Saturday, August 31, 2013

Week-End's Minis XL: Love Irresistibly by Julie James

Wow, didn't think I'd get my mini up today, but I did! Yay! Also very happy because I've been wanting to review Love Irresistibly for a while! The last few days haven't really been great, so it's nice to have one good thing happening :) Now, I'm going to continue enjoying my long week-end and I hope you guys do too! And hope this review will be part of it LOL.

Love Irresistibly by Julie James
published by Berkley in April 2013
He's used to getting what he wants…

A former football star and one of Chicago’s top prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cade Morgan will do anything to nail a corrupt state senator, which means he needs Brooke Parker’s help. As general counsel for a restaurant company, she can get a bug to the senator’s table at one of her five-star restaurants so the FBI can eavesdrop on him. All Cade has to do is convince Brooke to cooperate—and he’s not afraid to use a little charm, or the power of his office, to do just that.

And what he wants is her.

A savvy businesswoman, Brooke knows she needs to play ball with the U.S. Attorney’s office—even if it means working with Cade. No doubt there’s a sizzling attraction beneath all their sarcastic quips, but Brooke is determined to keep things casual. Cade agrees—until a surprising turn of events throws his life into turmoil, and he realizes that he wants more than just a good time from the one woman with whom he could fall terrifyingly, irresistibly in love...
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: FBI/Attorney, Book #4

What do you need to know? The event that is described in the blurb - Cade needing the help of Brooke to nail a corrupt state senator - is not the conflict of the book and is actually dealt with quite rapidly... However, it is how Cade and Brooke meet. From that first meeting, they bump into each other a few times and start a relationship despite their busy schedule.

While everything is going well on the relationship front, their personal lives become more complicated. Brooke loves her job, but gets a very tempting offer. One that's almost too good to pass, but would take her in another city. As for Cade, he discovers the existence of a half-brother, Zach, from his father who's never been part of his life...

What did I like? There was a lot that I enjoyed about Love Irresistibly... but what stood out the most for me was the wittiness of Cade and Brooke's relationship. I think they were really well matched, had great chemistry and it all translated into excellent banter :) As a result, I really enjoyed their romance. I also liked the characters a lot. I liked that they were dedicated to their job, had ambition and were able to juggle their love, professional and personal lives. For me, Love Irresistibly was a good representation/portrayal of a budding romance between two professional nowadays.

I thought the conflicts were good and interesting and really liked how they were resolved. What's more, the resolutions felt very natural, not forced nor rushed which is quite rare. In the case of Brooke, I liked that she knew what she wanted in life and that her decision didn't revolve around Cade and their relationship. To me, her loyalty for her company and the fact that ambition didn't equal dollar signs were very commandable and told us a lot about Brooke. And I was so happy that she didn't actually take the job and come back because of Cade! How many have we read that kind of ending when the hero or heroine is confronted to a choice? It's just getting too typical and boring. As for Cade, I enjoyed his story as well. What he was facing wasn't easy, but he handled it with maturity. I liked how he got to know his half-brother Zach who was such a sweet character!

What didn't work for me? Not much. I really enjoyed Love Irresistibly :) There are only two niggles that prevented this book from being a wowzer in my opinion. The first is that I wished there had been more scenes of Cade and Brooke together. I didn't need a conflict between the two - I was happy with their issues, but it would have been nice for them to interact more, just be together. The other niggle is that the story is not very memorable ^_^; It's been a few months since I've read Love Irresistibly and I know I enjoyed it a lot while reading it, I even remember what I liked about it... but ask me for details about the story? I'm not sure I could answer. Just writing the synopsis for this review was really hard and I usually have a very good memory for it :(

My Grade? B+. Very solid and enjoyable read, but not without some minor flaws.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: The Hero by Robyn Carr

Disclaimer: I've received The Hero as an eARC from Netgalley
(but have bought my own copy since then :P)

The Hero by Robyn Carr
published by Harlequin (Mira) in August 2013
In a moment of desperation, Devon McAllister takes her daughter and flees a place where they should have been safe and secure. She has no idea what is around the next bend, but she is pretty certain it can't be worse than what they've left behind. Her plan is to escape to somewhere she can be invisible. Instead, an unexpected offer of assistance leads her to Thunder Point, a tiny Oregon town with a willingness to help someone in need.

As the widowed father of a vulnerable young boy, Spencer Lawson knows something about needing friendship. But he's not looking for anything else. Instead, he's thrown his energy into his new role as Thunder Point's high school football coach. Tough and demanding to his team, off the field he's gentle and kind...just the kind of man who could heal Devon's wounded heart.

Devon thought she wanted to hide from the world. But in Thunder Point, you find bravery where you least expect it...and sometimes, you find a hero.
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Thunder Point, Book #3

The Story: The Hero is pretty much about Devon McAllister, a young woman who out of loneliness, made some poor decisions which landed her in some kind of commune/religious order called The Fellowship where she stayed for four years. Devon never really believed what was being preached by The Fellowship, but couldn't leave because Jacob, the leader and father of her daughter, would not let her take her child with her. However, in the past few months, Jacob's behavior had become more and more erratic and aggressive and thus, when Devon had the chance, she grabbed Mercy and ran away... and ended up in Thunder Point. With the help of Rawley, who took her under his wing, Devon started to rebuild herself a life.

Spencer Lawson has recently lost his wife to cancer and needed to move away from Texas so he and his son could move on. He chose Thunder Point because it's where he found a position as high school football coach, but also because it would bring his son closer to his biological father. After meeting Devon, Spencer finds himself attracted to this courageous woman. However, Devon's initial worries about Jacob were not for naught...

