Tuesday, May 31, 2016

30 Days Blog Challenge - Complete!!

Woohooo!! I made it!! With this post, I complete my 30 Days Blog Challenge!! Yay me!!

Okay, so I missed one day, but that's acceptable. 30 days of blogging out of 31... for someone who's been having such a hard time, it's awesome! :) Big thank you to Ames for the challenge!! Also, thanks to everyone who participated to the challenge, visited and left comments :) You made a difference!

I'm pretty happy because out of the 30 posts, I have 7 reviews and 11 books related posts. So more than half were about books :) Which is pretty much what I wanted! Now that the challenge is over, I know I'm not going to be blogging daily. It was really hard to come up with relevant topic everyday ^_^; However, for sure, I found my groove and will do it more regularly! :) I'm really excited about it and I think that's what I was missing for so long... That little spark of excitement :)

On that note, I'm leaving you with some nice pictures... In the past month, I was able to blog about another of my hobbies, Chinese dramas :) In one of the post, I mentioned one of my favorite Chinese actor, Yuan Hong. Well, he got married last week-end!! Check out some of the pictures!! 

They make such a pretty couple! His wife is also an actress; however, I'm unfamiliar with her. They were a pretty low-key couple. I heard they were dating... at the beginning of this year IIRC. Can't believe they already got married :)

Loved Yuan Hong's groomsmen!! So handsome... and Hu Ge was one of them! One Chinese tradition is for the groom to go and pick up the bride. Usually, the bridesmaids and bride's good friends will block the groom's passage in order to evaluate his worth through some challenges :P Groomsmen usually help the groom out... It was fun to see Yuan Hong's groomsmen come prepared with bags and equipment. They look like agents on a mission LOL.

In the end, they did succeed in getting the bride! :) Congrats to the couple!!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson

I finished reading this book on Saturday and have been recommending it left and right ever since :P I thought it'd be nice to review it, so people know why I've been pushing it on them :)

The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson
published by St. Martin's Griffin in May 2016
Trixie Watson has two very important goals for senior year: to finally save enough to buy the set of Doctor Who figurines at the local comic books store, and to place third in her class and knock Ben West--and his horrendous new mustache that he spent all summer growing—down to number four.

Trixie will do anything to get her name ranked over Ben's, including give up sleep and comic books—well, maybe not comic books—but definitely sleep. After all, the war of Watson v. West is as vicious as the Doctor v. Daleks and Browncoats v. Alliance combined, and it goes all the way back to the infamous monkey bars incident in the first grade. Over a decade later, it's time to declare a champion once and for all.

The war is Trixie's for the winning, until her best friend starts dating Ben's best friend and the two are unceremoniously dumped together and told to play nice. Finding common ground is odious and tooth-pullingly-painful, but Trixie and Ben's cautious truce slowly transforms into a fandom-based tentative friendship. When Trixie's best friend gets expelled for cheating and Trixie cries foul play, however, they have to choose who to believe and which side they're on—and they might not pick the same side.
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Series: None

The Story: Trixie Watson and her two best friends, Harper and Meg, are seniors at Messina Academy for the Gifted - Mess for short - basically a high school for genius. The entrance exam is 3 hours long, there is a gag rule about disclosing their IQ numbers, they take courses such as "History of the American Immigrant" and "Economics of the Third World," they all willingly take on assignments for extra credits... and on the first day of each month, an updated ranking list is posted. Trixie's goal this year is to graduate third, thereby putting an end to her Rank Tango with her arch nemesis Ben West and beating him once for all. That means, between school work, comic books and sleep, Trixie will have time for little else... and she's dumbfound to find out her best friends have a different plan for their senior year - they want some interaction with the opposite sex! When Harper starts dating Cornell, the two groups of friends become one, bringing Trixie and Ben together without them having a say. The more they spend time together, the more Trixie and Ben realize that perhaps there is more to their bickering than the monkey bars episode when they were 8 years old... While they figure out their relationship, they also need to find out what's happening with the rank list.

My Opinion: I've been in a contemporary YA kick lately and picked up The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You on a whim after the cover caught my eye (I was wondering if this book was from a traditional publisher or self-published ^_^;)... and I am sooo glad I did because it was such a great, fun read!! You know when you go into a book without any expectations at all and it turns out to be a gem? Well, that was The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You :)

One of the reasons why I enjoyed The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You is because the Mess wasn't a regular high school. Every student was a genius and so, as Harper pointed out, they were all nerds. It effectively took out the usual cool vs. geek conflict and just like that, The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You wasn't your usual contemporary YA. Obviously, they were not all friends, but it did feel like the characters were all on equal footing. Also, it was refreshing to actually see all the students care about their studies and their grades. The atmosphere was also different because of the pressure these kids were under, their motivation and ambition... and I enjoyed the camaraderie that resulted from it. To some extent, the setting reminded me a lot of the one in Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg - another book which I loved - where the characters were attending a performing arts high school.

