Friday, April 29, 2016

Review: Lake of Dreams by Linda Howard

Blurb from Goodreads:
Dreams and reality collide—with potentially deadly consequences—in this stunning novella from New York Times bestselling author Linda Howard, available for the first time as a standalone ebook at an unbeatable price!

House painter Thea Marlow hasn’t been sleeping very well. Her nights are plagued by dreams, the setting by the water and the mysterious man who appears in them always the same. But the outcome of the dream changes nightly: sometimes the man loves her...and sometimes he kills her. Desperate for some much needed relaxation, Thea travels to her family’s remote country lake house. Imagine her surprise when a knock at the door reveals the man from her dreams...who happens to have just rented the house next door.

So will he love her—or will he kill her?
My Review:
This book was originally released as part of an anthology and, accordingly, it's very short; I would categorize this as a novella. You already know by now that I absolutely love Linda Howard and have read everything she's ever written.  I hadn't read this one for many moons and so I was excited to re-read it as a standalone e-book.  Although Lake of Dreams is not as much of a romantic suspense as the books that I love from her the most and the ones for which she is most associated, there is still some suspense in this one -- it just takes place in dreams/flashbacks.  There was still something so alluring about this to me in Linda's writing -- it is sultry and immediate.  I read this is one sitting and will happily be adding it to my collection of Linda Howard books to re-read (there are at least five or six every year for me).

If you like this one, you will absolutely love Son of the Morning (these two are pretty much Linda Howard's only "historical" romances, and Son of the Morning has some similarities and is almost in the vein of Outlander).  Lake of Dreams is scheduled to be re-released next week in standalone e-book format May 2, 2016, you can purchase HERE, and I really liked it.
She tried to remind herself that it had been less than twenty-four hours since she had seen him for the first time, but found that the length of time meant less than nothing.  There was a bone-deep recognition between them that had nothing to do with how many times the sun had risen and set.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Conversations With Myself (& Hopefully You): How Do You Define a HEA?

This discussion is partially inspired by Shannon's recent discussion regarding the "Pickiness of Endings" (a must read).  I was thinking about Shannon's discussion and I feel the same -- endings, especially series endings, disappoint me so often.  And then I thought about the fact that some of my very favorite books don't have a "happy" ending.  Sometimes this works because it feels more authentic for the story, for the characters and particularly, as Shannon pointed out, in a dystopian.  This led me to think about what a "happy" ending even means and so today I ask:

How do you define a HEA?

I often think of endings in simplest of Shakespeare's terms -- if it ends with a wedding, it's a comedy; if it ends with a funeral, it's a tragedy.  But maybe that is too simple. As you know, I hate spoilers and so I am going to try to talk about endings without referencing any particular books.  As I intimated above, some of my favorite books don't necessarily have a "happy" ending.  But what even is a happily ever after or a happy ending?  In romance, for me, a non-happy ending is one in which the characters aren't together.  If the characters are together, even if it's not straight-forward, then the ending is happy.  I don't want, especially in YA, a wedding, an engagement or a birth -- that's too easy.  When you read outside of romance, however, endings become blurrier.  For example, if an important character (or even non-important but not necessarily a villain) dies at the end of a book -- does that mean it's not happy?  Not necessarily -- maybe that's the way it was supposed to happen or maybe there's a message in the ending of things, even lives.  I guess my point is that I think we sometimes are too focused on happy endings, especially in romance.  A romance can still be a great romance even if the characters aren't together at the end -- without overt spoilers, Casablanca and Gone With the Wind are both great examples of this.  A romance can still be great romance without a HEA and sometimes that's exactly what I want because real life isn't HEA -- it's messy and complicated; it's imperfect and unapologetic for it.  And a book can still be great even if it has a heart-wrenching ending.  I will say that I think Tarryn Fisher, Donna Tartt, and Emily St. John Mandel are all amazing at endings -- I think this is also why they are some of my favorite authors.  Their endings aren't always neat, tidy or, for lack of a better word, happy.  But they are right -- right for the story, right for the characters, and right for the ultimate message of the book, and sometimes that is more important than the fiction of happily ever after.

As always, this is just my opinion.  How do you define a HEA?  Should we always expect a HEA, especially in a romance?  And is that what you want? Can a HEA be something besides all hearts and rainbows?


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

 "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that you are eagerly anticipating.

Today, I am waiting on:  
The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

From Goodreads:
From Edgar Award winner Alex Marwood comes another gripping psychological thriller. When a child goes missing at an opulent house party, it makes international news. But what really happened to Coco Jackson?

