Friday, May 27, 2011

Five Umbrella Friday: One Week as Lovers by Victoria Dahl

Yes. I know. I'm on a Victoria Dahl kick. Y'all suffered through the Lorelei James phase, you can bear this one too. And like Lorelei James and my other auto-buy authors, discovering Dahl a few weeks ago was a little bit like getting a giant box of Godiva chocolates with a lock and a credit card slot. I want to gobble them all up, and I'm limited only by my bank balance. Luckily, Dahl's backlist is very reasonable (And if you are a Nook user it's lendme--hint for my Nook Friends).

This book is also a great rebuttal to the AAR blog I mentioned yesterday that argues that all this social media interaction between readers, reviewers, and authors may not be a good thing. I found this book via social media, and while I would have been bitterly disappointed to have wasted my $, the fact that I love Victoria Dahl's tweetstream has nothing to do with how much I loved this book.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book purchase was brought to you by social media. Victoria Dahl tweeted a link to Daisy Harris's blog where she discussed common tropes used to up the sexy factor. This book was mentioned as an excellent example of the "kink as therapy" trope. Ding! My finger was on the "buy" button on my nook before I even finished reading the blog. And, as an added bonus, I now have a name for one of my most favorite tropes (Please share in the comments if you have other recommendations for books with this theme/trope!). Because I absolutely love dark and tortured characters, especially heroes, and dark and tortured characters who have to work it out in the bedroom? When done right, it's a ticket straight to my keeper shelf. When done poorly, it's so disappointing--like watching a good team fail to make the playoffs. Here, thankfully, it's done really, really well, in combination with several other tropes I love, including childhood friends-to-lovers.

Cynthia and Nick grew up in the same small village (yay! We're not in London!) But, now Nick is a charming Viscount on the verge of marrying a heiress who wants nothing to do with him. And Cynthia's family has also fallen on very hard times, and she's had to come up with her own creative solution to her troubles. Nick and Cynthia reminded me a lot of the dynamic in Loretta Chase's Last Night's Scandal. I liked that book tremendously, but I like this one even more as Nick has this dark edge that Lisle just doesn't. But, there's great banter between two contemporaries and equals, and there's the hero being dragged along on reckless adventures, including treasure hunting.

Cynthia is far more free-spirited than the times probably allowed, including being way more blase about sex than a proper, single regency heroine usually is. If you want strict historical accuracy in your regencies, this book might not be for you. Which would be a darn shame because it's just so much fun. I want to believe that there were women with Cynthia's pluck and spirit roaming about the British countryside. For everything good and light that Cynthia brings, Nick has a dark cloud chasing him due to an incident that happened in his early teens.

Nick is a DARK hero in a charming disguise-- his backstory is somewhat similar to that in Liz Carlyle's Never Deceive a Duke and Kresley Cole's Demon After Dark. I love dark and tortured heroes, but these heroes are all literally tortured--terrible things happened to them against their will. And for some readers, I think that level of darkness is a bit much or simply not something they wish to think about. For me, I love watching this type of hero triumph over his demons and find a way to true happiness. Because this book is otherwise so light and fun, Nick's darkness is greatly muted, but he's still the driving force of the book.

He's what made this a five star read for me--dark and tortured, blonde, genuinely nice person with strong moral code, outside the box thinker, and not afraid to let his heroine lead. Without revealing too much, I loved how the treasure hunt ultimately worked out and the decisions Nick made. I didn't neccessarily agree with one action he took towards the end of the book, but I certainly understood where he was coming from, and it let him truly let go of the past and protect his woman in a single action. Oh and the whole "kink as therapy" thing? Totally worked too. (It's a mild kink--if you read Elizabeth Hoyt, Jennifer Haymore, Liz Carlyle etc, you won't be too shocked and should enjoy the wicked little edge it gives this otherwise sweet tale).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why I'm Proud to be a Gushing Reviewer

