Thursday, July 2, 2015

Heaven is Here

LUCY WALKER

Synopsis from Goodreads: Spinster aunts and uncles, bachelor sons -- no wonder they were called the "non-marrying" Wilstacks. When Jean Bedford became the family's music teacher, she watched Hugh and Anthony Wilstack, the most eligible bachelors within hundreds of miles, fend off determined girls far more beautiful than she. Jean vowed she would not join the husband-hunting crowd that pursued them -- but she could not stop herself from falling in love... 

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback; Beagle Books, 1972.

How acquired: From my mother. 

First line: Jean stepped from the train, holding her case and handbag and hoping her face did not show the mixture of temerity and curiosity that burgeoned inside her. 

My thoughts: Jean Bedford has traveled from Perth to the middle of nowhere to give violin lessons to young Matt Wilstack. Matt’s mother and older brother, Hugh, are both musically inclined, often playing at gatherings and parties, and Mrs. Wilstack hopes that with Jean’s help, Matt will begin to take an interest in his own musical studies. 

Jean is just the violin teacher, and not meant to be household help, but she is unable to just lounge around and do nothing when not working with Matt. Good thing since, on the page at least, we rarely see any music lessons actually happening. Jean’s father is always traveling, and she has no mother, and the one thing she longs for more than anything else is a home full of people to love and be loved by. So she happily throws herself into the Wilstacks’ daily routines and helps out wherever she can. 

The other two occupants of the home are the area’s most eligible bachelors, the self-proclaimed non-marrying Wilstacks, Hugh and Anthony. Hugh, as the oldest brother, runs the homestead, often barking out orders that everyone instantly follows with no hesitation. In fact Jean often fumes to herself that he never says please or thank you, and that everyone waits on him hand and foot, which he seems to accept as his right. For instance, he leaves his clothes on the bathroom floor, and she resolutely tells herself she will not pick them up, she’ll leave them until he picks them up himself, but then, realizing that Mrs. Wilstack will end up picking them up instead, she gives in and picks them up because she wants to do everything she can to make life easier for his mother. 

Lucy Walker’s books are always delightful (except Girl Alone, which I found somewhat boring and disappointing). They are always quaint, sweet romances, and I quite love her writing. They’re a bit old-fashioned (this one was first published in 1957), with passages like this:
So contrary is the heart of woman that now that Hugh had offered to help, Jean no longer wanted him to do it. It was true…the men worked terribly hard outside in the paddocks all day and at night Hugh came in and sat all hours doing the book management of the estate. Perhaps after all it had only been the “willingness” that she had wanted and not the actual “doing”. 
Moreover, she had the woman’s natural instinct to help the man. She understood Mrs. Wilstack’s anxiety to do all for her sons. It satisfied a need within herself. 
Despite that, Jean is a strong and modern feeling heroine, and I don’t think Lucy Walker’s books will ever get old. 


For another good Walker book, I recommend Follow Your Star

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Garden of Shadows (Dollanganger, Book 5)

V.C. ANDREWS

Synopsis from back cover: Long before terror flowered in the attic, thin, spinsterish Olivia came to Virginia as Malcolm Foxworth's bride. At last, with her tall handsome husband, she would find the joy she had waited for, longed for. But in the gloomy mansion filed with hidden rooms and festering desires, a stain of jealous obsession begins to spread...an evil that will threaten her children, two lovely boys and one very special, beautiful girl. For within one innocent child, a shocking secret lives...a secret that will taint the proud Foxworth name, and haunt all their lives forever!

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Pocket Books, 1987.

How acquired: Acquired through BookCrossing.

My thoughts: After having read all the books in the Dollanganger saga, some enjoyable, some forgettable, I looked forward to going back in time with this prequel to see how the Grandmother came to be the cold formidable woman who would hide her grandchildren away in an attic. And while it's certainly not great literature, it is a quick and engrossing story.

We meet Olivia just prior to her first meeting with Malcolm, living with her father and taking care of his accounts, longing for love but despairing of her plain looks and tall stature that turns off would be suitors. Malcolm coming into her life seems like a dream come true, as he looks past all the outside trappings and is interested in the real Olivia. After a very quick courtship, they marry and he takes her to Foxworth Hall. Little does she know – though she quickly finds out-- he has no actual interest in her as a person, but just wanted a wife to run his home and give him lots of children.

V.C. Andrews apparently only had one voice to write in, as Olivia's narration is just like Cathy's in FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. Olivia and Cathy are very different characters of course, as Cathy was beautiful and beloved and well aware of it. But it still felt like reading Cathy again at times. And teenage Corrine is very reminiscent of Cathy's adopted daughter Cindy in later books.


