Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hauling Sunday LXVIII

Hello everyone!

I hope you're having a nice week-end!! Mine has been very relaxing so far :) I've read and blog-hopped, watched a little bit of TV and have been keeping an eye on the women curling provincial playdowns :) I can't wait for the national to start!!

I've also worked on my Monthly Reads post for December :) It's going well, I'm half-way done! yay! Might not have it done by Tuesday, but definitively some time next week. And then, I'll have to start on January. LOL, never ending circle!

Finally, I broke down and went to buy some books!! It seems that I cannot go three weeks without buying books ^_^; Have to say though, I was starting to go into withdrawal I think.... Just so bored!! Nothing to read (okay, nothing new to read) and nothing to watch :( Plus, a crappy week at work... So I decided that buying a book would be a reward :)

She Tempts the Duke by Lorraine Heath - This book was my reward to the crappy week :) I've actually been trying to wait for some other releases to be available so I could use a coupon... but I really needed something to cheer me up. I've quite enjoyed Ms Heath's last trilogy, London's Greatest Lovers, and have been looking forward to the debut to her new trilogy :) Especially since the story sounded quite interesting :)

My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander - While stalking the online indicator to see what new releases made it to the bookstores, I realized that My Wicked Little Lies was already available as an ebook! Now, I really debated whether to buy My Wicked Little Lies in print or in e-format. I know I've been saying I should slowly make the switch from buying print to e-format, but at the same time, I'm a huge fan of Ms Alexander and reviews have been really good so far. This would definitively be a book I'd like to have in print I think... In the end, well, the price was too tempting and I wanted to read it now LOL.

So two books! Not bad right? I was looking at my spreadsheet and it feels to me that so far, I've been a really good girl :) What about you?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: Bride by Mistake by Anne Gracie

Hey! What has been everyone up to these past few days? Hope it's been better than me! I've been having a pretty crappy week at work, bleh. I usually like the administrative side of my work, doing orders and so on... but this week. Ugh. I'm thinking of hanging a punching bag somewhere in the lab, that's how bad it is. One more day and it's the week-end! Can't wait.

This review is for Bride by Mistake by Anne Gracie, a book I've read in 2012 :)  Can't you believe it, we're almost at the end of January already?!? So I'm trying my best not to fall too much behind ^_^; Enjoy! :)

Bride by Mistake by Anne Gracie
published by Berkley in January 2012
Eight years ago, Lieutenant Luke Ripton made a hasty wartime marriage to protect a young girl from a forced union. Now, unable to obtain an annulment, Luke has no choice but to collect Isabella, the fiercely independent wife he never wanted.

And while they remain bound to their vows, they never expected that the passionate fury they share could become passion of a different kind...
Genre: Historical romance
Series: The Devil Riders, Book #5

The Story: They were five young men when they left for war and became Wellington's devil riders. Unfortunately, only four came back and all of them changed, especially Luke Ripton. Haunted, Luke has sworn to never step in Spain ever again... but now, he has no choice to.

Eight years ago, at the age of 19, Luke married Isabella Mercedes Sanchez y Vaillant, the only daughter of the Conde de Castillejo, who was then 13. At the time, it was a marriage in name only as Luke's intention was simply to protect the young girl's interests from her unscrupulous cousin in time of war. After escorting Isabella  to her aunt, a nun in a convent, Luke applied for an annulment and thought the story over and done. However, he has just learned that the annulment has been refused. With no other option, Luke intends to honor the marriage and hopes that with time, they will come to love each other. But first, he needs to go to Spain and retrieve his bride.

Bella has waited eight years for her prince charming, stuck in a convent. Eight years! When Luke finally shows up, she has questions for him... and is heart-broken to learn that he applied for an annulment. Then, he expects her to follow him back to England! Well her husband is in for a surprise because Bella has things to see to before she can become his dutiful wife...

My Opinion: There are some books you read the blurbs and you just know they will be winners for you. Such was the case with The Accidental Wedding by Anne Gracie. I read that book a couple of years ago and really, really enjoyed it :) With Bride by Mistake, I have to admit, I had a few doubts. There is something about the way that the blurb is formulated that niggled me a little and I just wasn't sure. Add in the long wait and expectations and really, I was a bit anxious to start this book. Well I'm glad that the wait was worth it :)

What makes this book stands out for me is the fact that it was so unexpected. Ms Gracie took the marriage of convenience plot and turned it into something really refreshing. It all starts with the circumstances of the wedding which were rather unusual. All Luke wanted was to protect this young girl from a bad fate in a country thrown into turmoil. You see right away that Luke has a good heart and what a gentleman he is. Also, you really can't blame him for leaving Bella in the convent for 8 years since from the start, he thought there'd be an annulment. What's unfortunate is the misunderstanding between the two, that neither Luke or Bella's aunt thought to let her know about it, resulting in Bella pining for him. It makes sense on both parts, especially that Bella would fall in love with the man who saved her. I liked that Ms Gracie didn't draw out the misunderstanding. Another thing that I really liked was the fact that as soon as Luke learned about the annulment being refused, he intended to honor the marriage. He didn't drag his feet before going to Spain to pick up Bella, didn't resent Bella for it or sulk. Was he happy? Not really, but it didn't change the fact that Isabella was his lawful wife and that he hoped they would come to like each other and reach a level of contentment. So I really liked his attitude and the fact there was no thoughts of taking a mistress :P

As you can see, Luke was a good character and so was Bella :) In the blurb, Bella is described as independent... but it's not so much independence because Bella was not averse to marriage or a husband. She never gave the feeling that marriage would chafe or that it was a bad thing which is surprising considering her parents' marriage.  She wasn't the meek and obedient wife that Luke expected, that's for sure LOL. Instead, she was strong, determined and smart. She was raised to take over her father's duties with the estate and it showed. Really, if I had to describe Bella, I'd say she was spunky :) And she was exactly the type of woman Luke needed in his life :)

These two good characters made for a nice romance :) I liked that they took their time to develop a relationship. I think it helped they were already married and both of them wanted this marriage to work.  They each made compromises and put efforts into it. While Bella had a somewhat idealized vision of Luke in her mind, she did know him... because while it was only one meeting, she met the real Luke. It was nice to see how confident she was in his character. And the two definitively had chemistry :)

There were two other elements that worked for me in this book. The first was the setting: Spain. I thought it was really refreshing. Authors usually go for really exotic locations such as India, Egypt or Greece, but if they have to set the story in another country than England, then I actually prefer European countries :) It also wasn't overly done and I really liked it :) It was different, but not too much :) The other element is that we finally get the story about Michael! When I read The Accidental Wedding, I didn't really know what was the thread connecting the books in this series. Also, The Accidental Wedding was a bit of a spin-off of the series as Nash wasn't a Devil Rider. It's only when I went back to read the first books in the series that I learned about the 5 friends going to war and being nicknamed as the Devil Riders. Even then, Ms Gracie didn't expand on it at all as the men were already back from the war. So ever since, I've been really curious as to what happened and wanted to know more about their friend Michael. Therefore, I'm really happy that Ms Gracie finally told us and I thought it was quite interesting and unexpected :)

The only weakness from Bride by Mistake was from the storyline in my opinion. I liked Bella's background story as it was interesting and I think it added another dimension to Bella. It made her less perfect and more real. I also liked how it was resolved, the fact that it didn't go as I thought it would :) However, I don't know, something was missing from the whole storyline. It felt like this should had been the climax of the book, the big reveal and it was just a bit flat. The other subplot with La Cuchilla... While it did tie up nicely with the war and Michael, it was a bit too coincidental in my opinion and ultimately, a bit superfluous as well. Sure, it brought closure to Luke, but it didn't flow well with the rest of the book. It was almost like an afterthought ^_^; It's unfortunate because both subplot actually had potential... I think Ms Gracie would have been better off choosing one subplot and really expand it, give it a bit of omphf.

Lastly, just a comment about the series as a whole. Bride by Mistake may be the fifth book in the series, but it stands alone very well. Each book focuses on the H/H and their romance and as a result, there is a minimum of continuity... which is not a bad thing. Of course, characters are mentioned, but it never really dwells on fact that we should know. So do not hesitate to pick up Bride by Mistake :)

My Grade: B+. Bride by Mistake was a good read :) And a great way to start the year!! Next release will be Marcus' book!! Can't wait! :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Best of 2011! (bis)

As promised, Ames and I are wrapping up our recap of 2011 by discussing authors, series and books over at Breezing Through :) Click here to find out who was the best new author, redeeming author, author of the year and so on!! (Hint, hint above :P)

Now, the only thing left for me to do is my Monthly Reads post for December! I'm aiming before the end of the month, so only one week left! Eeeek! :)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Lunar New Year!!

