Kim’s Review of Everywhere and Every Way (Billionaire Builders #1) by Jennifer Probst

eaewjpIf you’ve read this blog for anything longer than a few minutes, you probably have found out that I’m a big fan of anything and everything related to Jane Austen. Secondary to this, you may have also discovered that I have a certain type of fantasy-husband: the billionaire. I realize that putting that filter on the general population would narrow the field about 99.9%, but hey, a girl can dream. Anyway, I’ve come across some great series that have billionaires at their centers, notably the Billionaire Boys Club books by Jessica Clare and the Love in the Balance series by Jessica Lemmon. This time around I figured I would try to dip my toe into the Billionaire Builders series via its first installment, Everywhere and Every Way by Jennifer Probst. Previously I had the pleasure of reading the Marriage to a Billionaire series by Probst, and it was a ton of fun. I figured if this new series was anything like the other great billionaire-centric books I’ve enjoyed so much, than I would be in good hands with this latest acquisition.

The plot, courtesy of Goodreads:

Ever the responsible eldest brother, Caleb Pierce started working for his father’s luxury contracting business at a young age, dreaming of one day sitting in the boss’s chair. But his father’s will throws a wrench in his plans by stipulating that Caleb share control of the family business with his two estranged brothers.

Things only get more complicated when demanding high-end home designer Morgan hires Caleb to build her a customized dream house that matches her specifications to a T—or she’ll use her powerful connections to poison the Pierce brothers’ reputation. Not one to ignore a challenge, Caleb vows to get the job done—if only he can stop getting distracted by his new client’s perfect…amenities.

But there’s more to icy Morgan than meets the eye. And Caleb’s not the only one who knows how to use a stud-finder. In fact, Morgan is pretty sure she’s found hers—and he looks quite enticing in a hard hat. As sparks fly between Morgan and Caleb despite his best intentions not to mix business and pleasure, will she finally warm up and help him lay the foundation for everlasting love?

One of the first things that caught my attention with Probst’s work is that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. That is not to say that the characters aren’t full of their own depth and strength (more on that later), but there is a ton of sharp dialogue and a healthy obsession with the Property Brothers show on HGTV that made me crack up. I thought it was great that Morgan was obsessed with the show, only to find that she now worked with three good looking brothers in her new job that all remind her of the Property Brothers themselves. It’s this tongue-in-cheek humor that kept me reading and engaged with the story. It made the later, more serious topics easier to handle and held my interest in a good way.

Speaking of the character development, Probst does a great job of bringing Morgan and Caleb to life, making them deal with complex issues, such as illness and family infighting, all the while maintaining a healthy attraction for each other. The quality dialogue and good chemistry that they exude makes their story a joy to read and time definitely stood still for me while I read this book. It was a great intro to this series and you can bet that I’ll be picking up Any Time and Any Place (the second in the series) quite soon!

Fast moving, humorous, and filled with depth, Everywhere and Every Way is one book you’re going to want to make sure you read this summer. Equal parts fun and sexy make this a great beach read!

4 out of 5 Stars

Special thanks to Ms. Probst for my review copy!

Everywhere and Every Way by Jennifer Probst
Simon and Schuster (2016)
Paperback: 448 pages
ISBN: 9781501124259

Kim’s Review of Desire After Dark (The McCarthys of Gansett Island #15) by Marie Force

dadmfSeveral years ago I was scavenging on the Barnes & Noble website for a new nook book to read. I stumbled upon Maid for Love by Marie Force and was transported to a tiny New England island called Gansett Island, which was modeled after Block Island.  I read Maid for Love in a night, downloaded the next books available in the series (6), and proceeded to read them all over the next two days. Since Maid for Love I’ve downloaded each new book on its release day and completely devoured it. Yesterday, Force released the 15th book in the series (!!!) Desire after Dark.  All I can say is, what a wonderful return to Gansett Island! Every new book in the series feels like a homecoming. Each book and each love story given to us is another glimpse into the lives of our Gansett family, because that’s what this group of characters has become, family. We’ve been with them as they’ve found love, started families, dealt with miscarriages, abusive parents, new career paths, divorces, and grief. Just when you think you’ve experienced everything possible with them, Force surprises us and gives us something new to love.

Plot from Goodreads:

Tobias “Slim” Jackson has the perfect life as a pilot on Gansett Island in the summer and in Florida in the winter. He’s happiest when he’s in the air, or at least that was the case before last summer when he met Erin Barton, Gansett Island’s newest lighthouse keeper. Now he can’t seem to find his usual enthusiasm for flying, winter in the sunny South or anything that doesn’t include her.

