Review – Making It Last by Ruthie Knox

Marriage is the end game of most romances, but is it romantic?  Ruthie Knox sure thinks so, and, after reading Making It Last, I’m inclined to think so, too.

Cover image, Making It Last by Ruthie Knox

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

A hotel bar. A sexy stranger. A night of passion. There’s a part of Amber Mazzara that wants those things, wants to have a moment — just one — where life isn’t a complicated tangle of house and husband and kids and careers. Then, after a long, exhausting “vacation” with her family, her husband surprises her with a gift: a few days on the beach . . . alone.

Only she won’t be alone long, because a handsome man just bought her a drink. He’s cool, he’s confident, and he wants to take Amber to bed and keep her there for days. Lucky for them both, he’s her husband. He’s only got a few days in Jamaica to make her wildest desires come true, but if he can pull it off, there’s reason to believe that this fantasy can last a lifetime.

This novella packs a hell of an emotional punch.  Set fourteen years after, How to Misbehave, the novella that brought these characters together, Making It Last tells the story of Amber and Tony struggling to find their focus after life and kids and the economy have chipped at them, incrementally separating them from their dreams.  Ruthie Knox tells this story of a marriage, of two individuals, in quiet crisis, with realism, compassion, and hope.  I’m not much of a crier, but I found this story gloriously cathartic as well as supportive.

The thing is, women need these stories.  I could see pieces of every woman I know (including me) in Amber.  She’s got that urge that so many of us have to give and give and give, until there’s nothing left.  That’s a common phrase, but how often do we think about what it really looks like to have nothing left, to be so lost in the giving that you don’t even know who you are anymore or why anyone would want you to give them anything?  How do you come back from that?  Where do love and romance fit in when your life is so full of all the things, all those demands, that you can barely summon the energy to scrape by?

Making It Last provides an answer to those questions, and it does so in a truly beautiful way.  I think you should read it.  It’ll probably make you cry but in a good way.  It will also make you laugh, and, when it’s done, and you’ve turned the last page, it’ll leave behind some hope.  And we all need more of that, amiright?

Making It Last was released as an e-book by Loveswept, a division of Random House on July 15, 2013.  To learn more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Ruthie Knox, check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Loveswept via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Dueling discussion and review with Kim – The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz

Cover image, The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz

I’ve not made my liking for Tiffany Reisz’s The Original Sinners: The Red Years series that much of a secret, so it should come as no surprise that I got my hands all over a review copy for the final book in this quartet, The Mistress, as soon as I could.  While my reading buddy Kim and I have individually read and blogged about the three previous books in the series, we decided to discuss this one together.  Why?  Well, you’ll just have to read our discussion to find out.

Also, this isn’t the last you’ll be hearing from me about The Mistress.  I’m participating in a blog tour (my first blog tour… I have a feeling it shouldn’t actually feel this exciting, but whatever. I’m stoked.) to promote the book, and I’ll have another post next week with a less spoiltastic review/brain dump as well as a Q & A with Tiffany Reisz.

Anyway, go check out Kim’s and my discussion of The Mistress, posted over at Kim’s blog, Reflections of a Book Addict.

The Mistress was released on July 30, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Harlequin MIRA.  For more information about the entire series (which you really should read, even if you’re not interested in sex novels, as my friends like to call them), check out Tiffany Reisz’s website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

So, I was putzing around on Twitter last month gushing to Ruthie Knox about how much I loved her newest release, and she let me on to a little secret that’s not so secret any more: Mary Ann Rivers is fantastic, funny, kind, insightful, and the author of one of the best novellas I’ve ever read.

Cover image, The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

In this eBook original novella, Mary Ann Rivers introduces a soulful and sexy tale of courage, sacrifice, and love.
 
I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.

Carrie West is happy with her life . . . isn’t she? But when she sees this provocative online ad, the thirtysomething librarian can’t help but be tempted. After all, the photo of the anonymous poster is far too attractive to ignore. And when Wednesday finally arrives, it brings a first kiss that’s hotter than any she’s ever imagined. Brian Newburgh is an attorney, but there’s more to his life . . . that he won’t share with Carrie. Determined to have more than just Wednesdays, Carrie embarks on a quest to learn Brian’s story, certain that he will be worth the cost. But is she ready to gamble her heart on a man who just might be The One . . . even though she has no idea how their love story will end?