I've been giving a lot of thought to who I am as a book reviewer. I blogged this weekend at Romancing the Genres, and I talked about my mission as a reviewer. It was fun to clarify for myself why I review. I explained,
"For me, my mission is simple: helping great books, particularly undiscovered gems, find the right audience for them and analyzing what makes great reads work."
I also talked about how reluctant I've been to do negative reviews.
"If I can't find some redeeming value in a book, some connection to the ideal audience for a book or some insight into why something didn't work for me (but might for others), I'd rather put the energy towards the books that truly captivate me."
Then AAR had this post about how reviewers shouldn't get too friendly with authors and critizing review blogs only offer gushing reviews. Many of the comments on the thread seemed to agree that credibility as a reviewer is tied towards having negative reviews. I spent several days stewing over this before I realized that I don't want to be a snarky review blog (although I read and love plenty!) and that I have no aspirations of being a more literary review blog (although I read plenty of them too). But, I DO firmly believe that my reviews ARE credible.

Instead, I'm Cloudy with a Chance of Books. My whole mission is to match readers with books that will distract them from bad days. Yes, I post tons of four and five umbrella reviews. That's my whole purpose here. I DNF plenty of books. I get angry at books. Things hit my wall. I get disappointed in particular authors. I compose lengthy rants in my head. I don't think it discredits me to sift through what I read and mainly select the books that I did finish and enjoy to review and talk about here.

Instead, it's just a different kind of trust I'm seeking to build between this blog and readers--I want readers to trust that if I'm reviewing a book on here that I finished the book and found something worthwhile in it. If I give a five umbrella rating, I did honestly LOVE LOVE LOVE the book. If I say it's keeper shelf worthy, it is--FOR ME. If I gush it's because I want other readers to love it as much as I do, but I totally get that others may not agree with me. That's why a huge component of my reviews is talking about WHO a given title might work for. Who's the target audience? What authors are similar? What's the tone? These are the questions that get me excited as a reviewer.

Over the years, I've become better and better at predicting whether or not I will love a particular title, and my reading time is so precious to me that I don't waste my time on reads that don't work for me or that make me angry. I find so many books that I love because that's what I'm actively hunting for. I want to improve others' odds of finding books to love. Nothing makes me happier than a winning streak of finding nothing but four and five star books. And nothing is more frustrating than having a stack of DNF books in a row.

I recently went through 14, yes FOURTEEN, DNF books in a row with two small breaks for books that I did finish (but didn't absolutely love) in there. Part of that was me wanting to be wowed by books--I see so many awesome books that my bar is raised pretty darn high. And part of that is simply where I was as a reader right then. After thinking more about it this weekend, I realized that I don't want to spend much time on those 14 books. I'm going to add them to my goodreads feed just because I like to have a record of what I've read in a given year, and I'm working on a thread of short "It's not for me" reviews that focus primarily on who the books might work for.

But having day after day of one and two umbrella posts? That just wouldn't be in keeping with my mission. I'm going to focus on what I love. But, make no mistake about it--the authors that I give those four and five star reviews to? They EARN it. They stand out from the pack of mediocre reads that never get me past the first 25 pages. They make it past my lengthy list of literary pet peeves to earn a spot on my keeper shelf. They make me giddy. I think that part of my mission as the blog evolves is for authors to be proud of getting a review from me, not because I give out so many negative reviews, but because so many books never make the cut for the blog. That's where I'm going with the blog, and I'm proud of that mission.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Five Umbrellas & a Bargain to Boot: The Heir by Grace Burrowes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars. The Heir is only 99 cents right now for both Kindle/Nook, and as it’s been on my TBR tempting me at 6.99, I snatched it up. And OMG I think I would have paid crazy agency pricing levels for this as it’s not only GOOD, it’s also incredibly unique. Burrowes’s voice captivates and stands out from the crowded regency field. Lovers of Courtney Milan and Joanna Bourne will want to add Burrowes’s to their autobuy list as she offers the same melodic prose and deeply emotional love scenes.

