Format: Paperback

June 21, 2017

Wrap Up! The Latest Romance

Format: Ebook, Paperback
Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceThe Billionaire and the Virgin (Billionaires and Bridesmaids, #1) by Jessica Clare
Pages: 250

The Billionaire and the Virgin appeals to a very select group of people. But for me, the excessive sex scenes overwhelmed the romance of the Beauty and the Beast retelling that I was so looking forward to. Clare’s treatment of her hero, a man scarred physically and emotionally, was the only saving grace.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceLove in the Afternoon (The Hathaways, #5) by Lisa Kleypas

Kleypas’ wacky Hathaway family holds a special place in my heart and, luckily, Beatrix’s story is up to that standard. Genuinely sweet and funny, Love in the Afternoon is a great romance for a long summer afternoon. The only drawback? Beatrix’s childlike nature didn’t always lend well to romantic situations.

 

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceThe Boy Is Back (Boy, #4) by Meg Cabot
Pages: 400

The queen of contemporary romance is back! Cabot’s unique narrative – created from IMs, text messages and emails – fits the hilariously sweet story of Becky and the one-that-got-away, pro golfer Reed Stewart.

 

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceIrresistibly Yours (Oxford, #1) by Lauren Layne
Pages: 236

This spicy contemporary romance blurs the line between workplace friendships and irresistable chemistry. Loved the complex characters and the plot’s determination to keep throwing them together.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceSeven Minutes in Heaven (Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers, #3; Desperate Duchesses, #9) by Eloisa James
Pages: 404

Ranks among the most stilted, obvious historical romances I’ve read. So much potential in the master of the house/strict governess dynamic, but the borderline predictability and the dull characters drained all the passion.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceThe Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

I’ve been on a sports romance kick lately, but The Wall of Winnepeg had one major fault: the narration. A potentially fun story (a football player opens his eyes to finally see what’s always been in front of him) is ruined by the dragging narrative.

 

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceSustained (The Legal Briefs, #2) by Emma Chase
Pages: 267

LOVED this! Cold, rough and tough lawyer Jake gets caught up with a gorgeous woman who has adopted her suddenly orphaned nieces and nephews. Sustained spins together a heartwarming family story, a heroic journey, and a fabulous romance into one neat package.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceBecause of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys, #1) by Julia Quinn
Pages: 375

Cute historical romance with a flaw: Billie Bridgerton was practically perfect in every way. All joking aside, the constant fawning over the heroine made her unrealistic and caused the rest of the story to fall apart.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceRun to You (Military Men #2) by Rachel Gibson
Pages: 384

An interesting premise – Florida bartender gets caught up in the mob’s crosshairs and is reluctantly saved by a former Marine – can’t get off the ground. Why? Stella’s constant whining drove me insane. I was tempted to knock her out myself if she said “I’m going to pass out,” one more time.

Posted June 21, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 16, 2017

Review | Sparking the Fire by Kate Meador

Review | Sparking the Fire by Kate MeadorSparking the Fire by Kate Meader
Series: Hot in Chicago #3
Publisher: Pocket Books, September 2016
Format: Paperback
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Actor Molly Cade, America’s fallen sweetheart, finally has her shot at a Hollywood comeback with a dramatic new role as a tough-as-nails firefighter that promises to propel her back to the big time and restore her self-respect. Wyatt Fox, resident daredevil at Engine Co. 6, needs a low-key job to keep him busy while he recovers from his latest rescue stunt. Consulting on a local movie shoot should add just enough spark to his day. Especially when in struts Molly Cade: the woman who worked his heart over good, and then left him in the Windy City dust.

Their story is straight out of a script: irrepressible, spunky heroine meets taciturn, smoldering hero. But these two refuse to be typecast, and when the embers of an old love are stoked, someone is bound to get burned…

Sparking the Fire is the kind of book I pack for a beach weekend, long lazy afternoons in the park, or when I need a brain break. It’s got romance, wit, a coming-of-age story, and female empowerment. Plus a hot firefighter. What’s not to love?

America’s sweetheart Molly Cade is trying to pull her life back together after her very personal photos were leaked on the internet and this acting role looks like just the place to relaunch her career, and her life. But when Wyatt Fox, the man she had an intense, short-lived affair strides onto the set, her dreams for an easy comeback professionally shatter…that is, if she can keep her personal life out of the equation.

