Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review: All Seeing Eye by Rob Thurman

All Seeing Eye by Rob Thurman
published by Simon & Schuster in July 2012
Picking up a small pink shoe from the grass forever changed young Jackson Lee’s life. Not only did its presence mean that his sister Tessa was dead—murdered and stuffed in the deep, black water of a narrow well—but the shoe itself told him so.

Tessa’s death triggers an even more horrific family massacre that, combined with this new talent he neither wants nor can handle, throws Jack’s life into a tailspin. The years quickly take him from state homes to the streets to grifting in a seedy carnival, until he finally becomes the cynical All Seeing Eye, psychic-for-hire. At last, Jackson has left his troubled past behind him and found a semblance of peace.

That is, until the government blackmails him. Helping the military contain the aftermath of a bizarre experiment gone violently wrong, everything Jackson knows about himself will change just as suddenly as it did with his little sister’s shoe.

And while change is constant...It’s never for the better.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Paranormal, UF
Series: ?

The Story: Jackson Lee's life changed the day he picked up his little sister's favorite pink shoe in a field. In that instant, he became psychic and saw the dead body of five years old Tess floating in the well. Tess' death triggers an horrific family massacre after which Jackson - 14 years old - and Glory, Tess' twin, wounded up in the system. Jackson spent the next two years at Cane Lake County Home for Boys where he met Charlie Allgood - a decent boy who was able to breach Jackson's barriers. However, the two went their separate ways when Charlie turned 18 and could leave the home and when Jackson ran away, deeming he could survive on the street on his own.

At first, Jackson joined a carnival - what better place to be a psychic? Once he was ready, he opened his own business. With one touch of bare skin on a human or an object, Jackson knows everything - past, present, memories, thoughts and feelings. What Jackson loves above all is money, because money doesn't betray you. But when Hector, Charlie's brother, walks in his office and tells him about Charlie's death and demands his cooperation, Jackson knows he cannot walk away. It doesn't matter Hector is forcing Jackson's hand with Glory's latest mess-up, because despite his denial, Charlie was his friend. However, what he is about to embark on is far-fetched... even for a psychic, and when Jackson finds out Charlie was murdered, he doesn't know if he'll survive - after all, who isn't wary of an all seeing psychic?

My Opinion: I didn't know exactly what to expect when I picked up All Seeing Eye. All I knew is that I wanted to give this book a try because I really enjoy Ms Thurman's writing... And I'm glad I followed my guts because All Seeing Eye turned out to be a great read!

One of the reasons All Seeing Eye worked for me is because Ms Thurman stuck to her strengths. She knows what she's good at and what works for her and therefore builds her books around those elements. I think it's smart and in the end, it paid off. So yes, we have a sarcastic hero and the story deals with siblings relationships, but when it's well done, how can you complain? Plus, I think these elements were different enough from her Cal Leandros series and Korsak Brothers series to make All Seeing Eye stands out instead of turning it into a carbon copy. Especially the siblings relationships. I really enjoyed it because it's about brother/sister instead of brother/brother - so very different dynamics, but also because Jackson and Glory are not close at all. Still, you can see how important family is to Jackson and what he's willing to do and sacrifice for it. It was also very touching how he treasured Tess' memories, how he had loved his sister in a big brother way. I think that part was very well done. We also get a glimpse of brother/brother relationship with Hector-Charlie which was nice and different.

I also quite liked Jackson :) I have to admit he does remind me a lot of Cal and Stefan, except he is a red-head! I think that is unavoidable since he is so sarcastic and given his past; however, I felt he was less dark. Yes, he went through something horrific and he is privy to some horrible secrets and sometimes inadvertently see bad stuff, but it's not constant. I also think he was able to put the past to rest better than Stefan did. Anyway, I think he was a good hero and an interesting character and I definitively wouldn't mind to get to know him better and follow more of his adventures :) I have to say, I liked how focused on money he was. Even before the massacre, it was a goal and it was good to see his determination and perseverance. Also, no matter what Jackson says, he is not as tough as he thinks :) I liked that so many people slipped through his wall :P Finally, I have to say, Ms Thurman is a master at writing sarcastic heroes.

Other things that worked for me was the psychic aspect of the book. What I liked was the way Ms Thurman described Jackson's gift - something akin psychometry, how she set up the rules and how she stuck to them. For example, any contact with Jackson bare skin could trigger his ability with people or with objects that had been used for a long time and that's why he preferred to surround himself with new things. Throughout the book, Jackson's gift was consistent in the triggers and the results and that's what I'm looking for when there's a psychic in my book. Ms Thurman also delved into astral projection and once again, it was well-explained and well-done. It was obvious to me that Ms Thurman had a clear vision of the paranormal elements in this book and that really shone through the story and made accepted it without questions. Furthermore, she backed this up with a good and solid plot, an interesting and clever intrigue.

My only complaint about All Seeing Eye was the last part of the book that I found a bit rushed. Oh and also, don't expect any romance in here, because there's none ^_^; Hopefully, this is something Ms Thurman will develop in future books (if they are any). Otherwise, All Seeing Eye was a great read. Also, when it comes to Ms Thurman's books, I always feel like they take me forever to read. Oh don't get me wrong, I love her books and think the stories are great, but it doesn't change the fact that it's slow going... but it wasn't the case with All Seeing Eye. I think the story flowed better and it was more readable than her other books :) I think the trick was there was no real world building as it wasn't necessary and Ms Thurman didn't try to overdo it either. Anyway, whatever she did different, it worked :P

My Grade: B+. I really hope there's going to be more books featuring Jackson and Hector :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: That Thing Called Love by Susan Andersen

That Thing Called Love by Susan Andersen
published by Harlequin (HQN Books) in July 2012
He’s the last man on earth she should want…

For a guy she’s fantasized about throttling, Jake Bradshaw sure is easy on the eyes. In fact, he seriously tempts inn manager Jenny Salazar to put her hands to better use. Except this is the guy who left Razor Bay—and his young son, Austin, who Jenny adores like her own—to become a globetrotting photojournalist. He can’t just waltz back and claim Austin now.

Jake was little more than a kid himself when he became a dad. Sure, he'd dreamed of escaping the resort town, but he’d also truly believed that Austin was better off with his grandparents. Now he wants—no, needs—to make up for his mistake. He intends to stay in Razor Bay only until he can convince Austin to return with him to New York. Trouble is, with sexy, protective, utterly irresistible Jenny in his life, and his bed, he may never want to leave...
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Razor Bay series, Book #1

The Story: The blurb for That Thing Called Love is quite accurate. As far as Jake Bradshaw could remember, he always wanted to get away from Razor Bay and had the chance when he got a baseball scholarship for college. When his high school sweetheart got pregnant, Jake manned up and did the right thing: he put aside his dreams, married her and went to work for her parents at the inn. However, nothing had prepared Jake to become a widower or a father and when his in-laws gave him an out, Jake took it. He truly believed that his son was in better hands with his in-laws and when he was told not to come back, he listened, shoving the guilt aside. Now that his in-laws have passed away, Jake realizes that staying away was a mistake and he really wants to connect with his son and take care of him. But once he shows up in Razor Bay, he is met with a hostile teen and a not very welcoming inn manager.

Jenny Salazar came to Razor Bay at the lowest point of her life: a sixteen years old girl who had to take care of her mother who's gone catatonic after Jenny's father has been arrested for a Ponzi scheme. She has worked her way up in the inn and will always be grateful to the Pierces for giving her a chance. Through the years, she got very close to Austin and now, they share a sister-brother relationship. With the Pierces' deaths, she has stepped in as Austin's guardians, but her plans are disrupted when Jake shows up out of the blues to claim his son. At first, Jenny has every intentions to fight for Austin; however, not being blood-related to him, she'd never win custody - especially if Jake wants it. As it is for Austin's best, she agrees to help Jake establishes a relationship with Austin and prepares him to the eventuality of moving away. Still, she doesn't have to like the guy... and it'd be good if her body could remember that detail.