The Earl is the beleaguered, overworked heir to a Duke, and Anna is his mysterious new housekeeper who creates a sanctuary for him while holding fast to her own secrets. There’s also a sweet old-fashion sensibility to both Anna and the Earl that brings in both shades of Julia Quinn and Masterpiece Theater. The Earl has this . . . restraint that’s absent in 99% of Regency heroes. He’s delightfully old fashioned, and this gives this novel a sort of timeless quality that belies its “sensual” label.

As a point of fact, I didn’t find the love scenes any steamier than the aforementioned Milan/Bourne/Tessa Dare and not quite to Elizabeth Hoyt levels. They are, however, rather creative, owing to the Earl’s reticence. He gets it—on a level that most historical heroes don’t—if Anna sleeps with him, the consequences for her are absolute. And, because he’s a decent chap, he doesn’t try to overwhelm her or persuade her. He does, however, show her some . . . options. Very nice, almost sweet options.

For her part, Anna is caring and devoted. She’s the rare heroine with whom I would actually want to reside—in a platonic sense, of course. I felt like I was immersed in the home she made for the Earl and how she transcended her position as a servant. I wanted to taste her baking and smell her flowers and sit in her pleasant rooms. Burrowes uses all five senses masterfully. I loved how she elevated these items to themes and symbols—for instance, the way she carried lemonade through the novel became a symbol of Anna’s caring for the Earl and his need for her. Beautiful.

I did find Anna a bit stubborn at the end—I felt she and the Earl both held out a bit long after the black moment, but it was in keeping with their restraint and historical sensibility. It was also shades of Joanna Bourne and others who let their characters dictate the timeline, not rote requirements of plotting. And amazingly, this is her debut novel. Like Milan, Bourne, and Dare, and Jennifer Haymore, she just bursts out the gate with this unique voice that says “I’m here. And I’m good in unexpected ways.” Snatch this up while it’s cheap, but don’t be scared to invest when the price goes back up.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Five Umbrellas: Cowgirls Don't Cry by Lorelei James

Is there a 12 step program for Lorelei James addicts? I was this way when I discovered Suzanne Brockmann and Julia Spencer-Fleming and Karen Marie Moning and Pamela Clare too--roaring through their backlist. Whose backlist have you devoured in the least amount of time?

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars. Book 10 in the Rough Riders series, Cowgirls Don’t Cry, is actually the perfect introduction to James’s amazing voice for readers more used to spicy contemporaries and who haven’t yet ventured into Romantica. Brandt is quite possibly my favorite hero of the whole series. He really showcases James’s range as a writer—he’s not her usual alpha hero at all, yet she imbues him with layers of complexity and succeeds in making him strong and attractive while still showing him to be more sensitive than the rest of the McKay clan. I found him even sexier for this sensitivity—he makes choices that come from his heart, and he gives Jessie the space to make her own choices. At first the plotline of the widow and her former brother-in-law coming together to raise the deceased’s love child seemed far fetched and rooted in category romance tropes, but James transforms this into a complex story about what it really means to be a family and what love can overcome. There’s also a few nice twists along the way that make this feel fresh and different.

Brandt’s respectful treatment of Jessie extends to the bedroom, and one of the most fun love scenes of the series comes when she knocks HIM for a loop by showing just how far she’s willing to go. The love scenes are smoking, but they are a bit less “kinky” than some in the series—there’s not as much of a domination vibe and there’s no backdoor action. I suppose some fans of the series might be a bit let down by this, but I really enjoyed seeing James’s versatility and the balance between heat and substance—Brandt and Jessie both have complex character arcs that extend beyond realizing that they are perfect for each other. We also see some different secondary characters in this book, and I look forward to seeing them in future installments. The other McKays make an appearance, but one could totally read this story without reading anything else in the series. Shoulda Been a Cowboy and Raising Kane introduced Jessie, Luke, and Brandt to readers, but that backstory is also woven into this book as well. James tosses around the phrase “Gentleman Cowboy” throughout the series, but Brandt really personifies that. This is a great read featuring a memorable hero.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday Shorts: Wicked West by Victoria Dahl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are plenty of mediocre novellas, especially now that the market for ebook shorts has exploded. Of course, there are also good novellas and a few great ones. But, rarest of all are novellas that should be required reading for any author looking to cross that line from good to great. Victoria Dahl’s The Wicked West should be required reading for any writer looking to write the perfect erotic short story or novella.