I also really liked all the characters. While they were nerds, they were not one-dimensional. They had hobbies, they had likes and dislikes beyond studying. Obviously, it goes without saying that they were very smart and more mature than most teens... but at the end of the day, they were still young adults and act so at certain times. Ms Anderson did a great job balancing everything :) I have to say, I very much enjoyed Trixie and Ben and their chemistry. I loved their verbal duels... both of them were witty and quick-minded and it gave rise to some interesting conversations. I thought their romance was believable as well... because for two persons to snipe at each other the way Trixie and Ben did, there must be some attraction somewhere. Yes, it was really hidden deep, but it had to be there :) I thought the romance was sweet and the reveal at the end, so funny LOL. I loved their circle of friends. I enjoyed their dynamics and it was a lot of fun seeing the guys and girls interact and integrate the bigger group. Their loyalty to one another was admirable... particularly between Trixie, Meg and Harper. It's always nice to have someone at your back who believes in you. I also appreciate that there was no purposely unpleasant character.

There was no emotional conflict in this book. Instead, there was a mystery and I have to say, it was quite unusual! It was very well-done, interesting and definitively pulled me in. My only complaint would be the resolution of it was a bit rushed and hard to follow at times. Still, very refreshing.

Finally, I have to commend Ms Anderson's writing. This was her debut novel and it was very well executed. I really enjoyed Ms Anderson's voice. There was a snappy rhythm to it and Ms Anderson has great timing and is quick-witted. Personally, I never thought that discussions on a club's quorum would make me laugh... but it did in The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You :)

As much as I loved The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, I don't think it'll reach everyone unfortunately. I feel that for maximal enjoyment of this book, the readers have to have an inner geek. There is a lot of references to "geeky" pop culture such as Doctor Who, Marvel comics, Joss Whedon, etc. If you don't have some background info on these topics, you'll miss some jokes and references and that could lessen your enjoyment. The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You has a definite Big Bang Theory vibe to it. If you enjoy that show, then you should be fine! :) I'd still give it a chance regardless, but like I said, it'll be a lot more fun and enjoyable if you catch everything :)

My Grade: A-.  I smiled and laughed throughout The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You. It truly was a fun read for me and I'll definitively be checking out Ms Anderson's next book :)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Romance Starter Kits - Young Adult & New Adult

All right! My last Romance Starter Kits post! LOL, honestly, most of the kits contain my favorite books or favorite authors. Guess you recommend what you know :)

Today, I'm featuring Young Adult and New Adult romance books :) Two genres which have really surged in the past few years. In blogland, NA seems to have somewhat eclipsed YA... probably because of our ages LOL. I think it's easier to relate to characters who are in their early to mid-20s than teens :P However, I think a reason why NA is so popular is the flexibility of the genre as well. Teens have to attend high school, not much they can do about that. And if they don't, well the situation is weird... and there are just so many weird situations we can read before getting tired of it. NA though is meant to be the beginning of adult life with many, many possibilities :) Therefore, bigger window for wowzers :)

Without further ado, here are my picks for YA and NA:

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
Letters to Nowhere by Julie Cross
Pivot Point by Kasie West
Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg
The Only Thing Worse than Me is You by Lily Anderson

I love, love My Most Excellent Year. It's just a great fun book. It's a lot more than high school... it's about discovering yourself and families, the one that you have and the one that you choose :)

Letters to Nowhere was very refreshing because the heroine is an elite gymnast. So instead of going to school, she trains and therefore, offers a different perspective/lifestyle. She also deals with the loss of her parents in an accident... at a time where she really needs her parents' support.

Pivot Point is my only non-contemporary YA suggestion. Well actually, it is contemporary, but it has a twist - heroine has a psychic power that allows her to see the two outcomes when she has to make a choice. In this case, her choices are to stay with her mother in the psychic compound or go with her dad in the normal world. I loved the writing, the parallel storylines and the romance was very sweet :)

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour is one of the books that made me fall in love with the YA genre. It showed me that there was a lot more to this genre than books about high school drama. That a contemporary YA book could be deep and fun at the same time :)

I think the reason I love Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg and The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson is the same: the characters don't go to a regular high school. In Take a Bow, they are at a performing arts high school and The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, a school for genius. It's interesting to see how teens deal with so much pressure and refreshing because they have something else to focus on than who's the most popular and so on.