My Opinion: After reading The Newcomer, I was very interested in one of the newly introduced character, Spencer Lawson, and as such, was happy to find out that he was getting his story in The Hero. Why was I intrigued by Spencer? Well it's basically the situation that he found himself in. Remember that in The Newcomer, Cooper found out that he has a son? Well that's because Spencer discovered that he wasn't the biological father of his ten years old son, Austin. Oups ^_^; What made the situation interesting for me was the fact that the mistake was genuine - there was no deceit on the mother's part - and how Spencer and Cooper handled it, especially considering that everything was further complicated by the fact that the mother was dying from cancer :( It became even more interesting when Spencer and Austin moved to Thunder Point when Spencer took the job as the new high school football job. In any case, I was really curious to read what Ms Carr had planned for him and so I requested The Hero from Netgalley :) I didn't really know what to expect after The Newcomer, but it sure wasn't the story I got with The Hero ^_^;

I make The Hero sounds very ominous, but truthfully, it wasn't all that bad LOL. Simply, I felt the story was a little awkward, especially the romance. Basically, for me, Devon and Spencer had no chemistry. I didn't understand or see why Spencer would be attracted to Devon... Sure, he found her attractive, but would attractiveness trumps all the baggage she has? And Spencer knew from the start what her story was, that she's been in a commune and was on the run. But let say that it did, that Spencer didn't care about Devon's past, was he really in a place to start a new relationship? I'm not simply talking about the fact that Spencer has just recently lost his wife, but the whole situation with Cooper and Austin. Personally, my feeling was that Spencer wasn't ready to get involved with someone... and neither was Devon. Both characters just had so much on their plate that the timing felt wrong and as a result, the romance was awkward and unbelievable for me. Perhaps if there's been more interactions between Devon and Spencer showing that they were getting to know each other,  it would have been more believable... And it didn't help either that in The Hero, we were told more than shown.

Aside from the romance, I also had a few niggles with the main storyline about Devon ^_^; First, there's the fact that she was seduced by the leader and followed him to the commune. However, once she found out he had other lovers, she stopped sleeping with him and only stayed on for Mercy. Once again, I'm going to be contradictory, but please bear with me... I liked the fact that Devon didn't share her man with the other women. For me, it made it easier to accept and like Devon and continue on reading. At the same time, I don't understand why Ms Carr didn't exploit the whole setting to its full potential. She's already gone through all the trouble of setting up the commune, so why not commit completely? For readers like me? I'm also not sure how Jacob found Devon at the end and why he kidnapped Mercy. And while I liked how Devon was rebuilding a life for herself and Mercy, it did seem quite unlikely how easy everything fell into place ^_^; Everything about Devon's storyline just felt too idyllic, unreal and it bothered me.

Still, there were some good elements to The Hero :) The book definitively had more focus than The Newcomer which made for a better read and the cast of characters remains very interesting. I continued liking Spencer and Austin and enjoyed seeing how they were making it work with Cooper. I'm also intrigued by some characters such as Ashley's father, Eric, and the new doctor in town and might be easily convinced to read their books LOL. Finally, there was Rawley which turned out to be the surprise of this book and I enjoyed seeing him coming out of his shell :)

My Grade: C. All in all, The Hero was a very readable book, although the credit goes to Ms Carr's writing and the cast of characters she has created in Thunder Point more than the story itself. At this point, I'm not discounting continuing the series, but I know I won't be picking up every book either. It'll be like with the end of the Virgin River series where I'll only read the ones that interest me.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ice cream and BBQ 2013

Warning, post full of pictures ahead! However, all safe for the workplace LOL.

So last week was kind of busy for me :) I had the annual BBQ to get ready for, which involved some planning and grocery shopping. It's not that it took that much time, but it disrupts the routine so it feels like it takes a lot of time... and also, it's time that I usually spend reading LOL. However, for some reasons, in addition to the BBQ, I was determined to make some ice cream ^_^; As you know, I've recently purchased Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer - probably the only cookbook I'll ever personally own LOL. I had previously made vanilla ice cream from her recipe and really liked the result and I know she has some very unusual recipes in her book, so decided it was a good book to invest in :) Anyway, I had a craving for pistachios and decided that the roasted pistachio ice cream was the way to go... However, you know me, I'm not the best or most experienced cook out there and my sister wasn't home ^_^; Big thank you to Christine for her help and answering all my pesky questions!

So what I particularly like about Jeni's ice cream recipe is that it doesn't require any eggs... so there's no chance for me to scramble the custard! Still, there were some nice challenges... For example, I almost burnt the pistachios while I was roasting them! ^_^; Luckily, my mom caught it in time LOL. Then, I had to grind the pistachio to make a paste... but what would the paste look like?

My pistachio paste mixed with cream cheese and salt. After that, I add in the boiled milk and cream. Already looking yummy!

However, the most crucial step is the ice cream churning. Having made vanilla ice cream successful, I was over-confident this time around that it would work... And yes, it didn't ^_^; Usually, when making ice cream, you have to cool down the liquid mixture before it can be churned. What Jeni suggests is pouring the mixture in a ziploc bag and then, submerge it in a ice water bath. In comparison to simply putting the mixture in the fridge, it cuts down the time by a lot! Anyway, at my house, ice is rare because the freezer is always full LOL. So previously, what I did was prepare a cold water bath, put the ziploc bag in and then, put it outside since it was winter LOL. Not an option this time around, but then, I thought luck was with me as we had ice! So I made a nice ice water bath and left it for 45 minutes and figured it'd be all right... but it wasn't ^_^; When I tried churning it, it never really took because the mixture wasn't cool enough. I should have kept adding ice to the water bath. Lesson learned. 

So I put back the mixture in the fridge and the ice cream bowl in the freezer and figured I'd try again the next day. However, just in case, the next day, I brought dry ice from the lab back home. The instruction says to freeze the ice cream bowl for 24 hours which I didn't do and also, later on, I realized that I didn't put the bowl deep enough in the freezer... Anyway, long story short, it wasn't completely frozen yet... so I added the dry ice and left it for 3 hours. I thought I was so smart!! Yeah, turns out, not that smart ^_^; What happened this time around is that the freezing bowl was too cold! So as soon as I poured in the mixture, it froze and became ice cream... which is good, but only the liquid that actually touched the frozen surface. So the middle  wasn't freezing ^_^; I tried waiting for it to warm up, but it wasn't happening either. In the end, I had to scoop out what was frozen and tilt the bowl to freeze the rest... Another lesson learned LOL. In the end though, I still managed to get ice cream!! Yay!!