Erin has been stuck on pause since she lost her twin brother. She’ll tell you herself that her life has been a hot mess since Toby died. After dropping out of law school, she’s flitted from one pointless job to another, existing rather than truly living. Then she comes to Gansett Island to take over as the new lighthouse keeper and meets Slim, who happens to share her beloved brother’s first name. That small coincidence is enough to convince Erin that she needs to spend more time with the dashing pilot—except for the fact that he’s spending the winter more than a thousand miles from her.

Now Slim’s come home to Gansett for the holidays and to hopefully pick up where he left off with Erin. He’s got twelve days before he’s due back in Florida to finish out the remainder of his winter obligations. A lot can happen in twelve days, but will it be enough to convince Erin that it’s time to start truly living again? Read Slim and Erin’s story and catch up with the rest of the Gansett Island cast in Desire After Dark!

If you’re new to the Gansett Island series, I highly recommend starting with Maid for Love and working your way through the series and ending with this fantastic latest installment. I know that 15 books may seem daunting, but trust me, it’s worth the wait. Each book acts as an additional chapter to the overall story of the island and its inhabitants, and you get the opportunity to revisit couples from previous books as time passes. Force does a wonderful job immersing the reader in the story, and before you know it the books fly by. This new work is no exception.

Erin and Slim’s story is yet another wonderful chapter to the Gansett series. When I first learned about Jenny (the heroine of Meant for Love) and Erin’s past and the substantial amount of grief that existed in their lives I wanted so badly for them to find their happy-ever-afters. They are such beautifully strong women, and the men who love them treat them like the queens they are. They are showered with so much love and desire that they can’t help but fight against it for fear from their past losses. Thankfully Slim and Alex fight through their grief and prove to them how wonderful love can be.

Not only was Erin and Slim’s story a pure joy to read, I was SO excited to get more of Owen & Laura, Grace & Evan, and David & Daisy. Force is a master at giving you JUST enough of the other couples and rotating the focus of each new book so as to never feel like you’re missing out on anything important in their lives. Sweet, romantic, and fun, this is the perfect read to get you in the mood for summer!

4 out of 5 Stars

Special thanks to Ms. Force for my review copy!

Desire After Dark by Marie Force
HTJB, Inc (2016)
eBook: 280 pages
ISBN: 2940157747572

Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron Blog Tour + GIVEAWAY

Waterloo cover x 350When I was first asked to join the blog tour for Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron, I was super excited. It’s been a while since I’ve read the other books in the Jane Austen Mysteries series, but I remember loving the idea of Jane Austen as a sleuth. It’s obvious that Jane was observant in real life, as her observations and commentary on the societal events of the day were both astute and very progressive. Therefore it’s not exactly a stretch to think that she would be observant enough to solve mysteries. From the great success that Barron has had so far, it’s clear that many other people agree with me and have loved to see Jane in this new and exciting role. This time we follow Jane as she embarks on an exciting treasure hunt that has very dangerous and real implications. (Below the book blurb and author bio are giveaway instructions so you can win your own copy!)

Book Blurb:

November, 1815. The Battle of Waterloo has come and gone, leaving the British economy in shreds; Henry Austen, high-flying banker, is about to declare bankruptcy—dragging several of his brothers down with him. The crisis destroys Henry’s health, and Jane flies to his London bedside, believing him to be dying. While she’s there, the chaplain to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent invites Jane to tour Carlton House, the Prince’s fabulous London home. The chaplain is a fan of Jane’s books, and during the tour he suggests she dedicate her next novel—Emma—to HRH, whom she despises.

However, before she can speak to HRH, Jane stumbles upon a body—sprawled on the carpet in the Regent’s library. The dying man, Colonel MacFarland, was a cavalry hero and a friend of Wellington’s. He utters a single failing phrase: “Waterloo map” . . . and Jane is on the hunt for a treasure of incalculable value and a killer of considerable cunning.

Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron
Soho Crime (2016)
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781616954253

Author Bio:

Stephanie Barron headshot 2016 photo credit Marea Evans x 150Stephanie Barron was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written fifteen books. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about Stephanie and her books at her website, visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Grand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes

Waterloo Map Blog Tour Prizes x 500

In celebration of the release of Jane and the Waterloo Map, Stephanie is offering a chance to win one of three prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on Jane and the Waterloo Map Blog Tour starting February 02, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, February 29, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Stephanie’s website on March 3, 2016. Winners have until March 10, 2016 to claim their prize. Shipment is to US addresses. Good luck to all!

JANE AND WATERLOO - Blog Tour Horizontal

Todd’s Review of Deck Z: The Titanic by Chris Pauls & Matt Solomon

Every now and again, Kim hands me her Nook and asks me to scroll through a list of books that are highlighted, usually for a sale or a particular event or 51hhDGkGAEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_season. One time I was flipping through a list of science fiction titles and one book in particular stood out. A creepy and undead hand was reaching up towards a picture of the Titanic steaming along the ocean. Intrigued, I began to read the synopsis. Two minutes later, I purchased Deck Z:The Titanic by Chris Pauls & Matt Solomon.