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy
The Friend Zone by Kristen Callihan
The Shameless Hour by Sarina Bowen
A Shattered Moment by Tiffany King
Wasted Words by Staci Hart

A good romance story doesn't necessarily mean a man and a woman. Love happens to couple of same sex too and it was a pleasure to see Wes and Jamie's love story unfolds in Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy :)

Sport romances in NA aplenty. When I think NA and sports romance, three names come to mind: Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy and Kristen Callihan. Ms Callihan is the one who delivered one of my favorites: The Friend Zone. A womanizer football player trying to be friends with a girl who has nothing in common with him... Is it possible? :)

Ms Bowen is now one of my auto-buy authors. The series that made her so popular is The Ivy Years and my favorite book is The Understatement of the Year. However, since I've already chosen Him, also a m/m romance, I chose my second favorite book, The Shameless Hour. It's rare to see heroines who are so confident in their sexuality and who assume their choices... Even more rare is for these heroines to be likable and that's exactly what Ms Bowen pulled off in The Shameless Hour.

Teens spend years planning what their life after high school is going to be, what they will do in college and after... but what happens when tragedy strikes and those plans change? That's what happens to the heroine in A Shattered Moment. On the night of graduation, her and her best friends are in a car accident... and she's one of three who survives.

Finally, I chose Wasted Words because not all NA are about college students :) The main characters in Wasted Words are out of college and starting their adult lives... This is a sweet and light romance :)

And there you go, my Romance Starter Kits. I do hope that one day, they will serve someone :) And that even romance readers will be able to find new "precious" with these posts LOL.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Romance Starter Kits - Historical

One of the most popular genres in romance is Historical... and it's kind of unavoidable :) Trust me, I tried! However, when all your friends are gushing about some well-known, popular historical romance authors, you wonder... and you start by reading one book, then a second, a third. Next thing you know, you have a list of go-to historical romance authors :)

Like everything else, romance genre popularity is cyclic. I feel that at the moment, historical romance is down... I have no doubt it'll eventually reach the top again. In the meantime, it did leave us with many good recommendations :)

Oh, by the way, I'm a regency historical reader... That's why all of my picks are from that sub-category ^_^;

Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas
The Ideal Wife by Mary Balogh
And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke
My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander
The Accidental Wedding by Anne Gracie

Lisa Kleypas and Mary Balogh are two big names in historical romance and should be included in every starter kit in my opinion. It's also interesting to see the contrast of their writings which probably stems, in part, from the publishers they are with. I find Avon to be a bit more permissive and probably why Ms Kleypas' style is a bit more fluid. Ms Balogh's style is more restrictive and in my mind, portrays the time period a bit better. Anyway, Devil in Winter is a great book and was part of a hero duel back in the blogging days :) Funnily, Ms Kleypas' next book, Devil in Spring, will be featuring the son of Devil in Winter's couple as its hero :) As for The Ideal Wife, it's one of my favorite books by Ms Balogh. It was first published in 1991 and I read it in 2011 and enjoyed it a lot. I said earlier that Ms Balogh's style was more restrictive. It's also timeless which probably explains her long and steady writing career :) One of the few authors that consistently published her historical books without fail.

I'm a huge fan of Laura Lee Guhrke and that's because I find her books to be different from the typical regency historical romance. She tends to set her stories in the 1890s-1900s... that time period where everything is on the cusp of change. Where the nobility has to adapt to new realities, where the "normal" people are having more opportunities, etc. And that's why I chose And Then He Kissed Her.

My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander features a happily married couple, something you don't often encounter from the first pages of a historical romance. It has great banter and also, features spies in a different light :)

The Accidental Wedding by Anne Gracie is another favorite of mine. The hero is a nobleman and for once, upstanding. Not a scoundrel or a rake. Heroine has backbone and is independent. Also, you need to enjoy kids because she's the guardian of her 4 half-siblings. Again, the feel and storyline are refreshing compared to most regency historical romance.

Books/Authors I considered:

Loretta Chase - I'm just not a huge fan of hers like many are. She wrote some books that could be considered as classic when it comes to historical romance... but I feel her career has been waning a bit ^_^; So I chose Ms Balogh instead.
Lorraine Heath - One of my favorite historical authors and on my auto-buy list. I left her off from this starter kit mainly because I was already featuring two authors from Avon and I wanted a bit of variety in the starter kit.
Caroline Linden - She's my up and coming historical romance author. Weird to say that from someone who's been published for 11 years, but while I enjoy her writing and books a lot, I feel she hasn't written THE book that will mark her career yet. I'm looking forward to it :) Also, another author from Avon.

Your thoughts? :)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Romance Starter Kits - Urban Fantasy & Fantasy

We're back with the Romance Starter Kits post. Today, I'll be covering Urban Fantasy as well as Fantasy. Initially, I got carried away... and then, I remembered Romance Starter Kits ^_^; So I had to review some of my choices. Obviously, for many of these books, the romance is not the focus... but at least, they do have a strong romance element in their stories.

For Urban Fantasy, my choices are:

Alpha & Omega by Patricia Briggs
Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews
Death's Mistress by Karen Chance
Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

For Ms Briggs, I decided to choose between her  Alpha & Omega and Mercy Thompson series. Obviously, I would recommend both, but for a starter kit, I wanted to stick to one book per author and also, add a bit of variety. I went with Alpha & Omega because the romance was more prominent. It also got me hooked on the Alpha & Omega series faster than the Mercy Thompson's :) This is my pick if someone would ask me for werewolves.

