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The end … A Beginning

Thank you to everyone who followed, read, commented on, and supported this blog. Due to various circumstances, Cupcake’s Book Cupboard has shut down.

Please consider following my new book review blog, Vox Libris.

Thank you again, and please keep reading!

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Blog Tour: Two Sisters

two sistersTwo Sisters
by Mary Hogan
Published by William Morrow
384 pages
Genre: fiction; women’s fiction 
Thanks to the publisher for the preview
3.5 / 5

I don’t have a sister. (Well, I really don’t know – I could have one. I could have several. As an adoptee, I know anything is possible.) I’ve always wanted a sister, although when I tell this to friends who have sisters, they shake their heads vehemently and say, “No, you do NOT.”

Grass, meet Always Greener.

When I read books like Two Sisters, I admit that I question the wisdom of wishing I had a sister. Muriel certainly seems like she would have been better off if she hadn’t had one.

Separated by eight years and considerable emotional distance, Pia and Muriel are about as emotionally connected as Israel and Syria. Less, even. Pia, all icy blonde, thin perfection came first, and it’s almost as if her mother Lidia didn’t have room in her heart to love another daughter. After Pia, Logan arrived, the only son, a sort of “gift” to his father Owen.

And now, Pi, thirty-one, married, living in a gorgeous Connecticut home, and the mother of a ten-year-old daughter, has asked Muriel to meet her for lunch in the city. Muriel can’t say no, as much as she wishes she could; we know that this is a ubiquitous problem for her, this inability to say no to anyone in her family. Pia shows up with a new scarf for Muriel; it is nothing Muriel would have picked out for herself, nor is it something Muriel wants to wear. But Pia ties it around her sister’s neck, coos over its loveliness, and the two head off for lunch.

Muriel is utterly confused. This is not the Pia she knows. Nor is the woman who gets drunk at lunch and then vomits in a toilet or the woman who asks Muriel her opinion about a dress Pia wants to buy for herself. THAT is not Pia.

But then Muriel asks: why are you here? And Pia answers.

We have seen this storyline before, the sort of deathbed rapprochement between two embattled siblings. Mary Hogan takes us for a different spin, though. Pia, ever selfish till the end, attempts to absolve herself of her sins by including Muriel in picking out her final frock. She may tell Muriel that the end is nigh, but afterwards? Does she let Muriel in? Does she behave in the way a woman who truly wants forgiveness behaves?

Then there are Lidia and Owen, two positively awful parents. Owen’s is the sin of omission; he removes himself from his daughters’ lives and makes no apologies for doing so. He isn’t so much stoic as unaware, completely by choice. He and Logan bond over soldering copper piping, but his daughters? They’re Lidia’s to worry over.

Lidia is, quite simply put, a loathsome woman. She openly prefers Pia, so openly that she continually drums that Pia is perfect and Muriel is an unwanted blight on the family. Are we meant to forgive Pia her own bitchiness because she was treated like a gilded princess? Should we forgive Lidia because she was not able to be with the true love of her life and had to settle for Owen?

I couldn’t. I don’t know if Mary Hogan wanted me to, but I could not forgive either woman, especially not Lidia. As Pia herself says to Muriel, I cannot imagine a mother saying some of the things Lidia did to her child. I don’t care how much her life did not turn out as she wanted. There is no justification.

Muriel recasts her life (she is a casting assistant, in fact) continually, envisioning what relationship she and Pia might have had if this were different or that were better. She comes back to reality, though, realizing that life is what it is, and all she can hope to do is adjust successfully.

God plays a role here as well. Lidia and Pia engage in a cafeteria-style Christianity, in which they pick and choose which dishes fit their needs best. Toward the end of the novel, Muriel calls them out for this, if only in her head. God is consistent and constant; if you’re in, you must be all in, not just in for what suits you. Muriel attempts to understand her mother and sister’s religion, but she discovers that their God is not a god she wants to worship.