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a short this much (which considering that I feature one each week and genuinely love the format says something). And I was a bit out of my comfort zone as far as the kink in the story, but I. Did. Not. Care. At all. Now, admittedly, my enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that I first read Dahl’s Talk Me Down where the main character, Molly Jennings, writes erotica under the pseudonym Holly Summers. In a stroke of marketing and creative genius, Dahl released this short as Holly Summers, as it’s supposed to be the novel Molly was working on. Don’t let the name game confuse you—the plot stands completely apart from Talk Me Down and is more than just a gimmick. Dahl manages to craft a unique voice that is at once herself, but also seems to stem from the sensibilities of Molly/Holly as a writer.

In this story, Lily, a shy English rose, has arrived in the Wild West to take over her late brother’s house. Sherriff Hale is a gruff, hardened Wyoming lawman who is inexplicably drawn to Lily. The Sherriff is brilliantly characterized because he reacts like an 1800s lawman to his own feelings and desires—he lacks the swagger of a modern guy unperturbed by liking a little kink. Instead the Sherriff is deeply conflicted by his darker desires and pushes Lily away.

Because a short story/novella has far less plot real estate to work with, authors must create believable conflict to drive the story, but also resolve it in a satisfying way rather quickly. Here, the internal conflict is gorgeously laid out with lots of lusty longing and self-recriminations, but the solution is believable as it requires a not-unlikely leap of faith on the part of the Sherriff and Lily.

Dahl also avoids the temptation to set the story within a single 24 or 48 hour period—something that many erotic novellas do, leading to less believable HEAs. Instead the story plays out over the course of weeks, with an external cattle rustling subplot moving time along, and the ultimate resolution takes place a few months later and beautifully shows the way that these two characters have brought out the best in each other. The love scenes are smoking hot, but laced with tons of emotion. I’ve read far more explicit stuff, but the heat factor here is off the charts. (Note there is some light BDSM elements here with a very dominant hero and a heroine who is a true submissive. There’s no backdoor action or other extreme stuff, so I think this might appeal to others who don’t typically venture this far into erotica). Dahl has true winner her, one that showcases her lively voice and her talent for delving deeply into characters’ emotions even as she turns the heat up past high.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Five Umbrella Friday: Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl

Oh my gosh! Is it Friday again? Already? I lost a bunch of posts in the blogger crash last week and then my week kinda imploded . . . and oh my! I've got everything queued up again so next week is a full week of posts again. And tomorrow I'm guest blogging at Romancing the Genres where I'll be talking about why I review--Please visit and check out the lovely discussion among writers (and readers!) of many different subgenres of romance!

Today's pick of the week isn't a new book, but it one of the best things I've read this month (this year too!). And as bonus, if you love it, she's got two more books in this trilogy. I can't wait to check them out! I'm going to be reviewing the companion novella to this book tomorrow as my Saturday short.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All roads have pointed towards Victoria Dahl this spring—she was a major player in the DABWAHA tournament, is up for two RITA nominations, and is one of the most entertaining authors on twitter. But, with a TBR pile that threatens to explode my nook, I just couldn’t justify giving into my “click to purchase” desires. However, when the Judy Mays story broke, I immediately thought of Dahl’s Talk Me Down where a successful erotica author moves back to her hometown, trying to keep her secret identity a secret, even as she falls for the Chief of Police, who hates even a hint of scandal.

And my purchasing finger kinda slipped when I went back to read the blurb. I swore I’d just add it to TBR mountain, but next thing I knew I was halfway through the book, waking the baby for a third time by laughing out loud. If you haven’t read Dahl, her voice is similar to Jennifer Crusie, Rachel Gibson, Christie Ridgway, but with a bit more heat added to the same addictive blend of humorous banter and real emotions.