My Opinion: I really enjoy Ms Andersen's books and that's why she is on my list of auto-buy authors :) Every  year, I look forward to the summer, because I know there'll be a new release of hers to read. While I love Ms Andersen's writing, I do not love all of her books equally; I do think some are better than others like Just for Kicks and Playing Dirty. Unfortunately, That Thing Called Love was not part of that group :(

Let starts with the positives of That Thing Called Love :) I feel this book was all about the characters and in that respect, Ms Andersen did a good job. I think like I got to know the H/H because both were well developed and fleshed out. Jenny was likable and self-assured when it came to business and Austin, but I liked seeing the vulnerabilities. And I really applaud her for standing up to her father, that was brave. She was a very good heroine, but I feel I didn't totally connect with her and that might have to do with the romance. As for Jake, he wasn't that likable, but at least, I got a good idea of what shaped him and that made up for it. I liked that Jake was conscious of his mistakes and felt guilty about them, but he still didn't like to be called out for it by Jenny - that was very realistic to me. I also liked that Jake didn't have it easy reconnecting with Austin and had to work for it and that Jake was willing to spend the time to do it right. Of course, he could have done more... but after all, no matter what Austin said, he did crave for a father. Something interesting as well about that Thing Called Love is that we got to see Austin's POV and what was going through his mind and that made me appreciated the story even more. His little romance was also very cute :) Another element that I enjoyed was Jake and his half-brother's relationship. I liked seeing these two men getting to know each other as grown-ups and put aside the past. So overall, I definitively think Ms Andersen did a great job with the characters, the relationships and the interactions.

She also did a good job with the setting as I find myself enjoying it quite a bit. It had a bit of the small-town vibe, but without all the quirky characters and drama, combined with the vacation town vibe, but without the "it's dead during the summer" syndrome. The setting was not ground-breaking, but it was done right as Ms Andersen didn't oversell Razor Bay and as a result, it gave That Thing Called Love a good atmosphere :)

I think where this book falters is the romance ^_^; I get the attraction between Jenny and Jake - I mean, that's always good for the start of a romance between two strangers right? I also appreciate that Jenny and Jake didn't give in their attraction too fast and jump into bed together despite the situation. I mean after all, Jenny had years of bad opinion of Jake to overcome. I don't even mind the conflict which is basically Jake's fear of commitment because it's true, he doesn't know how to be a father, he doesn't know how to be in a relationship and so on. What didn't work for me is that I felt Jenny and Jake had no chemistry together. Perhaps if there'd been more scenes of them acting as a couple, it could have help. However, it was not the case in That Thing Called Love. Most of the time, they were at odds with each other... and suddenly, I'm supposed to believe that after a few nights in bed together, Jenny has fallen in love with Jake. Yep, not happened. I just didn't understand why Jenny would be in love with Jake. They had not spent enough time together and didn't know each other enough for me to believe in it. And as a result, I felt the romance was quite superficial. Also, Jake's 180 degrees turn at the end of the book was hard to believe ^_^;

I think another problem that I had with That Thing Called Love is that based on the cover, I was expecting something a bit more fun, a bit more summer-y and it was not the case. The only thing that could qualify as summer is Austin's baseball league LOL. The rest of the issues the characters dealt with were rather serious. It would have been better for this book to have a cover that fit.

My Grade: C. All in all, That Thing Called Love was not one of Ms Andersen's best books, but it had the potential to be if the romance had been stronger.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Week-End's Minis XXI: About Last Night by Ruthie Knox

For a second week in a row, I did not buy books! Yay! Actually, LOL, I'm not sure if it's such a good thing or not. I mean, obviously good for my wallet and TBR pile, but what about my mental state and happiness? LOL. I guess we'll find out soon ^_^;

Anyway, since there's no Hauling Sunday post, I decided to catch up and go with a Week-End's Minis post :) I truly wanted to post this yesterday, but it was the annual BBQ! And I spent Thursday and Friday evenings grocery shopping and prepping for the BBQ. As usual, we had chicken wings and fish meat balls :) However, this year, we also had homemade sausages!! And my sister was in a baking mood, so we got green tea macarons and a Alaska Bomb cake!!

 BBQ and homemade sausages. I LOLed when I opened the box. My friend had told me the sausages were fat, she forgot to tell me they were short!

Green tea macarons! So yummy!!

Alaska bomb: raspberry sorbet, vanilla ice cream, sponge cake and meringue

Hope you liked the pictures :) And the review!!

About Last Night by Ruthie Knox
published by Random House Publishing in June 2012
Cath Talarico knows a mistake when she makes it, and God knows she’s made her share. So many, in fact, that this Chicago girl knows London is her last, best shot at starting over. But bad habits are hard to break, and soon Cath finds herself back where she has vowed never to go . . . in the bed of a man who is all kinds of wrong: too rich, too classy, too uptight for a free-spirited troublemaker like her.

Nev Chamberlain feels trapped and miserable in his family’s banking empire. But beneath his pinstripes is an artist and bohemian struggling to break free and lose control. Mary Catherine—even her name turns him on—with her tattoos, her secrets, and her gamine, sex-starved body, unleashes all kinds of fantasies.

When blue blood mixes with bad blood, can a couple that is definitely wrong for each other ever be perfectly right? And with a little luck and a lot of love, can they make last night last a lifetime?
Genre: Category romance, contemporary romance
Series: none

What do you need to know? Cath Talarico was a daddy's girl and when her father passed away, she rebelled and got wild - very wild - and ultimately led to some very bad decisions. When her mother passed away from cancer, Cath decided to straighten up and be good. She moved to London to start over, taking a job in a museum... And she mainly has spent the last couple of years observing people. The one that has caught her attention is a man who often takes the same train with her whom she nicknamed City. Polished and successful, he's also very punctual and a gentleman. However, she never planned to start an affair with him! But he's very tenacious and she can't seem to shake him off... and very quickly, she's not sure she wants to.

City's real name is Nev Chamberlain and he works in the family banking's empire. He feels trapped because of his older brother and mother, who wants to pull the strings as if he was a marionette. Unfortunately, Nev has worked too hard in the business to start over in another company or to chase after his dream of being a painter.

Why this book? I had my doubts about getting About Last Night because I did not really enjoy Ms Knox' debut, Ride with Me. Ultimately, Kristie's review convinced me - plus, I love a good opposites attract romance :)

What did I like? I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed About Last Night, because I had definite reservation coming in. However, Nev just won me over :) I loved his character! Such a gentleman, but at the same time, he was not a pushover :) He didn't let Cath drive him away; instead, he went after what he wanted, her :) I also loved how patient he was and how he drew Cath to him. I also have to say, the chemistry between Cath and Nev was very good :) I did think the attraction between Cath and Nev happened a bit too quickly; however, in the end, it worked because of their chemistry and the fact that the two have been eyeing each other on the train for a while. And I enjoy the romance thanks to Nev's tenacity.

By the way, I don't think About Last Night was such an "opposites attract" romance as Cath and Nev weren't so different. Yes, their family backgrounds were opposite, but personality-wise, not so much. Both had reasons not to live freely, kind of hiding their true nature... and on a lot of subjects, they were on the same wavelengths. Truly, I just feel "opposites attract" was not really the theme Ms Knox was going for, but that's what marketing picked up. I don't really care though because I really enjoyed the book :) And most of it has to do with Ms Knox' development of the characters. She did a great job because Cath and Nev were both interesting and fully fleshed. Although I have to say, I did not enjoy Cath as much as Nev.

