Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Marriage Pact by M.J. Pullen

Marci Thompson always knew what life would be like by her thirtieth birthday. A large but cozy suburban home shared with a charming husband and two brilliant children. A celebrated career as a writer, complete with mahogany shelves and a summer book tour. A life full of adventure with her friends and family by her side.

Instead, Marci lives alone in 480 square feet of converted motel space next to a punk rock band, hundreds of miles from her friends and family. She works in a temporary accounting assignment that has somehow stretched from two weeks into nine months. And the only bright spot in her life, not to mention the only sex she's had in two years, is an illicit affair with her married boss, Doug.

Thirty is not at all what it is cracked up to be.

Then the reappearance of an old friend with whom she had made a drunken marriage pact ten years earlier opens a long-forgotten door, and the lines between right and wrong, heartache and happiness are all about to get very blurry, as Marci faces the most difficult choices of her life.

This should really be a 2.5 star review which is rather disappointing. Though this book was well-written, the heroine was just to unlikable to carry the story. Marci was stuck in a dead end job and a dead end relationship with her boss, and yet somehow just thought everything would somehow resolve itself without any work on her part. Then an old friend swoops in to carry her away and she seemingly falls into another relationship without actually making any attempt to address the problems in her life? I found her too frustrating to wish her well, and didn't like that she saw herself as a victim rather than an active participant in her life. It wasn't until the very end that I found anything redeemable in Marci, and that was just too late. I never understood the attraction to Doug, and I thought Jake deserved better than his relationship with Marci, but again it seemed like he had put no real thought into that either. All in all, a rather aggravating read for me.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Letting Go by Molly McAdams

Grey and Ben fell in love at thirteen and believed they’d be together forever. But three days before their wedding, the twenty-year-old groom-to-be suddenly died from an unknown heart condition, destroying his would-be-bride’s world. If it hadn’t been for their best friend, Jagger, Grey never would have made it through those last two years to graduation. He’s the only one who understands her pain, the only one who knows what it’s like to force yourself to keep moving when your dreams are shattered. Jagger swears he’ll always be there for her, but no one has ever been able to hold on to him. He’s not the kind of guy to settle down.

It’s true that no one has ever been able to keep Jagger—because he’s only ever belonged to Grey. While everyone else worries over Grey’s fragility, he’s the only one who sees her strength. Yet as much as he wants Grey, he knows her heart will always be with Ben. Still they can’t deny the heat that is growing between them—a passion that soon becomes too hot to handle. But admitting their feelings for each other means they’ve got to face the past. Is being together what Ben would have wanted . . . or a betrayal of his memory that will eventually destroy them both?

From the opening pages, I knew I as going to have trouble liking this book, but I had some hope. As I continued reading however, that hope was lost. I have to say, I did think that McAdams did justice to the overwhelming feelings of loss involved with the death of a loved one; that part of the novel rang true. Unfortunately, most of the rest of it did not. To me, all of these folks were way too young for their single-minded devotion to getting married and living happily ever after. The way that Grey gushed about her love made me think she had a lot of growing up to do, while Jagger on the other hand seemed remarkably (and unrealistically) mature about her ongoing feelings of guilt about their relationship. The stalker was an unnecessary added element- it was also clear from the get-go exactly who it was. And the whole sub-plot about Jagger's mother? I find it unrealistic that folks who have been so close for so long had absolutely no idea she was an evil manipulative monster. I think this book tried to do too much and so had no real substance to the story. Sadly, a disappointing read.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Beach Hut by Cassandra Parkin

It is autumn time and on a peaceful Cornish beach, Finn and his sister Ava defy planning regulations and achieve a childhood dream when they build themselves an illegal beach hut. This tiny haven will be their home until Ava departs at midwinter for a round-the-world adventure.

In the town, local publican Donald is determined to get rid of them. Still mourning the death of his wife, all he wants is a quiet place where he can forget the past and raise his daughter Alicia in safety. But Alicia is wrestling with demons of her own.

