Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Review: Dangerous Exes

I love a good romance. I won't shame anyone for reading those types of novels because they can be so rewarding and so much fun. Sooo, it's a bit disappointing when a book isn't so fun. I read Rachel Van Dyken's Dirty Exes earlier this year (you can check out my review here in case you missed it) and found it enjoyable enough. I decided to give the sequel, Dangerous Exes, a try - if nothing else to see what Blaire, Isla, Colin, and Jessie were up to since the last book wrapped. It was a fine book but it wasn't anything special, unfortunately.

Here's the synopsis:
Isla made one teeny little mistake. Now she and her PI company, Dirty Exes, are being targeted by one seriously angry and furiously sexy ex-quarterback. Jessie freakin’ Beckett. But there’s no way some NFL superhunk is going to take her business away. If only he didn’t make her so hot—and bothered.
Jessie wants payback for a ruined reputation. His plan? Top secret. His hard-to-hide arousal for Isla? Not so much. Especially when they let down their guards and sneak a kiss. Like any juicy scandal, it goes so viral, so fast, that only a good lie can combat the bad press. Mortal enemies in a fling? No way. Um…this is love!
Actually…could it be?
Isla’s not faking it. Jessie can’t. As the game of let’s pretend gets real, Jessie forgets all about revenge. That’s the problem. His plan is already out of his control. Now it could undo everything they’ve been trying to build. Coming clean may be the only thing that can save it.
I had a few issues with the way the first book in the Liars Inc. series was written but it wasn't a deal-breaker. While reading the second, though? It bugged me a bit more. It was sometimes too stream-of-consciousness and choppy which made it look poorly written, when I don't actually think Van Dyken is a bad writer. I'm sure it's really hard to find that balance of getting in the characters' heads and relaying what they're thinking and having a well structured novel. I love first person, and don't mind when points of view alternate as in these books, but something about the way these books are written just didn't work for me.

I also had a really hard time understanding what was happening and who was lying to who. I don't think I really understood why Jessie was trying to destroy Isla's PI business especially when his best friend, Colin, was dating the other partner, Blair, who, coincidentally, was Jessie's ex. It just made Jessie seem like the world's largest asshole and so I struggled with understanding how Isla could fall for him.

A note: I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority with not loving (or even liking) this book as Dangerous Exes has over a 4 star rating on Goodreads. So do with that what you will :)

There's not really a whole lot else I can (or care to) say about Dangerous Exes. Rachel Van Dyken's book was a very "meh" for me and, all in all, will probably be forgotten sooner rather than later. Too bad because I think I could like her stories a lot more than I have so far.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the Canadian distributor, Thomas Allen & Son. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Review: The Plus One

The Plus One, the debut novel from Sophia Money-Coutts, was an absolutely delightful, laugh out loud rom com for my generation. We're the ones who were a bit too young for Bridget Jones and Becky Bloomwood when each series started but read them anyway. Polly Spencer, Money-Coutts' heroine, is also English and gets herself in almost as many scraps as Bridget and Becky did. The result? A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Here's the synopsis:
The Plus One [n] informal a person who accompanies an invited person to a wedding or a reminder of being single, alone and absolutely plus none
Polly’s not looking for ‘the one’, just the plus one…
Polly Spencer is fine. She’s single, turning thirty and only managed to have sex twice last year (both times with a Swedish banker called Fred), but seriously, she’s fine. Even if she’s still stuck at Posh! magazine writing about royal babies and the chances of finding a plus one to her best friend’s summer wedding are looking worryingly slim.
But it’s a New Year, a new leaf and all that. Polly’s determined that over the next 365 days she’ll remember to shave her legs, drink less wine and generally get her s**t together. Her latest piece is on the infamous Jasper, Marquess of Milton, undoubtedly neither a plus one nor ‘the one’. She’s heard the stories, there’s no way she’ll succumb to his charms…
I read this book in one day and the majority of it was read on a train on the way to and from a book event. Normally my train ride isn't too bad but I knew it would be longer than usual due to construction (ugh..the worst). I barely noticed. I was that engrossed in this story. 

Now, all that gushing aside, this is not the world's best book. The story is solid but there were times where I felt Money-Coutts rushed through scenes. For example, Polly and Jasper head to the country for a weekend. There were two significant and fleshed out scenes but the rest of the weekend was entirely skipped over. It was like, Arrival. Scene 1. Scene 2. Departure. With no mention of the in-between. It's a hard thing to explain and you probably can't totally understand but basically, the writing wasn't super smooth.

