Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: Sunset in Central Park by Sarah Morgan

Disclaimer: I've received Sunset in Central Park as an eARC from Netgalley

Sunset in Central Park by Sarah Morgan
published by Harlequin (HQN Books) in August 2016
In the chaos of New York, true love can be hard to find, even when it's been right under your nose all along…

Love has never been a priority for garden designer Frankie Cole. After witnessing the fallout of her parents' divorce, she's seen the devastation an overload of emotion can cause. The only man she feels comfortable with is her friend Matt—but that's strictly platonic. If only she found it easier to ignore the way he makes her heart race…

Matt Walker has loved Frankie for years but, sensing how fragile she is beneath her feisty exterior, has always played it cool. But then he uncovers new depths to the girl he's known forever and doesn't want to wait a moment longer. He knows Frankie has secrets and has buried them deep, but can Matt persuade her to trust him with her heart and kiss him under the Manhattan sunset?
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: From Manhattan with Love, Book #2

The Story: After witnessing her parents' divorce and seeing how it transformed her mother, Frankie Cole doesn't believe in love. She's actually quite anti-love; not the best stance when you are co-owner of an event and concierge company whose bulk of business mainly have to do with weddings, engagement parties and bridal showers. So when Matt Walker - best friend's older brother and landlord - needs a floral designer to complete the landscape of a roof garden, Frankie jumps on the occasion to get away from all the romance for the summer.

Matt Walker has been in love with Frankie for years, but had to play it cool because he knows Frankie's views on love. However, Matt's patience has run out and he's decided that now is the time to make his move as they will be spending more time together for work.

My Opinion: I read the first book in the series, Sleepless in Manhattan, and liked it well enough to continue the series. The truth is the one I really want to read is Eva's book, but it's not coming till November. So for now, I went with Sunset in Central Park, figuring that it'd be fine since I usually like grumpy/prickly characters... but I was wrong ^_^; Now, I'm going to sound like the heroine scrooge because this will be the second book in a row that I review where I didn't like the heroine :(

Basically, Frankie has issues. One of them is her mother who, after the divorce, decided to boost her confidence by having sex with any willing male, even if it meant affairs with married men and coming onto Frankie's friends (notably Matt and Jake). Even now, she still hooks up with men younger than Frankie and is not shy about sharing details. In short, Frankie is mortified and has moved away from her hometown to escape a bad reputation and all the rumors. She likes New York City for its anonymity. She's also determined to be the complete opposite of her mother - stays away from men, tries to look unattractive and scoffs at romance. While I understood where the issues stem from and sympathized with Frankie, I have to admit I didn't like Frankie much. I just never connected with her and to a certain extent, found her annoying. Or actually, immature. She went out of her way to avoid/run away from things that bothered her - her mother and men. Her grumpiness was actually a front, an armor to keep people away. That's fine at first, but don't you eventually have to grow up and confront reality? How long can you keep running? All those panicky moments because she didn't know how to deal with Matt's attention and her attraction to him because she hadn't let herself feel like an adult. I don't know, I just felt Frankie should have been at a point where she should have worked out some of her issues already... and I wish she'd have gotten there on her own and not because of Matt's nudging. Later in the story, readers find out that there's more to Frankie's issues... but by that point, I didn't care anymore. And one last thing... glasses are bad disguise and don't make you look unattractive.

Aside from Frankie, I also had some issues with the storyline... First, I thought it was really unrealistic to have Frankie go to Puffin Island - their hometown - to attend a wedding with Matt. Those are like the two things she hates the most and I can't see her doing them unless it was unavoidable and it wasn't. I just didn't buy it. I also thought it was a bit tactless of Matt to ask her to do it knowing how she felt. Besides, the series is supposed to take place in New York City... My second niggle with them going to Puffin Island is... sometimes, cross-over between series are fun; unfortunately, they don't always work. Puffin Island was Ms Morgan's last trilogy before this one and frankly, I didn't read it all. It didn't hold my interest then and it didn't now either. Personally, I found it pointless to have them in this book ^_^; It would have been better to focus on Matt and Frankie or the current trilogy's characters instead of bringing back previous characters just for a peek. Finally, the secondary story with Matt's employee was meh. I felt it didn't add much to the romance other than show was a great guy Matt was.