It is 1912, and the White Star Line is preparing to flex its muscle as one of the most powerful British shipping companies in the world with the debut of its flagship, the Titanic. Meanwhile, in a remote village in Manchuria, a mysterious sickness is spreading. Characterized by a black, oily substance that exits the mouths and noses of those infected; the patients often beg for death before descending into a subhuman state. Theodore Weiss, a German scientist, is sent by Kaiser Wilhelm II himself to investigate. What he finds is purely terrifying, and he is able to capture one of the infected and retrieve a vial of what he notes is “the Toxic” from which this infection spreads. Meanwhile, he discovers that he is not the only one who is interested in this mysterious disease, and he runs for his life as he is pursued in order to gain access to “the Toxic.” Weiss finds safety on the Titanic just as it weighs anchor and leaves port. None of the thousands of passengers aboard have the slightest idea of the grave danger they face on a ship which they believe to be unsinkable. What follows next is a tale of terror and action that doesn’t stop until the very end.

Being such a fan of science fiction and zombies, I knew that I was going to find this book entertaining. What I was curious about was the level of detail the book would provide about the zombies. If it was just going to be a gory zombie-fest with the undead chasing Titanic passengers around their cabins, I was going to be a little disappointed. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I read the opening chapters. In fact, there is a good amount of time before any action happens aboard the Titanic at all. Pauls and Solomon do a great job at setting the stage and describing “the sickness” in vivid detail. I felt as if I was with Weiss, investigating the illnesses in remote villages and his own lab, with little-to-no idea of the gravity in which he was placing himself.

After things get going on the Titanic itself, the action only picks up more, chapter by chapter. Weiss is a likable character, and I found myself rooting for him throughout the story. Pauls and Solomon also add a touch of softness with a side story line involving a young girl, which helps to round out all the horror and action that is going on otherwise. Overall, although things do get a bit predictable at points (there are only so many ways to describe a zombie, I suppose), the authors did an admirable job keeping me entertained and cheering for Weiss to the end. This is well worth a pickup for a quick read that will leave you turning the pages (or in my case, tapping the screen) until you discover what really happened on the Titanic that day.

4 out of 5 stars

Deck Z by Chris Pauls & Matt Solomon
Chronicle Books (2012)
eBook: 218 pages
ISBN: 9781452108032

Series Spotlight: A Gilded Newport Mystery by Alyssa Maxwell

For me, vacations as a child were spent on Cape Cod. Every year we would pile in to our old Ford Explorer and take the 5 hour-long trek from New Jersey to Cape Cod. For small children, 5 hours in the car can be an obscenely long time. Tired of listening to my sister and I moaning, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” my mother decided that stopping in Newport, RI would be a great half-way point to stretch our legs. It was during these stops in Newport that we began exploring Bellevue Avenue and discovered the Newport Mansions. They are large, enormous summer homes built during the Gilded Age by the Vanderbilts, Astors, Berwinds, Oelrichs, etc. They are BEAUTIFUL. In the 22 years since my first visit I’ve been to the mansions more times than I can count. I’ve introduced my husband, brother-in-law, and friends to these amazing feats of architecture and grandeur. Alyssa Maxwell is now introducing a whole new set of people to these museums with her A Gilded Newport Mystery series.

agnmam

So why am I telling you guys about this series? First, because the murders are solved by a super awesome heroine, Emma Cross. She’s smart, fiercely independent, creative, gutsy, strongly supportive of everyone around her, and one of the most generous women ever. But above all that? She’s a woman who refuses to be what the society of the time dictates. She’s a newspaper reporter – in the 1890s!!! She’s a distant Vanderbilt relative but doesn’t let that stop her from letting her house become a haven for societal outcasts. Regardless of her lower financial status, she always puts others first. She’s truly an incredible heroine.

Second, the locations and time period! I’ve been to these mansions. They are transporters to another place and time. The Gilded Age was one riddled with extravagance and extreme poverty, while also shepherding many changes on the social front. Women’s suffrage was rapidly increasing among the classes, as well as the abolition of child labor and introduction of many new industrial technologies. The amount of social, political, and economic upheval during this time period really helps drive the subplots of the mysteries.

And about those mysteries? They unfold for the reader and Emma at the same time. Nothing is kept from you that Emma herself hasn’t discovered or thought up. Mysteries told in first-person narrative are my favorite, because I think they offer the reader the ability to solve the crimes at the same time as the heroine/hero. Maxwell does a great job at letting you think you’ve figured it all out early on, then throwing a wrench in your (and Emma’s) hypothesis by adding in a new element to the crime. She really does a spectacular job.