Polly was really unsure about her best friend's boyfriend from the start so, the reader was also unsure of him. But after the engagement it was like he wasn't an issue any longer (which I suppose I can understand because most people wouldn't say anything negative about a fiancĂ© as the relationship then is a wee bit more permanent) and Polly stopped being wary of him and the relationship. It was odd and sort of unresolved in the end. 

As I said at the start, Polly and her life reminded me a lot of the good ol' days of chick lit. She had a lot in common with Bridget Jones which I really enjoyed. Probably because a lot of women have a lot more in common with Bridget than we think. Polly is smart and realizing her life has become a bit...stuck. She's not unhappy but she's pretty sure she could be happier. Somehow. And she's also a hot mess of a 30 year old and really enjoying getting pissed with her friends, even if the hangovers are way worse than when she was 20 (I'm also speaking from experience here...). She's close with her mum, which I loved, and has a really solid group of friends. But her life is missing some romance - which is the whole point of this story.

So. The romance. I thought I knew where Money-Coutts was going with it. Then I wasn't sure. I flipped back to the original thinking but then she change things up again. I loved it. I'm really glad the Happily Ever After wasn't completely obvious from the outset because it allowed me to be surprised right alongside Polly. I'm also thrilled with how it all ended up!

Chick lit fans need to read The Plus One. Sophia Money-Coutts has written a really enjoyable, fun, and smart rom-com, one which will really appeal to older Millennials like me. I'm looking forward to seeing what Money-Coutts' second novel is like.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, HarperCollins Canada. in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Review: Until the Last Star Fades

I already knew Jacquelyn Middleton is wonderfully skilled at creating characters and stories that can find their way into your heart and stick there. I loved her London series (London Belongs to Me is the first and London Can You Wait?, which I reviewed here, is the second) and wondered if she could create even more characters I would fall in love with. Short answer? Oh, yes. She definitely could. Until the Last Star Fades is just wonderful.

Here's the synopsis:
Touching, heartfelt and passionate, UNTIL THE LAST STAR FADES blurs the line between slow-burn romance and women's fiction, and is a must-read for hopeful romantics, devoted daughters, and the moms they cherish.
In her senior year at NYU, Riley Hope appears to be on top of the world. With a loving mother who makes Lorelai Gilmore look like a parenting slacker, ride-or-die friends, and a long-time boyfriend destined for the National Hockey League, she puts on a smile for the world. But behind it, she’s drowning. Racked with fears for the future, she battles to stay afloat amid life in the shadows of a heartbreaking illness.
And then, Ben Fagan comes crashing into her life. Twenty-three-years-old, British, and alone in the Big Apple after a disastrous pilot season in LA, the struggling actor is looking for an escape: booze, mischief, sex—minimum commitment, maximum fun—anything to avoid returning across the pond.
As they form an unlikely bond, Riley keeps her reality from Ben so that he remains a happy refuge. But how long can she hold back the truth…and is Ben keeping his own secrets, too?
From the award-winning author of LONDON BELONGS TO ME and LONDON, CAN YOU WAIT?, comes a bittersweet story about love, loss, sacrifice, and the life-changing decisions we make.
I'm going to start with the one (and basically only) thing I didn't like about the book. I didn't like that Riley was dating someone else at the start of it. I don't care that she wasn't happy and wasn't (exactly) crushing on Ben when she first met him. It just left me with a bit of an icky feeling since I knew she'd somehow be ending up with Ben (that's not a spoiler - you know how a contemporary story like this is going to end from the get go) and I wasn't sure how it was going to go. Did everything go the way it was meant to? Yes, but that doesn't change how not-ok I felt knowing what would have to happen to get the soulmates together. Is it a deal-breaker? Absolutely not. It may even be a really personal thing but it's a thing I didn't love and I needed to mention it.

BUT. The rest of it? Oh so lovely.

Middleton really shone a light on depression in this book and I am so here for it. It's a necessary thing to talk about in real life and to read about in novels. I know some people got frustrated with Alex's anxiety in her other books which, in turn, frustrates me. We read, in part, to see things from other people's perspectives. And reading books where the main character has a mental health issue is so important.

To build on the above, I love that Middleton is able to create characters who are so real and are dealing with real issues. Until the Last Star Fades isn't a super lighthearted read - the synopsis doesn't mention one of the most heartbreaking parts of the story so I won't mention it either - but it manages to have so much love and hope that you can endure the really hard moments. None of the characters she created is having an especially easy time of it (quite the opposite, really) but they have each other. But oh my word. The emotional gut punches Middleton throws at you will have you reaching for your favourite people for a huge hug.