What didn't work? I really  had only one issue with About Last Night and that was Nev's idea to pretend he had elope with Cath to his family. I have to give credit to  Ms Knox because she didn't go about it the usual way and in the end, it was not the focus of the book - yay! However, it simply was really a bad idea and plot device for About Last Night and also, very unnecessary. I mean, since it was not the book main plot device, it also made the story very predictable. Ugh. Had it not been for it, About Last Night would have been an A for me.

My Grade? B+. Really enjoyed the book and will be giving Ms Knox another go in the future :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review: The Proposal by Mary Balogh

Looks like I'm slowly getting my reviewing mojo back :) Hopefully, I'll be able to get back into a routine before it gets disrupted again. And I guess it'll have to happen quickly since this week-end is the BBQ and I have plans for a shopping trip next week-end. And then, there's going to be a friend's b-day and after that, a friend's wedding. Hmmm, how did I get so busy?!?

Okay, let's get to the review before I get even more side-tracked LOL. Today's review is The Proposal by Mary Balogh and you'll find it over at Breezing Through. Ames and I join force to discuss The Proposal. This one has been in the work for quite a while, but you know, RL happened ^_^; Click here  for the review and enjoy!

The Proposal by Mary Balogh
published by Random House Publisher in May 2012
Gwendoline, Lady Muir, has seen her share of tragedy, especially since a freak accident took her husband much too soon. Content in a quiet life with friends and family, the young widow has no desire to marry again. But when Hugo, Lord Trentham, scoops her up in his arms after a fall, she feels a sensation that both shocks and emboldens her.

Hugo never intends to kiss Lady Muir, and frankly, he judges her to be a spoiled, frivolous—if beautiful—aristocrat. He is a gentleman in name only: a soldier whose bravery earned him a title; a merchant’s son who inherited his wealth. He is happiest when working the land, but duty and title now demand that he finds a wife. He doesn’t wish to court Lady Muir, nor have any role in the society games her kind thrives upon. Yet Hugo has never craved a woman more; Gwen’s guileless manner, infectious laugh, and lovely face have ruined him for any other woman. He wants her, but will she have him?

The hard, dour ex-military officer who so gently carried Gwen to safety is a man who needs a lesson in winning a woman’s heart. Despite her cautious nature, Gwen cannot ignore the attraction. As their two vastly different worlds come together, both will be challenged in unforeseen ways. But through courtship and seduction, Gwen soon finds that with each kiss, and with every caress, she cannot resist Hugo’s devotion, his desire, his love, and the promise of forever.
Genre: Historical romance
Series: The Survivor's Club, Book #1

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: Perfectly Matched by Heather Webber

I really need to find a way to have my reviews ready for Tuesday morning. With my WEM and Hauling Sunday features on the week-end, I find that Tuesdays are perfect to post reviews... However, I never seem to have them ready, sigh. Any tips?

Today, I procrastinate the whole day instead of writing this review for Perfectly Matched by Heather Webber. Once I came home, I finally sat down and wrote it... It was that or cleaning my room. Guess what I'm procrastinating away now? LOL.


Perfectly Matched by Heather Webber
self-published in May 2012
The heat is on...

When Boston psychic Lucy Valentine finds herself involved in a group of eccentric psychics trying to learn more about their abilities, she is convinced a rare spring heat wave has flushed the crazies out of hiding.

Adding to her theory is her newest client in the Lost Loves division of Valentine, Inc., her family’s lucrative matchmaking firm. He’s an animal communicator who hires Lucy to find his purrfect mate—because his cat told him so.

But craziest of all is The Beantown Burner, a serial arsonist who is targeting private eye Sam Donahue, the brother of Lucy’s boyfriend, Sean. With the help of her kooky psychic group, Lucy must tap into abilities she didn’t know she had to catch the firebug before the fires turn deadly. What she never expected to discover is that the motive behind the flames hits a little too close to home...and her heart.
Genre: Cosy Mystery
Series: Lucy Valentine series, Book #4

The Story: As usual, Lucy Valentine has a lot on her plate. First, she has joined a group of psychics in order to learn more about her abilities and how to use them. Unfortunately, no luck so far which means she's still struggling and it's making her feel less than welcome with the other participants who are not shy to let their impatience show. Her newest client at Valentine, Inc. - the familial matchmaking business - doesn't seem to want to find his soul mate and admits to coming only because he's been prompted (read driven crazy) by Ebbie... his cat. He then vanishes without leaving a forwarding address or filling the questionnaire and dumps Ebbie in Lucy's lap! Then there's her grandmother urging her to move things along with Sean, her boyfriend, so she can get great-grandchildren. Her best friend Emerson is worried because her fiancé Aidan has been acting weird and distracted. Finally, Paige, Lucy's new friend who is also dating Lucy's new-found brother, seems to have some health issues. Yep, a full plate... But oh wait! Let's not forget The Beantown Burner, the recent serial arsonist scaring Boston, who seems to be targeting Sam Donahue, Sean's brother... but is Sam really the target? One thing is sure, life is never boring with Lucy :)

My Opinion: If you've been following my blog for a while, you know that I've really been enjoying Ms Webber's Lucy Valentine series :) I find the mysteries interesting, like the touch of romance and really, really love the fluffy style. For me, that fluffiness definitively sets the series apart from other cosy mystery series, but also all other books in general :) As you can imagine, I was quite anxious to find out Lucy Valentine's fate as I knew Ms Webber was contracted for three books... I was ecstatic when I found out Ms Webber has written Perfectly Matched and was self-publishing it. It sucks that St. Martin's has not asked for more, but it's awesome that Ms Webber has gone ahead and continued this series for her fans!! And while Perfectly Matched had its flaws and was probably the weakest book in the series so far, I'm still glad I read it and I'm hoping for more!!

As you can read from my synopsis, there's a lot going on in Perfectly Matched. One would perhaps think too much, but Ms Webber makes it work. There are really three mysteries in Perfectly Matched: 1) the missing child the group of psychics are investigating, 2) the Beantown Burner and 3) who is Jeremy Cross, the man who left his cat behind. And to my surprise, not only did they blend well together, but there were also interesting connections. Another interesting aspect was how each case was handled and the investigative work it involved. That being said, I have to say the mystery in Perfectly Matched was the weakest element of the book ^_^; This really comes as a surprise to me because Ms Webber is usually so good with them. And actually, when I think about it, all three mysteries were interesting and I really enjoyed the twists - particularly in the missing child's case, I thought that was brilliant. The problem was in the execution.. I felt Ms Webber did a great job at setting the mystery up, but I felt the resolution was too abrupt and rushed, especially when it came to the Beantown Burner case. I thought the motive of the Beantown Burner was really weak and definitively could have been fleshed out more. And that's really Perfectly Matched's biggest flaw.

