Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Power Trip by Jackie Collins

4.5 Star

A Russian billionaire and his state of the art yacht. His beautiful and sexy supermodel girlfriend. And five dynamic, powerful and famous couples invited on the yacht's maiden voyage. A senator and his lovely but unhappy wife. A very attractive movie star and his needy ex-waitress girlfriend. A famous black footballer and his interior designer wife. A male Latin singing sensation and his older English boyfriend. And a maverick writer with his Asian journalist female friend.

Could this be the trip of a lifetime? Or could this be the trip from hell?

Whatever happens on the high seas doesn't necessarily stay there.

Sabrina-Kate - 4.5 Star

The Power Trip is typical Collins. Absorbing in its fantastic descriptions of a life most of us will never lead, it truly is her usual style of story. Like savoring a guilty secret, I read this hefty tome in two days which was very easy to do despite being more than 500 pages as each chapter was short but packed full of action and interesting descriptions and yes, the signature sultry sex scenes she is also known for. The story rolls along at a rocking pace with alternating chapters focusing on all of the characters within, keeping things interesting and diverse throughout. The descriptions are amazing with no detail left untold.

I think that The Power Trip appealed to me as it gave a glimpse, whether realistic or not, into the lives of the rich and famous. To see how life could be, what some people are privy to and how they are spoiled by circumstance is something that most of us are curious about in one way or another. I am not sure how realistic the lives portrayed within are but I am sure that there is at least a modicum of truth to them. And if not, it certainly is entertaining to think that there is.

Collins truly does excel at what she does but this should come as no surprise as she has a lot of experience with these types of tales. I only have to wonder how much of these types of scenarios she might have personally been part of. For any Collins fan, or for someone that wants a great beach read or has a weekend to while away while escaping reality, this is definitely a read for you.

Thank you to Get Red PR for our review copy. All opinions are our own. 

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Thin Rich Bitches by Janet Eve Josselyn

2 Star

Leaving her cheating husband in Boston with the paralegal he impregnated, Pippin Snowe and her son move to a ramshackle farmhouse that she inherited in the exclusive community of Dover, Massachusetts. Pippin finds employment with a local architect, designing kitchen renovations for wealthy Dover women who treat her as they treat the rest of the hired help. Concluding that social climbing is just another sport that she is no good at, Pippin opens a country club for dogs that offers services that the Dover women didn’t know they wanted until they found out that admission was required and spaces were limited.

Lydia - 2 Star

Thin Rich Bitches started out so promising but then fell dramatically short for me. I just couldn't connect with the main character, Pippen, beyond the first third of the novel. Her constant grumbling and comparisons about how poor she was (even though she had just inherited a huge amount of land and a large home, regardless of the state of it) and how rich everyone that lived in her new area was, eventually grated on me. She wasn't that poor. She still shopped. She just couldn't afford designer stuff anymore. It was almost offensive, particularly in this economy. Maybe the book would have been better ten years ago in the chick lit shoes and shopping heyday. Or maybe it's just me.

I really enjoyed Pippen's character at first. She was funny, bubbly and down - the perfect chick lit heroine. Unfortunately though, over time, her humour became jadded - or maybe it is not just my kind of humour. There were some amusing and laugh-out-loud moments, but about a third of the way in, I grew tired of how she constantly judged and loathed the people she was suddenly lumped together with in her new community. So, sell the house then, and move on. But she didn't. She stayed. And I have no idea why because she hated them all. Except how rich they were going to make her.

Speaking of which, the idea of starting the kennel? The way out of her financial doghouse? It was pretty much the end of the novel which frustrated and saddened me because I anticipated much doggie fun. Instead  the majority of the novel was spent observing the rich and grumbling about it with Pippen not doing much to move on with her life. Somewhere in the middle I began glossing over pages with the repetitive descriptions of the rich, waiting for something to happen - preferably the kennel as was promised in the synopsis.

