Saturday, August 6, 2011

Time off

Some of you might have noticed the slowing down of reviews by me on here over the last few months.  What can I say other then life happens.

We had a series of postal strikes that has left me at times wondering if the books I was to review would ever make it here from their publishers.  Some did.

I also had to make a choice, continue to spend my writing time working on the blogs or working on my own novel.   After spending nearly three full years doing reviews -books and sports- I decided it was time to work on my novel again and to deal with a few of those life issues I had been avoiding.

The last review for now that I offer you is Tout Sweet  by Karen Wheeler.   A memoir she wrote when life got too much and she realized she needed a change.  I can not disagree with the timing of that book coming into my life. It was pure synchronicity.

Please, do check in to the blog in the coming months, as I will be returning.  

Tout Sweet by Karen Wheeler

Plot: Karen has just come out of a bad break up and decides it's time to change her life.  Leaving her career as a fashion editor, she goes to France with a friend for the weekend and ends up buying a house.  Over the course of a year, she travels back and forth from England to France fixing up the new house in bits and pieces until she decides to move there on a full time basis.  Having already established herself within the small village, we are taken into dinner parties, a few unsuitable suitors and the local gossip.  During all this, Karen needs to remind herself that even though her ex-boyfriend is a few hours drive away, he's out of her life for good.

This is a memoir.

As a woman in my late 30's (at the time of this posting)  I fell in step with her choices as I read the book. You understand the pull right off that a new city and a new country had for her at that point in her life.  I thought it was a well designed suggestion that while the author was going through all of this, she kept mentioning a few books about moving to France that she too was reading. I am guessing that Julia Child had something of a role model for her on this regard.

We follow her through about two and a half years of her life as she fixes up her house, learns French and discovers who she can really trust as she learns who she herself really is.

A warm and light touch to what I am sure was a heavy time in the author's life.    I would have loved to have found out just what the real issue between herself and one of the men she writes about, Dave, was. It's hinted at (an over active imagination of a relationship by Dave that never manifested) but never actually confirmed.
Her way of telling you about a pie is done with a flair you would expect from a fashion editor, but also from someone who knows food.  

Karen Wheeler makes you want to take that risk yourself and just move to France.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Summer 2011

I was interviewed recently over on Kindle Forever.   You can read it here 
It was different being on the other side of the questions for once.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ex-Girlfriends United by Matt Dunn

Plot: Edward is back with another break-up disaster. Only this time, it's not his it's his best friend. Dan Davis, a British tv personality has been unable to get a date for the last few weeks. With the help of the old gang, Edward, Sam and Wendy, we learn that Dan has been rated on a dating site. And not in a good way. Meanwhile, Jane, Edward's recent ex wants him back. Can Edward save Dan's reputation in time to save his own?

This is the second book in a great series of "guy-lit" by Matt Dunn. Even if you have not had the chance to read "Ex-boyfriend's Handbook" you will have no problem following the characters in it's followup.

It's a year after Edward's own life changing break up, and we find he's happily in a new relationship, barmaid Wendy is pregnant, and Dan has just landed a new role on a soap opera where he will be playing a character called "Wayne Kerr" a double dealing slime.

The writing is rich with humour and real with moments that you could swear were your own. (such as Dan not catching on to the double meaning of his soap opera character's name)
The author has managed to capture a few snapshots of what it's like to feel insecure and desperate without making it seem like the characters are less then normal.
I was surprised to see a new layer to the Dan character with a back history where we learn he's been dumped because of his career. This gave him an edge of reality in a world of fiction (his career as a celebrity) and causes you to not just cheer for him but to connect with the character that you couldn't in the first book.

Seeing Edward's arch come full circle from the first novel (from wanting his ex back to her wanting him when it was too late) helped to keep the human elements of confusion and honesty of his character in tact, which made him so joyful in the first place.

"Ex-Girlfriends United" is a lighthearted, sweet, fun way to peer into the minds of the modern man.  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Just a note

Dear Readers:

Hi. As you have come to know, I have been doing my best to keep this blog as professional as possible. (Since becoming a semi-professional reviewer) But I thought, I would take a few minutes and post something personal(ish) and off the records.
So to speak.

 Let's start with a photo of the books you can expect to see make an appearance on this blog in the coming weeks.
Here they are, yes there is a few coming at you from the Paranormal genre.

 One of the few books I've managed to get my hands on that is not for review (my sister bought it for me... okay I put it on order and she went to the store and picked it up but still...) is the letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto.   I have been coveting this book for months and finally broke down and bought it.
Even though it's not part of the review list, I'm sure at some point I will make comments on it.  If not on here then on my personal blogs (most likely my cooking blog)

 See, even when I take a break from work (book reviews)  my top thing to do for fun is read.  My second is eat. The staff at my local grocery know me almost too well sometimes. But that's another blog for another time.

Love Kimberly.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wickedly Charming by Kristine Grayson

Plot: Mellie has been fighting what seems to be a loosing battle now for centuries. The image that was given to her because of her step-daughter Snow White.
Charming has grown older and just wants a normal life with his two daughters after his divorce from Cinderella.
Mellie and Charming bump into each other at a book fair in L.A. and decide they need to work together to change both their images.  Soon the two are writing a novel together based on Mellie's side of the Snow White story. Before long, the cozy world they have created for themselves is threatened by members of the Fairy Tale Kingdoms. Does Prince Charming still have what it takes to be a hero to his favourite Evil Step-Mother or will reality crash their dreams?

