All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

My One And Only – Kristan Higgins

My One & OnlyMy One And Only
Kristan Higgins
Harlequin
2011, 382p
Read from my local library

Divorce attorney Harper James makes her living from helping people end their marriages and help their hearts figure out what their head already knows. She has decided that it might be time for her to actually get married herself though and sets about outlining her thoughts to her boyfriend of several years. She doesn’t get the enthusiastic response she expected and Harper makes an interstate trip to her younger sister’s third wedding, confused about a lot of things. Firstly, she’s worried that her sister is making yet another mistake. And secondly, she’s not exactly sure what’s going on between her and Dennis right now. She thought that she’d planned things logically and thoughtfully, avoiding the messy rush of feelings that so often leads to divorce down the track.

After the wedding, Harper is unexpectedly stranded, forced into accepting her ex-husband’s offer of a lift back home when all of the planes at the nearby airport have been grounded. Harper isn’t sure about the feelings that being around Nick stirs up. He’s in a box labelled ‘the past’ and it’s never really been a box she wanted to open. But she can’t deny the connection between them, even though it’s been years since they’ve seen each other. They married too young, straight out of college and Harper feels it was no surprise it didn’t work. Nick has always blamed her – but he’s also made it quite clear that he feels that she was also always ‘the one’ for him as well. And the more time they spend together, the more the memories of the good times they had are resurfacing. Nick is impossibly appealing and he’s always known all the right things to say. But it didn’t work out before and Harper has handled that and moved on from it. She doesn’t want to go backwards, because getting involved with Nick again might break her heart even more badly than it did the first time.

So I am on a mission to read Kristan Higgins’s backlist and I chose this one as my next read because it contains a road trip which is one of my very favourite things in a book, especially a romance book. What’s not to love about hours on the open road with some great music, getting to know the characters? What I’m also learning is that these books are either really hit or a bit of a miss for me. And unfortunately this one? Bit of a miss.

Harper is a divorce lawyer and she had a marriage that ended badly and now she doesn’t believe in love! and all of that stuff and we are told that many, many times. She has a ‘relationship’ of sorts with a fireman named Dennis who I am assuming is in his mid-to-late twenties but actually comes across as a seventeen year old boy who has been smoking too much dope. It’s all “dude” and “woah” right here. When her useless younger sister Willa calls and announces that she is again getting married (after husband #1 went to prison and husband #2 came out as gay) this also comes with the added kicker that Willa is marrying Harper’s ex-husband Nick’s brother. And that Nick will naturally be at the wedding.

My biggest problem with this book is that the backstory is ridiculous. They met in college at a bar where Nick told Harper he was going to marry her before he even knew he name. It’s kind of creepy, the way he comes onto her there and even though apparently he’s super funny and sweet and awesome, not enough is really shown of this in the past or in the present. All we get in the past is Nick hitting on her, them getting married and him ignoring her for the first year of their marriage because he’s a super important architect and trying to get lots of work done. Harper, who has given up grad school to move to New York to be with him, is bored and lonely and Nick basically flaps his hands and says go away honey, I’m busy. So she gets a job and finds some friends and is happy and then it all implodes for pretty stupid reasons and they get divorced and basically do not speak again until arriving for Willa’s wedding. Nick is quite accusatory towards Harper, believing her solely responsible for the break down of their marriage when actually he contributes a huge amount to it something he seems to refuse to see for a very long time. He never seems to want to listen to her, he just wants to sit back and play some sort of injured Byronic type character who is so hurt that the love of his life treated him the way she did. So much was left unresolved, such as Nick’s second marriage and the reason he ignored her so much and how he refused to see how unhappy Harper was during the short time they lived in New York. I never really got any chemistry between them, unlike other Higgins books and theirs certainly didn’t seem like the sort of love that had steadfastly endured for over a decade of them not even seeing each other. It just all came across as a bit awkward. Harper had a lot of issues stemming from her childhood and the departure of her mother from her life, something else that was never really satisfactorily dealt with either by the book or by Harper. She seemed so blind to so many things that a woman in her thirties should really have figured out.

This one was just an okay read for me, not living up to the heights of The Best Man or All I Ever Wanted.

5/10

Book #328 of 2013

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Talking Dirty With The Boss – Jackie Ashenden

Talking DirtyTalking Dirty With The Boss (Talking Dirty #3)
Jackie Ashenden
Entangled Publishing LLC
2013, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Marisa Clair has always longed to be an artist, just like her father. However her mother persuaded her that she had to use her looks while she still had them, pushing Marisa into modelling and beauty pageants. Marisa was able to make a name for herself but it all fell apart when she found out that her boyfriend was actually married and had not only allowed Marisa to pay for everything so that his wife wouldn’t find out but had also run up a lot of debt.

Now Marisa is in a job that she doesn’t really want, working as a PA to someone at a tech  magazine. The magazine has just been bailed out by Luke McNamara who is now the new CEO and he’s also in the same wedding party as Marisa. He asks her to dance but the two of them, although aware of an odd sort of chemistry between them both, don’t exactly hit it off. Marisa can’t understand Luke’s counting out the steps and finds him extraordinarily uptight and Luke thinks that Marisa brings a sort of chaos.

After a saucy email sent to the wrong address, Marisa suddenly feels the urge to torment the uptight CEO a little and it leads to a very sexy encounter in a supply room. After that they maintain that they will both keep their distance: whatever it is, they’ve acted on it and gotten it right out of their system. They should be fine now…right?

But actions have consequences and their interactions are far from over. But Luke has to trust Marisa with something very big and Marisa has to learn that she’s worthy of being cherished before they can set about making this relationship work for real and for the long term.