Happy Lunar New Year!!
May the Dragon Year bring you happiness, health and wealth!

Yep, it's New Year again LOL. Funny how this year, regular New Year and Chinese New Year were so close. Convenient as well since I was able to keep my room clean and that meant no mad rush :P Also, my mom took care of the food :) LOL, my sister is jealous because she says my mom fruits plates look better! I guess it's experience :)

I had a friend at work asking me if I was celebrating Chinese New Year, since I'm not Chinese... Well yes I do. Theoretically, people should say Lunar New Year instead of Chinese New Year... but I guess it's too late to try to correct people LOL. So all countries in Asia that used the lunar calendar a very long time ago celebrate it :)

In Chinese astrology, the dragon is considered the most auspicious and powerful of the 12 signs :) So it should be a good year... Of course, I'll have to check my horoscope... not that I understand half of what it says ^_^; I also think that a lot of couples will try for a little dragon baby :) Obviously, that's not going to apply to me... but I wouldn't mind meeting someone.

Anyway, I hope you have a really nice day and that this year will be good for you all :) Happy Chinese New Year!!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Monthly Reads: November 2011

Okay, two weeks in a row that I don't have any Hauling Sunday post. What can I say? No releases, no new books to buy! However, this week-end, I've been good and have worked on my Monthly Reads post for November! And guess what? I did it! Here it is!! So take a look at what I read, how much I enjoyed them and let me know what you think! :)

1) Playboy Boss, Live-In Mistress by Kelly Hunter: C+

This book has a very misleading title. Basically, Playboy Boss, Live-In Mistress has a friends to lovers plot and is the story of Alexander Wentworth, a millionaire businessman, training his childhood friend Sienna Raleigh to be the perfect personal assistant so she can make a decent living and keep her family home.

Based on the title, I was expecting something along the line of a very playboy boss entering a relationship with his personal assistant and changing his way. However, we didn't see much of Lex' playboy manners. Still, I liked his character, perhaps because he was so straightforward. In comparison, Sienna really got on my nerves, because she was so wishy-washy. Her doubts and worries were somewhat understandable based on her background, but I think she should really have considered the fact that Lex was nothing like her father and their situation was very different from her parents'. I think my real problem is that there was a lack of depth throughout the book which meant I wasn't really involved in the story and as a result, the story seemed to drag a little.

2) The Villa by Nora Roberts: B

I felt like re-reading this book, because I don't think I've ever read it in English :) The Villa was a standard NR stand-alone book which means a bland of romance, complex family interactions, a theme to the book which in this case was wine-making and a mystery :) In The Villa, the matriarch of Giambelli family, the Signora Tereza Giambelli, is looking to pass the reins to her granddaughter, Sophia Giambelli, and her husband's grandson, Tyler MacMillan. However, before she does so, she intends for her successors to have a better understanding of the firm. As a result, Tyler, who is dedicated to his vines, and Sophia, the marketing wizard, have to collaborate to learn each other's area of expertise... And obviously, not everyone is happy with the situation.

I liked The Villa a lot. I think it was a really strong read :) Tyler and Sophia were interesting, well-developed characters and it was a case of opposite attract :) It's kind of interesting to see the two of them get together because they've known each other for a long time after all, but they've never been close... but they're willing to do anything to succeed, even put up with each other LOL. I also really enjoyed the family interactions in this book as they are quite complex. The mystery was also interesting and there was a nice twist at the end. All in all, a very good and well-round book. Still, it wasn't perfect for me and ultimately, I think it's because there were just too many POVs and it detracted from the story a little. While The Villa was not a short book by any  means, because there were so many POVs, it seems some parts were not fully developed and I wanted a bit more.

3) Beauty Dates the Beast by Jessica Sims: E

I picked up Beauty Dates the Beast when a review brought this book onto my radar. I was quite unaware of its release... and personally would have preferred it stayed that way ^_^; Bathsheba works at Midnight Liaisons, a dating agency for paranormal beings. While she's human, she's aware of the paranormal because her half-sister is a werewolf and was changed against her will. Beau is the Alpha of his pack and also leader of the Alliance. One of the females in his Pack is in heat and therefore Beau needs a woman to keep him company. When Beau's match renegades on the date, Bathsheba decides to go in her place in order to keep her job.

Now, I admit the grade might be a bit harsh and two factors influenced it: 1) I'm PNR'd out and 2) I was expecting something funny based on the blurb and review. Still at the end of the day, I never got in this book and it was a real struggle to finish it. Basically, nothing worked for me. First, the world building was quasi-nonexistent which is always bad when it comes to PNR, UF and fantasy books. This really bothered me because for PNR, having characters that can turn into animals or suck blood is not enough! Ms Sims throws in some elements such as the Alliance, but she never develops it, never gives us the information so we can understand how this world works. It's just frustrating.

Another major strike was that I didn't care for the characters. Beau was okay I guess... except the fact that he needed a willing female to rut with. It's just been overdone and a really bad opening to a relationship it seems. As for Bathsheba, I didn't like her at all. I thought she was too wishy-washy and let people walk all over her. I hated how she let herself be blackmailed by her boss. I understand that she's trying to protect her sister, but that's not how you do it... and proof, it turned into a fiasco at the end. Also, the fact that she was a virgin and suddenly, all the big, bad shapeshifters in the neighborhood wanted her? Bleh, so passé. Finally, the romance felt really rushed to me and I simply didn't buy it. Oh and the book wasn't very funny either.

All in all, Beauty Dates the Beast fails across the board for me, hence the grade :(

4) The Next Always by Nora Roberts: B

5) The Comforts of Home by Jodi Thomas: A-

6) Baby It's Cold Outside by Addison Fox: C+

Sloan McKinley is 30 years old and after finally transforming from the ugly duckling into a swan, her socialite mother despairs at Sloan still being single... and therefore is trying to set her up with young men of their status, but who are all jerks. To avoid such matchmaking, Sloan escapes to Alaska where her best friend, who went there to settle her father's estate, is having a really bad time. There, Sloan meets Walker Montgomery, a lawyer who has no interest in love and yet can't deny the sparks with Sloan. She's also just in time for the town's annual winter competition whose goal is to attract the bachelorettes from all across the country.

Baby It's Cold Outside was a cute read, but it didn't have me engaged all the way. I think its biggest flaw was it suffered of the first book complex where it sets up everything and as a result, the focus was taken away from Sloan and Walker. I mean, their romance is pretty typical where Sloan and Walker meet, dance around each other for the longest time and then, conflict is introduced as Walker not believing in love and relationship based on what happened to his parents' marriage and at the end, everything is resolved. The fact that it's typical is not a problem; instead, it's the way it was written. Their scenes didn't make up a continuous thread in the book, it felt disjointed and ultimately, it affected the chemistry between these two characters. It's unfortunate because Sloan and Walker were likable characters, they made a nice couple and I liked that they worked out their problems.

I think where Ms Fox went wrong is she spent too much time introducing the town and the competition, developing the conflict for the two other couples, Grier and Mick, Avery and Roman. It does pay off because I hope they will get their respective books and I'll most probably pick them up, but it comes at a cost and Sloan and Walker are the one paying.  And also what frustrates me is that it leaves a lot of unresolved elements in Baby It's Cold Outside.

7) The Man She Love to Hate by Kelley Hunter: A-
Upcoming Review.

8) Always the Bridesmaid by Nina Harrington: C

Always the Bridesmaid is an enjoyable book when you read it, but not really memorable ^_^; Like all I remember at the moment is the heroine is a baker who works really hard. She is supposed to make the cake for her friend's wedding, when the wedding planner elopes with one of her client. As a result, heroine's friend's wedding is jeopardized... It's up to the heroine and her friend's brother to step up and deliver the perfect wedding.

I remember liking the heroine and her job as well as the hero. However, the romance was so-so. It seems to me, nothing was really happening throughout the book. The pacing was a bit slow and it took awhile for the heroine and hero to get together. Also, the title doesn't make much sense to me...

9) Forgotten by Cat Patrick: B
Upcoming Review.

10) The Spy Who Left Me by Gina Robinson: C

Trefle is in Hawaii with her cousin whose wedding was aborted at the last minute and who decided to bring her whole bridal party on her honeymoon instead of letting it go to waste. There, Trefle runs into her soon-to-become-ex husband who's a CIA agent and working undercover. She's still in love with him, but they have gone their separate ways because of his job... and she is determined to have Ty sign the divorce papers so she can move on. Meanwhile, Ty decides this would be the perfect occasion to win back his wife... if only his cover wouldn't be blown.