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong was a no-brainer. This is one of the first series I've read and one that is complete-ish :) The situation the H/H find themselves in at the beginning of Bitten is also quite unique and brings complexity to the romance. What I liked about this series is that we do change narrators and the evolution of the characters. Also, it's a well-rounded world. This is my pick for someone who wants a bit of everything: werewolves, witches, necromancers, demons, etc.

Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews is the third book of the series, but it's the one that really got me hooked and it's in this one that the romance really solidifies and becomes really important in the series. I feel the author was finding her voice and world in the first two, but with Magic Strikes, she really hit her stride and gained a fan forever :) Also interesting is the world the story is set - different than ours. This is my pick for someone who wants a kick-ass heroine with lethal sword abilities and magical powers.

I hesitated a bit with Death's Mistress because the romance in this one isn't as strong as in the other books... However, for the humor and action, I had to add it. The story is a bit dizzying, but a lot of fun. This is my pick for someone who wants vampires... or actually, dhampirs.

Finally, Rosemary and Rue. It's not my favorite urban fantasy series; however, it's very solid. What I like about this series is the story moves swiftly and we're starting to get answers! This is my pick for someone who wants fairies.

Books/Authors I considered:

Written in Red by Anne Bishop - There is sort of a romance thread, but so far, it's been more about the world building and how it's changing.
Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep - It kind of takes a while for the romance in this series to really start and by the time the heroine makes a choice, I feel the books have become a tad too predictable. Good books, but the 5 above are better...


For Fantasy, my recommendations are the following:

Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan
Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

I would consider these two books/series to be fantasy romance. The romance is crucial and takes place in a fantasy worlds, hence fantasy romance. I absolutely love these two books for their uniqueness and the epic love stories!

Books/Authors I considered:

Captain's Fury by Jim Butcher - I love this book as well, but while it does have some romance threads, that's not what I loved about it... and therefore I left it out.
The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop - This book is part of Ms Bishop's Black Jewels series. I did enjoy that series a lot and yes, there is a romance in the first three books... but once again, the romance is not why I enjoyed the series as much. Also, it was kind of a weird romance. Anyway, if I had to choose a book from this series to recommend, it would be The Shadow Queen where the love story is a bit more traditional and more vital to the story. However, it's hard to read The Shadow Queen as a stand-alone and that's why I left it out.

So, your picks?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Review: Wasted Words by Staci Hart

All right, taking a little break from my Romance Starter Kit posts to post this review! I just finish reading this yesterday, so this review is really fresh off the press :)


Wasted Words by Staci Hart
self-published in May 2016
Some universal truths refuse to be ignored.

Peanut butter and jelly are a match made in heaven. Spaghetti and meatballs are best friends forever. And guys like Tyler Knight don’t go for girls like Cam Emerson.

She knew from the second she met him that he didn’t belong on her bookshelf, the six-foot-six ex-tight end with a face so all-American, it could have sold apple pie. So she shelved him next to the supermodels and rock stars and took her place on her own shelf — the one with the flannel-clad, pasty-faced comic book nerds. Most of her boyfriends have existed between the pages of books, but rather than worrying over her own lacking love life, she puts all her energy into playing Cupid, using her job at the book bar, Wasted Words, as her stomping ground.

Tyler Knight always looks on the bright side. His career-ending injury turned into a job as a sports agent. A horrible breakup led him to Cam, his quirky, smart roommate who is far more beautiful than she realizes. She’s made it perfectly clear she’s not interested in him — not like that at least — but if she ever changes her mind, he won’t hesitate. Because he doesn’t see the lines she’s drawn between them, as much as she insists that they’re there. Deep down he knows that despite their differences, they’re a match well made.
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary romance
Series: Bad Habits, Book #4 (?)

The Story: Cam Emerson and Tyler Knight became roommates when Tyler needed a new place after being dumped by his model ex for being too nice and boring. The two have become great friends and hang out together almost everyday. A bookworm, Cam's mission is to find THE book that will make Tyler love reading.

Cam is a quirky, cute, smart and short geek. She's always been different and has embraced her passions. She's currently working her dream job at Wasted Words, a book bar, as a manager. She also enjoys matchmaking people together. She's had a painful love experience in high school and because of it, she firmly believes that people who are too different cannot be together. That's why when Tyler, her six-foot-six, gorgeous roommate, expresses his feelings, she doesn't think they have a future... yet, she can't resist him.

Will Tyler be able to prove her wrong?