Rarely do I find a novel that I think is just so unique that I wonder why I didn't think of it myself.   This is that book.

This is a book about books.  It's seen through the eyes of a book lover and a first time writer (the character not the author) which gives it a sweetness you almost never see.  From the moment the two leads meet in an awkward hallway to the scene where they are in coffee shop battling side by side, you know their chemistry works on many levels.

We meet Mellie, in the middle of a protest for her group PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Archetypes- a woman who  has been given a bad rap in her home world and is just trying to help those who are part of the Fairy Tale worlds.  She is all business, and other then having a very long life span, no longer has any magic.
Already twice widowed, she's not looking for love or marriage or any of the trapping that come along with it.  The only problem is, so far no one is taking her seriously as she tries to explain that the books are lies and step-mothers are not evil.

Charming, who is now calling himself Dave, does not see himself as the hero his stories paint him to be. He views himself as a divorced dad of two, who just wants to run a book store. Which is why he does not understand Mellie's protest or current desire to ban a large chunk of books.  He manages to convince Mellie that her best way of getting people to listen is to use the media/medium to her advantage by writing a book on the very topic.

Both characters are given very human desires, insecurities, talents and issues that help to bind them to the real world, while still holding them in a fairy tale setting.
I loved the idea that both were attracted to the other for centuries (having meet years before at events) but are both too shy to react on it at first. Each having that give and take of feeling like they are the only one wanting the relationship adds major weight to their pairing.  I loved how the author examined their personal insecurities while pointing out that they were not teenagers, but that love/lust at any age can cause misunderstandings.

This does more then just deliver a great budding romance, it puts some much needed value on not just step-moms, but older women. It also firmly establishes that women's fiction  isn't just for women. One of the sub-plots is that Charming, is an advocate for the genre. The character of his oldest daughter also reinforces this idea later on when she makes a comment about how that's her dad's job, to stand up for damsels in distress.

With the hundreds of fairy tales out there, the choice of using Snow White and Cinderella as the backgrounds, was the author's ace.  I giggled out loud at the idea of Cinderella (Ella in the book) being a gold digger of sorts. As well as the idea that Snow White was not as pure as she's been white washed to be (pardon the pun) 
The author manages to bring you along two very different paths that somehow merger perfectly into one very emotional and believable plot. (Snow White's husband being a creepy Necrophiliac really makes you rethink that fairy tale's ending) 

I'm told this is the first book in a Trilogy and I can only say, more more more!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stilettos and Scoundrels by Laina Turner Molaski

Plot: Presley just lost her job and has one chance at a new one.  Get an interview with a local senator in her hometown for an internet magazine.  Presley has made it a point not to be back much since leaving a decade before.  Not much has changed, her old high school friends are still there living their lives, one of which is having an affair with the senator's wife. No sooner does Presley get to town to start her interview when a shockwave rings out; the senator has been murdered.  Now everyone is a suspect. With the FBI and another female reporter suddenly on the scene, can Presley uncover the killer before they do and save her career, her friends and her hometown?

This is what happens when Murder She Wrote meets Sex and the City. It's brilliant.
The author manages to create a delicate good old fashioned murder mystery, with enough twists to keep you interested, while mixing in some modern moments of laughter.  {the moment of silence for the Prada purse that gets a bullet}  We are reminded more then once that the sharper the shoe, the deadlier the style. As the high heels are a focus throughout the novel. {Did the kill shot happen while in Manolos or Choos?}

Presley is a girl you would want to have on your side if you were battling your way through a sample sale at Dior. Tough, smart and never without style.
Cooper is a rebel with a cause.   And the author managed to make their verbal sparing sizzle without making it cheesy.

There is a scene near the beginning of the novel, where our lead Presley catches the senator's wife doing something she might be suspect for, and up pops the character of Presley's dad to throw you in another direction.  The slight of hand here is perfect with it's timing that for the next few chapters you start to suspect even her dad is part of the crimes that seem to be piling up around her.

The character(s) of her mother's women's group, are an interesting puzzle of their own. It lends itself to have a very Stepford Wives feel to it, drawing you around another possible twist. These were characters I would have loved to have seen more of, such as the character of Ruth;  if for nothing but the fact the author hints at more deep dark secrets.
So many personalities collide throughout, weaving us back and forth within a pool of doubt. Giving us a glimpse at a place that could be the suburbs of any major city.

The love triangles here are many.  Presley starts the story off with having just dumped a cheating boyfriend, returns to her hometown to be set up by her mother with her high school boyfriend, then falls in love with another ex-boyfriend.
We are then delivered into a maze of who is having an affair with who as the senator's wife is revealed to be unfaithful, at the same time as the now dead senator's mistresses pop up.

The idea that the best way to get to the bottom of a news story is still gossip, opens up the chance to have a few scenes set in both a beauty parlor and a coffee shop. These add a depth of warmth to the idea that we are indeed in a small town.  Which, also gives Presley the chance to indulge in another vice all good reports have; coffee. I would love a coffee count on this story. There is even a small instance where coffee is the weapon of choice.

