Review: Is This All There Is?

is this all there is

Is This All There Is?

by Patricia Mann
Published by Booktrope Editions
180 pages
Genre: women’s literature
3 / 5

Summary:

Beth Thomas’ seemingly perfect life is about to take a detour. At thirty-five, she’s married to her college sweetheart, has two adorable kids, and finds fulfillment teaching part time at the local university.

But when a friend persuades her to go dancing on a rare night out, a chance meeting with a handsome former student changes the course of her life. Loud music, too much to drink, and the thrill of feeling young again lead to an unforgettable kiss that was never supposed to happen. Beth feels wanted again, listened to, cared for, but she knows it’s wrong.

She tries to put the memory behind her, but he pursues her, drawing Beth back to temptation. As she travels deeper into Dave’s world, Beth struggles to choose between what her mind says is right and what she truly craves.

 

My Review:

There is something about the sort of miasma that afflicts women, especially those whose lives are taken up by children, husbands, household managing. It happens, and how the woman reacts to it dictates the rest of her life. She can’t see it, of course; she can’t see that one small movement will hold her hostage to that decision forever.

Such is the case with Beth. It isn’t that she is unhappy or discontented or any of those things. She is a mother, she works part-time as a professor, her husband isn’t abusive or demanding. He may not notice her the way she would like, and the passion may be gone from their relationship, but that will improve, right? When the kids get older?

When Beth goes dancing, everything changes. Her former student clearly has a massive crush on her, and he wants to claim her as his own. Beth doesn’t recognize that his obsession with her makes no sense. Instead, she is flattered. He appeals to the parts of her she thought were dead or nonexistent. He makes her feel good when no one else in her life does.

But of course the kiss they share does not occur in isolation. It isn’t so much that Beth kisses this man as it is that there are reasons for it, and those reasons will not go away. They in fact become exacerbated and intensify. Beth begins to look around and wonder if, really, this is all there is for her. Or does the student represent the possibility of what might be?

In her more lucid moments, she does realize that whatever she shares with this boy may not withstand the test of time. She ponders how passionate their union would be if she had to clean up after him in the bathroom. Those sparks of reality help make Beth less annoying, because otherwise, I wanted to knock some sense into her.

Yet I can understand her wanting to be wanted. Desire is a powerful urge, both to feel it and to feel it directed toward you. Beth makes mistakes, sure, but her reasons for them are very real.

I did not like the ending, only because I felt like there was a tremendous build-up and then it sort of petered out. I also didn’t like Beth a lot because she is so caught up in herself that she fails to see how she affects the lives of those around her. But then again, being a mother – always putting your children before you – is why Beth is in the place she is.

It’s an interesting book and will make you think. I just wish the ending had been as powerful as the rest of the book deserves.

 

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Blog Tour & Review: Come Home Again

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Summary

Anything can be fixed with a little Duct Tape and sass…

At least that’s what celebrity fixer, Delilah Donovan, used to think. She prides herself on being able to handle anything. But when she’s asked to fix the new CEO of Synth Games, she never dreams she’ll come face to face with the only man to ever break her heart.

The past can’t always be fixed…

When a friend calls in a long ago favor, reformed hacker, Nate Williams, worries that his shady past will come back to haunt him. As acting CEO of Synth Games, he needs to make the world believe he’s CEO material.  Too bad the one person who can help him is the one woman he had to leave behind.

Will Nate bury his demons for good or will his past dictate his future? Can Delilah rise to this challenge or will Nate shatter her heart…again.

NanaMalone_ComeHomeAgain_800px

My Review

You can tell by looking at the book cover that this novel features an interracial romance. But you know what’s so good about it? The skin colors of the lovers is never directly stated. BECAUSE IT DOESN’T MATTER.

Delilah is a woman I want to have as my friend. She’s sweet, hard working, intelligent, snarky, and unbelievably loyal. She’s even loyal to Nate, who abandoned her all those years ago, breaking her sixteen-year-old heart. Sure, he had his reasons, but what he did was pretty awful. If nothing else, he owed an explanation to Delilah’s parents, who rescued Nate from near death, helped him heal, and gave him a warm, loving home.

The fact that he bolted right after Delilah professed her love? That lowers him even more.

Nana Malone doesn’t want you to dislike him too much, though, because otherwise, we don’t buy in to the romance. When Nate presses Delilah up against the wall for their first kiss, you will feel it in your toes. So it’s important that we like Nate in that moment. We don’t want to feel that he’s taking advantage of Delilah.

There is some intrigue in this book involving Nate’s biological brother and the company for which Nate is stepping in as temporary CEO, but the intrigue takes a backseat to the romance.

Delilah and Nate make you believe in soul mates, and they even made my cold hard heart believe that nothing can keep soul mates apart. Their chemistry ignites on each page, and there is some hot headboard rockin’.

The weaknesses are all in the subplots. There is just too much predictability in those stories to make them compelling. Sure, we know that Nate and Delilah will wind up together, but they are interesting, engaging characters and we want to see them together. The brother thing? The gaming company thing? Meh.