Molly writes erotica—she knows exactly what she wants from Ben, whom she’s had a crush on since she was a teenager. And Ben knows what he wants too, but he knows better than to want it from a woman with obvious secrets. But, when he can’t resist giving in to their attraction, he goes on a mission to uncover Molly’s secret identity.

Now, if Molly weren’t so in love with being mysterious and keeping her job a secret, she would have invented a cover identity long ago—freelance technical writer perhaps? Medical biller? No? Instead, she’s spent years playing the “How Does Molly Get Her Money” game with everyone in her life. And this is technically more honest than outright lying with a fake job, but it also ensures that the secret is going to come out at some point in a very public way.

And it does, but not until Dahl has wrung every drop of emotion out of Ben and Molly’s tentative, yet smoking courtship. I actually teared up shortly after the halfway point of the book with one the sweetest morning after scenes ever. The black moment is bleak, and I hurt so much for Ben. For Molly too, but I did think that she deserved to suffer a little bit for keeping the secret going. And thankfully, she suffers just enough for me to cheer when she gets her HEA.

There’s also a great suspense subplot with someone stalking Molly, which raises the stakes and keeps the action moving briskly along. All in all, one of the most fun contemporary romances I’ve read in years and headed straight for the keeper shelf. Now, the only problem is trying to resist the urge to read Dahl’s entire backlist in lieu of tackling more of the TBR pile.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Five Umbrellas: Saddled and Spurred by Lorelei James

Sorry for falling behind in reviews! I'm working (finally!!!) on another writing project, and it's cutting into both my review writing time and my reading time. BUT, we have 31 followers now, so I will be giving away a book tomorrow with my pick of the week!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars. Saddled and Spurred is Book 2 in Lorelei James’s new Blacktop Cowboys series. However, it totally stands on its own and is one of the best choices for those new to James’s amazing voice as it’s super-sexy without delving too far into kinky and has a super-sweet HEA ending that will have readers cheering. Harper is one of my absolute favorite James heroines. She’s a former beauty queen who only competed to help provide for her sisters. Her strong work ethic leads her to the last job she ever thought she’d take: working as a ranch hand for sexy cowboy Bran Turner.

They both need to make this unlikely employment situation work for the short-term—Bran’s usual ranch hand is recovering from an accident, and Harper is set to leave town when her sister graduates High School. I love that Harper never feels an ounce of self-pity and simply does what needs to be done. Her mother’s a deadbeat who alienated most of the people in town, but Harper just keeps doing what she needs to in order to get her sister to graduate. She’s a nice person too—she keeps doing the nails for little old ladies even when Bran pays her enough to drop that part-time job. She’s never delivered a calf or fixed fence, but she’s a hard worker and she impresses Bran with far more than just her beauty queen looks.

Bran is such an awesome hero—he’s a lot like Brandt from Cowgirls Don’t Cry (James’s other series) in that he’s a little shy and reserved. But unlike Brandt, who was more of a Beta hero, Bran has a hidden alpha streak that really wants to come out to play. Harper also has an inner bad girl buried under years of responsibilities and obligations, so when sparks start flying between her and Bran, the resulting lust explosion is spectacular.

As a professional woman, I often have trouble getting into boss/employee stories as sexual harassment is a very real problem for both men and women, particularly in this bad economy, where like Harper, workers may not feel they can get another job. Instead of just ignoring this issue like so many books do, James actually addresses it. Bran is reluctant to make any sort of move for precisely that reason, and he lets Harper set the rules for keeping work & play separate (and he actually follows them). The fact that their employment relationship is very short-term also enables them to take this risk and enhances believability.

