Tag Archives: love

The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert

If you enjoy Christian books with a capital C, then you might like The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert, but don’t expect a squeaky clean story. This novel deals with issues such as alcoholism, failed relationships, sex before marriage, teen drinking and drug use, and swearing. Yet interspersed between these “sinful” behaviors are various scriptures and reflections about God and Jesus (which at times become a bit preachy). It’s easy to see why the main characters have doubts about their religion when they can relate better to the Book of Job than to the Gospels.

Two estranged half sisters end up together battling their personal demons. Carmen, a successful meteorologist on a local news channel, is numbed by her inability to have a child, lashing out while keeping her distance from a loving but clueless husband. Gracie is compulsive in her actions reflecting her anger at the world, but she gets a fresh start at a new high school and even begins to make friends despite her negative attitude.

Yet life is not fair and this is definitely not a fairy tale as even simple solutions are unattainable. Despite the hard work and dedication towards setting things right, more often than not failure is the result. Watching the hypocritical achieve their desired outcomes without a struggle, the sisters each wonder about God and why he doesn’t seem to be there for them.

A series of “coincidences” leads one sister to save the life of the other, but there is no resolution to their dilemmas, just more questions.

Three stars for an interesting, though depressing read.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

It was on Memorial Day 1938 when Willa realized that everyone seemed to be keeping secrets from her, which lead to her honing in on just one goal in life – to surreptitiously ferret out the unspoken mystery. What the twelve year old fails to realize is that sometimes there are some very good reasons to keep the truth hidden from view. Looking back she is only able to lament her aptitude at acquiring such potent sleuthing skills, but by then it is too late to unremember her discoveries.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows captures the essence of small town life during the depression era where everybody has nothing better to do than keep their nose in everybody else’s business. There are no secrets between “friends” – or are there?

The story unfolds through the eyes of matriarch Josephine (Jottie) and other members of the Romeyn Family as they struggle through the summer heat in Macedonia, West Virginia. A parallel story intersects their lives when Layla Beck, an upper crust daughter of a US Senator who (after a major disagreement with her father) ends up boarding at the Romeyn house while writing the history of Macedonia’s Sesquicentennial for a WPA project.

As Layla sets out to learn the true story behind historical Macedonia (versus the boring “official” accounts of the founding members), she discovers a talent for something other than being the center of attention at social events. The back story about her former life as a debutante is revealed via a flurry of letters back and forth between family and friends.

Lottie reveals her innermost thoughts through flashbacks to her childhood. Barrows slowly reveals details about the devastating loss which has colored Lottie’s life resulting in her “old maid” status. Rumors abound about her past, but In order to avoid a potential scandal which might hurt the children, especially with Willa asking questions, she strives for respectability. Lottie spends her time helping her beloved brother Felix take care of his two daughters, Willa and Bird, whenever he is out of town on the frequent business trips necessary to acquire some cash to help them through the hard times.

There is so much to this story it is impossible to summarize the details. Expect quite a bit of rambling towards the beginning as the author introduces a myriad of characters. It takes a while to keep them all straight (an annotated list of townsfolk would have been helpful, although there is a Romeyn family tree for reference), but once the events start to snowball, the reading pace picks up.

One of the highlights of the story is the various eccentric personalities found in Macedonia. Barrows makes us a part of the community through their thoughts and actions, especially those of main characters Lottie and Willa. Willa, in a way, reminds me of Scout from Montgomery’s To Kill a Mockingbird, somehow getting caught up in all the action. Lottie’s childhood stories are both entertaining and informative in helping the reader get a handle on her personality. Whether you love or hate the smooth talking, womanizer Felix depends on whose eyes you view him with – as a brother, a father, a friend, or a curious neighbor.

While the ending isn’t totally unexpected, it was at times a bit confusing, yet despite these flaws, The Truth According to Us is still a beautifully written book.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Random House for providing this ARC in exchange for a honest review.

Lord Byron’s Secret Obsession by H. C. Brown

I was curious. How does an historical romance involving two men compare to one about a man and a woman? I picked up Lord Byron’s Secret Obsession by H. C. Brown to explore the differences.