As far as hot summer reads go, it is enjoyable nonetheless. And when you finish this book, if you don’t want the Donovans to adopt you, I thank you because that means my chances for them adopting me just got better.

 

Excerpts (not just one, but FIVE!!!)

Excerpt 1

“I’m a compulsive gambler. I’ll be heading to an upstate rehab facility tomorrow. My interim CEO has a month to convince the board that he has the chops, or I’ll lose my company to one of the vultures on the board.”

What? Delilah clamped her jaw tight to keep it from hanging open. He was worth half a billion dollars. She slid a gaze to Jake, but he nodded at her, encouragingly. When she finally was in control again, she asked. “My first question is, how long will you be in rehab?”

Chase met her gaze directly. “Sixty days inpatient, then a thirty day outpatient.”

“What prompted the need to check yourself in?”

He hesitated, but she prompted. “If we’re to protect your interests, I need to know what I’ll have to deal with. What prompted the rehab?”

He sighed, and for the first time, she realized how weary he looked, as if he’d been up all night. “Last night, some associates of a bookie thought it would be nice to tune me up.” His glance shifted to the man at the window.

“Why?”

“I’d been a week late with a payment of half a million dollars.”

Delilah blinked. Why would he owe anyone that kind of money? She cleared her throat. “And this bookie, who is he? Is this an establishment that will come out and attempt to tarnish your reputation?”

A frown marred his handsome face. “A back room game in the city. Invite only. Hole in the wall place. He won’t be going public with anything. It’s not in his interest to do so.”

Jake piped in. “They’ve been paid in full and will not come after you in the future?”

Chase shook his head. “No. I’m covered. But I understand your job will be difficult. Synth is already drawing a lot of media coverage because of the release of the new game.”

Delilah sat forward. “It’s timed with the movie release, right?”

Chase nodded. “Yes. Normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but the game and movie combined are projected to do a hundred million in the first week of release.”

Jake nodded enthusiastically. “We’re on it, Chase. We know how important this is.”

Delilah quickly made a note for Willow before looking back up. “We’ll do what we can to keep your recent run-in out of the news. We’ll populate some misdirecting stories if anything should arise. In the meantime, we’ll also start to draft the releases about your temporary step down. They’ll go to the majors. We should also plan for your return and the interviews following. We’ll want the important morning shows and outlets, like Anderson Cooper and Piers Morgan. I have a contact at Oprah’s Network too. We’ll see if we can get you on one of her shows.”

Quickly and efficiently she went through the plan for keeping his recent run-in with meaty fists out of the media. She also ran through the plan of communication to the public and shareholders. Of course, every part of the plan boiled down to the final most important piece. “And what do you plan to do about your company while you’re away?” She glanced briefly to Lachlan.

Chase leaned forward. “We’ve called an emergency board meeting for tonight. I can suggest a replacement, and the board will choose. With the voting members present, it should be no problem making sure it goes my way. The crux is, in another thirty days, the board can keep or replace.” He glanced around. “It is in my best interest if the CEO I pick stays.”

Delilah studied the man seated next to Chase. Lachlan Murphy was great CEO material. Honestly, this job would be a walk in the park with him. There wouldn’t be much to do. “I assume you’ll be stepping in as Mr. Channing’s CEO, Mr. Murphy?”

Lachlan’s eyes widened. “Me? Uh, no. And call me Lach. There would be a conflict of interest with my other business interests. I will only be acting in an advisory capacity, that’s all.”

Jake frowned. “I don’t understand. Who will be your replacement?”

Chase gave them a sheepish smile. “I’d hoped he’d be here by now. He was taking care of a quality assurance problem with one of our games. He’ll be here shortly.”

Delilah chewed her bottom lip. What were the chances that whoever Chase had picked would be as easy to mold and work with as Lachlan Murphy? She slid a glance at Jake. His lips were pressed into a thin line.

She licked her lips. “Okay, then. What will we need to know? Where will we need to focus my attention? What’s his background, what are his strengths?”

Chase and Lach exchanged a quick glance. Lachlan spoke first. “He’s loyal.”

Chase continued. “He actually designed a good portion of our games, so he’s familiar with the technology.”

Delilah read between the lines. Games programmer usually meant awkward nerd type. She’d have to roll up her sleeves on this one. “What else?”

“He has an MBA, he’s smart, and he’ll keep my company afloat.”

Delilah studied Chase carefully, unsure how to get the honest truth out of both men. They were giving her the guy’s resume not the overall feel of him. She sat back and asked, “What are we missing here? What is it you don’t want to tell us? We need to know what deep dark skeletons we’re going to have to incinerate so the public never finds them. Or at least doesn’t find them until you’re back in your rightful seat and your profit margins are up.”

Chase squirmed in his seat. Lachlan wouldn’t meet her gaze and suddenly seemed to find his phone very interesting. Abruptly, Chase sat straighter. “Looks like he’s here. You can ask him yourself.”