As the sunshine fades and winter approaches, the beach hut stirs old memories for everyone. Their lives become entwined in surprising ways and the secrets of past and present are finally exposed.

This lyrical novel traces all manner of love and loss, and the complicated ties that bind us to family. From the moment I started reading, I couldn't put it down. The characters were wonderfully drawn- fragile and full of life, wrestling with the realities of life and death decisions. Donald's anger at the world was almost painful, as was Alicia's desperate effort to find love and acceptance in the wake of her mother's death. Finn and Ava were quirky and wonderful, yet they soon revealed their own demons through the sad tale of their past. The tension was palpable as the story built to a powerful conclusion. I confess I never saw the twist in Donald's story coming, yet once I read it, I knew how true to the story it was. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Point of Control by L.J. Sellers

In her personal life, FBI agent Andra Bailey works hard to control her sociopathic tendencies. But on the job, her cold logic comes in handy.

Now two world-renowned scientists have disappeared, and the bureau assigns Bailey to find them and hunt down the kidnapper. The agent soon suspects that a rare-metal shortage may be the link between the disappearances and that the motive is far more dangerous than she imagined. With the market in turmoil and prices sky-high, electronics companies and their power-hungry CEOs are ready to do anything—even kill—to keep production lines going.

When a third scientist disappears, Bailey throws caution aside to track the crimes to their source. But by immersing herself so deeply in the case, she risks letting down the defenses she’s built to contain the sociopath inside her.

I picked up this book with no previous exposure to the author because the plot sounded interesting. Unfortunately, the blurb about the book proved more enjoyable than the book itself ever did. There is no mystery here- you know from the start who the villains are and why they do what they do. I was intrigued by the idea of a sociopath FBI agent, but never connected with Bailey as a character. I would also greatly prefer to have the character gradually reveal her problem through her actions rather than through her internal monologue; Bailey worked being a sociopath into every thought she had. It was too much- I got it the first time, I don't need her to remind me of it constantly. I wanted this book to be a real page turner but instead found myself struggling to finish. After reading this one, I'm unlikely to see out another book by this author.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Jilting the Duke by Rachael Miles

Broken Promise, Broken Heart

Aidan Somerville, Duke of Forster, is a rake, a spy, and a soldier, richer than sin and twice as handsome. Now he is also guardian to his deceased best friend’s young son. The choice makes perfect sense—except that the child’s mother is the lovely Sophia Gardiner, to whom Aidan was engaged before he went off to war. When the news reached him that she had married another, his ship had not yet even left the dock.

Sophia does not expect Aidan to understand or forgive her. But she cannot allow him to stay her enemy. She’s prepared for coldness, even vengeance—but not for the return of the heedless lust she and Aidan tumbled into ten years ago. She knows the risks of succumbing to this dangerous desire. Still, with Aidan so near, it’s impossible not to dream about a second chance…

This historical romance features former lovers reuniting after the death of the man who was best friend to one and husband to another. Aiden and Sophia are both enjoyable characters, and I definitely liked the relationship both had with Sophia's son. The book is well-written and the dialogue believable. The problem for me was that the central "secret" that drives the plot is clearly obvious from the beginning to any discerning reader. It was impossible for me to believe that Aiden couldn't figure out the truth long before he did, which would have negated his admittedly absurd revenge plan. All in all this was an enjoyable enough read but I couldn't get past that one central absurdity.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thrill Me by Susan Mallery

Maya Farlow learned the hard way to depend only on herself, so when she fell too deeply for the bad-boy charms of Del Mitchell, she did the only thing she could—she ran. Stunned, Del left Fool's Gold to make his name and fortune in extreme sports. Now ten years later, Maya's been hired to promote her hometown's new slogan, The Destination for Romance. The celebrity spokesman is none other than Del, the man she dumped but never forgot. Awkward!

