Monthly Archives: June 2012

Brand New Human Being

Brand New Human Being
Emily Jeanne Miller
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
272 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes

I have got to say – really, I absolutely MUST SAY – that I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it.

Reading Brand New Human Being is kind of like watching a supermodel slip and fall on the runway, knocking out one of her teeth. You are filled with a mixture of horror, gratitude that it isn’t you, and a wee tad of schadenfreude, because, let’s face it, who doesn’t like seeing other people miserable? So long as it isn’t you, right?

Or maybe that’s just me.

Here we have Logan August Pyle, whose father, Gus, died four months earlier, leaving behind a young widow (Bennie, only four years older than Logan) who got all of Gus’s cash and the lake cabin. Logan was left with his boyhood home, a tract of land that other people want and are willing to pay for but which yields no monetary satisfaction for Logan, only a sense that he’s safeguarding his father’s legacy. Oh, and a watch he can’t find – Logan was left that, too.

Logan’s wife, Julie, works for a law firm, and by “works,” I mean she WORKS. All the time. She’s rarely home, and when she is, she is focused nearly solely on her and Logan’s four-year-old son, Owen. Logan, meanwhile, was supposed to complete his dissertation and become a doctor of literature, but with Julie’s pregnancy and the death of his father, well, you know how these things happen. They don’t happen – that’s what happens.

The real problem for Logan is that he is fast becoming a spectator in his own life.

I stand there, seemingly paralyzed, looking down. Julie’s on her side, one bare shoulder uncovered, and Owen’s back is pressed against her front, her arm wrapped around him and her hand tucked under his chin, and he clasps the hand with both of his, as if in prayer. Outside it’s begun to rain, hard, and raindrops slide down the windows, changing the light to liquid as it passes through the panes and collects on the bed, where the two of them lie curled together in such a way that it’s hard to tell where mother end and child begins. Is this hell or is it heaven? I have no idea.

Logan loves his son, and he loves his wife, but he’s jealous of both of them. He’s jealous of a lot of people, even if he can’t see it himself. His father was destroyed by a cancer that ate him up for four years, and Logan is being consumed by a disease as well: inactivity. He can’t even rake his lawn, much less work on his marriage and fatherhood.

But then one day, he catches Julie in an apparent compromising position, and he leaves. He grabs Owen and heads to the lake cottage where Bennie lives. Lest you think he heals, you would be wrong. Things go from awful to horrible. At one point, he “baptizes” both Owen and himself, believing that the two of them can be brand new. But when an adult is baptized, he accepts his shortcomings, professes faith that they can be corrected, and surges forth, determined to be a better person. In Logan’s case, he believes other people need more improvement than he does.

This is a funny, sweet, sad story, and I enjoyed it so much. Logan does some awful things – so does Julie, for that matter – and there are times you want to wring his neck. But you can’t help but like him, and that’s a testament to Emily Jeanne Miller’s writing. She creates characters who are pretty unlikeable, but she inspires us to like them anyway.

Give this book a try. It’s a quick read, and worth every minute.

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The King’s Pleasure

The King’s Pleasure
Heather Graham, writing as Shannon Drake (website)
Published by Open Road
Available on Amazon Kindle
382 pages
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
3 / 5 cupcakes

Well. I did not love this one. In fact, I struggled with it a LOT. I must have put it down three or four times, and had to force myself to pick it back up. It isn’t that this is a bad book, it’s just that I didn’t like the way it was written.

Let’s start with the pros:

  • You get a lot of English and French medieval history, which actually is rather interesting. Heather Graham, writing here as Shannon Drake, writes the Social Studies portion of the festivities in an entertaining fashion, not dry or dull at all.
  • Adrien MacLachlan is a hunka hunka burnin’ love, girls. Big, brawny, ultra masculine. Hair on the chest and a brogue to match. He loves his woman and will protect her – even from herself – at all costs.
  • Danielle D’Aville, our plucky heroine, is plucky indeed. And she’s very pretty. 
  • It’s fast-paced.
And that’s about it for the good stuff. 
Now we get to the negatives, and they are legion:
  • In the majority of sex scenes, Adrien all but rapes Danielle. For reals, people. He forces himself on her time and again. Now, we do see that she responds, but you’d have to be a box of rocks not to respond to him. She pushes against him, she pulls him to her. But for all of her robust responsiveness, she nonetheless refuses him, and he does not respect that. Look, I’m all for a feisty minx givin’ ‘er to her big man, but Danielle’s repeated resistance became kind of awkward and uncomfortable. 
  • The battle scenes got soooooo redundant. I felt like I read the same scene over and over again. After those times when I put the book down, I’d have to double and triple check to make sure I hadn’t misplaced my bookmark, because I would have SWORN I’d read some of that stuff beforehand.
  • The supporting characters are straight out of Central Casting. There is not an original one in the bunch, from the men who covet Danielle to the woman who wants Adrien. Can you believe they plot against our happy couple? I know! I’m shocked too.
  • The non-rape sex scenes are tepid. Yes, there is some hotness there, but not enough to keep you hooked. While we know that these two can rock that headboard right into next week, their couplings are pretty standard fare. Oh! There is a brief episode of spanky panky, so yet again, I can drag Christian Grey’s name into this review. Hey, Christian!
  • It’s just kind of … boring. 
Here is a little snippet:

He clenched and unclenched a fist, trying to ease some of the tension from his body. She had matured from a beautiful girl into a voluptuous and stunning woman. She was more fiercely independent than ever, as prickly as a wild rose, but in her he could still see the passion of the girl he had known with the healing hands, proud spirit, and undying courage.

Healing hands? Proud spirit? Undying courage? Um, okay.

If you dig history, then you might want to give this a try. In fact, history buffs might be all over it, maybe to fact check Ms. Graham / Drake’s assertions. But if you’re looking for a hot historical romance novel, this isn’t your best bet.

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Filed under historical romance, Not so Hot Romance Novel, someone other than Christian Grey likes to spank, sometimes the book just isn't good

On the Island

On the Island
Tracey Garvis Graves (website)
Published by Plume
Available on July 10
336 pages
Pre-order at Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes

When I was thirty, I doubt I even noticed sixteen-year-old boys. I’m pretty sure they were as nonexistent to me as my job as Bruce Springsteen’s back-up singer. I wanted a mature MAN, not a kid who hadn’t started shaving yet.

But.

What if I was stranded on a tropical island, Castaway styles, with a sixteen-year-old? What if he turns nineteen, I’m thirty-three, and we’re still on that island? What if we survive all manner of plane crashes, sharks, bats, jelly fish, rats, near starvation and broken collar bones? What if all we have is each other? Could that teenager become my lover?

This is the premise of Tracey Garvis Graves’ amazingly enjoyable On the Island. Anna Emerson has been hired by T.J. Callahan’s parents to be his tutor. T.J. is in remission from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, having missed quite a bit of school. His parents want to spend the summer in the Maldives, and the plan is for Anna to catch T.J. up with his schooling. The two must travel separately from T.J.’s parents, and their trip does not go smoothly. When the pilot of their small plane has a heart attack, they crash land on an uninhabited island. Anna and T.J. must now rely on each other to survive.

I had long since abandoned the notion that I held any kind of rank over T.J. I may have been older and had more life experience, but that didn’t matter on the island. We took each day as it came, addressing and solving problems together. 

This business-like partnership slowly evolves into something more. At least it was slow on Anna’s part; T.J. is attracted to her from the start. In fact, that’s one of the things I enjoyed about this book: as it alternates between Anna’s and T.J.’s points of view, T.J. is written realistically. He’s a horny teenage boy; he checks out Anna’s body, gets aroused, and thinks about sex all the time. But he waits for her to come around, and when she does, that’s also presented realistically. Anna knows that she’s experiencing more than tutor-student feelings for him. His post-chemo hair grows in, and he gets taller and more physically mature. When they do have sex for the first time, it isn’t so much an act of capitulation on her part as a realization that she likes him, he likes her, they want each other, and if being stranded on this island has taught her anything, it’s the pointlessness of postponing happiness.