Through the opaque glass of the conference room, a tall figure loomed at the door. Broad shoulders. There was an air of confidence about him. She could work with that, but even as she stood, the fine hairs on her arms stood at attention.

When the door swung open, Delilah catalogued him in an instant. She caught sight of his Nike Air Force Ones first, then dark jeans. His hands were big. Like they were made for playing basketball, not coding video games. But they were unadorned with jewelry. His leather jacket was expensive, well made and well worn. He didn’t wear it for fashion, rather for necessity. Under it, he wore a black T-shirt that stretched over a well-defined chest.

Oh hell yes. She could certainly work with this.

Her long dormant libido woke up and stretched languorously. It wasn’t until she managed to drag her eyes from his defined pectorals that her brain stuttered. A shadow of blond hair dusted his chin and strong jaw. Longish blond hair curled at his nape. Lips shaped like a bow with a fuller lower lip. High cheekbones. A slightly crooked nose that had been broken at least once. Deep-set, aquamarine eyes framed by thick, sooty lashes.

A face she knew well. One that had haunted her for seven years.

All air whooshed from her lungs as if she’d been hit in the solar plexus.

Chase’s voice sounded like a distant echo. “Jake, Miss Donovan. Allow me to introduce you to Nathanial Williams. He’ll be stepping in as CEO while I’m gone.”

Oh. Hell. No. Her heart hammered, and her lungs refused to operate properly. This is not happening to me. Not him. Anyone but him.

Her gaze collided with the man she’d thought she once loved, and her stomach pitched. The last time she’d seen Nate was her sixteenth birthday. The night he’d betrayed her family and broken her heart.

 

Excerpt 2

“I’d have to trust you to help, and I don’t.”

He stalked over to her, crowding her personal space. “You think I don’t remember that last night I saw you? You think my decision to leave doesn’t haunt me most nights? I had to leave. You, and your folks—the last thing I wanted to do was hurt you. I shut the door on that part of my life when I left. Trust me when I say I never thought I’d be seeing any of you again. But here we are. And it doesn’t change the fact that I need your help.” He backed off again and leaned back against the wall.

Blood simmered under her skin, scorching her flesh from the inside. “And what happens after I help you? You vanish without a trace again? And you know what? Stop calling me Lila. You lost the right to call me that when you left.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that.” Softly he added, “I remember everything about you.”

His voice, low and husky, had heat pooling in her center and her body vibrating with longing. She hated that he could do that to her with simple words. “God, you know, you are such a bullshit artist.”

The air changed around them, and Delilah shivered. She knew what was coming before he even moved, but there was no bracing for it. He gently tugged her against him, giving her every chance to pull back, but no matter the commands her brain gave, her body refused to comply.

Nate slid his arms around her. His lips were gentle, but demanding. A spike of the electricity flared between them, scorching her lips when his tongue dipped in. With a low groan, he shifted their angle, kissing her deeper and ripping a moan from her as her whole body started to melt.

She didn’t have the defenses to fight off those long dormant feelings. Somewhere in the far recesses of her mind, alarm bells rang, starting as a low buzz, but quickly intensifying to a sharp clang.

He dragged his lips from hers and stared at her. His muttered curse echoed her own feelings.

The elevator dinged at the ground floor, and the doors slid open. She shook her head in an effort to kick-start her brain. “What the hell was that?”

Nate’s heated gaze met hers. “That was something I’ve been thinking of doing for seven years.”

Immobilized, she watched him walk out. Her lips tingled, and her body was too limp to move. After all this time, he still had the power to stun her.

 

Excerpt 3

She met his gaze directly then. “Why does it matter?”

That was his Lila. Never had let him off easy. “Because I can’t stop thinking about how you taste.”

Her breath came in shallow pants, and with every lick of her lips, he almost begged her for mercy.

“Nate, I can’t do this. Our history. And not to mention this is against the rules. I never should have let that kiss in the elevator happen. I could lose my job.”

Now that, he didn’t want. He knew what it meant to her. But he also couldn’t help wanting her. “I would never let that happen. No one would have to know. All I want is a taste.” He gently slid his hands to her waist, tugging her closer so her body fit against his. “To prove it was an illusion.”

Delilah swallowed hard. “Nate…”

“If you don’t want me to do this, say the word, and I’ll let you go.” And he would. No matter what it cost him.

But she didn’t move. Instead, her gaze drifted to his mouth in silent invitation.

Nate dipped his head to kiss her, at first lightly brushing their lips together. Her lips parted for him, and his tongue slid in to taste her. Spicy, with a hint of sweet.

For several torturous seconds, she didn’t respond, just stood tense in his arms. But then he sucked on her bottom lip, and she moaned, meeting his tongue with her own and lazily looping her hands around his neck. She threaded her fingers into his hair, and he groaned against her mouth. She was so soft. His thumbs traced over her hipbones, and she shivered. Angling his head and deepening their kiss, Nate kept up the teasing until she panted and breathed out a soft whimper.

Just as his hands slid up over her belly, there was a knock at the door. He tore his lips from hers and dragged in a ragged breath. “Just a second,” he called out.

