Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: Surprise Me

I love Sophie Kinsella and have been reading her for years. Her 2017 release, My Not So Perfect Life was one of my favourites of last year (you can read my review here if you missed it). Because I adored it so much, I had really high expectations for Surprise Me, which was released last week. I don't know if it was my high expectations, my mood (it wasn't great when I was reading it), or the book itself but...I did not like this book. 

Here's the synopsis:
After being together for ten years, Sylvie and Dan have all the trimmings of a happy life and marriage; they have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, beautiful twin girls, and communicate so seamlessly, they finish each other's sentences. However, a trip to the doctor projects they will live another 68 years together and panic sets in. They never expected "until death do us part" to mean seven decades.
In the name of marriage survival, they quickly concoct a plan to keep their relationship fresh and exciting: they will create little surprises for each other so that their (extended) years together will never become boring. But in their pursuit to execute Project Surprise Me, mishaps arise and secrets are uncovered that start to threaten the very foundation of their unshakable bond. When a scandal from the past is revealed that question some important untold truths, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other after all.
Obviously I'm a big reader and I read quickly. Otherwise I wouldn't have a blog nor would I make it through almost 100 books every year. Surprise Me though? Took me over a week to get through because I just didn't feel like getting back to it. I wasn't invested. Not a good thing for the book but I persevered because it was Kinsella.

I think my big problem with the book was I was bored. The story got itself set up and then...boredom. It just seemed like the same sort of things were happening. Sylvie and Dan tried to surprise each other and it went totally wrong. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. There was nothing new being added and it seemed like it was, dare I say it, sloppy storytelling.

I was also really frustrated with Sylvie and Dan. It reminded me of how I'd get annoyed with Becky in the Shopaholic series (and why I stopped reading them awhile back). I love chick lit and contemporary stories so humourous and awkward scenarios are common. Maybe it's just me but it drives me up the wall when the character is just so incredibly clueless and can't see what she's doing is totally bonkers.

That's not to say I disliked Sylvie and Dan. I really did like them. I'd love to have Sylvie as a friend and Dan seemed fantastic. But I just couldn't see why I was reading about them. They were just another couple facing a little bump in the road of marriage.

I did finally get interested at about 80% of the way through the story. Finally things were actually happening and Sylvie was becoming the woman I was sure she could be. Did the interest I had in the last part of the book make up for the boredom during the rest of it? No, not really. I'm happy with the way the story ended, I can say that much.

I'm so bummed I didn't love Sophie Kinsella's new book but my dislike of Surprise Me won't dissuade me from reading her books in the future. Have you read Kinsella's latest? What'd you think? I'd love to hear that other people disagree with me!

*An advanced copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Penguin Random House, via NetGalley. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Spotlight: A Week to Be Wild

Earlier this month Harlequin launched a new imprint - DARE. It features strong, independent women and sizzling hot heroes. DARE delivers riveting, irresistible romance stories featuring highly explicit sexual encounters, making it the publisher’s sexiest series ever. There will be four new titles to look forward to each month.

Today I'm featuring A Week to Be Wild by JC Harroway.

Here's what the novel is all about:
A daring game of temptationShe’ll play his game—but only by her rules!Alex Lancaster is an adrenaline junkie. He’s also a sexy British billionaire who should come with his own warning signs. When Libby insists she’s done with men who live on the edge, Alex coaxes her out of her comfort zone—professionally and very, very personally. Libby’s taking a high-stakes gamble, but the payoff could win her everything…
If you're intrigued, you're in luck because I have an excerpt for you! Enjoy!

The man occupying her thoughts swept up beside her on a cloud of freshly showered deliciousness, his hand taking a proprietorial hold of the back of her barstool and his smoky, heavy-lidded smile stripping her naked.


‘Hi.’ Libby closed her slack-jawed mouth and swivelled to face him, turning her back on the stranger, never one to pass up a golden opportunity. She hated rudeness, but if Beer Breath was too stubborn or thick-skulled to take the hint...

Alex kept his stare on her, his smile genuine and warm enough to melt her underwear clean off, and then signalled the waiter with a flick of his wrist.