Last but not least, I thought Matt was a great hero. Very patient and caring guy - perhaps a bit too much. I did think it was tactless for him to bring Frankie back to Puffin Island, but he did it to help her out. He's the perfect beta hero. I also enjoyed the friendships in this book a lot. Whether it was between the guys or the girls or the girls and guys :) And the sequel baiting did work because I still want to read Eva's book!

My Grade: C-. Perhaps I was in a bad mood when I read Sunset in Central Park, but this one just didn't work for me on many front. However, I know I'm going to be in the minority, so if you've enjoyed Ms Morgan's writing, don't let my review deter you :P

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

End of an era...

So I just found out tonight that Bleach is over. Bleach is one of the first manga I've ever read. I followed that series for years... and have about 40 volumes at home. Yes, I eventually lost interest or more accurately, didn't follow as obsessively as I used to... but to know that after 15 years, Bleach has come to an end... It truly feels like the end of an era.

I find that the end of a series is always emotional. You never want it to be over, you always want more of the characters you've come to love so much. The longer the series has gone on, the more heart-wrenching the end is... because in many instances, the mangaka is asked to wrap up the series due to loss of popularity/decrease in ratings and therefore, the ending is rushed and not exactly what the mangaka has envisioned :( This is exactly the case with Bleach. Lots of unanswered questions, sigh.

Oh well. We don't get a say :( Now that it's over, perhaps I'll go back and read the parts that I haven't. Even though I haven't been following the series as closely in the past few years, I'm going to miss Bleach, know that it's over... The plot might not have been as strong and stellar as from the beginning, but the art has :)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Olympic Games: Days 12-16

The Olympics are over T_T I'm happy and sad at the same time. Happy because I really enjoyed the games this time around. I think it's the fact that I was practically in the same time zone, so got to watch a lot of events live. Also, for many athletes, it wasn't their first game and therefore, I was familiar with a lot of them... so it just added a little something. There were so many good moments and good performances. I'm sad because it's over. Although I have to admit that by Sunday, I think I was ready for it to be over LOL.

My sister and I joke at every Olympic games about Canada being best at finishing 4th ^_^; Fourth place is always tough, but I think it's even tougher at the Olympic games because they come every 4 years... and Rio Olympics wasn't an exception. We probably had close to 10 4th place finish... and every one of them were heart-breaking. Especially the last night of athletics where we got 3 and all of them were personal/season best performances. Perhaps we care too much about medals? What really matters is the athletes doing the best they could and being happy with their own performances...

Some of my highlights:

1. Ryan Cochrane and Hilary Caldwell

This is somewhat bittersweet. For the past 8 years, Ryan Cochrane has been the pillar of Team Canada's swimming team. He's been the one to make it on the podium consistently at all the important events. He got bronze in Beijing and silver in London. This Olympics, he really wanted to make it on the podium in honor of his coach who passed away last year... but alas, it didn't happen. It's most probably his last Olympics and I'm so sad :( Hilary Caldwell had the same coach as Ryan and the same goal. She emerged in 2013 and has been quite consistent ever since. It was just really beautiful to see the two of them swim in memory of their coach.

2. Evan Dunfee

It sounds weird, but one of the most interesting event I got to watch this Olympics was the men's 50km walk. 50km walk!! And do you know how fast they walked that?! About 3h40m!! Crazy! LOL. The walk event actually caught my attention at last year's world championship, so I knew to look out for it at the Olympics. Anyway, Evan Dunfee... Wow. Evan came in 4th which is impressive in itself, but what amazed me even more was the man itself: his sportsmanship and his integrity. Halfway through the walk, everyone thought the Olympic champion was already determined and the rest of the field would be fighting for silver and bronze as world record holder, the Frenchman Yohann Diniz had taken over a 1.5 minute lead. However, he started having cramps and other issues and had to stop. When Evan who was leading the chase group took over, he actually pat Yohann on the back and encouraged him to continue. That was already an amazing gesture... but there's more. Two kilometers before the finish line, Evan was fighting for the bronze with Japanese walk racer Hirooki Arai. Evan passed Arai, but the Japanese came back. When he did, he bumped into Evan... disrupting Evan's rhythm. Don't know if you've ever seen it, but these walkers walk funny LOL. And when they've been doing it for more than 4 hours, they're into this rhythm... and once disrupted, it's really hard to get back into it. So Hirooki got bronze and Evan 4th place. However, the race officials decided to disqualify Hirooki for the bump... giving Evan the bronze. The Japanese athletics committee protested and Hirooki was re-instated and got back his bronze medal and Evan was bumped down. It was Evan's decision whether to lodge a protest or not and he decided against. After reviewing the tape, he thought the officials' decision was fair - that Hirooki didn't mean the bump... and also, he was happy and proud of his race and didn't want a medal that way. Seriously, how many athletes would have acted the way Evan did? and for that, he's earned my respect. I'll forever support him LOL. And look at him and Hirooki at the closing ceremony!!