The only downfall I felt the author gave was with the character of Katy. The hometown best friend of the lead Presley.  Katy starts off as a force to be reckoned with only to become a castoff near the last act. You're left wondering what happened to this character, both in the story and in "her life".

I understand this is the first book in a new series by the author, and personally can not wait to get my hands on the next installment.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Demons are a Girl's best Friend by Linda Wisdom

Plot:  Maggie is a 700 year old witch who works for the Guard. A group of top secret supernatural cops. The original Men in Black.  Declan is a half demon of the fire breed who just wants to run a good old fashioned night club.  One single mission puts Maggie in the line of his fire, for all the wrong reasons. The two find themselves partnered up to take care of a human teenager who holds the key to the ultimate portal. One that when opened will bring death and torture to all the worlds. Can they work together without letting their emotions get the better of them, or will they have to smolder the spark between them in order to save the world?

Witches, Shapeshifters, Demons, Vampires, Gnomes, Elves, an evil cult  and talking jewellery.  What more could you ask for.

This was a beautifully done character driven romance.  The sex scenes were not too overpowering nor did they feel out of place.
In fact, there was a very quirky underscore in this romance, and that was finding not the perfect man, but one who was perfect enough with all his faults.  As we see Elle, a magickal spider who wants nothing but to find a way to keep her lovers alive beyond one sex act.  And Sybil, the Elf who is looking for someone who is more then just pretty.

Maggie's character, is a richly written woman, who's verbal wit could match anything Joss Whedon could have put into the mouth of his blonde heroine.  And just as tough.  Giving Maggie a back story of loss in the form of a dead sister, was a delicate balance to give some depth to her combat ready style.

Declan's character, at times leaned very much towards that of an incubus (of which the author cleverly added in the form of another relative) then the fire controlling demon he was designed to be.  His back story is one that would be interesting to explore more of.

The beginning of the sub-story between Maggie and her human charge, played out as would be expected, giving her normal teenaged issues in the form of bad boyfriends and school bullies.  But there were moments when the character of Courtney felt like a plot device that took on a mind of its own.  I would have liked to have been given just a tad more on the character's upbringing before she joined the story.
Too often, paranormal/supernatural novels come off as stuck up,  this thankfully is very casual in it's approach to the topics.  The characters are developed enough to be relatable, yet the subject matter is still fantastic enough to be entertaining.

We are introduced to so many characters who easily could branch off into their own novels, which might be a delightful thing to see, as I have been told this is the first book in a series. (I hope they were not teasing) Though it does lend itself to "past history"  that makes me wonder if it's part of a series, and not the first chapter?

It had a very Buffy meets McMillan and Wife feel. I thought this was the perfect balance between romance/dramatic  and supernatural genres.  The vampiric overtones (Succubus, Vampires, manipulation by the priests and the higher demons, the scene with the bully's dad at the school)  that you find throughout leads me to add this book more to the vampire genre then to just a straight forward witchcraft genre.  Which coming from a long time vamp fan, is a wonderful thing.  I can not remember the last time I read a vamp book with that much interest.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Merely Magic by Patricia Rice

 Plot: Ninian Malcolm is a country witch who has been taking care of the local villagers for the last few years. The job of midwife handed down to her by her now dead grandmother.
Drogo Ives is an earl who's only private time is hunting the skies for new planets, when he's not providing for his brothers and their children.
Legends say that Malcolms and Ives are meant to keep apart or else the curse that flows through both families will destroy everyone in their path.
Drogo does not believe in curses or witches. He does however believe it's nearly time to settle down and produce an heir of his own instead of feeding all of his brother's. It just so happens that he's got his eye on Ninian, the only thing is she's not your typical Victorian Lady.

It's rare that I pick up a book in the morning and spend a full 8 hours reading.  But that's what I did.  I literally could not put this one down.

Set at the end of the Regency /beginning of the Victorian eras, this is a romance that rings out with a spark of truth.  Playing back and forth with the idea that men and women learn differently (the men are all of a science background and the women all of a earth based background) and therefore express themselves in different spheres, it leans to a perfect romantic set up.
You could neatly ask "what would happen if a group of female Druids landed in the middle of London?" Which must have been one of the things the author asked herself.

The core of the story is trust. The Ives family have been tricked into wedlock a few times, and no longer trust their wives, where as the Malcolm family have been treated like outcasts for generations.  I thought the brilliant move on the author's part was in making the Ives only able to produce sons, and the Malcolms only able to produce daughters.  Proving balance is always needed.
This is an element (no pun intended) that is repeated throughout the story, with Ninian referring to herself as the earth and Drogo as the air and how when they meet they create storms.  The idea that romantic longings are as basic as electricity was a strong one.

The farther along the story continued, the softer the character of Drogo became. It hinted a bit at Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as well as reminding me of Jane Eyre. Half set in an eerie gothic castle complete with a ghost and in London proper. Drogo is a man who can not turn anyone away who needs his help, nor can Ninian which makes them both a perfect pair and the most unlikely of rivals.

