Sunday, May 1, 2016

Hopeless


Synopsis from back cover: Sky, a senior in high school, meets Dean Holder, a guy with a promiscuous reputation that rivals her own. From their very first encounter, he terrifies and captivates her. Something about him sparks memories of her deeply troubled past, a time she's tried so hard to bury. Though Sky is determined to stay far away from him, his unwavering pursuit and enigmatic smile break down her defenses and the intensity of the bond between them grows. But the mysterious Holder has been keeping secrets of his own, and once they are revealed, Sky is changed forever and her ability to trust may be a casualty of the truth.

Only by courageously facing the stark revelations can Sky and Holder hope to heal their emotional scars and find a way to live and love without boundaries.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, Atria Books, 2013.

How acquired: Loaned to me by my daughter.

First line: I stand up and look down at the bed, holding my breath in fear of the sounds that are escalating from deep within my throat.

My thoughts: I see references to Colleen Hoover and her books constantly, on blogs, and on Instagram, where it seems the majority of the book-related accounts belong to teenagers and twenty-somethings. So much hype about this author and her books. I've gotten away from the YA genre in the last few years, so I didn't really have any interest in reading her.

My daughter, who will be twenty-three in a couple of weeks, loved books as a child, but once past elementary school she didn't spend much time reading. In fact, she hardly read at all, other than at work (a daycare) during nap time, and then she mostly read Joyce Meyer or similar, or self-help books related to relationships and nutrition and healthy eating. But one of her co-workers convinced her to try a Colleen Hoover book, and suddenly she's reading like crazy, wanting more Hoover books, and then she read Nicholas Sparks and wanted more of his books, and then she just wanted me to find anything similar that I thought she might also like. So I am forever grateful to Ms. Hoover for helping my daughter rediscover her love of books and reading. And when my daughter texted me and said I should read this Colleen Hover book she just finished and would I want to borrow it, I said yes, because I owe it to Ms. Hoover to give her books a chance.

So, I read HOPELESS. It took me awhile to get through the first half. Partly because of work and life and being so tired at night that I sometimes could only read for ten or fifteen minutes before I had to go to sleep. Partly because it just did not quite captivate me the way it did my daughter and all those other Hoover fan girls out there. To begin with, I'm not a big fan of present tense narration, so that put me off just a little, but I got to used to it fairly quickly and it didn't bother me too much in the long run. I just found the story kind of blah in the beginning. Sky tells us early on that Karen, her mother, adopted her when she was three. And yet all throughout the book she always refers to her mother by her name. When speaking to her mother she calls her mom, but when telling us about her mother she calls her Karen. I just didn't like the connotation that gave, as if since Karen is not her biological mother she's not entitled to be referred to a her mother. Even though she is.

And then there's just all the angst of being the new girl in school. Of having the reputation of being the loose girl in school who sleeps with everybody even though she's not actually had sex with anybody. Of the one person becoming her friend being the weird gay kid. And then of meeting Holder, who is a little disturbing with his violent outbursts.


And then the big secret comes out, and from that point on I was suddenly reading faster and was much more invested and it was intense and at times a little nerve-wracking, and I can't really say much more about it without giving away too much plot, but the ending was fantastic and I even cried a little bit. So while I don't necessarily want to run out and buy every Colleen Hoover book I can find, I understand why she's so popular and beloved, and she deserves to be. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Once a Rancher (The Carsons of Mustang Creek, Book 1)


Synopsis from back cover: THE CARSONS OF MUSTANG CREEK: three men who embody the West and define what it means to be a rancher, a cowboy and a hero in this brand-new series from the queen of Western romance.

SLATER CARSON might be a filmmaker by trade, but he's still a cowboy at heart – and he knows the value of a hard day's work under the hot Wyoming sun. So when he sees troubled teen Ryder heading down a dangerous path, he offers the boy a job on the ranch he shares with his two younger brothers. And since Ryder's guardian is the gorgeous new Mustang Creek resort manager, Grace Emery, Slater figures it can't hurt to keep a closer eye on her, as well...