Failed attempt to churn ice cream... and freezing by dry ice LOL.

End result was actually pretty good! I love the smoothness of the ice cream :) However, I do think it was slightly too salty. Still, I'm definitively going to make it again and I do think it was worth the mess... LOL.

Now, onto the BBQ! The fun thing about it being an annual event is that each year, it feels like it's getting easier and easier to plan. You know what everyone likes and expects :) The only difference this year was that instead of it being a whole day event, it was only dinner...

Three essential persons during the BBQ:

My co-worker and good friend S., the grill master! My friend E., our crazy watermelon cutter! Look at the maniac smile LOL. And my sister, the dessert queen (don't think you can see it, but the smoke coming out from the bowl is from the dry ice:P).

However, the BBQ would not be as good if it wasn't for my friend V who prepared homemade sausages again this year! It was especially awesome of her considering that she's been under the weather for the past two weeks :( And LOL, yes, we are a gang of carnivores!

In addition to sausages, pork brochettes and chicken wings, we had some salad :) It was strawberry, mango and spinach salad with balsamic dressing and it was sooooo good! I also made guacamole and we had some dip for carrots and peppers :) And of course, the fish meat balls :)

And for dessert, aside from the watermelon, my sister made macaron ice cream sandwiches! She made two batches of macaron shells, regular and chocolate :P Since the purpose was for ice cream sandwiches, she followed the recipe in Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home instead doing the one she's used to. I think it was a good decision because these macarons were three inches in diameter which made for nice ice cream sandwiches :) And she also made mini ones with the left-over batter. We used my roasted pistachio ice cream and she also made a batch of green tea ice cream as well :) As you can imagine, it was a success :P Next year though, we'll make the ice cream beforehand... just to be sure :P

And this was BBQ 2013! LOL, need to re-energize for next year! :P

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Week-End's Minis XXXIX: The Newcomer by Robyn Carr

Hi everyone! How was your week-end? I was hoping to get this mini-review up yesterday, but alas, obviously didn't LOL. Then again, it was really optimistic of me given that  it was my annual BBQ :) This time around, we settled on dinner only instead of having a day-long event... but it still involved a lot of running to get the house ready. Funny how you procrastinate thinking "Oh, they're only coming in the evening so I can clean later..." LOL. I'll have some pictures up tomorrow :P

Anyway, I did manage to write my mini-review! Yay! It's a bit on the short side, but not a bad thing given it's a mini-review LOL. Enjoy!

The Newcomer by Robyn Carr
published by Harlequin (Mira) in June 2013
Single dad and Thunder Point's deputy sheriff "Mac" McCain has worked hard to keep everyone safe and happy. Now he's found his own happiness with Gina James. The longtime friends have always shared the challenges and rewards of raising their adolescent daughters. With an unexpected romance growing between them, they're feeling like teenagers themselves-suddenly they can't get enough of one another.

And just when things are really taking off, their lives are suddenly thrown into chaos. When Mac's long-lost-and not missed-ex-wife shows up in town, drama takes on a whole new meaning. They're wondering if their new feelings for each other can withstand the pressure...but they are not going down without a fight.

Step into the world of Thunder Point, a little town on the Oregon coast where newcomers are welcomed, hearts are broken and mended, and the dramas of everyday life keep the locals laughing, crying and falling in love.
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Thunder Point, Book #2

What do you need to know? I found the blurb of The Newcomer to be very misleading because it sounds like it's Mac and Gina's book, but it is not. Instead, it's really Thunder Point community's book. As such, there are multiple story threads. The main storyline is the continuation of The Wanderer with Cooper and Sarah finally in a committed relationship. However, there are some obstacles ahead of them. First, Sarah is up for a promotion, which is great... but it'd mean she has to move, most probably to Florida. She doesn't want to uproot her brother and doesn't know if her new relationship with Cooper would survive the move, but at the same time, this job has been her whole life. As for Cooper, he finds out he has a son...

We do see Mac and Gina, but their storyline is not as predominant as the blurb makes you think. Mac's ex-wife does turn up making Mac rather suspicious of her motives. In the meantime, Gina's daughter goes through a bad break-up and plunge into depression. To get Ashley's full medical record, Gina hunts down her ex... As for Ashley, while recovering, she finds out perhaps she was in love with the wrong brother.

What did I like? Overall, I did enjoy The Newcomer. Part of me wasn't ready to let go of Cooper and Sarah in The Wanderer, so I was happy that their story continued in this book. All the storylines were quite interesting and I enjoyed how everything was handled. although perhaps it was a bit too idyllic LOL. What I liked is that nothing was too typical. For example, Mac's ex-wife coming back after years of absence. Well you didn't see Mac having second thoughts about his relationship with Gina, whether to give her a chance to his ex-wife to reconnect with her children, etc. Cooper finding out about having a son... It wasn't the typical reactions that you expect and that I liked.

What didn't work for me? As much as I enjoyed Ms Carr's writing and voice in The Newcomer, I feel like Thunder Point is starting to become the new Virgin River... and while I liked the Virgin River series, it's a strike against this new series of hers for me. I want something different, something new - not a repeat or a rehash... and that's what is happening a bit in The Newcomer.

Finally, I thought there was a bit too much drama in The Newcomer ^_^; I know, I know, I'm being contradictory here LOL. On one hand, I'm saying that I enjoyed the stories, but on the other, I'm saying it was a bit over the top... But what can I say? I just feel too many things were happening at the same time that it was a bit unrealistic. I mean Matt had his ex-wife coming back in the portray, Gina had a depressed daughter, Cooper found about a son and Sarah, her new assignment. Really?! All at once? And as I said, everything was handled a bit too well...