The rest of the book was great :) The fluffiness that is unique to this series is still there - yay!! And Ms Webber's writing is as usual - solid and enjoyable. And when it comes to the characters and relationships in Perfectly Matched, I'm a happy duck LOL. I like that they're all growing and evolving and that things are moving along. It's good that Ms Webber is not throwing in obstacles and conflicts just to stall or for drama. I like that Lucy and her two best friends, Marisol and Em, are still best friends and getting along well. I enjoy Lucy's growing friendship with Paige. I am sooo glad that Cutter has a slightly larger role in Perfectly Matched and that Lucy and Cutter's relationship is good - although I'm still waiting to read about it LOL. Lucy and Sean are still taking things slow because Lucy still fears the curse, but they do move in together and that's a good step in the right direction. I'm also glad to see Marisol and Em's love lives being developed, but in no way are they stealing Lucy's spotlights. I'm also curious about the new characters introduced, Jeremy and Dr. Paul, and I can't wait to find out more about them. Really, Ms Webber did a great job with this aspect of the book :) What's even more impressive though is that she did well without suddenly changing someone's personality!

Another thing that Ms Webber did well was the psychic aspect. There was just enough of it to make things interesting which is the way I like it :) I find that's always difficult because too little and the reader is like: "Where's the psychic aspect?", too much and the readers are rolling their eyes. Ms Webber understands that Lucy's gift helps her in her investigations, it does not solve them and that's what we get. I also think that Ms Webber has a good grasp of what she wants Lucy's abilities to be and that helps. Sometimes, I feel authors don't have a clear idea in mind and so, their characters become the Super Psychic with all the abilities you can imagine. Or they are supposed to have this kind of ability, but it blends in with so many others. But it's not the case with Ms Webber, she definitively has a clear idea. I also liked that Lucy is trying to learn more about her abilities and it's not easy :)

Finally, I want to bring up two little issues I had with Perfectly Matched. The first is that it really bothered me that in many instances, Lucy could not reach the people she called. I don't know, it's just a little bit too convenient :( The second has nothing to do with the story, but still has to be brought up and it's about the formatting of Perfectly Matched. I bought the epub version of Perfectly Matched at Kobo and for some reasons, throughout the book, the font alternates between being normal and bold. I don't know if it's only me or not... And I know this is minor, but it's still very annoying while reading ^_^; Also, I'm only now starting to buy more e-books and I'm still not a huge fan of self-publishing work. I admit, a lot of it is prejudices... but when there's a formatting problem like this one, it just doesn't help me overcoming those prejudices.

My Grade: I originally gave Perfectly Matched a B. I enjoyed the book and I loved the continuity with the rest of the series. However, when I started writing this review, I had difficulty remembering the plot ^_^; Unfortunately, not a good sign... and that's why B- it's going to be. The really good news is with the way Perfectly Matched ended, Ms Webber will definitively write another installment and I'll definitively be reading it :) Hopefully, we won't have to wait too long!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Monthly Reads: June 2012

Eeeep, I missed the Week-End's Minis feature again ^_^; I guess I'm still not totally back into my blogging mojo... However, I'm trying! And eventually, I'll get back into it LOL. However, I at least had an excuse: bachelorette party :) It was my friend's sister's bachelorette party and so, we attended a burlesque dance class... It was definitively interesting and yep, I'll never look at some of my friends the same way again LOL.

I did not buy any books this week! Yay! I really need to start curbing my book-buying a bit. Sigh. But that's another story for another day. Since no new books = no Hauling Sunday post, I decided to catch up on things a bit and post my Monthly Reads post for June! So take a look at what I read in June! Post for July should follow shortly... Good news is I was so busy I didn't read much LOL.

1) A Night Like This by Julia Quinn: B-
Upcoming Review.

2) Bedding Lord Ned by Sally Mackenzie: C-

Eleanor Bowman has been in love with Lord Edward, second son of the Duke of Greycliffe, forever and is still carrying a torch for Ned, despite the fact that he married her best friend and is now a widower. But as the years go by, Ellie realizes that she wants a family of her own and as such, needs to put an end to her infatuation. This year, at the Valentine's house party hosted by the Duchess of Greycliffe, also known as the Duchess of Love due to her matchmaking skills, Ellie is determined to marry one of the eligible men the Duchess has invited for her. However, this is easier said than done, especially when Ned has decided it was time to marry again.

I was really looking forward to Bedding Lord Ned because the cover and the blurb had both caught my attention. However, I was quite disappointed because I feel the blurb was misleading. The way it was worded, I thought Ellie would actually be bold enough to go after Ned and seduce him. Instead, Ellie and Ned spent their time denying their feelings and attraction for each other and then, being jealous or trying to make the other jealous. At the end of the day, I simply did not see any chemistry or connection between Ellie and Ned and didn't care much about their romance - which is very unfortunate. I felt frustrated at Ellie, spending years pining after Ned and letting her life slipped through her fingers... And seriously, how dense is Ned?!? I mean, everyone knew of Ellie's feelings for Ned... Sigh.

There were some positive elements in Bedding Lord Ned and they included Ned's family and the cat LOL. The cat was a good way to infuse some humor :) I liked Ned's brothers and their friendship with Ellie. I also liked Ned's parents, although I found it a bit weird we saw more close-doors sex scenes from them than Ellie and Ned ^_^; In any case, I'm not ready to give up on Ms Mackenzie yet and will be digging through my TBR pile to find her books :)

3) Crazy People by Jennifer Crusie: B

4) Rescue Me by Rachel Gibson: C++

5) Chaos Burning by Lauren Dane: B

6) Larkspur Road by Jill Gregory: C

7) Jacked Up by Erin McCarthy: C

8) Never a Lawman by Jo Goodman: C+

9) No Tan Lines by Kate Angell: B+

10) More Than a Stranger by Erin Knightley: B-

11) Perfectly Matched by Heather Webber: B
Upcoming Review.

12) Dark Frost by Jennifer Estep: B-
Upcoming Review.

13) Haunted by Kelley Armstrong: B-

I'm actually not sure whether I've read Haunted or not ^_^; If I remember correctly, I picked up Haunted just after I finished reading Industrial Magic... And most probably, what happened, is that I skimmed through it - more interested in Eve and Kris relationship than the intrigue. This time around, I decided to pay attention to the storyline LOL.

So in Industrial Magic, in order to help Paige and Lucas, Eve broke some rules and owned the Fates. Well in Haunted, they have decided to call in their marker. Basically, they need someone unconventional like Eve to capture Nix, an evil spirit which has escaped from hell. This spirit has a past of haunting humans who have an evil core, pushing them through their threshold and turning them into serial killers. The Fates have sent many angels after the Nix, but she has eluded them all... which is another complication for Eve. In order to stop Nix, Eve will need an angel's sword which can only be yielded by angels. Thus, she is given the choice of becoming one... However, that will mean giving up the ghost dimension in which Eve and Kris are finally reconnecting.

While Haunted didn't turn out to be one of my favorite books in the Women of the Otherworld series, I have to say I'm glad I finally gave it another go :) I enjoyed getting to know Eve better and I have to say, I simply love Ms Armstrong's writing style :) There are many popular authors whose style I just don't click with, but Ms Armstrong is definitively not one of them :P Anyway, as a whole, Haunted was an interesting book. As I said, I liked getting to know Eve better. Is she my favorite heroine in this series? No, but she's different. She's a mother who is still trying to help and protect her daughter and so, her priorities are not the same. Her relationship with Kris was also very interesting. I wished we've seen more of them together, but I think that's the romance reader in me talking LOL. Still, no matter what or when, Kris had Eve's back and I admired that. It was also interesting to see Kris and Eve work through their issues, past and current.

The intrigue of Haunted was interesting and you had a nice amount of action in the storyline. I especially liked Eve meeting Dantalion, a high-ranked demon and also her uncle. However, I can't say I was engrossed in the plot and I think it's because some parts of it were long and draggy and there was a lot of things going on. Perhaps Ms Armstrong should have streamlined the story a bit. And then, you add in Eve's dilemma - whether she would become an angel or not. It was an interesting dilemma that Eve had to face, but at the same time, her reaction and the resolution were a bit obvious and not different than similar dilemmas in other series.