GRACE EMERY doesn't have time for romance. Between settling into her new job and caring for her ex-husband's rebellious son, her attraction to larger-than-life Slater is a distraction she can't afford. But when an unexpected threat emerges, she'll discover just how far Slater will go to protect what matters most – and that love is always worth fighting for.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, HQN Books, 2016.

How acquired: Won from Harlequin Books in a giveaway on Goodreads

First line: Slater Carson was bone-tired, as he was after every film wrapped, but it was the best kind of fatigue – part pride and satisfaction in a job well done, part relief, part “bring it,” that anticipatory quiver in the pit of his stomach that would lead him to the next project, and the one after that.

My thoughts: Despite having 25 of her books in my TBR pile, this is the first book I've actually read by Linda Lael Miller. I would see her books constantly, and the covers often drew my attention, so I began grabbing them at library sales, thrift stores, etc. I knew that once I read her I would like her, and I wasn't wrong.

Slater Carson and Grace Emery have a fiery first meeting in the opening pages of the book, and I was immediately hooked. Slater shares a ranch with his two younger brothers and his mother, and is a documentary filmmaker. On the night that his latest project has wrapped, he's just arrived home, and he's exhausted. And then Grace barrels into his home office with her step-son, Ryder in tow, a ball of angry energy. Grace, I mean. Ryder is more the stereotypical sullen teenager. He stole something from one of Slater's trucks, and Grace has dragged him here to return it and apologize. So really it's the first meeting between the three of them, because even though Ryder is Grace's ex-husband's son, she's pretty much his only real parent and he's very much a (welcome) part of the book.

I loved Slater from the get go. He's a handsome cowboy, he's charming, he's got a great sense of humor, he's never been married but he has a daughter, Daisy, who he adores...need I go on? He's attracted to Grace immediately, and while he's never been truly in love or into having a real relationship, he finds himself finally thinking that way.

Grace I also loved, though I'm not generally drawn to heroines with “beautiful girl problems”, i.e., a woman who is so knock out gorgeous that men fall all over themselves about her, and she doesn't know if they're only attracted to her because she's so beautiful or if they actually like her for who she is. But she does also have a beautiful personality and I loved her as much for her relationship with her stepson as for anything else.

The last thing Grace is looking for is a relationship, and her relationship with Slater moved along a little quicker than I normally prefer. And yet they did spend a lot of time just getting to know each other, which kept it from feeling too rushed.

I also loved the relationship between Slater and his two brothers, Drake and Mace. The siblings are close to each other, but the younger brothers often exasperated Slater with their teasing and their betting on how soon Slater would bring up Grace's name for the first time and when he would propose to her. I definitely got a kick out of the bantering back and forth between the three men.


And this may be considered a spoiler, but then again it's a Harlequin romance so you should expect that there's likely to be a wedding in the end. And when the wedding plans did a complete 180 after a request from Daisy, well, Slater and Grace's response just made me love both of them even more.

I very much look forward to the next book, Drake's story, and I sure hope Mace's story will come after that! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy

HELEN FIELDING

Synopsis from back cover: Fourteen years after landing Mark Darcy, Bridget Jones's life has taken her places she never expected. But despite the new challenges of single parenting, online dating, wildly morphing dress sizes, and baffingly complex remote controls, she is the same irrepressible and endearing soul we all remember – though her talent for embarrassing herself in hilarious ways has become dangerously amplified now that she has 752 Twitter followers. As Bridget navigates head lice epidemics, school-picnic humiliations, and cross-generational sex, she learns that life isn't over when you start needing reading gasses – and why one should never, ever text while drunk.

Studded with witty observations about the perils and absurdities of our times, Mad About the Boy is both outrageously comic and genuinely moving. As we watch her dealing with heartbreaking loss and rediscovering love and joy, Bridget invites us to fall for her all over again.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, Vintage Books, 2014.