The opening scene sets up the story's baseline, as we see Ninian lingering on the edge of a May's Eve festival, longing for a simple dance knowing that none of the men in the area are brave enough to see past her family rumours. While a few yards away Drogo is watching Ninian from the shadows, not understanding who or what she is, but admiring her for the simple fact she's a beautiful woman. He ends up saving her from one of the local drunks thinking that she is yet another responsibility. He soon learns Ninian is far stronger then even he is.

The author has pitted two very different family rituals against each other in a simple way that shows tolerance and compromise are always one and the same.

This story is fully delicious in its understanding of Paganism. Which is a rarity all its own.

There were a few minor characters, like Adonis and Sarah (both Ives) that I would have liked to learned more about, as well as a story within the story that Ninian was reading from their family history.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Jamie's America Easy Twists on Great American Classics and More

I was beyond excited when I heard I was getting a copy of Jamie Oliver's cookbook.
It's been sitting sort of in my living room since the middle of January.  I say sort of because like the last cookbook I was to review, this one got snatched up by my mother.  I had to wrestle it back (Jay Lethal would have been impressed)

It's laid out like a scrapbook, filled with photos of the trip and personal stories on how he came across each and every recipe.
What a true cookbook should be like.

I was disappointed by the lack of vegetarian offerings in this. Don't get me wrong, there are a number of them, but sadly, like many of the recipes, they're ingredients lists contain things that are difficult to find at times where I live.
I'm still trying to figure out what to replace the alligator meat with for even a basic switch off, let alone turning something into a vegetarian version.

The book is extremely region specific, and really only appeals as a "theme" to anyone not in the U.S. or here in Canada.  But even that said, there are items in these recipes that can not be found in Canada.

I did find the paring of wines with each recipe to be a bonus.

This is one cookbook I will be coming back to and trying to figure out a few ways around some of the more interesting recipes, but over all, I was just not impressed.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Staying at Daisy's -by Jill Marsell

Plot: Daisy and her father Hector own a hotel in a quiet village in Britain. Daisy, a widow, finds herself back in the dating scene a year later after having met Dev, a former ruby player. Only thing is, Daisy isn't sure she can trust him given her history.  Daisy also has two staff members who are like family to her, Tara and Barney, whom she's trying to look out for, a college boyfriend back in town, the biggest celebrity in Europe staying at the hotel, and the mistress of her dead husband living down the street. Just when Daisy thinks she's got everything under control, Maggie, Tara's aunt, holds a repair man hostage next door.  Can Daisy run the hotel, and hold off the press at the same time?

I found this book to be a fun, delightful read.

You start off meeting Daisy and her dad Hector in the middle of a party which sets the tone for the entire book.  Laughter, emotions and dogs.

The author sets the pace quickly, exposing a lie that has the lead then unsure of the people around her for much of the novel.  She learns in one fail swoop that her husband has been cheating on her for months and has been after her money.  There is a scene, where we see how gentle and honest Daisy is, when she not only lets the mistress of her husband into his hospital room one last time but when she saves someone else's life by donating his kidney.
The character of Daisy is a hero that would be rare to find,  as she goes on to help the girl, Mel, who had been her dead husbands mistress later in the novel.

Tara is a character that many of us can relate to.  Her mistake is falling in love with the wrong man, twice.  She's faced with the issue of bumping into the great love of her life at the hotel where she works, on his wedding day. Soon, both remember why they had dated in the first place and get tangled up in an affair.  You find yourself hoping it will work out for her but knowing that it just won't.

Then there is Maggie, a middled aged woman who is trying to get a fresh start on her life. She's been having an affair with Daisy's father for the last few years, only it's not something either of them are completely proud of, as money is involved.

The focus of this novel seems to be how the women at different stages of relationships, seem to handle the idea of how lies and lust mix.
Each of the women in this story, have been disappointed by the men in their lives. Some on a grand scale like Daisy, others on a smaller scale, like when Maggie has to wait months for the repair man to show up.

The author also managed to write a few male characters, Barney, Dev, Hector and Josh, as the perfect relationship ideals that so many of us dream of, but just never find.

Each of the men in this novel are also in very different stages of their own relationships, Barney being the innocent.  I can not remember the last time I read anything that lent to a man being this sweet a character, or even virginal.  The character of Barney brings a freshness that can only be found in a story like this.

The very beginning of the novel mentions a children's story that was written by Hector, "Dennis the Dachshund", which is what they built their wealth upon, and soon Daisy finds herself helping Dev picking out a dog. She talks him into buying Clarissa, which becomes the thread for their relationship as well as the second main connection; other then the hotel, for all the other characters.

I found myself very partial to the love story between Dev and Daisy.  The idea that a former celebrity would want to have a normal life, and was willing to wait around for it really drew me in. I could not get out of my head the idea that a former sports hero would be happy living a quiet life and dotting over his dog.  I could read another round of Dev and Clarissa if the author offered.

Except for a few references to British television/music, this story is one that is easily universal. Everyone who's ever been in love, or thought they were, or even heartbroken can find something and someone in this novel to connect to.

And if nothing else, we can all identify with the subplot of Maggie's washing machine repair nightmare.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Ex Boyfriend Handbook by Matt Dunn

Plot: Edward has just been dumped after ten years by Jane.  He's at a loss for what he should be doing now, and finds himself spilling his guts to Dan-his best friend- and Wendy- the local barmaid- and asking their advice. They have three months to get Dan into half the shape he was ten years before when he first met Jane. They hire a personal trainer, a decorator, and set him up on speed dates. Soon, Edward is changing not just his outer self but his inner self as well.