Can I lastly just mention how beautiful the artwork on the covers is?

I highly recommend you pick up these fast-paced mysteries to take with you to the beach this summer. You’ll have a great time helping Emma solve the mysteries that just seem to keep happening in Newport!

In (story) chronological order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. Murder at The Breakers – 4 out of 5 Stars
  2. Murder at Marble House – 4 out of 5 Stars
  3. Murder at Beechwood– 4 out of 5 Stars

Special thanks to Kensington Books for my copy of Murder at Beechwood via Netgalley!

Kim’s Review of Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

bigcoA few years ago I read a novel entitled The Replacement Wife. It had a similar premise to this one: a woman with cancer searches for a replacement spouse for her husband. This entire idea intrigues me because I feel like if I were to become terminally ill, my first thought would be for my spouse and his future well-being and happiness. The Replacement Wife turned out to be one of the worst books I’ve ever read, and generally made me nervous to read any novel with a similar plot line in the future. For some reason when I heard about Before I Go by Colleen Oakley something niggled in my brain to give it a chance and I’m so glad that I did. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year to date.

Plot from Goodreads:

A heart-wrenching debut novel in the bestselling tradition of P.S. I Love You about a young woman with breast cancer who undertakes a mission to find a new wife for her husband before she passes away.

Twenty-seven-year-old Daisy already beat breast cancer three years ago. How can this be happening to her again?

On the eve of what was supposed to be a triumphant “Cancerversary” with her husband Jsack to celebrate three years of being cancer-free, Daisy suffers a devastating blow: her doctor tells her that the cancer is back, but this time it’s an aggressive stage four diagnosis. She may have as few as four months left to live. Death is a frightening prospect—but not because she’s afraid for herself. She’s terrified of what will happen to her brilliant but otherwise charmingly helpless husband when she’s no longer there to take care of him. It’s this fear that keeps her up at night, until she stumbles on the solution: she has to find him another wife.

With a singular determination, Daisy scouts local parks and coffee shops and online dating sites looking for Jack’s perfect match. But the further she gets on her quest, the more she questions the sanity of her plan. As the thought of her husband with another woman becomes all too real, Daisy’s forced to decide what’s more important in the short amount of time she has left: her husband’s happiness—or her own?

When starting out reading a book like thisyou have to prepare yourself for the tumultuous ride of emotions you’ll be taken on. Before I Go was one of the most heart-achingly beautiful journeys I’ve ever had the pleasure (and privilege) of reading. In a way the book isn’t about a specific plot, but more about the emotional journeys that the characters take with themselves as well as each other.

Front and center is Daisy. Cancer survivor patient. Wife. Best friend. Worrier. Keeper of socks. She puts forth great effort in making sure her charming husband eats, has clean clothes, and exists socially outside of work. She worries that when her cancer wins he’ll be devastated and defeated. Her single most important job and function becomes finding him a new partner. Little does she realize that undertaking this quest will shake and test the very foundations of her marriage (and also her friendship with BFF Kayleigh). Daisy’s attempts to be stoic, strong, and self-sufficient backfire. Her inability to let Jack see how weak the cancer is making her and how much his comfort would give her strength pushes him away from her. He ultimately stops pushing her, which in turn begins to make her anxious and doubtful that finding him a new wife would solve everything. This back-and-forth emotional tug of war will have you crying, laughing, and learning from beginning to end. And while Daisy eventually figures out that it’s ok to grieve for yourself, it’s not ok to let that grief make the grief of your loved ones any less important.

Through Daisy, Oakley teaches us extremely valuable lessons. Live your life to the fullest. Spend time with the people you love. Do things that make you happy. Life offers us no guarantees. We never know which day will be our last, so live up to the potential every day offers. Oakley’s masterful and emotional storytelling will have you recommending this book to everyone and adding her to your favorite author lists in quick succession.

5 out of 5 Stars

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy via Netgalley!

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley
Gallery Books (2015)
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781476761664

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen Blog Tour + GIVEAWAY

tsoppjkAs you may have noticed by now, I’m a huge Julie Klassen fan. I’ve reviewed five of her works thus far, and her wit and immersive writing have kept me coming back for more each time. It was a no-brainer then that I decided to be part of the blog tour for The Secret of Pembrooke Park. Matching Klassen’s lively writing style with a dash of mystery was bound to create an adventure that I couldn’t pass up.

From Goodreads:

Abigail Foster fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry to improve her charms and the one man she thought might marry her–a longtime friend–has fallen for her younger, prettier sister.
When financial problems force her family to sell their London home, a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll’s house left mid-play . . .