Of course, more than anything, this is the story of two sisters. There is much we are not told about Pia; she begins and ends more of a mystery than someone we understand. She has a cruel core, and her cruelty is always directed at Muriel. Lidia, at least, occasionally fires her laser-like evil toward Owen, although she reserves most of her animus for Muriel. I could not imagine being Muriel. How she managed to survive her childhood and emerge a woman who has charted her own course, even if it appears lonely and somewhat unfulfilling, it’s hers. Lesser women would have crumbled.

Which brings me to what bothers me about this book: it is uneven. Lidia’s extreme dislike for Muriel is confounding. Yes, we know why she prefers Pia, but why the bald hatred for Muriel? And why the emotional mess at the end of the book? Where did that come from? Nor, for that matter, do we understand how Pia morphed into a woman who would get married and have a child of her own. When Pia tells Muriel that looking at her daughter, she can see proof of God’s love, it does not humanize her. Rather, if confuses us because we had no idea Pia had such a wellspring of positive emotion within her. No foundation has been laid for it, other than perhaps a need for a happy(ish) ending. It also seems completely out of character for Lidia to behave at she does, and that sort of dishonesty dos not ring true to readers. In the first part of the novel, we spend a little time in Owen’s head, and then we leave. Why? Why not let us revisit him later in the book? Are those few chapters intended to tell us what we need to know about him? If so, they are insufficient. Owen says that he will not be a divorced man, and I want to know why.

However. For all of those frustrations, I enjoyed this book. When Muriel asks someone why no one loved her, my heart broke, and I admit that I cried, largely because I was so emotionally invested in her. I couldn’t help but be, perhaps because I could relate to her on several levels. No, I do not have a sister, but I know what it’s like to be the Muriel of the family.

Mary Hogan writes descriptively and emotionally, and she pulls you into her story. I just wish there had been more consistency with some of her characters.

For more information about Mary, check out her website, Facebook page, and Twitter.

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Blindfolded Innocence

blindfolded innocenceBlindfolded Innocence
by Alessandra Torre
Published by Harlequin HQN
304 pages
Genre: erotica; New Adult
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

One of the things I enjoy about Alessandra Torre’s writing is that she doesn’t just deliver hot, hard headboard rockin’, she also challenges the way you think about sex.

In Sex, Love, Repeat, her heroine vigorously embraced sex with two men, one of whom she loved, the other of whom she enjoyed. (wink wink) In Blindfolded Innocence, she continues with her “sharing” theme, this time asking you to consider how willing you would be to allow your partner to watch while you partake in sexy times with someone else (or several someone elses at the same time).

Julia is a college student preparing to apply to law school. (Again the girl is young – they are ALWAYS YOUNG in erotica.) She lands an internship at a big time law firm, where she winds up working for a somewhat dull but extremely driven attorney. While she slaves fifteen hours a day, she hears nothing but fun times coming from the wing housing Brad De Luca, resident rogue divorce lawyer. When Julia actually meets Brad, he almost literally takes her breath away. Older (OF COURSE HE IS because men in erotica novels are ALWAYS OLDER AND RICHER) and considerably more experienced, Brad is intrigued by Julia.

He makes sure their paths cross, and he asks her to join him on a weekend jaunt to Vegas. He doesn’t want to be alone, and Julia – ever perceptive, because these young girls in erotica novels are always Wise Souls – senses that Brad is secretly lonely, despite all of the sex he has. Despite her wariness, she joins him in Vegas.

Fortunately for us, what happens in Vegas does not stay there because Alessandra Torre shares all of the fun stuff. Brad and Julia get “close,” but … well. There is ALWAYS A “BUT” IN EROTICA, and it tends to relate to the man’s ISSUES.

So Brad and Julia have some things to discuss, namely his enjoyment in watching.

Yep, THAT KIND OF WATCHING.

At least that’s different, non? He’s into something potentially kinkier than spanky panky.

The problem is, though, that Julia may not be. So what will our happy couple do? And will you care?

Yes, I think you will. Brad is fun. As in FUN. He knows how to please a woman (and he should, because he’s been with nearly 200 of them). Can you blame him for wanting to share his talents? I mean, really.

His talents are indeed prodigious. Strap on your vibrators, girls, because this one is hot. Brad has Needs, and you will enjoy reading about his pursuit of satisfying those Needs.

Bless him.