I wouldn't call this book a romance even though a major plot point in the story is Riley and Ben realizing that they've been stupid and should stop fighting their feelings because they totally belong together. (Ahem. I might feel strongly about this.) This book is about so much more than their love story. Both Riley and Ben had to figure out their own shit problems before they were going to be any good to each other and I think that's why the slow burn of their relationship totally works. They couldn't have hopped right into a relationship because it would have failed. Seeing the two of them evolve and grow as people is almost more satisfying than a romantic Happily Ever After. Almost. (I love me some romance.)

Bonus: those who have read Middleton's other novels will love that Mark and Alex make a cameo in this novel!

Until the Last Star Fades is one of those books that my review just won't do it justice. I recommend picking up Jacquelyn Middleton's latest novel - just out today! - and diving into a story that will pull all your heartstrings and leave you thinking about it long after you finish it. It will make you laugh, swoon, and probably cry but that's ok. The best books are those that make you feel all the feels and Middleton's latest is no exception.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the author in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Review: Whiskey in a Teacup

If you had told me 17 years ago if the woman on screen playing a sorority girl turned law student would write a book I would then read, I would probably doubt you. But Reese Witherspoon has done it. Whiskey in a Teacup is a lifestyle book that celebrates her Southern roots and gives readers a glimpse into her life.

Here's the description of the book:
Academy award-winning actress, producer, and entrepreneur Reese Witherspoon invites you into her world, where she infuses the southern style, parties, and traditions she loves with contemporary flair and charm.
Reese Witherspoon’s grandmother Dorothea always said that a combination of beauty and strength made southern women “whiskey in a teacup.” We may be delicate and ornamental on the outside, she said, but inside we’re strong and fiery.
Reese’s southern heritage informs her whole life, and she loves sharing the joys of southern living with practically everyone she meets. She takes the South wherever she goes with bluegrass, big holiday parties, and plenty of Dorothea’s fried chicken. It’s reflected in how she entertains, decorates her home, and makes holidays special for her kids—not to mention how she talks, dances, and does her hair (in these pages, you will learn Reese’s fail-proof, only slightly insane hot-roller technique). Reese loves sharing Dorothea’s most delicious recipes as well as her favourite southern traditions, from midnight barn parties to backyard bridal showers, magical Christmas mornings to rollicking honky-tonks.
It’s easy to bring a little bit of Reese’s world into your home, no matter where you live. After all, there’s a southern side to every place in the world, right?
I feel the need to start by saying I am a Reese Witherspoon fan. I enjoy her movies (Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama are two movies that I will have to sit and watch if I happen to come across them on TV) and think she's a decent person from what I can tell from my perch as a normal human (compared to her celebrity status). This book is very clearly going to be for people who like her and her work as I think the charm of the book would be totally lost on someone who doesn't know much about her or care about her and her work.

You have to wonder why, exactly, it was decided that Witherspoon needed to write a book. The really cynical part of me knows it's simply to make money. Witherspoon is having a bit of a comeback after her early acting success. She has a retail brand (Draper James), a production company (Hello Sunshine), and a kick-ass book club (most of her picks are great and varied) so she has a strong brand to make a lifestyle book a success. Plus, she's adorably Southern and proud to be so which seems to be a bit different than most of the Hollywood stars these days.

The book isn't super well written but it's more conversational so you don't really notice that it's not the best writing you've ever seen. (Of course, I may be a pot calling a kettle black because I'm sure as hell not the best writer sometimes.) I also have to admit that when I think to myself, "Why did she think she could write a book?" I have an image of Elle Woods saying, "What? Like it's hard?"

This book is very much like a perfectly curated Instagram account. Everything is so shiny and picture-perfect. For example, I, like many others of my generation, know that Witherspoon was married to Ryan Phillippe and it....didn't end well. I also know she had a bunch of films that also didn't do well (during the same time period. I doubt that's a coincidence). But all of that is glossed over in the book. The only time she references anything that was less than perfect was when she was discussing her wedding and mentions how, "real talk" she's had two. Does it matter that the book is shinier than real life really is? No, I don't think so. I don't read books like this because I think it perfectly represents real life. We like seeing pretty things and focusing on the good in life and reading this book was a fun little escape for me.

My favourite part? When Witherspoon discussed her love of books and her book club. I really think she's helping bring the stories I love into the spotlight and helping many authors get some much-deserved recognition. What can I say? I have a soft spot for my fellow bookworms. I also think I'll be investigating the book club recipes a bit more closely than some of the other recipes in the book. (And yes, I'm aware the below aren't really "recipes" but they're most excellent components for a great book club meeting. I'm also not a fan of cooking so easy = key!)

Whiskey in a Teacup was a fun escape and a glimpse into the life of a Hollywood starlet. Reese Witherspoon has written and compiled a book that allows her Southern charm and personality to shine. Her fans will love flipping through the pages and learning more about her.

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