Libby sensed the moment when Beer Breath slinked away, and the hairs on the back of her neck settled—but only temporarily, because Alex hadn’t taken his eyes off her. In fact, he was looking at her as if he was seconds from devouring her whole.

She shivered, delicious tendrils snaking to all her erogenous zones. ‘What are you doing here?’ Libby took a slug of her previously untouched drink, the burn calming her enough to meet his bold stare with one of her own.

‘I came to invite you out for a late supper. I was on my way to Reception and then I spotted you here.’ His hand slid from the back of her stool, and he settled into the one next to her, passing his order to the waiter before returning his disconcerting focus to her.

She stared back, lost for words and missing the proximity of his hand on her chair. He was close enough that his warmth traversed the space between them, but far enough away that she battled her body’s urge to sway closer. And keep on swaying.

‘What?’ One corner of his mouth kicked up. ‘What kind of host would I be if I left you to fend for yourself on your first night in a strange city?’

She couldn’t help the snort that left her. ‘The non-stalker kind...?’

He took the jibe with a cocksure arch of one brow, sipping wine while his poised stare flicked over her face from feature to feature.

Libby flushed hot all over. The ‘stalker’ comment had been beneath her. He hadn’t once touched her, hadn’t bought her drink, hadn’t tried to grab her phone, hadn’t even chased away her unwanted admirer—he had simply given her the out she’d wanted. The rest was all her.

What was wrong with her? Rudeness to a generous host and influential employer? All because he’d awoken needs within her? Needs too long dormant. Needs she’d never had before. Needs threatening to overwhelm her in their intensity.

Hardly his fault.

Add to your TBR list: Goodreads

Available at: Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | iTunes

Connect with JC: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub

Learn more about the new imprint:

To celebrate the launch, Harlequin is offering one (1) lucky winner a $50 Amazon Gift Card! To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below:

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: An American Marriage

I'll be honest. I have absolutely no idea how to start this review for An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Other than telling you I don't know how to review it. Did I find myself thinking of it often when I wasn't reading it? Yes. Was I emotionally invested? Yes, if my breaking heart was any indication. Was it good? Yes...I think so? Did I like it? Well, you've got me there. I don't actually know if I could say that I liked it. See my problem with reviewing it? Oh, and in case you missed it last week when the novel was released, Oprah has picked this book for her next book club pick!

Let's get to the synopsis while I try to gather my thoughts:
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
The part of the book that takes place while Roy is in prison is written entirely in letters. Mostly between Celestial and Roy but also between Roy and other characters. The thing with the letters is that you know you're not getting the whole story about any of the characters. You can sense Celestial is drifting away and that Roy isn't telling her what it's really like for him in prison. I think that this works, for the most part, because it sort of makes it seem like time has stopped. For Roy it essentially has. So, when he gets out and the story goes back to alternating first person points of view, it's jarring to realize that time has not stopped and many things have changed. 

I found myself getting a bit frustrated with Roy, which is probably really unfair. I don't know what it's like to be in prison. I can imagine it's really hard to remind yourself that nothing will be the same as when you went in no matter how many visits and letters you've had with your loved ones. Roy couldn't grasp that. He expected Celestial to walk back into his arms like nothing had happened just because she was his wife. As if the bonds of marriage could withstand five years of one partner being in prison for something he didn't do. He placed a lot of hope in tiny gestures (or non-gestures) and it drove me a bit crazy because I knew it would end in heartbreak for him. 

Celestial, for her part, did not have it easy. She was so conflicted and that really came through in Jones' writing. Could she abandon her husband who was in prison? Wouldn't that be just another blow to his already broken down soul? Did she have to go back to him when he was free just because they were still married? Was what she was feeling with Andre convenience or the real thing? Was it ever real with Roy? I bet you're confused just reading that. That's just a fraction of the pain I was feeling for Celestial and that was only a fraction of what she would have been feeling. (It's no joke when they say readers are empathetic!) 