A light approach to a serious topic, how we view ourselves and how we relate to others.

What seems at first like a down on your luck buddy story, turns into a journey of self for the lead character. The pitfalls of no longer knowing who you really are, and what you are brave enough to try, interweave with questions "who are your real friends" and "what do you have to loose" ?

You sympathize with Edward through the course of the novel and want to strangle Dan. There are moments when, as a reader, you are wanting to point out how Dan's insults could be seen as a form of truly holding Edward down, which are then balanced out by Dan's actual helping him out of his own shadow.

There is a scene near the beginning of the novel, when the lead Edward is telling his friends what it was like the first time he dated Jane years before in college, on how he trailed after her to the bar and did as she asked.  It sets a tone for the remainder of the novel as far as how Edward lets himself be part of relationships. You see his little to no self worth until he starts to see his own reflection in mirrors, seeing for the first time, himself through the eyes of others.
But it is in fact, a conversation with a homeless man, Billy, that wakes him up. As Billy points out, he might not have a proper place to live, but he's living a proper life because he's doing it with his dignity intact.

The other lead is actually Dan. The television star playboy who without even trying, goes through a growth of his own, admitting his own fears and flaws along the way. We see him go from the hottest thing in the area to realizing he really wants what Edward had. Stability.

Through the course of the three months that the story rapidly moves, you are asked to witness the growth, the understanding, and the desperation that Edward must go through to get to the finish line. Using the metaphor of his training runs as his goal and his backdrop, we see ourselves in his earning his own levels of confidence.  As he starts off with one goal- to get Jane back at all costs- he comes out of his shell and starts to understand he's really doing this for another goal -to get his own power back.
In the end he realizes he's better then the one who left him and in a better place because of it.

What Bridget Jones' Diary brought to women  ExBoyfriend Handbook brings to men. Delightful, honest, witty and always fabulous.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Werewolf Upstairs by Ashlyn Chase

Plot: Roz Wells is a lawyer who just moved into her best friend's old apartment. In the courtroom she's tougher then nails and can take on anyone or anything.  In the bedroom, she's unsure of herself and shyer then shy. Her reason for moving into the building is to protect her friends.
One of her new neighbours, Konrad Wolfensen, is about to need her protection, as he's just been arrested for a crime that is twenty years old. Konrad on the other hand, feels he's the one who needs to protect those around him, from Nathan downstairs, to Chad upstairs, to Morgaine on the second floor.
Roz soon learns that not all is what it seems, as Nathan is a shapeshifter, Chad's a ghost, Morgaine's a witch and Konrad is a werewolf. The worst part is, she's head over heels in love with Konrad.  This is one day in court Roz might not want to loose.

Even though, this is the second book in Ashlyn Chase's paranormal series,{her first being Strange Neighbours} this was my introduction to her work.

I have to say right off,  I have mixed feelings about this book.  Part of Sourcebooks Casablanca selections, it is not your average "romance" novel.  

I felt like I was reading two different books that just managed to end up in the same covers.

I adored the paranormal angles of this story.  The idea that you would have a building that housed some of the city's supernatural characters was something I was looking forward to exploring. (such as why one building would be a magnet for them?)
Making two of these characters witches, Morgaine and Gwyneth,  who are as different from each other as can be, but still giving them "normal" jobs (sex phone operators) was a fresh way to deal with what could have turned out too much a cliche.

The werewolves mythos that she used has just enough research to be believable (protecting the pack and mating for life). Having given Konrad not just a back story that included the pack, but a twin brother added to his layers like a cake.
I do however, think too much time was spent on the human angles of this novel and not enough of the paranormal was accounted for.
A few questions that surrounded the characters of Chad and Reginald- the two ghosts- one of which being about their leaving their buildings, left me wanting to know more about their back stories and mythos, but sadly, this was something the author just left open.

As well, I felt disappointed by the court scenes.  I felt like I could have found any of the crime scenes on an episode of Law and Order.  There was just very little meat on the bones in this area of the story.

Personally, I would have loved to have seen a bit more time given to the characters of Nathan and Morgaine.  Nathan's character seemed to be where the dry wit was hiding, but rarely got to shine in the story.

I wasn't as thrilled with the "romance" angle of the story.
I myself write this way, with sex scenes that border more explicit language then what you would find offered most of the time.  But in this case, I have to say less would have been more. It just seemed like every three pages there was a sex scene, which for me was over kill. I would have like to have been given one big one at the front of the book, and one big one at the end instead of the six or so that filled the pages.
This is straight up erotica and can not be classified as a romance at all.

As I said, this is part of a series, and coming into it midway like this, I can't help but wonder if some of the paranormal issues have been explained in the other books?  If so, then it is safe to say the author's works are not very well at being "stand alone" books.

Friday, February 4, 2011

100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know -Edited by Glamour Magazine

First let me say - yes! a cookbook!
Then let me say, I wasn't sure I was going to get to review this, simply because I took the book to my mother's and between her and my sister it sort of went missing for a week.