The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem to know something about the manor’s past, the only information they offer Abigail is a warning: Beware trespassers who may be drawn by rumors that Pembrooke contains a secret room filled with treasure.

Hoping to improve her family’s financial situation, Abigail surreptitiously searches for the hidden room, but the arrival of anonymous letters addressed to her, with clues about the room and the past, bring discoveries even more startling. As secrets come to light, will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks…or very real danger?

One of my favorite things about Klassen as an author is seeing the influence that both Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters have in her works. The themes and spirit of her writing borrow from their famous works, and it always makes me happy to see, being such a fan of these authors myself. For example, reading Abigail’s search for the secret treasure room had many parallels to when Catherine Morland was attempting to find out if Henry Tilney’s mother was murdered in Northanger Abbey. Just like in Jane Eyre, there is a serious undertone of Gothic mystery to the plot as a whole, and you get a sense that there is a bigger picture hiding behind all the clues that one comes across during the course of events. I felt this way as clues began piling up while Abigail searches for the secret room and tries to uncover the mysteries of Pembrooke Park. I knew that the anonymous letters, warnings, and other seemingly independent events would weave together in a larger picture, much like Jane’s dealings with Mr. Rochester belie his true intentions until much later.

In addition to these overall themes, I felt that the plot moved well, with the revelations coming quickly enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. Of special note are the twists at the end, which had me actually gasping out loud (much to my husband’s amusement from the other room.) Not only did the plot and themes hook me, but the characters did as well. Abigail, Leah, William, and even Miles were the cause of my ability to read the entire book in one sitting. Overall, Klassen has produced yet another gem in her lineup. The Secret of Pembrooke Park was everything I thought it would be, and if you’ve never had the pleasure of reading any of Klassen’s works, this is a great one to start with.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishing (2014)
Paperback: 464 pages
ISBN: 9780764210716

Special thanks to Bethany House for my review copy!

Author Julie Klassen 2015 x 200AUTHOR BIO:

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follower her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

Grand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Four Fabulous Prizes

Secret Pembrook Park Blog Tour Prizes x 350

In celebration of the release of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, four chances to win copies of Julie’s books and other Jane Austen-inspired items are being offered.

Three lucky winners will receive one trade paperback or eBook copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and one grand prize winner will receive one copy of all eight of Julie’s novels: Lady of Milkweed Manor, The Apothecary’s Daughter, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Tutor’s Daughter, The Dancing Master, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park, one DVD of Northanger Abbey (2007) and a Jane Austen Action Figure.

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour starting February 16, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, March 9, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Julie Klassen’s website on March 16, 2015. Winners have until March 22, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada. Digital books will be sent through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Good luck to all!

Secret of Pembrooke blog tour horizontal bannerClick here for more details of the blog tour!

 

Kim and Kelly’s Review Of Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers Edited by Shawna Kenney

blskSeveral months ago I received a pitch for a book that featured “a unique collection of toe-curling tales that satisfy the need for well-written erotica with substance.” That hooked me. So I emailed reading BFF Kelly and got her involved in the review too. We both read a lot of romance/erotica books that wind up being trite, lackluster, and frankly seem written for shock value. The idea that a group of writers got together to write erotica that would appeal to our minds as well as our bodies? Yes please!

From Goodreads:

Forget poorly written prose and clichéd love scenes: Book Lovers answers the call for sexy literature with substance. This collection of toe-curling tales written by and for word-worshipers offers well-crafted fiction and creative nonfiction that connects literature to libido. From a Vonnegut-inspired tryst to an imaginary ménage à trois with Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, the book encompasses a veritable buffet of literary fantasies.

Whether they’re conjuring Junot Díaz between the sheets or dreaming of a modern-day enactment of Wuthering Heights—this time refusing Edgar in favor of lusty, bodice-ripping nights with Heathcliff—the stories in Book Lovers are designed for readers’ brains and bodies.

Kelly: Honestly, it should have been a warning sign that the book was being pitched as “intelligent” erotica. Any time you have to tell people that you’re smart, well… It’s either evident or it isn’t.

s1s2

Anyway, we were intrigued by the promise of erotica heavy on the literary references and did not give sufficient side-eye to a blurb that begins with a clichéd attack on the genre.

Kim: Since this is a book of short stories, Kelly and I figured we’d discuss a few separately.

First up was my favorite (and possibly Kelly’s too) A to Z by Kristina Wright.

Kelly: It’s the first story in the collection, and it’s definitely the best of the bunch.

Kim: Quick synopsis: two women, Amy and Zoe, meet in a library. Every two weeks Zoe gives Amy a new book to read. The authors’ names take her through the entire alphabet (A is for  Austen, B is for Bronte, etc.)

Kelly: All lady authors, too. It’s actually a really neat trip down the alley of women’s literature.