I was really looking forward to The Spy Who Left Me. Once again, I was expecting something funny... but I think my sense of humor went on vacation. This is the type of novel where some scenes are really exaggerated and you have to take it with a grain of salt. I have to say, I really liked the premise and the story had potential. I liked that Trefle and Ty were still in love with each other and that Ty was aware that his job was not easy on their marriage. Still, when everything is said and done, it bogs down to communication. I really felt for Trefle and what she went through, but I thought her asking for a divorce was jumping the gun. If she had explained the whole situation, I'm pretty sure Ty's reaction would be different and so when she would have asked him to quit his job, he would have handled it better.

All in all, I liked Trefle and Ty as a couple and I'm glad that they worked out their relationship. What didn't work so well for me was the case Ty was working on, that the book was all over the place, the action was a bit difficult to follow. Also, the switch in position between Trefle and Ty at the end was really annoying to me. After all this though, I'm not sure if I'll be picking up the next book in the series.

11) His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander: C

His Mistress by Christmas was better than The Perfect Mistress but by a very small margin. Basically, Lady Veronica Smithson has been a widow for three years and is ready to embark into an affair. Because she wants to keep her independence, she'd rather become a mistress than enter a marriage.. and she has chosen Sir Sebastian Hadley-Attwater as her potential lover. Meanwhile, Sebastian who's an explorer is ready to settle down. He's attract to Lady Veronica and wants marriage.

I liked the characters better in His Mistress by Christmas; however, I thought the romance was a bit dull between Veronica and Sebastian. They didn't really have much chemistry between them and as a result, it was hard to believe they had fallen in love at first sight. I just didn't get why they were both in love with each other so quickly, as they really didn't know each other well. Also, the Christmas theme in this book is very light...

I did like that Veronica loved her first husband genuinely, even though he was quite older than her. I liked both characters' families and their relationships with them. And my favorite scenes were the ones in which there was banter between either Sebastian and Veronica or Sebastian with his family. Personally, I think this series of Ms Alexander is really not standing out and it's a good move to her to switch direction and instead of writing Portia's book, to focus on Sebastian's family members. As it is, I'm looking forward to My Wicked Little Lies :)

12) Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally: B

13) Cold Touch by Leslie Parrish: B-

I was looking for a romantic suspense and decided to pick up Cold Touch. I have read Ms Parrish in the past and didn't fall in love with her writing, but didn't hate it either. Plus, I had read good reviews for this book :) The story is about Olivia Wainwright, a psychic, who upon touching a dead body is able to relive the deceased's final moments. She developed this curse when she was kidnapped from her bedroom at the age of 15 and her kidnapper almost drowned her. She was lucky to have escaped thanks to a little boy and has never forgotten him. Years later, Olivia recognizes the boy in a sketch that the police has obtained from the skeleton found in-between the walls of a bar... Olivia knows the boy lost his life because of her and is determined to find out his murderer.

I quite enjoyed the suspense in Cold Touch, but thought the romance between Olivia and the detective in charge of the case, Gabe Cooper, was a bit too rushed. I just felt they didn't really have time to get to know each other and developed such feelings. I also felt the psychic powers made things too easy for them. Then again, I'm very critical of psychic powers and suspense, because I'm a huge fan of the FBI SCU series by Kay Hooper, so yeah, I'm biased ^_^; All in all, the case was well done, I liked the investigation and there was a few interesting surprises in there :)

14) A Talent for Sin by Lavinia Kent: D

A Talent for Sin was not really a winner for me and I can sum up my feeling for it with one word: meh. I'm not usually a fan of younger hero and older heroine, but in this case, I thought it was interesting premise and it had a lot of potential. I especially liked the fact that our hero wanted to marry the heroine. Unfortunately, A Talent for Sin became too melodramatic for my taste with the heroine sacrificing herself for her sister. Also, I was disappointed that the hero didn't fight more for the heroine that he supposedly loved. I mean, given the heroine's past three marriages, she really had good reasons not to want to embark in another one... so it'd have been really good if the hero had tried to win her. Instead, I found immature that he just walked away. I also really didn't like the heroine's younger sister as I found her too calculative.

15) Her Best Friend's Wedding by Abby Gaines: D+

Her Best Friend's Wedding has one of my least favorite trope where the heroine is in love with someone engaged and is hoping that the wedding will not take place. Luckily for me, the hero wasn't the groom-to-be, but the bride-to-be's brother. So yeah, Sadie Beecham is in love with her colleague, Daniel, and think they're about to start a relationship... But that all changes when she introduces Daniel to her best friend, Meg Kincaid, and he has only eyes for her. Then they get engaged only after a few weeks and they all return home to start organizing the wedding. Meg's brother Trey realizes that Sadie has feelings for Daniel and wants to make sure that she won't interfere in the relationship.

I thought Her Best Friend's Wedding had really solid writing and solid characterization. That being said, I really didn't like any of the characters ^_^;  I thought Sadie, Daniel and Meg were all very immature, I didn't like how Sadie pined for Daniel and was waiting for the relationship to run its course and fail. I also didn't have a very high opinion of Daniel. I can understand love at first sight, but he was two seconds away from starting something with Sadie and I would have liked him better if he made a clean cut with her before starting to woo her best friend and roommate. As for Meg, she was not only extremely immature but so selfish.

As for Sadie and Trey, first of all, their romance was not really developed at all. One minute, Trey was keeping an eye on Sadie because he was afraid she'd ruin Daniel and Meg's relationship and the next minute, Sadie was in love with him. Have I been in his position, I would have had doubts as well. It just seemed so sudden and not well transitioned :(

16) A View to a Kiss by Caroline Linden: D

A View to a Kiss is a historical romance featuring a spy agent, Harry Sinclair. He and his colleagues are charged to protect 3 important political men from rebels. One of the men is an earl and the father of the belle of the season, Lady Mariah. While being the belle of the season is all well and good, Mariah finds none of her suitors interesting... in fact, they're all boring. The only man to catch her attention is the one who accosted her in the dark...

All in all, this book was so-so only. I never really got into it and didn't care much about the H/H. The romance was flat in my opinion and not very believable. Sure Harry was mysterious and intriguing, but she really didn't know anything about him... so to fall in love with him? The only interesting part of the book in my opinion was the end where we learn something about Harry's identity. That surprised me.

17) To Wed a Wild Lord by Sabrina Jeffries: B
Upcoming Review.

18) Tis the Season to be Sinful by Adrienne Basso: B

I read Tis the Season to be Sinful because Hilcia quite enjoyed it and I was in the mood for a Christmas-themed book. This book is about a marriage of convenience between Richard Harper, a rich American industrialist, and Juliet Wentworth, a widow with three children and an estate to care for. To show his status, Richard wants to buy a country estate and has chosen Juliet's. Except hers is to rent only to pay for maintenance and she wants to keep it as it is her son's inheritance. After witnessing Juliet being bullied by her brother-in-law, Richard decides to strike a bargain with her. He'll not only buy the mansion, but will also marry her as he needs a society wife to be a hostess. Juliet agrees as this will ensure her children's future... However, she wants more than a marriage of convenience.

Okay, bad synopsis, sorry... but at this point, my muse is really tired LOL. Tis the Season to be Sinful was a very nice romance and perfect for the holidays.The characters were all very likable from Richard to Juliet to the three children. I also thought their emotions and conflicts were interesting and realistic. I enjoyed the relationship between Richard and Juliet quite a lot. Even from the start, it was more than a marriage of convenience and they both knew it, but they didn't know each other very well... The learning was nice and well done :)  One thing that really sets Tis the Season to be Sinful from other historical romances or Christmas-themed books was the details Ms Basso added. She really included a lot of Christmas traditions and many I wasn't aware of and that was definitively a nice touch :)

The only reason this is getting a higher grade is that I didn't care much about the secondary romance and I thought they got rid of the brother-in-law a bit too easily.

Books bought: + 9
Books read: -16
TBR pile: -7

So looking back, November was a so-so month. There were a few books I really enjoyed, but at the end of the day, there were a lot of Cs and Ds... Much more than usual. I do think it's the books, but I can't deny that my mood had something to do with it as well. I just felt so restless in November, not knowing what to read :(

I'd like to point out also that I've read 4 books from my RWA TBR pile :) I'm happy about that number... cos I haven't been reading that many of it, since I'm always too busy running after the new releases. I'll definitively have to continue this year :)

And so that was it, November 2011 :) Now, only December to go!! LOL.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Best of 2011!