The main editor on this is Cindi Leive the Editor-in-chief of Glamour.

This is a beautifully complied collection of tried and true recipes that the magazine has run more then once over the last decade.  The most popular being the famed "Engagement Chicken"   which trust me, were I not a vegetarian I would be making every night of the week.

The book itself, has a very witty perspective, that is easy to read with tips and highlights that even the most un-cooking cook can follow.

I was delighted to see both the Meatless Mains chapter and the Sides chapter.

I have already made my own version of their "Meatless Monday Portobello Burgers". Which according to it's personal introduction, was inspired by a recipe from the McCartney's who had a campaign to go meat free at lest once a week.
Each recipe comes with it's own little personal introduction as to how the editors came to have the recipe to begin with.
The listing of people whom have written into the magazine about becoming engaged after making the chicken dish was an added bonus. As well as their address to send your personal stories.
There is even a complete menu at the back of the book, suggesting which dishes work well together and done in themes.

My copy is in fact the editor's advance copy (my cover is different)  Each recipe has a rating of 1, or 2, or 3 shoes next to it, letting you know just how difficult or time consuming it is to make.  The recipe for the Portobello Burgers had a 2 black and 1 white shoe.  (all the drink recipes have 1 black and 2 white)

 A user friendly book that you can find most of the ingredients without much time at your grocery... unless you count standing in line at the grocery.
There are a few items in here that if you are on a budget (any form of social assistance) you might have to make substitutions for, but all in all, an excellent cookbook to have on hand.

A needful kitchen basic much like a frypan and whisk.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen V. Wasylowski

Plot: Mr. Darcy and his beloved cousin Col. Fitzwilliam have been as close as brothers their whole lives. Now, Darcy is married and facing the birth of his first child. Fitzwilliam has sworn to stay single forever, that is until he meets an American named Amanda.  Not only will Fitzwilliam have to convince Amanda to marry him, but that her son from her first marriage will be safe with them. After the young couple run from Amanda's former mother-in-law they find themselves hiding at the Darcy estate.  Meanwhile, Caroline Bingley still has not given up on wanting Mr. Darcy for herself, and is not letting a little thing like him being married get in her way.  Can the two cousins survive the women in their lives and raise their new families or will all of London fall victim?

There were some interesting twists in this story.  Caroline Bingley being more of a tart, Anne de Bourgh being more of a hypochondriac, and Catherine de Bourgh being a comedian all gives a new layer of normality to the iconic characters.

I was much surprised with the direction Catherine de Bourgh was taken in, then anything else. Seeing her moments of outrageous teasing of Caroline Bingley as well as her staff had me laughing out loud.
There is also a slight hint at something romantic between Catherine and Mr. Bennet at times, which I would have liked to see more of actually.
The bulk of the novel is about Fitzwilliam, and makes for a much more interesting subplot then the title first suggests. As we follow him through his nightmares, his obsessions, and his redemption.

The scenes in which Elizabeth has meltdowns because of being pregnant were tired for me on the whole. I could have done without the birthing scene as well. It was there, it seemed, mostly to build a bridge between the two women -Elizabeth and Amanda- but didn't lend itself to really much else.
I also found the epilogue a little bit of overkill, just an extra chapter that wasn't really needed.

All in all, I enjoyed this story more then I have with other recent Austen sequels.  I thought that focusing on the Colonel as the tragic hero refreshing and the softness of Catherine long over due. The story is laced with humour and written with the ability to capture the attention of both die hard Austen fans and newcomers alike.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy- Mary Lydon Simonsen

Plot: Georgiana Darcy, and her cousin Anne de Bourgh, are both fearful that Mr. Darcy has ruined his chances at happiness. Anne, who knows she herself will never be able to marry wishes to see her cousin with the woman of his dreams, Miss Elizabeth Bennett. Georgiana, who is ready to come out in society and ready to find a husband herself,  is now the Mistress of Pemeberly, and does not want to see her brother lonely. Together they decide to create a very deliberate plan to set Mr. Darcy up to be in the same place at the same time as Elizabeth. The only thing getting in their way happens to be everyone else. From Wickham and Lydia, to Miss Bingley, to Darcy's former lover. Who knew one house could hold so many broken hearts at one time?

I have to say, it took me nearly 25 of the 53 chapters before I was really into this novel. The idea was a solid one, just a bit on the long side as we follow not one love story but almost seven. (Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane, Wickham and Lydia, Mary and Mr. Nesbitt, Jane and Mr. Nesbitt, Darcy and Caxton, Caroline and Fitzwillam) There is just so many characters, it's hard to figure who you should be paying attention to at any given time.

The fact the author gave Anne de Bourgh a spotlight is the thread I found to be the most captivating. I wish there had been less Lydia and Wickham and more of Anne.

Giving Mr. Darcy a past that rips a tear in his "perfect armor"  was a nice refreshing touch. Too many other Austen sequels make Darcy a saint, which can get boring.
There are a few scenes with Kitty reading a gossip mag of the time, exposing parts of Mr. Darcy's past in lush colours. I felt this dimension was something needed to make Darcy more a man and less an icon, and gave the little used Kitty some stock.

Jane, at one point, is given way to her emotions which also was a refreshing twist on the character.