At the end of the day though, I still enjoyed Haunted. I also thought Ms Armstrong did a good job at integrating other characters of the series in the storyline and foreshadowing.

14) Slow Summer Kisses by Shannon Stacey: B

Slow Summer Kisses is a straight contemporary romance novella about Anna Frazier who's been laid-off her work in the financial industry. In order to save money, she's decided to stay at her grandparents' cabin while hunting for a new job. During her stay, she gets reacquainted  with Cameron Mayfield with whom she used to play with as a kid when she visited her grandparents. Cameron is now living permanently at the camp in New Hampshire, doing some handiwork and checking on cabins. He was headed for a great career, but working too hard... and when his father passed away from a heart attack, Cameron realized he needed to slow down and enjoy life. It's exactly what he's doing and he isn't very happy to have Anna come and disturb his peace - especially since she has not changed: always on the go with tons of lists and always talking. However, Cameron feels obligated to help her out and the more time they spend together, the more he wonders whether he should strangle or kiss her :P

I think Ms Stacey did a good job with this short story as it was a very enjoyable read :) It was a sweet romance with two interesting characters. I liked that Ms Stacey focused on them and their lives, what made them ticked and what made them happy. I very much enjoyed Anna and Cameron as characters, but also their interactions. As usual, Ms Stacey infuses a good amount of humor and her writing is as solid as ever. The story is low in conflict and that's exactly how it should given the number of pages. Finally, I liked the resolution to the conflict, I liked that Anna took a chance on their relationship :)


Books bought: + 20
Books read: -14
TBR pile: +6

Contemporary Romance – 6
Cosy Mystery  – 1
Historical Romance – 4
    --> ( Regency - 3/Western - 1)
Urban Fantasy – 1
Paranormal Romance – 1
YA – 1


Overall, not bad numbers, but I admit I'm a bit disappointed ^_^; I really feel like I should be reading more - I'm so behind on my reading objectives ^_^; But not much I can do about it. I guess I should remember that what matters is that I enjoy myself and what I'm reading :) And yep, a lot of work ahead of me when it comes to reviewing. That sucks a bit because I was doing so well for the first half of the year... Ah well, another thing I can't do much about.

Did you read any of the books in this list? Did we differ in opinion? :) How was your month of June? Is the summer and vacation time getting in the way of your reading?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Review: More Than a Stranger by Erin Knightley

More Than a Stranger by Erin Knightley
published by New American Library in June 2012
When his family abandoned him at Eton, Benedict Hastings found an unexpected ally in his best friend’s sister. Her letters kept him going—until the day he had to leave everything behind. Years later, Benedict has seen his share of betrayal, but when treachery hits close to home, he turns to his old friend for safe haven...

After five torturous years on the marriage circuit, Lady Evelyn Moore is finally free to live her life as she wishes. So when her brother shows up with a dashing stranger, she finds herself torn between her dreams...and newfound desires. Despite his determination to keep Evie at a distance, Benedict cannot deny the attraction that began with a secret correspondence. Yet as they begin to discover one another, the dangers of Benedict’s world find them, threatening their lives, their love, and everything they thought they could never have...
Genre: Historical romance
Series: Sealed with a Kiss series, Book #1

The Story: More Than a Stranger starts with Evie, at the age of 11, receiving a letter from her older brother, and also best friend, Richard who's left home for school at Eton. His latest letter - as the previous ones - is full of "Hastings this" and "Hastings that." Feeling threatened, Evie pens a letter to Richard's new friend, Benedict Hastings, warning him off Richard since her brother already has a best friend - her. What ensues is years of friendly and witty correspondence between Evie and Benedict... till days before graduation when the two were set to meet for the first time. Benedict, having been recruit to be an agent of the Crown, figures he should cut all ties with his previous life and therefore sends a hurtful letter to Evie, ensuring that their friendship is over.

Years later, Benedict shows up at Richard's doorstep in London in need of a favor. Benedict's latest mission has taken a bad turn and could ruin his career, but more importantly, his family. While he figures things out, Benedict needs a place to hide, preferably in the country. However, when they arrive at Hertford Hall - Richard's family home, Benedict is in for a surprise: Richard's family has yet to leave for London for the Season. It turns out that the delay is due to Evie campaigning at her mother to skip the Season and the marriage mart as she has no intention to fall in love and marry someone. Instead, all she wants is to work in her father's stables with the horses. But Evie's plans might change with the arrival of Richard's handsome friend, Mr. James Benedict, whom she gets along famously well... as if they've been friends for a long, long time...

My Opinion: I was excited to read More Than a Stranger because of the blurb, but also because it was a historical romance from New American Library - same publishing house as Emma Wildes. Yes I know, I can be a dork sometimes, keeping track of publishers. Anyway, I find Ms Wildes' historical romance refreshing and I was hoping for the same from Ms Knightley :)

After reading More Than a Stranger, my first thought was that it was a great effort for a debut novel. I think Ms Knightley displayed great writing and understanding of characters. The characters were likable, the romance enjoyable and the relationships, well-developed :) As a result, I loved the first half of the book where  the focus was on the characters and their relationships. I really enjoyed reading the correspondence between Evie and Benedict - of which we got snippets at the beginning of each chapter. I thought it was a great way for Ms Knightley to impart more of Evie and Benedict's personalities and wits to the readers. However, nothing beats the first letter Evie wrote to Benedict, telling him Richard already had a best friend and therefore to leave her brother alone, LOL. It's so childish, but at the same time, such a normal reaction :) And really, two thumbs up to Evie for taking such initiative LOL. Despite this great opening, I have to admit that while very likable, I didn't feel Evie and Benedict were memorable characters. And I did like Evie more for overcoming a broken heart and being more determined.

The strength of More Than a Stranger would be the relationships and interactions between the characters. Not just of Evie and Benedict, but with Evie's family such as her brother Richard, younger sister Bea and even her parents. I enjoyed Evie and Benedict's relationship because it was great fun - lots of witty comments and banter :) I also really enjoyed the dynamics of the Moore family. It was nice that for a change, the parents were reasonable and got along well with each other and with the children. It was also good to see that Evie and Richard were still very close, even after growing into adults. A lot of time, it feels older brothers are introduced into historical romances simply to be an obstacle to the romance, to be overbearing and over-protective ^_^; It was clearly not the case in More Than a Stranger, you could see a connection between the two siblings :) As for Bea, well LOL. Poor Bea, trying to help out, but being treated as a little sister and getting frustrated. It's nice to have younger sister acting like a younger sister :P By the way, she's the one who inspired me to take a picture of the keyhole. Speaking of relationship, I liked Richard and Benedict's friendship :P Especially the part when Richard was angry at Benedict for bringing danger, but at the end of the day, still helped Benedict out because friendship prevailed.

Unfortunately, what didn't work for me was the whole secondary storyline of Benedict being a Crown Agent. I felt Ms Knightley focused too much on the characters, relationships and romance in the first half and as a result, the Crown Agent storyline just wasn't well integrated into the main story. Also, Tracy nailed it in her review when she said it felt like two separate stories, especially because the change in the tone is quite drastic. And the biggest issue is by the time Ms Knightley addressed the Crown Agent storyline, I just wasn't interested in it anymore. All I wanted was more of the romance.

One other thing that bothered me was that Benedict knew there was a risk of danger with his presence. He kept telling himself he had to let Evie go, there was no future - not under the current circumstances. So why did he keep going after Evie, starting something between the two, putting himself through it. I felt he could help himself. Let her go and once everything is settled, come back! ^_^; And of course, you had the whole part about him keeping his identity secret from her that didn't help matters. I just felt that Benedict knew better and he could have handled things differently, especially when his conscience was telling him to.