Molly could have been easily overwhelmed by Wyatt’s dominant, he-man (I say that in the best way possible) personality. He’s quiet, intense, guarded, and a little sarcastic. He’s used to getting his way and not arguing about it. Lucky for him (and the Sparking the Fire plot), Molly isn’t used to yielding just because someone else said so. This fire creates the chemistry that makes Meador’s third book in the series so much fun to read.

I loved all the side plots weaved into the story. Wyatt’s niece plays a significant role in his life: aside from helping to soften the he-man (again, best intentions) characteristic, she provides the foil to Molly’s own major life decisions. It’s a coming-of-age/rebuilding life story that brings the novel together.

Frankly, it’s weird to write this with my love of hot romance scenes, but the ones in Sparking the Fire were a little too much for me. Or unexpected? Maybe there were more unexpected. I didn’t expect the frequency of the hot-and-heavy scenes. Sometimes, it felt like they were supporting the plot, not all of the other fantastic elements Meador built into the story.

Either way, Sparking the Fire was a fun, quick read that I’d definitely grab again…that is, after I finish the rest of the Hot in Chicago series.

 

3 Stars

Posted June 16, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 7, 2017

Review | The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Review | The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Publisher: MacAdam/Cage, January 1970
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
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The Time Traveler's Wife is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.

The Time Traveler's Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare's marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals--steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Sometimes, I’m a part of a book’s adoring crowd, telling everyone I know (and occasionally people I don’t) about how much I love a book. Unfortunately, with The Time Traveler’s Wife, this isn’t one of those times.

To start from the beginning, this is M’s book. He doesn’t have a lot of books (being a movie kind of guy), but this is one he went out and bought. He’s been at me for years to read Niffenegger’s work, so I finally did. I finished it in one night, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

The premise is intriguing: A time traveler, constantly falling back and forth in time, keeps dropping in on his future/current wife at different stages of her life and his. But it’s that constant hope that they can be together that ties The Time Traveler’s Wife together…well, presumably.

I can’t help it; I found the idea of a forty-year-old man falling in love with a child extremely creepy. Granted, he was already in love with the future her, his counterpart, but the scenes between her as a child and him as a full-grown man gave me the major creeps. That’s not to say there was anything Lolita-like about this novel: Niffenegger keeps well away from that danger zone.

Eventually, I started to get fed up with all their trials. Every moment, right before they can finally connect, spend time together, whatever, he gets yanked away by the mysterious force of time, leaving her behind to pick up his discarded clothing. It felt like there was nothing to cheer for in their relationship; while it might be true love, it felt essentially doomed. And, quite simply, it broke my heart.

I didn’t feel that magic, that draw, that everyone (including M, who loves this book) feels with The Time Traveler’s Wife. I wanted so desperately some sort of happy ending, something to give me hope for these two people who have essentially lived their lives longing. Without that element, the story felt horribly sad, a novel I couldn’t wait to put down.

2 Stars

Posted June 7, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 5, 2017

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Jurassic Park by Michael CrichtonJurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Series: Jurassic Park, #1
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, January 1970
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
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State-of-the-art science and suspense combine in this uniquely exciting high-tension thriller from the author of The Andromeda Strain. Bio-engineers create authentic, detail-perfect, real-life dinosaurs for a Pacific island theme park, but scientific triumph explodes into horrendous disaster as the first visitors encounter the unbelievable.

Jurassic Park is one of those iconic stories that everyone knows. Whether it’s the image of the velociraptors prancing through the stainless steel, never-before-used restaurant kitchen or the haunting outline of the T-rex as it prowls through the park, it’s as crucial to a young moviegoer’s education as Star Wars.

So, naturally, when I found a paperback copy of Michael Crichton’s bestseller, I grabbed it.

The novel and the movie are alike and not, all at once. There’s power to Crichton’s writing that doesn’t make it into the film, an enchantment that makes science and the notion of a prehistoric theme park entirely plausible. This dominant narrative is in the movie, but I feel the characters are really what sets this story apart.