Delilah stumbled backward and blinked up at him with a heavy-lidded gaze. “What was that?”

Me being a masochist. “That was something I intend to do again.”

Her breathing eventually slowed, and she took another deliberate step back. “Don’t you need me as a willing participant?”

He ran a thumb over her bottom lip and watched in fascination as her pupils dilated. “Are you willing?”

And though he held onto a sliver of hope, her answer was a surprise.

“I don’t know.”

 

Excerpt 4

His brows drew down. “Have you told them about me?”

She sat up with a start, and the bed sheet slipped. His eyes immediately dipped to her breasts, and her nipples hardened. She ignored him and slid the sheet more securely under her arms. He would not distract her with sex again. “No! God no. I mean, what could I have said, honestly?”

He flattened his lips. “What are you going to say now?”

She stared at him. “Still nothing. Look, you made it clear that you didn’t exactly want the reunion thing, and I heard you, so I’m not saying a word, okay?” She slid out of bed. Now where the hell were her clothes? She scanned the floor. Was it undignified to crawl under the bed looking for her thong?

His next question surprised her. “And if I wanted you to say something?”

She turned to face him slowly. “You’re kidding, right?”

He slid out of the bed too, except he didn’t bother with a sheet. Her mouth watered. Fantastic. Even on a verge of an argument she wanted him. She needed to do some hard time on a psychiatrist’s couch. “And if I’m not kidding?”

“What—I’m supposed to go home and say, what? Hey, guys, I found Nate. Do you have any idea what that would do to Mom?”

A vast silence extended between them. “Somehow, I don’t think it has anything to do with your mother or how anyone else will react. You don’t trust me.”

A fist wrapped around her heart and squeezed. “How can you say that?”

“I can say that because I see it written all over you. You’re already trying to run.”

“I’m not running!” Liar. “I have shit to do.”

“Okay fine. You have shit to do. But I’m not just talking about today. Since I’ve seen you again, you’ve been running from me, from this. Which is bullshit because we obviously are pretty fucking explosive together.”

Desire spiked through her. Easy does it. “And what about you? You were the first one to point out that this thing is only temporary. I’m not the only one running. You made it clear you wanted nothing to do with your past. And now you’re changing your mind. What happens when you change it again and pull one of your disappearing acts? I’m not picking up the pieces again. You don’t get to do that to my family again, so no, I’m not exactly eager to tell them that I found you.”

He flinched as if she’d struck him. Immediately, she wanted to take the words back, but she knew she couldn’t. Besides, it was the truth. It was one thing to enjoy Nate. To indulge every fantasy that sixteen-year-old her ever had about him. But getting close and attached was not a good idea. He would hurt her again.

“So it all boils down to that?” His voice was soft.

“That’s all there is. Fundamentally, that’s who you are. You’ll stick around for a while, but then you’ll leave. I’m an adult now. I can handle it. And when you’re bored, or move on, or whatever, I’ll be ready. But I’m not dragging everyone else through that. I’m not letting them love you again only to get their hearts broken.”

Excerpt 5

A buzzing numbness washed over Nate as he trudged into his office. His every secret might be out there for the world to see, but he was done hiding. Besides, he had a job to do. Even if it was only temporary.

First thing on the agenda—get a hold of Trent. He’d been an idiot to think giving his brother what he’d asked for would be the end of it. His stomach took another sickening roll even as his hands curled into fists. Of all the emotions tumbling around in his skull like bowling pins, the foremost was anger. Particularly for what they’d said about his relationship with Delilah.

It was one thing to print the lies about him. It was another thing entirely to lie about Delilah or the Donovans. He deserved every ounce of vitriol that came his way. But she didn’t need this kind of mess. Especially not from him.

Every instinct in his body told him to run. Pack up. Go. Like he’d done before. Go with nothing. Start all over. But he had people who were counting on him. He had a company to hold afloat. Besides, if he ran again, he’d be leaving Delilah to deal with this whole mess on her own. And it wasn’t her fault. She’d tried to turn him into a metaphorical silk purse, and it had backfired on her.

A knock at his door dragged him out of his reverie. “Yeah, who is it?”

Steven strolled in, every bit the smug, cocky asshole, and Nate had to resist the urge to hit him. While it would feel incredible, it also wouldn’t change anything. His world would still be crumbling around him. “What do you want?”

“A bit touchy, aren’t you? Must have been a hell of a morning already. I can’t even imagine what’s it’s been like for you. What with the paparazzi camped out on your doorstep.”

Nate narrowed his eyes. You will not hit him. You will not hit him. You will—fuck it. He could do the time in lockup for the assault and it really would feel good. But he stayed seated. “I assume I have you to thank for this mess.”

Steven grinned and shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

Nate sat back. “Was it all worth it to you? I don’t give a shit what you say about me, but you should have left Delilah out of it. She never did anything to you.”