Their relationship is not without its problems and challenges, though, and again, they are presented realistically. Anna is in her thirties and wants a family. T.J. is a teenager who is supposed to be doing keg stands and playing beer pong. But “Fantasy Island” effects change on the two of them, bringing them closer emotionally and physically.

The sexy times are hot; not Christian Grey or Gideon Cross hot, but hot. There aren’t many of them, either, so what Graves has makes sense. If there was scene after scene of Anna and T.J. rocking the headboard – or the coconut tree, as it were – their coupling would be prurient, rather than nicely hot.

Hey, it’s summer time. And for those of us who occasionally get tired of the older, experienced man with the younger, nubile girl, On the Island provides a terrific change of pace.

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Filed under beach fun, not another excuse to bring up Christian Grey again, romance

Just One of the Guys

Just One of the Guys
Kristan Higgins
Published by Harlequin Mira
384 pages
Available on Amazon.com
I bought this book my own darn self, thank you
4.5 / 5 cupcakes

In honor of the Sharing My Favorite Blog Giveaway, I read a Kristan Higgins book this week. I’ve read a lot of her books – I love her beyond words – and I find myself parsing them out, making sure I don’t read all of them all at once, because then I have to wait for the next one to get written.

Just One of the Guys is pretty standard Higgins fare. It’s set in the northeast (in this case, northern New York, as opposed to her more typical locales in New England, and features a young woman trying to find love while dealing with a colorful family.

Chastity Virginia O’Neill is the youngest of five kids, the other four being older brothers. Longtime family friend, Trevor Meade, is sort of an honorary brother, as much a part of the family as if DNA claimed him. When Chastity returns to Eaton Falls, her small hometown in upstate New York, after college, grad school, and establishing her journalism career, she also returns to the specter of Trevor. She has loved him since she was ten-years-old, a love that is largely unreciprocated. In search of romance, she meets Dr. Darling (seriously – that’s his name), and tries to see if she can love someone like she loves Trevor.

As with Higgins’ books, you know how this will end, but she gets you there in cute, humorous, sometimes heartbreaking ways. I did cry about four times while reading this. Chastity’s complete, consuming love for Trevor can only end in one of two ways, and because she misinterprets everything, she comes awfully close to having to settle for a life she doesn’t really want. What she wants is Trevor, and having had a brief taste of him when she was in college, she wants more.

He swallowed and gazed at me, serious and quiet. I could see him weighing the intelligence of what we were about to do, what we had already done, could see his hesitation. Because I’d loved him for so long, been crushed by my yearning for Trevor for so damn long, I slid my hands under his shirt and pulled it over his head. “Please stay,” I said, kissing his beautiful neck.

The only complaint I have about this book is that we don’t get to see the happy couple together romantically for more than a few pages. That’s the case with most of Higgins’ books, which may be why my favorite is My One and Only, in which our hero and heroine are trapped in a car together for chapters on end.

Kristan Higgins peppers her books with a lively cast of supporting characters, never more so than with this one. What with four brothers, some sisters-in-law, a passel of nieces and nephews, co-workers and firefighters, there are a LOT of people. You get to know most of them, but the danger is not getting to know Trevor as much as you want. A similar problem existed with Malone in Catch of the Day. It’s a compliment to Higgins that we want more of her heroes.

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Now, this is funny

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Sharing My Favorite Book Giveaway Hop: Enter, People!

Come on, kids! Enter to win your choice of any Kristan Higgins book!
She’s the perfect summer romance author.
 
sharing my favorite book giveaway hop

   

Sharing My Favorite Read Giveaway Hop is being hosted by Reading Romances!

WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN

What you can win here:  your choice of any Kristan Higgins book
Number of winners:  one (it could be YOU!)
Open to (INT, US or US/CAN):  US only
How to enter:  complete the Rafflecopter below.
Hop and enter the other giveaways!