 What do these three books have in common? Well they are all part of my top reads in 2011! Ames and I have compiled our top reads for 2011 and are discussing it over at Breezing Through! Click here to take a look and let us know what you think! :)

In a few days, we'll have another post discussing more general topics such as "Best new-to-me authors", "Best new series" and so on :) Anything you'd like to know our opinions on? Feel free to make suggestions!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

TBR Challenge 2012: Island Heat by Sarah Mayberry

Ouf I made it!! Yay!! LOL, I've been meaning to blog... but I didn't get enough sleep this week-end (girls' night on Friday till 5am and reading on Sunday till 2am LOL) and so I've been paying ever since ^_^; It's really hard to stay awake when you don't have energy, let alone string words together in a coherent fashion!! Since I had no Hauling Sunday post last week-end (yep, been a good girl), I was planning to at least get the Monthly Reads post for November done... Yeah, as if LOL. Luckily, I got this one done!! Woohooo! One month down, 11 to go LOL.

Enjoy the review!

Island Heat by Sarah Mayberry
published by Harlequin in March 2008
It's been eight years since Tory Sanderson has seen Ben Cooper- eight years since she found out he seduced her to win a bet with some classmates at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, and eight years since she got her revenge...

After fulfilling her dream of publishing a cookbook of island recipes, Tory is thrilled when she's invited on a Caribbean cruise as a guest lecturer. But excitement turns to anxiety when she finds out that Ben, who is now a celebrated restaurateur, will join her as the guest chef.

Ben accepted the guest chef gig in order to enjoy a week of Tory sweating it out in the kitchen. But once the heat starts to climb, getting even turns out to be the last thing on his mind. In fact, picturing a future with Tory in his kitchen might add just the right amount of spice to his life...
Genre: Category romance, contemporary
Series: Mediterranean Nights, Book #10

The Story: The blurb above is really spot-on. I was trying to write a synopsis of the book and it was basically identical to it LOL. So here are some details that are important to the story, but not part of the blurb :)

Tory accepts the invitation as a guest lecturer on the Caribbean cruise not only to share her passion, but also because she hopes to find closure. Eight years ago, Tory lost her twin brother, Michael, who was undercover for the DEA, in a plane crash on the coast of these islands. For eight years, Tory has felt like she lost half of herself... but it is now time to move on and Tory wishes to do so by visiting the place where Michael lived his last few months so happily.

As for Ben, he's going through a tough time. He's just discovered that the baby girl he fell in love with is not is daughter... While the mother is willing to let Ben have a relationship with the baby, Ben thinks it's better if they have a clean break, especially since she's going back to the father. Therefore, to put a little distance between them, Ben accepts the job on the cruise... Of course, he intends to face Tory and have a revenge of his own.

My Opinion: For this month's entry, you can thank Tabitha who sent me Island Heat after she read and reviewed it a couple of years ago :) Thanks Tabs!

Ms Mayberry is a beloved author on blogland and she's one of the reasons why I pick up more category romance to read. But I wonder sometimes if that's a good thing, because it seems my expectations are really high when it comes to her books and well all know that's not always a good thing ^_^;

For me, Island Heat started out well. I really liked the setting - the Caribbeans, the cruise and the kitchen :) It was refreshing, original and it made for a fun atmosphere. Ms Mayberry did a great job incorporating the cuisine aspect into the storyline. I always had a weakness for chefs because it's fun see people so passionate about their work and the chaotic environment. In this case, Ms Mayberry used it to her advantage not only to create a good feel, but also showcased Tory and Ben's differences. They come from a completely different background and their personalities are also polar opposite... but they share their passion and can relate through it.

I also liked our H/H, Tory and Ben. They each had a lot of depth, were well-developed and interesting. The tension between the two felt real and was quite enjoyable. What I liked the most about their relationship is while they did let the past events cloud their judgement, at the end, they were able to work it out like two mature adults. I really liked the parts where Ben realized why he acted the way he did - both in the past and present. Not only he realized it, but also acknowledged and changed his behavior. However, I have to admit Ben annoyed me a little just because he kept changing his mind. One minute, he wants Tory; the next, he doesn't want long-term and then, he's angry at how casual Tory is acting... but happy when he finds out she wants him. Ugh. He reminded me of a wind vane! Seriously, just make up your mind and act accordingly! He was lucky that Tory didn't make it more difficult to win her. Also, I thought their relationship was not very romantic. Perhaps because they had a past and it was a question of clearing the air... To me, it was much more a relationship than a romance...

If Ms Mayberry had focused on the elements above, Island Heat would have been a winner for me. Unfortunately, it wasn't the case. Aside from Ben and Tory working out their relationship, there were also Tory trying to win her father's approval and two other subplots - one concerning Tory's brother and the other about the cruise necklace. Tory's issues with her father were interesting and I think were portrayed in a very realistic manner. Obviously, following in her father's footsteps, she wished for his acknowledgement and that's totally understandable. I just felt bad for Tory that her father never seemed to have taken time to help her, teach her. I'm glad that at the end, Tory worked through her issues and broke free from her father's hold. At the same time, I felt it took away from the ending - it should have been focused on Ben and Tory instead. As it is, I felt the ending was quite rushed :(

The other thing that dimmed my enjoyment of Island Heat is that there were too much going on. I mentioned the two sub-plots. I really think that the cruise necklace plot was superfluous. Not only that, it simply didn't fit the atmosphere of the book either :( I really wished it had not been part of the story, sigh. As for the other subplot with Tory's brother, that one had potential and it worked for me... But it also made me feel the book was unbalanced. It seemed to me it was all about Tory's issues. I understand that not everyone has baggage and I don't require both the H/H to have issues. I'm perfectly good with happy and content characters... but in the case of Island Heat, we know that Ben is going through a tough time with the baby girl that isn't his daughter. That's some issue!! And I would have liked it to be developed instead of glossed over and that's why I felt the book was unbalanced. In addition, one other thing that bothered me was unplanned pregnancies. One is fine, two is stretching it but three?!? Separately, it would have been okay with me, but when you put them all in the same book, isn't that a bit too much?

All in all, there were definitively parts of Island Heat that I liked and really enjoyed. However, it wasn't enough to negate the bad parts... and I wonder if it's because I have such high expectations for Ms Mayberry? Then again, it could simply be the book. I think if I've been more into Tory and Ben's romance, it'd have been easier to overlook the parts I wasn't as interested in.

My Grade: C.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2011 in numbers...

So initially, I was planning to have this post written after I was done wrapping up the year 2011, i.e. writing my Monthly Reads posts for 2011. I know, I know, I sound like a broken record, always bringing up those two posts... but they've really been on my mind ^_^; The problem at this point though is... Who knows when I'll get to them?!? ^_^;

Then, another fact that prompted me to write this "2011 in numbers" post now is that this post is my 1000th!!! Wow, I can't believe it LOL. I never really thought about the future of this blog when I started. All I wanted was to share my thoughts about the books I've read to help other readers who were looking for recommendations. I'm glad that I've achieved that and I'm even more happy that after more than 5 years, I'm still blogging :) Anyway, I  think it's only fitting that for such a milestone post, I talk about numbers and books :)

And without further ado, I offer you:

Number of books read

In the past couple of years, my goal had always been the same: read 200 books. 2011 was no different, except that I finally made it LOL. This is the most that I've read in a year, so I'm pretty happy :) Although, I have to admit to a little bit of cheating ^_^; I've read a lot of novellas in December to boost up the numbers :P In addition, I've counted some of my re-reads - the books that I haven't read in years and therefore, the stories were a bit murky in my memory. Technically though, if I count the re-reads and the manga I've read, I'm well over 200 books... But that's a debate I have every year. So for 2012, my goal is to read 201 books and will not count re-reads at all :) Hopefully, I can make it!

Speaking of books read count, I have to say I'm really glad I signed up to Goodreads!! It really made keeping track of the books easier :)

Number of books bought


All right, that's a number that I'll take :) Considering it'd give me -47 books in the TBR pile! Plus, it's quite an improvement from last year's number, 193. Of course, this number is a bit misleading as it doesn't include the books I've gotten at RWA ^_^; and books I've received from my blogger friends and oh, you've been generous with me my friends! LOL. Still, you have to take into consideration that in 2010, I went to the RT convention and came home with books and still bought 193. So it's still an improvement!!

And this leads me to one of my favorite number each year, the amount of $$ I saved :) This year, it is a grand total of  468.97$!! Awesome no? I think I definitively made some good deals LOL. Obviously, the bookstores were helpful to my cause as there were a lot of promotions and discounts. Hopefully, 2012 will be as good.