Kim: By the time they hit “N” Amy is craving more from Zoe than just her literary recommendations.

Kelly: Because “N” is for “Nin.”

Kim: I loved this story not only for its women’s literature suggestions, but for the fact that the women get turned on by literature. It’s completely cliché to say, but reading is so sexy. Hearing (or being part of) conversations about books is so hot. It doesn’t matter the genre, the author, the story – just hearing someone’s passion for a book is stimulating and sensual.

Kelly: Yes, that part of this story was just lovely. Mainly, though, I loved the story because it worked so well as a short story. It gave me enough information about the characters for me to care about them, but was mysterious enough that I was perfectly content to leave them be after 12 pages. The story also does a great job of balancing fantasy (meeting a sexy stranger in the library and bonding over a yearlong course in women’s literature) and reality (the end). And, although this story was a little bit strange (all short stories are, right?), it was perhaps the least strange of the bunch.

Kim: Strange was definitely the overarching theme of this collection. The closing story of the collection, The Wolf by Amy Halloran, takes the cake for “strangest thing I’ve ever read.”

Kelly: Yeah, that one is special. Kim was texting me while she read the stories (she got to it before I did), and when she hit that one… Well, let’s just say those were some fancy texts. I’ll let her tell you about it.

Kim: I could not formulate words to even express how odd the story was. Think of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Basically in this version, Red has to write the beginning and middle of multiple stories for the Wolf, who has eaten her grandmother (literally.) They then finish the stories together. He waits for her in grandma’s nightgown, all fur and paws. What she has written will determine how he pleases her. As she gets to Granny’s house and begins telling her story, Wolf begins transforming from beast to man. Once he’s transformed she has to feed him her mother’s soup….also known as “the cure.”

Kelly: I’m pretty sure that’s a euphemism.

Kim: Once the cure is given and he can touch her, they begin their sexual coupling. All the while feeling guilty because grandma is in his stomach. After the Wolf comes, Grandma explodes out of him and the Wolf leaves Granny’s house. WHUT?

Kelly: I’m going to start using the term “sexual coupling” on the regular. That’s my favorite, ever. Especially because the wolf is wearing grandma’s nightgown.

Kim: I’m glad you enjoyed that term. 😉

I’d like to say that strange stories don’t always bother me. I’m ok when authors take risks and it pays off. But this story….well there isn’t a payoff. What is the point of it? Maybe in a full length novel these characters and their relationship could be explored more, but for a short story…there is just no point.

Kelly: Oh, god. No. Please no full-length novels exploring the sexuality of Little Red and the Wolf (and Grandma).

Kim: Oh I’m not asking for one by any means. Just trying to figure out HOW this story could have ever worked.

Kelly: OK, OK. I had a little panic, there. *breathing*

Kim: I think the whole Grandma in Wolf’s belly while he has sex with Red was the strangest part. The fact that it’s actively discussed is what’s SO weird. Here, some excerpts about Granny:

“We have been here before, at the corner of want and tell. I write as if I’ll change things while Grandma sits in his belly, dissolving, grinding inside him, an achy, ouchy thing.”

“In his belly she kind of smiles. She does not hate our intersections. Though brittle, she has loved. I think she likes to be near us.”

“Inside him, Granny is swimming laps in soup. She likes this, too.”

Kelly: So effing strange… but, then, I found many of the stories in the collection very strange. And the ones that weren’t (with the exception of the first story, which I really did like and  Inked, which was also rather good) they were straight up forgettable. That’s not to say that I didn’t like some of the strange stories…  The Thrillhammer Orgasmatron (for reals) was interesting and funny in addition to being incredibly strange.

Kim: I’ll give the book credit for all the literary love. There were stories that were inspired by Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Ulysses by James Joyce, and The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe. Stories that revolved around love for authors Junot Diaz, Anais Nin, e.e. cummings, Henry Miller, and Oscar Wilde to name a few. There was definitely a variety of inspiration to say the least. If this book inspires other readers to read new authors (alive or dead) then I have to pat it on the back.

Kelly: But keep in mind that it’s fucking strange.

Kim: SUPER strange.

Kim’s Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

Kelly’s Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers Edited by Shawna Kenney
Avalon Publishing Group (2014)
Paperback: 240 pages
ISBN: 9781580055291

Special thanks to Seal Press for our review copies!

Kim’s Review of Unmasking Juliet by Teri Wilson

ujtwLast year I read Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson and absolutely loved her modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. It was completely charming  and filled with flirtatious dialogue that hooked me from the beginning. When Wilson announced that she was working on a contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet I was nervous and excited! I mean Romeo and Juliet is completely romantic but also totally depressing. I couldn’t wait to see if Wilson could win me over again, so as soon as Unmasking Juliet became available, I started reading.

