Monthly Archives: July 2013

Recipe for Disaster

Recipe for Disaster
by Nina Harrington
Published by Harlequin UK
231 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5

What you have here is a cute story with characters you’ll enjoy, spoiled by a “what in the world?” sex scene.

Bunty Brannigan inherited her parents’ deli and is determined to make it successful, despite having been disowned by her mother’s successful Italian family, they of the Caruso cookbooks and pastas. Bunty ghost writes her cousin’s cookbooks, helping generate even more money for the Caruso coffers. When she turns thirty, she is awarded a secret inheritance, one that throws the Carusos and Brannigan’s Deli into disarray. Fortunately, there is an attractive Italian lawyer to help her adjust to her new surroundings.

So a cute premise. Bunty has the requisite merry band of friends to support her, and Fabio Rossi turns out to be a comely solicitor who truly solicits. Ba dum dum.

The problem is that there is a sort of sex scene that proves to be a head scratcher. It is completely unnecessary and serves to do nothing other than throw the story off its stride. Yeah, I know. Me? Complain about a gratuitous sex scene? I am all astonishment. Well, I am too, but use this as an example of the nearing apocalypse. I’m all for rocking the headboard, but this scene is just ill-conceived.

Otherwise, it’s a capable tale and a nice choice for some light summer reading.

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The Husband’s Secret

The Husband’s Secret
by Liane Moriarty
Published by Putnam Adult
416 pages
Genre: literature, women’s literature
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
5 / 5

This is one of those books that I needed to think about and sort of digest before I could write about it. It’s that good.

Who amongst us doesn’t worry about what secrets our loved ones will discover about us after we die? Perhaps a stray email or a photo that looks suspicious. Some of us even write letters to our families, letters they only can read after we die.

That is the premise for this strong, solid book: Cecile happens upon a letter written in her husband’s handwriting, addressed to her, and stating that it is to be opened upon his death. Unfortunately, she finds it while he’s still alive.

Cecile manages to put off opening the envelope; those of you in need of a speedy resolution need to reconnect with your patience, because we do not learn the contents of that envelope until about 200 pages in. By that point, we know Cecile, dynamo stay-at-home mom and Tupperware saleswoman. She’s the sort who makes and freezes two lasagnes, returns umpteen emails, and schedules appointments all before her husband and children wake up. That she does it with a smile and aplomb makes her even more enviable. But we like her, if only because she admits that she occasionally parents better when there is an audience.

We also have gotten to know Tess, who runs an advertising agency with her husband Will and cousin Felicity. Tess and her cousin have been best friends since they exited their wombs, although Tess wonders how much of that friendship was a boost to her own ego because Felicity was morbidly obese until about six months ago. She lost a lot of weight, became gorgeous, and Tess is happy for her. Happy, that is, until Will and Felicity announce they are in love.

Then there is Rachel, a seventy-year-old school office worker who continues to struggle, over thirty years later, with the unsolved murder of her daughter. Rachel revels in her grandson, whom she can dote on and adore. But then her son announces that his wife has accepted a job in New York, halfway across the world from their home in Sydney, Australia, and Rachel plummets into sadness.

The three women’s stories overlap, and we slowly become aware of how. There is a mystery here – who killed Rachel’s daughter – and its solution unleashes catastrophic consequences. Moriarty frames her story with that of Pandora, asking if Pandora was all that smart in opening up the box. That becomes one of the central questions: are we better off knowing each other’s secrets, or is ignorance truly bliss?

Just as gripping as the mystery is the sense of pending doom for Cecile, Tess, and Rachel. Moriarty tends to this mood of suspenseful despair by taking us fully into the minds of her characters. We know Cecile’s desperation to understand her husband. We grieve with Rachel. We feel anger and frustration with Tess. As they maneuver their ways through these few weeks of their lives, their search for contentment becomes important for us as well. Therein lies Moriarty’s success as a writer: she makes us care.

While the Pandora allusion works, there are two other metaphors at play that are more intriguing. Cecile’s daughter is obsessed with the Berlin Wall, and as she learns more about it, she is surprised to discover that some East and West Germans were nonplussed with the wall’s destruction; they were comfortable with it, and the freedoms its removal ushered in discomfited them. We understand this, especially as Cecile confronts the letter.

Perhaps the more intriguing metaphor, however, is Cecile’s job. It is no accident that she sells containers. Cecile’s life is all about containment and storage, with each piece knowing its spot. Oldest daughter Isabel’s burgeoning womanhood disturb’s Cecile because it does not fit; she needs to create a new container for this part of parenting. When she learns what her husband wanted her to know only after his death, she must confront the dismantling of all of her storage bins. They burst open and force her to reorganize her carefully arranged life.