This is one of the reasons I have so much difficulty changing my buying habits. The fact that by buying ebooks, I don't really save over buying print books. So many of the discounts are not applicable on all publishers and seriously, it's really frustrating. If you look at the break down of my purchases, it's quite telling: 139 print books bought (88.5%) - 116 in bookstores and 23 online - and 18 ebooks (11.5%). However, whether I want it or not, the gap between these numbers will probably decrease this year... simply because I'm really running out of space ^_^; I need to be more selective about which books and authors I buy, especially in print. We'll see how I'll manage LOL.

Oh, another number that's interesting is out of the 157 books I've bought, I read 101!! That's 64.3%!! So I'm really good at reading what I've just bought... So I'm really not adding that much to the TBR pile, right?

What did I read?

For comparison, I've put last year's number in parenthesis. So the winner genre is...

Historical romance = 58 (45 | +7) --> Regency = 51, Western = 6, Highlander = 1
Contemporary = 41 (42 | -1)
YA, all genre = 29 (22 | +7)
Urban Fantasy = 20 (17 | +3)
Cosy Mystery/Thriller = 16 (2 | +14)
Romantic Suspense = 12 (13 | -1)
Category romance = 8 (9 | -1)
Paranormal = 7 (17 | -10)
M/M = 4 (5 | -1)
Fantasy = 2 (14 | -12)
Fiction = 2 (1 | +1)
Erotica = 1 (0 | +1)
Sci-Fi = 0 (3 | -3)
Steampunk = 0 (1 | -1)

... once again historical romance :) I have to say, I'm glad that historical romance and contemporary romance came on top of the list. I guess it really shows that I'm a romance reader at heart LOL. I'm surprised that I could read even more historical romance than last year and I think it supports my claim that a lot of historical romances are being published over the other genres.

The genres that I have taken the biggest hits are paranormal and fantasy. I'm not surprised about paranormal, the market definitively has been saturated in the past couple of years and I felt it coming, my overdose. I really cut down on a lot of series and only continued on with the Psy-Changelings series by Nalini Singh, The Guardians by Meljean Brook, Patti O'Shea and Molly Harper. I did pick up new authors - Thea Harrison, that was really due to the blogland buzz, and Jessica Sims because I was looking for comedy. However, I doubt I'll continue on with them ^_^; I predict that 2012, it'll be pretty  much the same story for paranormal... I'll just be keeping up with my favorite authors.

As for biggest increase, Cosy mystery/Thrillers wins it and it really stems from the fact that I've been looking for something different to read... although I'm not sure this genre really is for me ^_^;

Who published them?

(0)   Penguin Group (Berkley, Putnam, Daw, NAL) = 54
(0)   Harlequin (Harlequin, Mira, HQN, Carina Press) = 33
(0)   Harpercollins Publishers (Avon) = 29
(+3) Random House (Bantam Books) = 25
(-1)  Simon & Schuster (Pocket) = 15
(0)   Macmillian (St. Martin's Press, Tor) = 9
(+1) Kensington (Zebra) = 8
(-)   Hyperion/Scholastic/Bloomsbury = 7
(-4) Grand Central Publishing = 5
(0)  Sourcebook = 5
(-)  Samhain Publishing/LooseID/Aspen Mountain Press/Dreamspinner Press = 5
(-)  Self-published/Kindle = 5

Top 3 publishers have not changed, it's still Penguin, Harlequin and Harpercollins Publishers and I can't say I'm surprised. What surprises me is Grand Central Publishing's drop. I love that publisher because they have great romantic suspense and they're quite cheap... however, aside from RS, the other genres don't do it for me, especially their contemporary. As for Random House's surprising jump, well that's because I binged on some of their authors such as Mary Balogh and Tess Gerritsen. As for the self-published books, I haven't read that many... 3 out of the 5 books were from the Ilona Andrews duo :)

When were they published?

2012 = 1
2011 = 127 (63.5%)
2010 = 31  (15.5%)
2009 = 19  (9.5%)
2008 = 4
2007 = 2
2006 = 2
2000 to 2005 = 11
Before 2000 = 3

See, my hunting for new releases actually is worth, considering I don't just buy them for their shiny newness, but actually read them! LOL. Yup, majority of the books I read in 2011 were published the same year. It makes up for 63.5% which is very similar to 2010 where I read 63.2% of books released that year. The most staggering I guess is that 88.5% of my reads were published between 2009 and 2011. I knew that of myself, I knew I tend to stick to recent books... but I didn't realize it was that much LOL. I guess I'm really a contemporary reader and I don't mean the genre. I have to admit, a lot of authors that I read are fairly new authors. My favorite authors who have back-list, I've been through most already. Also, I don't really like to read older authors who don't write anymore... because you end up wanting more and there's just no more :(

This year, I've signed up to the TBR Challenge hosted by Wendy. We'll see if I'll pick up more books from the TBR pile with older publishing date...

How did I enjoy the books I read?

A = 8   (15)
B = 94 (115)
C = 81 (43)
D = 15 (8)

Okay, so I have this reputation to be a fairly tough grader... well it seems I've become even tougher LOL. In a way, I'm happy with the grade distribution. In 2011, I modified my grading system and as a result, I was more objective and that was the whole purpose. It works well and so I'll be continuing on with this grading system :) At the same time, I don't think it's just me... I also think it's the books that were published. Ames and I were discussing our Best of 2011 post for Breezing Through and it seems 2011 was a so-so year. There were some good books, but they were rare... Hopefully, 2012 will be better!!

Did I share my thoughts with you?

Number of reviews = 68
Mini-reviews (from monthly reads posts) = 68
Books I still want to review = ?!?

Okay, so this year was pretty up and down when it came to reviewing. 68 full review means that I've reviewed 34% of the books I've read, 1/3. It's really not bad at all and actually, much better than what I was expecting. However, it also means that I have 62 books waiting for a full or mini-review... Yeah, I'll definitively try to do better in 2012 LOL.

Random numbers

New Authors = 53 (40)

I'm always astonished at this number, because it always seems so high to me. 53 new authors, that means about 1 out 4 books I read was from an author I did not know! I think YA contributed to this number a lot considering I've only started reading this genre one or two years ago. Still, it's good because I'm trying to discover new authors and that will work to my advantage in the long run right? :)

Books read part of a series = 143 (139)

Not surprising at all since there are very few stand-alone books published out there nowadays. Although I didn't think it'd be as consistent as I've given up some series... but I guess that I've picked up some new ones along the way as well :) And I'm really good at staying up-to-date in series. Usually, if I fall behind, then it means something about my love of a series.


And voila, those were my numbers in 2011. Quite consistent with the numbers in 2010. I think the biggest surprise came from the shift in genres and that really speaks of over-dose LOL.

Overall I'm really happy with the numbers. How could I not when it's my highest in year? LOL. Let's hope I'll best these in 2012!!

Hope you enjoyed the post! As usual, there were no titles as Ames, Monroe and I are preparing a series of Best of 2011 posts over at Breezing Through for next week :) Stay tuned!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Review: Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

LOL, I'm really trying to delay the inevitable ^_^; I need to write my Monthly Reads posts for November and December and realized that I've barely reviewed any books I've read in those two months. I've read 19 books in November and 23 in December... Can you imagine writing mini-reviews for that many books? So here I am, writing full reviews instead! The lesser of two evils right? LOL.

Catching Jordan is another book I intended to review back in December, but never got to it. Glad I finally did :) Enjoy!

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally
published by Sourcebooks Fire in December 2011
She can do a mean end-zone celebration boogie, but slow-dance at prom?

What girl doesn't want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn't just surrounded by hot guys, though - she leads them as the captain and quarterback on her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys, and that's just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university. But now there's a new guy in town who threatens her starring position on the team... and has her suddenly wishing to be seen as more than just a teammate.
Genre: YA, contemporary, sports
Series: N/A

The Story: Jordan Woods comes from a family which lives and breathes american football: her father, Donovan Woods, is a star quarterback in the NFL, her brother is starting to make himself a name in college football and Jordan is the quarterback of her high school team and also captain. Jordan's dream is to play football at the collegiate level and not just for any team - for the best of the best, University of Alabama. And despite her father's lack of support, Jordan is determined to make her dream comes true.

However, things get complicated when Tyler Green shows up. Due to familial reasons, he's had to move from Texas to Tennessee and hopes to become part of the team. He isn't asking to start, simply to be allowed to play... but the new guy has serious skills and might even be better than Jordan. Of course, Jordan is feeling slightly threatened... but the real problem is her attraction to Tyler. For the first time in her life, Jordan has a crush on a guy and doesn't really know what to do. She's always been one of the guys and not on the other side. But once Jordan's relationship with Tyler takes off, it opens another can of worms and Jordan is faced with the realization that her best friend and wide receiver has had feelings for her for a long time.