This is the third in Jackie Ashenden’s Talking Dirty series but it’s the first one that I’ve read. That doesn’t really matter much – the other two couples from the first two books briefly appear in this one but it’s not necessary to have read them. Luke is tall, dark, handsome and rich – and also very OCD. He lives his life according to a very strict schedule and he has routines that he must undertake in order to complete certain tasks. He keeps this strictly to himself, as his family have often made him feel inferior for his habits and obsessions and he feels that if it were to get out among the business world, he would be ruined. The stock would plummet and people’s faith in him to get the job done would as well the moment they discovered that he is a “crazy person”.

Marisa is more reckless and lives life in the moment. She’s working in a job she doesn’t love in order to pay off her debts, dreaming of being an artist and undertaking a fine arts degree. Although I tend to come down on the side of “uptight” Luke in that she probably shouldn’t be using her work email to contact IT staff about her panties in order to get her computer fixed faster, Marisa sees Luke’s reprimand as a challenge and she wants to ruffle his feathers a little, sneak beneath that smooth exterior. So she carries on the saucy emails until the two of them end up with their clothes off in a supply cupboard.

Their little moment of indiscretion has many consequences, not the least being that although they think that should be it and they can now go about their separate business. It’s clear that they both want and need more but both of them are also hiding so much of themselves as well. I actually really liked the way that Ashenden portrayed Luke, feeling even though he was rich and powerful and successful, that he had to hide his OCD and his patterns and routines of behaviour. Marisa does notice some things and although she’s puzzled about them, she also just accepts them as being part of Luke. She knows he’s a bit uptight (at least out of bed!) and that he has these things that he needs to do and she’s mostly okay with that and she makes an attempt when she’s in his house to leave things as she finds them, so as not to ruffle him further.

I think the two characters worked quite well together, although I did find Marisa hard to warm to at first. She seemed so deliberately antagonistic to Luke who really hadn’t done much except attempt to enforce the rules of his own corporation, which he was well entitled to do. However the more they interacted the more I think he brought out the best in her and vice versa. As it developed into an actual relationship rather than just sexual chemistry I really thought the way they eventually opened up to each other and revealed more of themselves was very sweet. There was also a misunderstanding when Luke felt he had to reveal too much and the way in which that was fixed was perfectly written.

I’m really looking forward to reading the two previous books in this series – I know one of the male characters has ADHD which you don’t see much (or…um, ever) in romance novels so I’m interested to see how the author approaches and deals with that. This one wasn’t quite as spicy as I’d expected from the blurb and the look of it but it had a depth to it that I didn’t really expect either.

7/10

Book #331 of 2013

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Right As Rain – Tricia Stringer

Right As RainRight As Rain
Tricia Stringer
Harlequin MIRA
2013, 387p
Copy courtesy of Harlequin AUS

Mackenna Birch thinks she’s gotten truly lucky meeting chef Adam on holiday in New Zealand. But then Adam disappears and so Mackenna heads back to her family farm in South Australia only to discover that her father has had a heart attack and been hospitalised. Her parents have hired someone without her knowledge and her brother Patrick is back from the city to help out with the farm. Mackenna begins to get the feeling that she might be being slowly shuffled out here even though it’s her that has worked the land beside her father for the last 8 years. Trained as a chef, Mackenna had a job that didn’t work out and she came home and simply never left. She loves the farm and its produce (sheep) and is passionate about the paddock to the plate. She wants to start a tasting room showcasing their product with the aim of hopefully supplying top quality restaurants and attracting people to the farm to see what she can do with the lamb. But it seems that if her mother has her way, Mackenna won’t be around on the farm at all.

Mackenna has so many ideas of changes to make, she’s brimming with them. It will mean spending a bit of money but she knows that the outlay now will reward them down the track. But with her father not being well, she can’t find the time to sit down and talk to him about her ideas for the farm. Instead she finds herself worrying about small things going wrong and where on earth the hired man is most of the time. And then there’s Hugh, her best friend of many years who has been coming around quite often lately. Has she found someone to move on with, someone that knows her? She’s even more confused when Adam turns up at the farm looking for her, claiming that there has been a misunderstanding. Now it’s not just the farm that plagues her thoughts, it’s him as well. She has everything she needs for a happy ever after right in front of her…. Will she be able to grab it?

Okay, I know that reading provokes an emotional response quite often but I have to say I cannot remember the last time I read a book that made me this mad. I actually had to stop reading it, put it down for a couple of days and then start again another time. I thought I might’ve been in an irrationally angry mood the first time but nope, it made me just as cranky the second time around. Mackenna’s mother is really the most meddlesome person and every time she was on the page fiddling around with things, it made me want to scream. There are some really unlikely things in this book starting with the fact that you can’t just leave the inheritance to the son because he’s the boy anymore. Those days are gone. Even if they do give Mackenna money it’d have to be exactly what the farm, contents and stock are worth down to the dollar otherwise any court in the country is simply going to add the assets together and divide them right down the middle for the brother and sister. You can’t even disinherit children that you have no contact with anymore, let alone ones that live and work on the farm. Secondly booked flights just don’t get randomly moved weeks forward, but that’s only a tiny thing and basically inconsequential to the plot. Thirdly… Mackenna’s parents aren’t even deceased yet. I understand wanting your affairs in order but there’s that and then there’s playing God in other people’s lives without even asking them. Also, there was nothing stopping Patrick and Mackenna from looking at their ‘inheritances’ after their parents passed on and saying, Well this doesn’t work me me… you neither? Ok, let’s swap. There are a lot of assumptions made here and it all seems to build up into a huge deal when really everyone should’ve just sat down right at the beginning. A conversation wasn’t going to cause Mackenna’s father to drop dead.