Real estate mogul Sean Jackson is throwing himself a splashy fiftieth birthday party, but trouble starts almost immediately: His ex-wife has sent his teenage daughters to the party without telling him; his current wife has fired the nanny; and he’s finding it difficult to sneak away to his mistress. Then something truly terrible happens: one of his three-year-old twins goes missing. No trace of her is ever found. The attendees of the party, nicknamed the Jackson Associates by the press, become infamous overnight.

Twelve years later, Sean is dead. The Jackson Associates assemble for the funeral, together for the first time since that fateful weekend. Soon the barbed comments and accusations are flying. By the end of the weekend, one will be dead. And one of Sean’s daughters will make a shocking discovery.
I've been hearing great things about this author and this book so I hope it is suspenseful and a really great mystery!  The Darkest Secret is scheduled to be released on August 30, 2016, and I can't wait to read it!

What books are you waiting on this Wednesday??

Review: The Wedding Pact (The O'Malleys #2) by Katee Robert

Blurb from Goodreads:
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Katee Robert continues her smoking-hot series about the O'Malleys—wealthy, powerful, and full of scandalous family secrets. 

Carrigan O'Malley has always known her arranged marriage would be more about power and prestige than passion. But after one taste of the hard-bodied, whiskey-voiced James Halloran, she's ruined for anyone else. Too bad James and his family are enemy number 1. 

Hallorans vs. O'Malleys—that's how it's always been. James should be thinking more about how to expand his family's empire instead of how silky Carrigan's skin is against his and how he can next get her into his bed. Those are dangerous thoughts. But not nearly as dangerous as he'll be if he can't get what he wants: Carrigan by his side for the rest of their lives.
My Review:
I liked this one.  I think my first GR status update was that I was not expecting so much plot -- I hope that doesn't sound awful but usually when a shirtless guy is on the cover of a book, there may not be a lot of history or plot that isn't forward momentum for the romance.  Not so, here -- in fact, for me, there may have been a few too many details about the backstory,  and about the two mob families to which the two MCs/love interests belong.  This has almost a Romeo and Juliet feel -- definitely forbidden romance.  I liked James a lot and the chemistry between he and Carrigan was real so I'm not exactly able to pinpoint why this isn't a higher rating for me.  I did feel like this took forever to read and, again, maybe was too long because of all the plot/backstory/history that did not move the romance forward.  That being said, this was still an enjoyable read.

I would recommend this to fans of this series and fans of contemporary romance that has a bit of an edge!  Katee Robert definitely knows how to write steamy scenes!  The Wedding Pact comes out today April 26, 2016, and you can purchase HERE!  
She could go home, climb in a bath, and hope that would be enough to soak away her misery.  Or she could take this man's hand and run away from reality for awhile.  Really, it was no contest.  Carrigan slipped her hand into his, "Where we going?"   
"Crazy, lovely.  We're going crazy."   

Monday, April 25, 2016

Monday Musts: Dear Mr. Knightley, Prince & Bookish Links

Monday Musts is a weekly event, started and hosted by Jessica @ Lovin' Los Libros, which asks you to highlight your must read, must listen and must see!

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

From Goodreads:
Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen.

Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.

After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.

As Sam’s true identity begins to reveal itself through her letters, her heart begins to soften to those around her—a damaged teenager and fellow inhabitant of Grace House, her classmates at Medill, and, most powerfully, successful novelist Alex Powell. But just as Sam finally begins to trust, she learns that Alex has secrets of his own—secrets that, for better or for worse, make it impossible for Sam to hide behind either her characters or her letters.
After Eligible bummed me out, I want to re-read Dear Mr. Knightley: love this epistolary novel.


Prince - Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?  (live 01/30/82)

I am still so, so sad about Prince's death . . . no words.

This space is dedicated to my favorite book blog posts every week since I don't do weekly recaps (I don't have the patience) and there are always posts that I LOVE!
What are your Monday Musts??

Review: 33 1/3 New Kids on the Block's Hangin' Tough by Rebecca Wallwork

Blurb from Goodreads:
Hangin' Tough, the second album by the New Kids on the Block, has sold more than seventeen million copies worldwide since it was released in 1988. But the album and the band have also been dismissed, derided and deemed uncool by the music establishment.