This novel is more matter of fact then I expected. There are no flowers, no romance, but an excess of sexual escapades. Yes there are expressions of love, but lust seems to be the overwhelming emotion. The plot is simple. Wealthy Lord Byron Wilton, heir to a Marquis, is desperately in love with Lord David Litchfield, the second son of a Duke. He enjoys binding and caning the young Adonis, sexually dominating his lover who seems to enjoy the submissive role. When Lord David publicly exhibits jealousy over Byron’s friend Lord John Henley, Byron buys a commission in the colonies to escape any resulting gossip. In 1792, sodomy was a situation punishable by death. Since British society was totally intolerant of such behaviors, men with these predilections had to hide their same sex escapades. Upon Lord Byron’s return to London, he discovers that Lord David has become a sex slave to the evil Joseph Hale and his two despicable friends. The trio are unwilling to let Lord Byron pay off the lads debts, although they do allow him to rent the boy, thereby removing David temporarily from their cruel sexual appetites. Together with Lord John, who had also experienced the depravity of Hale, Byron devises a plan to rid the earth of these scumbags.

Although short in length, this novella contained too much repetition, with the dialogue often replicating the characters’ thoughts. While Lord Byron was supposed to be noble, I found him calculating and self centered, even while attempting to be considerate of others feelings. Lord Byron decides to marry David’s sister Sarah who was raped and inpregnated. In this way, except for the wedding night, he didn’t need to visit Sarah’s room. She admits she is not interested in his sexual advances and he inadvertently discovers she prefers the attentions of her lady’s maid. Sarah believes that Byron has a mistress, and doesn’t suspect that he is in love with her brother who has an adjoining room with her husband. Many of the other characters also maintain a jaded view of their lives. Due to their attitudes, it is hard to feel any sympathy for their plight.

Ultimately, this topic just wasn’t my “cup of tea”. I am more interested in the romance aspect of a novel, not raw sexual experiences which border on porn. Even if the subject matter was enticing, the writing is too stilted for my taste. In addition, while doing some research on other works by this author, I discovered this plot is almost identical to Brown’s book Lord and Master published in 2013. The love interest is even named David. One star for writing the “same book” twice.

I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Game of Persuasion (The Naughty Girls, #3) and How To Ruin A Rake (The Naughty Girls, #4) by Emma Locke

Lucy Lancaster has a dilemma and it’s not one with an easy solution. She is in love, even obsessed, with her older brother Lord Trestin’s best friend Roman Alexander, the Marquis of Montborne. She needs to find a way to get close to the charming rake while keeping her distance since the love of her life is simply not marriage material, but before she goes off into a life of spinsterhood, Lucy wants to experience just one night of passion.

The prequel, The Game of Persuasion (The Naughty Girls, Book #3) by Emma Locke, explores Lucy’s quest to get Roman to notice her. Lucy is able to persuade Celeste Gray, her brother’s former girlfriend (who was discarded when it was revealed she was a courtesan in The Trouble With Being Wicked, The Naughty Girls #1), to assist her in developing the necessary wiles to attract the subject of her fascination. At first Lord Montborne’s attention is focused on finding potential husbands for this young woman (now 24) who had trailed around after him like a puppy dog in her youth. Due to the Marquis’ reputation in the ton, the more time he spends with Lucy, the more other men start to take notice, despite the fact that Lucy isn’t beautiful like her sister. On the night of her Coming Out Ball Roman is especially attentive, but although they spend time in witty, titilating conversation, they do not dance and there is no kiss, yet there is a certain something between the two. Lucy decides to up the ante, stealing an entry card to an unsavory masquerade ball which Roman plans to attend. Her scheme works and Roman whisks her away from the surrounding suitors so they can make passionate love throughout the night. Roman finds this mysterious woman alluring only because she so closely resembles his Lucy-love. In the morning, long after she has lost her virginity, Lucy reveals her true identity. Roman’s first reaction is to propose marriage, since this is a Lady he has compromised. She hotly rejects his suit, especially since he has just “cheated” on her, despite the fact that she was the one to seduce him. When her brother discovers the truth, he demands a wedding, but Lucy convinces Trestin to allow her to go to Bath and start a school for young girls – a plan that Celeste is bankrolling.