You will find yourself asking several “what ifs” as you read this book. What would you do? How would you react?

You also will find yourself wondering what your family will discover about you when you die.

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The Mistress (The Original Sinners Series)

The Mistress (The Original Sinners Series)
by Tiffany Reisz
Published by Harlequin MIRA
464 pages
Genre: erotica, mystery
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

Let me begin by saying that I truly enjoy this series. I’ve loved Nora Sutherlin and Søren Stearns (that’s Father Stearns to the rest of you people) since my first introduction to them in Seven Day Loan. Yes, even then I was drawn to Søren, cold and remote as he appeared in that novella. As I got to know him (and her) in The Siren, The Angel, and The Prince (I, uh, owe you that one), my feelings only grew stronger. I am drawn to the two of them and their story, even as I get frustrated with some of Nora’s decisions. And Søren’s too, for that matter.

So it is with a heavy heart that I write this review.

Warning: this review will refer to the previous books in the series, which means spoilers will be revealed. If you haven’t read them and prefer to know nothing, skip this review.

The story itself is fine. When we last saw Nora, she had been kidnapped by Kingsley’s crazy, presumed dead sister, after spending a week with Wesley, during which she agreed to marry him. Søren must rescue his Little One, and since he loves Nora and Kingsley loves Søren, Kingsley goes too. Wesley joins them, as does Grace (you might recall her as the wife of Nora’s editor Zachary) and Laila, Søren’s niece. With an army like that, Crazy Not Dead Sister ought not to have a chance, right? Well, she is crazy. And crazy people tend to wreak havoc.

So the merry troupe of BDSM-ers and vanilla lovers heads off to reclaim Nora. The cat and mouse game of “will they or won’t they” is almost secondary, though, to the rest of the tale, which focuses on the relationship(s) between Nora, Søren, and Kingsley.

As with previous books, we do not get into Søren’s head, which Tiffany Reisz uses to her (and our) advantage. He’s supposed to be mysterious and aloof and arrogant and even a bit despotic. Do we really want to know what he’s thinking, the way we know Nora’s and Kingsley’s thoughts? No. We may think we do, but we don’t. In addition to Nora and Kingsley, we also get Wesley’s, Laila’s, and Grace’s points of view as well. Yes, it’s a crowded landscape.

But just because Reisz doesn’t take us into Søren’s mind doesn’t mean we don’t get to know him better. To stay alive, Nora must perform a Scheherazade-type spinning of tales at the behest of Kingsley’s sister. She gives us more details about the progression of her relationship with Søren, letting us get closer to him. Kingsley also opens up, as does Søren himself. And there is one of the issues I had: Søren (and Nora and Kingsley) makes a point to tell us about his walls and how hard he works to maintain his distance, yet twice now, he allows himself to get close to a woman not named Nora Sutherlin, first with a reporter in one of the previous books and now with Grace. It turns out he likes to talk, and he forms a closeness with these women that belies all that we’ve come to believe about him from Nora. He even confides somewhat in Wesley. Come on, Søren!

Something else I’ve noticed about these books is that there is progressively less sex in them the longer the series goes on. There are some scenes at the end, and they almost feel gratuitous, as if Tiffany Reisz realized she forgot to include them in the first place. One in particular flat out pissed me off, largely because it seemed silly and unnecessary, especially when it appears there was an unintended (or perhaps intended after all) consequence.

What sex there is, though, is nicely written and pretty hot. Reisz certainly fully develops her characters, but GOOD GRIEF, it’s been five books now, so you’d hope she would have a handle on them. At some point, though, it feels as if she’s trying to force us to love them as much as she does.

And now we get to the point where this all goes terribly awry: clearly there will be another book.

I adore these characters. I do. I am Team Søren all the way, and if I had the chance, I’d sit at his feet too. Amongst other things. But there is a danger in writers falling in love with their characters because it manifests itself in the writer being unable to say good-bye. It’s time. It’s time to let them go, Tiffany Reisz. It’s time to write about other characters and send Søren, Nora, Kingsley, and the rest of the kids off to their fictional heavens and hells. The way you ended this book does not bode well for the next installment, and it actually made me feel sad and a bit angry. I thought it would be over. I am ready for it to be over.

You need to be ready too. You need to just … stop. Write a quick novella to wrap it all up if you must, but end it. It’s time. In fact, it’s past due.

