Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My take on: Want You Dead

A single gal meets a single man. Instant attraction. Declarations of love. Both start having dreams of the future. Everything should be great .... but not for Red. Her dream man, Bryce, turned into a nightmare. Now, long after they've broken up Red begins to wonder if he will ever let her go. It seems highly unlikely in Peter James' latest thriller Want You Dead.

The action starts right away. Dr. Karl Murphy, a widower with two children, is finally getting back into the dating scene. He is finally starting to love and trust again. So is his girlfriend, Red. After enduring a verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive relationship with Bryce, Red wants to open her heart again. But her fear of Bryce has never gone away. From a distance, Bryce has managed to maintain a close watch over Red. He has taken stalking to a new level. Listening devices and cameras are just a small part of his arsenal. As a former magician, Bryce has become a master at showing up and disappearing from the least likely spots, including Red's "secure" apartment.

Bryce has no intention of letting Red and Karl live happily ever after. In his mind, Red belongs to him and no one else. He is obsessed with Red. Everything would have been just fine if she didn't listen to her awful parents. Her meddling mother had a private detective investigate Bryce. Her meddling mother found out that Bryce lied about his squeaky clean past. Red didn't really need her mother's help, the signs had been there all along. There was always something not quite right about Bryce. But now, he will make everyone pay for ruining their relationship, including Karl, Red's family, and Red herself! I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that Karl is murdered by Bryce. It happens very early in the book. The rest of the book is devoted to Bryce's evil deeds and the efforts of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and his staff's attempts to stop him.

This is the 10th book in the Roy Grace series, but I don't think that matters. It can be read as a standalone. Detective Grace has his own storyline, but it didn't hold as much interest for me. He's about to get married again, several years after his first wife has been declared dead. Is she alive or isn't she? That could have been intriguing, but I have a feeling that's a storyline that was started in earlier books and won't be resolved for a while. As a character, Grace is definitively intuitive and caring. He was the first to suspect that there was more to Karl's death than meets the eye. He knows there is a larger story. He is willing to disrupt his own life to catch a killer.

The chapters are very short, which I like. As a plot device, there is less anticipation with short chapters. You know the payoff is coming soon. Although my Goodreads account might say otherwise, when I was actively reading I was speed-reading. Bryce is an extremely arrogant, annoying, creepy, disgusting, and all the other bad words one can think of. He's clearly a bad guy, and readers are supposed to have no sympathy for him. You just want the police to wise up and catch him. I was torn between liking and hating Red. Her sense of powerlessness comes through. Life might never be normal if the police don't catch Bryce. Who couldn't sympathize with that? I could, but in the last few chapters Red started to lose me. I don't want to give too much away but.... She had the opportunity to make a very smart decision but instead she makes a very dumb one. She has the opportunity to be fully protected by the police. Instead she opts for the "safety" of her apartment. She doesn't know it's not safe, but Red's actions go against what the average person would do. If you want to know what I'm talking about, read the book!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 16, 2015

My take on: A Sister to Honor

The definition of honor as defined by Merriam Webster:

--respect that is given to someone who is admired
--good reputation; good quality or character as judged by other people
--high moral standards of behavior

I had to look up that word after reading A Sister to Honor by Lucy Ferriss. The word honor means a lot of things to a lot of people. In this book, the word honor is deeply rooted in family and culture. Brother and sister, Shahid and Afia Satar are natives of Pakistan living in New England. Both are working their way toward college degrees at neighboring colleges, and with them they are both carrying a heavy burden. The burden of honoring the family name. The burden of honoring the family's status in Pakistan. The burden of living by the standards of their culture while in America. They are living in America but are not supposed to live like Americans.

Shahid is a star athlete on the Enright University college team. He has to have razor-sharp focus. He is the leader of the team. It is also his responsibility to watch after Afia. Sounds normal. But their relationship goes beyond what most people would consider normal. Afia has dreams of becoming a doctor, but she does something that women in her family are not supposed to do. She has fallen in love. She has fallen in love with Gus, a teammate of Shahid's. Afia has worked very hard to keep this relationship from everyone, including her roommates and friends. But a "scandalous" photo of Afia has surfaced on the internet.

What's so "scandalous" about the photo? She's holding Gus' hand in the photo. She's holding the hand of a man she is not married to. It looks innocent and harmless to Shahid's coach Lissy. But to Shahid that photo is anything but harmless. Afia has brought shame to the family name. Where they come from, girls are severely punished and sometimes even killed for this kind of behavior. Shahid fears he will be forced to punish Afia. But how can he do this? He loves his father. He loves his mother. He loves his other sisters, too. He also loves his culture and way of life. But how is punishing Afia the honorable thing? His step-brother, Khalid, is convinced that Afia deserves to be punished.

