Category Archives: blah romance

Review: An American Girl in Italy

american girl in italy

American Girl in Italy

by Aubrie Dionne
Published by HarperImpulse
182 pages
Genre: romance, women’s fiction
2.5 / 5

Summary:

An Italian paradise is the last thing she wants… but the one thing she needs!

Surely any girl would kill for the chance to tour Italy’s most famous cities for the summer? To experience the warmth of the Tuscan sun, the culinary delights of the pizzerias and cafés and to stroll along the cobbled streets of the City of Love itself…

Any girl apart from ambitious oboist Carly Davis that is! For her, the Easthampton Civic Symphony’s latest European tour is one massive inconvenience. She can’t even put her smartphone down long enough to snap a picture of the Coliseum.

Only, there’s one Italian attraction that Carly hadn’t quite expected to be a part of the tourist route…

Tour guide Michelangelo is as dark and delicious as Carly’s morning espresso. And when she needs a few lessons in the language of love to land her an important gig, he’s a more than capable tutor.

But with her promising career back in Boston, can Carly really afford to lose her heart in Italy?

My Review:

Well ….

The good news is that it is a short, quick read. And Dionne peppers the book with references to Italian culture and food and that sort of thing. Oh, and Michelangelo is gorgeous and swarthy, just like I like my Hot Heroes to be.

It’s just that Carly is so insipid that I ceased caring about whether or not she was happy, and I even started hoping that Michelangelo would find someone else. She worries, for a bit, that he did, but in truth Michelangelo is distracted by some family financial problems, the existence of which leads him to the tour guide job in the first place.

I did enjoy reading about the orchestra and Carly’s playing, and of course I enjoyed reading about Michelangelo. The rest of the book sort of fell flat for me. Maybe it’s because I really really wanted it to be good. I tend to enjoy books set in Italy, and I was looking forward to this one. I wanted my Hot Hero to have some Hot Headboard Rockin’, and I wanted to like the heroine.

I read this book a few weeks ago, and I can’t remember if there is any Hot Headboard Rockin’, so that ought to tell you something right there.

Still, though, it’s a cute, quick read. Not my particular flavor, but it has its merits.

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Sleeping with Dogs and Other Lovers: A Second Acts Novel

Sleeping with Dogs and Other Lovers
by Julia Dumont
Published by BroadLit
254 pages
Genre: romance; chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
2 / 5 cupcakes

My first thought upon finishing this book: what in the hell was this book about?

My second thought: thank goodness that’s over.

Here is your basic plot: Cynthia has started a matchmaking business, determined to use her time honed skills of sussing out who’s right for whom to help out the lovelorn. An ex boyfriend shows up to test her limits, and she has to decide whether she wants to try again with him.

Oh, and dogs. There are dogs here too. One of Cynthia’s clients owns some dogs, one of whom seems to be telepathic and other worldly.

Emphasis on “seems to be,” because we never really know. In fact, the vast quantities of things we never really know could make up a book in themselves.

Parts of this are funny and entertaining. Cynthia has a somewhat predictable relationship with her mother – there is nothing new here, and you will feel as if you’ve read it before – and her first client, Lolita, is unique.

But not enough is interesting. It’s as if you are reading synopses of previously published books, because this feels like you’ve read it before. And that, my little book loving friends, is not a good sign for a novel. Even the sex scenes are a snooze-fest.

The good news: it’s a quick read.

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Where the Heart Lies

Where the Heart Lies
Michelle Garren Flye
Published by Carina Press
215 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
3 / 5 cupcakes

When someone asks me who I respect, I always answer, “Military spouses.” There are some things in this world that I know I cannot do, and saying goodbye to my husband as he heads off to war is one of them. I just can’t. And Michelle Garren Flye’s Where the Heart Lies only cements that sentiment.

Alicia Galloway promised her Marine husband Troy that they could move back to his North Carolina hometown. It isn’t a burden, really, because her parents are dead, and the couple have a daughter about to start kindergarten. Being near Troy’s parents will help, especially considering Alicia is expecting their second child.

But Troy doesn’t come home from Afghanistan, and with his death, Alicia first must deliver their son, Jason, by herself, and then keeps her promise to her husband.

Before Alicia has a chance to get settled, she meets Penny, a neighbor who briefly dated Troy in high school and has an eighteen-year-old daughter of her own. The second person Alicia meets is Liam, Troy’s best friend from high school, who shows up with a bag of groceries and says that he’s keeping his own promise to Troy; he will watch over Alicia and the kids.