In Bath, at the School for Accomplished Young Ladies, is where How To Ruin A Rake (The Naughty Girls, Book #4) begins. Here we get to experience not only Lucy’s thoughts and dreams, but also Roman’s yearnings. He is a lost soul, not quite sure what to do, but inexplicably drawn to Lucy. She is unlike any other woman, and he realizes that he has fallen in love with her, despite her continued rejection. After their seven month separation, the two lovers are once again drawn towards each other. When Roman confronts Lucy in her office, their passion is so strong that they have a hard time keeping their hands to themselves. When Lucy reaches out to touch Roman, pulling him towards her for a kiss, he responds and takes it much further, all without her murmuring a dissent. A locked door would have been a good idea, because the two are caught in the act and Lucy is immediately dismissed, her reputation in ruins. Even though she will not be accepted back into the ton unless she marries the cad who compromised her, she still refuses all Roman’s marriage proposals.

As the book continues, the two protagonists interact. Now in London with her brother, Lucy allows Roman to introduce her to the artistic crowd where a tattered reputation is not an issue. She quickly becomes popular with the men who frequent such locales, although she allows no one to touch her except the captivating Roman. He begins to properly court her, taking her to the more risqué events which were previously taboo. While Lucy is unable to resist matters of the heart and even initiates passionate embraces, Roman does his best to control his urges until she admits her love. However, sometimes nature can’t be halted and even a few days apart is agony for the two.

This book is Roman’s story and it is one of pure romance. We are alternatively caught in the heads of both lovers, sympathizing with their feelings, horrified by past deeds, anticipating romantic interludes, and yearning for a happy ending. The flawed Roman tries so hard to be redeemed, yet his past is so sordid only one who truly loves can forgive. Although Lucy’s love is strong, her jealousy and fears keeps them apart. With so much baggage there seems to be no hope for the two love birds, although eventually the past is revealed and the future is resolved.

While all the introspection strongly borders on too much repetition, the angst felt by both lovers keeps us reading to see how the story will eventually play out. Roman, even with his flaws, is the most enticing of heroes (or should I say antihero) eliciting an urge to reform him into someone worthy. Like Lucy, we simply can’t get the handsome, stylish Marquis out of our heads. Luckily, the anticipated climax is fulfilling, and there are enough obstacles to keep our interest. Even though this book can be read as a stand alone, many of these characters are found in other books in this tightly connected series. The prequel, a prolonged prologue (or novella) is a must read to get the full effect.

Well done Emma Locke, you’ve succeeded in the primary reason to write a Regency Romance – to make the reader’s heart ache. I, too, am in love with the magnetic, sexy Roman. Four Stars.

A thank you to Netgalley for providing an ARC of How to Ruin A Rake in exchange for an honest review.

Remembrance by Michelle Madow (Transcend Time, #1)

Andrew (Drew) Carmichael, a rich kid from Manhatten, transfers to a private school, The Beech Tree School, in Pembrooke, New Hampshire. The moment he takes a seat next to Elizabeth (Lizzie) Davenport they both feel a bonding connection, but the appearance of Drew causes a rift in Lizzie’s life. She has a boyfriend, Jeremy, who she has been dating for three years, since eighth grade. Then there is her best friend, Chelsea, who instantly sets her sights on the handsome Drew and hooks up with him almost immediately. Despite their mutual attraction, Drew and Liz do their best to remain distant. Even so, they are thrown together often enough to maintain an unspoken link. Theirs is a push pull relationship, with Drew or Lizzie trying to connect, then pushing each other apart, like two positive polar magnets trying to join together. Drew is adamant that Lizzie is nothing to him, ignoring her most of the time, yet offering to tutor her in French or drive her home when she is caught in the rain. Lizzie is torn between her growing feelings towards Drew and her longstanding childhood friendship with Jeremy and Chelsea. The twist to the plot is that Drew and Elizabeth were in love before, back in 1815. Slowly the details of their reincarnated past are revealed. Little clues are given, such as Liz’s ability to draw distinct details of life from the Regency Era including a self portrait of herself in historical costume standing in the middle of a ballroom. Then there is her sudden ability to speak fluent French and play the piano – all talents from her past life. The author skillfully entwines past with present, leading to the anticipated conclusion (with a few snags along the way).