How acquired: Book Mooch.

My thoughts: About 30 pages into this book, I was already thinking about moving on to something else. I was just really put off at first by the choppy diary entry style narrative. Although I don't remember that bothering me at all when I read the first two books some ten or twelve years ago. My first impression of Bridget in this book was that while I had grown and matured since the first two books, she had not.

I did persevere, however, and in the end I enjoyed it well enough. Once Bridget met Roxster, I became much more invested in the story, as he was a great character (aside from his ridiculous name) and I really really liked him, And while I'm not particularly a fan of older woman/younger man stories, I really liked them together. Of course it can't all be smooth sailing for Bridget, and I often winced for her and the situations she found herself in. Her kids were cute, though sometimes I wasn't sure if they were really written age appropriately. But then, it's been awhile since my kids were that age, and I'm never around young kids these days, so who knows. All of Bridget's friends from the previous books are still around, but none really stood out, except Daniel, who was just as I remembered him and made me laugh. And of course there were new characters. Bridget's run ins with Mr. Wallacker, one of her son's teachers, were increasingly funny, and I found myself intrigued by him and liking him more and more.

Halfway through I began feeling very nostalgic for the movies, and since the first one was available for streaming on Netflix I watched it one evening and quite enjoyed revisiting it. The second movie is only on DVD (well, I think it was available on Amazon but I'm not willing to pay extra to watch it), so I added it my Netflix queue and am expecting it to arrive tomorrow, and am looking forward to it.

In the end, I was pleased with how it all turned out for Bridget and her kids, but the journey to that point was sometimes a little tedious and exasperating.


One last note – I read the author's Acknowledgments in the back of the book, and I thought it was interesting that she thanked, among several other names, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, but not Renee Zellweger, and I can't help but wonder if there's some story behind that.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

Reserved (A Love Story, Book 4)


Synopsis from Goodreads: If only life were as simple as making a reservation.

Makenna Rye Conroy was living the dream—amazing husband, beautiful new baby daughter—when one night changed everything.

Almost six years after Adam’s death, Makenna and her daughter Paige have built a solid, happy life together. Makenna manages her brother’s trendy restaurant, The Yard, and helps out at Ryeland Farms, the family business, all while trying to navigate the world of private school parenting. Sure, being a single mom has its challenges, but she hardly has time to pack her daughter’s lunch in the morning, let alone think about dating.

Travis McNulty, the middle child and the biggest disappointment of the McNulty clan, is a chef at his best friend’s new restaurant. He gave up apologizing for not being the football hero his family wanted a long time ago. In fact, Travis apologizes for very little these days. He loves creating great food, it’s more of a passion than any job, and he lives life on his own terms with as little complication as possible.

For the past couple years, Makenna and Travis have worked alongside each other at The Yard, bickering, teasing, and never taking each other very seriously. Until Makenna has her usual reoccurring dream, but this time instead of her late husband as the featured man, Travis stands in his place. Travis may be attracted to his best friend’s sister, but she’s a widow and a mother, which tops the charts for complicated in his book.

As the game changes, Makenna and Travis, with a little help from Paige, have to figure out what they are willing to risk to reserve a table for three.

Stats for my copy: Kindle edition, 2016.

How acquired: NetGalley.

First line: Makenna Rye Conroy was naked again.

My thoughts: I loved this book. Seriously. Loved.

Makenna is a single mom, managing her brother's restaurant and the business side of her family's farm. She's been raising her daughter, Paige, alone since her husband died when Paige was only five weeks old. She's focused all her energy on her daughter and her work, and has created a cozy little home for the two of them. She's had no desire to date. But now suddenly she's had a dream about Travis, the hunky chef at the restaurant, and her brother's best friend. And Travis, being a player, a man whore, not to mention a co-worker, is definitely off limits. So when her best friend, Sage, the bartender at the restaurant, who has been harboring a crush on Makenna's brother, suggests they sign up with an online dating site and put themselves out there, Makenna agrees.
Seriously, though, this is news. So you're...on the market now?”
Wow, what an evolved and sensitive way to put it, Travis.”
What? I could have said, 'So, I hear your rack shack is open for business.'”
Travis has always crushed on Makenna a little bit, but she's his best friend's little sister and has a child, so she's definitely off limits. Travis doesn't do relationships or commitment. He does a string of sexual encounters with women who have stripper names. But when he notices Makenna seeming to notice him, he begins to really notice her.