Finally, the crux of Benedict's problem was his family and throughout the book, there was a constant reminder of how Benedict is not close to his family. His family and the Moores keep being contrasted. I think it would have helped if we had a better picture of Benedict's family and the distance was explained... Or at least, some concrete explanations other that Benedict is the spare.

My Grade: B-. There were flaws in More Than a Stranger, but none of them deal-breakers. I think Ms Knightley simply has to tighten the plot and make the book more balanced. Otherwise, I thought More Than a Stranger was a solid debut novel with a lot to enjoy and like. I will definitively pick up a book by this author in the future :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Review: No Tan Lines by Kate Angell

Okay, so I missed this month's TBR challenge again ^_^; I did see Wendy's post, but for some reasons, even after, I thought I still had more time. Obviously not, oups. I might have been able to pull it off if this review hadn't taken me so much time to write. What can I say, it's been a while since I've written reviews and I'm sadly rusty ^_^; Hopefully, my mojo comes back soon.

So it took me a while to write this review, but I was determined to write it because I really enjoyed this book :) In the end, I think I got it right :P I hope you enjoy and pick up the book after reading this post!

No Tan Lines by Kate Angell
published by Kensington in May 2012
There's a place where the ocean meets the shore, where kicking off your shoes and baring some skin is as natural as sneaking under the boardwalk for an ice cream cone and stolen kisses. But life isn't all a beach for Shaye Cates, even if her idea of an office is a shady umbrella at the water's edge equipped with cell phone and laptop. Steely-eyed Trace Saunders is the incredibly irksome fly in her coconut tanning oil. And running a kids' softball team with her long-time rival is going to have everyone in her little Florida town buzzing. Her scads of laid-back relatives and his whole uptight clan know that Shaye just wants to play ball while Trace thinks only of business. But beneath the twinkling lights of the ferris wheel, the magic of sea and sand can sweep away every inhibition...Suddenly, it's summertime, and the lovin' is easy.
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Barefoot William series, Book #1

The Story: Shaye Cates and Trace Saunders have always been at odds, rubbing each other the wrong way and never seeing things eye to eye. Part of it is due to the century-old feud between their families; the other part is simply because the two are so different, just like their family business. The Cateses own the northern cement boardwalk, Barefoot William, which is all about fun with its amusement arcades, carnival rides and specialty shops. As for Saunders Shores, it is located south of Center Street and honors refinement with its couture stores, gourmet dining and a five-star hotel. Shaye spends half her time barefoot and in a swimsuit and  her office is the beach, a shady umbrella, her cell phone and laptop while Trace's idea of casual is slacks, white button-downs and loafers and his office has walls. The only thing the two have in common is they are both the CEO/president of their family business... and that's what brings them together in No Tan Lines.

In order to organize a professional/amateur beach volleyball tournament that would bring business that Barefoot William boardwalk desperately needs on the 4th of July week-end, Shaye needs Trace to share 200 feet of his beach and therefore needs his signature on the recreational permit. When Trace finds out that Shaye has given the green light to the event without his consent, Shaye finds herself in Trace's debt... and he has no qualms demanding that she pays up. First is that she breaks the rule of not renting storefront on Barefoot William to non-family and makes an exception to his latest ex-girlfriend. But more importantly is that he is being kept in the loop when it comes to the volleyball tournament and that means Shaye will have to work out of the Saunders corporate offices.

As Shaye and Trace work and spend time together, they discover what years of bickering and veiled tolerance have hidden: attraction and chemistry... but with a century-old feud, can any relationship they have have a future?

My Opinion: To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive when I picked up No Tan Lines because Ms Angell's last release, Sweet Spot, did not wow me and the reviews I've read were mostly in the C range. However, after that first chapter, Ms Angell had me hooked :P

First, I loved the setting :) It was simply perfect for the beach read that No Tan Lines turned out to be!  I think everyone has gone to a boardwalk like Barefoot William and has fond memories of it. Well Ms Angell does a great job with the descriptions, but the ingenuity is that they not only engage our imagination, but also draw on our memories, making Barefoot William and Saunders Shore come to life so vividly :) What's also great about the setting is that it sets up the mood and the atmosphere for the story very well. The beach and the sun made me disconnected and relax and the contrast between the two boardwalks was really key to the story and making us understand the source of the feud and how different Shaye and Trace were. Also, the beach volleyball tournament was a great idea! It fit because it is played at the beach obviously, but also because it's fun to play and watch and you can help but think of sun and coconut sun lotion LOL.

However, what made the book for me was the H/H, Shaye and Trace, and their relationship. From the start, I liked Shaye and Trace. Shaye appears very relaxed and laid-back, working from the beach and spending most of her time barefoot... and it's not a front, it's who she is. At the same time, she's very level-headed and is in charge of Barefoot William Enterprise, looking out for all of her family shops, giving a hand whenever needed and solving problems. That means she's strong, determined and smart. However, she's not all hard and I loved seeing her softer sides, how kind, generous and giving she was. As for Trace, well he's a typical CEO :P Rich, handsome and ruthless... but he too had a big heart. I liked how he wanted to help Shaye making the beach volleyball tournament a success to make sure her side of the beach stayed in the black. I also liked how protective he was of his sister, Sophie. Also, what surprised me was how adaptable he was and not stubborn. In fact, from the beginning, he is the the one making the compromise - spending time in Barefoot William - and being patient with Shaye... and that really impressed me :)

I also very much enjoyed Shaye and Trace's relationship. I liked seeing how intense they were with each other and they both gave as good as they got LOL. That was fun - very balanced. It also showed they had good chemistry together. One reason why this romance worked for me is that while Shaye and Trace were at each other's throat, they also knew each other very well. And what I liked is what they knew was their true self. Often in romance, the H/H think they know each other, but once they start spending time together, they realize they had it wrong or there were circumstances, etc. This is not the case with Shaye and Trace, what they know held true :) All they did was deepening their bond and their knowledge of each other and I thought that was refreshing. I also liked that Ms Angell built their relationship slowly and intensified their attraction to each other. It was nice that they did not jump into bed right away and when they finally had sex, they knew what was ahead of them and that there was no risk of misunderstanding or lie or secret that comes back to bite you in the butt. All in all, I very much enjoyed the romance as well as Shaye and Trace :P

I have to admit that initially, I had two niggles after reading No Tan Lines. The first was I thought the ending with Shaye and Trace was a bit rushed and in turn, how could a century-old feud exist and nobody think "Why the heck are we still feuding?" However, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I liked that Shaye and Trace tied the knot without waiting for their families to accept their relationship. Sure, their blessings would have been nice, but their relationship was strong enough that they didn't need it. I think it really said something about how in love and how committed Shaye and Trace were. As for the feud, it also made sense that it was still very present because it really embodies the difference in vision and lifestyle that the Cateses and Saunderses have. It's not an incident that took place more than a hundred years ago that resulted in a fall-out and nobody knows who's at fault. Instead, it's still very present when you take a look at Barefoot William and Saunders Shores and nobody's wrong or right here. So those would have been my complaints, but not anymore :)

Reading the reviews, I know a lot of people had issues with the romance - the fact there was basically three romantic storylines going on and as a result, it took away from Shaye and Trace's spotlight. Coming into No Tan Lines, I was concerned about this as well, but at the same time, I was prepared because this is Ms Angell's style ^_^; She always have many romances going on at the same time and in many instances, I hadwished she would focus more on the H/H's romance. However, in No Tan Lines, I have to say it wasn't too bad mainly because when Ms Angell started Dune and Sophie's romance, which I believe is the set up for the next book in the series, Shaye and Trace were established as a couple. Obviously, I would have loved to read more scenes of them as a couple, but I was okay without. There wasn't that much of head/couple-hopping and it worked for me. As for the secondary romance, Kai and Nicole, I enjoyed them and I was satisfied with what I got.