You know the old saying, never judge a book by it's cover... well this is one time I can't seem to get past the art work.
I know that some times, we as reviewers get copies with temporary covers.  I really wish this had been the case. The cover for Perfect Bride is just is too much like the cover of Twilight. Which might have been the idea, given that Twilight is a modern remake of Pride and Prejudice, and this is a sequel to P/P.  Unfortunately, everyone who spotted the book on my table felt the same way.
Were it me, I would give the art an overhaul for next printing.

It just seemed to me, that this novel took too long to get it's pot boiling and then got a bit over plated.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Interview with Catherine McKenzie- 2011

Last year, I was lucky enough to get to interview Catherine McKenzie about her debut novel Spin. I am pleased to say she was able to spare some time to grant me another interview, this time to talk about her new novel Arranged

KH: - Arranged is your second offering, how much harder was it writing on such a short schedule? Does it hamper the creative flow or help to push it along?

Catherine McKenzie: I’m actually very lucky that, although Arranged is being published only a year after Spin, I’d already written the book when I got my book deal. In fact, I wrote Arranged before Spin and so I only had to go through the editorial process in the last year (edits from my editors, line editing and copy editing) rather than starting from scratch or an outline. I know from other writer friends that writing on that kind of deadline can be very difficult, especially when – like most of us – you still have a day job.

KH: - I devoured Spin when I was given the chance to read it last year, and still recommend it to people when I am talking about books. I noticed a slight nod to one of the characters from Spin (celebrity Amber on the gossip show) near the beginning of Arranged, was that meant as a wink for your previous fans, or was Arranged originally meant as a sequel? 

CM: Thank you! That was definitely meant as a wink to the fans – something I added in the editorial process. A funny anecdote: the copy editor – who, among other things, checks to make sure that cultural references are correct – queried who Amber Sheppard was because she hadn’t been able to find her in an extensive internet search. She hadn’t read Spin J.

KH:-  Anne Blythe, is a 30-something writer who has a bad string of heartbreaks, with lovely red hair and a desire for the perfect man. I think I was 30 pages into Arranged when I was hit with a blast of emotions. You very easily could have been describing me.  You've hit your target audience to a bullet point. How much of "Anne" came from your friends and from yourself and how much came from research?

CM: Again, thank you. I don’t generally research characters – other than those who have a specific job, like Anne’s therapist or the marriage broker she meets. On the other hand, I also work hard not to base characters in my books on my friends. Every once in a while, someone around me will utter a great line of dialogue and I’ll ask if it’s okay for me to use it in a book. As to whether Anne is based on myself, I think, inevitably, any author who writes first person narratives has to be ready to have people assume that the main character is them. Example: Katie, the main character in Spin, goes to rehab. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve been asked whether I went to rehab since the book came out. Since I look a bit like Anne – we have the same colouring anyway – I’m sure this assumption will rear it’s head again, but while we might have some similar opinions, I really try not to be the main character in my books. I’m in there somewhere, though.

KH:- I've been waiting to hold off on the question that I know everyone must have asked, but what was the first inspiration for the whole novel? 

CM: Actually, the first question most people ask is whether or not Anne is ethnic – i.e. not a white girl from North America. That being said, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing that led to that “aha” moment. I do know a few people who’ve had arranged marriages, and have watched my share of The Bachelor etc. This kind of information – and questioning of who would undertake either – was floating around my brain hopper and Arranged is what it spat out.

KH:- Therapy, has made an appearance in both your novels, as part of the narration.  Do you feel that in modern society we rely too much on what others think of us and how easily led some of us can become?

CM:Deep question. I use therapy for two different purposes in the books. In Spin, she had to be in therapy since a large part of the book is set in rehab. Since this was the case, I used it as a device to let us know more about Katie. In Arranged, I added the therapy aspect as a way for Anne to talk out the idea of going through with an arranged marriage without it all being in her head. I’m also not sure that therapy is about what others think of us, but rather, how to overcome caring about that, if that’s holding you back in your life.

KH:- Another series of stories plays more then a few notes in Arranged,  that being Anne of Green Gables.  What made you decide to pick that as a backdrop for the mother?

CM:So many books these days are based on or have a nod to the works of Jane Austen. I love Jane Austen, but that has been done – literally in some instances – to death. I thought it would be fun to work in another favourite author. Julie Buxbaum also does this with The Secret Garden in her book After You (Another book I’d recommend). I also wanted to explore the whole consequence of believing that your life should turn out like the books you read. I think too many of us grow up expecting that perfect ending, and end up disapointed when it doesn’t materialize.

KH:- In your first novel Spin, you used music to decorate the story, I noticed in Arranged you used other books in the same way. (On The Road really sets the foreshadowing for Jack) Was there a conscious decision to do this?

CM:There certainly was in Spin; I always envisioned that book as a musical, if that makes any sense. I think it was less consciously done in Arranged, other than the fact that since Jack and Anne are both writers, it’s natural for them to be interested in – and to discuss – books that are important to them.

KH:- Margaret is this fabulous minor character who is just so rounded and full of colour. She manages to sweep you along in her scenes making you forget she's just a character in the book. She's also the opposite of Anne.  Did you create her just  for that balance ?

