Category Archives: sometimes the book just isn’t good

In Search of a Love Story

In Search of a Love Story
by Rachel Schurig
Published by Create Space
240 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
2 / 5

When you want to learn how to do something, you consult experts, right? That’s the advice that Emily’s friends give her when they diagnose her as being clinically unromantic. She needs to immerse herself in romance novels and find herself a man.

Emily gamely – albeit a tad reluctantly – agrees. She reads books and watches chick flicks, and along the way attempts to apply what she learned to her love life. In a “meet cute” sort of set up, she runs into Greg, a handsome, successful prospect who adores her. Emily’s friends think SCORE, but part of Emily wonders. Is he the one? Were the novels and movies right? Then there is her friend Elliott, who seems quite unimpressed with Greg. What’s up with him?

If you already know how this ends, bravo. Then again, the ending is trumped so loudly and clearly as to render the reading of the novel fairly useless. I’ve read lots of books that give away their endings early on, but they make up for it by being entertaining, by having characters I like and wish I could get to know.

That is not the case here.

Faithful readers, I was bored. Bored, I tell you. There is so little about this book to recommend that I’m hard pressed to justify the two stars. It’s cute, I suppose, and the premise is also cute. But it’s just so transparent. That’s what turns me off more than anything. There is no mystery or pull to keep reading.

If you want a mindless book with a cute little gimmick, then you could do worse than this. I guess I just wanted more.


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Beautiful Disaster

Beautiful Disaster
by Jamie McGuire
Published by Atria Books
432 pages
Genre: Young Adult
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5 cupcakes

What we have here is a perfect example of synecdoche, in which the title tells you everything you need to know about the book itself.

Abby Abernathy wants you to think she is a Good Girl. She adorns herself with preppy cardigans, sticks close to her best friend, and avoids Bad Boys. When she winds up in an underground fight club-type place, she locks eyes with the victorious fighter, Travis Maddox. She is intrigued.

The cousin of her best friend’s boyfriend (I know, I had the same eye roll), Travis is straight out of Central Casting for “Bad Boys,” down to the tattoos and the penchant for one night stands. He never met an emotional attachment that he cared to make, other than with his family. And when he sees Abby, he is intrigued.

Abby’s first move is brilliant: she acts completely unimpressed. And she is, to some degree. Yes, she is attracted to him, but she refuses to be another notch on his scarred belt. She dresses down, she is rude and sarcastic, and she tells him that he has no chance with her. When they spend the night together, they actually SLEEP together. No hanky panky occurs. Travis, for all of his overflowing testosterone, likes Abby; he genuinely enjoys her company and is determined to not mess up this friendship.

We know, however, that he will mess it up, and Abby will as well. It is just a matter of pages until they wind up romantically linked, especially when Abby loses a bet and has to move in with Travis for a month. What is good about their first encounter is that Abby makes the decision to be with him. Travis empowers her in that sense, and it’s nice to read some YA lit that does not have the girl swooning uncontrollably over her hard-to-read love interest.

And that’s where the “disaster” portion of this book comes into play. Travis! What in the world happens to you? What fresh hell does Jamie McGuire do to you?

Here is one answer: she takes a strong, interesting character and turns him into one that is veritably emasculated, dull, and insipid. Travis becomes the girl; he cries and screams and begs. He ditches his boxes of condoms along with his dignity, and we lose interest in him just as quickly. The man who oozed masculinity and dominance now simpers along, weak and uninspired. We are meant to see that Abby changed him from Bad Boy to Boy Worth Loving, but instead he comes across as utterly unappealing.

Don’t even get me started on the ending. Not only does it defy all logic, it appears to defy its characters. We are led to believe certain things about Abby and Travis, yet McGuire ends in it a way that is so unfaithful to them that you wonder if there was a publishing error in which another book’s ending was cut and pasted onto this one.

The first half of this book is ‘beautiful.’ Abby, Travis and their friends are created with care and creativity. We like them. We are interested in them. We care about them. And then comes the ‘disaster,’ and you will want to shout in frustration.

This could have been so good. But it just is not.

One word of warning: while this is Young Adult lit, the emphasis is on “adult.” There are fairly detailed sexual situations, as well as alcohol usage.