Alicia is impressed, not to mention immediately attracted to him. But wait. Her husband just died. Why does she have the steamin’ undies for another man? Penny tries to warn her, as do various townspeople. Liam is trouble, they say. He will break your heart. But Liam is interested in her, and she him.

Uh oh.

Alicia knows exactly what she wants, but she is paralyzed with fear when it comes to going after it. What will people say? What will her in-laws say? Can she and Liam even have a relationship? Can this work out? Whether it does or not really is due to no help from Alicia herself, because she causes more problems for her own darn self than any other character. Some family secrets emerge, some of which we see coming pages before Flye confirms our suspicions.

As for rocking the headboard, while it happens, it is not terribly detailed. For the most part, we get kissing and caressing, which is written well enough that we feel the attraction between Liam and Alicia.

The problem with this book is that there is no mystery here. We know how it will end, and, like I said, the big shocking bombshell is so obvious that you keep wondering why no one else seems to know about it. Alicia is sweet, and we want her to be happy. Liam seems fantastic, so all of the whisperings and warnings about how awful he is and how he will break her heart don’t make a lot of sense.

This is one of those books that won’t make a huge impression on you, but is pleasant to read. If nothing else, you’ll want to follow Alicia to make sure she doesn’t screw up anything beyond repair.

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Wicked and Wonderful

Wicked and Wonderful
Valerie King
Published by Zebra (Regency Romance)
274 pages
First published September 2005
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
2 / 5 cupcakes

The title of this book is quite misleading. Not only is the subject matter neither wicked nor wonderful, the characters cannot be labeled as such either.

Judith Lovington escaped a Bad Situation by running off to join a traveling troupe of actors and performers. The group winds up on the grounds of Lord Kelthorne, who has a reputation of being quite the rogue. He and Judith meet cute (in an apple orchard … forbidden fruit and all that) and instantly are attracted to each other.

But of course, this being a romance novel and all, true love takes a while to reveal itself. Raw lust? Not so much. That clicks pretty much immediately. Judith has to slay her personal dragons, and Kelthorne needs to figure out if he’s going to marry the woman his sisters selected for him.

It isn’t that this is not an amusing little book – it is. It won’t challenge you on any level, and you may find it a pleasant diversion. But if you are looking for a Hot Romance Novel, this is NOT the book for you. There is not Hot Romance. There is no rocking of the headboard. There are a few passionate kisses and lingering embraces, but no one’s bodice is ripped open, no one’s breeches are strained by a throbbing organ, and no one experiences bliss amongst the bedding. And that, my friends, make this just a so-so book for me.

Valerie King creates decent characters, but … it just is not a riveting book. I need more, Valerie King. I need some Hot Romance! However, if you want a tame, sweet little story, this is for you.

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Valley of Fire

Sometimes while reading, I will imagine a soundtrack for the book. In the case of Janelle Taylor’s Valley of Fire, that soundtrack is limited to this chorus: “A little less conversation, a little more action, please.”


Look, I admire authors. Writing a book is not easy, and I doff my wig to them at every opportunity. But sometimes, let’s face it, a book just is not good. Sometimes, a book just flat out is awful.

As far as Valley of Fire is concerned, the problems lie in repetition, failure to create engaging characters, and an entirely predictable story line. But mostly, the problem is in how it’s written. Ms. Taylor’s descriptive phrases are laugh out loud awful, to the point that I found myself saying out loud, on more than one occasion, “Who the hell published this crap?” There are some paragraphs in which every sentence begins with the same word. Hello, sentence variety? Do we not know about it?

And the talking. The talking, the talking, the talking. Good grief. There are more conversations in this book than I hold in a year. And every last one of them springs from a well of the ridiculous. Brandy Alexander (for reals, people – that is her name) is a novelist specializing in, well, I can’t really say. Historical romance? Science fiction? It seems to change. But anyway. She’s writing a book and needs to research Las Vegas and its environs. While there, she nearly dies of heat exhaustion, but is rescued by the strappingly virile and handsome Steven Winngate, who also happens to be – of course – very, very rich. He comes to believe that she’s researching him for one of her books, so he decides to get back at her. OF COURSE they fall for each other. Like, duh.