UPDATE: I exchanged a Twitter conversation with Tiffany Reisz, to whom I owe a huge thank you, about how this book ends. She says that this is the end of the story and that there will be no more books divulging what happens from this point on. I have to tell you how much I appreciate that as a reader and how much that makes me admire her. There will be more books, but those will be prequels telling us how Søren’s and Nora’s relationship began and progressed. Happy claps all around.

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Filed under erotica, it's really time for this series to end, spanky panky

Complete Me

Complete Me (The Stark Trilogy)
by J. Kenner
Published by Bantam
322 pages
Genre: erotica; romance; mystery
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

This is the third book of a trilogy, so here is a big fat warning for you: this review will contain spoilers from the first two books.

Oh, Damien Stark. You hot, hot, HOT man, you. So tortured, so gorgeous, so successful and rich and sexually sublime. Where are you in my life?

When we first met Damien in Release Me, he was a mysterious former tennis prodigy turned corporate superstar. He sees Nikki Fairchild across the room at a party he’s hosting and he instantly is drawn to her. Those of us reading the book perhaps wondered why; Nikki’s fine and all, a former pageant queen, but is she worthy? Of Damien Stark? Uh, no.

But as we get to know our happy couple into Claim Me, we could start to see the attraction. Both Nikki and Damien suffered abuse, albeit in very different forms. Nikki was used by her mother for pageant fame and success, forced into being someone she wasn’t. Damien’s abuse was physical and at the hands of his coach. Both reacted by needing control: for Nikki, it comes in the form of cutting herself; for Damien, it is manifested in his need for BDSM. They recognize this in each other and it cements their bond.

And now we come to the end of the trilogy, where we must face Damien’s murder charges in Germany, onslaughts from a mysterious source, and Damien and Nikki’s continuing need for each other and a “normal” relationship.

The plot is serviceable. We get caught up in the mystery surrounding Damien’s court case, and by now we are fully invested in his and Nikki’s relationship. We even like her more, if for no other reason than Damien does. His need for her is so immense that it almost overwhelms us, not to mention her. To her credit, Nikki occasionally is mystified by Damien’s obsession with her. We hear ya, sister. However, even I can concede that she’s good for him. She understands him the way he needs to be understood; she knows what he doesn’t say as much as what he does, and she translates his facial expressions and small gestures.

Yes, there are some overwrought moments. We’ve come to expect those from this series. Nikki is a pageant queen from Texas, and if it’s possible to overreact to something, she might just do it. Some of her problem-solving skills frustrate us to distraction, even as we know that she means well. She really does.

The mystery occasionally feels forced, as if Kenner thinks she needs it in order for us to keep reading. That part could have been better written, although let’s be honest. We don’t read these for the mystery hooks, do we?

Now, the sexy times. Girls, strap on your vibrators, because there is some super scorching headboard rockin’ going on here. Damien doesn’t just know how to bed a woman, he knows how to talk about it. His words get you as ready as anything he does with his hands and lips. And other things. The best part is that sex for Damien is a way to connect with Nikki and the way he knows to show her that he loves her. So her pleasure – how she feels when he’s with her – is his priority.

Too bad he’s a fictional fantasy, right?

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Filed under erotica, hot headboard rockin', mystery, romance, someone other than Christian Grey likes to spank

The Life List

The Life List
by Lori Nelson Spielman
Published by Bantom
378 pages
Genre: chick lit, literature
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
5 / 5

I have mother issues. I’ll admit that straight away. I don’t know if it’s because I’m adopted or if my mother was not all that fabulous or what, but I have mother issues. When I read books with good mothers in them (and I’m looking at you, Mrs. March), I get wistful and flat out jealous. I wish I’d had a good mom. I wish I could be a good mom.

So as I read this book, I found myself wondering how you get to be the sort of mother who just knows what your child needs, who knows what your child is thinking before the child is even aware of what’s going through her mind. Gosh, do I wish I had a mother like that. And gosh, do I ever wish I could be that mother.

When Brett’s mother dies, she is bereft with grief. And then she becomes confused and a bit angry, because Mom’s cosmetics empire is not left to Brett, but rather her imperious sister-in-law. Everything else apparently goes to Brett’s brothers, and all Brett is left with is a list. Not just any list, but a to-do list that Brett created when she was a girl. Mom refuses to leave any inheritance to Brett until she completes the to-do list, and she has one year to get it done.

Brett is stunned. One of the things on the list is to buy a horse. Another is to have a relationship with her father, and that one is particularly problematic because dear old Dad is dead. Fall in love? Brett thinks she has that one, thanks to her boyfriend Andrew. Have a baby? Does Andrew want kids?