Finally, other things I loved about this book but did not go into details: Shaye's loyalty to her family, her connection to Kai and Shaye's parrot Olive - that parrot was a blast!! LOL. Oh and I also very much enjoyed Dune and Sophie and I can't wait to read their story :P

My Grade: B+. I really, really enjoyed No Tan Lines and can't wait to read the next book :) There's no denying that No Tan Lines had some flaws and lacked some depth, but it was easy to overlook them because the characters and the setting of the book really hit the right spot for me. If you're in the mood for a fun and light beach read,  make sure to pick up No Tan Lines :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hauling Sunday LXXXVII

Awwww, the Olympics are over T_T The closing ceremonies are on right now... I'm going to miss it. Already, I don't know what to watch :( The good news is I should have more time to read and blog!

This week was pretty quiet, only got one new book :) Although I did hunt for it for a while. I was checking the online indicator every day... It finally arrived at the bookstore on Thursday, so ahead I went. Of course, it wasn't on the shelves, so I ask one of the sale persons to go to the back room for me. He asked if I worked in a bookstore... Nope, just years of book-buying experience LOL. So what book is it?

A Witch Before Dying by Heather Blake - This is the second book in the Wishcraft mystery series. I enjoyed the first book, It Takes a Witch, and I really like Ms Blake's, aka Heather Webber, writing :) So win-win!


Part of last week's haul was 13 by Kelley Armstrong. I debated for a while which version of this book I'd get and in the end, went with the Canadian copy because of the special cover. Well Li asked for some pictures and I'm happy to comply :)

Voila! I think it would have been better if the cover's background (without the vellum jacket) would have been white like what I thought it'd be. Still, it's a pretty book and they did a great job to make it special as the last book of the series :) What do you think?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review: The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand

Finally a review!! Go me! LOL. As the Olympics are winding up, I have more free time and it's really time I get back into a blogging routine :) And I'm really happy that my first review back is The Chocolate Thief... and very à propos, given the quest it inspired for my trip LOL. All the details of the special mission are here :) I hope you'll all enjoy the review!

The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand
published by Kensington in July 2012
Breathtakingly beautiful, the City of Light seduces the senses, its cobbled streets thrumming with possibility. For American Cade Corey, it’s a dream come true, if only she can get one infuriating French chocolatier to sign on the dotted line…

Melting, yielding yet firm, exotic, its secrets are intimately known to Sylvain Marquis. But turn them over to a brash American waving a fistful of dollars? Jamais. Not unless there’s something much more delectable on the table…

Stolen Pleasure
Whether confections taken from a locked shop or kisses in the dark, is there anything sweeter?
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: The Parisian Chocolatiers, Book #1

The Story: Cade Corey is the heiress of the American chocolate magnate company, the family-owned Corey Chocolate. She currently finds herself in Paris to realize a dream of hers: learn about the French trade and its secrets, but also develop a high-end chocolate line. While she takes great pride in the Corey bars, Cade also wants to offer more to their customers. To insure success, Cade wants the name of one of Paris' best chocolatiers on the labels... and her first choice is Sylvain Marquis. She is flabbergasted when Sylvain refuses her proposition - without even looking at the contract! - and a little humiliated. And then, she hits a wall as every one of her candidates turn her down. However, the refusal that hurts the most is still Sylvain's and when she has an opportunity to break in his laboratoire, she jumps on it... starting a little game of cat and mouse between the two. However, as attraction grows and deepens between Cade and Sylvain, Cade is aware that if her plan for the high-end chocolate line fails, then she has no reason to stay in Paris... and in fact, her father is growing impatient, asking for her return...

My Opinion: For many reasons, I was very excited to read The Chocolate Thief :) One of them is I really enjoyed All's Fair in Love and Chocolate and I find the setting and theme for this new series refreshing and very original. Seriously, who doesn't like a book set in Paris and where chocolate abounds? LOL. Also, for me, an ARC from the author is always special :) Last, but not least, I really enjoy Ms Florand's writing. So really, The Chocolate Thief had everything going for it and turned out to be a solid and enjoyable read :)

I think that a lot of people will enjoy the chocolate aspect of this book LOL. It was definitively mouth-watering :P In addition, it was interesting to learn more about this art and Ms Florand has really done her research well. I also liked how she incorporated it in the storyline, because at times, it felt like a character of its own, being playful lifting the tone and atmosphere of the book :) However, let's talk about the main characters, Cade and Sylvain :) In the synopsis, I did not mention Sylvain much, because the conflict is more Cade-oriented, but Sylvain was no wallflower in this story - he is the hero and play a big role. In fact, between the two, I liked Sylvain better as he appeared friendlier :) I liked how Sylvain's character was described - the confidence and the touch of arrogance that you associate with people that are at the top of their art, but also with Frenchmen :) But also what you don't expect such as blushes, Sylvain's adolescence when he was a bit nerdy and where girls weren't falling at his feet and his tendency to fall in love quickly. However, at times, it felt like Sylvain had two personalities. Perhaps Ms Florand could have fleshed his character a bit more to blend his professional persona with his private self better. As for Cade, she was not a bad heroine, but at times, she was too stubborn and her avoidance of some reality just lowered her likable factor for me. Still, I very much admire her resilience and the fact she did not give up as her dreams were crumbling every time she got a new refusal. Also, I felt for her for the humiliation she got because of the Corey bars, even though it was not intentional from the other parties. All in all, there is no denying that Cade was a strong and determined woman.

Unfortunately, while both characters were likable, I didn't connect with them as I did with Simon and Ellie and as a result, I didn't get hook in The Chocolate Thief. I think it also affected my enjoyment of the romance :( The sexual tension between Cade and Sylvain was great, smoldering even. I also liked the flirting and the little game - breaking and entering - that they had. And I think they were a nice couple, they matched. However, it's the in-between, the moment it went beyond attraction and into a romantic relationship that didn't work for me. I wished there had been a bit more development - why is Sylvain so attracted to Cade. Also, beside showing up Sylvain, why did she get entangled with him? To me, it wasn't exactly clear. There was missing this little connection... but once they became a couple, they were good together.

What I found most interesting in The Chocolate Thief was the contrast in culture between Cade and Sylvain, the difference in mentality. For example, when it came to chocolate, mass production vs exclusivity/quality. Sylvain takes so much pride in his work and art and is so appalled at Cade's proposition. As for Cade, it's not just about making money, but providing access to good chocolate. What's interesting is I understood both positions and there's really no right and wrong. There were other examples such as the handshakes and the bises. I have to say, the bises took me by surprise too while I was in Paris. Of course, I know that French people greet each other with bises, but I wasn't expecting them from people I just got introduced to! LOL, a few times, I had my hand out and they were the ones surprised. These are only a few examples, but the book was peppered with them. I really liked that aspect of the book because it made the story and the romance more realistic. Also, kudos for Ms Florand for continuing the contrast in culture throughout the book - not forgetting about it like it didn't matter or because she had to focus on different aspects of the book nor having the characters suddenly understand each other completely.