Almost thirty years later, the New Kids still perform the songs from Hangin' Tough.Hundreds of thousands of grown women still flock to their concerts to hear-and go bat-shit crazy for-the songs they first heard when they were teenagers. Is this mere nostalgia or can the science of music help explain the enduring success of Hangin' Tough? What is it about this album that made it so special? Is the music any good or are there other factors at play too?

Journalist and New Kids fan Rebecca Wallwork sets out to analyze the quality of Hangin' Tough with the help of music cognition experts, critics, producers and music industry pros. This is not a story about crazy fans, boy bands and truckloads of cheesy merchandise; it is an exploration of a watershed album and moment in pop culture history. It is a glimpse into the brain of not just New Kids fans, but into the minds and hearts of anyone who loves music. 
My Review:
Three and a half nostalgic stars for 33 1/3's take on my first favorite album. I believe I was in third grade when I was obsessed with this album and actually went to my first concert which was on the tour to support this album! So this was a fun take that not only attempted to analyze the psychology behind why we hold onto the music we loved in our youth but also an attempt to recapture the behind the scenes making of this album and its legacy.  It was a quick read but I loved it -- remembering the songs, the videos and actually trying to understand why I still remember it all so vividly!  The author did an awesome job!

If you're unfamiliar with the 33 1/3 series, it is self-described as "a series of short books about a wide variety of albums, by artists ranging from James Brown to the Beastie Boys. Launched in September 2003, the series now contains 100 titles and is acclaimed and loved by fans, musicians and scholars alike."  This wasn't my first 33 1/3 and it certainly won't be my last -- you should take a look at the list of albums and see if your favorite is on it!  33 1/3 New Kids on the Block's Hangin' Tough was released last week on April 21, 2016, I highly recommend it for fans of this album and/or band and you can purchase HERE.
Quick. Imagine you are fourteen again.  You're in your bedroom or you're at school hanging out with friends, or you're on summer vacation with endless days stretching before you.  What are you listening to?  Recently, I asked my husband this, and he answered without skipping a beat: "Punk rock.  And a bit of metal."
"Do you still like that music today?" I asked.  
"Yeah. And when I hear something from that time, it feels . . . "
He trailed off, but I knew what he meant.  There was an emotional connection between that time a couple decades ago and now.  The music, and his reaction to it, was special.  There is something indelible about what we grow up on, something inescapable.  I feel it, too, only my answer isn't half as cool as my husband's.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Review: The Girl Who Stayed by Tanya Anne Crosby

Blurb from Goodreads:
Zoe Rutherford wasn't sure what she was expecting when she returned to Sullivan's Island. The house on Sullivan's hadn't represented home to her in decades. It was the place where she endured her father's cruelty. It was the place where her mother closed herself off from the world. It was the place where her sister disappeared. But now that her parents are gone, Zoe needs to return to the house, to close it down and prepare it for sale. She intends to get this done as quickly as possible and get on with her life, even though that life seems clouded by her past, both distant and recent. But what she discovers when she gets there is far beyond her imagining and will change her in profound ways. 
My Review:
First, I have to tell you that I hate this title -- I truly feel like it has "girl" in the title as a marketing ploy, to link it to those famed other current novels with unreliable female narrators.  Putting that aside, Zoe isn't really unreliable in this book.  We don't know the entire history of her sister disappearing/her life since from the beginning but she is pretty sure of her own memory.  It had moments when Zoe feels like she is cracking up a bit but nothing like a classic unreliable narrator.  I liked the setting of this one -- an Island off Charleston, SC and some references to the native and mystical of that place (only in that charming Southern way that's just a bit superstitious).  Zoe was a bit hard to figure out and just when you thought the book was about one thing, it turned into something else.  Despite a hint of schizophrenia, this worked for me and I rather liked the prose.  

If you're a fan of the thriller/mystery genre, this one is pretty good.  I wouldn't compare it to the stream of current unreliable narrator/female thriller releases because it felt a bit unique -- it had almost a Rear Window/The Lovely Bones feeling.  The Girl Who Stayed was released earlier this week on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, and you can purchase HERE
For years after, until the fast fact on a milk carton was printed and tossed into the trash, Zoe had found herself standing in the dairy section of the grocery store, lifting up random cartons, just to see if she could find Hannah's face. 
How many people remembered the name of the first kid to appear on one of those cartons?  Zoe did.  It was Etan Patz, a six-year-old from New York with golden hair and a crooked smile.  He vanished one day in 1979, walking to his bus stop, two blocks from his house.  Like Hannah, his body had never been found.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Review: My Mrs. Brown by William Norwich

Blurb from Goodreads:
Sometimes a dress isn’t just a dress.