While the characters were relatable and the idea was interesting, Remembrance by Michelle Madow just didn’t have enough content to sustain a full novel. At times the plot meanders off and repeats itself. We don’t need to know every detail of Lizzie’s Junior year, nor what happened in each class. All right, she has trouble focusing when Drew is near, but after once or twice we get the drift of her feelings. Then when they finally do connect it gets kind of sappy. Drew turns from a strong individual to a love sick calf pleading with Elizabeth to return his love. This after he all but told her she disgusted him.

There are also some little details which nagged at me. Drew was attracted to Lizzie’s curly hair (as it appeared in the past), yet in the self portrait Elizabeth’s hair is long and flowing down her back. In the Regency era, women wore their hair up, never down, in public. Then there is the motorboat that they used to go out on the lake late at night. At night? It must have been pitch black on the water, not exactly a safe adventure. Plus, it’s a motorboat whose engine would be quite loud – loud enough to wake up those in the houses overlooking the lake. It just didn’t make sense.

Despite the discrepancies, I did enjoy this novel and the next book in the Transcend Time Saga, Vegeance, looks to be even more interesting. I am guessing that if these first two volumes were combined into one book instead of two, there would have been enough plot material to have a more complete work. Madow was inspired by Taylor Swift’s music video “Love Story” which previewed in 2008. She should have stuck to the one connection. Instead, the author tried too hard to emulate Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice as a parallel novel to her story. Since Austin’s work originally had three volumes, perhaps the author wished to mirror this endeavor. My advice, chuck the comparison and go your own way. Three stars.

Please note: I was given a free download of this title in exchange for an honest review.

The One and Only by Emily Giffin

I wanted to label this book a contemporary romance with the title of The One and Only an indication of the topic, (although personally I would have called it My One and Only), but on second thought I feel that this novel by Emily Giffin is really a study of the various types of love an individual experiences in their life and how that love changes over time. In a way it is a coming of age story, even if the heroine is 33 years old.

The novel takes place on a college campus, Walker University, in Texas not too far from Dallas. The coach, Clive Carr, is a larger than life character in the Walker community (he was even offered a coaching job for the Buffalo Bills – declined due to the winter weather), but is suffering after the loss of his wife Connie to cancer. In play is his daughter Lucy plus his wife’s best friend and her daughter, Shea Rigsby – who was raised alongside Lucy almost as a sister. Giffin relates the story of the season following Connie’s death where the Walker football team plays its heart out for the grieving coach so they can give him the college championship which has alluded him for thirty five or so years. The new freshman player, Reggie, is the best thing to happen to the university since Quarterback Ryan James played for Walker and helped them win the Cotton Bowl. Ryan has had an amazing career and is one of the top quarterbacks of all time, playing for the Dallas Cowboys. These are the key players with some supplementary characters rounding out the crowd.

We learn all this from Shea, who tells her story in agonizing detail (she had to use a big spoon because the little ones were in the dishwasher). Over the year Shea examines the relationships in her life – her mom, her dad who lives in New York with his current wife and children, her former boyfriend Miller and her current boyfriend Ryan, her best friend Lucy, her affinity for football especially at Walker U, her talent for writing, and finally Coach.

From this point on I’m going to discuss the book as a whole with some spoilers, so if you want to be surprised, don’t peek.

It is obvious from the beginning that Shea has a thing for coach, even while she is hooking up with Ryan. This is a May/December romance which slowly develops throughout the book. I not not exaggerating, the process happens at an excruciatingly plodding pace. I listened to this book on tape, (exceedingly well read by Sophia Willingham) and with a total of twelve tapes, the two don’t express their feelings until tape 9, they kiss on tape 10 (and accidentally reveal their secret to Lucy), have a fight on tape 11 (with no make up sex – despite Shea’s attempts to get Coach in the bedroom) and finally at the end of tape 12 there is some sort of resolution, but again, no sex. So don’t expect fireworks throughout this book (although there is a provocative scene when Shea and Ryan hook up). The story is simply Shea’s journey as she discovers what she truly wants from life (as well as who she wants as key players in her future). It doesn’t necessarily go where the reader wants it to go and the conclusion is less than satisfying. Perhaps that is why I’ve heard rumblings of a sequel.