Unfortunately it never came. There were some interesting glimpses into the lifestyle of the rich and fabulous and some laughter in the beginning, but sadly I found myself rolling my eyes near the end. I suspect this novel might have worked better for me if the main character was slightly more sympathetic or three dimensional or less grouchy about her new position and more willing to move on.

Thank you to Janet Eve Josselyn for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Fast Forward by Juliet Madison

4.5 Star

Aspiring supermodel Kelli Crawford seems destined to marry her hotshot boyfriend, but on her 25th birthday she wakes in the future as a fifty-year-old suburban housewife married to the now middle-aged high school nerd.

Trapped in the opposite life of the one she wanted, Kelli is forced to re-evaluate her life and discover what is really important to her. Will she overcome the hilarious and heartbreaking challenges presented to her and get back to the body of her younger self? Or will she be stuck in the nightmare of hot flushes, demanding children, raunchy advances from her husband, and hideous support underwear forever?

Lydia - 4.5 Star

Fast Forward is a charming debut! I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. A fun, fast, fresh, and funny read, Fast Forward introduces us to Kelli, a self absorbed model who suddenly awakes a couple of decades later in a life she would never have willingly given herself, complete with cellulite and...children.

From the first page, I wasn’t sure whether I would like Kelli, but then, a couple of pages in, one simple gesture makes her loveable, and her boyfriend, not so much. It made her much more than the cliché model and I warmed to her instantly. I knew the road ahead from supermodel to saggy-breasted, middle aged woman, would be tough on her and I couldn't wait to see how she would handle it.

I loved that Madison doesn’t take the future too far. I thought her portrayal of the future was realistic and not too far advanced. Not everyone was flying around in their own personal space crafts, but there was enough advancement to make it realistic. I loved the epads!  I want one!  And I’m sure it’s something we’ll see if our technology keeps progressing as it has been, so I thought it was fitting.

I loved her future family, and particularly Will. They were all so real, so genuine and so loveable! I was actually a smidgen jealous of her future-self. I thought her progression was realistic and how she slowly comes to realize how different her life could be and how much she actually liked the people she was suddenly surrounded by was really well done.

Kelli's’s reaction to landing in the future was amusing, had some laugh out loud moments and I loved seeing her eyes gradually open to the possibilities life held as opposed to the limited ones she was pining away for when she first landed in the future. I was even touched to tears. 

I really enjoyed this one. Who wouldn’t love a glimpse into the future?

Thank you to Escape Publishing for our review copy. All opinions are own own.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Secrets Of The Tides by Hannah Richell

5 Star

Every family has its secrets. Some are small, like telling a white lie or snooping through a private drawer. Others are more serious like infidelity and betrayal. And some secrets are so terrible they must be hidden away in a deep, dark place, for if they ever came to light, they would surely tear a family apart.

The Tides are a family full of secrets. Returning to Clifftops, the rambling family house high up on the Dorset coastline, youngest daughter Dora hopes for a fresh start, for herself and the new life she carries. But can long-held secrets ever really be forgiven? And even if you can forgive, can you ever really learn to love again?

Kathryn - 5 Star

The cover of this novel doesn’t even hint at the strong dramatic story within the pages! I picked Secrets of the Tides up on whim on my last visit to the UK and am so pleased that I did.

We begin with a young woman taking a solitary train journey to London and then throwing herself into the river so for the first half you’re trying to determine who this woman is and how it ties into the story.  While you’re busy trying to work that part out you’re slowly exposed to a fairly normal family starting to fray at the edges when they move to the country. Their disintegration entrenches when they experience the worst possibly tragedy a family could ever face.

Richell successfully gets into the headspace of both teenager and adult and keeps their inner thoughts and characters consistent as we bounce from present day to the past.  I was brought back to being a teenager and all the inner voices that that brings but also found some affinity with the mother- as that’s the voice that speaks to me now.