I really have huge problems with people who think they know what is best for others. Mackenna’s mother “doesn’t want this life” for Mackenna (meaning farming) but what she utterly fails to see, even when Mackenna is basically begging her to do so, is how much Mackenna loves it and how much it’s what she wants to do. Instead Louise, her mother, attempts to cut Mackenna out of the farm and shoehorn in her brother Patrick who works in marketing in the city. Patrick, although he grew up on the farm, isn’t as well versed in the techniques as Mackenna and although he’s willing to learn to help out, he doesn’t want to run the farm. Louise ignores this and she constantly sabotages Mackenna professionally which is why Mackenna keeps the tasting station a secret from her. Louise even attempts to kick Mackenna out of the house that was going to be hers, in order to give it to the worker. She undermines her, brushes her off, ignores her, dismisses her at every turn. Mackenna knows her stuff and Patrick doesn’t. Louise spends half the book shooing Mackenna away or cutting her off and the other half glaring at her or blaming her for something. There’s a half hearted attempt at the end to justify her reasons but it just seemed very weak to me and really poor. Not once did she sit her daughter down and ask her what she loves and what she wanted to do in the future. She even sabotaged Mackenna’s personal life when Adam turned up, attempting to push her towards Hugh. Even when everything comes out that Mackenna loves the farm and Patrick loves his job in Adelaide, she’s still not happy. I know I should just let it go…. but her behaviour really bugged me throughout the entire book. Especially as I don’t feel Louise ever really apologised for attempting to decide for her and making the wrong decisions and trying to cut her out.

But books are meant to provoke a reaction and this one certainly did that. I loved the rest of the story especially Mackenna and her passion for the farm and its produce. The tasting station was such a fabulous idea, showcasing her talents as a chef (and later Adam’s when he shows up looking for her) and the meat that they’re raising. She cared about the animals as well, never happy to be blase about them or to treat them as dollar signs or food. I also liked Adam although actually I thought more time could’ve been spent fleshing out his character a bit more, I would’ve liked to know more about him and see more of him and Mackenna working side by side. I don’t know if Tricia Stringer has plans for loosely connected novels but I wouldn’t mind Hugh getting his happy ever after… in another book somewhere!

7/10

Book #310 of 2013

AWW2013

Right As Rain is book #107 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

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The Winter Sea – Di Morrissey

Winter SeaThe Winter Sea
Di Morrissey
Pan Macmillan AU
2013, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/The Reading Room.com

 

Sydney lawyer Cassie Holloway is going through a marriage break up and has quit her job at a high profile law firm. Keen for an escape and to just get away from it all, she heads down the south coast of New South Wales to Whitby Point, a place that her deceased father always talked about but somewhere he never took his wife and daughter when he was still alive. There she rents a small cabin and spends her days walking and just generally healing and figuring out what she wants to do with her life. Disillusioned with the direction that her career has gone in, she knows that she wants something new and she’s looking for inspiration.

In Whitby Point she meets local vet Michael after a stray dog adopts her. He and his family, the Aquinos have been in Whitby Point for generations. But Cassie’s presence in Whiby Point suddenly becomes a problem when she discovers that she has been left money by a member of the Aquino family in his will. Shunned and suddenly made an outcast by all except Michael, Cassie decides to get to the bottom of this mystery and discover why she has been made such a beneficiary.

Her quest for information takes her back to the original Aquino, Giuseppe, who came to Australia after the first World War and made a life for himself fishing the coastal waters of New South Wales. Originally from Sicily, Giuseppe was at one with the ocean and had a knack for understanding where the fish would be and where he could get a good catch. He built a dynasty but there was tragedy in his life too and as Cassie finally find someone who can shed some light on the story and reveal how her own family is connected to the Aquinos, she begins to understand who she is and what her calling is.

I’ve read a handful of Di Morrissey novels in the past and one of the things I almost always enjoy about her books is the way she captures a setting and makes the reader really want to visit there. Despite the fact that I grew up in New South Wales and spent the first 24 years of my life there, I’ve never been down the south coast. I spent most of my childhood holidays on the north coast and then moved there just before I started high school. However the south coast is definitely now on my ‘to visit’ list – all of the scenery and the food described in this book is pretty amazing! The other part of the book is set in Sicily, very close to where both of my in-laws are from. I’m unlikely to ever be able to get to visit over there, unless I win the lottery at some stage, so it was nice to read about something connected to my husband and his family. My father-in-law has been a fisherman in his life, especially for calamari, flathead etc in southern Victoria, where he moved to when he came out from Sicily. It also gave me a chance to see what life might’ve been like for them, before they came to Australia. They came out here after the character in the story – he after WWI, them after WWII but I imagine things were very similar.

So once again, I loved both of the settings in this book however at times the story did feel a little slow. It begins with Giuseppe in Italy from 1906 and his journey to Australia, all of which was rather interesting but went on longer than I expected and then it switched to modern day and Cassie. In contrast this section was actually shorter than I expected and I felt like a lot more could’ve been done in terms of her friendship with Michael and how that develops. I liked her journey towards self discovery and how, by visiting a lot of the local area she became inspired and how it and her mother helped her decide what she wanted to do in life. But all of this came very easily in an industry which isn’t easy at all. It’s all rather effortless – well it is until the fact that Cassie has inherited money from an Aquino comes out and then it turns into something really petty and silly, which is also never resolved. Cassie never gets an apology from the person who attacked her, nor does she get a chance to defend herself nor does she see the reaction of the person who wronged her when they find out the truth. It was all a bit of a let down, especially the lead up to the secret from the past being revealed and then what happened thereafter. The book also did this thing at the end where it skipped forward a year, which really left a lot of things unsaid and it left me feeling less than satisfied about the relations between Cassie and several locals who also let her down because they believed malicious gossip.