I think the plot of the book was also enjoyable. I liked that there wasn't any secondary romance, that the focus was on Cade and Sylvain. The secondary characters were all fun, but none stole the spotlight and that's how it should be. I loved Cade's grandfather and actually, Cade's family dynamics LOL. It was also nice to see Sylvain's family welcoming Cade... well minus the mother, but she had reasons and it was good that her behavior didn't faze Cade :P I do think the whole "chocolate thief" plot line was a bit over the top, but it was fun and it fit with the theme :) I have to say, the conflicts at the end were unexpected, but legitimate. They weren't added in simply for the sake of being obstacles to the HEA ending - and that's a thumb up to Ms Florand. I was wondering how it would be resolved - and I know I'm not the only one who was - and I'm happy at Cade's decision. It was very brave of her and it was quite a sacrifice. However, what I disliked a bit was Cade's avoidance of the conflicts which was a bit surprising given how strong a woman she is and her final decisions.

Overall, I enjoyed The Chocolate Thief and I think it was a strong read despite a few minor issues. Now, I can't wait for the next book, The Chocolate Kiss, which is coming out in December :) If you enjoy contemporary romance, I definitively recommend The Parisian Chocolatiers series!

My Grade: B.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

On the footsteps of The Chocolate Thief...

Hmmmm, where to start? LOL. I guess from the beginning :P Back in May, I was very excited that Laura Florand had a short story, All's Fair in Love and Chocolate, in the anthology Kiss the Bride, coming out. This was her first release ever since her debut novel Blame it on Paris, which is a memoir, that I've read and loved :) I was even more thrilled to learn that All's Fair in Love and Chocolate was the first installment of a new series, The Paris Chocolatiers, and that the first full-length novel, The Chocolate Thief, was being released in July! Can you imagine my reaction when Ms Florand contacted me to offer an ARC of The Chocolate Thief? How excited and happy I was? Especially knowing that I was actually going to Paris during the summer, just before the release date?!? Yeah, pretty happy LOL. And for this opportunity, I really have to thank Mandi from Smexy Books who sent her review of All's Fair in Love and Chocolate to Ms Florand which resulted in Ms Florand seeing my comment and contacting me. Thank you Mandi!! And of course, thank you Ms Florand for the ARC!! :)

So as soon as Ms Florand offered me the ARC, I knew I wanted to do something special for the release date, especially since I was going to Paris. My initial idea was to take note of all the places mentioned in The Chocolate Thief, visit them and make a post out of it. However, turns out I was so engrossed in The Chocolate Thief that I kind of forgot to take notes ^_^; Plus, some of the places mentioned are pretty standard such as the Eiffel Tower, Trocadéro and the Bateaux-Mouches which I of course visited... and that you can see pictures of here. One place though that did stand out in my mind and that I visited because of the impressions Ms Florand's books left was the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Beautiful isn't it? However, that wasn't my secret mission :) Want to know what it was? Well, at the end of The Chocolate Thief, Ms Florand has a little section called "Worth a trip to Paris" in which she recommends the chocolate shops of Jacques Genin and Michel Chaudun. She also mentions how Jacques Genin's salon du chocolat was her source of inspiration for the setting of one of the future series installments... and therefore, I really wanted to go. Talking with Ms Florand just made me more determined to do so LOL. So here is my little adventure to Jacques Genin's shop! Enjoy!

Arriving to Paris, Jacque Genin's chocolate shop was on my list of places to visit. However, having read The Chocolate Thief prior to the trip, it made me take notice of all the chocolate shops... and there are a lot! Here are some that I came across of :)

 Fouquet is on Rue Marché St Honoré, 1er arrondissement

Maison Georges Larnicol on Boulevard Saint-Germain, 6eme arrondissement

Franck Kestener on rue Gay-Lussac, 5eme arrondissement

I'm cheating with this one as it is in Konstanz, Germany :P

They all look great right? It was really hard, but I did resist to temptation :) Mostly because on my mind and in my heart, there was only Jacques Genin's. Though it did help that I had done some research before the trip and knew my little visit to Jacque Genin's shop was going to cost me a pretty penny LOL. So I stayed focused and did not stray!

I initially planned to go to Jacque Genin's shop on the same day I went to the Jardin du Luxembourg. However, my first attempt did not pan out because it was Monday and guess what? Yep, the shop is closed on Monday ^_^; I was actually very bummed out because at that point, I only had one day left in Paris before we headed to Germany and it was already decided we'd go to Versailles. Let just say the shop was not on the way :( It was also initially planned that my sister and I would get back to Paris on July 25 by train and get on the plane to go home the next day. Half a day in Paris seemed very tight to go to the shop ^_^; However, we all know how plans turn out right? LOL, they are very loose guidelines. Nope, we did not change our plane ticket - I wish LOL - but we did decide to come back to Paris a day early... and that meant I had a whole day to make my way to the shop! Yay!

On that day, I had three things on my list: 1) hunt for some mangas, 2) go to Jacques Genin to buy chocolates and caramels and 3) go to La Durée and buy macarons. I kept trying to figure out an order and it was so hard! Mangas are heavy, you don't really want to have to carry them the whole day... The weather had turned really warm and hot and meant if we bought the chocolates too early, there was a risk they'd melt... and macarons are really fragile, so the longer they are in the backpack, the higher the risk they'll break and all you'll have at the end are crumbs ^_^; Really tough choice! And see how I tend to over-think things LOL. Well in the end, we headed to Saint-Michel first where we visited a couple of bookstores. From Saint-Michel, we walked to Place du Châtelet where we took the métro. We navigated the maze that is the Châtelet station to get on the right lane and go to Place de la République which is the nearest métro station to Jacques Genin.

 Place du Châtelet

 Place de la République

From Place de la République, we had to find our way to rue de Turenne which was a bit more confusing because the Place was being renovated and not all the exits were open. Or perhaps my sister and I just didn't follow the signs correctly - it's a possibility LOL. Also, Place de la République wasn't as touristy as all the other spots we've visited, which was not a bad thing :) In the end though, we didn't have that much difficulty figuring things out and headed the right way... and quickly got to Jacques Genin's salon du chocolat. You know tea salon? Same concept, but replace tea by chocolate :)

Wooohooo, we found the street!! 

 And look, we're already there!!

When we got to the shop, the salon was full!! So we actually had to wait for a table... but that's okay, because it gave me time to check out the goods :) Obviously, this being a chocolate salon, I wanted to buy chocolates :) But there was something else that I wanted... the caramels!! I had read about them online prior to the trip and heard how yummy they were... And I love caramels to start, so that was a must! I had also heard about the price (110€/kilo), so I wasn't shock nor did I faint LOL.

The chocolates!! And the caramels, pâtes de fruits and nougats counter :)

A look of the shop and the salon

Also, when Ms Florand strongly recommended that I go to Jacques Genin's salon du chocolat, she also asked me to eat an éclair au chocolat for her... and that is exactly what I did! They also make milles feuilles, éclair au caramel, tarte au citron and IIRC, religieuses. My sister decided to go with a milles feuilles vanilla-raspberry which they construct on order.

Émilie with her milles-feuilles; my éclair - yum!

I think this says it all!

So, that was my secret mission!! A very yummy one LOL. It made my trip to Paris extra-special and also The Chocolate Thief! And indeed, Jacques Genin's salon du chocolat is "Worth a trip to Paris"!! If you have the chance to go, do so!! And try those awesome, awesome, awesome caramels!! They are heavenly!! So to conclude this post, here is what I brought back :)

Beautiful metallic boxes!!

 The caramels!! They are soft, smooth and melt in your mouth!! And all the flavors are wowzers! Yum!

 The chocolates! They look too nice to eat :)

And now, stay tuned for my review of The Chocolate Thief!!