On the surface level, the characters seem somewhat multi-dimensional. John Hammond, the old man who fantasizes about bringing dinosaurs to life and has the funds to do it, his susceptible grandkids who just want to find an escape contrast with the glass-half-empty lawyer and the observant, scientific-minded folks. Together, they make more drama than the island of prehistoric animals ever could (not that they don’t try).

But it’s what each of those characters represents that really makes Jurassic Park a winner. Hammond is determined to buy his happiness, convinced that his money can overcome the power of nature. His constant refrain of “my animals” and something along the lines of “wouldn’t hurt a fly” indicates a man deep in denial, convinced his money can buy anything or both.

He sets up the argument of nature versus nurture and whether humankind can (and should) mess with the process that has evolved our world. The scientific group of characters appears to be the most rational, excluding one: Hammond’s scientist. He has, for lack of a better term, drunk too much of the Kool-Aid and only starts to realize what a monster (no pun intended) he’s created.

The other scientists waver between awe and fear. They are, strangely, the only ones who seem to realize the danger lurking around every corner of the island and the inevitable spread of the dinosaurs to other parts of the world. This constant tug of war between nature and humankind’s involvement brought a new level of fascination to Jurassic Park.

That being said, it was hard not to roll my eyes when the characters did something stupid (a battle I often lost). Some of the decisions made by otherwise smart, rational people took away from the storyline and disjointing the characters. The actions of Hammond and his employees, however, were entirely in character, but sometimes still as irritating.

The major flaw of the book lay in Crichton’s tendency to infodump. In his zeal to impress the scientific importance of the discovery, the evolution, and the progress of the park, he occasionally drops off into what I can only describe as an encyclopedic tone. It’s dry and really not needed. I’m reading about dinosaurs made from frog DNA, for heaven’s sake.

All in all, a good book and a must read for die-hard fans and science fiction fanatics.

3 Stars

Posted June 5, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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May 17, 2017

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFs

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFsFalse Pretenses by Catherine Coulter
Publisher: Signet Book, March 2000
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback

"New York Times" Bestselling author. Her first contemporary suspense-now repackaged! Beautifully repackaged for her ever-growing legion of fans, this is the explosive story of how one woman must survive the destruction of her perfect life-and the intentions of three mysterious men.

I hate marking books DNF. Even though I’m coming to terms with it, it’s still a struggle because I know this is an author’s baby, their pride and joy. But sometimes, an individual book and I just aren’t a match. That’s what happened with these three.

Hearing so much about Catherine Coulter, I couldn’t wait to start reading her work. Being the slightly-Monk-like OCD person I am, I wanted to start at the beginning, or as close as I could get to her work. Which is what lead me to False Pretenses.

I was hoping for a Theresa RussellBlack Widow type character, or at least some kind of character growth. But concert pianist Elizabeth Carleton is meek and stilted. As the main character and focus of the plot, she needed to come alive to create the kind of tension False Pretenses needs to be alive. Instead, she just remains words on a page.

Without the great protagonist, the story sorely needed, the rest of the characters and their motives only fell flat. It was hard to believe all those men fell in love with her, making their own characters suspect and unbelievable.

Is there another Catherine Coulter book I should try? What do you recommend?

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFsBlush by Cherry Adair
Publisher: Gallery Books, April 2015
Pages: 387

In the same pulse-pounding style as Maya Banks and Kresley Cole, New York Times bestselling author Cherry Adair delivers a sizzling erotic romance about a sexy billionaire who’s on the run—and the hit-man-turned-handyman who’s supposed to kill her.

Sex with a stranger. Learn to drive. Learn to cook. Learn to pole dance. Sex under the stars. Buy a truck. These are just a few of the things on Amelia Wentworth’s bucket list, but as the CEO and face of a multi-billion-dollar cosmetic empire, she’s never quite found the time to do them.

Until, after a series of accidents, Amelia discovers that someone wants her dead. But who? And why? She has no time for questions as she changes her name to Mia, buys a secluded fixer-upper near the Louisiana bayou where no one will recognize her, and starts checking things off her bucket list like there’s no tomorrow—which there might not be.