You might spend a good chunk of the time you spend reading An American Marriage wondering what you'd do if you were in Celestial and Roy's positions. It's easy to stand back and preach when it's not your life. I liked that Jones had many of the other characters (family of Celestial and Roy for the most part) have dissenting opinions. I don't know if any of them really stood 100% behind any of the decisions the couple made, not from before they got married to during Roy's incarceration to after he was freed.

An American Marriage was a good read even if I'm not sure I liked it and it was a difficult storyline. Tayari Jones' latest novel is a worthwhile read - perhaps for your next book club meeting!

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the distributor, Thomas Allen & Son, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Friday, February 9, 2018

Blog Tour: About That Kiss

About That Kiss might just be my favourite Heartbreaker Bay book (so far). Is that OK to say? Am I allowed to play favourites? I've read three others (two of which I reviewed, here and here) and all three were Christmassy themed - usually something I absolutely love. But there was just a little something about Jill Shalvis' latest book that put it above the rest.

Here's the synopsis:
When love drives you crazy . . .When sexy Joe Malone never calls after their explosive kiss, Kylie shoves him out of her mind. Until she needs a favor, and it’s a doozy. Something precious to her has been stolen and there’s only one person with unique finder-and-fixer skills that can help—Joe. It means swallowing her pride and somehow trying to avoid the temptation to throttle him—or seduce him.
the best thing to do . . .No, Joe didn’t call after the kiss. He’s the fun time guy, not the forever guy. And Kylie, after all she’s been through, deserves a good man who will stay. But everything about Kylie makes it damned hard to focus, and though his brain knows what he has to do, his heart isn’t getting the memo.
… is enjoy the ride.As Kylie and Joe go on the scavenger hunt of their lives, they discover surprising things about each other. Now, the best way for them to get over “that kiss” might just be to replace it with a hundred more. 
I think what I liked more about this novel than the others in the series I've read so far is that the other storyline (and by that I mean not the romance) was really strong and interesting. Of course I wanted Kylie and Joe to get together because clearly they had crazy strong feelings for each other. But I was just as invested in them getting to the bottom of the mystery. 

The mystery - and the scavenger hunt they have to go on - has more than a hint of danger and that helped amp up the emotions the characters were having (and, if I'm honest, that I was having too!). I liked that I really had no idea who was behind it and the ending came as a surprise. That being said, I'm not sure if I love who the culprit was...there didn't seem to be enough of a connection made. I understand it but only because I think I filled in the gaps Shalvis didn't quite do herself.

Kylie and Joe were both such genuinely good people (even though they would both disagree with that statement). You can tell by the way they treat those closest to them, whether it's friends or family. And they treat those people extremely well. They're just super hard on themselves and part of that comes from their respective childhoods. Neither of them had it easy and you can also tell that they worked hard to get where they are today. You have to admire and respect that. Plus, Kylie is totally kickass and a strong woman and I loved her.

About That Kiss had a little bit of everything - drama, romance, mystery, and even some literal laugh out loud moments - which made it an entertaining read for me. Jill Shalvis writes romances well and this series is a great one to pick up if you want to jump into a series. You don't have read them in order though. Feel free to hop into any Heartbreaker Bay book that catches your eye...but you'll probably want to read them all and get to know the great group of friends Shalvis has created!

About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is, um, mostly coincidental. Look for Jill’s bestselling, award-winning books wherever romances are sold and visit her website, www.jillshalvis.com, for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.

Connect with Jill
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * Pinterest * Tumblr * Goodreads *

Buy About That Kiss
Amazon * IndieBound * Barnes & Noble * Books-A-Million * iBooks * GooglePlay

*An eARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, HarperCollins, in exchange for a review for the purpose of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, February 5, 2018

Review: Things to Do When It's Raining

I always love finding Canadian authors who write the kinds of stories I like to read (ie not the old guard Canlit that doesn't interest me very much) so when I read Marissa Stapley's first novel, Mating for Life, almost four years ago I was thrilled (read my review here if you missed it). Finally, another Canadian author who writes well and tells a wonderful story. Fast forward a few years and I was impatiently waiting for Stapley's next novel - after meeting her at several bookish events over that time period. She's as wonderful a person as she is a writer (I'm always so happy when that turns out to be the case). As for her second novel, Things to Do When It's Raining? I didn't want to put it down.