Oh, yeah, Julia. She’s not nearly as annoying as most erotica heroines. She’s feisty, and she doesn’t seem as vapid as her genre sisters. I liked her much more than I thought I would, although not as much as I like Brad.

I’m looking forward to the next installment in the series, even though I am so over erotica series. But for Brad De Luca, I will make an exception.

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Interview: Phillipa Fioretti

What a treat for cupcake’s book cupboard! Author Phillipa Fioretti, who wrote For One Night Only, answered some questions regarding her newest novel and writing process.

For One Night OnlyA warning, though. If you have not read For One Night Only – and WHY HAVEN’T YOU READ IT YET?? – this interview does contain spoilers.

Please do read her book. It’s fantastic. And as you can see from the interview, she is, too.

How did you research Hugh’s background in archaeology?

I studied archaeology at uni when I left school and many years later did a postgrad in Museum Studies so I know enough, in general, about archaeology to know where to look for detailed information. I am a whiz at finding what I want on the Internet and tracking down the right information becomes an obsession. I did have to read some scholarly articles, but the research is all part of the fun. I love it.

How important was Italy as the setting for this story? It’s difficult to imagine it being set elsewhere.

I’ve loved Italy since I was a teenager and saw some Lina Wertmuller films set in Italy. I was entranced by what I saw on the screen. It was so European and exotic, so civilized and pagan and sophisticated and full of history. Unlike suburban Sydney where I grew up! So Italy has always been important to me. I married an Italian eventually and I love being there, so it was a matter of personal preference. But the story could be set in any part of the Mediterranean, any part that has remnants of the Roman Empire and endemic corruption. Which leaves a lot of places!

When you began writing what did you want to happen to Hugh and Ornella’s romance?

I knew they’d get together at the end. They have to as the genre dictates an optimistic ending. It’s how they get together and how they resolve their issues that provides the knotty problem for me to solve. She couldn’t and wouldn’t give up her acting career entirely, although she was prepa

Fioretti_Phillipa5

red to compromise. A huge sacrifice on her part and an indicator of how she feels about him.

Ornella had never committed to any lover before and knew Hugh was going to test her passion for acting. But she’d never felt this way about a man before either. How could she have both? In the real world it’s never easy and people sacrifice work or love to be together, or not. That’s why I used the motif of Dido and Aenaes. Aenaes had a terrible choice to make, but being a Roman meant he had to choose duty over love – every time. Ornella faced the same choice and she wants to have it all, as we all would. But can she? I have a draft sequel I’m working on at the moment ….

I loved the way you framed the story with Hugh and Ornella’s ‘one night’. Was that a conscious decision or did it come about through the drafting?  You divulge their evening together piece by piece as opposed to telling us exactly what happened.

I had an idea of two people meeting in a foreign location and being really struck with each other, basically falling heavily and then one being kidnapped. The person left behind is left with an awful lot of questions. Did they dump me or has something happened? Do I look for them or just leave? It would be a tough decision to make. The strength of connection Ornella and Hugh make in that one night unbalances Ornella and I slowly reveal to the reader why she is risking everything for this man. I think when you fall in love so heavily, you don’t think rationally, you obsess about the love object, and, add enormous stress and lack of sleep, your decision making ability goes out the window. If I’d told the story chronologically then maybe the reader would have forgotten just why Ornella acts as she does.

Both Hugh and Ornella emerge as having changed from the people they were when they met. Perhaps the changes aren’t cataclysmic but even their subtle changes are interesting. Did they end up being the characters you wanted them to be?

Oh yes. Wonderful characters to work with. So playful and imaginative and so fundamentally good natured. They do change, as anybody would, because of what they went through. I feel a little sorry for them both, betrayal, violence and the loss of that notion we carry that the world is fundamentally a good place, are all experiences that mark you. Coming close to death at the hands of another human – for reasons of greed alone, must be a horrifying experience and  as a novelist I couldn’t ignore the effects.

I only have space to hint at the long term effects, but as I mentioned I am writing a sequel where I explore the consequences of the trauma on their love and careers. It won’t be heavy, and in fact I have some fun ideas I’m working with, but they are still Hugh and Ornella.