Meanwhile, Cruz Barcelona is a hit man who’s promised himself this will be his last job. Then he’ll take the money and move to a warm, sunny place where he doesn’t have to hide anymore. But when Cruz goes undercover to Mia’s ramshackle house, he starts to realize there’s far more to this poor-little-rich-girl than he thought—and he starts to fall for her. Which is going to make his job a whole lot harder…

A cosmetics CEO on the run, determined to cross off her bucket list. A dark assassin hired to kill her. Irresistible chemistry…right?

That’s what I’d hoped for when I grabbed Cherry Adair’s Blush off the shelf. Sure, the cover is a little more suggestive than I typically like to go for, but hey, I’ll try it. But when the protagonists start doing the dirty in the first chapter of the book, something’s off.

If you’ve been with me for a while or looked around on the blog, you’ll know I have no problem with sex scenes. However, I think these should be used to empower the story/character relationships/plot points. Blush uses them as plot points.

It felt like every time I turned the page, they were going at it again. There was no character growth in the first fifty pages. Instead, Cruz has an interior monologue about how he should complete his assignment and move on. Then Amelia walks in the room, and all bets are off.

Maybe Blush got better as it went, but after fifty pages of sex scenes, I was ready to DNF.

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFsFallen by Karin Slaughter
Series: Will Trent,
Publisher: Arrow, June 2012
Pages: 496

Special Agent Faith Mitchell returns home to a nightmare. Her baby daughter Emma has been locked outside, and there's a trail of blood to the front door.

Without waiting for back-up, Faith enters the house. Inside a man lies dead in a pool of blood. Most worrying of all, her mother is missing.

When the Atlanta police arrive, Faith has some difficult questions to answer. But she has some desperate questions of her own. What were the killers searching for? And where is her mother?

Suspended from duty, Faith turns to her work partner, Will Trent. Together he and Sara Linton must piece together the fragments of a brutal and complicated case, and catch a vicious murderer with only one thing on his mind.

To keep on killing until the truth is finally revealed.

Police procedurals are my guilty pleasure this year. The complex relationships between the characters, the horrible crimes, the question of whether to stick by the book…I’m all about it.

Yet Karin Slaughter’s Fallen didn’t have that same magic for me. Maybe it was coming in on the fifth book of the Will Trent series instead of the first, but I couldn’t get past the first fifty pages and this book ended up on the DNF pile. I wanted to like it (love it, actually), but the characters weren’t there to draw me in. Instead, I found myself reading the same passages over and reaching for different books on my nightstand over this one.

 Stars

Posted May 17, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 27, 2017

Review | Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak

Review | Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda NovakHer Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak
Series: The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, #1
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, August 2016
Pages: 407
Format: Paperback
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THE HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER
Evelyn Talbot knows that a psychopath can look perfectly normal. She was only sixteen when her own boyfriend Jasper imprisoned and tortured her—and left her for dead. Now an eminent psychiatrist who specializes in the criminal mind, Evelyn is the force behind Hanover House, a maximum-security facility located in a small Alaskan town. Her job puts her at odds with Sergeant Amarok, who is convinced that Hanover is a threat to his community…even as his attraction to beautiful Evelyn threatens to tear his world apart.

BEGINS WITH AN ESCAPE FROM HER PAST
Then, just as the bitter Alaskan winter cuts both town and prison off from the outside world, the mutilated body of a local woman turns up. For Amarok, this is the final proof he needs: Hanover has to go. Evelyn, though, has reason to fear that the crime is a personal message to her—the first sign that the killer who haunts her dreams has found her again. . .and that the life she has so carefully rebuilt will never be the same…

Despite her career working in the insane asylum, Evelyn Talbot thinks her darkest nightmare is behind her. She survived brutal torture and imprisonment at the hands of her high school boyfriend (after he killed her best friends in cold blood) and rebuilt her life to study those who can’t resist the call of the kill. But when asylum staff and townspeople from the small Alaskan town start to go missing, Evelyn fears the worst: her past is back to haunt her.

Here’s the thing about Her Darkest Nightmare: it has all the elements to be an insanely (no pun intended) creepy, heartstoppingly thrilling, breathtakingly romantic story. But it isn’t. Why? Evelyn.

Evelyn had so many issues. Granted, yes, she had a terrible event in her teenage years that would haunt anyone for the rest of their God-given days. Yes, she pulled herself together pretty well. But it’s the massive amounts of neurosis coupled with an unsympathetic, flat character that takes all the wind out of the story’s sails.