My Grade? B-. The Newcomer was really a transition book given the multiple storylines and the lack of focus on one couple or character. It was still an enjoyable book though. What dragged the grade down was its lack of uniqueness, the feeling that this series was turning into the next Virgin River series.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

TBR Challenge 2013: Widow's Web by Jennifer Estep

Look at me! Not only did I manage to write another review, but it's also my entry for the TBR Challenge! Yay me! I'd like to say that I'm on fire, but let's not push it, right? ^_^; Truth be told though, I didn't read Widow's Web specifically for this challenge. The newest installment of the Elemental Assassin series, Heart of Venom, is coming out next week and so, I was catching up on the series to be ready for its release and that meant reading Widow's Web... and it just happened to fit the criteria of a TBR book... Well my definition of a TBR book - a book I didn't buy this year LOL. It doesn't fit Wendy's suggested theme for August, but now, that'd really be pushing it :P


***Warning: There are spoilers in this review. Read at your own risk!***

Widow's Web by Jennifer Estep
published by Simon & Schuster in August 2012
I used to murder people for money, but lately it’s become more of a survival technique. Once an assassin, always an assassin. So much for being plain old Gin Blanco. With every lowlife in Ashland gunning for me, I don’t need another problem, but a new one has come to town anyway. Salina might seem like a sweet Southern belle, but she’s really a dangerous enemy whose water elemental magic can go head-to-head with my own Ice and Stone power. Salina also has an intimate history with my lover, Owen Grayson, and now that she’s back, she thinks he’s hers for the taking. Salina’s playing a mysterious game that involves a shady local casino owner with a surprising connection to Owen. But they call me the Spider for a reason. I’m going to untangle her deadly scheme, even if it leaves my love affair hanging by a thread.
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Elemental Assassin, Book #7

The Story: Widow's Web opens up with Phillip Kincaid, one of Ashland's top underworld shark, hiring Gin to cater a fund-raiser event on his luxe riverboat casino, the Delta Queen. Gin finds his a bit suspicious as everyone in the underworld has been gunning for her ever since she killed Mab. Curious, she accepts and, after an unfortunate incident and saving Kincaid's life, finds out Kincaid's real intention was for Gin to be aboard the Delta Queen to provide protection for the organizer of the fund-raiser, Eva Grayson... who also turns out to be Gin's lover's younger sister.

Gin is surprised to find out that Kincaid, Owen and Eva were friends and that they actually grew up together; although Kincaid and Owen's relationship seems to have soured. Then again, Owen has always been very quiet about his past. Unfortunately for Gin, the past has a nasty habit of always finding ways to re-surface and this time, it's in the shape of Salina Dubois, Owen's first love. A powerful water elemental and the daughter of Benedict Dubois who ran the underworld before he was assassinated by Mab, Salina is back in Ashland for revenge and to reclaim was she believes is her due... and that includes Owen.

My Opinion: Ever since the first book in the Elemental Assassin series, Spider's Bite, Ms Estep has been on my auto-buy list of authors. I like the premise, the idea of the heroine being an assassin, and I've really been enjoying the series despite some flaws. So if I like the series so much, why has Widow's Web been sitting in my TBR pile? Technically because of Ms Estep's warning which indicated the romance subplot would probably take a direction I wouldn't like much. So while I bought Widow's Web, I decided to wait for the subsequent installments to have the resolution of the romance subplot before reading it. After reading Kiss of Venom, a short novella from Owen's POV, it seems the resolution would come in Heart of Venom, so it was time to lift the ban and read Widow's Web :) Having read it now, I can tell it smart of me because I would not have liked to have had to wait for Deadly Sting ^_^; In the end, Widow's Web turned out to be an okay book for me. Basically, I think the idea was good and I liked the setting and where Ms Estep is heading; however, I really had problems with the execution :(

Widow's Web is the seventh book in the series, so by now, we pretty much know Gin inside out. As such, it was interesting that the book somewhat focused on someone else... and yes, I mean Owen LOL. I enjoyed getting to know more of his past, his connections with the underworld, his friendship with Phillip Kincaid who turns out to be quite an interesting character instead of simply being another slimy underworld boss :P Up to now, Owen had seemed a little too perfect for Gin - in the sense that he fit so well in her lifestyle and accepted her assassin identity a bit too easily. I can't really say that I liked Owen's behavior and actions in Widow's Web, but it sure was interesting and it made him more real. It just was good to see genuine emotions from Owen and to see him question himself and his relationship with Gin. I don't mean to say that their attraction or relationship were flimsy before Widow's Web, but it always felt like Owen integrated Gin's life too easily because he was a "shadowy" character... and I think there's a lot more to their relationship. And because of that, I agree with the direction Ms Estep has taken the romance between Gin and Owen, even if I was very apprehensive in the beginning. I think that Gin and Owen needed that obstacle in their relationship... because if they are going to be able to overcome it, their relationship will only be stronger for it. I feel Gin and Owen need to know how strong their bond is, that it can withhold everything. I feel that before, Gin and Owen were honest with each other, but there wasn't really anything to be honest about. Now there is, now they know that they have the capacity to hurt each other, now they are at the next level of their relationship.