My Opinion: I have to thank Rowena for bringing Catching Jordan to my attention over on The Book Scoop :) As soon as I read the blurb, I was intrigued by this book. I really liked the idea of a girl playing quarterback for her high school team in a sport that is so predominantly male... and in that respect, Ms Kenneally definitively pulled it off :)

I really enjoyed Catching Jordan because it really was about Jordan being a girl and playing football. It wasn't just a background idea for the book and then, the story focused on high school drama and love relationships. Instead, Ms Kenneally really made football part of the story and used it almost as a character. Not only was it a good decision, but she did a great job at it and it definitively set the tone and created a refreshing atmosphere for Catching Jordan.

Aside from the football aspect, the strength of this book in my opinion was the characters and their interactions. I have to say, Jordan and her teammates JJ, Carter and Henry remind me of the 3 musketeers. I loved the friendship and camaraderie,  the loyalty between them. That was definitively my favorite part of the book. I liked that the guys considered Jordan as one of them and they hung out playing videogames and eating. It was great to see that she could trust them on the field and outside of it, confiding and asking advice even though they were guys and she was a girl. You could see that for JJ, Carter and Henry, Jordan was their captain and their friend and more importantly, they believed in her and her dreams. Sure, they're not the most sensitive people and at time, they were gross LOL. Still, they were great friends and Jordan was really lucky to have them :)

I also really liked the Woods family dynamics. I thought it was really interesting and refreshing. I loved that Jordan and her brother had a close relationship and that he also supported her dreams, believed in her. I thought it was really sweet. I loved that the mother tried to make Jordan more girly, but at the same time, she respected who Jordan was. She didn't try to change Jordan and even encourage her in her dreams and played buffer between father and daughter. As for Jordan's father, it sucked that he didn't show more support for Jordan playing football, but at the same time, it didn't mean he didn't love his daughter or want to spend time with her. I thought his feelings about Jordan playing football made sense. He's a professional NFL player, he understands the world better... and while Jordan is very talented and dedicated... how far can she really go? How far will they let her go? As a father, Donovan Woods wanted the best for her and he just didn't think that collegiate football was what was best for her... and in a way, he wasn't totally wrong. I did like that at the end, their relationship was mended once he finally realized how important football was for Jordan and helped her out.

If Catching Jordan was such a good book, I think it was in great part due to the heroine, Jordan Woods. Not only Ms Kenneally did a great job with Jordan's characterization, but she also kept it real. Her anger against her father not supporting her in football, but always there for her brother. The confusion that her attraction to Tyler brought up. For example the desire to dress more nicely, more femininely... but at the same time, feeling uncomfortable. The fear what a relationship with someone on the team could do, the changes it would bring, etc. Ms Kenneally created a well-developed and layered heroine, one that was interesting and refreshing in my opinion.

Unfortunately, there was a fumble for me in Catching Jordan and that was the romance. First, I'm not a fan of love triangle, but aside from that fact, I think the romance was simply not well executed. Jordan's crush on Tyler was okay... but once they became a couple, it seemed a lot of the relationship was off-pages and therefore it seemed rushed and not well-developed. For example, their first time seemed to come out of no where ^_^; Also, my impressions of him are really contradictory and I don't know what to think of him. However, what bothered me most was the romance between Jordan and her best friend, Sam Henry. I liked Henry better so I was rooting for them to be together... But there were a few things that I didn't get. For example, once Henry declares himself, Jordan realizes she has feelings for him as well. In that case, why did she stay with Tyler? Even if Henry had back-pedaled, I thought that once she realized she wasn't in love with Tyler, she should have broken things off. It wasn't fair for Tyler. Also, given Jordan's personality, I really thought she should have gone after Henry. When it came to love, Jordan was too wishy-washy and passive. Also, Henry was stupid to back-pedal and I disliked his disappearing act and how it affected Jordan and the story overall :( I understand that he was afraid things would change, but as soon as he declared himself, it was too late, things had already changed. Luckily, everything worked out at the end ^_^;

My Grade: B. Ms Kenneally delivered a very solid debut novel. I truly enjoyed Catching Jordan and found it quite refreshing :) I'm looking forward to her next releases!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Hauling Sunday LXVII

Hello everyone!!

So how was your first week of 2012? I hope it went well for everyone :) Mine was uneventful at work. We're designing another experiment, so for now, it's mostly computer work. Yay for me, because it means I have more time to blog-hop :)

This year, I told myself I would not run after new releases. I'd take it easy... Yeah, famous last words, because running after new releases is all I did LOL. I think the worst time to get new books is the weeks after Christmas and New Year. The bookstores get their shipment late and they have absolutely no time to shelve, because their bookstores are overtaken by customers that they must help...

And there's me who absolutely want to get my hands on my new releases because that's what I want to read ^_^; I knew one of the bookstore had received their stock between Christmas and New Year... But it's one of the bigger bookstore downtown and that means they are more busy... So I told myself that I'd wait till release date to look for the books. Come January 3rd, I called the bookstore - and at that time, it was still the only bookstore in my vicinity that had received the books - and asked for Bride by Mistake. After looking on the computer and shelves, I'm told: "Yes, we've received it, but unfortunately, it's still in the backroom unpacked. Might take a few days." I wasn't really surprised, so I started stalking the online indicator and wishing really, really hard that the other bookstores would receive it.

Next day in the morning, I see that another bookstore - one that is better at unpacking - had received Twice Fallen. I jumped on the phone and called them. I thought I could gave them the list of the books I wanted and they could look for it throughout the day in the backroom and I'd just pick it up in the evening. However, when I called, the clerk checked their online system and told me they still hadn't received them!! Which meant I called too early and their system was still not updated. Oups LOL. My plan was still to go there after work because as I said, they're good at unpacking :)

However, as I kept stalking the online indicator in the afternoon (because bookstore #2 had showed the New American Library releases, but not the Berkley releases yet), I realized that the online indicator number for Bride by Mistake at the first bookstore had changed! LOL, I seemed to remember that they had 5 copies and now, they were down to 4! Yay! So once again, I jumped on the phone and the clerk was able to find Bride by Mistake! So they put a copy aside for me and later that night, I went to pick it up. I was hoping to get the NAL releases as well, given they were received at the same time... However, they weren't on the shelves :( It took me a while to find a clerk (guess that it's no longer the holidays and they cut-back on the staff), but she was helpful-ish. She told me it was probably in the backroom. So she went in... and immediately came back out and told me it was such a mess... That my best chance was to wait a day or two and call before coming. Fine. I had another option, I had bookstore #2!! LOL.

Went to bookstore #2. Once again, not many people working... but the girl was really nice. They had only received the bookstore on that day (oups), but she went to the backroom and was able to find the books :) and so, I got them all.

I know, I know, I could have waited. I mean, there was no chance I could have read Bride by Mistake, Twice Fallen and It Takes a Witch in one night... but once you're on a hunt, you just want to get it over with LOL. So here are my new precious :)

Bride by Mistake by Anne Gracie - Have been really looking forward to it :) Am reading it right now and really enjoyed it :)

It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake - New cosy mystery series featuring witches written by Ms Blake aka Heather Webber! Reviews have been good so far. Yay!

Twice Fallen by Emma Wildes - Love Ms Wildes' historical :) Also was looking to see Lady Lillian and Damien Northfield fall in love :)

And yesterday, I bought this at Kobo:

Darkest Powers Bonus Pack by Kelley Armstrong - Ms Armstrong is known to write a lot of novella for her series. Sometimes online for the fans, something part of anthology and this Bonus Pack is a collection of the online ones she's written for her popular YA series, The Darkest Powers. It includes Dangerous, Divided and Disenchanted. I do admit it's instance like this that makes me really like ebooks :)

And there you go, my  haul for this week :) I hope the whole hunt is not a preview of what I'll be doing this year ^_^;

Friday, January 06, 2012

Review: The Comforts of Home by Jodi Thomas

I've been meaning to write this review for a while :) I actually believe that I started putting it together back in November, not long after I finished reading it... but the words weren't coming together. Well today, they flowed and I hope it made justice to the book :)


***Warning: This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk***

The Comforts of Home by Jodi Thomas
published by Berkley in November 2011

In Harmony, Texas, twenty-year-old Reagan Truman has found her place, and found her family. But with her uncle taken ill and her friend Noah lost and disheartened with his life, Reagan is afraid of ending up alone again, and she's not the only one. When a terrible storms threatens the town, the residents of Harmony are forced to think about what they really want. Because making the connections they so desperately desire means putting their hearts at risk...
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Harmony series, Book #3

The Story: The Comforts of Home takes place 2 years after Somewhere Along the Way. Reagan is now 20 years old and in charge of the orchard, building up her pie business and taking care of her great-uncle. Life is busy, but she wouldn't have it any other way. Yet, she can't help but worry about her best friend/ex-boyfriend, Noah. It feels like the distance between them is growing and the joy of rodeo is gone from his voice... and when she gets the phone call that he's been injured...