Although Del's not the type to hold a grudge, he's determined to avoid falling a second time for the woman who broke his heart. He's a daredevil, not an idiot. Trouble is, in all his adventures, he never found a rush as exhilarating as Maya's kiss. Maybe risking his heart will prove to be the biggest thrill of all

I really enjoyed this latest entry in the Fool's Gold series, mostly I think because it was just such a sweet and believable story. I loved that neither character was holding long-term grudges for youthful actions, and that both seemed capable of reacting to one another as adults. I also loved that neither character was looking to settle down with a nice house and a white picket fence- finally a couple that are seeking travel and adventure! Even the sometimes overly-quirky characters were toned down to seem sweetly eccentric rather than full-on nutters. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Devoted in Death by J.D. Robb

When Lieutenant Eve Dallas examines a body in a downtown Manhattan alleyway, the victim’s injuries are so extensive that she almost misses the clue. Carved into the skin is the shape of a heart—and initials inside reading E and D...

Ella-Loo and her boyfriend, Darryl, had been separated while Darryl was a guest of the state of Oklahoma, and now that his sentence has been served they don’t ever intend to part again. Ella-Loo’s got dreams. And Darryl believes there are better ways to achieve your dreams than working for them. So they hit the road, and when their car breaks down in Arkansas, they make plans to take someone else’s. Then things get messy and they wind up killing someone—an experience that stokes a fierce, wild desire in Ella-Loo. A desire for Darryl. And a desire to kill again.

As they cross state lines on their way to New York to find the life they think they deserve, they will leave a trail of evil behind them. But now they’ve landed in the jurisdiction of Lieutenant Dallas and her team at the New York Police and Security Department. And with her husband, Roarke, at her side, she has every intention of hunting them down and giving them what they truly deserve...

This was a solid addition to a series that has been a bit uneven as late. I enjoyed the addition of Deputy Banner and the additional insights into Eve's police colleagues in the aftermath of the last book. I missed Trina, Charles, and Mavis though- not even a cameo here for fans. The story lacked some of the urgency that I felt during the Groom investigation (which has certain race-against-the-clock similarities to this book), but I still couldn't put it down once I started reading. I'm not sure how this would work as a stand-alone as so much inside knowledge is necessary to understand some of the subtleties of the characters, but I'm definitely glad to see a series that I love feel like it is getting back on track!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer

When they meet as girls on a beach in Nantucket, Maggie McIntyre and Emily Porter become fast friends—though Emily’s well-heeled mother would prefer that she associate with the upscale daughters of bankers and statesmen rather than the child of a local seamstress. But the two lively, imaginative girls nevertheless spend many golden summers together building castles in the sand, creating magical worlds of their own, and forging grand plans for their future.

Even as Emily falls for Maggie’s brother, Ben, and the young women’s paths diverge, the duo remain close friends. Then the unthinkable happens: Handsome, charismatic, charming, and incredibly sexy Wall Street trader Cameron Chadwick upends both their lives and disrupts their friendship.

Struggling with the tough choices they must make and the secrets they must keep, the two young women discover that the road to love and fulfillment is full of bumps and twists. And while true love may be rare, Maggie and Emily find that friendship is even rarer—and more valuable still.

I picked this book hoping for an enjoyable vacation read, and found myself only partially satisfied. I definitely thought the focus was more on the adult Emily and Maggie and their relationships with the other sex; more glimpses of the girls in childhood (perhaps including when they first met) could have given me a better understanding of the ties that bound them. The men in the book remain very two dimensional, even Ben and Cameron who are so intimately connected with both Maggie and Emily. I found the harping on the economic difference between them off-putting, as was Emily's sudden focus on being young and rich in Manhattan when she went out with Cameron. Ultimately, I was dissatisfied with the way both women hid the truth about their pregnancies from each other and their partners. There were some wonderful descriptive scenes that made Nantucket live for me, but in the end I was just dissatisfied with the quality of the narrative and the actions of the main characters.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A New Hope by Robyn Carr

After losing her child, Ginger Dysart was lost in grief. But since moving to Thunder Point, a small town on the Oregon coast, Ginger is finally moving forward. Her job at the flower shop is peaceful and fulfilling, and she's excited to be assisting with the Lacoumette wedding.