There are so many different nationalities and the ‘bad guys’ are not necessarily Italian. How did you decide to feature such a diverse cast of characters?

Ornella, Fernanda and Tyler have a very strong connection through all being children of the Italian Diaspora. Growing up Italian in Australia or America is a specific experience that only those who have been through it understand. This is why Ornella ends up trusting Tyler – foolishly. He’s like her, he’s from the New World visiting the Old World where their roots are. I wanted this to be a feature because Europe is full of people whose parents migrated after the war and go back to see what the old country is like. It’s a totally different experience for these people, not at all like the travel experiences of Australians or Americans who have no roots left in Europe.

I wanted to have local Italians to show a little of how tough life is at the momnt for the young in Italy. Crime is one of the few ways they can make a living. Masso is essentially not a bad guy, he doesn’t want to kill anyone, he just wants money. Hugh is English as most foreign archaeologists working in Italy are American or British – if not Italian.

Which novelists have influenced your writing?

Every book I’ve ever read has been an influence so I couldn’t point to a specific writer on whom I model my work. But I did read Glen Duncan books in the early drafting of this book. I love The Last Werewolf and I love his ability to write intelligent, funny genre fiction. That’s my goal.

What sort of story are you working on now? Another mystery? More romance? More Hugh?

Hugh is on his way back, along with Ornella in a book with a working title of Smash Hit, set in New York and Spain. But I’m currently finishing off a manuscript about two lawyers who get dragged into a murder and food substitution disaster. He’s from Trieste in Northern Italy and she’s from Sydney and they have some serious emotional issues to confront. There’s a lot more emphasis on the psychological and emotional in this story and writing it takes longer as you have to get that emotional temperature exactly right. It’s the conflict and trauma within the characters that drives this story. Naturally I’m madly in love with them at the moment, but I’m impatient to get back to Hugh and Ornella too.

Thanks for having me on your blog. It’s very satisfying to be asked questions like these, I appreciate your interest and I’m glad you enjoyed the book. I could talk about Hugh and Ornella for months and not get sick of the topic! I have their back stories in my head – their school life, siblings, past lovers, parents – it’s all there. And in the sequel more of their lives will be revealed.

For more information on Phillipa, head over to her website.

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Blog Tour: I Take You

I Take YouI Take You
by Nikki Gemmell
Published by Harper Perennial
304 pages
Genre: erotica, women’s lit 
Thanks to the publisher for the preview
3 / 5

 

I enjoy Nikki Gemmell’s books. Recently I read With My Body, which focused on a married woman, whose sex life with her husband was passionless and nearly non-existent, recalling a sexual relationship between her at seventeen and an older author. Controversial subject matter, yes, but I was captivated from the start.

And I enjoyed I Take You … at first.

Connie is a thirty-something married woman whose designer labels and affluent lifestyle are a poor camouflage for what’s missing in her life. Her husband, Cliff, suffered a skiing injury that affected him sexually, but rather than sound the death knell to their sex life, it springs them open to experience exotic, erotic exhibitionism together. Connie feels wanton in a way she never did when she shared traditional sex with her husband.

But then something happens. Does Cliff go too far, perhaps? Does Connie realize that this new direction is not as fulfilling as she wants and needs? Does she begin to see that, much as she does as the society wife of the wealthy banker, she has been performing a role she no longer wishes to play?

Whatever the impetus, Connie feels a magnetic sexual pull toward her gardener, a man trying to overcome the end of his marriage. Mel is alternately repelled and aroused by her, and what begins as a sexual lark becomes something different.

The story here is intriguing. Connie keeps trying to force herself to be something that she soon discovers she does not want to be. First as Cliff’s wife, then as his property. She tries to be submissive, she tries to be what he wants, but she just can’t. When she meets Mel, she finds a man who only wants her to be what she wants to be, and it unsettles her. Can she? Or is does she, in fact, prefer pretending to be something?

Unfortunately, there are some developmental issues. For one, we never really understand what drew Connie to Cliff in the first place. He’s American and full of confidence, and he certainly can provide for her in opulent style. But Gemmell fails to establish who Connie was before she married Cliff. Perhaps that’s the point: Connie never knew herself, which made her more malleable. Perhaps she needed a Cliff in her life to tell her what to be.