My Opinion: This was such a cute read!! I checked out the book on Goodreads because of the cover and the blurb just sold me - I love opposites attract romance. So happy I gave this a try and that's why I'm reviewing it right away :)

I loved Cam and Tyler. They were both great characters!! I think a lot of us will relate to Cam who's a book lover: re-reading a book because the last three didn't reach her, trying to find the perfect book for Tyler, etc. :) She loved books and I could really feel that love, which made me love her LOL. Also, she was a great boss, so much fun and really into it. Seriously, I wish Wasted Words existed so I could work there! She was just so dynamic and passionate... Of course, she had faults and issues, but she was honest and upfront about them and knew when she was wrong. The only thing I disliked was her hobby of playing matchmaker. It served the story to a certain extent, but personally, I could have done without. As for Tyler, such a great hero!! I loved him! He was just such a nice guy, being handsome was the bonus LOL. I loved his understanding, patience and persistence. Seriously, if I could meet a guy like Tyler, I'd be really, really happy and wouldn't hesitate a second to snatch him up :)

The romance was pretty awesome as well. Cam and Tyler had a lot of chemistry and I loved that they didn't jump into bed right away after expressing their feelings for each other. Kisses, hugs, sleeping together (not sex), hanging out... It was just so sweet. I liked that they communicated and once again, have to mention Tyler's understanding and patience towards Cam's issues. He tried to be there and reassure her, convince her they'd work. What I liked also is that there was no game between them... and the author didn't go the typical route either. For example, before Cam and Tyler realize their feelings for each other, Tyler goes on a date... That's when he starts to realize that he wants to be with Cam, but is not sure about Cam feelings. Well, he doesn't go on and date this girl like most romance books. Instead, he tells her he's interested in someone else and confronts Cam with his feelings. There were many instances when Ms Hart could have chosen the convoluted way that many other authors have chosen... and I'm not saying that those authors were wrong, but it was nice Ms Hart didn't take the easy way to create conflicts. Instead, the romance conflict stemmed from Cam's past relationship and readers were aware of it early and it all made sense. It also added a layer to Cam and shows us that no matter how self-assured someone is, there is always some vulnerability somewhere.

Where the book falters in my opinion is the timeline. The story spans about 1.5 week and Cam and Tyler's romance, a week. I thought that was pretty rushed given everything they went through. Yes, Cam and Tyler had this strong friendship/roommate relationship as a basis for their romance, but I wished the author had expanded on the transition from friends to lovers. Wished we've seen more of Cam and Tyler as a couple, alone, to really cement their romance in my mind. While the romance was very sweet, it seemed to lack the intensity for me to really believe everything happened in a week and that Cam and Tyler could weather through the conflict. And that's why I kind of wished Ms Hart hadn't added the whole matchmaking part of the story... Like those parts could have been dedicated to Cam and Tyler instead.

My Grade: B. Wasted Words was a sweet and cute read and I'm very happy to have read it. However, I feel like it was missing a spark in order to make it truly memorable. Also, there were a few editing errors - nothing major, but still slightly annoying ^_^;

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Romance Starter Kits - Paranormal romance

It's really tricky to make the distinction between paranormal romance, urban fantasy and sometimes, even fantasy romance. It's actually quite subjective and everyone has their own criteria. I was there when paranormal made it on the scene... but I feel it was quickly eclipsed by urban fantasy. Nowadays, there's only a handful of paranormal series and authors that I follow... and as you can imagine, they are part of my starter kit :)

Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh
Demon Angel by Meljean Brook
Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs by Molly Harper

I think that Ms Singh's Slave to Sensation goes without saying. One of the best and most popular series, the Psy-Changelings delivers in every book: great characters, great romance and awesome plots. Each book was key for the overall storyline. Really looking forward to Allegiance of Honor and the next story arc.

What I like about Demon Angel is the different twist Ms Brook has on vampires and angels. Okay, they're not really angels, but still. It was quite refreshing from all the other shapeshifters and vampires books. The romance in Demon Angel was also epic. Something else that's great about The Guardians series is that it's complete! With a very satisfying ending.

Not all paranormal romance books need to be dark. Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs is the best example of that. I consider this fluffy paranormal romance, something that is definitively needed :) Just love the heroine in this one, she's so much fun.

Hmmm, my list is a bit short, but that's all I can think of. What about you? what books would be in your paranormal romance starter kit?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Romance Starter Kits - Mystery & Suspense

Tonight, I'm tackling the "Mystery & Suspense" genre :) I think this one is hard because it straddles the line of contemporary as lots of contemporary romance books have a mystery thread in them to get the story moving forward. In my case, I sometimes like the mystery to be central :)

Here is my starter kit for this genre:

Don't Tell by Karen Rose
Out of the Shadows by Kay Hooper
Naked in Death by J.D. Robb
Truly, Madly by Heather Webber

My favorite romantic suspense author is Karen Rose, so no surprise that she's part of my starter kit :) Personally, most of her books can be read as stand-alone and I think a new reader can start wherever. That's why I almost recommended Count to Ten... But truthfully, all her books are good ;) So it's more an author recommendation than a book in this case. I enjoy her books because most of the characters are in law enforcement or the justice system and I feel they're really investigating.