Tyler is the director of the funeral home in Harmony. He's been in a long-distance/e-mail relationship with Kate for quite a number of years and is trying to figure out how to take the relationship to the next level. Or whether or not there is a next level... Meanwhile, there's been a strange car parked at the cemetery for days and Tyler considers it part of his duties to check it out. To his surprise, he finds a young woman asleep... One thing leads to another and somehow, Ty finds himself saddled with Autumn, who's obviously had a difficult past and is pregnant, as his new housekeeper.

Finally, there's Ronelle Logan. She works at the post office and is known to read your postcards and complete the crossword puzzles in the magazines she sorts through. She's very shy and has been isolated from the community her very opinionated mother. However, after she is asked to make a special delivery to Marty Winslow, Ronny's life starts to change. She strikes an unexpected friendship with this bad-tempered man who is now stuck in a wheelchair after a ski accident... and finally starts to spread her wings.

My Opinion: I loved this book!! Just loved it :) I really enjoyed Somewhere Along the Way and was a bit anxious to read The Comforts of Home... but once I finished this book and re-read it immediately LOL. Yep, that's how much I enjoyed The Comforts of Home :)

So far, I've loved following Reagan's journey, seeing her grow and dealing with life. It's really been heart-warming to see the relationship between Reagan and her great-uncle, Jeremiah. They are not blood-related, but blood doesn't matter. It's the heart that does. I've also been very anxious to see what would happen to her relationship with Noah. It was sad to see that Noah has lost his joy and love of the rodeo world. That the injuries and the reality of the rodeo world have toughened him up, but also eroded his spirit. At the same time, it makes Noah's promises to Reagan at the end even stronger, meaningful. I think that Noah will turn into a really fine man and as such, I'm glad that the fractures in their relationship were mended.

Another relationship that I'm happy with the outcome is Ty and Kate. I think Ty is an awesome man. Definitively not your typical hero in romance - a chubby 40-ish y.o. funeral director - and yet there is something about him. His gentleness, the way he cares for people and his job, his sincerity. Tyler is really a genuine person... While I think he deserves much better than Kate, in the end, it is the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with and I'm happy that he finally gets what he wants :)

I have to say though, my favorite storyline in The Comforts of Home was Ronny's story. She's been mentioned in Welcome to Harmony if I'm not wrong and she seems such a strange woman... but Ms Thomas was able to turn her into an interesting character, one that you came to love and couldn't help but root for :) It was just amazing to see her bloom and spread her wings, to come out from under her mother's thumb, starts making friends and affirming herself.
Ronelle knew Dallas would not stay to eat. She often reminded Ronelle never to eat anything at potluck dinners or bake sales. One person hating the town could wipe out the entire population with poison.
Looking around, she saw everyone eating and had a horrible thought. If they all died, that would leave only her mother and her in town. While her mother stopped to talk to Willie Davis, Ronelle slipped a piece of corn bread into her pocket. It would be all in crumbs by the time she got home, but she planned to eat it. Just in case.
When I first read this passage, it made me chuckled LOL. At the same time, can you imagine the situation Ronelle finds herself in? Also the stunt that her mother pulled at the end of the book. Really, I don't know how Ronelle did which shows that deep down, Ronelle is really a strong woman.

Anyway, I really enjoyed Ronny's relationship with Marty, because it was so strange. However, I think that both of them really connected and really understood each other. I thought that the romance developed a little bit too fast, so it's a good thing that Marty leaves to get better at the end... But I have to say, I cannot wait for the next book!!! I want to see what happens to this relationship and how things turn out!!!

So yes, I really enjoyed The Comforts of Home, but there were two flaws to it. First, there is another couple - Denver and Claire. I really didn't care about them... I just don't like Claire and can't warm up to her. However, I can say she's lucky to have Denver. The other issue I had with this book was the big storm. I just wished Ms Thomas would not use the disaster plot device in all the books ^_^; It's just becoming a pattern and I think patterns when they are too obvious are not good. Good thing these were small issues and did not affect my enjoyment of the book too much :)

Finally, but not least... I've said it often, but it's worth to mention it again: there is something special about Ms Thomas' writing :) The best way I can describe it is gentle, delicate and it really suits this series. The Harmony series is not your typical small-town contemporary romance series... instead, it's about characters in a community growing and falling in love, but not in a straightforward way :) I liked that life for these characters is not all pink, because it makes it more believable, more realistic... but at the same time, it's not always tragic. It's just life. And the way Ms Thomas writes it... it's not heart-breaking because that would imply it's sad, but it definitively tugs hard at your heart :)

My Grade: A-. The Comforts of Home made me smiled, made me chuckled, made me laughed and definitively warmed my heart :) I can't wait for the next book!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Monthly Reads: October 2011

Finally, I'm done with this post!! Woohoo!! Only two more to go to wrap up 2011 ^_^; The worst is that October was a short month - both because of the number of books read and books reviewed. Sigh, I have a feeling November and December will take forever... But I'll do my best!

I've tried to keep the reviews short, but I was not always successful. Also, I feel like I'm repeating myself a lot... and I'm not sure if what I mean is coming across well. Guess it'll have to do though! Hope you all enjoy the mini-reviews!

1) Touch of Frost by Jennifer Estep: B

2) Slow Ride by Erin McCarthy: C-

3) The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan: B++

4) Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins: B

Last year, Ms Perkins' debut novel Anna and the French Kiss got quite a buzz which got me to pick up the book. While I liked the book, I didn't seem to enjoy it as much as everyone. So I was a bit hesitant to pick up Lola and the Boy Next Door, but in the end, the blurb convinced me and I got curious about the heroine who liked to dress so outrageously. It somehow reminded me of all the trends in Japan. I'm glad to say I enjoyed Lola and the Boy Next Door more than Anna and the French Kiss :)

I thought Lola was a very interesting heroine - her personality, the way she dressed, but also her family situation. It was fun to see her interactions with her two over-protective fathers LOL. I also liked her friendship with her best friend and the connection she had with Cricket, the love interest. I also really enjoyed Cricket and I thought that their romance was sweet. To my surprise, I also found myself really liking Anna and Etienne who have cameo appearances a lot more than I did in their own book. Go figure :P Another thing that worked for me was there was less high school drama and the focus was really on Lola and her relationships/interactions with everyone.

While I thought Lola was an interesting character, she wasn't very likable ^_^; Some of her actions were very immature and at times, you really wanted to yell at her to make a choice, be decisive. Another thing that really bothered me was how Ms Perkins turned Max into a shitty boyfriend at the end of the book, to justify Lola choosing Cricket over him. I thought it was unfortunate, why not let him be the good boyfriend? He wasn't the perfect boyfriend, but he was a nice guy, accepting to have brunch with Lola's two over-protective fathers every week-end, and so on. I thought the change in his character was too sudden and unnecessary.

Still, I enjoyed this book and it kept me engaged :) I'll definitively read Ms Perkins again!

5) Angels of Darkness: C

Angel's Wolf by Nalini Singh:  B
This was my favorite entry in the anthology. I really liked the H/H and how the romance progressed. The story was also quite interesting and I liked that Nimra was different from the other angels we've met so far in the series. The biggest issue that I had with this book is the once again forced darkness atmosphere that the author tried to create. Noel is recovering from a very traumatic incident and yet, I didn't feel it in his characterization. It was mentioned many times and Ms Singh tried, but it just didn't take for me.

Alphas: Origins by Ilona Andrews: D
Ugh. I love, love, love Ms Andrews' writing and her Kate Daniels series? I can't get enough, seriously. However, I always have the same problem with her: the world building. I found the world building confusing in Alphas: Origins, hard to visualize. The characters are also supposed to be real bad-asses and I supposed they are... but at the same time, I didn't connect with them, didn't find them likable. Perhaps if the story had been longer, more development... but as it is, I have difficulty buying the H/H budding feelings for each other ^_^; All in all,  the whole novella just felt flat for me

Ascension by Meljean Brook: B-
Nice short story. I thought the case the Guardians were working was way more interesting than the H/H. They have been introduced in previous books, but not much was known about them and their development in this novella was obviously limited. Added in a prior relationship that didn't work out and everyone ends up with lots of baggage. But as I say, the story was very interesting and it makes you realize how fine the line is between Guardians and demons and the fact that they cannot hurt humans? Well that just makes things a lot more complicated and dangerous for them :)

6) Bring Me Home for Christmas by Robyn Carr: C+

7) Heartstrings and Diamond Rings by Jane Graves: B-

Heartstrings and Diamond Rings was a pretty good book, solid... better than Ms Graves' previous release, Black Ties and Lullabies in my opinion. I could actually understand Alison's urge to get married, her worries not finding Mr. Right and not being able to start her family soon. I do think she was a bit too obsessed about it and worried too much, but still, it made sense. It'd really hard to meet people - trust me. As expected in this kind of books, Alison's dates are quite funny LOL.