“Oh, yes, the love interest. I mean, you do come across as nothing more than a common thug, but to be doing the daughter of the family that took you in, that’s low, even for you.” He narrowed his eyes. “When I told you I would do everything in my power to take care of this place and keep it out of your low-class hands, I was serious. Whatever it takes.”

“No matter who you hurt in the process? Tell me something, Taraby. How does it feel to never have your ideas recognized?” Nate stood. “You’ve never had that one good idea that could have propelled you from simply mediocre to truly brilliant. You’ve gone after this company because you don’t have the skill or talent to build on your own, not because you love this place. I warn you that many people have underestimated me in my life. They’ve all ended up on the losing side. You’ll just be another one to add to the pile. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Taraby glared at him, but made no move to leave. “The board will unseat you.”

“They are welcome to give it a shot, but until Chase returns, the only way to get me out of this office is to kill me.”

Steven Taraby narrowed his eyes. “That can be arranged.”

Finally. A direct challenge. He knew exactly how to handle this particular kind of snake. He wasn’t going anywhere. Not at least without annihilating this asshole first. “You’re welcome to try.”

 

About Nana Malone

USA Today Best Seller and iTunes Breakout Books author, Nana Malone’s love of all things romance and adventure started with a tattered romantic suspense she borrowed from her cousin.

It was a sultry summer afternoon in Ghana, and Nana was a precocious thirteen. She’s been in love with kick butt heroines ever since. With her overactive imagination, and channeling her inner Buffy, it was only a matter a time before she started creating her own characters.

While she waits for her chance at a job as a ninja assassin, in the meantime Nana works out her drama, passion and sass with fictional characters every bit as sassy and kick butt as she thinks she is.

Website: http://www.nanamalone.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nanamalonewriter

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/nanamalone

Blog: http://www.nanamalone.com/blog-musings

 

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Review: Goodnight June

goodnight june

Goodnight June
by Sarah Jio
Published by Plume
320 pages
Genre: fiction; women’s fiction
4 / 5

Summary:

The New York Times bestselling author of Blackberry Winter imagines the inspiration for Goodnight Moon

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Songs) is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. In Goodnight June, Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the “great green room” might have come to be.

June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature.

My Review:

Sarah Jio has a formula, and she sticks to it: a woman in the present must discover herself by uncovering and understanding secrets from the past.

Goodnight June does not deviate from the script.

Returning to Seattle is NOT on June’s “To-D0” list, yet she is compelled to go because dear Aunt Ruby has passed away and left June the bookstore, a place where June feels she truly grew up. She leaves behind a job that she likes but certainly does not fulfill her. She helps close down struggling businesses, and it’s as if she’s closed herself down, too. June is struggling, as much as any small business. Rather than open herself up to possible success, though, she’s put a “foreclosure” sign on her heart. This doesn’t just extend to men – she shuts out her mother and sister as well.

When she meets Gavin, the good looking and kindhearted owner of the Italian restaurant next door, she is reluctant to trust him, but she slowly does. This coincides with her discovery of a scavenger hunt of sorts, left her by Aunt Ruby. It consists of letters exchanged between Aunt Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown, the woman who wrote Goodnight Moon, amongst other childhood favorites.

June is entranced and determined to put together the puzzle that increasingly is becoming Aunt Ruby. One of the “sub plots” of the letters is sisterhood. Both Margaret and Ruby have difficult, challenging relationships with their sisters, just as June does with hers. The more she reads about the women’s attempts at reconciliation, though, the less inclined June is for her own rapprochement. She is convinced that she was the wronged party and as such her sister is persona non grata.

In fact, her refusal to even listen to her sister’s side of the story is one of June’s less flattering attributes. Without it, though, she would be almost unlikable because she’s almost too perfect. She needs the flaws in order to get us on her side.

This is an enjoyable book, and June is an enjoyable character. You can see the plot twists coming, which perhaps is because Jio’s stories do tend to stick to that formula. If you’ve read Violets in March, Morning Glory, or Blackberry Winter, you know to expect certain zigs and zags. Still, though, Jio can write a compelling story with characters who seem just like us yet who allow us to escape being us, even if just for a little while.

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Blog Tour & Review: Painting Juliana

Painting Juliana

Painting Juliana

by Martha Louise Hunter Published by Goldminds Publishing Genre: women’s fiction 4.5 / 5

Faithful readers, the girding of loins must commence, for this book will take you on an emotional ride that will course through just about every feeling you have.