She can’t date Amarok, the cute Alaska State Trooper, because he’s younger than she is. I don’t know quite where that one came from – it’s never really explained except she’s afraid of being judged. She can’t be alone. Okay, this one makes sense, especially in the Alaskan wilderness. But then why on earth do you build a cottage on the edge of town with an unreliable snow car (a BMW, for heaven’s sake) and then whine when you can’t get home? She can’t connect well with others in the town/the asylum. Again, okay – she’s had some traumatic experiences. But she whimpers (there’s really no other word for it) whenever someone looks at her funny. When she does grow a backbone and stand up for herself, it’s so out of character that the whole story seemed off.

The reason the character development was so sorely lacking lay at the door of one key element: the dialogue. It was forced, awkward, and kept pulling me out of the story. I was keenly aware I was reading words on a page, not enveloped in a world of snow, sexy troopers, and murderous psychopaths.

Amaork had the most promise but he too suffered from Her Darkest Nightmare‘s stilted dialogue. I wanted MORE, more PASSION, more FIRE, more THRILL. And ended up turning this book back into the library early.

Novak’s latest just didn’t measure up for me. Maybe I’ll stick to her contemporary romances.

2 Stars

Posted March 27, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 24, 2017

Review | Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas

Review | Dream Lake by Lisa KleypasDream Lake by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Friday Harbor, #3
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, August 2012
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
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They say that opposites attract. But what happens when one of them has been devastated by betrayal and the other is so damaged and jaded that his heart is made of stone? In New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas's Dream Lake, readers well enter the world of Friday Harbor, an enchanting town in the Pacific Northwest where things are not quite as they seem and where true love might just have a ghost of a chance. . . .
Alex Nolan is about as bitter and cynical as they come. One of three Nolan brothers who call Friday Harbor home, he's nothing like Sam or Mark. They actually believe in love; they think the risk of pain is worth the chance of happiness. But Alex battles his demons with the help of a whiskey bottle, and he lives in his own private hell. And then, a ghost shows up. Only Alex can see him. Has Alex finally crossed over the threshold to insanity?
Zoë Hoffman is as gentle and romantic as they come. When she meets the startlingly gorgeous Alex Nolan, all her instincts tell her to run. Even Alex tells her to run. But something in him calls to Zoë, and she forces him to take a look at his life with a clear eye and to open his mind to the possibility that love isn't for the foolish.
The ghost has been existing in the half-light of this world for decades. He doesn't know who he is, or why he is stuck in the Nolans' Victorian house. All he knows is that he loved a girl once. And Alex and Zoë hold the key to unlocking a mystery that keeps him trapped here.
Zoë and Alex are oil and water, fire and ice, sunshine and shadow. But sometimes it takes only a glimmer of light to chase away the dark, and sometimes love can reach beyond time, space, and reason to take hold of hearts that yearn for it. . . .

Dream Lake’s Alex Nolan is having a bad day.

Or rather, more like a bad couple months.

Okay, a bad year. His wife has left him and is kicking him out the house to put it up for sale. His construction business is floundering because rumors of his drinking are spreading. He can’t get his mind off the beautiful chef at the B&B and, oh yeah: he’s being haunted.

On the surface, Dream Lake‘s romantic plotline is fairly predictable. Broken man finds loving woman to heal his wounds. I’m okay with that. In fact, I’ve even a fan of the cookie cutter plot because it allows so much room for creativity. And Kleypas has plenty of creativity, namely the ghost.

The ghost is a unique plot twist. He has no idea who is he, why he seems to be tied to the house (then Alex), or if he can move on to the next life. In short, he’s the perfect foil for grumpy, defensive Alex, who would probably throw a hammer at your head if you looked at him funny.

Yet the ghost isn’t enough to make Dream Lake memorable. His story alone? Fabulous. Intertwined with the fairly mundane and – dare I say it? – predictable romance between Alex and Zoe (aforementioned loving woman)? It’s not enough.

The thing about Zoe and Alex is that they weren’t exciting. There wasn’t a new tweak to the stereotypical characters, aside from Alex being haunted. Alex is mean to Zoe, Alex kisses Zoe, Zoe cooks for Alex, and here we are.