All in all The Winter Sea is a good story but definitely not the best I have read from Morrissey. I’d have preferred a shorter introduction to Giuseppe and a much longer section containing Cassie and Michael before the past was revealed. And the end definitely needed more – I really dislike it when books leave out crucial scenes where characters need to interact in order to get past what has happened between them.

6/10

Book #330 of 2013

AWW2013

The Winter Sea is book #112 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

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Winger – Andrew Smith

WingerWinger
Andrew Smith
Simon & Schuster BFYR
2013, 438p
Free read from pulseit.com

Ryan Dean West is fourteen and attends a boarding school for wealthy (often troubled) kids. Although he’s only 14, he’s already a junior having skipped a couple of grades due to his intelligence. After he hacked into a teacher’s cell phone last year to make calls without it costing anything, Ryan Dean has been placed in Opportunity Hall, a dorm especially for troublemakers who might need a little more help in order to shine. His new room mate is Chas Becker who probably wants to kill him.

Ryan Dean spends his days pining after Annie, a 16yo junior who is also his best friend (and one of the hottest girls in the school who goes there by choice), training for the school rugby teams where he plays as a winger and avoiding some of the rugby bullies who want to make his life hell. As he starts his junior year he is suddenly torn between two girls and creating bumbling friendships with some of his new O-Hall friends as he sees his former friends drifting away from him. Ryan Dean spends his time drawing doodles of things that he wants to happen with Annie as he attempts to convince her that she wants him as much as he wants her, things that have happened in games or moments with his friends. But his easy going world, filled with rugby games and stolen kisses, late night poker games and practical jokes is about to get a whole lot darker and Ryan Dean is going to learn a horrible lesson about intolerance and jealousy and how it can end in tragedy and grief.

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about a forthcoming book called Grasshopper Jungle which will be released in 2013 and is written by Andrew Smith. That led to hearing some good things about this one too and when I saw it was one of the free reads that Simon Pulse had for their 31 days of Christmas, I decided that I would give it a go.

Parts of this book, I loved. Ryan Dean is a breath of fresh air in terms of a narrator. He’s so funny and interesting and he really brings this story to life. He does seem much older than his fourteen years at times and at others, he’s like this geeky kid who can’t quite believe what is happening to him (more on that part of the story later). He has been moved to O-Hall after an indiscretion last year and now faces the year rooming with Chas, a bully who basically starts of the year hating Ryan Dean. Because of his younger age, Ryan Dean is often a target for the bigger more meathead bullies and the book starts with him upside down about to get his head flushed. However Ryan Dean is a valued member of the school rugby union team, where he plays as a winger (which is also his nickname). There’s plenty of rugby in this book – I actually didn’t realise it was played in America, they don’t seem to have adapted any of the English sports such as rugby league, cricket, etc in a really big way. I also happens to be the one game that I don’t really understand but you don’t need to.

My biggest problem with this book is that a lot of it reads like a fourteen year old’s wet dream. Ryan Dean is two years younger than everyone else in his year and he also embodies the skinny, weedy, geeky stereotype as well. He’s in love with his best friend, who is sixteen and incredibly beautiful and if that isn’t enough, he also begins ‘hooking up’ with another sixteen year old, beautiful girl who is also a junior. He spends a large part of the book pining after Annie but glued to the mouth of someone else, who also has a boyfriend. In between, whilst keeping these dalliances a secret from Annie, he also attempts to convince her that she loves and wants him as well and of course, apparently she does. Ryan Dean is funny and nice but he’s also pretty horrible to the women in this story and yet he manages to score the two best looking juniors in the school despite the fact that he’s fourteen. This just reads as so implausible and so not what I recall of the high school experience. It’s like this book is the hope of socially outcast boys everywhere. The girls don’t really show much in the way of personality or character and the way in which Ryan Dean and Annie are written is really odd and just doesn’t have that ring of authenticity to it. Chas and his cronies are, for almost all of the book, stereotypical jocks who pick on others and Joey, although amazing isn’t particularly original. In any other book this might not be so noticeable but this book is so jam packed with clichéd characters that it actually makes his total amazingness seem less so.

However the ending of this book is really, really good. I figured that an earlier event in the book was going to be the worst thing that happened and it turned out to so not be the case. Ryan Dean’s grief is so real – it might actually be the most real thing in this book. It is the one time I really felt his feelings and emotions and believed them. The rest of the time reading this book kind of felt like I was reading the dreams or aspirations of a young boy and although I did mostly enjoy it, at times it wasn’t quite as I had expected. What I really enjoyed the most were the drawings that were littered throughout. They were very cute and well done and added a lot of the experience.

Overall, I did expect to like this a bit more than I did though.

7/10

Book #325 of 2013

 

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All I Ever Wanted – Kristan Higgins

All I Ever WantedAll I Ever Wanted
Kristan Higgins
Harlequin Books
2010, 413p
Bought for my Kindle

Callie Grey is turning thirty and by this time she thought she’d be getting ready to marry her boss Mark. A five week fling had her dreaming of a happy ever after until Mark ended things, telling her that the timing wasn’t good. The timing was perfect for Callie but she’s prepared to wait for Mark, until he’s ready. She’s sure that he just needs a little time to come around and then everything will be perfect.