To accomplish all this, I liked the idea of bringing back someone from Owen's past and who better than his first love, especially given the circumstances and the past they shared. However, as I mentioned above, I had problems with the execution. Actually, I was good with the emotional development that the plot has generated. As I said, Owen and Gin needed some conflict in their relationship and I liked the conflict it had brought in Owen. While he was dealing with Salina, I really wished he'd been more ruthless because that's the perception I had of him. After all, he's a "shadowy" man whose business has not always been all legal... but he turns out to be gentler than I expected... Not a good thing with a character like Salina because she's a villain, but when you think about it, it means he would treat Gin the same way... and that's not something to discount in my opinion. What didn't work for me though was how predictable the whole plot, the whole book was. This is an issue I've had with previous books of the series, but it was even worst with Widow's Web. First, there was the blurb! You know how readers sometimes complain of the blurbs being wrong or misleading? Well, in this case, it was too accurate and it gave the whole story away! And even if you didn't read the blurb, the story was still very predictable. The minute Salina was introduced in the story, you knew she was the villain. There was absolutely no doubt about it. As a result, when you consider that Salina was Owen's ex-fiancée and factor in Gin's profession, you knew exactly where the story was heading and the conflict it would generate. And if you weren't sure about it, well having two different characters asking Gin to kill Salina would have clued you in. There were other elements of the story that were too obvious as well. For example, the fountains. One of the first thing you learn about Salina is that she is a powerful water elemental... Yep, water elemental and fountains, hmmmm. Add two and two and it will give you four. There was no suspense in the story, no thrilling moment and no twist :( I thought the idea and the story itself were good; however, the predictability just ruined the enjoyment of it.

As a whole, I really enjoy Ms Estep's voice and writing, but this predictability is a real weakness of hers and it's not just in the Elemental Assassin series, the Mythos Academy series too. I feel she needs to be able to construct more complex storylines and be subtler in her writing in order to join the best urban fantasy authors... and I hope she does :)

My Grade: C. I believe that Widow's Web could have been a real winner if the story had been more subtle, more suspenseful because it would have combined action and conflict and created a nice emotional punch. Unfortunately, the obviousness, the predictability of the plot have dulled this emotional punch and its impact and made Widow's Web an okay book only :(

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review: Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts

Finally!! Each year, one of the books I look forward most is Ms Roberts' stand-alone and that's why I really wanted to review it. My blogging muse is still on vacation and that's why I've been working on this review on and off for a couple of weeks ^_^; So bear with me LOL. This is not going to be my best review, but I think I still manage to convey my feelings about the book :)


Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts
published by Putnam in April 2013
For more than three hundred years, Bluff House has sat above Whiskey Beach, guarding its shore - and its secrets.

To summer tourists, it's the crown jewel of the town's stunning scenery. To the residents of Whiskey Beach, it's landmark and legend. To Eli Landon, it's home...

A Boston lawyer, Eli has weathered an intense year of public scrutiny and police investigation after being accused of murdering his soon-to-be ex-wife. And though there was never enough evidence to have him arrested, his reputation is in tatters as well as his soul. He need sanctuary. He needs Bluff House.

While Eli's beloved grandmother is in Boston, recuperating from a nasty fall, Abra Walsh has card for Bluff House, among her other jobs as yoga instructor, jewelry maker, and massage therapist. She is a woman with an open heart and a wide embrace, and no one is safe from her special, some would say over-bearing, brand of nurturing - including Eli.

He begins to count on Abra for far more than her cooking, cleaning, and massage skills, and starts to feel less like a victim - and more like the kind of man who can finally solve the murder of his wife and clear his name. But Bluff House's many mysteries are a siren song to someone intent on destroying Eli and reaping the rewards. He and Abra will become entangled in a centuries-old net of rumors and half-truths that could pull them under the thunderous waters of Whiskey Beach...

Passion and obsession, humor and heart flow together in a novel about two people opening themselves up to the truth - and to each other.
Genre: Contemporary romance, Romantic Suspense
Series: Stand-alone

The Story: The blurb of Whiskey Beach is pretty accurate, but let see if I can add my two cents :)

Eli Landon has just had a very rough year. His wife was murdered while they were in the middle of getting a divorce. Because of a vicious, public fight that very afternoon about her adultery and the fact that he discovered the body at their house while he was retrieving some of his family heirlooms, Eli was the prime suspect. He was acquitted on lack of evidence, but not everyone believes him innocent. Obviously, this has turned his life upside down. Knowing that his career as a criminal attorney is over and no longer having to fight to stay out of jail, Eli is at loose ends. When his grandmother moves to his parents' house in Boston to recover from a very bad fall, Eli promises that he will look over Bluff House for her... and therefore heads to Whiskey Beach where he hopes to find his new self through his writing.

There, he never expected to meet a woman like Abra Walsh. Abra has her own tragic story and understands what Eli is going through. She too left behind a successful career, came to Whiskey Beach to heal and re-invented herself. She has a multitude of odd jobs such as being a yoga instructor, jewelry maker, and massage therapist as well as Bluff House's housekeeper. She can't help herself wanting to help Eli, nurture him back to health - mentally, emotionally and physically. And while it is happening, Abra and Eli are both succumbing to attraction.

However, there is still a killer lurking... And when Abra is attacked in Bluff House and a trench is found in the basement, it seems that all the events, including Eli's grandmother's fall which may not be an accident anymore, are linked up and related to Bluff House's legend of a pirate treasure...

My Opinion: I love Ms Roberts' writing. It's just that simple LOL. There's something about her voice, her style that just works for me :) It's true that her stories can be very formulaic, especially her trilogies and quartets, but in the end, there is always something that I like and enjoy. Last year's stand-alone, The Witness, was really good and therefore, a tough act to follow. While I don't think Whiskey Beach measured up to it, it wasn't the let-down so many readers felt for me because there were quite a few things about it that I really liked :)

In a sense, Whiskey Beach was a very typical NR stand-alone where one of the main character has some personal issues and needs to heal, then meets the other main character and gradually fall in love with of course, an underlying mystery that ties everything up together. The reason why I enjoyed Whiskey Beach so much though was the role/gender reversal. Not gender reversal in the sense that Eli was more sensitive and Abra, gruffier LOL. What I mean is that in most stand-alones, it's usually the heroine who has stuff to overcome and the hero who stands by and offers tough love... In Whiskey Beach, well it was the opposite. It was Eli who had his life upside down, who was going through depression and who needed to find himself. And Abra was there, trying to help him out as she could. I thought it was refreshing :) And it was also interesting to see how gender did play a role. For example, Abra was noisier and more nurturing instead of trying to stay out of things and offer tough love :P As a man, Eli coped differently as well. So in a way, Whiskey Beach managed to be both typical and different :)