3. Catharine Pendrel

In London, Catharine Pendrel was the favorite to win, but came in 9th. I don't know what was the expectations for Rio, but race didn't start well because she was involved in a crash. At one point, she was 15th and had to come back from behind to win bronze... She displayed such grit and determination and was simply awesome. Just too unfortunate that her fellow Canadian, Emily Batty, was 4th...

There were tons of other moments that were great for me and not just from team Canada... but it'd be too long to list them all :) Lots of high emotions and good performances. I'm already looking forward to Tokyo 2020!!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Book Haul - Doing maths at the bookstore

It's crazy how things change so fast and sometimes, you don't even realize it. A few years ago, I used to go to the bookstore at least once a week. I might not have bought something every time, but I'd at least browse the aisles. Sometime, even sit and page through books! Nowadays, it's pretty much hit and run when I step in a bookstore. I know exactly what I want and after purchasing it, I'm out. And these trips are even rarer now that prices of books have increased. How things have changed...

There's been a promotion at Indigo: buy 40$ and get a 10$ card... I've been meaning to go to the bookstore, but I've been so involved in the Olympics I almost forgot! Finally remembered last night and checked out what I could buy LOL. Had a list and decided to hit the bookstore during my lunch break. One of the bookstores - the one near the curling club - had a few more books that I wanted in comparison to the one near my house, so that's where I went. I started gathering the books that it had and the other store didn't... and realize I should get all the books there! Why go to another bookstore? LOL. Funny how sometimes, you're so focused on certain things and can't look past it. So I started gathering the books and realized I could make three purchases of 40$! Yay! Except I was missing 2 books... and it was a challenge to decide what books to buy to fill that gap. Then, it was putting the right books together so I could be over 40$ with the smallest margin possible LOL.

Anyway, here are the books:

And I did really good putting the right books together, because I paid 40.61$, 39.63$ and 38.72$ respectively. (I had to reach 40$ before the Ireward discount of 10% :P) Yay me! and I hit the jackpot because some of the books are technically not out yet :)

So now, I have 3 10$ cards to use... Guess what I'm pre-ordering? :)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

I've become...

... a shoeaholic!!

I used to laugh at people who bought so many shoes and had closet full of them. I mean, how many shoes can you wear aat once? However, in the past few years, I've finally grown out of my running shoes... and started to accumulate quite a few pairs. Gotta have the right shoes with the right outfit for the right occasion!

So yesterday, I didn't put up my post because I finally fell asleep! I've been staying up really late in the past couple of weeks... but there was a warehouse sale for Toms shoes which my sister and I went. We spent about an hour there and I guess the heat and looking for shoes and the best deal finally tired me out :)

The prices were okay. We saved about 50% on each pair of shoes. Here is what we got:

The upper row are mine and the bottom row, my sister's. The shoes were divided by sizes, but dumped into boxes. As a result, you really had to go through the boxes to find shoes. Some models were a lot rarer than others. The flats went particularly fast and those black flats - I found them in a corner and there were the only pair I saw. My sister was also looking for flats. Unfortunately, did not find any in her size; however, she did see a lady holding a red/orange pair she liked. After stalking the FB page and learning that they were re-stocking everyday, we decided to go again today... but earlier than after work. I think the strategy worked, because here is our 2nd haul:

The two bottom pairs are mine, and the six others are my sister... LOL. She did find the red/orange flats! Those shoes were really her goal today and she was lucky she found any! Because besides the pair we bought, I didn't see any other... and she was actually lucky to get her hand on these, since at first, she only found the left foot! I didn't think we'd find the right foot, but I guess it was meant to be :) Then, she started finding the other pairs... and just couldn't choose LOL.