Plot from Goodreads:

Ever since she was a little girl learning to make decadent truffles in her family’s chocolate shop, Juliet Arabella has been aware of the bitter feud between the Arabellas and the Mezzanottes. With their rival chocolate boutiques on the same street in Napa Valley, these families never mix. Until one night, when Juliet anonymously attends the annual masquerade ball. In a moonlit vineyard, she finds herself falling for a gorgeous stranger, a man who reminds her what passion is like outside of the kitchen. But her bliss is short-lived when she discovers her masked prince is actually Leo Mezzanotte, newly returned from Paris and the heir to her archenemy’s confection dynasty.

With her mind in a whirl, Juliet leaves for Italy to represent the Arabellas in a prestigious chocolate competition. The prize money will help her family’s struggling business, and Juliet figures it’s a perfect opportunity to forget Leo…only to find him already there and gunning for victory. As they compete head-to-head, Leo and Juliet’s fervent attraction boils over. But Juliet’s not sure whether to trust her adversary, or give up on the sweetest love she’s ever tasted…

Unmasking Juliet is, in a word, delightful! Wilson writes such pleasant romances that you can’t help but be warmed by them. I think a crisp fall day, curled on your couch with a soft, cozy blanket is the best way to enjoy her novels. Her ability to creatively turn classic novels into contemporary pieces is astounding. I was wondering how she was going to have two warring families hate each other on the scale that the Capulets and Montagues did, and if she could effectively include a balcony scene! I’m happy to say that Unmasking Juliet is a resounding success.

If any of you out there have read Laura Florand’s Amour et Chocolat series (see reading bff Kelly and my review of book one here) and have enjoyed it, you’ll already know that there is something incredibly sexy about a man who knows what he’s doing with chocolate. And a chocolatier that puts his heart into his product to show his love for a woman….that’s even sexier. Leo is oozing with sex appeal. I loved how Wilson was able to give Leo some of Romeo’s actual lines from Romeo and Juliet and not make them sound cheesy and outdated. Her mixing of the prose was flawless and beautifully crafted.

Next up in Wilson’s re-imagined classics series is a new take on My Fair Lady, entitled Unschooling the Professor, due out in December. You can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be purchasing that book the day it comes out.

Romantic, alluring, beautiful, and creative, Unmasking Juliet is a story that will make you believe in the power of true love.

5 out of 5 Stars

Unmasking Juliet by Teri Wilson
Harlequin (2014)
Paperback: 368 pages
ISBN: 9780373778751

Special thanks to Harlequin for my review copy via Netgalley!

Kim and Sam’s Review of Landline by Rainbow Rowell

lrrSo if you haven’t heard of Rainbow Rowell yet, let staffer Sam and I gush over her for you. She’s an author who writes both Adult and Teen contemporary fiction. She champions the people whose voices aren’t always heard. The voices of the different. The small. The people who sometimes need a push in the right direction. Her stories take you on emotional journeys that irrevocably change you (you can read my gushing reviews of her teen novels Eleanor and Park here and Fangirl here.) Today, Sam and I are discussing her latest adult venture, Landline.

From Goodreads:

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Sam: I must start by saying that I have yet to meet a Rainbow Rowell book that I didn’t like (thanks to Kim). That said, there was something about Landline that was EXTRA awesome. What I liked most is that Rowell used her YA formula with a married couple on the brink of big changes and decisions. I found Neal and Georgie more than relatable, they were parts of myself in a way I haven’t seen in a book. Not for a long time at least.

Kim: I think what made this book SO special for us, Sam, is that we’re married, and have been with our partners for several years. So we immediately could relate to the ups and downs of Neal and Georgie’s marriage.

Anyone that’s been in a long-term (read: very long) relationship will tell you that at some point you feel comfortable with your partner. That honeymoon period doesn’t necessarily end, but it evens out. There isn’t a crazy mad dash to spend every second of your day with your other half. You feel comfortable in silences. You can wear your sweats and yoga pants with them. Your love becomes more than that immediate infatuation present with new love. However what keeps a marriage together is making sure that comfort doesn’t become laziness.

For Neal and Georgie their marriage has become a bit TOO comfortable. They don’t talk about their hopes and dreams and wishes anymore. It’s become a focus almost solely on Georgie’s hopes and dreams and wishes. When Neal takes the kids to Nebraska for the holidays and leaves her behind, she is finally faced with what her life would be/could be without them. And when her old landline gives her the opportunity to talk to a young version of Neal, she finds that the person she swore the rest of her life to might be the one with all the answers.