Richell writes with a great amount of tension- I was quite literally tense reading the majority of the novel because I desperately wanted the tragic events that unfolded not to have happened at all.  The exploration of guilt and how it can destroy ones’ life was fascinating and true- guilt is a powerfully tortuous emotion for oneself and for ones relationships.

The ending did seem a bit rushed but I was so hoping they would come together regardless. I don’t think anyone would read Secrets of the Tides without feeling the gut wrenching horror of the family’s circumstances. In her notes at the end of the book Richell mentions the power of childhood memories - it made me think and hopefully made me a more patient mother the next day.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Learning to Stay by Erin Celello

4.5 Star
Elise Sabato is proud of her husband, Brad, for serving his country...and grateful when he returns home to her. But the traumatic brain injury he suffered in Iraq has turned him from a thoughtful, brilliant, and patient man into someone quite different....someone who requires more care and attention than Elise can give while working in a demanding law firm. And when Brad ends up on his family’s farm, hundreds of miles away, she wonders where their marriage is headed.

Elise must decide between the life she always wanted and the life she seems to be living…until she finds inspiration in the most unlikely of places: a lovable dog named Jones who teaches her that when the best-laid plans take unexpected turns, sometimes you end up right where you were meant to be.

Jen - 4.5 Star

In Learning to Stay, I learned so much about a side of war that I haven’t seen before. We see a lot of touching videos online of dads coming home from Iraq by surprising their children at school, or weeping wives holding signs up to welcome their husbands home from war. But what happens when they get home? What happens when the men and women aren’t the same people they were when they left?That’s the story Erin Celello tells is this moving story about Elise Sabato and her husband, Brad. 

My first impression of Elise was that she was a strong character, a good wife and a faithful friend. The fact that Elise is a lawyer proves she’s tough and intelligent, but at the same time, she’s also emotional and unaware of the complications many soldiers face after coming home from war.

The book begins with Elise witnessing her friend experience the one thing military wives pray will not happen to them. I appreciated the author’s risk at making Elise feel raw emotions that were so honest that most people probably do feel, but never share. It made the story so real to me. That same raw emotion weaves itself throughout the entire book, making it impossible not to feel the sadness Elise goes through.

The events that unveil the trauma Brad has suffered in Iraq are harrowing and hard to read. Elise explains how smart, capable and charismatic he was before he went to Iraq, making the contrast between the man he was and the man who is now smashing the mirrors in their home stark and foreboding. Celello does an amazing job of showing the scary side of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but at the same time, Brad is a lovable character and you understand Elise’s yearning to bring her husband back.

Elise sets out to help her husband survive the grips of his disorder and the obstacles she has to go through are unimaginable. What’s even more unbelievable is her strength and composure, even when you think she’s given up, she finds another way to keep her marriage together.

The end of Learning to Stay is as satisfying as endings go. Loose ends get tied up and the characters find answers, but there are still surprises and the characters grow in ways they never imagined possible. 

Thank you to NAL for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany

4 Star

When a young mother dies under mysterious circumstances, those she leaves behind begin looking for answers in the past—and find a long-buried secret they could have never imagined. Thirty-six-year-old Grace McAllister never longed for children. But when she meets Victor Hansen, a handsome, charismatic divorced restaurateur who is father to Max and Ava, Grace decides that, for the right man, she could learn to be an excellent part-time stepmom. After all, the kids live with their mother, Kelli. How hard could it be?

At thirteen, Ava Hansen is mature beyond her years. Since her parents’ divorce, she has been the one taking care of her emotionally unstable mother and her little brother—she pays the bills, does the laundry, and never complains because she loves her mama more than anyone. And while her father’s new girlfriend is nice enough, Ava still holds out hope that her parents will get back together and that they’ll be a family again.

But only days after Victor and Grace get engaged, Kelli dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances—and soon, Grace and Ava discover there was much more to Kelli’s life than either ever knew.
Lydia - 4 Star

Heart Like Mine was my first novel by Hatvany and I definitely enjoyed it. It was a heartfelt, gripping, and compelling read about family, love and motherhood and what happens when the life you expected is suddenly ripped away.