Shahid has the weight of the world on his shoulders. What about Afia? I was just astounded that Afia seemed to accept her fate. She's supposed to have opinions or dreams that could jeopardize her family's honor. When Gus is mysteriously injured, Afia quickly suspects Shahid. An attempt on her life only increases Afia's fears. Lissy doesn't fully understand the dynamic between Afia and Shahid. She doesn't understand what "honor" means to them. She wants to understand. But trying to get at the root of the problem could prove to be dangerous for Lissy.

This one started out a little slow for me, but after 100 pages I was hooked. I could really feel the emotional struggles of Shahid, Afia, and Lissy. Reading about a way of life that is so different from my own was disturbing. The author's writing truly makes you question how some people can have such extreme beliefs. What would you do for your family's honor? Would you let a sense of duty blind your judgment? It's one of those books that stays with you longer after you've finished. I would definitely read another book by Lucy Ferriss.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Penguin) as part of a blog tour.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Best and Worst of 2014

GOODBYE 2014, HELLO 2015

Another year of life and reading has gone by! Some goals were met and some were not. I'm one semester away from finishing grad school, and I've already accomplished a goal I set when I first started school. What was it? Have a job in book publishing before graduation! Done, I'm currently working full-time for a children's book publisher. It started as a part-time internship, and eventually turned into a full-time job. Sweet! Everything else that happens, including graduation, is just extra icing on the cake! My thesis topic was approved, but the actual execution of my idea feels a bit daunting. I just keep saying to myself, "It will all be over in May! It will all be over in May!"

Now, how have I done with my reading goals? Not so good. I set a goal of reading 50 books, but I came up short. Thirty-seven books isn't too bad. I started and stopped a lot of books. I went through several reading slumps. I gave some books more than the usual 50-60 pages. It was more like 90-100 pages before I gave up. Working and going to school also took up a lot of my time, it will again for the first half of the year. For 2015, I have to lower my reading goals (sniff). I'm going to shoot for 40 books, but still hope that I pass that!

There were so many books I wanted to get to in 2014, but so many books and so little time. Of the books I read, some I read were great and some were not so great......

(Note not every book on this list was released in 2014, but I just happened to read them in 2014)
TOP 10 BOOKS OF 2014 

1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin -- Love, love books about books. It's the tale of a quirky bookseller who raises a girl left in his shop. Every chapter is a new clue to the mystery of A.J. Fikry.

2. That Night by Chevy Stevens -- After 16 years in prison, a young woman returns to her hometown and the scene of her alleged crime. She's trying to move on. She knows she didn't kill   her sister, but who will believe her? Definitely a thrilling read!
3. The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon -- Seedy nightclubs, corruption, and three women tied to one man? Sign me up!

4. Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen -- A contemporary story with hints of magical realism. Lost Lake is the place where everyone goes to find themselves.

5. In Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins -- A sassy heroine who loves Ben & Jerry's will always be on my list of favorite characters!

6. The House We Grew Up in by Lisa Jewell -- A family tries to overcome the emotional and physical horrors of living with a hoarder.

7. Sweet Nothings by Janis Thomas -- Funny and whimsical story about a woman overcoming the end of her marriage, with a little chocolate mixed in!

8. The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry -- This author has become an automatic buy for me. While this was not my favorite book by her, but I love a good family drama!

9. Love Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge -- One day Lucie Walker knew who she was, but slowly she lost herself. Then one day, she completely forgot who she was!

10. S.E.C.R.E.T. by L. Marie Adeline -- An erotica novel about one woman's sexual and emotional awakening!

The not-so good books of 2014

Fortunately, this list is much smaller! There were books that I stopped and started. But of the books I finished, here are the ones that disappointed me!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn -- Yes, has been out for two years but I finally read it before the movie came out. I detested Amy Elliot Dunne in the book. However, I loved the movie and Rosamund Pike's performance of this wackadoodle character.

Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren -- Again another book that didn't come out this year. I didn't review this on my blog, but I read it for an assignment in school. It's borderline erotica. There was no depth to the main characters. All they shared was a lust for sex, which is a big no-no for me. There has to be more than that to a relationship, which is probably why I prefer Tiffany Reisz's books. There is a lot of sex in her books, but in my opinion it serves as a secondary not a primary storyline.

What books were on your list?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

My take on: Owning Violet

Monica Murphy my hats off to you! She certainly knows how to write a hot love scene. I recently finished Owning Violet, book 1 in the Fowler sisters series. There were definitely some moments where I thought, "Should I be reading this? What if someone catches me? Am I old enough to be reading this?" I'm over 30, so of course I can read it. Reading this book took me back to the days of junior high school, when I was reading Jackie Collins and knew that I shouldn't!

I say all of this because I was definitely captivated by Monica Murphy's writing.

Ryder McKay is about to change Violet Fowler's life forever. But .... she doesn't know it yet.