This is a book that you need to read.  I’m not just advising, recommending, or suggesting.  I’m imploring, exhorting, begging, even demanding.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t read romance novels, you need to read this book.  (And, seriously, it’s $0.99.)

The Story Guy is about many things: how essential are connections with other people, how we can fill up a life with contentedness, with doing things, and going places, but how all of that can be compressed — almost distilled — to the essence of one’s life.  Above all, this book is about life: a life lived, a life survived, a life sacrificed, a life given in hour-long increments.  It’s also about kissing.  (And gussets get a shout out.)

It’s beautiful.  Rivers’ prose is lyrical and effortlessly deliberate.  When I turned the last page, I went right back to the first, because I just wasn’t done bathing in all that beautiful language, in that lovely focus.  I am convinced that Mary Ann Rivers could write about my mundane life and manage to make it beautiful; she would notice all the shiny details I ignore, all the moments that make life true, the moments that are the point of it all, really, but that we overlook in the hustle and bustle of getting things done.  She would point to those details and say, “that, right there, is why you struggle and work and endure every day.  Look at it.  Know why you’re living your life.”

That’s what The Story Guy did for me.  It made me look at my own life to wonder what I was doing with all my hours.  It made me want to live my life a bit more deliberately.  If that’s what Mary Ann Rivers can accomplish in a novella, a debut novella, I simply cannot wait to find out what she’ll do next.

The Story Guy was released on July 8, 2013 as an e-book by Loveswept, a division of Random House.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  Learn more about Mary Ann Rivers by visiting her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from Loveswept via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – Days of Rakes and Roses by Anna Campbell

In one of my recent posts, I mentioned that I’ve been reading more and more contemporary romances lately, but I still read a lot of historical romances.  I don’t entirely know why, but historical romances are just my favorites.  (Maybe it’s the extra layer of escapism.)  If you look at my favorite romance authors list, most of them write historicals.  So last month when I was noodling around on NetGalley and I saw this book, I decided to go for it.  It’s my introduction to Anna Campbell’s writing and its blurb hints at one of my favorite romance tropes: heroine/hero struggles to overcome her/his past.  What can I say? I’m a sucker for redemption stories.

Cover image, Days of Rakes and Roses by Anna Campbell

I like the contrast between all that coral pink and the angry-teal dress, but doesn’t it look like these two are at a foam party?  Tequila shots, anyone?  Anyway…

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Lady Lydia Rothermere has spent the past decade trying to make up for a single, youthful moment of passion. Now the image of propriety, Lydia knows her future rests on never straying outside society’s rigid rules, but hiding away the desire that runs through her is harder than she could have ever dreamed. And as she prepares for a marriage that will suit her family, but not her heart, Lydia must decide what’s more important: propriety or passion?

Simon Metcalf is a rake and adventurer. But for all his experience, nothing can compare to the kiss he stole from the captivating Lydia Rothermere ten years ago. Simon can scarcely believe he’s about to lose the one woman he’s never forgotten. The attraction between them is irresistible, yet Lydia refuses to forsake her engagement. With his heart on the line, will Simon prove that love is a risk worth taking?

This novella had a lot of promise: the writing is lovely, the heroine was interesting, and I loved the relationship between Lydia and her brother.  Unfortunately, I had a difficult time connecting with the main characters as a couple, and I kept wanting to poke the hero in the eye with a stick.  When it came time for the happily ever after, I wanted Lydia to have a better happy ending than she got.

Simon Metcalf just irritated me.  He and Lydia have a youthful indiscretion after which she is beaten by her father and he leaves the country — and stays away for a decade, sleeping with all the women, even years after Lydia’s father has died.  (To be fair, I don’t think he knows that Lydia was beaten.)  Then he finds out Lydia is getting married to a prig and he comes back to disrupt her engagement.  I think I could have forgiven him for staying away and leaving Lydia alone to deal with the repercussions of their passionate moment, but sleeping with all the nameless, faceless women in the world? Not so much.

In the end, Simon’s wild-oat-sowing is what ruined the book for me.  I suspect it’s a matter of personal taste, but I find it disturbing that readers of romance novels are supposed to accept the prior dalliances of the heroes (how else will they know what to do with their man parts, we might wonder) while expecting the chastity of the heroines.  In a story such as this, when the characters fall in love ten years before, and the heroine spends the interim living a sober, loveless life, but the hero is out plowing every field he can find, I just don’t want the characters to stumble into happily ever after as though nothing is wrong with that double standard.  Seriously: what if he brought home a social disease?!