I also enjoyed Eli and Abra's characters very much. I liked seeing Eli adapt and adjust to his new life, to a slower rhythm. After everything Eli had gone through, he was battered... but I liked that he still had a lot going on for him and he knew it. He still had the support of his family and while he no longer had a career as a criminal attorney, he could pursue his other passion: writing. As for Abra, I know many found her annoying and it's true that she was a tad too perfect, but I liked her :) I liked her energy and her joie de vivre. I liked that after what happened to her, she was able to build a new life for herself and was happy with it and the choices she made :) I enjoyed seeing Eli and Abra interact with others as well, especially Eli's family. It was good for him to still have their support, but at the same time, understandable that he needed some distance from them... and it was also good to see that after a bad year, things do go back to normal and people can move on. As for the romance, it was nice. Eli and Abra definitively made a good couple together and they were good for each other :) And I enjoyed the way they came together - not too fast, but not too slow :P

My issue with Whiskey Beach was the mystery/intrigue. I thought the mystery was on the weak side and also, long-drawn, draggy. Perhaps if it had only focused on Eli's wife's murder, it would have been better instead of tying the whole thing up to the Bluff House's legend. Mainly because I thought the legend wasn't very interesting and also, it took time to set up. It was also obvious there was going to be a twist about the murderer's identity and so when it was uncovered, it didn't really feel like a twist anymore. Just a bit too obvious. Finally, I felt there were a bit too many coincidences, that things fell into place a bit too easily to make the intrigue in Whiskey Beach satisfying. It's fine to have lucky breaks, but when it all centers around one person... it's just too much :(

My Grade: B-. Whiskey Beach was not Ms Roberts' best book, but it's still one that I enjoyed quite a lot :)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hauling Sunday CXVII

Hi everyone!

Sigh, week-end is almost over... Nooooo! Why does it go by so fast? I planned to spend the whole week-end writing reviews, building up a cache of posts... Unfortunately, it did not happen :( Mostly because I've been so tired... I spent Thursday and Friday cleaning out my new lab. As you know, I switched lab at the beginning of the year since my previous boss went back to China. While I started a new position, I had not "physically" moved to my new lab yet and it's to be done this week. But my new lab is like disgusting. There's so much junk everywhere, every drawer is full of stuff... So I wanted to de-junk the lab before I moved and jeez, it's a lot of work. Thrown out sooo much. I was so pumped up on Thursday evening that I did not go to sleep till 1am. I was tired but not sleepy... and then yesterday, went out with friends and again went to bed very late. It's kind of sad how I cannot stay up late anymore otherwise my body and mind are paying for it ^_^;

I'm also going to Annapolis in September for a wedding :) My sister and I are flying to Washington DC and then driving to Annapolis so that means renting a car... and I'm trying to figure out what insurances I need for it. Should I apply for a new credit card that includes some of the coverage? Ugh... anyone has advice? I need to call my personal car insurance to see what coverage I have, but it's soooo much mumbo jumbo! LOL. At least, I have time to figure that out...

This week was a slow week book-wise. There was another 25% off at Indigo and I went to the bookstore to see if there were any books that I wanted... and I ended up buying this one :)

Yet another Harlequin Kiss that caught my attention :) I have to say, I really do love their covers. Anyway, this one sounded interesting... hopefully, it'll be a winner!

What about you? Got any new books this week?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Hauling Sunday CXVI

Okay, so my post is once again late ^_^; And this time around, I have no clever reasoning to justify it LOL. My only excuse is laziness, as usual. Sigh. 

Anyway, here are my new precious of the week :)

As you can see, not a ton of books, but some very good ones :) I requested an eARC for The Chocolate Touch a couple of months ago because I couldn't wait to read Dominique's story, but I did order my own print copy :) Love this series, just a bit sad at the change of covers mid-way :( I also received Guardian Demon in the mail. I'm really excited about this book because it's the last one of the series, but at the same time... not a huge fan of Michael and Taylor. Finally, the big surprise of the week was receiving Omens by Kelley Armstrong, also in the mail. This one is only officially coming out next week... so let see if I can get it read and reviewed for then :P

So that was my new books this week :) What about you? Got any good books?

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Review: The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand

Disclaimer: I've received The Chocolate Touch as an eARC from Netgalley
(but have bought my own copy since then :P)

The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand
published by Kensington in July 2013
Dominique Richard's reputation says it all--wild past, wilder flavors, black leather and smoldering heat. Jaime Corey is hardly the first woman to be drawn to all that dark, delicious danger. Sitting in Dom's opulent chocolaterie in Paris day after day, she lets his decadent creations restore her weary body and spirit, understanding that the man himself is entirely beyond her grasp.

Until he touches her...

Chocolate, Dominique understands--from the biting tang of lime-caramel to the most complex infusions of jasmine, lemon-thyme, and cayenne. But this shy, freckled American who sits alone in his salon, quietly sampling his exquisite confections as if she can't get enough of them--enough of him--is something else. She has secrets too, he can tell. Of course if she really knew him, she would run.

Yet once you have spotted your heart's true craving, simply looking is no longer enough...
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Amour et Chocolat, Book #3

The Story: The Chocolate Touch starts with Jaime Corey catching Dominique Richard's attention. For a week, this thin, almost frail woman has come in Dominique's chocolate salon twice a day and has taken her time to savor his confections - soaking, absorbing Dominique it seems. When the two finally meet face to face, the magnetic pull is undeniable and is such that it can only lead to one thing...