In spite of her lasting heartache, Ginger is swept up in the pleasure of the occasion. But the beauty of the Lacoumette farm and the joy of the gregarious family are ruined by an unfortunate encounter with the bride's brother, Matt. Struggling with painful memories of his own, Matt makes a drunken spectacle of himself when he tries to make a pass at Ginger, forcing her to flee the scene in embarrassment.

But when Matt shows up at the flower shop determined to make amends, what started out as a humiliating first meeting blossoms into something much deeper than either of them expected. Everyone around them worries that Ginger will end up with a broken heart yet again. But if Ginger has the courage to embrace the future, and if Matt can finally learn to let go of the past, there may still be hope for a happy ending.

This latest in the Thunder Point series is a strong addition- much better in my opinion than the one that preceded it. Ginger is a delightful character attempting to rebuild her life after the sudden death of her infant son. Matt starts out as less delightful, working his way through the aftermath of a painful divorce, but eventually deals with his anger to become a more engaging character. This book as a fast and easy read that was primarily focused on the main characters, but gave enough updates on series regulars to make fans happy. I gave it four stars rather than five because at times Ginger seemed a little too good to be true and because Matt's breakthrough to accepting responsibility for his actions seemed a little sudden to be real. Still, these were just quibbles- overall the book serves as a great example of Carr's ability to forge an emotional connection to her readers. I hope her future books in the Thunder Point series are as strong!

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Secrets She Keeps by Deb Caletti

“You don’t grow up on a divorce ranch and not learn to take a vow seriously.”

When Callie McBride finds a woman’s phone number written on a scrap of paper her husband has thrown away, she thinks that her marriage is over. Callie flees to Nevada and her Aunt Nash’s Tamarosa Ranch, where she’s shocked to see that the place of so many happy childhood memories is in disrepair. Worse, Aunt Nash is acting bizarrely—hoarding stacks of old photographs, burying a book in the yard, and railing against Kit Covey, a handsome government park ranger who piques Callie’s interest.

But Aunt Nash may prove to be saner than she seems once Callie pulls back the curtain on Tamarosa’s heyday—the 1940s and ’50s, when high-society and Hollywood women ventured to the ranch for quickie divorces and found a unique sisterhood—and uncovers a secret promise Nash made to her true love. Callie will come to see is that no life is ever ordinary. No story of love is, either.

This novel is an enjoyable, character-driven story about love and marriage and family. I was delighted by the flashbacks to Nash and the Tamarosa Ranch in its heyday as a destination for soon-to-bee divorcees; in fact, I prefered that story to the more modern-day one featuring Callie and Shaye. Nash's history and the stories of the those women at the ranch were compelling and emotionally immediate in a way that Callie's simply wasn't for me. That said, though I found her love for her husband a little incomprehensible, I did think the way the story of how they got to this point unfolded well as Callie became more honest in her reflections on that relationship. The ending was a bit of a surprise for me as I expected a different outcome, but still it felt in keeping with the narrative and the characters. All in all, a great summer read!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Kiss Me by Susan Mallery

After Phoebe Kitzke's kind heart gets her suspended from her job in LA, she swears off doing favors—until her best friend begs for help on the family ranch in Fool's Gold. Unfortunately, sexy cowboy Zane Nicholson isn't exactly thrilled by the city girl's arrival.

Thanks to his brother's latest scheme, Zane has been roped into taking tourists on a cattle drive. What Phoebe knows about ranching wouldn't fill his hat, but her laughter is so captivating that even his animals fall for her. One slip of his legendary control leads to a passionate kiss that convinces him she's exactly the kind of woman a single-minded loner needs to avoid.

In his arms, Phoebe discovers she's a country girl at heart. Yet no matter how much the small town feels like home, she can't stay unless Zane loves her, too…but is this cowboy interested in forever?