Until Mark announces his involvement with someone else, someone who has her eye on Callie’s job and will stop at nothing to undermine her. Callie blurts out her devastation to her sister on the phone in the DMV and earns the ire of the man standing behind her only to discover later that he’s the delicious new vet that all the local single women are trying to meet by using their “sick” pets, Callie one of them. Dr Ian McFarland isn’t going to fall for any of that but Callie with her expertise can see where she can be of use to him. The former vet was very friendly and Dr McFarland is much…icier which is seeing a dip in business. She decides to help him appear more friendly and draw the community back to his practice. And maybe being seen around town with Ian will get Mark’s attention. It’s perfect.

Things get complicated when Callie suddenly starts to see the real potential lurking behind Ian’s icy blue eyes and formal suit. He might not be much good with people but he’s got his own qualities and Callie is beginning to admire them more and more. He’s also rather damaged and distrusting due to the break up of his marriage….. and if he finds out that this started as a plan to make Mark jealous, it could be the end of the best thing that’s ever happened to Callie.

After reading two of Kristan Higgins’s most recent novels not too long ago I wanted to try more of her work. This one was a Kindle Daily Deal on the Australian site one day and I have to admit, I’ve been going a little nuts on these. They’re usually 0.99c or $1.99 and I’ve gotten some pretty amazing books. I don’t buy a lot of eBooks (they tend to be more expensive here and if I’m going to pay upwards of $10, I prefer a print copy) but I have been snapping up quite a few of these cheap deals.

Callie has been in love with Mark since she was a teenager. At 14 he was her first kiss at a party and although they’ve both been to college, they returned to their hometown. Mark started a business and Callie interviewed and got a job there. When a business trip went slightly wrong they went headfirst into a brief affair that Callie read a lot into and Mark apparently did not. He’s now distanced himself from Callie but keeps her ‘sweet’ in order to keep her with his company where she’s extremely good at her job and liked by the clients.

Ian McFarland is everything Mark is not. He’s not charming or flirtatious or easy in other people’s company. In fact Callie does describe him as having a “touch of the Aspergers” but I’m not sure if that’s official or if Ian is just not interested in relating to other people. He’s definitely solitary and he and Callie are so very different and that provides so much fodder for fun in this book. Their interactions, from Callie’s “emotional diarrhea” at the DMV in front of Ian, before she meets him as the new local vet. Ian is hilarious because he’s quite stand offish and pretty much every time he sees Callie she is way too familiar with him, tries too hard to make him like her or talk to her, etc. She’s like that with everyone – she makes a huge effort to always be the one that people like, the nice girl. Despite their differences and Ian’s awkwardness they have a really nice chemistry and I loved pretty much every scene they were in together. I’ve only read three Kristan Higgins novels and 2 of them now have had pretty unusual heroes and I’m really enjoying that about her books. Ian and Callie work so well together because she encourages him to relax a little and helps him get to know people and settle in to the town and she doesn’t have to try so hard with him. With Mark, she is always trying so hard to do what he wants an be everything that he wants and it’s so obvious that she’s getting played and she just can’t see it. When Mark brings his girlfriend into the company, she undermines Callie in every way and it’s almost painful to watch.

Another thing that seems to be a bit of a theme for Higgins is the heroine having a delightfully eccentric family and I enjoyed this one quite a lot! Callie’s sister and brother are good fun and her divorced parents provide equal parts horror and amusement as her father seeks to win back her mother, whom he cheated on 22 years ago when she was pregnant with Callie’s younger brother. However the shining light in this novel is Callie’s beautiful relationship with her grandfather Noah, who lost a leg. Callie moved in with him to help him and the two have such a beautiful affection for each other that is often hidden under quips and sarcastic comebacks and little taunts. Noah is an amazing character and I loved him to pieces.

I am now on a mission to read all of Kristan Higgins’s backlist over the summer!

8/10

Book #323 of 2013

 

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Secrets Of The Lighthouse – Santa Montefiore

Secrets of the LighthouseSecrets Of The Lighthouse
Santa Montefiore
Simon & Schuster AU
2013, 449p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Ellen Trawton is running away from her life. She’s always felt a little out of place in her English high society family. Both of her younger sisters have married extremely well and the pressure is now on for Ellen to do the same. But she feels a need to be free and explore her creative side. So she quits her job in marketing for a London jeweler and leaving only a note for her mother, escapes to Connemara in Ireland and the sister that her mother never talks about.

Ellen finds not just her Aunt Peg but a whole host of uncles and cousins that she never even knew existed. She begins to realise that her mother escaped her family and reinvented herself and has never come back and all of a sudden, Ellen wants to know more about her mother’s past and what happened here before she married Lord Trawton and moved to London. The longer Ellen stays in Connemara the more she falls utterly in love with the beautiful wind swept coast, the more she wants to stay and the more she finds out about herself and her family.

Ellen meets notorious local figure Conor Macausland, owner of the nearby manor although he doesn’t live there anymore. A few years ago Conor’s wife Caitlin died tragically at the old lighthouse and her loss has haunted him ever since. Believed by many locals to have murdered her and looked upon with suspicion, Conor splits his time between Dublin and Connemara, bringing his two young children back to their former home and helping keep the memory of their mother alive.

Sparks fly between Conor and Ellen, despite the curious eyes of the town and downright disapproval from some of Ellen’s new found relatives. But Caitlin’s restless and vengeful spirit still lingers, determined to keep her hold on Conor and be assured of his love for her. Ellen threatens Caitlin’s security and she wants to make sure that her husband doesn’t find anyone else that he can give himself to. Not while she’s still around.