Out of Shadows by Kay Hooper is my recommendation for someone who'd want a bit more mystery than romance. This is the third book in the series where the special FBI unit is introduced. I feel the first two books are meant to introduce this one... so the best is just jump straight in :) 

I think the In Death series is unavoidable for people interested in mystery and romance. This is one of longest running series with a to-die-for couple, Eve and Roarke :) This is series is great in the sense we see the evolution of Eve and Roarke as a couple... and the cases are strong. It does get a bit redundant after the first 20 books though LOL. However, definitively worth to try.

Truly, Madly by Heather Webber is my choice for romantic cosy mystery :) It's very cute and fluffy and is heavier on the romance than most cosy mystery series out there. However, it definitively gives you a taste of the genre with the amateur sleuth :P

Books/Authors that I considered:

Any of Nora Roberts stand-alones - I didn't add any though because it's really a fine, fine line between contemporary romance and romantic suspense. And it really depends on which stand-alone you pick as well.

Linda Howard - My pick would have been Now You See Her... but that would have been another book with a psychic and perhaps I should rename the post LOL. I wasn't sure which other books, because similarly to Nora Roberts, fine line between contemporary romance and her books. Plus, there's an edge in her writing that won't reach as wide an audience I think.

What I'm missing:

A book which features a current or ex-military character and/or security agency.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Romance Starter Kits - Contemporary

Today's post is inspired by Book Binge's own romance starter kits post - thank you ladies! :) I thought it was a really good idea. What books would I recommend for new romance readers! And because I still have 8 days to the challenge, I'm going to split this in many posts LOL.

Today, we're starting with contemporary romance:

Sea Swept by Nora Roberts
Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie
Twisted Creek by Jodi Thomas (re-read review)
Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry
Sustained by Emma Chase

Personally, I think every starter kit should contain a book by Nora Roberts and Jennifer Crusie. Those two are simply timeless authors :) And well, Ms Roberts has a really wide selection. I also chose Twisted Creek by Jodi Thomas to showcase a different writing style. Her Best Worst Mistake was my pick for short and sexy and Sustained, for the male POV.

Books/authors that I considered:

Virgin River by Robyn Carr - The style is quite to Ms Thomas and I was looking for something not small town
Linda Howard and Judith McNaught - I haven't re-read their books in a very long time. I'm just afraid they might be outdated and therefore, not good candidates to attract new readers
Kate Angell and Laura Florand - Two authors that I enjoy immensely, but I find their style not to be for everyone and therefore, perhaps not good choices for new readers

What about you? What would be in your Contemporary romance starter kit?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Review: What We Find by Robyn Carr

What We Find by Robyn Carr
published by Harlequin (Mira) in April 2016
Between the urban bustle of Denver and the high-stress environment of a career in neurosurgery, Maggie Sullivan has hit a wall. When an emergency high-risk procedure results in the death of a teenager, Maggie finds herself in the middle of a lawsuit--and experiencing levels of anxiety she's never faced before. She knows she needs to slow down before she burns out completely, and the best place she can think to do that is Sullivan's Crossing.

Named for Maggie's great-grandfather, the land and charming general store at the crossroads of the Colorado and the Continental Divide Trails have been passed down through the generations and now belong to Maggie's eccentric father, Sully. When she shows up unannounced, he welcomes her with open arms, and she relishes the opportunity to indulge in his simple way of life.

But shortly after arriving, Maggie's world is rocked once again and she must take on more responsibility than she'd planned. Though she's relieved a quiet and serious-looking hiker, Cal Jones, is willing to lend a hand, Maggie is suspicious of this mysterious man's eagerness to help--until she finds out the true reason for his deliberate isolation.

Though Cal and Maggie each struggle with loss and loneliness, the time they spend together gives Maggie hope for something brighter just on the horizon...if only they can learn to find peace and healing--and perhaps love--with each other.
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Sullivan's Crossing, Book #1

The Story: At 36 years old, Maggie Sullivan is going through a rough patch... Her practice is closing because her partners are being investigated for fraud and malpractice; she herself is in the middle of a lawsuit after the death of a teenager that she treated at the ER. She hasn't been spared on the personal front either, having just miscarried and been dumped by her partner. Deciding she needs a break and time to think, Maggie finds refuge with her father at Sullivan's Crossing.

Sullivan's Crossing sits at the base of some stunning mountains, just off the Continental Divide Trail. It's a haven for camping and the general store in Maggie's family, Sully's, is the stopping point to resupply. It's the perfect place for Maggie to escape and think of her next move... and when Maggie's father gets a heart attack and needs time to recover from his bypass surgery, Maggie has no problem extending her leave to take care of him and manage Sully's. Luckily, one the campers, quiet Cal Jones, stepped up and helped her out. He too, has had his shared of personal tragedies and is on break to contemplate his future...