However, both Jaime and Dominique somewhat lack self-confidence despite their successes. Jaime has spent the last few years of her life militating for fair trade chocolate, improving the practices and ethics as well as increasing its awareness. But all her hard work didn't negate the fact that she's an American heiress and as such, she never knew if the men she dated were attracted to her or her family's money and name. To make matter worse, Jaime always took pride in her work but with the recent event that occurred in Côte d'Ivoire, she is not sure she can find the courage to go back and continue... and therefore finds herself at loose ends. As for Dominique, he has demons of his own. Dominique believes in his worth when it comes to chocolate, but even the bleu, blanc, et rouge collar, proof that he is un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, cannot make him forget his origins. Dominique grew up in a rough neighborhood with a drunk as a father who sent him to work in a slaughterhouse at age twelve. All his successes cannot change the fact that he is a big man with rough edges who prefers dark leather to sophistication. As a result, each wonders if they are worthy of the other, if they could come to mean more to the other than just an affair.

Add in meddling family members, some cultural differences and communication difficulties and the road to a happy ending seems to be full of obstacles... but it is also paved with passion and chocolates :)

My Opinion: All right, I'm going to spare you the whole introduction on how big a fan I am of Ms Florand, LOL. Just know that Ms Florand won me over with her debut novel, Blame it on Paris, and the rest, as they say, was history :) I find that Ms Florand has a particular writing style; it doesn't agree with everyone as shown in Alex' review, but it sure does for me :)

At the end of The Chocolate Kiss, I did something that I rarely do: I read the excerpt for the next book, The Chocolate Touch. I knew the book would feature Dominique as the hero and I just want an inkling of what to expect... Oh boy! That excerpt sure got me hooked! As a result, as soon as I could, I requested the eARC on Netgalley LOL. And guess what? Ms Florand once again delivered :) I really, really enjoyed The Chocolate Touch. There was just something about it, about the writing that got to me. If you ask me to pinpoint it, I'd say it was the intensity of Dominique, of the romance and it totally made the book for me :) It added this oomph that as a reader, I am so often looking for. I loved how The Chocolate Touch was all about Dominique, Jaime and their romance. I loved how Jaime first caught Dominique's attention and seriously, to see such a big, rough man pining after a stranger, having a crush on her, it's just adorable LOL. And then, how Dominique tried to catch her attention, you could see how smitten it was... and it was really cute and meaningful because you know it was the first time for Dominique. The first time he fell head over heels for a woman... And I enjoyed seeing Dominique and Jaime fumbled, trying to figure their relationship out, which is something already not easy to do, but add in cultural differences and language barrier... It only makes it even sweeter that they managed it :)

I have to say, I really liked Dominique's character. I would love to meet someone like him because being in the same room, he'd be impossible to ignore. He seems to emanate a dark aura, but at the same time, he's marshmallow inside LOL. You can see it in the way he interacts with his employees, how they all walk over him :) And I really felt for him about his insecurities. I also admire him because he sought out for help to be sure he would treat his employees well and again, when he started his relationship with Jaime. Dominique will never be as sophisticated as Sylvain, but I feel he is more charismatic :) Jaime was a nice character... I didn't connect with her as much as I did with Dominique. I think that any character standing next to Dominique will pale because of the intensity factor I keep talking about and that's what happens with Jaime. Also the fact that she's at loose ends, searching for herself again doesn't help. She also had some self-esteem issues and I think they were more annoying, not as endearing as Dominique, because their backgrounds were so different. She had a privileged upbringing with a loving family, she had everything on her side while Dominique didn't... and so I think it's harder to understand why she feels the way she does. Nevertheless, I think Ms Florand did a great job with the characters development and the internalization.

I also very much enjoyed seeing the Corey family again :) The grandfather is just so funny, especially with his obsession with spinach chocolate. It was nice to see Magalie and Philippe as well. It'd be fun to get a peek of Eloise and Simon as well eventually. Another thing to love about The Chocolate Touch was Ms Florand's descriptions of chocolates, caramels and Paris. These are important elements because they are the foundation of the setting, the atmosphere that Ms Florand is creating for the series. It was actually doubly fun for me this time around because Ms Florand's inspiration for Dominique's chocolate salon and work was Jacques Genin's and I had the chance to see it all for myself last year during my trip to Paris :) For those who are curious, Ms Florand really has it spot on and those caramels... they are divine! Love them :)

Of course, The Chocolate Touch is not without flaws. My biggest issue with the book is the storyline. The book really focuses on the couple and the romance which I really liked and I personally didn't mind the lack of intrigue... However, it does feel like The Chocolate Touch lacks a bit of direction. There's mention of the Chocolate Expo at the beginning, but it doesn't occur during the storyline which I would actually have loved to see. There's also Jaime's professional future that still feels up in the air. This was an aspect that I would have liked more closure about because it's a big part of Jaime's character development. So when you combine these two missing elements, it feels like The Chocolate Touch is a bit unfinished for me.

My Grade: B+. The Chocolate Touch had some notable flaws, but it also had that oomph factor that I'm always looking for in books. It along with the intensity made up for the flaws and hence the grade :) Ms Florand seems to really have hit her stride with this series and I hope it continues on with The Chocolate Heart which comes out at the end of the year. Can't wait!

Monday, August 05, 2013

Hauling Sunday CXV

I know, I know, we are not Sunday. However, I have a long week-end and am only going back to work tomorrow, so today is like Sunday, right? :) Okay, the real truth is I did not manage to get my Week-End's Mini post ready for Saturday as I wanted, so everything was shifted ^_^; However, as I said, today is like Sunday so it works LOL.

Finally, there's been new releases!! Yes!! Seriously, publishing houses need to review their releasing schedules. Not having any new romance books in the middle of the month is practically killing me ^_^; Okay, I'm exaggerating obviously... but it seems to be inducing mini reading slumps :( I know I have a TBR pile and a pretty huge one at that, but it's always so hard to pick up a book from it. So much depends on the mood... While new releases seem to put me in the mood. Does that make sense? LOL.

So here are my new books :)

 In print:

In e-format:

Some Like it Hot and Magic Rises were both pre-orders and I'm so happy they came in promptly. I haven't been in the mood much for historical romance this year, but Love and Other Scandals' blurb caught my attention. It sounds cute and that's why I picked it up today in-store with a nice 25% off coupon. Throughout the week, Kobo offered coupons if you played their trivia game and that's how I ended up buying Her Favorite Temptation and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by nice discounts :) I'm actually quite excited for Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home. I used her recipe for the vanilla ice cream and really liked its texture :) Next, I'm going to tackle the pistachio recipe! :)

What about you? Any good books to suggest?