I have some advice for potential readers. First off, if you think football is a bore, skip this book. Second, if the idea that an older man could be attracted to a much younger woman (or vice versa) is abhorrent to you (especially if this relationship borders on the incestuous), choose a different book to read. However, if you are attracted to the idea of an unfolding romance or are curious how such a relationship might come about, then The One and Only is a perfect choice. I also highly recommend the recorded version. The novel starts slowly, but it builds our interest as we become invested in the characters. Perhaps I should refer to one of Coach Clive colloquialisms – it’s not the win, but everything that has gone before that goes into the game. So, it’s not how the book ends, but the build up to the conclusion which is important. It’s the idea of what Shea is willing to sacrifice for the sake of love and whose love she chooses over all others. Read the book to determine the answer.

Three and a half stars.

Half Dead, Fully Broken by Kevin Craig

What does it mean to be a twin? Is it this mystical connection which transcends time and space, even after death? When one hears of a tragic accident involving a teenager, we groan with dismay, but if we discover that the victim is also a twin, we cringe even more. It’s something about the idea of two beings who are almost one that gets us in the gut when they are torn apart, as if they were conjoined at the heart.

Kevin Craig uses this pull in his story Half Dead, Fully Broken. Identical twins Marcus and Carter Colby may look alike, but they are polar opposites. One is the popular guy while the other is the loser, almost as if they were the yin and yang symbols – only one can shine while the other is left out in the dark. The dominant twin (there always seems to be one who is the stronger of the two) convinces his brother that it’s too nice a day to walk to school – no, it’s the perfect day to get out the motorbike, nicknamed Rosie, and ride to school in style. Even though Marcus is the trustworthy one, he does something foolish that fateful day, run a red light and get smashed to smithereens by a pickup truck driven by fellow student, football captain Justin Dewar.

From the beginning our emotions are rent. Enter grieving girlfriend Melanie, devastated star athlete Justin, and forlorn twin Carter and the author creates an unlikely three musketeers. Only it’s not a trio, but a quartet, because Marcus still has a task to complete. He hangs around his bro, appearing and disappearing at will, offering the opportunity to “meld” into one (which includes super hero talents such as feats of flying, strength, and invisibility, as well as an ability to walk through walls). All these skills will be necessary if the three friends have any hope of finding some kind of normalcy in their lives.

This book is less than two hundred pages, yet it feels like more as the reader experiences the grief of family and friends. It is definitely not a feel good story. The narrative is told through the eyes of surviving twin Carter, although we are able to experience his newly found friends’ viewpoints through their IMs. The author cleverly has Carter be a novice with this communication device, so that some of the abbreviations can be explained to any nonsaavy reader.

To me, the technology seems old. How many kids still IM? This makes me wonder about the date of the setting. I know the location is in the US, but it must be somewhere up in the Northeast since the kids hang out at Tim Horton’s which they call Timmy’s. These coffee shops were started by the Buffalo Sabre’s Canadian hockey player, Tim Horton, who was tragically killed in a car accident (a coincidence?) so he didn’t live to see the successful development of his franchise throughout Canada and the bordering states. I live in WNY where Tim Horton’s is very popular (super competitive with Star Bucks and Duncan Donuts). I visit there all the time and nobody I know calls it Timmy’s, but then, I’m not a teenager.

While the premise of this book is intriguing, there is just something about it that I find off putting. Perhaps there should have been more character development, perhaps the plot could have been fuller, perhaps the ending was too abrupt. The chapters are super short and the book is under two hundred pages which would make it appropriate for those hard to please middle school students, especially since there is no graphic sex (just some handholding and a few kissing sequences). A theme dealing with the death of a high schooler might also make it appealing to older students. There is more introspection than action in the story, although the final results have the potential to be deadly. The author is contemplating a sequel and it would be interesting to see what happens next, especially since the book ends so quickly after the climatic sequence. So, if I am curious about the future of these characters, I guess I did like the book. However, I predict a preteen boy would like it much better. Three stars.

I would like to thank Curiosity Quills Press and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.