CM:Thank you. And pretty much. Anne is so full of doubts, so self-questioning, that I thought it was important to have someone who took the opposite approach. Plus she was really fun to write.

KH:- To me, the philosophy in Arranged is that without a strong series of friendships, nothing solid in life can really be obtained. Do you feel that in our society people are forgetting what truly matters?

CM: I think what I was trying to get across – within the boundaries of something that is supposed to be, ultimately, a little bit of fun fantasy – is that believing that there is only one person out there for everyone – a soulmate – can be limiting. I think that we choose to go in certain directions in our romantic lives, but those are choices. I guess I don’t believe in predestination when it comes to love.

KH:- Without giving away the ending,  I have to say I was not expecting it to end in the tone it did.  There almost seemed to be a moment when I thought either the characters of Richard and William would have a stronger role. What made you decide to leave them as minor elements? 

CM: Again, within the boundaries of what I was writing, I wanted to keep people guessing how it would end until the end. So, I’m glad you were not expecting it to end the way it does. Not sure I can say more without revealing too much.

Thanks for the great questions!

KH: Always a great pleasure. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

Plot: Anne Blythe is a talented writer working at a magazine while putting the finishing touches on her first novel. Her latest relationship has just fallen apart, finding out the man who she's trusted was cheating on her.  Anne then begins to bump into a few more of her ex boyfriends, all whom are now married.  She discovers a business card for what she thinks is a simple dating service and after hearing that her best friend is engaged, decides to try it. Anne soon learns that they are more then just a dating service, but a company that performs arranged marriages. Anne turns this chance discovery into a new column for the magazine, her research leading her to join up herself. The matchmakers pair her up with a man who could be considered perfection, only to find out he's not what he seems after the wedding.

Is love by chance or illusion?  In this case it's both.
Once again, Catherine McKenzie offers up vivid characters who have a sense of witty sadness to them, that makes them very real.

I'm at a loss for words on this one folks. I can't review this book without comparing it to my own life. Which means once again Catherine McKenzie has hit the nail perfectly on the head, she knows her audience with a bullet point. 

The situation that the character Anne is in- in her 30's unmarried, a writer, a redhead, who's past boyfriends have moved on while she's still stuck- it's as if the author Catherine McKenzie were exposing pieces of my own life. I kept reading hoping she had a solution for me, then I remembered this was a novel. A beautifully sculptured piece of fiction that just happens to ring true.

The character of Anne's mother, who is currently on the edge of her own reality and not really paying too close of attention to Anne,  was a brilliant element of distance. (Also too close to home for my nerves.) Even though she's a minor character, the mother was a fresh view, given most mothers in modern fiction are too involved, too annoying.

There are moments when you find yourself wanting to slap the character of Jack and then give him the benefit of the doubt.  From the scene where he takes Anne boating you're left with this sense of menace that melts into a feeling of "maybe they got it right this time". I can not tell you how many times I sighed thinking if only there were more real men like this. 

In this day and age,  almost everyone has used the internet to meet someone, so the idea of falling for someone you've never really met is not as shocking as it first might have appeared. This gives an added weight to the element of Anne going to the matchmaker in the first place. Which I thought was mixed perfectly with the minor characters that Anne interviews who have had their own arranged marriages.
Too much in modern society is hinged on how we look, how we present ourselves and not enough on the real person.

Catherine McKenzie manages to take something as simple as eating lunch and deliver every emotion, every scent, every taste with such clear intent that it's no wonder her characters are so easy to identify with.

If you liked her first novel Spin then you're going to devour Arranged. (click here to browse inside the book)
Check out Catherine McKenzie on the Savvy Reader the official blog for Harper Collins Canada

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Yours for the Taking by Robin Kaye

Plot: Gina is a tough girl from the streets of Brooklyn. Ben is a cowboy from Idaho.  Ben is on a deadline, he needs to be married soon or he will loose the only thing that's mattered to him, his family ranch. His grandfather is set on having his only living relative having it all or nothing, and will do whatever he needs to see Ben follows orders.  Without any other options, Ben asks Gina to marry him, a women he's only met once before. Gina has never let anyone into her private life before, but a quickie marriage and even quicker divorce would give her the money see needs to save her own family. Neither of them had any idea that once they signed their pre-nup all bets would be off. Can they survive their marriage and both their families or will falling in love destroy both their dreams?

This starts off as your typical romance novel but quickly proves it's a step above the competition. The characters are more in depth then I've seen in the usual offering of romance novels, and the dialogue  is as sharp as a nail.
You are pulled in with the first page, engulfed within a set of  emotions wrapped up in humour.

A sweet twist comes in around the midway mark when the lead characters find themselves adopting a stray dog who quickly becomes a focus point on more then one level. A lovely bridge between the softer side of Ben and Gina, that makes you feel like the characters themselves didn't even know they had.

The moments of steamy description were handled to perfection without taking anything away from the plot or characters (which I've seen happen too many times in typical romance novels) and even the scenes where the leads are fighting, you're left breathless following their rise and fall of emotions.

If only there were more real men, more like her hero Ben and his cousin Trapper...

I wish someone had told me about Robin Kaye a few years back, as this is her fourth book in her line of "Domestic God" novels.