Makenna is a great character, and kindergartner Paige is cute and funny and precocious without ever crossing the line to dreaded plot moppet. And Travis. Travis has a beard and rides a motorcycle, which is a strike and a half against him – I don't care for beards, other than a little scruff on occasion, and I'm not into motorcycles. In fact, he didn't really tick any of my usual boxes, other than having a sense of humor and being great with the child. And yet I absolutely adored him. He's got some serious family baggage, and I liked the way the author let that play out.

There are so many laugh out loud moments. I mean I literally laughed out loud, and often backtracked to read those passages again. The writing flows, and the characters and dialogue are well written and realistic, and just full of warmth and heart. And one scene at the end had me a blubbering mess. I stayed up until 1:00 in the morning to finish the book, which I rarely do. 

So, seriously, a wonderful romance, and a wonderful book, and another author whose complete back list I now need to obtain. Not to mention Sage and Garrett's story coming out May 10! 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Currently Reading

Four chapters into this Netgalley book and I'm quite charmed so far.

Synopsis from Goodreads: Makenna Rye Conroy was living the dream—amazing husband, beautiful new baby daughter—when one night changed everything.

Almost six years after Adam’s death, Makenna and her daughter Paige have built a solid, happy life together. Makenna manages her brother’s trendy restaurant, The Yard, and helps out at Ryeland Farms, the family business, all while trying to navigate the world of private school parenting. Sure, being a single mom has its challenges, but she hardly has time to pack her daughter’s lunch in the morning, let alone think about dating.

Travis McNulty, the middle child and the biggest disappointment of the McNulty clan, is a chef at his best friend’s new restaurant. He gave up apologizing for not being the football hero his family wanted a long time ago. In fact, Travis apologizes for very little these days. He loves creating great food, it’s more of a passion than any job, and he lives life on his own terms with as little complication as possible.

For the past couple years, Makenna and Travis have worked alongside each other at The Yard, bickering, teasing, and never taking each other very seriously. Until Makenna has her usual reoccurring dream, but this time instead of her late husband as the featured man, Travis stands in his place. Travis may be attracted to his best friend’s sister, but she’s a widow and a mother, which tops the charts for complicated in his book.

As the game changes, Makenna and Travis, with a little help from Paige, have to figure out what they are willing to risk to reserve a table for three. 

I'm still reading Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, but not as charmed with it, so it's on hold. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Leader of the Pack

CATHERINE GEORGE

Synopsis from Goodreads: "I never resist a challenge."

And Matt Canning considered Ellis Worth a challenge.

So when Matt became the head of Colcraft Holdings, he wasn't content to simply oust Ellis's boss and control the company -- he wanted Ellis, too.

Ellis was having none of that. She was her own woman, and she didn't have to work for Colcraft or Matt Canning. Too bad Matt Canning wasn't willing to let her go without a struggle. But then, he was a man who also got what he wanted.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Harlequin Books, 1992.

How acquired: Through Book Mooch

First line: Ellis liked to arrive long before the rest of the workforce.

My thoughts: It took me a long time to get into this story, and even then I was never completely captivated. I'm not really sure why, but unlike Catherine George's books usually do, neither the plot nor the characters spoke to me. Ellis was likable enough, but maybe she was just too perfect. She was like super secretary. Though the fact that she'd harbored a secret love for her married cad of a boss for years certainly humanized, although still not earning points in her favor. Matt was alright, I liked him well enough, but I didn't fall head over heels for him. I usually like that Ms. George's older books are quite tame and quaint, but this time around I think I would also have to add boring, and maybe that was the biggest issue. However, I do quite like the cover.