I liked this latest entry into the Fool's Gold series, at least in part because there was less contact with the quirck characters of the town and more with the two main characters. Phoebe is a great heroine though I was worried at first that she was too much of a pushover based on the interaction with her boss. Still, as her backstory unfolded, her desire to help people became better understood and I warmed to her open armed approach to life. Zane is a typical brooding hero, isolated from his family by his strong sense of duty. I loved watching how Phoebe helped him open to his family and how little brother Chase eventually realized the error of his ways. The fact that the book took place over the course of a cattle drive seemed a little contrived in a modern day romance, but that is my only quibble. Well written and enjoyable, this book makes for a great vacation read.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Great Catastrophe: Armenians and Turks in the Shadow of Genocide by Thomas de Waal

The destruction of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-16 was the greatest atrocity of World War I. Around one million Armenians were killed, and the survivors were scattered across the world. Although it is now a century old, the issue of what most of the world calls the Armenian Genocide of 1915 is still a live and divisive issue that mobilizes Armenians across the world, shapes the identity and politics of modern Turkey, and has consumed the attention of U.S. politicians for years.

In Great Catastrophe, the eminent scholar and reporter Thomas de Waal looks at the aftermath and politics of the Armenian Genocide and tells the story of recent efforts by courageous Armenians, Kurds, and Turks to come to terms with the disaster as Turkey enters a new post-Kemalist era. The story of what happened to the Armenians in 1915-16 is well-known. Here we are told the "history of the history" and the lesser-known story of what happened to Armenians, Kurds, and Turks in the century that followed. De Waal relates how different generations tackled the issue of the "Great Catastrophe" from the 1920s until the failure of the Protocols signed by independent Armenia and Turkey in 2010. Quarrels between diaspora Armenians supporting and opposing the Soviet Union broke into violence and culminated with the murder of an archbishop in 1933. The devising of the word "genocide," the growth of modern identity politics, and the 50th anniversary of the massacres re-energized a new generation of Armenians. In Turkey the issue was initially forgotten, only to return to the political agenda in the context of the Cold War and an outbreak of Armenian terrorism. More recently, Turkey has started to confront its taboos. In an astonishing revival of oral history, the descendants of tens of thousands of "Islamized Armenians," who have been in the shadows since 1915, have begun to reemerge and reclaim their identities.

This excellent scholarly look at the events surrounding the expulsion of the Armenian population from the Ottoman Empire during WWI makes for a timely and important read given the recent anniversary of the events. This complicated history is pulled apart to explain to a newcomer exactly how the Armenians came to be where they were and how they came to be the victims of such a tragedy. The descriptions of the killings themselves were presented tastefully and with a great deal of humanity. I was fascinated by the author's presentation of the more modern history of the Armenian diaspora and by the debates within in the community surrounding the issue of defining the killings as a genocide. Though I was familiar with the broad outlines of the issue, this book gave me a much deeper understanding of its impact on politics today. This book taught me a lot about a complex question and a politically vibrant diaspora. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Rogue's Folly by Donna Lea Simpson

Lady May von Hoffen has been plagued all her prim young life by the scandalous behavior of her widowed mother and the licentious men she consorts with. When she finally finds herself free of her mother and in sole possession of Lark House, she relishes the sense of decorum and freedom it gives her. But the surprise discovery of the injured Frenchman Etienne hiding on her estate—the man who once rescued her from an attack on her virtue and the only man she’s ever been able to trust—turns her newly peaceful solitude into a maelstrom of bewildering thoughts and disturbingly passionate curiosity.

Etienne is a self-avowed rake, and even now is on the run from ruthless adversaries who accuse him of trying to murder a marquess and seduce his wife. Following a stabbing that nearly claimed his life, he finds sanctuary on the land of an unfamiliar estate, hoping to recover and evade capture. But when the lady of the house turns out to be none other than the lovely and innocent Lady May, his feels his heart stir even as his body is gripped by pain and the fear that she will renounce him.

As May nurses Etienne back to health and learns the truth of his supposed crimes, along with a much-needed education on the relations between men and women, a burning desire smolders between the two opposites, and soon they will be forced to trust each other and their feelings in order to save one life and two hearts.

