Monthly Archives: April 2013

Hockey Hop

Toni Aleo a wife, mother of two and a bulldog, and also a hopeless romantic is the author of the fabulous Assassins Hockey Series — Join us for the celebration of the re-release of The Assassins Hockey Series including: Taking Shots; Trying to Score and Empty Net – on sale 4/23/13:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Heart of Palm

Heart of Palm
by Laura Lee Smith
496 pages
Published by Grove Press
Genre: literature
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5 cupcakes

Utina, Florida, sounds like one big, sweaty armpit. If nothing else, it appears to be the place you go when your dreams die.

For the Bravo family, it’s the place where most everything dies. Frank Bravo, the middle son, would rather stick his toes in a cool mountain lake, but there he is, sweating it out in Utina, working in the family bar. His mother, Arla, lives in the family home with his older sister, Sophia. The two are at constant odds, usually over trivial matters, as Frank attempts to run interference.

Thanks to its location, Utina is ripe for development, and soon the Bravos are pursued by a real estate broker wishing to buy their property. Frank resists, as does his mother. Older brother Carson, however, would like to make this deal. Carson has an urgent financial need to make money, and he is not bothered in the slightest by his brother’s reluctance to do so. Frank is a mere annoyance for Carson.

The two boys share more than DNA: both love the same woman, with Carson being the one to marry her. Elizabeth soon leaves Carson, moving in with Arla and Sophia, as the potential development deal comes to a head, caused in large part by the return of Dean Bravo, Arla’s estranged husband and the father of her children.

While this could be the story of small town USA versus big money developers, it’s really about family and all that it entails. Sure, there is love between the Bravos – even between Frank and Carson. We spend more time in Frank’s head than any other character, and it’s hard not to like him. His intentions are usually honorable, even when Elizabeth is involved. And Carson is a bit of a pig, so it makes it easy to side with Frank. Sophia’s fragility concerns us. Can she be happy? And what about Arla? And what about Dean? Daddy comes home at last?

This is a slow, evocative book, one in which the setting is as dominant a character as the humans. Utina feels oppressive with its heat and stickiness. You can’t seem to defeat either, and sweat permeates everything. It makes for a striking symbol, one we can’t avoid considering when we think about the characters.

Lest this seem like too much of a Tennessee Williams play, you should know that there is a lot of humor at play here. Laura Lee Smith writes with great affection for her characters, and the playful scenes are timed perfectly.

Read it, and come back and tell me what you thought, especially about the ending. And tell me if you were impervious to Frank Bravo. I sure wasn’t.

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Filed under literature, not quite a Chamber of Commerce ad for Utina Florida

Making It

Making It
by Helen Klein Ross
Published by Pocket Star
300 pages
Genre: women’s lit
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5

Sometimes you read a book and discover that there is no one worth rooting for in the tome. None of the characters are even all that likable.

Such is the case with Making It.

Audrey is a fortysomething woman caught in the throes of a staid, predictable life. She has spent twenty-two years as the breadwinner for her husband, teenage son, and herself, working as an ad woman for a New York agency. Due to a computer snafu, Audrey believes she has been fired. She spends the ensuing hours imagining what her life will become, what will become of her son and husband as well, all while hosting her husband’s birthday party.

But then it turns out she wasn’t fired after all. So all of that ruminating – all of those “this is what I will change” thoughts – for nothing, because Audrey proceeds to change absolutely zilch about her life. She heads right back to work, makes no effort to spend more time with her son, and falls back into the same routines with her husband.

And so it would go for her, except that her firm is sold to a larger one, and her predictable life finally begins to change. Audrey soon begins working closely with her new Indian boss, the exotic Kabal Prakesh, to whom she finds herself quite attracted. Perhaps Audrey’s life will take an even more interesting turn.

Unfortunately, by the time this happens, you might not care.

Audrey seemingly is incapable of learning anything, and is apparently devoid of any self-introspection whatsoever. What’s worse is that she knows she needs to make changes in her life; she sees that she should spend more time with her son, who is about to head off to college. She realizes that she is not a good wife to her husband. But yet all of that self-knowledge is very much on the surface. It’s as if she thinks she deserves commendation for recognizing her foibles, even if she refuses to do anything about them.

Kabal supposedly represents the Audrey that Could Have Been. Will she give in and sleep with him? What if she does? Will anything change in her life? We know her well enough at this point to predict that nothing would. In fact, her dithering about whether she should or should not is frustrating, to say the least.

It isn’t as if her husband is any more likable. He’s just as dull and uninspiring as she is. If we are meant to feel sympathy for Kabal, with his arranged marriage wife back in India, that doesn’t happen either. Kabal is a bit of a rhymes-with-tick. He knows it, Audrey knows it, and everyone associated with him knows it. Like Audrey, he doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to improve upon his weaknesses.

So why read this book? Because it’s good. Helen Klein Ross knows how to tell a story, and if her characters are not quite people you would want as friends, it makes her story all the more believable. Audrey certainly is not too good to be true, and her perfect-on-the-outside life is relatable. How many of us don’t have problems we know need addressing, but we are too content with how predictable our lives are to change anything? Yep. I thought so. Me too.

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Along Came Trouble

Along Came Trouble
by Ruthie Knox
Published by Loveswept
Genre: romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5

It’s one thing to have a famous brother, one known as much for his good looks and womanizing than any discernible talent. It’s something else entirely when your famous brother falls in love with your pregnant neighbor, dumps her, and then leaves you and the ex-girlfriend to manage the horde of paparazzi that descends on your otherwise quaint little burb.

Such is the situation for single mother Ellen Callahan, whose quiet Ohio life gets knocked off kilter by her pop star brother’s fame, so much so that her brother hires a security guard.

Girls. We should all be so lucky as to need a security guard if they come looking (and acting and thinking and kissing and … uh … yeah) like Caleb Clark, an Iraqi war vet. The two aren’t exactly smitten at first sight, largely because Ellen is irate that her brother hired a security firm without consulting her first. Worse, Caleb appears inclined toward digging up a beloved tree that Ellen planted.

Ellen happens to like her life with her preschooler son, having made peace with her painful divorce. It isn’t that Caleb is wrong for her, either. He’s actually exactly what she needs. Only in true romance novel fashion, it takes Ellen a while to figure that out for herself. Meanwhile, her brother and neighbor have to work things out, and then there is the matter of that pesky ex-husband.

Sure, it’s predictable. But it’s fun, and I’ll take fun predictability over dull anything else any day. The love scenes are good – not the hottest I’ve read, but nonetheless steamy and with just the right amount of detail. After reading them, you will want to clobber Ellen upside the head.

As we enter beach reading season, consider this one a good option. Fun, romantic, and escapist.

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Filed under cute romance, hot headboard rockin', hot hero