I have to admit, I’ve never heard of Santa Montefiore but she has a large number of novels published. I love novels set in Ireland so this was a good place to start for me and I immediately found myself warming to Ellen as a character – she was someone I think I’d like in real life. She was being pigeon-holed into something she didn’t want to do and she’d always felt that she didn’t quite fit in to her family. When she arrives in Ireland, she finds a whole host of people that she can be much more comfortable around, who aren’t concerned with the latest high fashion, facials, botox, holidays etc. She wants to work on a novel, sure she’ll be inspired by the beautiful surroundings, however when she sits down she is unable to write at a word. Her thoughts are filled with her mother and what must’ve happened 30+ years ago for her to leave and never return….and also, of Conor Macausland.

This book is partially told in first person narrative by Caitlin (or rather, Caitlin’s spirit) and the rest is third person from Ellen’s point of view. Because we’re treated to Caitlin’s perspective, we get her thoughts on Conor most often, because Ellen doesn’t really know him yet. Caitlin and Conor’s marriage was a volatile one and Conor is portrayed as quick-tempered, callous and a little cruel. The whole town seems to distrust him with the more outspoken ones definitely blaming him for Caitlin’s death. Despite this and despite all the rumours, Ellen can’t stay away from him and it seems that he can’t stay away from her either. She puts a new life into Conor – he cuts his hair and shaves his beard, he begins to come out of the black hole of the past five years. And Caitlin resents that. She’s chosen to hang around to stay in their lives. She hasn’t been bothered with any of the women Conor has used and discarded but when he looks at Ellen, she sees something that disturbs her deeply.

I have to admit, ghosts/spirits aren’t really my thing so I was less concerned with the story of Caitlin and how she actually died/what she was really like and much more interested in Ellen and her journey about finding out the truth about herself. It’s incredibly obvious and she fails to see it for the longest time – in fact she should’ve seen it as a teenager in high school if she did any sort of basic biology at all. But the way in which the story played out was very interesting even if I cannot really wrap my head around what an ultra conservative Catholic lifestyle is like if it includes cutting yourself off from someone for the rest of your life. I’m not religious and the experience I do have with religious Catholics is far more tolerant than Ellen’s. I really enjoyed how the longer Ellen spent in Connemara the more she discovered about herself and what she wanted to do and what she was good at. Even though we never really saw her in her London life, it seemed as though she lacked direction and confidence before coming to Connemara – she couldn’t even tell anyone in her family that she was leaving/getting away for a little while, or the man she was supposed to be marrying. Instead she just ran away and hid in Ireland, throwing her phone into the sea so she wouldn’t have to deal with anyone. It seemed an immature action for a woman of over 30 but after some time in Connemara it seemed as though she was ready to at least speak up for herself and tell her mother in particular that she intended to remain in Ireland and that she was going to pursue things she was passionate about, not what her mother expected her to.

I loved the Irish characters, especially Ellen’s Aunt Peg. The romance with Conan was only average, it didn’t really drum up many feelings inside me. But the book does reference The Age of Innocence a lot and that interested me quite a lot. I have a copy on my shelves and I found myself seeking it out after I finished this one, keen to know more.

7/10

Book #327 of 2013

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Takedown Twenty – Janet Evanovich

Takedown TwentyTakedown Twenty (Stephanie Plum #20)
Janet Evanovich
Bantam Books
2013, 295p
Read from my local library

Stephanie Plum once again needs another high bond skip so she can build up her bank account again although Salvatore “Uncle Sunny” Sunucchi wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. Although he’s been charged with running someone over (twice) the whole Burg loves him and no one wants to help Steph out with where he is. Not his poker friends, not his family, not his real estate girlfriend who just wants to get him to marry her, no one. Even Joe’s creepy Grandma Bella is putting the eye on Stephanie for trying to catch him. Uncle Sunny is part of their family – in fact he’s Stephanie’s boyfriend Joe’s godfather. Which means that Joe is burying his head in the sand and pretending that he doesn’t know that his family is potentially harbouring a fugitive.

Stephanie has plenty of other things to keep her occupied including a couple of other low level skips and the fact that security specialist Ranger Manoso has asked her to help him investigate the death of the mother of one of his top clients. The elderly lady was left in a dumpster and it’s not the first time this has happened recently. All of the ladies seemed to play bingo so Stephanie finds herself rolling up to the local bingo halls with Grandma Mazur and Lula to see if she can find anything out.

And then there’s a giraffe named Kevin.

You know Janet Evanovich, you’re making this almost too easy now. I loved this series so much and even though 14-18 were a hot mess, you kind of cheered me up with Notorious Nineteen. It wasn’t as good as the first ten but it wasn’t bad. It was a heck of an improvement on the previous few and so I had hope. Hope that this series was going to actually get back on track a little bit and stop being so depressingly ridiculous. Ha. You sure showed me. Because Takedown Twenty is so boring, so disappointing, so poorly written, so formulaic and so Three To Get Deadly rehashed that I’m embarrassed for me, the reader. At least I didn’t actually buy it. Thankfully, my local library supplies me with these now. And if it wasn’t for the fact that I didn’t love the character of Ranger so darn much, I’d have given up long ago. But given how inconsistent Ranger’s character was in this installment (apart from saying “Babe” fifty times in 295p he had no personality whatsoever) it might’ve been enough to wean me off this series forever.