This novel explores a family squashed together when they so desperately want a different version of the family they’ve been forced to settle into. Grace is thrown into motherhood when she never wanted children in the first place. She settled for the title of part-time step mom after falling in love with Victor, but when his ex-wife is found dead, she’s vaulted into the role of full time mom when all she wants is the quiet life she imagined with the man she loves. Her step daughter, Ava, is desperately pining for her mother and her old life. Even in her flashbacks, she wants her father back in their lives permanently. And finally, told in flashbacks prior to her death, Ava’s mother, Kelli, desperately wants her husband and family of four back. None of their wishes come to fruition, and Heart Like Mine explores whether they will be able to accept and unite their newfound family.

Initially, I didn’t quite latch on to the characters as I wanted to. While I understood Grace’s situation and her doubts about suddenly being thrown into the role of full time step mom when she never intended to become a mother herself, her questioning the situation made her less endearing to me. I’m not even sure why because it was a perfectly realistic apprehension on her part and is very likely something anyone in her shoes would feel, even if they wanted to become a mother.  I think I might have needed to see another, softer side to her – maybe some interactions with her clients at the women’s shelter would have helped to ground her personality and show she’s not heartless, which she completely is not. But for some reason, seeing her fears without knowing her (because this all happens rather quickly at the beginning of the novel) made her a smidgen less likeable to me straight out when I wanted to love her. Over time, I grew to enjoy and love her character though.

The alternating points of view were done well. I did think – as I have with some other novels lately with younger characters – that at times Ava’s point of view was a bit wordier than I would have anticipated a thirteen year old girl speaking or thinking, regardless of how mature Ava was or had to become with her mother’s inabilities. At times it popped me out of the story as I sat back and wondered if the thirteen year olds I knew would say something like Ava did or have the words she did to think that way. Overall though, her reaction at her mother’s death, her anguish, and her questioning felt realistic.

The scenes with the kids were so heart wrenching that I had a difficult time reading some of them. The honesty of these characters was refreshing, even with my concerns about Grace at the beginning. The suspense of Kelli’s death and her history were woven through this story expertly. I was desperate to find out what happened to her, as well as to find out whether the family she left behind would splinter and fall apart or rebound strong and survive.

Hatvany’s writing is easy to read, her characters flawed, but relatable, and the issues she explores are contemporary, realistic, and poignant to our times. I will definitely be seeking more from this talented author.  

Thank you to Washington Square Press for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins

5 Star

After the birth of her daughter Emma, the usually resilient Majella finds herself feeling isolated and exhausted. Then, at her childhood home in Queens, Majella discovers the diary of her maternal ancestor Ginny—and is shocked to read a story of murder in her family history. 

With the famine upon her, Ginny Doyle fled from Ireland to America, but not all of her family made it. What happened during those harrowing years, and why does Ginny call herself a killer? Is Majella genetically fated to be a bad mother, despite the fierce tenderness she feels for her baby? Determined to uncover the truth of her heritage and her own identity, Majella sets out to explore Ginny’s past—and discovers surprising truths about her family and ultimately, herself.

Sabrina-Kate - 5 Star

I was absolutely enthralled by The Crooked Branch. At first I was not too into the idea of the book because I am not a huge fan of historical fiction and since part of it is set in Ireland during the potato famine, I had my doubts as to whether it would appeal to me or not. But The Crooked Branch is exactly the type of book I love to read with great characters and a fantastic, well paced story that didn't lose any momentum despite alternating between characters and time periods.

Cummins definitely has a real strength in bringing characters to life and making you care about them intensely. I think that I identified with this book in big ways because it is largely about a mother's relationship with her child and since I am a new mother, I found a lot of what was described, even the difficult things, to be very true. I imagine that even if you weren't a mother that this author's way of telling the tale and feelings of the characters would help you to feel what they were.