Ms. George is one of my favorite category romance authors, but this one just didn't do it for me. However, it was still better than AN ENGAGEMENT OF CONVENIENCE, wherein I kept thinking "ew". The heroine in that book was masquerading as a friend, and falling for her friend's cousin. I'm not crazy about lookalike-and-can-pass-for-each-other plot lines to begin with, but the "ew" factor came from said cousin, the hero, having the hots for the heroine. Who he thought was his cousin. So, ew.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Thing Is


Synopsis from Goodreads: Meredith Mancuso is depressed. Ever since the death of her fiancĂ©, she has shrunk from the world. Even with her successful writing career, she's not motivated to work. When her sister, Monica, begs for a favor, Meredith wants nothing more than to say no. But she’s ultimately roped into pet-sitting an orphaned Yorkshire terrier named Prozac.

Blessed with spiritual wisdom and a high IQ, Prozac is an active pet therapy dog. To heal broken-hearted Meredith, he rallies his fan club at Evergreen Gardens, an independent living facility, where he visits each week.

Prozac and the community of resilient older folks challenged by losses of their own propel Meredith, often against her will, back into the land of the living. Meredith learns that most people carry some sort of burden, but it's still possible to find meaning, purpose, and joy—and sometimes, even love—along the way.

Stats for my copy: Kindle edition, Red Adept Publishing, 2016.

How acquired: Offered to me by the author.

First line: The minute the breeder opened the crate, my littermates went nuts.

My thoughts: I'm a sucker for dog stories, so the first line of this book immediately grabbed me, as it was first person point of view being narrated by a dog. Prozac started his new life as a little Yorkshire terrier, going from the laundry room of a breeder to a home with an elderly Helen. It's not his first life. Prozac is a Spirit Guide Dog, sent to earth to complete mission after mission, each time being born into the body of a different dog. Unlike your average dog, he understands everything going on around him, and can read. His dream is to star on the stage as Sandy in the musical “Annie”. However, right now his life is with Helen, who has had him certified as a therapy dog, and takes him to nursing homes, hospitals, children's story time at libraries, etc. He's not sure what his actual mission is, but he has a pretty comfortable cushy life in the meantime. Then Helen has to be hospitalized, and puts Prozac in the car of her accountant, who then dumps him on her sister, Meredith.

I frankly had trouble connecting with Meredith at first, through no fault of the author. She's never had a dog, never really been around dogs, and is not the least bit interested in taking care of a stranger's dog. She's furious with her sister for saddling her with this responsibility. I, on the other hand, have always had dogs, I love dogs, and I would love more than anything to be a doggie foster parent. So it was hard to relate to Meredith's feelings as she ranted and raved about the situation her sister put her in. I don't understand how anyone could not love dogs! Unless, of course, like Meredith's sister, they are highly allergic to dog hair.

The narration actually alternates, with some chapters being told from Prozac's point of view, and others narrated by Meredith. Her fiance was senselessly murdered several years ago, and she is still grieving his death. Despite her aversion to dogs and not welcoming Prozac into her home with cuddles and kisses planted on top of his head, she's a very sympathetic character. Her grief is practically palpable,and my heart went out to her again and again.


That doesn't mean the story is heavy or depressing, although towards the end there were some feels, and I did get very teary-eyed. But overall it's actually fairly light, with a lot of humor. There's an interesting cast of supporting characters. I did get some of the residents of the senior independent living center confused, but most of the supporting characters are quite distinctive, with their own quirks. In fact, I think the only thing that prevented some of those characters from taking over the story at times was the narration not being in third person POV. And while I wouldn't really classify the book as being a romance, there was a little of that eventually thrown in. I lean toward romance more than any other genre, but I still would've enjoyed the story just as much without that element, so that's definitely a point in the author's favor.