First, let’s begin with the Goodreads summary:

Juliana Birdsong is your typical eight-year-old with an obsessive-compulsive mother who’s too paranoid to leave the house. Making double-lined, black-out drapes to protect their home from the outside world, her mother only looks up from her sewing machine when Perry Mason comes on TV – the type of successful man Juliana should marry if she wants to get anywhere in life. But Juliana has other things to worry about. Night after night, she’s awakened by a terrifying dream where she’s chased down a long, tapering highway on the back of her father’s motorcycle heading for an enormous, twisting funnel cloud that waits on the horizon. Even after locking it away inside her bedside drawer, Juliana wonders if there are parts of the dream she hasn’t seen yet. Years later, she finds dynamic trial lawyer, Oliver Morrissey and she marries him for love. Life is going reasonably well for the priviledged socialite – that is, until she’s faced with losing everything, including her children. Stepping out of her Lexus, Juliana peels off her Chanel sunglasses and glares up at her childhood home that’s now smothered in ivy. Inside, there’s only her estranged father left, who she’s sure caused her mother’s death. Moving in, she discovers a nude portrait of her with an odd set of tiny red footprints on the ankle, and another surprise she’s not expecting: Her father has Alzheimer’s and he needs her. Plus, a shipment of mysterious oil paintings arrives, all with his signature. When Juliana puts a brush in his hand, it sets off a surreal time warp and the canvases eerily transform, painting a different picture of the parents she thought she knew. As tragic secrets emerge that mirror her own, Juliana’s old demons come back to haunt her. Consumed with his care and desperate for her old life back, the dream is still chasing her and it’s catching up fast. Just when she can’t run any faster, the funnel cloud is waiting on the horizon, twisting even faster than before.

Got all that? It has a little bit of everything, doesn’t it? Even financial intrigue, but that comes later.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think the summary really tells you what this book is about. Sure, it lays out the basics of the plot, but Painting Juliana is about so much more than that.

You know that trite phrase about a woman’s journey, etc., etc., blah blah blah? This here is a WOMAN’S JOURNEY. We meet Juliana as a frightened eight-year-old, unable to sleep because of a recurring nightmare, and we end with a pushing forty Juliana who finally breaks free from all that the nightmare represents.

And throughout it, we question her, and we judge her.

Rightfully so.

Juliana’s marriage to successful alpha male Oliver is enough to make anyone cringe. It represents the proverbial selling of her soul in exchange for financial security. From the shiny Lexus to the routine beauty maintenance, Juliana is the stereotypical pampered Texas housewife. She is snooty to those she believes beneath her, and she has little patience for Oliver (not that anyone, even Job, would). Her redeeming quality is that she is a good mother to her children.

When Oliver takes away everything Juliana became – a wealthy socialite and stay-at-home mom – she has to reinvent herself. In Juliana’s case, “reinvention” means returning to the person she was pre-Oliver. She befriends the town pariah, she attempts to steer her children clear of the inevitable doom that will accompany their sense of entitlement, and she even realizes her part in the destruction of her marriage. It’s painful to read at times. Just when she thinks she has it together, that storm from her childhood nightmares swoops in and reminds her that she controls nothing but herself.

Oliver, in danger of becoming a stereotype himself, turns out to be wildly entertaining. In fact, the book is at its best when he’s around. He’s a snake and a scoundrel, selfish and self-involved, but he’s darn fun to read about. Oh, sure, you’ll hate him, but you’ll be wearier of Juliana’s naïvete and gullibility. Oliver is one of those men who truly believes – from his styled hair to his Italian loafers – that he is above reproach. Juliana veered from the script for their lives, and she must be punished. You almost feel for the big lug at the end.

Juliana’s family is part of her recovery process – recovery in terms of reclaiming who she really is. She has to make peace with her father, her brother, and even her deceased mother. She needs to recapture her inner spirit and sense of self.

Fortunately, Martha Louise Hunter makes her main character someone with whom we can empathize, and that in turns keeps us turning the pages.

This is an interesting, entertaining book. Don’t pass it up.

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Blog Tour: Hold Her Down

hold her down button Hold Her Down
by Kathryn R. Biel

Summary

Elizabeth Zurlo is lost. She’s a wife, a mother, a teacher, a PTA volunteer—but somewhere along the way, she’s lost herself. Depression and despair can lead to desperate measures and when she is pulled back from the brink of suicide, Elizabeth slowly tries to rebuild her marriage and reclaim her life. Just as she has finally started to put herself back together, a scandalous novel rocks her small town … and costs Elizabeth her social standing, friendships and ultimately, her marriage. However, the man who seemingly destroyed Elizabeth’s life, helps her realize who she is and what she needs to do to become the woman she’s not only capable of being, but the woman she used to be.

My Reviewhold her down

It’s difficult to like Elizabeth Zurlo because she is so immensely weak. Then again, that’s somewhat the point: Elizabeth has no strength, no sense of self. She is someone upon whom others imprint their visions of what sort of person she is. She has such a small sense of self-worth that she surrounds herself – continuously – with people who belittle and walk over her. It’s what she thinks she deserves.

And when you meet her mother, you understand why. Boy, do you ever. Agnes could give Joan Crawford lessons on obsessive, smothering parenting. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Agnes had shown up at Elizabeth’s house, blasted through the closets, and bellowed, “NO MORE WIRE HANGERS … EVER!”

And then there is Peter, Elizabeth’s husband. Why – WHY – would Elizabeth marry such a man?