But if you just go with everything that happens, it's quite an adequate story to while away an afternoon with. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Midsummer Dreams


Synopsis from Goodreads: Four people. Four messy lives. One night that changes everything. Emily is obsessed with ending her father’s new relationship – but is blind to the fact that her own is far from perfect. Dominic has spent so long making other people happy that he’s hardly noticed he’s not happy himself. Helen has loved the same man, unrequitedly, for ten years. Now she may have to face up to the fact that he will never be hers. Alex has always played the field. But when he finally meets a girl he wants to commit to, she is just out of his reach. At a midsummer wedding party, the bonds that tie the four friends together begin to unravel and show them that, sometimes, the sensible choice is not always the right one. A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Stats for my copy: Kindle edition, published by Choc Lit, 2015.

How acquired: NetGalley.

First line: I’m alone again. 

My thoughts: Emily’s father is in Verona, attending a conference, and when he comes home he brings a surprise – a fiancĂ©. A younger, free-spirited woman who Emily instantly dislikes. She’s all wrong for her dad, a professor, and is determined to make her dad see that, and to prevent the wedding from ever happening. Meanwhile, Emily has been dating Dom for quite some time, and while she thinks everything is good, she finds herself attracted to Alex, her friend Helen’s new boarder. Alex is the master of one night stands, but he is also drawn to Emily. And Helen has been in love with Dom for ten years, so Alex tells himself that by pursing Emily, he’s helping Helen. 

The short chapters alternate among the four characters, with Emily’s chapters in first person POV. Helen especially resonated with me more than the others, though partly I think because she’s a little older and more mature than Emily. Emily lives with her dad, works for her dad, and takes endless driving lessons without ever having the confidence to actually get her license. She has a lot of growing up to do. But of the four, Helen also reminded me the most of myself, such as with this passage:
“They need volunteers to help. It’ll show that you’re a team player.”
“It’ll be outside,” Helen pulled a face. “With mud, and weather, and outside things.”
And this one, when she and Alex are discussing her need to get over her infatuation with Dom and start dating:
Helen wasn’t sure. The whole notion sounded horrendous. She liked familiar people. She liked people she already knew. Meeting new ones was traumatic. 
None of the four friends are particularly happy with their lives, though they all seem to be constantly convincing themselves (and each other) that everything is great and nothing needs to change. And while I decided along the way who should be with who, the author left me hanging practically until the very end. 

Overall, I enjoyed the story and the writing. There’s plenty of humor, and each character’s personality is distinct and well drawn out. I sometimes wanted to smack a character and tell him or her to chill out or grow up, especially Emily, but I liked all of them, and I was quite satisfied with how everyone’s story was resolved. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ransom

 LOIS DUNCAN 

Synopsis from back cover: The lives of five captives hang in the balance while their families gather the ransom.

Two brothers, their family frantic to find their sons. A loner whose uncle doesn't even know he’s missing. An army brat whose family will never be able to raise enough money. A cheerleader who can’t count on her stepdad but knows her father will come through.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1990. Previously published under the title “Five Were Missing”.

How acquired: Bought at a library sale in 2012.

First line: The kidnapping took place on a Thursday.

My thoughts: School lets out one afternoon and kids board the bus. A substitute driver is at the wheel, and he misses the first stop, making the boy who gets off there walk back an extra block. The driver apologizes and tells the kids he was called in at the last minute and didn’t get a copy of the route, so Bruce moves to the front to point out the stops. When they’re approaching the last stop, in one of the better neighborhoods, there are just five kids left. But the bus keeps going, picking up another man with a gun.

It’s a disparate group of kids. Bruce, a freshman, a little awkward, living in his brother’s shadow, who he looks up to and admires. His brother, Glenn, the golden boy, jock and all around high school star. Normally he drives to school, but his car is in the shop. Marianne, popular cheerleader who goes out with Glenn. Her stepfather tried to pick her up from school, but she rejected him, as she always does. She resents his presence in her family and thinks the her father hung the moon. Jesse, a quiet loner. Her family are military, and the only family who rent a house in their upscale neighborhood. Her mother thought living off base would be good for Jesse, that she’d have a better chance at a normal life and would make friends. Dexter, another loner who hides his disease misshapen body under long sleeved shirts. He moved from New York to live with his uncle after his parents died, but his uncle continues to live the single bachelor life as if Dexter weren’t there.

The plot felt realistic and the tension came through from beginning to end. The writing was descriptive, although some of the dialogue felt a little stilted. I enjoyed the story, and the way Marianne and her stepfather bonded and arrive a new place in their relationship. As the kids wait out their captivity in a remote cabin with one of the kidnappers and his wife, they get to know each other, and their strengths come out. Bruce and Glenn have some tense moments alone that open Bruce’s eyes to who his brother really is.