Another well-written Regency from Simpson, though not one that pulled me in as a reader. It became clear when reading that this must be part of a series, and I certainly felt the entire sub-plot regarding how the two main characters met depended on knowledge from a previous book to set into context. May was a judgmental and sometimes aggravating heroine; it was unclear to me at times what exactly Etienne saw in her. He was in may ways a delight of a hero, though once his whole story unfolded, I was underwhelmed by his dramatic determination to say May from herself. The dramatic tension of the situation (hiding Etienne from the law) helped isolate and pull the two together, though I for one think May would have had better success hiding him in the house and simply telling her servants to keep quiet about the whole situation. All in all this was an OK read, but not one of the best from this prolific author.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Miss Truelove Beckons by Donna Lea Simpson

When Truelove Becket’s betrothed went missing in a naval battle, she vowed never to marry unless she found someone she loved as much. In the seven years since then, the quiet vicar’s daughter has lived a simple and contented life helping the poor people of her village. But now another man has asked for her hand in marriage and, unsure if she is ready to commit to him, she agrees to accompany her beautiful cousin Arabella on a trip to visit friends so she can take time to think it over.

Viscount Drake cut a dashing figure when he returned from war to a hero’s welcome, but the Battle of Waterloo left him a shattered and haunted man. As his dreams are invaded by the terrors of war he becomes a sleepless shell of a man, and as his torment grows he begins to wonder if marriage to the lovely Arabella will help restore him again. But as Arabella coquettishly flirts to secure Drake’s hand and his riches, it is the pretty and practical True he turns to for solace.

With the weight of her marriage proposal bearing down on her, True finds herself irresistibly attracted to Drake’s quiet dignity and genuine distress, just as he finds himself drawn to her honest nature and soothing compassion. When a spark of passion ignites between these two who have both lost so much to war, they will have to confront their biggest fears—and everyone else’s plans for their futures—to discover if love can truly cure all ills.

This lovely romance follows the troubled return to peacetime of a war hero, trying desperately to reintegrate, and the efforts of a determined family and an unexpected friend to help him heal. Truelove is a great character, sympathetic and kind throughout despite the efforts of her family to sabotage her chance to find a happy ending. Drake is a wonderful hero, troubled by his experiences in the war but still dedicated to the ideals for which he fought. His efforts to rediscover his internal peace which dealing with the marital dreams of a determined mother and her best friend make for an excellent story. This is a quiet story, one that is particularly apt for today's audience with so many returning veterans handling similar issues. Well-written with realistic characters and a heartwarming story, this book makes for a great read.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cinderella and the Ghost by Marina Myles

When her demanding stepmother died, Ella Benoit knew just how far their fortunes had fallen, unlike her spoiled stepsisters. So she never expected the bequest from her late father. A chateau in France and the freedom to live her own life, all at once!

The chateau has seen better days, but Ella knows she can put the ruined house to rights. The life-size portrait of its first owner, Jean-Daniel Girard, seems to watch her work with approval, even pleasure. With bright blue eyes, strong features, and an athlete's body, the viscount is a tempting sight even now, more than three hundred years after his tragic death. But the more she looks at the portrait, the more convinced Ella is that she's met Jean-Daniel before. In another life, perhaps-or maybe, as the form who haunts the halls at night, invading Ella's dreams...

Though I was intrigued by the idea of a retelling of the classic Cinderella tale, this books sadly didn't live up to its initial promise. Ella was a completely unbelievable character in either of the centuries in this book, and Jean-Daniel never fully developed as a character at all. Frankly, the darn dog in the picture was a more sympathetic character than either of the protagonists. Everyone was simply too starkly drawn and therefore too one-dimensional to make for a nuanced story. There were also significant problems with the time-travel aspect of the story, though I can't say more without spoiling a key plot element. Between Ella's rank immaturity (her internal dialogue reads like that of a gushy teenager in the throes of a first crush) and Jean-Daniel's overwhelming obsession with sex, this book was a frustratingly poor read.