My Opinion: I've been a fan of Ms Carr ever since I picked up Virgin River. I just enjoy her style a lot. I admit, her last few series have been quite similar - all taking place in isolated towns where the pace of living is slower and the community, more rural and organic. This new series seems to follow in the same path and you'd think I'd be tired of it... but Ms Carr really knows how to pull the readers in :)

It'll probably come as no surprise, but I really enjoyed What We Find. I tend to find that the first book in each series is Ms Carr's best - Virgin River and The Wanderer - because she really takes the time to build the setting, to convey the atmosphere. It adds a depth to the book because we discover the town. Once it's established, the subsequent books focus more on the romance and I find, they become a tad generic, simply because they could take place any where else. Don't know if you get what I mean... And the setting in Ms Carr's series is more important than most small-town romances because of the type she chooses, i.e. minimalist and rustic where the pace is much slower and the living is very different than what we're used to. It's really refreshing and I think, deep down, it's because we're all envious at how simpler things seem to be. So Virgin River was in the woods, Thunder Point was next to the water and Sullivan's Crossing, at the base of mountains :)

So aside from the setting, I also enjoyed the story and characters. Basically, it's about Maggie and Cal, each taking a break to contemplate their future, and their lives at Sullivan's Crossing... the people they crossed path with and the events that happen, sometimes mundane and sometimes, extraordinary. I admire Maggie and Cal for having the guts to take a sabbatical. It sounds so simple, but really... in reality, it's not. Not in the kind of society we live today. Also, it's nice to have the life you think you want, but sometimes, it's good to take the time to reconsider... We're so focused about certain goals, but priorities do change. I think it's a valuable lesson to learn.

Overall, I enjoyed What We Find because it was different and refreshing. It was about two characters who've gone through a lot and whose priorities in life have changed. I thought Maggie and Cal were both interesting and likable. My only complaint would be that at times, I thought Maggie was a bit immature and quick to jump to conclusions.

My Grade: B+. There was just really something in What We Find that was really engrossing for me :) If you've enjoyed Ms Carr's writing, you'll want to check this one out :)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I've got nothing...


Long week-end in Canada this week-end :) Spent the day cleaning a little, shopping and now, re-watching Grey's Anatomy... Hopefully, tomorrow will be more blog-worthy LOL. For now though? My brain is off and I have nothing ^_^;

Hope you guys are having a good week-end. We're finally getting decent weather!! Woohoo!

Chinese TV Series: Nirvana in Fire

Last week, when I wrote the spotlight post for Song in the Clouds, I realized that I never did one for Nirvana in Fire! I had casually mentioned it in a post, but never expanded on it... and that needs to be remedied now, because if there's a Chinese TV series I need to rave about and share my love for it with you all, it's Nirvana in Fire :)

Nirvana in Fire (Lang Ya Bang) is 54 episodes long and was adapted from a novel from the same name, written by Hai Yan. It's period drama about politics, revenge and justice, but for once, it's not about the behind the court intrigues (harem's politics), but front court politics! Trust me, that's very refreshing! LOL

I'm going to try my best to summarize the story... without giving too much away ^_^;

Su Zhe aka Mei Chang Su aka Lin Shu (Hu Ge)

The hero and main character of Nirvana in Fire is Mei Chang Su. With the help of Langya Hall (an organization skilled at ferreting all kind of information), he established the JiangZhuo Alliance and leads the pugillistic world (martial arts society). Very little is known about Mei Chang Su except for the fact that he, himself, doesn't know martial arts and is a sickly person. In recent years, he's also built a reputation of kingmaker. It's because of that reputation that Prince Yu and the crown prince, Prince Xian, of the Southern Liang dynasty - both locked in the same battle for the throne - reach out for Mei Chang Su's guidance. To escape them, under the alias of Su Zhe, Mei Chang Su accept his friend's invitation and heads for the Liang capital in the company of his bodyguards.

Above: Prince Yu (Victor Huang), Prince Jing (Nick Wang) and Crown Prince Xian (Gao Xin)
Below: Emperor of Liang (Ding Yong Dai)
**Credits for pictures: My Drama Tea - My Cup of Tea

What people don't know is "Mei Chang Su" is actually an alias and our hero's real name is Lin Shu. Twelve years ago, at the age of 19, Lin Shu accompanied his father, the commander general of the Chiyan Army, to war against the Northern Wei dynasty. However, after defeating the hostile forces and therefore weakened, the Chiyan Army was framed by political rivals, who claimed that they were conspiring a rebellion with the then-crown prince, Prince Qi. Under the Emperor's order, the Chiyan Army was massacred - seventy thousands unjust deaths - and members of the Prince Qi and Lin manors were executed with Consort Chen (Prince Qi's mother) and Lin Shu's mother (the Emperor's sister) committing suicide.