I did have one issue, and I guess this might be considered a spoiler by some so be warned -

















The only parent reunited with one of the kids on the page was Marianne's stepfather, and I would have like to witness the reunions between the other kids and their families. The narrative occasionally left the kids to focus briefly on one or more of their families, including a passage about Dexter’s uncle, who was out of town and unaware of the kidnapping. There were hints that the uncle’s conscience over his lifestyle and his non-relationship with Dexter was getting to him, and I thought in the end this experience would draw them closer together, make them start to feel like family. But once the narrative left the uncle, it never went back to him, and I was very disappointed that Dexter and his uncle did not have any resolution to their relationship. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

One Night: Promised (One Night, Book 1)


Synopsis from Goodreads: Livy notices him the moment he walks into the coffee shop. He's heart-stoppingly stunning, with a blue-eyed gaze so piercing she's almost too distracted to take his order. When he walks out the door, she thinks she'll never see him again. Then she finds the note he left on his napkin . . . signed M.

All he wants is one night to worship her. No feelings, no commitment, nothing but pleasure. Every defense mechanism Livy has adopted during her solitary life is at risk of being obliterated by this confounding man. He's obnoxious but well-mannered. He's a gentleman but aloof. He's passionate but emotionless. Yet the fascination is so powerful, Livy can't deny him... or herself.

M awakens something in Livy, something deep and addictive that she never knew existed -- and that she fears only he can satisfy. But she senses that behind the fast cars, fancy suits, and posh apartment, he's aching inside. To have him, body and soul, she'll have to brave his dark secrets. Delving into his world and breaking down his defenses become her obsession - an obsession that could shatter her heart beyond repair.. .

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, Orion, 2014

How acquired: BookCrossing

My thoughts: I had mixed emotions throughout this book. I liked Livy, the narrator. She was funny and self-deprecating. But I wasn't sure about Miller. At times I liked him, I could understand why Livy was attracted to him, but at other times I just thought he was an arrogant douche bag and I wanted Livy to run in the opposite direction.

Livy meets Miller when he comes into the coffeehouse where she works. She's still new at her job, and learning to master the complicated cappuccino machine. Before leaving, Miller writes her a rude note on a napkin.

Livy can't stop thinking about Miller,and it turns out he can't stop thinking about her. They meet again, and he tells her he wants twenty-four hours with her. No strings, no commitment, and nothing beyond twenty-four hours. She adamantly refuses, but eventually she breaks down and agrees.

It's so obvious that Livy is way too young and vulnerable to enter into an agreement like this, and I felt that if Miller were a real man, he would've realized that and not pushed her into it. What follows is lots of fantastic sex, better than Livy has ever experienced before, along with an emotional roller coaster for Livy, where she swings from misery and angst and self-loathing to euphoria and happiness and back again. The first time Livy comes to her senses and forces herself to walk away from Miller I was applauding her. But of course she went back and started the whole cycle over again. I think it's safe to say that for the most part, I did not like Miller Hart and had absolutely no respect for him.

While there is lots of sex, it's actually pretty tame. Miller tells Livy that he will always “worship” her. They have sex, they make love, but they do not “fuck”. And when she tells him she wants him to fuck her, he is horrified, and insists that no, the pleasure must be slow and savored, every time. I kept waiting for him to finally lose control and give her the fucking she wanted. I mean, jeez, loosen up dude!


The events unfold excruciatingly slow, especially in the first half of the book. And then towards the end there is a twist that comes completely and shockingly out of left field, and after that it's tense and compellingly page turning, and I do want to read the next book to see how Livy and Miller will deal with the fall out. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

How I Wonder What You Are


Synopsis from Goodreads: Maybe he wasn’t here because of the lights – maybe they were here because of him …”

It’s been over eighteen months since Molly Gilchrist has had a man (as her best friend, Caro, is so fond of reminding her) so when she as good as stumbles upon one, lying comatose, on the moors one bitterly cold morning, it seems like the Universe is having a laugh at her expense.

But Phinn Baxter (that’s Doctor Phinneas Baxter) is no drunken layabout, as Molly is soon to discover; with a PhD in astrophysics and a tortured past that is a match for Molly’s own disastrous love life.

Finding mysterious men on the moors isn’t the weirdest thing Molly has to contend with, however. There’s also those strange lights she keeps seeing in the sky. The ones she’s only started seeing since meeting Phinn …

Stats for my copy: Kindle, Choc Lit Limited, 2014

How acquired: Netgalley

First line (skipping the prologue): The man lay naked, unconscious and , inevitably I suppose given the temperature, slightly blue.

My thoughts: Molly and Phinn are two lost souls, closed up inside themselves and holding the world at bay. Molly writes for a magazine and came to this remote little village after a bad breakup. She doesn't talk about her ex, nor will she talk about her mother and why she's so angry with her that she avoids her calls or hangs up as soon as she answers the phone. Her life consists of her little cottage, her friend (and landlady) across the street, Caro, and a horse named Stan who is a character in his own right. When she sees mysterious colorful lights flitting across the sky, she's entranced and curious about them, although nobody else in the village appears to have seen them.