So yep, we're okay for shoes for a few years...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Olympic Games: Days 6-11

Only a few more days till the Olympics are over already!! How did that happen? I feel like it just started! Once it's over, I'm going to go into serious withdrawal ^_^;

Here are my highlights for days 6-11:

1. Derek Drouin

Derek Drouin is a high jumper and the first Canadian since 1932 to win gold at an Olympic in that event!! He caught my eye in the London Olympics when he won bronze. Ever since then, I've been following his career. Last year, he won his first world championship... and to follow that with an Olympic title, that's just impressive as hell! :) I'm really happy for him, especially since he won in such a beautiful fashion - clearing all the heights on his first attempts. Seriously though, the high jump competition tonight was really thrilling! Had me, my dad and my sister on the edge of our seats :) Something else that I like about Derek is his attitude: so composed during the competition and humble afterwards. I hope he continues for another Olympic cycle!

2. Brianne Theisen-Eaton

I've been following heptathlon for quite a while. Initially, it was because of Carolina Kluft from Sweden whom I admired a lot. Then, Canadian heptathletes started to do really well and there's nothing better than cheering for your own country right? :) During the London Olympics, Brianne Theisen-Eaton stood out for me. She was the future of Canada in that event. Plus, it's no secret I'm a big romantic and there's nothing cuter than a couple competing together at the Olympics :) In Rio, Brianne and her husband, Ashton, were both aiming for gold... and they were both favorites coming in, Brianne being the wold vice-champion and Ashton, the world champion and world record holder. Unfortunately, the first day didn't go so well for Brianne... but she made an incredible comeback in day 2, especially in javelin throw, to climb back up from 6th place to bronze :) I'm so happy she made it on the podium after all the work she put in and the expectations she had. By the way, seeing Brianne with Ashton makes you believe that love really exists... their love is palpable when they support and cheer each other.

3. He Zi & Qin Kai

Speaking of love, did you guys see Qin Kai propose to He Zi just after she won silver in the 3m springboard diving? Both of them are Chinese divers and have been dating for 6 years. Qin Kai won a bronze earlier in 3m synchronized swimming and He Zi won silver on that day. After the medal ceremony, he walked up on the stage and proposed. A lot of people criticized Qin Kai's gesture, saying that he stole her thunder or whatever. In my opinion, he just wanted to start their new chapter in life. Rio was most probably the last olympic game for the two of them and what a way to end them, right? Also, it was so cute to see the female divers coming to congratulate He Zi and ask to see her ring LOL. Remind us that these athletes are also regular people :P

4. Rosie MacLennan

Rosie MacLennan is a trampoline gymnast. Four years ago, in London, she won the only gold medal for Canada. As a result, she was chosen to be our flag bearer for Rio... where she successfully defended her olympic title!! It was such a great routine and another really exciting event to watch. So awesome to see her reaction and know that four years of hard work and perseverance have paid off. Especially since she suffered a brain concussion in the last year. Winning a gold medal at the Olympic games is hard... but defending a title is even harder. So I'm really happy for Rosie that she did :)

Also, isn't that photo amazing?

5. Canada's men volleyball team

Congrats to Canada's men volleyball team for making it to the quarter-finals after a clutch win against Italy. It's been 20 years since Canada last had a men volleyball team in the Olympics and it was a tough road for them to even just qualify! So to make it out of the "death" pool was awesome! Going to be knocking on wood and crossing every fingers for the game against Russia tomorrow!!


That's it for me now! Hopefully, I'll have plenty more highlights in the next few days!!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
published by Sourcebooks in August 2016
Catalia "Cat" Fisa is a powerful clairvoyant known as the Kingmaker. This smart-mouthed soothsayer has no interest in her powers and would much rather fly under the radar, far from the clutches of her homicidal mother. But when an ambitious warlord captures her, she may not have a choice…

Griffin is intent on bringing peace to his newly conquered realm in the magic-deprived south. When he discovers Cat is the Kingmaker, he abducts her. But Cat will do everything in her power to avoid her dangerous destiny and battle her captor at every turn. Although up for the battle, Griffin would prefer for Cat to help his people willingly, and he's ready to do whatever it takes to coax her…even if that means falling in love with her.
Genre: Fantasy romance
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles, Book #1

The Story: In A Promise of Fire, magic exists and Greek gods are real. The world is divided into three countries - Fisa, Tarva and Sinta - and magic is strongest the closer you are to the North, the Ice Plains, the Frozen Lakes and the ocean. The Magoi - humans with magic - are the ones in power and rule the world... except for Sinta which has just been overtaken by the Hoi Polloi - humans without magic.