Over lunch, during one of their interminable conversations, she confesses to all manner of inner thoughts and personal motivations. Why? Don’t ask me. I can’t tell you. All I know is that I lost 30 minutes of my life reading that mess that I will never get back. I also wasted too much time reading Ms. Taylor’s lengthy descriptions of Steven’s and Brandy’s bodies and what they were wearing. To whit:

Sturdy legs agilely straddled the motor in his jeans. [THE MOTOR IN HIS JEANS??? Oh, my God. Again, the editor. WHERE IS THE EDITOR?] He sat the girl before him, careful to keep her legs and ankles away from the hot engine and tailpipe. He placed her left leg across his right thigh and her right leg over his left thigh. He removed his yellow bandana which served to entrap his perspiration as well as dress up his western attire. He bound her hands together and slipped them over his head, allowing them to rest around his narrow and firm waist [well, of course it’s NARROW AND FIRM, because we wouldn’t want to be anything less than predictable] where not an ounce of excess flesh was permitted to exist [!!!!!!!!]. The span of his muscular chest and the measured reach of her bound arms brought their heated bodies into close contact. 

It goes on. And on and on and on.

I can’t really explain the plot of this dreck, because, quite frankly, there isn’t much of one. You’ll get pages – and I mean PAGES – of Brandy explaining how difficult it is to write novels and love scenes and deal with editors. You’ll have to sift through pages of what it means to be a woman trying to work and have it all. And pages of Steven yapping about, well, not much, really.

Then there are the love scenes. Picture every hackneyed euphemism, amplify it by 1000%, and you have the sexy times in this book. Tongues lap around nipples, heat surges through bodies, kisses that shatter, hungry mouths, and passionate lovin’ that takes them to the edge of reality and completion.

Unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, which is written badly and edited worse, Valley of Fire has nothing going for it. There is not a captivating story here, nor are there interesting characters.

Do yourself a favor and avoid Valley of Fire. I read it so you don’t have to.

Published by Severn House Publishing Ltd. and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks (I guess) to NetGalley for the preview.

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Just a Wish Away

When you are twelve-years-old and believe that you’ve already met the man of your dreams, where do you go? What do you do? Wait? Commit? Flee?

This is the conundrum facing Alexa in Barbara Freethy’s novel, Just a Wish Away. Alexa spends her summers in Sand Harbor Beach, a tiny vacation haven on the coast of Washington state. She lives for the time she spends there, where she connects with her father’s family and, more importantly, Braden, her best friend and summer pal. Only Alexa wants more than summer friendship. When the two find a blue bottle, half buried in the sand, they imagine that a genie springs from it, and they make a wish. Alexa’s is for Braden to love her.

Fifteen years later, Alexa returns to Sand Harbor, a rare trip back in the ensuing years since she was twelve. Her parents divorced after the wish was made, and her mother moved her east. Braden stayed behind, but not for long. At twenty, he married and enlisted in the Army. Alexa quickly discovers that Braden is out of the Army and out of his marriage.

At first, Braden takes a backseat to the reason Alexa is back in town: her Aunt Phoebe was injured during a break-in at her antiques shop, and Alexa has come to help out her aunt. Who broke into the shop? What were they looking for? And is it possible that a 15-year-old suicide is linked to the crime?

As Alexa, and, quickly joining her, Braden, investigate, they look back on their romance as 12-year-olds and the adults they became. Braden needs to get over his divorce and make peace with what the Army did to him, while Alexa needs to discover that not all men abandon their families, as her father did. Along the way, the two attempt to reconnect with the dreams they had as kids.

“Stop questioning my choice of career. Accounting can be very interesting. Figuring out where the money came from and where it went can be just as big a mystery as anything else.”

“It’s just not you, Alexa. You were never about math and numbers. You told stories, you collected sea glass, you wanted to be a glassmaker.”

She was surprised and touched that he remembered that. “Childhood dreams, Braden. When I grew up, I needed a job that was stable and that paid well. I wanted to add up, to make sense, and there was a comfort to working with numbers. There weren’t as many variables.” She sounded incredibly boring, she realized, but at least she wasn’t drowning in a world of chaos anymore. 

Honestly, a little bit of chaos would help this book quite a bit. There is no real conflict. We know Alexa and Braden will come together, and we even can predict how it will happen. Who broke into Aunt Phoebe’s shop? Do we really care? Sadly, not a whole lot. Barbara Freethy displays her hand too much. We are too privy to these people, so there is no question as to how this story will end.

It’s not bad, though. It is mildly entertaining, and the love scenes aren’t awful. There aren’t enough of them, but that’s another matter. The problem with Just a Wish Away is that it’s just kind of boring.

Published by Barbara Freethy and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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