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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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Wish You Were Here

Have you ever read a book that frustrated you SO MUCH because you know that it could have been better? That was my experience with Beth K. Vogt’s Wish You Were Here. I liked it up until the end, which just ticked me off in the worst way.

Allison and Seth are five days away from their wedding day. They dated for six years, and now it’s time for them to finalize their commitment. Allison doesn’t like her wedding dress, which she felt coerced into buying, and she isn’t wild about the flowers. But she and Seth have been together for so long, and she does love him, so the obvious next step is marriage, right? Right? 
Well, not so fast. When Seth’s older brother Daniel shows up to help her pack, an innocent farewell peck on the cheek turns into a passionate kiss. What will Allison do now? Quicker than you can say, “Runaway Bride,” she heads in the wrong direction down the aisle.
So far, so good. It’s a cute set up, and we can all see that Daniel is better for her than Seth. Her best friend Meghan puts it perfectly:

“Think about it. You let Seth make all the major decisions, from what dress you wore to our high school prom to where you were going for your honeymoon.” Teal polish glinted off Meghan’s nails when she pointed an accusatory finger at Allison. “You’re a smart woman – except when Seth Rayner’s in the picture. And he’s been hogging the picture since you were sixteen.”

 Seth, you see, is a major control freak, and he controls every aspect of Allison’s life, from her college major to what she orders at a restaurant. He isn’t a bad guy, though; Vogt does a good job letting us see that he is oblivious to his Machiavellian streak. And it’s good that he’s a character with depth and not rote or flat. Daniel, too, is fleshed out. Both may be predictable, but they aren’t dull.

But then the problems come.

Vogt tells us why Allison enjoyed, if not needed, Seth’s control. We also learn about how she coped with a painful period of her childhood. We understand her, and it makes sense to us. But quite suddenly, those issues are resolved with great alacrity and neatness. Allison’s fractured relationship with someone in her family is mended with no explanation as to how. Why does she trust this person with seemingly such lack of hesitation? What about the way she soothes herself? Why does she suddenly stop? Or does she? We never really find out. And what about her relationship with God? Allison has questions for Him, and she struggles with relying on Him. One quick conversation with Meghan, though, and everything is fixed. It doesn’t really work that way.

Look, Wish You Were Here has a sweet core. Allison and Daniel are adorable, and you will cheer for them. Daniel earns our sympathies and affections, and we cheer him on in his pursuit of her. But the ending feels cheap and forced. It’s almost insulting, as if Vogt doesn’t think we can handle the anguish that Allison surely suffers as she rights the listing ship of her life.

Here is a lesson for authors: do not sell your audience short. Don’t assume that we want neat and happy. If you spend three fourths of a book giving us realism, don’t patronize us at the end.

Published by Howard Books and available on
Thanks 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
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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It takes a lot for me to quit on a book. A LOT. I read possibly the worst book ever written, Vapor, and finished it. While some may have liked that one, I struggled to enjoy the story of a man who turns into a cloud, and the woman who loves him. 
For real.
So if I can last through that one, I can handle anything, right?
I received an ARC of Bandwith, a new book by Angus Morrison. I am all about new authors and bringing them attention. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this book.
In the interest of full disclosure, I only made it to page 47. I tried, faithful readers, heaven knows I tried. I wanted to be intrigued by the story of a guy who used to work for the CIA but now is a speech writer/adivsor for the sixth wealthiest man in the world. So there’s that. Then there is the other story line about a kid in Holland who figures out how to use water as a conductor of sorts for things such as telephone calls, and transmitting video and other data. 
I think this book is a mystery, and I think it’s supposed to be kind of Bourne Identity-ish in that you jump from country to country. I visited restaurants, saw a dead body in a bathtub (electrocution – not pretty, and you learn quite a bit about the process) and hopped from North America to Europe. Fun times.
Alas, I can’t tell you much about this book, because I just could not get past page 47. And it was a chore to get to that point.
Considering there are a lot of people who gave Vapor rousing reviews (although I suspect that they did so just to ensure that they are not the only ones who wasted money on it), I’m sure some people will like Bandwith. I’m just not one of them. I didn’t care about Hayden or the billionaire or anyone else. 
I dislike giving bad reviews to books, because I love books. But in this case, well, I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do.
 (just because I can’t bear to totally trash the thing)

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