The build-up to their fling is sweet and gradual and filled with lots of humorous scenes of Harper adjusting to ranch work. I adore a good fish-out-of-water story. Once the fling starts, the love scenes are scorching—James doesn’t hold back, and while more balanced between narrative and love scenes than some of James’s other works, this is still one sexy book with no-holds-barred explicit love scenes. What’s really nice though is that there is so much emotion underscoring the love scenes—this is what James does best, and why I am addicted to her. Even when a coupling seems temporary, James layers in the emotion and complications so beautifully. It’s all a part of her unique gift for creating memorable characters, including some great secondary characters. We see some of the same characters from Book 1, and there are a couple of spoilers for book 1’s events, but I think that the series can be enjoyed out of order.

I should also mention that I resisted getting into this series until I exhausted James’s entire backlist because I just really don’t like agency pricing which makes this title $9.99 for an ebook while her Samhain releases of the same length and (superb) quality are more around $5 in ebook form. However, James is absolutely an author who deserves to be in front of a wider audience, and she’s not the one setting the prices or the policies here. This is awesome story, and I wasn’t disappointed at all—it was well worth the 9.99 for a guaranteed great read from one of my favorite authors.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Winners of Recent Giveaways!

Be sure to check out my pick of the week below--it's perfect for mother's day.

Now onto the winners for the recent giveaways. As always, I used to select a random number.

ClaudiaGC wins a copy of Zoe Archer's Collision Course (or a backlist book of Archer's if you can't do e-books--please let me know your preference).

Skye wins the Judy Mays Giveaway. Please let me know if there is a particular Judy Mays print title you would like. I will order it for you.

Di wins the Lori Foster book & T-shirt.

If you are having trouble figuring out how to contact me, my email addy is wavybrains at the big email provider that starts with a "Y" or just reply to this post and I will contact you.

Five Umbrella Friday: The Midwife's Confession by Diane Chamberlain

My Friday pick of the week would make a great mother's day gift as it has broad appeal across age divisions and reading preferences!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Attention Mama friends! I have your summer book club selection right here. Diane Chamberlin has *the* women’s fiction tear jerker of the season with an offering sure to ignite book club discussions across the country. This was not an easy read, and when I was done, I desperately wanted to make someone, anyone read it RIGHT THAT DARN MINUTE so that I could discuss at length. In other words, it was awesome even as it turned me inside out.

The base premise is familiar: when their best friend since college commits suicide, two early 40s women are left searching for answers. The execution, however, is stunning in the web of secrets and lies uncovered in a masterful plot that relies on a rotating cast of narrators, including the deceased in flashbacks, to uncover the confession the midwife just couldn’t bring herself to make. The lives of three families are changed forever, and the women at the heart of the story are what make it so readable and compelling. Each is a sympathetic, complex character, and my heart just bled for them over and over.

I carried my nook from room to room, refusing to skim ahead, yet unable to function until I found out the truth. Except the truth kept changing and mutating, and the solving of one mystery merely led to another in a brilliant, twisting path of deception that kept my pulse racing all the way to the epilogue. I’m being purposely vague about the plot as that rollercoaster sense of what-the-heck is happening is priceless. Make no mistake, however, Chamberlin ferrets out all of our hot buttons as women—unexpected death, motherhood, adultery, separation, adoption, birth, parenthood, lying, identity—and jumps all over them with her wicked pen. But it’s not in a gratuitous way at all, and the book deftly avoids sinking into lifetime-movie-of-the-week melodrama (although it certainly is a 10 hanky read). Chamberlin has a rich backlist, yet somehow I’ve missed out on her unique offering to the women’s fiction market. Fans of Susan Wiggs, Robyn Carr, and Jodi Picoult will adore this heart wrenching tale of friendship and the lengths one is willing to go to protect those we love most.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Three Umbrellas: Any Man of Mine by Rachel Gibson

I'll take entries on Monday's giveaway through TONIGHT at 12 PST, then announce winners with Friday's book of the week. We're two followers away from adding another giveaway. If I get two more today, I'll announce that tomorrow as well.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Originally Shared at Cloudy with a Chance of Books--