I’ll be honest: as I read this book, I kept thinking that Elizabeth deserved all of these awful people because she was so dull and uninspiring. When I finished it, I kept thinking about her. Elizabeth married Peter because she thought she should. She believed he would be a good provider. There is no evidence that either thought passionately about the other; theirs was a pragmatic relationship. Given that Elizabeth’s father never defended her or made her feel valued, it’s easier to understand why she settles for Peter.

As the ostensible reason for Elizabeth’s misery, Jack is something of a mystery. He alludes to loving Elizabeth, yet his behavior does not allude to any loving feelings for her whatsoever. In writing the book, he fires a salvo that he surely knows will be painful and cause her agony. He professors to be shocked at the effects of his behavior, but I’m not sure I believe him.

The biggest problem with Elizabeth’s character is that there is a fine line between being naive and being stupid, and Elizabeth occasionally crosses that line. How could she not realize that she was the central character in Jack’s book? That, my friends, is a head scratcher. I couldn’t help but want the best for her, even though I didn’t like her a whole lot.

There is some sex in the book, but it is not at all what you anticipate, especially given the racy cover. Most of the book takes place in Elizabeth’s head and not in the bedroom. Oh, and get ready for some repetition: you will read “too little too late” a little too often. The ending of the book, though, is perfect for Elizabeth. You will want to pat her on the back and tell her, “Job well done.”

Excerpt:

Most days Elizabeth Zurlo felt that her life had somehow swallowed her up. She no longer knew who she was inside. The external forces in her life defined her whole being. She was Peter’s wife, Mrs. Zurlo. She was Teddy and Sydney’s mom. And at work, where she was a preschool special education teacher, she was Miss Elizabeth. A lifetime ago, she had been known as Liza, but no one called her that anymore. Despite this wide array of titles, Elizabeth no longer knew who she was inside. Her life was a chaotic mess, running from one place to another. Trying desperately to balance the demands of motherhood, running a household, being personal assistant to her ever-forgetful husband, and taking care of her students’ needs. There were simply not enough hours in the day to do all this and care for herself as well. It was hard to believe that one can be burned out by the age of thirty-four, but that is exactly how Elizabeth felt. Burned out, used up, empty. She was in desperate need of a recharge.

She sighed as she filled out the dry-erase board for the month. It was already the fourth of the month, and she was behind, just putting the new month out now. It was only the second month of school and she was behind the eight ball. She was painfully anal as she color-coded the activities for the family. Feeling that if she could neatly organize her life on the board, then it would fall into place in reality. Black for her, red for Peter. Blue for Teddy and purple for Sydney. A little orange pumpkin on Halloween. Slowly, square after square became filled in, until there were only about five empty during the entire month. Dance lessons. Piano lessons. Baseball. PTA meetings. Dentist appointments. Work meetings. Birthday parties. School projects. No school next Monday. This was Elizabeth’s life, month after month. There would be no break, no recharging this month. She copied the information to the calendar from her ever-trusty iPhone, knowing full well that no one in her family ever looked at the calendar. But still, she tried, knowing the key to a smoothly running household was clear communication.

Elizabeth yelled up the stairs to the kids and they came barreling down, pushing and shoving. Each one wanting to be first. “Stop guys,” she warned.

“Mom, he pushed me!” Sydney whined.

“Did not, you cut me off!” Teddy replied, shoving his sister. A few more jabs were thrown while the pair descended the stairs.

“ENOUGH, BOTH OF YOU!” Elizabeth yelled. “Someone is going to get hurt!” The shoving continued. “SIT DOWN NOW!”

Elizabeth started slamming cabinets and dishes. She saw Peter coming down the stairs, and couldn’t miss the dirty look he gave her. He hated her yelling, but he never looked at why she was yelling, only that she was. She turned her back, took a deep breath, re-arranged her face to something more resembling calmness, and turned back to face her children. Anything to avoid conflict this morning. While Elizabeth busied herself getting her children breakfast, she noticed Peter standing in front of the calendar. Wonder of wonders, he even seemed to be looking at it! Then, as if guided by the hand of God, Peter picked up the red marker and Elizabeth was dumbfounded. Never in the five years since she had been using the board had Peter ever written on it, save a random phone number here or there. It finally gave Elizabeth a glimmer of hope on a gray, October Monday morning. A smile started to spread across her face.

That was, until Elizabeth saw what Peter had written. “You’re going out of town this week? Again?”

“Yeah, project meeting in Michigan. They need me to go over what we’re doing here and help set up the facility out there, so they can start testing.”

“Oh.” She couldn’t even muster fake enthusiasm. She let out a defeated sigh. “How long do you think you’ll be gone?”

“I leave tomorrow morning, and they hope to have me back by the following Tuesday, but you know how it goes.”

Elizabeth sighed again and pasted yet another pleasant look on her face. At least, she hoped it looked that way. She looked up at the calendar. The week held the typical entries – Sydney had dance tonight. Piano for both kids and a dentist appointment on Tuesday. Baseball and PTA meeting on Wednesday. Guess she’d have to skip the meeting. Again. Teddy had a spelling test on Thursday. Saturday held a birthday party for Sydney. No school next Monday, which meant another day that she had to entertain the kids. They were barely a month into school, and she was already behind on her overwhelming paperwork. Her shoulders fell and her head dropped.