Someone must’ve told the author that she no longer referenced previous events in this series because in this book we’re treated to both Ranger and Lula reminiscing about the time Stephanie crushed Ranger’s 911 Porshe with a garbage truck (which occurs in High Five) within a handful of pages. I wish someone would also steer her away from animals because quite frankly, she’s running out of animals and plausibility left the building long ago. Along with geese, spiders, a bear, a monkey, rats, an alligator and god knows what else we now get a giraffe that wanders the streets of Trenton. And it doesn’t even actually have a purpose (although what purpose could a giraffe have anyway). It just shows up occasionally and runs past and then Lula tries to feed it. And names it Kevin. Only a handful of people see it (seriously, I don’t know how anyone can miss an animal the size of a giraffe in suburbia for crying out loud, but there you have it) and it has no real relevance to the plot in any way shape or form. In fact if you took it out it could only improve the book.

I’ve hung on a long time with these books. I read them because I love Ranger so much and I’m always hopeful each book will be a Ranger book where there’s a little more Ranger than Morelli (this pretty much never happens). The last few books have had quite a bit of Ranger but not particularly in a positive way for Stephanie. She seems to be more indecisive then ever and so in the past few books she’s just slept with both of them. I didn’t really care too much because I thought any Ranger is good Ranger but after this book I can see that’s not true. I’m not sure what happened to Ranger in this book but it was definitely not like the Ranger of other books and even the scenes with Steph, the banter seemed so stilted and forced. The fun has totally gone out of it and Stephanie is just so ridiculous (she won’t take paid work for Rangeman in the office but she’ll quit her job to work in a butcher). If I was Stephanie I’d move into the fourth floor of Rangeman so fast even Ranger wouldn’t see me. She has so many opportunities to grow as a character but instead she regresses. Grandma Bella isn’t even funny anymore either, she’s just a rude old lady. The fact that the entire town ducks whenever they see her coming is just…weird.

There are people who say that with these books, you need to know what to expect. I’ve read them all, I’m well aware that there can be fabulous ones with the same formula. But that’s when the writing was good and the characterisation was strong and the bad guys were actually more bad than embarrassing. I shouldn’t have to expect sub par stories and even more sub par writing. But I do. And that’s why I’m breaking up with these books now. Time that it’s done. And to anyone who wants to read this one, I urge you to go back and read Three To Get Deadly. The plots are almost identical: Stephanie sent to track down an icon the town loves who ends up being not quite what he seems. That book does it much better, in more ways than one.

It’s always sad to farewell a favourite series. But it’s even sadder that I’m doing it because I can’t stand what it’s become anymore, rather than having it just end.

1/10

Book #326 of 2013

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Scandalous Liaisons – Sylvia Day

Scandalous LiasonsScandalous Liaisons 
Sylvia Day
Penguin Books AUS
2013, 332p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Originally published years ago as Bad Boys Ahoy this collection of three interconnected historical romances has been repackaged.

In Stolen Pleasures pirate Captain Phoenix takes a ship only to discover that the young lady on it is his bride, married by proxy to Phoenix’s other identity, the Earl of Merrick. The passion flares between them and even though Phoenix’s first thought is to drag her to London for an annulment it doesn’t take long for that to not be an option. But trouble awaits them when they finally reach land – the Earl of Merrick has unfinished business to attend to before he can truly take a wife. However his bride isn’t too happy about the way in which he will be going about it.

The first story wasn’t too bad, a lot of it takes place on a ship after Merrick/Phoenix takes the ship of a merchant and discovers that the daughter of the merchant is now his wife. Merrick was originally a younger son but the death of his older brother has led to him inheriting the title (his father, still alive is the Marquess and Merrick has a very difficult relationship with him). As the daughter of a merchant, Olivia hasn’t had an easy time in society and she withdrew after a Season or 2. Despite the fact that the marriage was arranged by his father, whom he mostly despises and that Olivia wed him out of duty to please his father, both of them really want it to work but they have to face both their own insecurities and a threat from Merrick’s pirate ways to make it work. They’re both headstrong and a pretty good match for each other.

The second story is Lucien’s Gamble and this was my favourite of the three. Lucien Remington is the bastard son of a Duke who has maintained a long and loving relationship with his mother, an infamous courtesan. Shunned by a lot of society Lucien has made his revenge by running a gentleman’s club and often taking large sums from those who wouldn’t see him as equal. When he spots Lady Julianne La Coeur in his club dressed as a man he pounces before anyone else can see her and ruin her reputation. Lady Julianne’s brother inherited the title at just 10 years of age and has steadily run about debts all over town – including to Lucien. Lady Julianne needs to marry well to someone who will wipe out her brother’s debts but will she consider the rich but untitled man she’s so attracted to?

Loved this one….it was by far my favourite. The two main characters had so much chemistry and the story was a lot of fun. I’ve read a lot of historical romance and I do love stories that revolve around the couple being of noticeably different classes. Although blue blood, Lucien’s illegitimacy means that he cannot move within the right circles. He’s a notorious rake but he’s also notoriously good at heart underneath and he attempts to help Julianne in several ways before realising that all he has to do is ask her to marry him because he loves her. I also loved his parents, who added a nice little element to this story. I did however feel that this one should’ve been placed first in the book. It takes place in 1810, the second story in 1813 and Lucien and Julianne do briefly appear in the first story already married. It seemed a bit odd that they’re out of order.

The final story, Her Mad Grace revolves around Lady Julianne’s younger brother Hugh, who since his sister married Lucien Remington has been learning about money – how to make it and more importantly, how to keep it. On his way to his sister and brother-in-law’s his coach has problems and he needs to take shelter in a nearby manse from a savage snowstorm. The house is well known to him for containing a lady known as Her Mad Grace – a reclusive Duchess who was the second wife of an elderly now deceased Duke. High finds himself incredibly drawn to Charlotte whom he takes to be Her Grace’s companion and he finds himself intrigued by the way in which she lives and the odd assortment of staff that run it.