One day while out riding Stan, Molly comes across a naked unconscious man lying on the ground. And that's how she meets Phinn. He's a physicist, quite well known in the science community. A lanky, awkward, bespectacled man who's taken up residence in an abandoned, neglected, moldy/mildewey house across the village. (Actually I don't remember if the author described him as “lanky” but in my head he is.) When Phinn sees mysterious colorful lights flitting across the sky, he's entranced and curious about them, although his friend Link never sees them, even when he's walking just a few yards behind Phinn.

While Molly is recovering from her bad breakup, Phinn wears the remnants of his marriage like a cloak. It covers him all around, keeping his memories close and allowing his anxiety and low self-esteem to leak out through the worn fabric. His wife convinced him that he's a wimp, that he's not a real man, that no real woman would want him.

Right from the beginning I was captivated by the narration, by the author's voice and her turn of phrase. It was flowing, almost lyrical at times. An example:
Phinn was about twenty yards behind with the tent bag slung across his shoulders and the last rays of the sun tinting his face and hair before it sank behind the hump of moorland to the west. It caught his glasses and blocked out his eyes, replacing them with reflections of the scenery, making him look as though he'd been possessed by the spirit of the moors.”

And another:
The anger weighted his words, made them drop and bend the atmosphere around them.”

For the most part I enjoyed the story, enjoyed getting to know Phinn and Molly, as well as Stan the horse. I expected those mysterious lights to play into the plot more than they did, but the plot moved forward steadily (albeit a little slowly) despite the lights not being more involved. However, as much I hate to say it, I did at times agree with Phinn that he was being a wimp, and kept wanting him to “man up” and grow a pair. And when he finally did, I was initially disappointed at the way he went about it. But everything was resolved nicely in the end and overall it was a sweet little story.


Note: It's my understanding this is the fourth book in a series, The Yorkshire Romances, but each book can be read as a stand alone. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sex & the Immortal Bad Boy (Immortally Sexy, Book 4)


MICHELLE ROWE

Synopsis from GoodreadsPaige Darlington has a problem. See, she's the former apprentice to Satan's right hand, Becka Gibbs. As a result, she's got this pretty much all consuming need to be bad... not her fault, right? Well, that will be a small comfort when she loses all human emotions, including the ability to love and care about those who matter to her.

To keep his brother alive, Jed Buchanan works for Satan Jr., the heir to hell and the most evil being in existence. Jed has been forced to do a lot of unsavory things during his time on the "job" and his latest assignment - killing Becka Gibbs - isn't pleasant either. It only gets more complicated when he arrives at Becka's apartment, and inadvertently attacks Paige, a beautiful, sexy demon who decides that saving his black soul will be just the thing to keep her own from rotting.

But can the Devil's minion and the Devil's assassin possibly find true love?

Stats for my copyMass market paperback, published by Forever, a division of Grand Central Publishing, 2007.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts: I read the first three books in this series several years ago, and I loved all three of them. In the third book, Paige, the heroine of this book, was introduced as a secondary character, and I adored her. She provided a lot of comic relief. So I was really looking forward to reading SEX & THE IMMORTAL BAD BOY. Unfortunately, I’ve just really had a hard time getting invested in the story.

Paige is a Rivka, created by Satan very recently, to harvest the souls of people who are going to hell. She has managed to get away from Satan however, and no longer works for him. Then one day she discovers that any living thing she touches, a plant, a tree, an angel, is burned up and disintegrates. Something Satan did to her without her knowledge in his quest to create the perfect killing machine. Now she’s on a mission to find a cure, before her inner wraith completely takes over and she loses all her humanity.

Jed is a shadow warrior, who works for Satan, Jr. Not by choice, but in order to protect his brother from being tortured. And it turns out that, being damned, Paige can touch him and not hurt or kill him. So now he and Paige are teaming up, to find a way to cure Paige, and get Jed out of his contract with Satan, Jr. and save his brother.

And if that all sounds like a silly confusing mess, it is. I’m not sure if the plot is really that bad, or if I’ve just gotten so far away from paranormal romance in the last couple of years that I just can’t connect with it now. Granted, it’s been awhile since I read the previous book (2010), but Paige just doesn’t seem like the same Paige I loved in that book. She is so desperate to be touching Jed all the time, you'd think she'd been unable to touch anyone else for years and years, not for a day or so. For the most part I just find her to be too dramatic and annoying. I do like Jed, and if the story were just about his problems and solving his issues, I’d probably enjoy it more. Except maybe I wouldn't, since I'm not sure what he sees in Paige, other than that she accepts him for who and what he is. 

I gave up at page 164 (out of 314). I just don’t care enough about these characters to finish their story.