3.5 stars. Is it possible for a romance hero to be too realistic? Rachel Gibson’s latest, Any Man of Mine, is another entry in her hockey series. See Jane Score is one of my favorite Gibson titles as is The Trouble with Valentine’s Day (which featured an ex-hockey player from the same team), so I had high hopes for this addition to her line-up. And it was everything that makes Gibson so much fun: witty, lots of physical humor, great banter, well-drawn quirky secondary characters, sexy. Fans of Lori Foster, Christie Ridgway, Carly Phillips, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips should enjoy Gibson tremendously (her heat level is also similar to these authors—sexy w/o crossing the line into erotic territory). Like Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Gibson excels at crafting the male POV. And this, unfortunately, is where Any Man of Mine runs into controversy.

Sam runs into Autumn, his ex-wife at the wedding of the previous book’s couple. Now, I often don’t like divorce reunion stories because it means someone got angry badly enough and long enough to take legal action. Or, as is the case here, there was a quickie marriage that arguably should never have occurred. Sam and Autumn met five years ago in Vegas, got married in a drunken haze (his part) believing in love at first sight (her part), and got a divorce because Sam came to his senses as soon as he sobered up the next morning (and left without a word to Autumn). Class act that Sam. But, reckless drunken actions do not a bad hero make. Except where those bad decisions result in an accidental pregnancy, and Sam spends the next five years continuing to be a jerk.

We all know men like Sam, particularly athletic golden boys with troubled pasts, who pay their child support while continuing to live the life of a carefree bachelor. When we meet Sam, he fully admits to being selfish and shallow and to sleeping with women he doesn’t really like beyond the physical. Sam skips out on his visitation days more often than he shows up, blames the Autumn’s hostility on her “running hot and cold” and being uptight, parties like a rookie instead of a 35 year old veteran, and is generally way more childish than Connor, his son.

He’s a bad dad even by non-custodial parent standards, and it takes Autumn telling him that Connor cries when he skips their planned visits to make him start to change. To his credit, however, he does start making more of an effort—showing up, taking Connor to his games, and spending plenty of time fretting that his mother is turning him into a wuss. I know plenty of dads who just don’t seem to come online until their sons are elementary school age. Sam would make an awesome hero in a Regency novel as he’s a great dad by 1800s standards.

Autumn is a great mom by any standard—she’s worked hard to put aside her personal hurt over Sam’s actions to facilitate a relationship between Sam and Connor and has done so since Connor’s birth, even moving to Sam’s city and building a life there. She could easily have just coasted by on Sam’s ample child support, but instead she’s a successful Wedding Planner and lives modestly within her means to assure their continued stability. In case, you know, Sam’s asshat disease worsens or becomes terminal. At the point where the story opens, she’s so far over Sam that she doesn’t even feel a spark when he touches her. In fact, she feels nothing at all and is pretty darn happy about that. But, over the course of several months, she begins to thaw towards Sam.

Big kudos to Gibson for playing the book out over the course of several months rather than trying to fix this relationship in a few days or weeks. And had Sam showed more remorse and more of a fundamental change, this would have been a five star read for me. I read the whole book in a single sitting, stopping only for the bare minimum of family interaction. It’s supremely readable with several laugh-out-loud scenes and moves fast. But, as the final chapters sped by, I realized that Sam was the same shallow and selfish guy who started the book, and I wasn’t sure why Autumn decided to forgive him. I wanted far more groveling and a big, huge, GIANT grand gesture.