Lin Shu vs Mei Chang Su, before and after

Lin Shu was lucky to survive, but it came at a price since he got poisoned during the ambushed attack. The treatment to save his life meant an altered appearance and a weakened, sickly health which caused him to lose all strength and martial arts. However, he got to keep his wits and after years of careful plotting, Lin Shu is ready to set his plan in motion. He wants the Chiyan Army case to be re-investigate, the culprits punished and the Emperor to admit his wrongs... and the only way Lin Shu can seek justice for everyone who died is to elevate his childhood friend and least favored prince, Prince Jing, as Crown Prince. In order to succeed, he will need to keep his real identity secret; even to those who love him most.

And there you have it, the synopsis for Nirvana in Fire. There are a lot of interesting characters in this series such as:

 Princess NiHuang (Liu Tao) - Lin Shu's betrothed

Left: Fei Liu (Wu Lei) - Mei Chang Su's bodyguard 
Right: Meng Zhi (Chen Long) - General Commander of the Imperial Guard

Yan Yu Jin (Guo Xiao Ran) & Xiao Jing Rui (Cheng Hao Feng) - Nobles and Lin Shu's childhood friends

Consort Jing (Liu Min Tao) - Prince Jing's mother 


I never read the novel, so I wasn't really aware of the TV series being made. Nirvana first caught my attention when the 21-minutes long trailer was released. Yep, you read that right, 21 minutes!! LOL. From then on, I was hooked. Luckily for me, I didn't have to wait too long for the TV series to release... and when it did, I was in heaven!! Because it was 2 episodes a day, every day of the week except for Saturday IIRC. Once I started watching, I was truly hooked. I would watch the episodes as soon as they were released online - even though I didn't understand anything. Then, I'd watch all the different subtitles versions - just in case there were differences ^_^; It got me back into visiting forums and discussing it with others. I even got my father hooked on it LOL. For 3 weeks, I lived and breathed Nirvana in Fire :)

 What was so great about this series?

1) The story

The story was truly a captivating one. If you enjoy court intrigues, this is for you. The foresight that Mei Chang Su had in his plotting was just phenomenal. Every step of the way was planned minutely. Also, the production team asking the author of the novel to adapt the novel into the TV series herself. It was genius because they ensure the faithfulness of the adaptation!! Changes that were made were minor and at least, made sense, because who understands the plot better than the author? Furthermore, the pacing of the TV series was perfect and the story never dragged. Every day or other day, something important would happen.

2) The acting

The cast for Nirvana in Fire was on fire! Everyone played their roles so well!! If I had to give out awards, it would be to Hu Ge who played Mei Chang Su and Ding Yong Dai, the Emperor. I always thought Hu Ge was an idol actor... Many of his past roles were very similar and I felt he coasted on his popularity. However, in Nirvana in Fire, Hu Ge's portrayal of Mei Chang Su was very subtle. He needed to convey so much with simply a look, an expression or a gesture. He proved to me and everyone else that he had matured and was a top-notched actor. As for Ding Yong Dai, I didn't know him before this series... but he really impressed me. The Emperor was a crucial character in the series and Ding Yon Dai nailed it - the good and the bad traits. His portrayal evoked so many different feelings in me... One minute, I loved the Emperor. The next, I despised him and then, pitied him... The series wouldn't have been the same if he didn't give such a strong performance.

3) The humor and action

Thanks to the 21-minutes long trailer, I knew what to expect story-wise from Nirvana in Fire. However, what surprised me most was the humor in this drama. It was the perfect amount of humor in order to diffuse all the intensity and seriousness of the political aspect of the series. What I particular like is that there was no character whose purpose was to be the comedic relief of the series. Instead, the humor came from everyone, through funny situations or reactions. Another thing that surprised me was the amount of action scenes and the choreography! Finally, some hand to hand combats!! Minimal special effects and close proximity fights... Made me nostalgic :)

4) The romance

This is actually one of the changes the author made for the TV adaptation... and I'm so glad she made it! Just like in my books, I enjoy romance in tv series. It doesn't have to be the focus, but I need something... and the romance between Lin Shu and Nihuang was just perfect for me. Hu Ge and Liu Tao had a lot of chemistry and they made me root for this couple. Because there were so few, each romantic scene meant more.

5) The OST

I loved the OST for Nirvana in Fire.  Hu Ge, Liu Tao and Nick Wang each actually sang a song.. One was even composed by fans of the novel! The background music was also awesome and suited the series so well! .

Finally, a last word about the look of the series. Compared to a lot of periods dramas, Nirvana in Fire's costumes and colors could be considered subdued. I mean, it definitively didn't have the vibrancy of Yu Zheng's dramas such as Song in the Clouds; still, the costumes and settings were gorgeous and meticulously chosen. Plus, that restraint actually fit the mood of the series perfectly and it helped set the drama apart.

Nirvana in Fire has definitively become one of my favorite TV series and I hope if you have the chance, you'll give it a try!  This drama can be easily found on the net with English subtitles :)