiple (and intertwining!) storylines. And in every path you pick, beguiling illustrations bring all the lust and love to life.

Oh my.

If you’re like me, you have fond memories of all those choose-your-own-adventure books in the kids’ section of the library. But why should kids have all the fun?

My Lady’s Choosing spiffs up the concept with an astonishingly funny romance book for adult readers, full of suspenseful decisions, perilous outcomes, and a plethora of sexy love interests no matter which path you choose.

It’s decision time.

Do you throw caution, decorum, and all other respectable nouns to the wind in order to follow Lady Evangeline into the unknown? If so, turn to page 128.

Or do you value your limbs still being attached to your body and decide to sit this one out? If so, turn to page 71.

You could end up seeking the secrets of an ancient hidden treasure in the deserts of Egypt… or helping a (sexy) kilt-wearing Scotsman at an orphanage in the Highlands… or trying to figure out the secrets of a decrepit manor on the moors with a brooding, bad-boy lord and master… The possibilities are endless!

I had a blast flipping my way through this delightful book. I went through three different story variations — and cheated a bit by reading a few of the random pages in between. I know there are many more main paths I could follow, but at this point I’m holding off on the rest and planning to read them in bits and pieces when I need something to lift my spirits.

The writing is frothy and melodramatic, with plenty of humor and sarcasm — it’s like the authors are making sure that we readers know that they’re in on the joke. The language includes some of the best and worst of overwrought romance writing:

He senses your soul stirring betwixt your bosom.

“I sense your soul stirring betwixt your bosom,” he growls.

In answer, you make love to him again, with all the rushed intensity of spirits wrongfully dispatched from the mortal coil trying to communicate with the living from the great beyond.

Then there are the various descriptors of body parts, such as “womanly orbs”, “the moonstone of your sex”, and lots of talk about the Highlander’s “caber”. Or lines like this:

Mac’s own faithful steed strains at the flap of his kilt, ready to take you on as far a journey as you wish.

This book is really and truly a great time. But every once in a while a wee bit of social commentary sneaks in:

Do you accompany your tyrannical employer to the fundraising ball for the Society for the Protection of Widows and Orphans of the War? The company may be atrocious, but balls are fun! If so, turn to page 67.

Or do you run away from Lady Craven, only to find yourself with no other means of survival than to sell your young body into the cold, cruel night? If so, do not go to any other place in this book, for you will be utterly doomed and dead from syphilis within a year.

Sorry. This may be a choosable-path adventure, but as a penniless young unmarried woman at the start of the nineteenth century, your options are somewhat limited. They will get better, though! Turn to page 67.

You have to appreciate risqué romance and quirky humor to really enjoy this book… but if you’ve read this far in my rambling review, I suspect you do! Pick up a copy to enjoy on your own, or read it with a bunch of girlfriends when you want a night in, maybe with a few glasses of wine to go with. Good times, either way!

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The details:

Title: My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel
Authors: Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: April 3, 2018
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Humor/romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of Quirk

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Café by the Sea

“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.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Years ago, Flora fled the quiet Scottish island where she grew up — and she hasn’t looked back. What would she have done on Mure? It’s a place where everyone has known her all her life, where no one will let her forget the past. In bright, bustling London, she can be anonymous, ambitious… and hopelessly in love with her boss.

But when fate brings Flora back to the island, she’s suddenly swept once more into life with her brothers — all strapping, loud, and seemingly incapable of basic housework — and her father. Yet even amid the chaos of their reunion, Flora discovers a passion for cooking — and find herself restoring dusty little pink-fronted shop on the harbour: a café by the sea.

But with the seasons changing, Flora must come to terms with past mistakes — and work out exactly where her future lies…

My Thoughts:

The Café by the Sea is a sweet, fluffy treat of a book — not especially deep or filling, but enjoyable the whole way through. I enjoyed the setting — a beautiful, isolated Scottish island where everyone knows everyone else, and where, sadly, the younger generation doesn’t see much of a future. When Flora arrives back on the island for a work assignment, she instigates changes that will ultimately lead to the rejuvenation of the island, by convincing a billionaire about to open an exclusive resort to hire and source locally.

The work assignment is also the means for Flora to finally get noticed by her boss, an icy playboy lawyer with a tragic past who never allows emotions to seep to the surface. Honestly, the love story didn’t click for me. Flora, a paralegal in a prestigious law firm, has had a hopeless crush on Joel for years, and although it’s not giving away too much to say that the island has a profound effect on him as well, I couldn’t figure out what Flora saw in him in the first place, other than his amazing good looks. Meanwhile, there’s a potential love interest on the island, but that part of the story doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, so it’s pretty clear early on which way things are going.

I loved the parts of the story about Flora reconnecting with her father and brothers, coming to terms with a loss in the family several years earlier, and reconnecting with the people and natural beauty of Mure. However, I was a little unsure about some of Flora’s decision-making regarding her career and her future. When we meet her, she’s working as a paralegal with an eye toward becoming a fully qualified lawyer, but her actual work in law seems to fall by the wayside as she becomes more and more involved in using her family’s history to open up and run an amazing café in the center of town. Was she never really all that interested in becoming a lawyer? It seems that she’s just fallen into this new life, and I would have liked to have her at least think about what it might mean to walk away from her professional plans and change course like this.

Still, this is really a charming book, with a gorgeous setting, interesting, quirky characters and a plot that hits some emotional notes without ever losing its sense of romance and light. When you’re looking for something to lift your spirits, check out The Café by the Sea!