But what snaps her out of it? That’s another point that is left too ambiguous. The act that seems to propel her away from Cliff is something she acquiesced to, so why the recoil later? Granted, Cliff is as unpleasant a spouse as you’ll find. But he was unpleasant before his accident, and he was unpleasant before Connie’s break.

Then there is Mel. He tells Connie that he needs to learn to love again, and he thinks she’s the one to show him how. Um, Mel? Here’s a newsflash: she isn’t. She doesn’t know how to love, either. Neither Mel nor Connie seem to realize this, though, so I guess I should just shut up and read. At one moment, Mel is repulsed by Connie and her apparent entitlement; but at another, he can’t wait to get naked with her.

The sex scenes are hot, especially those at the beginning. The problem is that the characters are not.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Nikki Gemmell

For more information about Nikki Gemmell and her books, head over to her website and follow her on Facebook.

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A Kiss is Just a Kiss

A kiss is just a kissA Kiss is Just a Kiss (A Night Games novella)
by Linda Barlow
Published by Aspendawn Books
Genre: New Adult
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5






This is one of those “it is what it is” type of books.

A slim novella, we have the story of Holly and Will, two would-be lovers who spent a fantabulous night together that Holly has been unable to forget. Will, on the other hand, not only appears to have forgotten all about it, he tries his best to forget all about Holly.

This being Christmas time, the setting is ripe for a Christmas miracle. Holly is invited to a party thrown by her campus advisor and decides to go, largely because she thinks Will will show up. (She also brings her roommate, who hopes to get intimate with the prof.)

Holly wants to see Will because she wants to know what happened. That great sex they had? Why did he pull a runner afterwards?

Will does show up, and thanks to some magical mistletoe, Holly gets her answers.

She also gets some hot headboard rockin’.

At times, Linda Barlow tries a little too much with this book. Holly dithers over the Will thing and their future, and Will’s reasons for leaving Holly in the dust the first time, while valid, are a little overly dramatic.

But it’s 88 pages, and there are some hot sex scenes. Like I said, it is what it is: a quick, easy read with some decent sexy times.

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I Found You

I Found YouI Found You
by Jane Lark
Published by HarperImpulse
360 pages
Genre: new adult lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5

 

One winter night, Ethan heads out for a run. He does this when he needs to clear his head, de-stress, and because it’s habit. What isn’t habit is coming upon a young woman about to jump to her death from a Manhattan bridge.

Ethan channels his mother – be a good person, do good works – and talks the girl down from the edge. When it’s clear she has nowhere to go, he brings her back to his apartment. He makes no move on her, other than to get her a hot bath, some food, and some warm, dry clothes. He takes care of her, all of which shocks her. Rachel, you see, is used to being used. She expects to be mistreated, so when Jason treats her with kindness, she doesn’t quite know how to react.

The two quickly settle into a routine. Jason allows Rachel to stay – where else can she go? – despite his friends and family back in Oregon warning him off. Especially his fiancée back home. She is none too pleased about Jason shacking up with a weirdo.

But Jason and Rachel are drawn to each other. Each gives the other something missing from their lives. They settle into a relationship, a sort of utopia on the other side of the country from Jason’s hometown. Of course, reality will set in, and when it does, Jason and Rachel need to be prepared.

Jane Lark tells her story from both Jason’s and Rachel’s points of view, alternating between them. This is good because they think so differently. It’s interesting to see how each of them views the same situation, and it’s easy for us to understand why they are drawn to each other.

The soap opera problems that befall them are occasionally eye-rollingly histrionic. There is one plot twist that you might see coming; it’s one of those “I really hope this isn’t where this is headed – oh, look, it is” things. It’s as if Jane Lark wants you to know that the happy couple can overcome anything.

My other complaint is the ending. It is way too neat and tidy, almost frustratingly so. After the grittiness of how these two meet, you know that their relationship will struggle more than it does. I felt cheated in a way.

Still, it’s a good book. There is occasional hot headboard rockin’, so beware of the “new adult” label. It’s for real, and this is not a YA novel.

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