Emilia Brown is a woman of a certain age. She has spent a frugal, useful, and wholly restrained life in Ashville, a small town in Rhode Island. Overlooked especially by the industries of fashion and media, Mrs. Brown is one of today’s silent generations of women whose quiet no-frills existences would make them seem invisible. She is a genteel woman who has known her share of personal sorrows and quietly carried on, who makes a modest living cleaning and running errands at the local beauty parlor, who delights in evening chats with her much younger neighbor, twenty-three-year-old Alice Danvers.

When the grand dame of Ashville passes away, Mrs. Brown is called upon to inventory her estate and comes across a dress that changes everything. This isn’t a Cinderella confection; it’s a simple yet exquisitely tailored Oscar de la Renta sheath and jacket—a suit that Mrs. Brown realizes, with startling clarity, will say everything she has ever wished to convey. She must have it. And so Mrs. Brown begins her odyssey to purchase the dress. For not only is the owning of the Oscar de la Renta a must, the intimidating trip to purchase it on Madison Avenue is essential as well. If the dress is to give Mrs. Brown a voice, then she must prepare by making the daunting journey—both to the emerald city and within herself.

Timeless, poignant, and appealing, My Mrs. Brown is a novel for every mother in the world, every woman who ever wanted the perfect dress, and every child who wanted to give it to her. 
My Review:
Have you ever wanted something so much that it literally kept you up at night and drove you to the point of distraction? This book follows the life and quest of Mrs. Brown -- a seemingly mousy and older cleaning woman who falls in love with a timeless Oscar de la Renta dress despite all the odds, and the universe conspires along with her hard work to make it hers.  The thing that first comes to my mind is that it was so charming!! Mrs. Brown may be one of my all time favorite characters -- she is so good, so virtuous and to have something so beautiful happen to her, even though it's something small in the grand scheme of life worked for me.  It may sound silly for a book to be about an odyssey for a dress but this was so well done and it made me think of so many things related to fashion, aging and being an older woman.  The world takes you for granted at some point -- the world doesn't create for you -- but Mrs. Brown becomes this beacon in the face of that reality.  Loved it!

My Mrs. Brown came out last week on April 12, 2016, you can purchase HERE, and I definitely recommend this to fans of fashion or anyone who has ever wanted something so much that you would do anything to have it (in the best possible way).
Two dresses: one was an orange-yellow floral silk caftan-style evening dress with bell-shaped long sleeves and a V-neck.  But as beautiful as it was, the confection did not capture Mrs. Brown's attention as much as the other dress did.  This was a sleeveless black dress and a single-button jacket made of the finest quality wool crepe.   
Its correctness was so very alluring.  Suggesting endless possibilities and the certainty of outcomes if one would only wear this dress.  The richness of the affect of this suit, its elegance and poise, was the work of a master.   
It was the strangest thing, even in her youth, never had a dress, or any other item of clothing, spoken to Mrs. Brown this way, a garment so regal—so "grown up" she'd later explain in one of her letters to Mrs. Foxso exquisitely tailored and, somehow, thoroughly reassuring.   
Why wasn't all of life designed this way?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Siracusa by Delia Ephron

 "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that you are eagerly anticipating.

Today, I am waiting on:  
Siracusa by Delia Ephron

From Goodreads:
An electrifying novel about marriage and deceit from bestselling author Delia Ephron that follows two couples on vacation in Siracusa, a town on the coast of Sicily, where the secrets they have hidden from each other are exposed and relationships are unraveled. 

New Yorkers Michael, a famous writer, and Lizzie, a journalist, travel to Italy with their friends from Maine—Finn, his wife Taylor, and their daughter Snow. “From the beginning,” says Taylor, “it was a conspiracy for Lizzie and Finn to be together.” Told Rashomon-style in alternating points of view, the characters expose and stumble upon lies and infidelities past and present.  Snow, ten years old and precociously drawn into a far more adult drama, becomes the catalyst for catastrophe as the novel explores collusion and betrayal in marriage. With her inimitable psychological astuteness, and uncanny understanding of the human heart, Ephron delivers a powerful meditation on marriage, friendship, and the meaning of travel. Set on the sun-drenched coast of the Ionian Sea, Siracusa unfolds with the pacing of a psychological thriller and delivers an unexpected final act that none can see coming.
I hope this is suspenseful -- the setting sounds terrific!  Siracusa is scheduled to be released on July 12, 2016, and I can't wait!