Catalia "Cat" doesn't care about the future of Fisa, Tarva and Sinta and its rulers. All that matters is that they do not find her. Cat possesses the rare magic talent of discerning truths from lies - a talent  that appears every 200 years - and makes her invaluable to those in power since she knows who can be trusted, etc. Tortured as a child by her own family to "develop" her gift, Cat ran away when she was 15 years old and has spent the past 8 years hiding in a circus... but her days of hiding are over.

Griffin's family has recently overtaken Sinta and become the new royal family. They are Hoi Polloi... but Griffin is not naive. He knows that in order to consolidate their power, he will need to work with Magoi, especially with the Power Bid coming up. What his family wants is to change the way society is. However, he won't ally with anyone.  But never in his wildest dream did he expect to find the Kingmaker...

My Opinion: I picked up A Promise of Fire because of the positive buzz it was getting in blogland. Also, it's been a while since I last read a true fantasy romance and was really in the mood for it. Unfortunately, once again, my opinion seems to differ from everyone else :(

My main issue with A Promise of Fire is that I found Cat annoying ^_^;; First, I felt she didn't really fit the fantasy feel of the story. Take away her magic and the swears based on the Greek gods and she would have fit perfectly in a contemporary romance book. So that was jarring for me.  Also, the whole book was written in her 1st person POV and seriously, it was tiring to follow all her thoughts. Especially since she rarely said what she really thought or felt. For example, she would tell Griffin she wasn't attracted to him... but of course, she was. Then, there was all the little discussions with herself... It was just too much for me - I wanted out of her head. I think it would have been better if it had been in the 3rd person POV or having Griffin's POV. Many reactions of hers were very immature and in a lot of instances, I found her bratty. Personally, I think Ms Bouchet tried too hard to create the perfect strong, kick-ass heroine à la Kate Daniels that readers would fall in love with. Sure, it resulted in a heroine that ticked all the right boxes, but also that felt forced and was a pale copy of all the strong heroines in urban fantasy series that we love so much.

Other than Cat, A Promise of Fire had potential. While not original, the story was interesting and intriguing enough for me to want to at least try the next book. Then again, I do love power struggles LOL. Especially since near the end, Ms Bouchet introduces a bunch of interesting characters and dangle the Power Bid - which I'm guessing is a competition between the three countries for power - as bait sequel and it works :) The world building was also well done, the information peppered throughout the story instead of an info dump. It was also logical enough that Ms Bouchet only had to give us a few tidbits and the rest could be figured out. I'm not huge on maps, but this time, I think one would have helped. One thing that I found unfortunate though is that the whole plot lacked the subtlety that makes a book stand out. Unless I'm completely wrong about Cat's secret, the foreshadowing was painted with a huge brush and red paint... and  it makes you question Griffin's intelligence for not figuring it out yet ^_^;

For me, the best aspect of the book was the secondary characters. I really enjoyed them - they made the story fun and appealing. I hope Ms Bouchet is able to develop them, but I'm not sure I would want whole books about them. Those who enjoy sexual tension will also be pleased because there is ton in A Promise of Fire. The romance was okay... I'm not totally sure I buy it, but I can see Griffin and Cat being together.

One last thing that bothered me is Griffin's ex-lover. I don't think that part was necessary at all - it was there just to create conflict in the romance and it felt really superfluous. Plus, I don't think it painted women in a really good light. Why go down that path then?

My Grade: C. This book definitively had potential, it's just too bad it didn't deliver and the heroine got on my nerve :( While reading A Promise of Fire, I kept thinking I wanted to re-read Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan ^_^; Still, it had enough though to pique my interest and make me want to check out the next book to see what happens.