Anyway.  I’d be interested in reading the next book in this series (featuring Lydia’s brother, I think), but I didn’t entirely enjoy this one.  Readers who aren’t as persnickety might love it.

Days of Rakes and Roses was released on June 2, 2013 as an e-book by Forever Yours.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Anna Campbell, please check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from Forever Yours via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Kim & Kelly’s dueling review of Once Burned (Night Prince #1) and Twice Tempted (Night Prince #2) by Jeaniene Frost

So, I’m a little behind the times… Last week, my bestest book buddy Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict and I teamed up to review the first two books in the Night Prince series by Jeaniene Frost.  I forgot to tag that post here on my blog, and I’m finally getting to it today.  Paranormal romance is not really my thing, but Kim urged me to pick up Once Burned a few months ago when it was on a 50% off sale.  I checked out some reviews, downloaded a sample, fell in love with the voice and bought the book.  You guys… Once Burned and Twice Tempted live here:

Venn Diagram-Vampires and Carnies

These books are, quite simply, fantastic, and I cannot wait for the third book to be released (I don’t think it’s been written, yet, so it might be a while).  Maybe it’s just that I was reading outside my normal genres, but it’s been a while since I had as much fun reading a book as I did reading these two.  Follow this link over to Kim’s blog to check out our somewhat gushy 2×2 review.

Review – Undone by Shannon Richard

I’ve been reading more and more contemporary romances lately, although that development is not necessarily by conscious choice.  I haven’t been seeing as many historical romances among the new releases (and I’ve already read most of the ones of note that are available), and I’ve mostly cured myself of any desire to read one of the more popular historical romance tropes: the rake whose wicked ways are tamed by the innocent miss/bluestocking/respectable widow/spinster.  Also, I’ve been seeing a lot of interesting-seeming contemporary romances cropping up lately.  Undone features a particularly well-crafted publisher’s blurb, and I decided to read it just to find out what was meant by, “Why wearing red shoes makes a girl a harlot.”

Cover image, Undone by Shannon Richard

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Things Paige Morrison will never understand about Mirabelle, Florida:

Why wearing red shoes makes a girl a harlot
Why a shop would ever sell something called “buck urine”
Why everywhere she goes, she runs into sexy-and infuriating-Brendan King

After losing her job, her apartment, and her boyfriend, Paige has no choice but to leave Philadelphia and move in with her retired parents. For an artsy outsider like Paige, finding her place in the tightly knit town isn’t easy-until she meets Brendan, the hot mechanic who’s interested in much more than Paige’s car. In no time at all, Brendan helps Paige find a new job, new friends, and a happiness she wasn’t sure she’d ever feel again. With Brendan by her side, Paige finally feels like she can call Mirabelle home. But when a new bombshell drops, will the couple survive, or will their love come undone?

A lot of things about this book gave me the warm fuzzies.  I happen to be a fan of small-town romances with a rich cast of secondary characters — and Undone has plenty of those — and I happen to like romances that allow the hero to fall in love before the heroine (such a fantasy, that).  I also appreciated Undone for allowing some of the female characters to talk about something besides boys (though it was kind of irritating that the excerpts of conversation shown between Paige and her best friend Abby relate exclusively to Brendan).

Undone is chock full of charming humor, much of it deriving from the antics of the secondary characters, from the crazy lady who lives next door to Paige’s parents to the kooky characters who work at the funeral home.  There is also a lot of fun banter in the dialogue throughout much of the book.

The general story line, big city girl falls on hard times and ends up finding happiness, a sense of purpose, and love in a small town, makes for a pleasant read, and I was willing to forgive a lot of the book’s rough edges because it’s a debut novel.  Despite what I’ll be saying in the next few paragraphs, I intend to read the next book in the Country Roads series.  The teaser excerpt for that book, Undeniable, did an excellent job whetting my appetite, and I’m looking forward to spending some more time with these characters.

But.