There are ten things in all that Brett must do, and of course as she completes her tasks, she receives the greatest inheritance her mother could leave: Brett becomes the person her mother knew she could be. Along the way, much of what Brett thinks she knows is proven wrong, just as you’d expect would happen.

This is written so clearly and enjoyably that you can’t help but get hooked on Brett’s story. We see some of the solutions to her task before she does, much like her mother could do. But we also find ourselves in Brett’s shoes, thinking we know how something will turn out, only to have life zig when we expect a zag. Brett is not perfect; there are times she is agonizingly blind or nearly insufferable with self-righteousness. But she’s so darn likable that she invests you fully and completely in her story. At one point, I found myself crying, and I wasn’t even sure why. I just wanted her to find love, and every time it seemed as if she had, circumstances would change. I don’t just mean romantic love, either. Her relationship with one of her older brothers is prickly at best, and then there is that whole dad thing.

You may find yourself thinking about the you you wanted to become when you were fourteen. Are you that person? Would you want to be? And if you aren’t, what’s stopping you?

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I Wished for You
by Amy Huberman
Published by Penguin
436 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5

Do you ever read a book and think to yourself, “This author is trying WAY too hard?” Perhaps there is too much – too much plot, too much sex (wait … what?), too much cuteness, too much effort. There is a prevailing sense of desperation to make you laugh or think or cry or something.

Such is the case with this book.

The premise is solid: Grace is a bridesmaid in yet another wedding, and as she approaches thirty, what everyone wants to know is when she’ll be the one in the fluffy white dress. She and solid boyfriend Robbie bought a house together, he keeps saying they will get married some day. But … when she catches the bouquet, she sees Robbie’s face fall. Doubts creep in, even if Grace is unaware of them. Does she want to marry Robbie after all? And so she heads to a kitschy place in Ireland where one makes wishes that will come true. Is Robbie who Grace wishes to have, or is there another man out there who will capture her heart?

See? Solid premise. The problem is that Huberman TRIES TOO HARD. The little stories that populate this book, whether from explaining how Grace nearly drowned in a fountain or how she and Robbie came to have a cat, get tedious. Just when you get into the rhythm of the story, here comes Huberman with another cutesy memory of Grace’s, another “gosh, aren’t we fun!” story, that serves no purpose other than to annoy us readers. Grace is lovely. Her friends are a bit cookie cutter-ish in that friends-with-quirks kind of way, but that’s not so bad, actually. We can’t get to know them, truly, because the pacing keeps getting interrupted. What clearly is meant to draw us closer to the story and characters instead pushes us away.

At times it almost reads like you’re watching a stand up routine at Vinnie’s Yuk Yuk Club, and I found myself wondering what this book would have been like without all of the blatant attempts at humorous shtick. Yes, parts of it are funny. Yes, parts are sweet and heartwarming. Yes, parts sort of break your heart. Yes, yes, yes. But wrapped around this book is an overwhelming sense of Try Hard.

And it doesn’t work.

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Kiss the Bride

Kiss the Bride
by Jody Wallace
Published by Entangled: Ever After
115 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

Did you happen to see the Patrick Dempsey movie called “Made of Honor”? If so, this book will seem a bit familiar. Even so, as far as fun books are concerned, this one fits that bill just fine.

Caroline and Herman Edward Heckley, III, aka “Heck,” have known each other their entire lives, and for those thirty-four years, Caro has loved Heck. But he considers her his BFF and nothing more. A girl can only wait so long, however, and since Caro’s boyfriend asked, she decides she might as well get married, even if it’s to the wrong man. A girl typically asks her bestie to be her maid of honor, though, right? So Caro asks Heck to stand in for her. Naturally, during this process, Heck discovers that he might not want to be just friends.

Yes, it’s completely transparent, but it’s fun and silly and worth the $1.99. Another one of Caro’s friends sees what Caro and Heck won’t admit to each other and conspires to force them to face reality, and that part gives you the meat of the plot. There is a hot – and I mean nice and hot – bit of headboard rockin’, such that you will wonder how any woman with half a brain would settle for being Heck’s friend, unless it’s a friend with benefits. Granted, there are times that either Caro or Heck – or both – is so aggravatingly blind that you might find yourself getting frustrated with their apparent cluelessness.

This is one of those books that knows its place. You will not be asked to confront any of life’s pressing questions, nor will you stay up late trying to figure out what happened (I’m looking at you, Dangerous Girls), but your time with this novella will be worth it, if for no other reason than that sex scene.

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Filed under chick lit, not much hot headboard rockin' but what there is is HOT