From Kleypas’ past books, I expected more. More zing, more banter, deeper characters. With that, Dream Lake could have been great. As is, it’s okay.

3 Stars

Posted March 24, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 23, 2017

Review | Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

Review | Dragonfly in Amber by Diana GabaldonDragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander #2
Publisher: Bantam, August 2001
Pages: 743
Format: Paperback
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 With her now-classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon introduced two unforgettable characters—Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser—delighting readers with a story of adventure and love that spanned two centuries. Now Gabaldon returns to that extraordinary time and place in this vivid, powerful follow-up to Outlander.  DRAGONFLY IN AMBER  For nearly twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones... about a love that transcends the boundaries of time... and about Jamie Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his.   Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart... in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising... and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves.

Claire Randall Frasier has lived the past twenty years believing that Jamie was dead. And finally, she has gathered the courage to go back to Scotland for the first time in nearly two decades to discover what happened to him at the Battle of Culloden.

Dragonfly in Amber is, quite simply, an emotional roller coaster ride. Gabaldon’s narrative switches between 1968 Claire, a woman who is trying to make it work after she loses the love of her life and 1740s Claire, trying desperately to stop the fall of Scotland. While the same women, these two characters are vastly different. It’s hard to believe t

While the same women, these two characters are vastly different. It’s hard to believe that 1740s Claire could be considered naive, considering what happens to her in Outlander, but she embodied it again and again as they worked to stop Charles. Yet naive doesn’t mean stupid. I loved how she stood up for herself and others in a society where women weren’t often allowed or encouraged to do so.

On the other hand, 1968 Claire was charming, engaging, and initially allowed a little of her sorrow to show. All naivete was gone, erased by the loss of her husband, a scar she hid well. It’s this Claire, this dynamic, fascinating character, that was the star of Dragonfly.

She was cool and composed on the outside, an exterior that hid rioting emotions: guilt, wistfulness, joy, and sorrow. It was only once she, Brianna, and Roger started their hunt for Jamie that this calm composure began to crack.

It’s been a while since a book made me feel the way Dragonfly did. From the battle scenes of 1740s Scotland to the drafty graveyards of the 60s’, Gabaldon tugged – no, YANKED – at the heartstrings.

Yet the second Outlander installment did have its faults. There were pages of information, large sections filled with what felt like the most minute details of the French court, the Scottish towns, and everywhere in between, that could have been summarized or possibly skipped entirely. Maybe this is more of personal preference; I wanted the story to get on with it.

In retrospect, that was a minor detail. The beauty of Dragonfly in Amber isn’t in the particulars of the setting or the descriptions of dress. Instead, it lay in Claire, a woman torn between two marriages, two times, and two worlds.

4 Stars

Posted January 23, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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November 7, 2016

Review | Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank

Review | Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover SwankTwenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank
Series: Rose Gardner Mystery #1
Publisher: Createspace, July 2011
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
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For Rose Gardner, working at the DMV on a Friday afternoon is bad even before she sees a vision of herself dead. She's had plenty of visions, usually boring ones like someone's toilet's overflowed, but she's never seen one of herself before. When her overbearing momma winds up murdered on her sofa instead, two things are certain: There isn't enough hydrogen peroxide in the state of Arkansas to get that stain out, and Rose is the prime suspect.
Rose realizes she's wasted twenty-four years of living and makes a list on the back of a Wal-Mart receipt: twenty-eight things she wants to accomplish before her vision comes true. She's well on her way with the help of her next door neighbor Joe, who has no trouble teaching Rose the rules of drinking, but won't help with number fifteen-- do more with a man. Joe's new to town, but it doesn't take a vision for Rose to realize he's got plenty secrets of his own.
Somebody thinks Rose has something they want and they'll do anything to get it. Her house is broken into, someone else she knows is murdered, and suddenly, dying a virgin in the Fenton County jail isn't her biggest worry after all.
Winner of The Beacon 2010 Unpublished Division, Mainstream Category

Rose Gardner doesn’t want to make a fuss. She would rather go completely unnoticed, thank you very much. After living her twenty-four years with her overbearing, bossy mother, Rose finally loses her patience. Storming out of the house, Rose makes a list of 28 wishes, 28 things she wants to do before she dies. And since she just had a vision of her death, it’s time for Rose to strike out on her own. Unfortunately, the very day Rose declares her independence, her controlling mother is found dead…and all fingers are pointing at Rose.