The pacing in this book was a little strange.  The story meanders through the days and weeks of Paige’s life in Mirabelle, but it doesn’t exactly have a clear story to tell.  The basic plot is girl has bad day, meets boy, flirts, gets job, starts dating boy, makes some friends, goes on more dates with boy, girl and boy have sexy times, girl has run in with unsavory fellow, girl and boy shack up, crazy neighbor is crazy, girl and boy get all committed, girl has family issues, the big secret explodes, girl and boy don’t handle it well, boy goes drinking, shenanigans ensue, girl comes to her senses, tragedy strikes but is very conveniently averted, the end.  There are two clear and completely unrelated villains in the piece, and the story line for one of the villains sort of gets resolved, but the other one doesn’t. At all.  It was just a bit strange.

Then there were some distracting homophone mix-ups.  Keep in mind: I was reading an ARC, so it’s entirely possible that the peeked/peaked your/you’re issues will have been cleaned up in the final printed text, but I kept getting this song stuck in my head (and it’s all about me).

The bottom line, though, is that Undone is a fun and fairly strong debut, and I’m looking forward to more from Shannon Richard.

Undone was released on July 2, 2013 as an e-book and mass market paperback by Forever.  If you’re interested in finding out more about the book, click on the cover image above to view the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Shannon Richard, visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – Brave in Heart by Emma Barry

So, I love me some historical romance.  When you think about that subgenre, your brain might automatically conjure high-waisted ball gowns and dudes in tight pants and fussy neckwear and the glittering ballrooms of the multitudes of romance novels set in Regency England.  The fact is that there are a butt-ton of romances set in that period, and I really like some of them, but I get extra excited when I hear about a historical romance set in a different place or time.  Enter Brave in Heart, set in Connecticut during the lead-up to and first few years of the Civil War.

Cover image, Brave in Heart by Emma Barry

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Theodore Ward is a man of deep passions and strong principles—none of which he acts on. So Margaret Hampton ends their engagement, breaking both of their hearts in the process.

Years after their estrangement, ardent but frozen Theo attempts to reconnect with Margaret. She is no longer trusting of the idea of romantic love, having become pragmatic and wary during decades alone. But with the drumbeat of the early days of the Civil War in the background, how can she refuse?

The courtship that results is hasty, reckless, and intense, fueled by contradictions between Theo’s willingness finally to change and Margaret’s fears about the future. Two smart, stubborn, fiery people will need to overcome the hesitancies of their hearts and the perils of battle if they’re ever to find happiness.

I would never have expected a romance set amid a gritty and awful war to be believable, but this story is.  (Maybe it helps that I was a history major for a few years before switching to political science.)  The list of things that should work against this story (but don’t) is impressive:

  1. The setting… war and death and uncertainty aren’t usually synonymous with romance, but Barry incorporates the setting and shows its impact on the characters.  Margaret and Theo are very much the products of their time, and it’s fitting that their story would embrace the challenges of the time period.
  2. The mother-in-law… Theo’s one of those older gentlemen characters who still lives with his mother and, at the beginning, still allows her to guide his life.  Normally that sort of thing would be off-putting, but it isn’t, here.  While Sarah (the mother-in-law) isn’t always the most sympathetic character, she’s not a villain either.  She’s a mother who loves her son, and that dynamic works within the story.
  3. The separation of the main characters… The war divides Theo and Margaret, and they’re apart for much of the story.  Normally that kind of thing would be murder on a romance plot, but Barry found a way to make it work for this story through a lovely correspondence between her characters. It helps that I have a soft spot for correspondence in books (thank you, Jane Austen), but I thought the story and character development achieved through those letters was stunning.
  4. The length… At about 40,000 words, this book is a longish novella or a short novel, and normally that length would work against it.  There isn’t as much room for character and story development, so you kind of expect the characters to be a little bit cookie cutter.  But they aren’t.  The length worked perfectly for me for this story.

The bottom line is that I loved this book.  It touches on some pretty interesting themes — social issues, women’s issues, marriage and family issues, the role of a wife in a marriage, issues relating to identity shifts (naturally occurring when one spouse goes off to war and the other stays behind), etc. — but it doesn’t lose sight of its focus: the relationship between Theo and Margaret.  For a first book, too, it is particularly impressive.  I am looking forward to seeing what else Emma Barry has in store for us.

Brave in Heart was released on July 1, 2013 as an e-book by Crimson Romance.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  To learn more about Emma Barry, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from the author in exchange for an honest review*