The foreshadowing is subtle yet effective. I wasn't able to guess what was being alluded to which unfortunately is often the case and the story tied together in unexpected but logical ways.

The story developed very naturally, without any lags or lapses and I did not and mostly did not put it down - which as a new mom was challenging. But the story is just that good.

Thank you to NAL for our review copy. All opinions are our own. 

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

On The Island by Tracey Garvis Graves

4 Star

Anna Emerson is a thirty-year-old English teacher desperately in need of adventure. Worn down by the cold Chicago winters and a relationship that’s going nowhere, she jumps at the chance to spend the summer on a tropical island tutoring sixteen-year-old T.J.

T.J. Callahan has no desire to go anywhere. His cancer is in remission and he wants to get back to his normal life. But his parents are insisting he spend the summer in the Maldives catching up on all the school he missed last year.

Anna and T.J. board a private plane headed to the Callahan’s summer home, and as they fly over the Maldives’ twelve hundred islands, the unthinkable happens. Their plane crashes in shark-infested waters. They make it to shore, but soon discover that they’re stranded on an uninhabited island.

At first, their only thought is survival. But as the days turn to weeks, and then months, the castaways encounter plenty of other obstacles, including violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.’s cancer could return. As T.J. celebrates yet another birthday on the island, Anna begins to wonder if the biggest challenge of all might be living with a boy who is gradually becoming a man.

Lydia - 4 Star

I really enjoyed this one! On the Island is a simple, ridiculously easy and quick read with a compelling story line. I do suspect all the hype might have prevented me from adoring On the Island as much as I might have without it, but it was still a solid read and I anticipate a movie will be made of this one, if it isn’t already in the works.

Both Anna and TJ’s characters were wonderful. Stuck in a precarious predicament, I sympathized with these two lost souls and cringed and cursed alongside their adventures as they tried first to survive, then lost hope, and finally as they attempted to carve out a life on the island they were stranded on. This novel made me think. I wondered what I would do in their situation and how well I would cope. I suspect I wouldn't have handled the situation half as well as they did. And I loved that I never knew whether they would be found.

I also contemplated Anna and TJ’s relationship. The underlying sexual tension between the thirty year old Anna and sixteen year old T.J. was palpable throughout and for some reason, things didn't become as explosive as I thought, which I felt it was appropriate. Everything was handled tastefully and I appreciated that Garvis Graves didn't go all Shades of Grey, which could have happened. As time passed, I constantly wondered how their relationship would be perceived if and when they would be found, regardless of whether they became intimate or not.

I had a smile on my face at the end of this novel, although I ached alongside Anna and T.J. every step of the way. On the Island is a fabulous, quick, absorbing read and is the kind of unique book that will stick with you for days, months and years to come. A movie please!?!?

Thank you to myself for buying this novel. All opinions are my own.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Merde Factor by Stephen Clarke

3 Star

Englishman Paul West is living the Parisian dream, and doing his best not to annoy the French. But recently things have been going très wrong:
He's stuck in an apartment so small that he has to cut his baguettes in two to fit them in the kitchen. 
His research into authentic French cuisine is about to cause a national strike - and it could be all his fault. 
His Parisian business partner is determined to close their tea-room. And thinks that sexually harrassing his female employees is a basic human right.
And Paul's gorgeous ex-girlfriend seems to be stalking him.
Threatened with eviction, unemployment and bankrupcy, Paul realises that his personal merde factor is about to hit the fan...

Kathryn -3 Star

The Merde Factor is the latest in a series of books by Clarke about Paul West but this is the first one I have read. I wish I’d been following Paul from the start because in The Merde Factor he was a bit lacking in background for me, which would probably have been cleared up if I’d read the earlier books!