Violet has the "perfect" life. The family business, Fleur Cosmetics, is a force to be reckoned with. Violet has worked hard to climb the corporate ladder at Fleur Cosmetics, and is getting ready to launch a new product. She's certain her boyfriend Zachary, also a Fleur employee, is getting ready to propose. Everything is going "great" for Violet. However .... Zachary is not going to propose, he's about to leave for a new job assignment in London. Also, Zachary is not exactly marriage material. He's been cheating on Violet throughout their relationship. In Violet's mind, marriage would have put a stop to all the cheating. Their relationship is actually at it's breaking point. No time like the present for the handsome and manipulative Ryder McKay to swoop in.

Ryder wants Violet, and what Ryder wants he gets. Pilar, Ryder's part-time lover and mentor, wants Violet's power. Someday, Pilar wants to run Fleur, but that might not happen with Violet next in line. A dangerous plan is hatched. Pilar will work her sexual "magic" on Zachary, driving a wedge between him and Violet. Meanwhile, Ryder will seduce, dominate, and eventually break Violet. He will break her down so badly that she will leave the company. If all goes well, somewhere in the distant future Pilar and Ryder will rule Fleur together. What can go wrong? ....... EVERYTHING!

Ryder has never had a meaningful relationship. Pilar rescued him from a life of drugs and poverty. She cleaned him up. She helped him rise the corporate ladder. Ryder owes her everything, but there has to come a point when his debt has been paid.

Once the plan is in motion, Ryder gets more than he bargained for. He starts to see Violet as more than just a conquest. More than just another notch on his bedpost. He begins to crave Violet, and she feels the same way. They need each other every minute of the day. They think about each other every minute of the day. They are addicted to each other.

The first half of the book is dedicated to the mounting sexual tension between Violet and Ryder. I like that it wasn't an instant relationship. They don't hop into bed within the first five chapters (the deed doesn't occur until Ch. 19 if you want to be exact). Of course they do everything short of sex in between, use your imagination!

Ok, I did enjoy the first half of the book .... but the second half was a little bit of a letdown. I liked the buildup to the relationship, but soon their relationship is nothing but sex and domination. I wanted something more. I wanted more depth to the relationship. More conversation that wasn't about how much they craved each other. Ryder's past is glossed over. Clearly he had a tough childhood, but there isn't a lot of detail to it. I wanted him to show more vulnerability, instead of always portraying himself as the alpha male. The ending also felt a little rushed to me. Ryder's redemption felt a little quick.

Overall, I think this is a series worth picking up. Although Ryder and Violet won't be the central focus in the next two books, I'm curious to see how their relationship plays out. Also, I hope Pilar will finally get what's coming to her!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received an e-galley from Sullivan and Partners in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My take on: In Your Dreams

Tis the season to be jolly. Tis the season to be in love. Tis the season to swoon over a book by Kristan Higgins! I have now read four of her books, and I love them all. But I think her latest book, In Your Dreams, is my favorite.


I love sassy and sarcastic characters. I love characters who are not afraid to call others out on their B.S.! And.....I love a character who can found joy in a pint of Ben & Jerry's (although I prefer Haagen Dazs)!

Emmaline Neal's ex-fiance is getting married. U-OH! Emmaline is invited, but she doesn't have a date. What's a girl to do? Well the busybodies in the small town of Manningsport, New York, have an idea. Get the handsome, but complicated, Jack Holland to take her. No attachments. No chance at romance. Just a local guy helping out a local gal. Riiiiiiiight! Of course some shenanigans are going to occur. Otherwise what would be the point of the book?!

Emmaline has carved out a nice life for herself in this small town. She loves her career as a cop. At the end of a long day, she loves coming home to her small cottage, her dog, and .... some ice cream. She's grown comfortable in her own space and in her own skin. But the thought of seeing her ex-fiance, Kevin, brings up so many emotions. Kevin used to be overweight, but as soon as he latched onto a super-hyper, super-angry personal trainer named Naomi, he ditched Emmaline. Without the weight Kevin was a totally different person on the inside and outside. Emmaline wants to show that she's over Kevin, but deep down she is still hurting.

Seeing Kevin at the wedding also means seeing her annoying parents and her perfect sister Angela. Emmaline's parents are divorced, but still live in the same house. As psychologists, her parents make it their mission to constantly analyze Emmaline's life and career choices. They're also convinced she's gay, despite her denials. Maybe Jack Holland is just the distraction she needs?

Of course Jack has his own problems. His three sisters, Prudence, Honor, and Faith, his father, and grandparents, all have opinions about how Jack should live his life. He also has an overly dramatic ex-wife, Hadley (a.k.a. Blanche DuBois according to Emmaline), who refuses to believe their marriage is over. On top of all that, Jack is quietly suffering. He saved four teenage boys from drowning in a freezing lake. Three of them have lived to tell the story, but the fourth, Josh Deiner, is languishing in a coma. Everyday since, Jack has been besieged by nightmares and an overwhelming sense of guilt.