Life with a second grader and a kindergartener was always busy, especially when you were working full time. Elizabeth felt like she never got a chance to breathe. Something always needed to be addressed. Some fire needed to be put out. She looked around at the kitchen, with her counter covered in papers and dishes piled up in and around the sink. She closed her eyes tightly and tried to take deep calming breaths before she totally snapped. She balled her fists and pressed them tightly to her eyes, hoping that when she opened them, the house would miraculously be as organized as her calendar. Some days, she could pull it together and she felt like Helen Reddy, Martha Stewart and Supernanny all rolled into one. Other days, she felt like a hybrid of Mommy Dearest and Cruella de Ville. Today was a Mommy Dearest/Cruella kind of day. The thought of facing the week alone was too much for her to handle on a Monday morning.

Author Bio:

kathryn r bielKathryn Biel hails from Upstate New York and is a spouse and mother of two wonderful and energetic kids. In between being Chief Home Officer and Director of Child Development of the Biel household, she works as a school-based physical therapist. She attended Boston University and received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from The Sage Colleges. After years of writing countless letters of medical necessity for wheelchairs, finding increasingly creative ways to encourage the government and insurance companies to fund her clients’ needs and writing entertaining annual Christmas letters, she decided to take a shot at writing the kind of novel that she likes to read. Her debut novel, GOOD INTENTIONS, was released in 2013, and her second novel, HOLD HER DOWN was released in 2014. Her musings and rants can also be found on her personal blog, Biel Blather.
 
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Review: Tease

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Tease: The Ivy Chronicles
by Sophie Jordan
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
320 pages
Genre: New Adult, Romance
3 / 5

 

Good girls meet bad boys every day in literature. What makes them interesting is when the good girl isn’t all that good and the bad boy isn’t all that bad. That’s called character development.

In this tale, Emerson is our good/bad girl. She has developed a reputation as a tease who follows through, but there is more to her than that. She is an artist with a wounded soul. She meets Shaw – dark, mysterious, hot Shaw – when he rescues her from certain doom at a biker bar. They are attracted to each other, but Emerson keeps men at arm’s length. No getting hurt for her, thank you very much.

Of course there are Reasons for this, and of course her family is at the crux of it all.

Shaw and Emerson have a hot relationship, though, and before too long, they are playing kissy kissy. As much as Shaw wants more physically, he wants even more emotionally. Emerson, though, needs to get her act together before she loses this stud.

Yes, it’s predictable, NA fare. But it’s enjoyable and occasionally hot. Shaw all but writes the playbook for men; his pursuit of Emerson occurs at a steady, respectful pace. He demands that she respect herself enough to be honest with herself and him. He understands her struggles and wants to help her, not use her. His feelings are genuine and believable.

Emerson, too, is genuine in that she is confused and doesn’t know herself very well. Oh, she thinks she does, but she really has no idea. When Shaw sees through her, it puts her off. She can’t be with him until she accepts reality, and that will take her some time.

This is part of a series, but you don’t need to have read the first one. It’s fun, escapist fare and nothing more.

 

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Review: Cruise

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Cruise: A Thriller
by Suzanne Vermeer
Published by Open Road Integrated Media
238 pages
Genre: mystery, thriller
3.5 / 5

 

It’s all fun and games on a cruise ship until someone drowns.

Heleen and Frank, a Norwegian couple, are celebrating their anniversary with a European cruise. They’ve been together for seventeen years, most of them contented. Yes, there have been struggles, but they give each other the freedom they need. Frank works in travel and as such is away from home a lot, and Heleen is understanding. She has her own career, and she enjoys the autonomy their relationship provides.

In a twist of dramatic irony, we know – but Heleen does not – that Frank has been planning an escape. So when he mysteriously disappears, we sense that he will return one way or another.

Heleen is beside herself over her husband’s supposed death, and she returns home to grieve. But then strange things start happening. First, there is an insurance settlement in the name of a stranger living in France. Then there are other, odder questions.

Determined to understand what happened, Heleen heads to France to find out what Frank has been up to. Along the way, she becomes convinced that the Frank she loved and married is not the Frank she thought was true. The Frank who disappeared? That’s a whole other Frank.

There are twists and turns galore in this book. Just when you think it’s ending, it keeps going. And that is my one complaint: there is almost too much of the thriller and too little of the mystery. We never quite understand Frank’s motivations, nor do we ever quite understand why he and Heleen stayed together for as long as they did. You get the sense that they truly loved each other, which makes Frank’s decisions a bit of a head scratcher.

Still, Vermeer writes a book that will keep you hooked. Heleen is as admirable a character as you’ll find. She has spunk, if not a little innocence, and although her determination to suss out what happened to her husband leads her down one dangerous path after another, she never quits. The titular cruise becomes more about Heleen’s journey across unchartered waters as it does about the actual ship. As much as she learns about Frank, she learns even more about who she really is.

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