What books are you waiting on this Wednesday??

Review: Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld

Blurb from Goodreads:
This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . . 

And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.
My Review:
I love Curtis Sittenfeld -- I consider her one of my favorite authors and I've read and adored all four of her novels released prior to this one.  You also may know that I adore Pride and Prejudice, I re-read it every year and it never ceases to enchant me; I am a hardcore Darcy/Lizzy shipper.  So when I heard that one of my favorite authors was writing a modern retelling of one of my all time favorite books, I was ecstatic.  Eligible was one of my most anticipated reads for 2016!  And so you can imagine my disappoint in writing this review. I have never been one to forego retellings of my favorite books; I have loved many Jane Austen retellings, re-imaginings and even some of those books that purport to take off where P&P ends (Only Mr. Darcy Will Do and Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife are my two favorites). Let me be clear, my rating has nothing to do with the writing of this book -- the writing was impeccable and I have no qualms with it.  Rather,  Eligible made me analyze whether I would actually still like Elizabeth Bennet, and the entirety of P&P, if it were written today.  I suppose that in and of itself is a testament to the cannon of Eligible and how well done it is.  BUT, and this is a big but, I don't really want to imagine a P&P in which I dislike every character, in which Lizzie is unbelievably fallible and ordinary, in which Mr. Bennet is a jerk, in which even Jane is supercilious and annoying -- maybe the Bennet family really is awful and I've been deluded by nostalgia that is P&P read by a modern audience -- but I would rather go on pretending than to have my entire remembrance of one of my favorite books shaken up beyond belief.  The one bright spot in Eligible, for me, is Kathy DeBourgh -- I won't spoil you and tell you who/what she is in this book but she was my favorite character, which is something I never thought I'd write regarding P&P!

What I am trying to ineloquently to say is that I would rather never read another P&P retelling again than have my love and devotion to P&P diminished -- maybe Curtis Sittenfeld is spot on in making us question whether Elizabeth Bennet is the heroine we've always imagined and whether we'd actually ship Liz and Darcy if they lived today but, for me, I don't want to be asked those sorts of questions.  I prefer to let P&P live in the past and in my mind, and to continue to consider it one of the best romances ever written.

Unleashing Mr. Darcy and Prejudice & Pride are modern retellings I loved; they both are cannon (with an obvious twist) that engender the same feelings I have when I read P&P.  Eligible, while it made me question everything I thought I knew and think about P&P, did not engender those same feelings.  I don't necessarily know if that's a good or bad thing but, as a mood reader, this one was a disappoint to me.  Perhaps, with time, I will come to love this one more but my immediate hope for a smart and charming P&P retelling was not satisfied; even though not a retelling, Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay is another must read for a contemporary, smart and well done Jane Austen homage.

I would still recommend this to anyone that is open to a (very) modern Pride and Prejudice retelling.  If you are in want of a humorous and sarcastic take on P&P versus a sweet and romantic retelling, Eligible might just be the book for which you've been searching!  Eligible comes out today April 19, 2016, and you can purchase HERE!  
There's a belief that to take care of someone else, or to let someone else take care of you that both are inherently unfeminist.  I don't agree with that idea.  There's no shame in devoting yourself to another person, as long as he devotes himself to you in return.   

Monday, April 18, 2016

Monday Musts: The Diamond Age, NKOTB & Favorite Bookish Links of the Week

Monday Musts is a weekly event, started and hosted by Jessica @ Lovin' Los Libros, which asks you to highlight your must read, must listen and must see!

The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

From Goodreads:
The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is a postcyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson. It is to some extent a science fiction coming-of-age story, focused on a young girl named Nell, and set in a future world in which nanotechnology affects all aspects of life. The novel deals with themes of education, social class, ethnicity, and the nature of artificial intelligence.
I haven't read a lot of sci-fi but I cannot recommend this book enough -- amazing world building and completely captivating, especially about reading in the future!


New Kids on the Block - Tonight
So I read 33 1/3's book re: Hangin' Tough last week (my review will be out soon!) and, consequently, I had to go and listen to all of their songs.  I think this one is still my favorite!

This space is dedicated to my favorite book blog posts every week since I don't do weekly recaps (I don't have the patience) and there are always posts that I LOVE!

Sorry I was MIA this week with commenting -- I had an appellate argument early in the week that I spent all of last and a lot of this week preparing for and then all those TRK finished copies were released and I'm on social media hiatus until April 27 ☹
What are your Monday Musts??
Imagination Designs