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The details:

Title: The Café by the Sea
Author: Jenny Colgan
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: June 27, 2017
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

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Take A Peek Book Review: Coming Up For Air

“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.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Swim. Eat. Shower. School. Snack. Swim. Swim. Swim. Dinner. Homework. Bed. Repeat.

All of Maggie’s focus and free time is spent swimming. She’s not only striving to earn scholarships—she’s training to qualify for the Olympics. It helps that her best friend, Levi, is also on the team and cheers her on. But Levi’s already earned an Olympic try out, so she feels even more pressure to succeed. And it’s not until Maggie’s away on a college visit that she realizes how much of the “typical” high school experience she’s missed by being in the pool.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Maggie decides to squeeze the most out of her senior year. First up? Making out with a guy. And Levi could be the perfect candidate. After all, they already spend a lot of time together. But as Maggie slowly starts to uncover new feelings for Levi, how much is she willing to lose to win?

 

My Thoughts:

Miranda Kenneally excels at showing a straightforward view of the complicated lives of teens. Her lead characters tend to be strong, dedicated young women, almost always hard-driving athletes, who are not afraid to go for what they want, no matter the resistance they meet along the way. And while the athletic achievements of her characters might be super-special, their inner lives keep them grounded and relatable.

In Coming Up For Air, Maggie is a girl who has spent her whole life in a pool. She adores swimming, and devotes herself to it, almost to the exclusion of everything else, because she loves it so much. She pushes herself to be her best, takes her coach’s rules about training and non-swimming behavior seriously, and drives herself forward toward her dream of getting an Olympic trial.

At the same time, Maggie depends on her three best friends for their Friday burger nights to keep her grounded — but she starts to realize how much she’s missed out on by giving so much of her life over to training. She’s never hooked up, has only had one real kiss, and is starting to feel like she’s the last high schooler left who’s so inexperienced. She asks her best friend Levi to teach her how to hook up, but isn’t prepared for how intensely they connect physically, and neither knows how to deal with the fall-out when their no-strings fling starts to feel like it could be a relationship.

As in all of this author’s books, the characters deal with sex in a very down-to-earth way. It’s not needlessly graphic, but it does get into details of what they do together and how it makes them feel. It’s not prettied-up sex, and doesn’t pretend that every encounter is full of fireworks. I appreciate the healthy attitude toward sexual exploration, protecting oneself, and owning one’s own sexual desires and needs.

It’s always refreshing to read Miranda Kenneally’s stories about determined, talented young women, and I think teen readers will appreciate seeing how universal feelings of self-doubt and insecurity can be, even for people who seem to have it all. It’s also refreshing to see the portrayal of the different home lives and coping mechanisms the various main and secondary characters have, and to get pretty good solid advice about life in general by paying attention to the words of the characters’ coaches.

As with the author’s earlier books, the storyline is set in Hundred Oaks, Tennessee, and familiar characters from other books pop up in cameo roles. While all of the Hundred Oaks books work perfectly well as stand-alones, it is pretty fun to read several (or all) and see the connections and shout-outs.

I heartily recommend Miranda Kenneally’s books for teen readers and for adults who like realistic, optimistic, honest depictions of young adult life.

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

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The details:

Title: Coming Up For Air
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: July 4, 2017
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Young adult contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Take A Peek Book Review: These Old Shades 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.

these-old-shades

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Under the reign of Louis XV, corruption and intrigue have been allowed to blossom in France, and Justin Alastair, the notorious Duke of Avon and proud of his soubriquet ‘Satanas’, flourishes as well. Then, from a dark Parisian back alley, he plucks Leon, a redheaded urchin with strangely familiar looks, just in time for his long over-due schemes of revenge on the Comte de St. Vire. Among the splendours of Versailles and the dignified mansions of England, Justin begins to unfold his sinister plans — until, that is, Leon becomes the ravishing beauty Leonie…

Unanswered questions.

Lovely, titian-haired Leonie, ward of the dashing Duke of Avon, had all Paris at her feet. Yet her true origins remained shrouded in mystery. And neither the glittering soirees nor the young aristocrats who so ardently courted her could still the question that plagued her young heart.

What was her mysterious parentage?

Just one man held the secret, the one she feared most in the world–the iron-willed Comte de Saint-Vire, deadly enemy of the Duke. He would give her the answer–for a price. But could she betray the man she secretly, helplessly loved? And could this proud young beauty bear to face the truth when it came?

My Thoughts:

I’m sold! Until this month, I had never read a Georgette Heyer book — until my book club selected Devil’s Cub for our February book of the month. I really enjoyed Devil’s Cub, and once I realized that it was a sequel (kind of) to These Old Shades, I simply had to read this one as well.

These Old Shades is even better than Devil’s Cub, in my humble opinion. The Duke of Avon is just everything you could want in a hero of a Regency romance — he’s of the nobility, has a terrible reputation, is incredibly self-assured and handsome… but turns out to have a smooshy heart just waiting for the right person to come along and melt it. Léonie is a delight — an unpolished young girl, masquerading as a boy, who falls head over heels for her rescuer, but never quite loses her independence, impudence, and saucy sense of humor.

The banter and social maneuverings in These Old Shades are delicious. The book is scrumptious fun, beginning to end.

More Georgette Heyer, please! If you’re a fan, let me know which book you think I should read next.

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The details:

Title: These Old Shades
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: Originally published 1926
Length: 386 pages
Genre: Historical romance
Source: Library

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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.

devils-cub-2

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

always

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