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Haole Wood

Haole Wood
Dee DeTarsio
Published by Just Publishing
Available May 14, 2012
284 pages
Available on Amazon Kindle
Thanks to Dee DeTarisio for the preview
4 / 5 cupcakes

Those Hawaiians know how to have FUN, people. Let’s all move there today. I’m sure they would be thrilled.

First, a disclaimer: I received this from Dee DeTarsio in exchange for an honest review.

Second, a caveat: I cannot stand “guardian angels” in books. And I really don’t like it when authors use that hoary chestnut, “If only I had known” at the end of a chapter, just to force you to keep reading. And since a guardian angel and chapter cliffhangers show up in this book, you know my review will be honest.

So. Having said that …

I really liked this book.

Jaswinder Park ditches her job as a San Diego TV weekend weather girl to go spend a few days in Hawaii, bailing out her paternal grandmother. She assumes that she will be back in time to hit the airwaves, with nary a ripple in the Pacific Ocean to cause her stress. Well, as those chapter cliffhangers tell us, you should never, ever think that your plan is working perfectly. Because Jaswinder’s sure doesn’t.

First, she discovers that Halomi is in the old grey bar hotel because she was growing – and disbursing, in her own way – the marijuana. Then Jaswinder suffers a long-distance firing from her job. She gets drunk and has hot island sex under a banyan tree with a doctor. She gets sunburned. Halomi faces a murder charge, and then – AND THEN – her guardian angel, and a rather large guardian angel at that – shows up to “help.”

Got that? Good. Because it all happens in the introductory chapters.

Stuck (as if you could really be STUCK) in Hawaii, Jaswinder needs to prove her grandmother’s innocence and figure out what she wants out of life. The island changes her; in fact, the island is a character in itself in this book. She connects with the locals and her Hawaiian ancestry. And she makes mistakes. Oh, my, does she screw up, but that’s what I liked about her. She’s real. Her mistakes aren’t wearing the wrong top with the wrong skirt; they are jealousy over pretty women, presuming guilt and a healthy dose of selfishness.

In addition to being something of a mystery – who DID kill the guy Halomi is accused of murdering? – this is a romance. That dude Jaswinder rocked the banyan tree with turns out to be a dermatologist, and a hot one at that.

I didn’t want to think. I just wanted to touch and feel and taste … and bite and squeeze. Scratch and suck. I couldn’t believe my own hands were reaching down and pulling up his t-shirt, over and off his head. Hubba hubba. What a body. I couldn’t even remember his name but he remembered ien because he whispered it in my ear.

Now, there is not a lot of Hot Sexy Times in this book, but that’s okay. It isn’t one of those books, because it’s more about a woman trying to come to terms with her role in her family and her role in her own life. Jaswinder suffers from Second Born Syndrome, always feeling like she matters less than she does. She likens herself to Suellen O’Hara, Scarlett’s sister, who loses her boyfriend to her hotter older sister. Jaswinder, it appears, lost a love to her sister, but that thread is not developed very well. I would like to know more about what happened between the sisters. Even so, we definitely understand Jaswinder’s sense of not feeling as if she counts for much in her family. Yet who has to save the day?

About that guardian angel. He turns up, and I don’t really know why. Haole Wood doesn’t need him, and neither does Jaswinder. He offers her some guidance and insight, but nothing she couldn’t have come to on her own, or, better yet, with the aid of Halomi. Granted, Halomi doesn’t appear to have a firm grasp on the English language (her main means of communicating is to say “Not that”), but it would have added some nice depth for her to help her granddaughter the way the angel does.

Even with that and the “If only I’d known” cliffhangers at the end of chapters, this is a sweet, delightful, fun book. I laughed out loud in quite a few places. Jaswinder is sassy and feisty, bless her. And her voice is so real – confused at some points, hopeful at others, snarky and sarcastic most of the time. She uses self-deprecation and snark to protect herself, and learning to lower that shield takes some time.

This is a terrific summer beach read. I mean, if you’re going to read about Hawaii sun and surf, you might as well enjoy it yourself in some fashion, right?

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Filed under family, fun characters, romance, What happens in Hawaii makes me want to visit