Rose is, without a doubt, one of the most naive characters I’ve come across, but it worked for her. She’s sweet, innocent, and the highlight of Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. Her character journey, from a young, innocent 24-year-old girl to a slightly-less-innocent but more independent woman is the star of the story. I loved her. Her gentleness and sweet nature creates her problems, but also gives her allies. It was a perfect balance, only going into overly sweet every once in a while.

I accidentally picked up Thirty-Five and a Half Conspiracies from the library a few weeks ago, not knowing it was part of a series, so I had a clue that the hunky next-door neighbor Joe McAllister wasn’t what he seemed. But, oh, I loved every damn scene that he was in. There was something so obviously off about him (his secrecy, his intimate knowledge of Rose’s murder case, and his middle-of-the-night activities) but his sweetness and obvious attraction to Rose made me rush to the end to make sure they had a happily-ever-after.

The romance of Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes is a winner in my book. Soft and sweet, but tense and hot, it quickly won me over, despite Joe’s secrecy. It brought me into Rose’s world, and I can’t wait to return in Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons.

4 Stars

Posted November 7, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 28, 2016

Review | The Duke is Mine by Eloisa James

Review | The Duke is Mine by Eloisa JamesThe Duke Is Mine by Eloisa James
Series: Fairy Tales, #3
Publisher: Avon, December 2011
Pages: 367
Format: Paperback
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Destiny will be decided between the sheets in this all-new tale of The Princess and the Pea.
For Olivia Lytton, betrothal to the Duke of Canterwick—hardly a Prince Charming—feels more like a curse than a happily-ever-after. At least his noble status will help her sister, Georgiana, secure an engagement with the brooding, handsome Tarquin, Duke of Sconce, a perfect match for her in every way . . . every way but one. Tarquin has fallen in love with Olivia. Quin never puts passion before reason. And reason says that Georgiana is his ideal bride. But the sensual, fiery, strong-willed Olivia ignites an unknown longing in him—a desire they are both powerless to resist. When a scandalous affair begins, they risk losing everything—Olivia's engagement, her sister's friendship, and their own fragile love. Only one thing can save them—and it awaits in the bedroom, where a magnificent mattress holds life-changing answers to the greatest romantic riddle of all.

I’m not sure how I feel about The Duke is Mine. After falling for James’ other installments in the series, I was ready to love Olivia and her duke’s story. That isn’t quite what happened.

The other novels in the Fairy Tale series started with a bang, but The Duke is Mine took a long time to start. A long time. After reading page after page of dialogue between Olivia and her twin sister, Georgiana, I felt my interest waning. Then at Quin’s lackluster introduction to the story, I checked GoodReads to see if this installment was a dud. Surprisingly, reviewers raved about it. So I kept reading.

Although I am glad I kept reading, I wished The Duke is Mine picked up the pace much earlier. Until Olivia and Georgiana arrive at Quin’s home for his mother’s marriage competition (what else to call it?), the story slogged. It’s at Quin’s family home that both he and Olivia come alive.

All this said I loved Olivia’s feisty nature. She is stubborn as a mule but luckily more charming. Standing up to Quin’s mother, especially when she made no qualm about her perception of Olivia and her fiancee, must have been difficult, but she did it without a second thought. Her ability to find the fun in life was a quality lacking in not only Quin but society as a whole at the time.

Quin, on the other hand, needed to come alive much earlier to make a lasting impact. He was stuffy, aloof, and a little cold. Thankfully, James switches the narration between the two of them, giving us a chance to remember why we’re cheering for him. As his story comes out, it’s easier to see his kind, protective nature, but it would have been nice to have some explanation for his attitude earlier on.

My other issue with The Duke is Mine is the cheating. Olivia is engaged to another man. Quin’s mother has all but announced his betrothal to Olivia’s sister. It made it hard to hope for their romance when they were potentially hurting so many other people. I liked how James handled part of the situation, but View Spoiler ».

The romance was there, creating tension and atmosphere throughout the book. There were moments I loved and others I didn’t. The Duke is Mine might not have been my favorite of the series, but I enjoyed the rest.

3 Stars

Posted October 28, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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