It seems nature is forcing Jack and Emmaline together at just the right time. He can help Emmaline let her guard down. She can finally realize that she is a person worthy of love and to be loved. And maybe Jack can realize that he doesn't have to save everyone he meets. Emmaline is not Hadley. She is not the damsel in distress. She is not a woman who constantly needs to be saved.  Maybe Emmaline can save Jack from himself?

In the end, this unlikely and unconventional romantic pair made me smile. As an author if you've made me smile, job well done!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy from Little Bird Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My take on: Keep Me Safe

I have to start off by Maya Banks put a unique spin on romantic suspense in her last book Keep Me Safe.

Ramie St. Claire is consumed by pain -- her own and the pain of others. Why? She has worked for years with the police to locate crime victims. What's the catch? Is she a psychic? Ramie is more than that. She can literally feel the pain of these victims. Everything they experience Ramie can feel as it's happening. Every single act of torture Ramie can feel. Every time she helps families find their relatives, it takes a little piece of Ramie's soul. She is physically and emotionally drained. Now, a brutal killer is after Ramie. She can no longer help locate people without risking her safety. But that doesn't matter to Caleb Devereaux, a wealthy man searching for his kidnapped sister Tori. Caleb won't take no for an answer. He has to find his sister no matter the risks. After Tori is found, Caleb dedicates himself to helping others by forming a security firm. Ramie runs far away and refuses Caleb's help ... until she is desperate and has no where else to turn.

I like to think I'm somewhat well-read when it comes to romance books. That's why I think this was an interesting way to form a romantic relationship. Not many heroines find their dream man this way. Having said all that .... this book wasn't quite for me. As a character, Ramie was too weak for my tastes. Everyone treats her like a fragile piece of glass. She'll break if you press her too hard. I like my heroines to have some toughness within them. Caleb was a true alpha male. Caleb is definitely sorry for causing Ramie more pain. However, he makes sure everyone knows he has power, and knows just what to do with it. The sexual connection between them felt a bit quick, and I'm not a fan of insta-love.

The ending was happy and haunting at the same time. Without giving too much away, Caleb is forced to betray Ramie in the worst way. She's more damaged by the end than she was in the beginning. The resolution to everything comes rather quickly. It seems like some therapy would be needed. There's no stop-your-heart cliffhanger to the ending, so I'm curious to see how the next two books shape up. Although this one wasn't quite for me, I'm willing to give Maya Banks another try.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from Sullivan and Partners in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

My take on: The House We Grew Up In

Update: Sorry I've been missing in action, but sometimes school and work commitments take up a lot of my time. Plus, I'm not the fastest reader. One more semester to go and grad school will be over! I will still be reading and posting reviews, just not as frequent. I promise my posts will pick up in the spring.

Dysfunctional family drama with a mix of hoarding? Sign me up! The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell is a sad, but realistic portrayal of a family in crisis.

The Bird family, Lorelei, her husband Colin, and four children Megan, Bethan, Rory, and Rhys, are in dire need of help. Lorelei, literally and figuratively, likes to hold onto things from the past. A picture, a piece of tinfoil, books, and even little scraps of paper hold some special memory for Lorelei. Any attempts to break away from the family are met with resistance. Any attempts to break away from the family, Lorelei sees as acts of defiance. Meg is often the voice of reason. Beth refuses to think for herself, she'll do what everyone else does. Twins Rory and Rhys would rather stay holed up in their rooms than confront their mother. Colin's attempts to change their lives is met with resistance, leading him to realize the woman he married is slowly disappearing. A death shatters the family, but in Lorelei's mind it's a moment to bury and ignore -- just like everything else in their messy house. I could easily sense the tension between the characters, especially Meg. She's the only one who challenges Lorelei, and is often the bad guy for doing so. If she doesn't break away, Meg's sanity is at risk. She's the only one who can see that Lorelei is mentally ill.

The story alternates between the past and the present. Sometimes that worked for me and sometimes it didn't. I felt like the narrative from the past is where the action/conflict was. To the outside world, Lorelei projected an image of happiness. She just couldn't handle any attempt to shatter that image. Hindsight is 20/20 and I felt like that was the theme of the present-day narrative. I was more interested in the Bird family's past. I was engrossed in the changes in the family as they were happening. The childhood's of the Bird children, shaped who they became. While hoarding is on the extreme end of family dysfunction, I'm sure everyone can find a little bit of the Bird family in their own. What would you do differently? What would stay the same? Do you grow up wishing you were born into a different family?

Random tidbit: After reading this, I will never look at a chocolate Easter egg the same again! Want to know what I'm talking about? READ THE BOOK!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-galley from the publisher (Atria). The House We Grew Up In was one of the Fall books for She Reads.
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