This one fell a bit flat for me and it took me a little while to figure out why but I think in the end it came down to the hero Hugh. I read quite a bit about him in the previous book and he basically ran off and hid while debt collectors called around and had to be dealt with by his sister. He was also willing to marry Julianne off to anyone who could pay his debts for him and it’s sort of lucky that she married Lucien (who did pay his debts and absorbed the 100,000 pounds that Hugh owed him which in that time must’ve been positively astronomical) and that Lucien taught him about money. However Hugh still seemed sort of petulant and a bit unlikable, just now he had money. Charlotte’s secret is relatively easy to guess and although I liked her character the two of them together didn’t really do a lot for me. The chemistry wasn’t really there like it was in the previous stories and overall I found it a bit lacklustre. I think this one is probably a story that could’ve benefited from being full length because of the backstory of both Hugh and Charlotte and also the strange conditions under which Hugh finds himself there. I’d have like it if more time were taken to really bring the characters to life. I think Hugh in particular needed a lot more work.

7/10

Book #322 of 2013

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Searching For Someday – Jennifer Probst

Searching For SomedaySearching For Someday (Searching For #1)
Jennifer Probst
Gallery Books
2013, 375p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AU

Kate Seymour runs Kinnections, a matchmaking agency in Verily, New York with 2 of her closest friends. The three of them each have their strengths and Kate’s is a little more unusual than the other’s. She’s gifted with a special power – an electrical jolting touch that signifies when love is at work. If she touches two clients at the same time and feels that jolt then she knows that they’re the ones for each other. It’s enabled Kinnections to bring about a healthy amount of marriages and serious relationships the short amount of time they’ve been in business.

Divorce lawyer Slade Montgomery has been protective of his sister Jane for some time. Their parents died and Slade has made it his duty to look after Jane, who has had some fragile moments. When he learns that she’s moving to Verily, New York out of his Tribeca apartment and has joined Kinnections, he’s incensed. There’s no way he’ll stand by and let con artists rip off his sister and probably cause her heartbreak all over again. He storms down there and into the office, ready to have his say with threats of lawsuits.

What he doesn’t count on is Kate Seymour herself. She’s everything he doesn’t want. Slade is a cynic. He’s been married and is now divorced and now he makes his living out of helping other people achieve the same thing. He doesn’t believe in love or happily ever after. He thinks it’s all just oxytocin and hormones whereas Kate is a believer in the true love, the forever after. When she and Slade touch the electricity that rockets through them both is like something she has never experienced before. This isn’t the tingle she experiences when she touches other soul mates. This is way, way more than that.

Slade ends up joining Kinnections as a client so that he can see what they do and decide for himself whether or not they aren’t taking advantage of Jane (he’s quite sure that he’ll be right and be able to expose them). However  for Kate soon the challenge isn’t going to be about making Slade see that they’re not con artists…. it’s going to be about Slade and Kate ignoring that they find each other irresistible and that opposites attract more powerfully than ever.

Searching For Someday is the first novel in a new series by Jennifer Probst that spins off from another series, the Marriage to a Billionaire series. I’ve seen some of those books around recently but I haven’t read any of them and I didn’t know they were connected until I got halfway through this story. I don’t really think it’s necessary to have read the others, although some characters from those novels do appear briefly in a scene in this book and I do believe the spell that Kate uses at one stage in the book is from the other novels as well. Having read this though, I do plan to go back and read the other series at some stage, possibly over the summer.

Kate was raised by a hippy mother, a sex therapist who regularly tells her daughter she needs to ‘get some’ and smokes pot. Because of her upbringing and also her ‘gift’ of being able to tell if two people are suited just by touching them, Kate is more open to the things that cannot be explained. She’s also a firm believer in love, having see her parents experience the real thing and enjoys bringing it about in her day job. Despite the fact that she can find other people’s soul mates, she’s never found her own. She’s never experienced a spark by touching someone else…until now. By contrast Slade is a bitter, cynical divorce lawyer who has a lot in terms of material possessions and is driven in his work but regards love as a waste of time and puts it all down to hormones. He’s a bit bossy and overbearing at times and the fun is watching Kate stand up to him and not allow him to intimidate her but without losing her temper, something that she’s been working on. The two of them are total opposites and although Kate is spending time attempting to set Slade up with other clients, she can’t deny that she wants him for herself even though long term it doesn’t look as though they could ever be suited. When her ‘gift’ deserts her, she is urged to take things with Slade to the next level to see if she can get it back.

This is a really fun book with plenty of sizzling chemistry and zinging interactions. Slade is a very protective big brother who has had to pick up the pieces for his sister more than once before and now he hasn’t realised that his sister is stronger and can stand on her own two feet now. While I can’t fault Slade’s intentions there are times when he’s quite condescending towards both his sister and Kate and I kind of just wanted to smack him a bit. He really took a little while to see that Jane was stronger now and she was happy and even though the first connection she made didn’t exactly work out the way that she had hoped, it didn’t destroy her. She was ready to pick herself up and move on and although Slade’s sympathy was welcome, his sweeping in and attempting to wrap her up in cotton wool was no longer necessary.

This book also gives you a little insight into the Kinnections owner who will be the main character in the next book Kennedy and I’m so looking forward to her story. She’s brash and funny and the idea of her and a rocket scientist has a lot going for it.

8/10

Book #321 of 2013

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