The Merde Factor was funny.  I wasn’t bothered about the French words pushed into every other sentence as it gave me a proper sense of how an Englishman living in Paris might mix the two languages together.  I also got a really solid re-education of French swear words and slang which was nice too!  Being fluent (if rusty) in French probably made the story flow more easily but don’t let that discourage the non-French speaker because everything is explained and the constant translation actually make me find it more amusing.

It’s the language portion of the book that makes it the most amusing- that and the insane bureaucracies.  The same insane rules and hoops to get anything done with a government branch can, I’m sure, be applied to any country with equal frustration and amusement.  Just try and get a television hooked up in England and you’ll know that strange things (that REALLY ought to be simple) happen everywhere!

The book was funny and I enjoyed it and wanted to finish but the story in itself left a little something to be desired. Apart from a vague subplot about the importance of maintaining French culture while embracing others and Paul trying to take back control of his restaurant there wasn’t a lot to hold on to. Perhaps it was that I didn’t quite “get” Paul as I’d hope to or perhaps there wasn’t a lot to relate to if you hadn’t read his previous exploits?   Either way I found the novel amusing but I was hoping for more- Clarke can obviously “do” funny so I’m inclined to go back to one of his first publications and get a real first impression.

Thank you to Century for our review copy. All opinions are our own. 

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Taking Chances by Molly McAdams

4 Star

Her first year away is turning out to be nearly perfect, but one weekend of giving in to heated passion will change everything.

Eighteen-year-old Harper has grown up under the thumb of her career marine father. Ready to live life her own way and to experience things she's only ever heard of from the jarheads in her father's unit, she's on her way to college at San Diego State University.

Thanks to her new roommate, Harper is introduced to a world of parties, gorgeous guys, family, and emotions. She finds herself being torn in two as she quickly falls in love with both her new boyfriend, Brandon, and her roommate's brother, Chase. Despite their dangerous looks and histories, both men adore Harper and would do anything for her, including taking a step back if it would mean she'd be happy.

Kaley - 4 Star

Taking Chances by Molly McAdams was one of those books where I felt all the feelings. I’m not kidding. Name a feeling or emotion and I’m certain I experienced it while reading this novel. This will be a tough review to write because SO MUCH HAPPENED and I can’t get into too many details because that will spoil it for you all before you read it (and you should read it).

This was, I believe, my first foray into what’s being called “new adult” these days. Admittedly, I’m still not 100% sure what on earth that label means but from what I can tell it’s essentially sexed up YA that features main characters who are between 18 and 25 years old. If you like YA, you’ll like this. If you don’t mind reading about college freshmen and their escapades, you’ll like this. If neither thing is your cup of tea, I’d suggest avoiding this one. I felt like I really needed to put myself back in a first year university state of mind and, at almost 26, it was almost too much even for me.

At times I felt that the situations Harper got into seemed a little unrealistic. For example, she was homeschooled and grew up surrounded by guys in the military, as her dad is a Marine. Do you think dating should be easy for her once she got to college? Hell, do you think college would be easy after being homeschooled for so long?? Neither proved to be difficult for her, thankfully, but it was hard for me to accept that she was able to land on her feet over and over again. There were a couple of other situations near the end of the novel that worked out ridiculously well for her and the rest of the characters (apart from the one, terrible, incident). This was really the reason why this book didn't get more than 4 stars from me. She did have some really brutal experiences but everything wrapped up just a little too well for my liking. Life is just not that perfect and that’s what I struggled with.

So far this review is reading pretty negatively but I really did like this novel, I promise. It pretty much consumed me for the two days it took me to read it (it’s a long one, too). I came to a crucial part in the book (the aforementioned terrible incident) just as my train got to my stop on my way home from work and I honestly considered sitting in my car in the parking lot, just to find out what happened. (I didn’t, but I had barely gotten my coat off when I got home before diving back in.) I couldn’t stop thinking about it and even had to go through the entire book with a colleague (who wouldn’t be interested in this book) just because I needed to talk though how I felt about it.

Thank you to William Morrow for our review copy. All opinions are our own. 

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