Here's the synopsis:
When secrets tear love apart, can the truth mend it?
Mae Summers and Gabriel Broadbent grew up together in the idyllic Summers’ Inn, perched at the edge the St. Lawrence river. Mae was orphaned at the age of six and Gabe needed protection from his alcoholic father, so both were raised under one roof by Mae’s grandparents, Lilly and George. A childhood friendship quickly developed into a first love—a love that was suddenly broken by Gabe’s unexpected departure. Mae grew up, got over her heartbreak, and started a life for herself in New York City.
After more than a decade, Mae and Gabe find themselves pulled back to Alexandria Bay. Hoping to find solace within the Summers’ Inn, Mae instead finds her grandparents in the midst of decline and their past unravelling around her. A lifetime of secrets stand in the way of this unconventional family’s happiness. Will they be able to reclaim the past and come together, or will they remain separate islands?
From the bestselling author of Mating for Life comes a powerful story about guilt, forgiveness and the truth about families: that we can choose them, just as we choose to love.
If you've read Stapley's first novel, you'll know that she writes family dramas really, really well. Her second novel solidifies that. This story isn't just about Mae and Gabe. Nor does it focus solely on Lilly and George. It weaves a tale of two families with issues and secrets just like any other. OK, maybe they're not just like any other but I suppose that's what makes this story more interesting than others could be. Gabe and Mae didn't have the most ideal childhoods - for two totally different reasons - but they had each other, as well as Mae's grandparents, who were doing the best they could after their daughter and son-in-law died.

This isn't the easiest story to read because there's a lot of heartbreak throughout the pages. Most of the heartbreak comes from many characters being abandoned - either because of a death or because another character had (or "had") to leave. At the beginning, these characters don't handle the abandonment well at all. And you can't really expect them to either. Grief is a process and Things to Do When It's Raining allows the reader to work through the characters' grief right along with them. That's sometimes uncomfortable and I didn't always love it but I know that's what makes this book so good.

Some people may find they can't connect to the characters in this novel or that they just plain don't like them. I actually had that thought flit through my head as I was reading it. I quickly dismissed it because I think connecting with a character can look very different depending on the book. And I think readers, women reading women especially, are still conditioned to believe that we have to like every character we read. But guess what? We don't. We certainly don't like every person we come across, do we? But just because there might be a so-called connection lacking doesn't mean it's not a good character. Stapley's characters are going through a lot and, as someone who just lost her grandmother recently, I know it is not easy to be likeable while you're grieving. These characters are all deeply flawed but they are real.

Things to Do When It's Raining was a well-written and captivating family drama. Marissa Stapley has proven herself to be a master in the genre (if we want to call it that and I think I will) and I already can't wait for her next book.

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Introducing Harlequin DARE

Harlequin has launched a new imprint - DARE! It will feature strong, independent women and sizzling hot heroes. DARE will deliver riveting, irresistible romance stories featuring highly explicit sexual encounters, making it the publisher’s sexiest series ever. Look for four new titles each month.

Sexy. Passionate. Bold.

Here are the details for the first four books being published by the new imprint today. And make sure you scroll all the way down to the end of the post - you'll be rewarded!

Legal Seduction by Lisa Childs is a Contemporary Romance and is part of the Legal Lovers series.

Add to your TBR list: Goodreads

Available at: Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | iTunes

Connect with Lisa: Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub

Off Limits by Clare Connelly is a Contemporary Romance.

Add to your TBR list: Goodreads

Available For FREE at: Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Connect with Clare: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub

Ruled by Anne Marsh is a Contemporary Romance and is part of the Hard Riders MC series.

Add to your TBR list: Goodreads

Available at: Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo

Connect with Ann: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub

A Week to Be Wild by JC Harroway is a Contemporary Romance.

Add to your TBR list: Goodreads

Available at: Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | iTunes

Connect with JC: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub

Check back on Tuesday, February 13 as I review one of the four titles, A Week to Be Wild by JC Harroway. It sounds like a perfect pre-Valentine's Day read!

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