Thinking back, Brandon's behavior and actions might not have been really ethically acceptable at first... but kudos to him because he really tried his best to matchmake Alison with suitable men. I also liked that he came to care about the business and his clients and I do think he'd be really good at the job because he's quite a good judge of character. Anyway, I liked the characters and the story, but I think it lost a bit of its momentum once Alison started showing interest in Brandon and as a result, I started losing interest. I think the book needed a bit more punch at the end than the usual  "You deceived me" conflict. Still, I enjoyed it :)

8) Snapped by Laura Griffin: C+

I was really looking forward to Snapped after reading Leslie's review, but I wonder now if perhaps I had too much expectations coming into the book. The suspense was definitively the strongest element of this book and was very well done. What didn't work for me were the characters and as a result, the romance. I didn't think Sophie and Jonah had much chemistry together. It felt to me for a long time, Jonah's feelings for Sophie was one-sided. True, Sophie had a lot on her mind, but it didn't look to me like she really reciprocated Jonah's feelings. Sure, she noticed that he was handsome, but nothing more. Also, what annoyed me so much was some of Sophie's actions. Granted, she tried to do what was right and that's a good thing, but she didn't seem to think before acting. And that's what was so frustrating!! When even your friends and colleagues who work in law-enforcing don't believe your words... going to the public might not be a good idea. Especially if you're right because in that case, you just painted a huge target on your back!

If I had liked the characters better, the grade would definitively have been higher.

9) In Total Surrender by Anne Mallory: B

Oh, here is a historical book that I really enjoyed!! I was intrigued by the blurb and picked it up at the bookstore on impulse. Well this impulse paid off! :) I really liked both the H/H. Andreas is the king of the underworld and he has one purpose in life: revenge. The only person he cares about is his brother... but suddenly, this woman is intruding in his life and in his thoughts. Personally, I thought Phoebe was an awesome heroine!! She was oh-so clever and knew how to plan. Loved the way she started wiggling her way into Andreas' household LOL. I also really enjoyed the romance, the way Andreas couldn't get Phoebe out of his mind, no matter how hard her tried :) The storyline was also well thought-out and executed. Andreas' revenge and how Phoebe tried to save her father's company and how these two elements were linked together. I really liked that Phoebe believed in her childhood friends.

The only reason why this book isn't getting a higher grade is because this is the third book in a series and I haven't read the other books and therefore, there were times where I really felt lost, like I was really missing some information. I know it is unfair for the book and the author, because technically, it's the reader's responsibility to read the books in order... but I've read books out of order and you don't always feel this way... and in the end, it really affected how much I enjoyed this book ^_^;

10) Glazed Murder by Jessica Beck: D

I've been burning-out on a lot of genres lately - paranormals, urban fantasy, small-town romances... and so I thought I should start varying my reading a bit more. As a result, I decided to go with mystery, because there are so many series out there! If I like this genre, well seriously, jackpot! LOL.

So I decided to go with Glazed Murder in which the heroine owns a doughnut cafe. Overall, the story was okay.  One of the problems is I never really connected with Suzanne ^_^; I didn't care about her or her situation... and the fact that she's another divorcee... Ugh. Also thought this series was a bit formulaic and the fact it's a first book in a series didn't help. I mean, you have this heroine who has this job and for some reasons, she finds dead bodies and investigate. I haven't read many cozy mysteries, but I've read something similar to this before... and so it's hard to get engaged. Another problem is that I realized I'm not a big fan of amateur sleuth ^_^; Yeah, that's a big problem given that most cozy mysteries have amateur sleuth as protagonist. It can work if the author is talented and clever... but unfortunately, I just think Ms Beck didn't have the elements to pull this one off. There was a definite lack of originality in the setting-up of the book and the execution... Plus, it's hard to believe that people will babbled just because a woman came in with a box of doughnuts ^_^;  So yeah, didn't really cared about this one.

11) A Hoe Lot of Trouble by Heather Webber: C

So instead of continuing Ms Beck's series, I decided to try another cozy mystery... This time though, I went with an author that I knew, Ms Webber who wrote the Lucy Valentine series which I've enjoyed. I have to say this one worked better for me.

What I liked the most about this book is I could feel that Nina, the heroine, had a life :) She's in the midst of a separation because she founds lipstick on her husband's boxer, still living with her teenage stepson who never seems to have accepted her. Her family drives her crazy half the time and she really could do without the noisy neighbors. Okay, so you have another heroine who is a divorcee (soon-to-be-divorcee), but in this case, it works because her circumstances are much more interesting, her background more rich. I thought Nina's relationship with Riley was one of the most interesting element in the book, perhaps because it felt so real. I also thought the mystery was more interesting because there was a lot more to it than a dead body (and at least, it isn't one that Nina stumbled across)... and wow, I sure was surprised at the end by the big twist. Also, I feel like Ms Webber handled the sleuthing better :)

Still the book wasn't perfect. I guess perhaps it's just the genre that doesn't do it for me, but I found myself skimming at times. This book just didn't completely hold my attention.

12) Trouble in Spades by Heather Webber: C+

So after reading A Hoe Lot of Trouble, I picked up Trouble in Spades right away. My thoughts of Trouble in Spades are pretty much the same. I still like Nina, still think her relationship with Riley is the most interesting element of the series. Case is interesting and there's a lot of twists. I think I liked this one better because it was funnier due to Nina's sister. Also, there's a romance looming ahead :)

13) Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins: B

14) A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker: C+

I usually don't read contemporary YA books because I'm not a fan of high school drama... but for some reasons, I found myself picking up A Match Made in High School... Most probably because of the Marriage Education program. LOL, when watching TV programs for kids and teenagers, you often see them being paired and taking care of her fake baby or an egg... well this sounded similar to it :)

Overall, I thought A Match Made in High School was a cute and quick read. I thought the Marriage Education program was well thought out LOL and it was fun to see the students being forced into it. The heroine, Fiona, was a normal teenage girl. She has a crush, is none too happy with her partner and she doesn't let people walk over her. I thought the first half of the book was pretty good, was building up to something... And then everything fell flat when Fiona's crush got a girlfriend. I don't want to spoil the book too much, but at one point, Fiona is accused by her best friend of being selfish and well, isn't that a part of being a teenager? I thought the best friend had as much blame as Fiona... It's just too bad that Fiona started moping around and as a result, not much happened in the storyline. Also, I wished we've seen more interaction between Fiona and her love interest.

15) The Famous Heroine by Mary Balogh: C+

I've been enjoying Ms Balogh's books quite a lot in the past year and decided to pick up this book as it was re-printed. The heroine Cora Downes is a daughter of a rich merchant... after rescuing a duke's nephew, Cora is introduced into Society so she can make an advantageous match. I really liked Cora's personality. I thought she was really fun LOL. I loved Francis as well, the way he dressed up so colorful and the fact that Cora thought he was gay LOL. That was pretty fun. I also liked their interactions together, they had great chemistry. As such, you'd think the grade would be higher... but I'd say the story didn't live up to its potential. With such great characters and all, I thought the story would be a bit more interesting... but instead, it's pretty typical historical where the heroine finds herself in a compromising situation and thus, the H/H have no choice to marry. Plus, the fact that Francis thought himself in love with another woman for so long...

This was in no way a bad book or anything. It was fun to read, especially the situation Cora finds herself in... but I guess I just had really high expectations ^_^;

Books bought: + 21
Books read: -15
TBR pile: +6

Writing these 2 months later is not the best thing to do ^_^; If I remember correctly, October felt like a really meh month to me as shown by the grades. There were some great books such as The Son of Neptune but mostly, the books were in the C-range. I had difficulty picking up books and as a result, I did quite a few re-reads (not listed). I also ended up buying lots of books, but those weren't really the books I wanted to read ^_^; So I ended up increasing my TBR pile.

Okay, I think I've fried my brain, because it's just gone blank LOL. Guess I'm going to sleep now :) Then tomorrow, I'm going to start tackling November...