Sam: I think that Young Neal in particular is such an interesting character because to me he represents  a typical 18-year-old faced with the dilemma: “what am I going to do with the rest of my life?” So, here is this kid from Nebraska who sets off for the West Coast to study marine life because he has never seen the ocean. (There is something poetic about going too far away to study something so “romantic.”) Then he hates it. Because at 18 who knows what they want to do? BUT he meets this girl. And maybe he doesn’t know who he wants to be, but he knows who he wants to be with. THEN their relationship gets so comfortable that they marry , have children, and still he’s never figured himself out, so he stays home. He falls into the homemaker role, becomes the center of his kids’ universe, a universe that Georgie admits is hard to be part of. I do appreciate that by the simple fact that Present Neal LOVES his kids, he ends up doing exactly what he wants.

Kim: I totally agree with you! Young Neal puts all his faith for his future into his love for Georgie. It doesn’t matter to him early on that he’s unsure of his future. His future IS Georgie, and that’s enough for him. I can seriously relate to Young Neal because when I met my husband I was just like Young Neal. Sure I had dreams for my future, but everything got completely reworked once he entered the picture.

This is another thing married people would probably agree with us on. As important as your dreams and future hopes are – finding a way for your partner to be part of them will always matter more. In this we see how selfish Georgie is/has become. Present Neal is a homemaker so that Georgie can see her dreams come true. But what dreams does Georgie ever help Present Neal accomplish?

Sam: Yes. I agree, though I think the subtlety is that she never helps him uncover a dream. In many ways he’s still lost because his world is so wrapped up in hers. What’s worse: a dream never accomplished or one never found?

Kim: Damn. Good question.

Sam: Then there’s Georgie. She’s been able to pursue every dream she’s ever had and she’s found success in it. With her best (awful) friend, Seth, they have found success in the TV comedy writing world. What I like about Georgie’s relationship with Seth is that you can tell it’s hard. I liked seeing Georgie struggle with him because it amplified the feeling that her moments on the phone with Young Neal were easy.

Kim: UGH Seth. I have SO many thoughts on him.

Sam: I try not to.

Kim: HAHA! My first thought is, “how blind is Georgie that she can’t see that Seth doesn’t have her best interests at heart?” Like HOW can you consistently call someone your best friend who doesn’t care that your marriage is ending? Like Georgie tells Seth that Neal has gone to Nebraska with their kids and he sees her falling apart a little more each day without them. All Seth cares about is writing their show.

At what point do you ask yourself is my dream worth my best friend’s downfall?

Sam: My blood is boiling just reading that. He’s not a good person and his influence on her is sad. He knows how to manipulate her. The way he speaks to and about her is alarming and the fact that she can’t see it despite the lovely things that Neal says and does and draws is baffling.

Kim: Completely agree. Present (and Young) Neal is a complete foil to Seth. Seth provides Georgie with NOTHING that she needs. Neal, on the other hand, is unconditional in everything he offers her. It’s heartbreaking to see how blind Georgie has become to that.

Sam: My heart hurt when Neal’s late dad picked up the phone that first time. How wonderful to get a moment with someone after you thought there wouldn’t be another. I think it’s amazing that Georgie was the one to hear his voice an extra time because it’s that reminder that sometimes the last time you see someone, or talk to them, or tell them you love them is the last time.

Kim: SUCH A GOOD POINT. Georgie takes her comfortable marriage and her comfortable husband for granted. Something I’m sure we’ve all done to a loved one at some point. Talking to her deceased father-in-law is one of those “come to Jesus” moments that really makes Georgie evaluate her present path.

I also think that seeing her younger sister falling in love for the first time with the pizza delivery person is another “come to Jesus” moment. To realize that love can be fleeting and to grasp it when you’re luckily given the chance to….well it all helps Georgie realize how important and necessary Neal is in her life.

Sam: So the pizza delivery person might be the most badass and swoonworthy character in the book (not counting Neal…of course.) Side note: I LOVE the expression “come to Jesus” and will now use it at least twice this month. Double side note: I would really LOVE to read a whole book about sister and said delivery person…

Kim: LOL to your first side note. And YES YES YES YES to your second.

Dear Rainbow,

Sam and I would REALLY love for you write that story. Like omg please do it.

Love,

Kim & Sam

Sam: *whispers* This is where you have your “come to Jesus” moment.

Kim: In the end what makes this story so amazing is its bottom line: True love always offers you a chance at redemption.

Sam: That and the fact that it is so damn magical. To truly rediscover all of the best parts, maybe long forgotten parts, of your person is such a beautiful idea. After reading Landline my eyes were open once again to the amazing, loving, sweet person that I get to spend every day with. That’s a gift. Thanks for the magic, Rainbow Rowell.

Kim’s Rating: All the stars in the universe for this book.

Sam’s Rating: What Kim said.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Press (2014)
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781250049377