Instead, we get a brooding poor-me apology and a small olive branch offering that comes from Autumn. I was happy for Connor that he got both parents together, and I was happy that Sam and Autumn got a second chance, but I just wasn’t sure that Sam actually deserved it. Or that he won’t screw it up. I think it comes down to the fact that I want my heroes to be a little more idealized. I think that makes me every bit as shallow as Sam because even a man’s man like Sam deserves a HEA, and Sam DOES have a hidden soft streak and some redeeming virtues. Ultimately, I recommend Gibson whole-heartedly, and I think that plenty of people will LOVE this particular book. And if you are not one of them, there are plenty of debates for you to join in—win either way!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Four Umbrellas: Girl Wonder by Alexa Martin

Yea, though I walk though the valley of smutty adult romances, I still return to the fertile green pastures and sunshine of my YA roots from time to time. I find reading YA from time to time to be immensely refreshing and palate cleansing--it's a great between genre or between really big emotionally difficult books read. Alexa Martin has a lot to offer both her target group of teen readers as well adult readers looking for a breath of fresh air.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Girl Wonder is the perfect gift for the 11-15 year-old girl in your life. Some YA fiction crosses over easily to the adult audience, and while I found Girl Wonder enjoyable in the same way that I enjoyed the Princess Diaries series, I think its target audience of teen girls will absolutely ADORE this book. It offers the familiar theme of awkward girl facing a new and hostile environment as she starts a new school in a new city, but Martin’s fresh voice puts a unique spin on this classic trope. Readers who love Meg Cabot and Carolyn Mackler et al will want to add this offering to their keeper shelf and put Alexa Martin on their auto-read list as I see her as a great addition to the contemporary YA chick-lit genre. Note for parents: If you allow your daughter to read Meg Cabot, Alexa Martin is in the same category—I personally would have no problem letting an 11-15 year old read the title as while typical teen issues surface, good choices finally prevail in the end. If you screen your daughter’s reading, this is a fast, fun read that you too should enjoy—I polished it off in an evening and cheered at the great ending. I simply love it when good girls DO finish first!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Giveaways & More

Happy Monday! Do you love my new look? I'm thrilled to be DONE with the stock blogger book template. Etsy retailer Kelly Designs gave me a custom look for an amazingly low price. Can't recommend her highly enough!

I totally meant to add a giveaway to my review of Zoe Archer's Collision Course to my Saturday short post. I think I've worked out with her to do an e-book copy for a lucky poster (Collision Course isn't out in paper :( ) If you can't read e-books, I will let you pick from her backlist for a paper book. Collision Course is AWESOME though and well worth figuring out how to read books on your smart phone/laptop/desktop if you don't have a dedicated e-reader. If you would like to win a copy of the book, please comment with the name of your favorite Sci-Fi couple from books, movies, or TV.

Bdulin12 was the winner of my Lori Foster giveaway, but (s)he never contacted me. Bdulin 12 if you are out there, please give me a way to contact you or contact me! And let's try again to giveaway another copy of When You Dare & a Lori Foster t-shirt. If you commented on the original post, I'll give you an entry, and if you comment on this post, I'll give you another. If you'd like a chance at the Foster book, tell me your favorite Romantic Suspense couple from books/movies/or TV.

Did you hear all about the Judy Mays controversy last week? Long-time beloved High School English teacher was cruelly outed as writing erotica under a different name (never revealing this fact to students/parents) by a local TV station. The best way to support Judy is to buy her books! Would you like to win a copy of one of her books? Comment and tell me the name of you favorite double agent or character with a secret identity--Superman? Chuck? Someone else?

I couldn't resist picking up Victoria Dahl's hilarious book Talk Me Down which also deals with an erotica author getting outed, but she gets a HEA. I'll have a review up for that later this week or early next week, and I'm thinking I can't resist giving it away because it was just that awesome.

Speaking of FREE--Samhain is giving away Lorelei James's Long, Hard Ride--Book 1 of the awesome rough riders series. It is free for kindle/nook/other formats just for the month of May. No giveaway needed, just get to downloading! It's a great way to try out this awesome series. And trust me, the series only gets better as you go along.

And do you know about Books on the Knob? This amazing site scours all the free e-book deals and compiles them daily. Because so many deals are limited-time only, I check them daily.

And last but not least, I'm doing Shoshanna Evers 50k in May Challenge. This is way more flexible than NaNoWriMo. I'm doing a combo of book reviews and my own fiction writing to challenge myself to get more writing done. It's not too late to join up!