*PS - Her Favorite Temptation by Sarah Newberry is now free on Amazon! Get it while you can :)

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Week-End's Minis XXXVIII: Two of a Kind by Susan Mallery

Two of a Kind by Susan Mallery
published by Harlequin (HQN Books) in June 2013
Felicia Swift never dreamed she'd hear a deep, sexy voice from her past in tiny Fool's Gold, California. The last time Gideon Boylan whispered in her ear was half a world away...on the morning after the hottest night of her life. Her freaky smarts have limited her close friendships, and romance, but she came to Fool's Gold looking for ordinary. Gorgeous, brooding Gideon is anything but that.

Black Ops taught Gideon that love could be deadly. Now he pretends to fit in while keeping everyone at arm's length. Felicia wants more than he can give-a home, family, love-but she has a lot to learn about men...and Gideon needs to be the man to teach her.

As these two misfits discover that passion isn't the only thing they have in common, they just might figure out that two of a kind should never be split apart.
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Fool's Gold, Book #11

What do you need to know? Let see... Our heroine, Felicia Swift, is a genius. At the age of four, her parents gave up their rights and Felicia was whisked away to an university where she studied in various fields. Later, she decided to join the military where she became a logistics expert. And now, she's settling in Fool's Gold because it is where her friend Justice Garrett is planning to open a bodyguard school along with a few buddies of theirs and because she's ready to tackle normal life.

Gideon Boylan was also part of the military, with the Special Ops. During a mission, his team got captured and he witnessed his comrades dying one by one. He's walked away physically intact, but plagued by nightmares. He's also settled in Fool's Gold, the proud owner of the radio station.

Felicia and Gideon share a past - a one-night stand that held a lot of meaning for each of them. They never expected to see each other again, especially not in Fool's Gold.  Gideon knows he's a bad bet and is not meant for long-term relationship...  but the attraction is still there, so why not enjoy each other's company? Things change though when Gideon's son - one he didn't know exist - shows up...

Why this book? As I mentioned in Breezing Through's New Releases post of June, I wanted to give this book a try because both Felicia and Gideon are newcomers to Fool's Gold and I thought it'd be an interesting perspective. Refreshing.

What did I like? I thought the beginning of Two of a Kind was really strong and showed a lot of potential for the story. I liked the characters and the fact that they had an history. Felicia's geekiness and social awkwardness were very endearing and understandable given how she grew up. She grew up in an university where everyone was older than her and obviously, she never experienced the normal rites of passage. So it was cute to see her being too blunt, blurb out facts and go on tangents. It was also fun to see her take in new challenges such as working as a barista or becoming the new festivals coordinator. Felicia really seemed to embrace life and enjoy every new experience and that was nice :) As for Gideon, his character was not as developed as Felicia, but still likable. I liked the way Gideon listened to Felicia, just listened :)

I think it would have been interesting if Felicia and Gideon didn't know each other prior Two of a Kind. Being both newcomers to Fool's Gold could have been an aspect that Ms Mallery could have focused on. However, it is not the route Ms Mallery took and the fact that they had an history also worked. They were an understanding between the two, a connection that made their romance believable and sweet.

What didn't work for me? As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed the beginning of Two of a Kind - the set up of the story. Unfortunately, while the beginning was strong, I feel the rest of the book was average. One of my biggest problems with this story was the apparition of Gideon's son, Carter. Don't get me wrong, I like kids in my romance and Carter was quite likable, but in Two of a Kind, I thought adding a son that Gideon didn't know about was an unnecessary subplot. I felt Felicia and Gideon each had enough issues to work through, they really didn't need a catalyst for their HEA ending to happen. By adding Carter, Ms Mallery suddenly derailed her set up and took the story in another direction :(

I had a few more issues such as I thought it unfortunate that Ms Mallery resorted to a cliché to rekindle Felicia and Gideon's relationship. I'm just tired of the cliché that everything with geeks turn into an experiment, especially finding love or getting into a relationship. It's really getting old and I think it's not the only way to solve social awkwardness. The ending was also a bit disappointing because of how Gideon's issues were resolved. I seriously doubt it would take only one talk with other ex-military guys for Gideon to believe he was no longer a bad long-term relationship bet. And finally, I thought there was too much sequel baiting in the series :( It's hard to find the right balance in long series about how much old characters to show, because you want the main characters to be the focus of the story. At the same time, it's annoying to know that every single character introduced over the age of 20 is a potential future characters. Let see, we already know that Ford Hendrix and Isabel Carlisle are getting their book, then there's Consuelo who's obviously going to be paired up with Kent Hendrix, Noelle Perkins - the new Christmas store owner and last of Felicia's trio, and you can be sure that all the owners of the new business in town, Score, will get their story... That's Taryn Crawford  with three ex-football players IIRC.  Oh wait, I forgot Angel, the last of the new bodyguard school's instructors! I count at least 6 other stories/books.... Sometimes, less is better. Seriously.

My Grade? C+. That's the initial grade I gave Two of a Kind when I was done reading it and I did debate lowering to a C, but in the end, I'm going to stick with my gut feeling because I feel Felicia and Gideon and the strong start of the book do deserve some recognition :P

Thursday, August 01, 2013

New Releases - August!

Hi everyone :)

I'm still alive. Yay! I don't know why, but this week's social calendar was really jam-packed! Soooo busy and as a result, didn't have time to write any reviews. I had plans, but you know what happens... Also at work, I was hoping not to have to cut any tissues for a while, but I'm back on the machine :(

What I did manage though is to put up Breezing Through's New Releases post with Ames and Monroe. Take a look at what books I'm looking forward to in August! :) Here's a hint...