Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review: #Awestruck

Sometimes I need to read every book in a series, even if it's only semi-connected with new characters every book. And sometimes I just dive right in to a series without a care in the world for what came before. Sariah Wilson's #Awestruck was one of the ones where I jumped in with absolutely no knowledge of the rest of the books in the #Lovestruck series (though, honestly, I'm not even sure I knew there was a series and, after reading about it, it seems very unrelated character-wise). The lack of prior knowledge of the series was not at all a problem and I enjoyed meeting the couple Wilson created and following along as the romance grew. Then exploded. And then turned into a HEA. Hey, it's a romance - you know there will be a Happily Ever After!

Here's the synopsis:
A sweet all-American story of love and revenge.
Ambitious intern Ashton Bailey is about to get closer to her dream of being a sports announcer. All she has to do is prove that too-perfect-to-be-true NFL quarterback Evan Dawson isn’t quite as wholesome as his contract requires. It’s also the perfect opportunity to get delicious payback on the boy who broke her teenage heart. At least that’s her plan. But she forgot just how easy it is to crush on the irresistible charmer. #OhNoNotAgain.
Evan has a knack for getting through the opposing team’s defenses, and he won’t let this tall, redheaded knockout be the exception. He’s determined to make things right between them and earn back Ashton’s trust—and maybe her heart, too.
Then the press mistakenly announces their engagement, and Ashton and Evan find themselves going along with the lie. Now the whole world is watching as Ashton flirts with attraction and disaster. But while revenge is sweet, it just might come at the cost of something sweeter still.
I knew what kind of story I was expecting when I picked up #Awestruck. A fun romance with that will ramp up before a huge problem derails the couple (who may only be pretending to be a couple but OF COURSE they're falling in love with each other) but then all is well at the end because they've realized they can't live with each other. And that's exactly what kind of story I got! It was just the type of book I needed on a Saturday after a busy week of vacation and, gasp, no reading.

What I didn't know for sure is if I would like the characters and their romance. I liked Ashton. She loves sports and had a smart and sassy personality. And she played basketball! A girl after my own heart. I was totally Team Ashton and therefore not a fan of Evan because he had broken her heart 10 years prior. He didn't make it easier on himself when he stopped by Ashton's intramural basketball game (I LOVED that she still played ball) and says, on page 46:
"Great game! Really intense. You played so well. And I usually hate women's basketball."
Um. Excuse me? No. Fuck no. You do not get to insult women's sports. I'm actually kind of pissed Wilson put that in her story of a young woman trying to make it in such a male dominated industry. It's a throwaway line that doesn't need to be in there but it's something that coloured the entire rest of the book for me.

I did like that it was kind of a second chance romance. I mean, Evan never had any romantic feelings for Ashton - she was 13 to his 18, that would just be wrong - but they had a solid friendship foundation that was really fun to watch grow again after they reconnected.

All in all, #Awestruck gave me the romance story I needed - interesting, easy to read, and just the right hint of steamy (though I'd be interested to see what Sariah Wilson could do with a romance where the hero is not a virgin). It was a great way to spend a lovely summer Saturday afternoon.

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Review: The Victory Garden

If you take a look at the historical fiction titles I read, you'll realize I tend to gravitate towards novels set in and around each of the World Wars. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because there are just so many of them written (and is that because people are interested or because it's easier to write about something so dramatic and relatively close in time?). Or perhaps there's just something about that time period that draws me in. Therefore, The Victory Garden was immediately intriguing. I had heard of victory gardens before so I was interested to see how Rhys Bowen weaved them into her novel. Overall I was a bit disappointed in this one but it provided yet another perspective of World War I so I'm glad to have read it.

Here's the synopsis:
As the Great War continues to take its toll, headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.
When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It’s here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden. The journals inspire Emily, and in the wake of devastating news, they are her saving grace. Emily’s lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified—and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.
As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny.
In terms of a historical novel where I'm learning what it would have been like for people living through WWI, The Victory Garden succeeded. Bowen hit on what the poor, the rich, the fighting, and the wounded had to go through. It wasn't particularly an in-depth look, of course, but I feel like she really got the feel of the time right.

Bowen was able to write this story in such a way that I really felt what Emily was going through. I was frustrated when she was, heartbroken when she was, and I was so proud of her for being strong and standing up for what she believed in - love and the war (at least I felt these things early on - but more on my issues with Emily later). She was determined to do her bit and couldn't understand why her parents wouldn't let her do something of importance. Yes, they had lost a son but their coddling of her was keeping a willing and able young woman from assisting with the war efforts.

But apart from that? I struggled with this book. Emily was pretty snobbish, even with all of her "why does it matter if he's a poor farmer from Australia?" talk about Robbie, her pilot beau. I actually wanted to throw the book across the room near-ish the end when she's talking with Lady Charlton, the old woman whose gardens Emily and her friends are tending. Lady Charlton is well off as was Emily - and her family - before she left home. I admit I can't remember the specifics and I didn't mark the page, but essentially Emily thinks that she wants to move back home/into a house with her childhood friend because she wants to be with her own kind - rich, "educated" people. I couldn't believe how shallow she was and how easily she seemed to be dismissing the amazing and loyal friends she had made while working as a land girl. And the implied HEA she got? Seemed a bit too perfect. Harrumph.

And as much as I liked that we got to see Emily working in different areas of the war efforts - as a land girl and tending gardens at large homes - the whole story felt a bit disjointed. It was also pretty slow paced.

All in all, The Victory Garden was not for me. Rhys Bowen didn't write a bad book, just one that I wasn't fully invested in. I think the idea was a good one but it got a bit lost in the actual execution.

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

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Review: Say You Still Love Me

Fact: I will always love whatever K.A. Tucker writes. I've been reading her books for so long now that I can't imagine not falling in love with the characters and world she creates. That might make me a bit biased these days but it's the truth. She is, and always will be, one of my favourite authors (both because of the amazing books she writes and because she's such a lovely person). And because she's a favourite and an auto-read (and usually auto-buy but my wallet usually has more to say about it than I'd like), I knew I'd want to read Say You Still Love Me as soon as I heard about it. So much so that, confession time, I actually had no idea what the book was about before I dove in. And, oh boy, did I ever dive. I didn't want to put it down.

Here's the synopsis:
Life is a mixed bag for Piper Calloway.
On the one hand, she’s a twenty-nine-year-old VP at her dad’s multibillion-dollar real estate development firm, and living the high single life with her two best friends in a swanky downtown penthouse. On the other hand, she’s considered a pair of sexy legs in a male-dominated world and constantly has to prove her worth. Plus, she’s stuck seeing her narcissistic ex-fiancĂ©—a fellow VP—on the other side of her glass office wall every day.
Things get exponentially more complicated for Piper when she runs into Kyle Miller—the handsome new security guard at Calloway Group Industries, and coincidentally the first love of her life.
The guy she hasn’t seen or heard from since they were summer camp counsellors together. The guy from the wrong side of the tracks. The guy who apparently doesn’t even remember her name.
Piper may be a high-powered businesswoman now, but she soon realizes that her schoolgirl crush is not only alive but stronger than ever, and crippling her concentration. What’s more, despite Kyle’s distant attitude, she’s convinced their reunion isn’t at all coincidental, and that his feelings for her still run deep. And she’s determined to make him admit to them, no matter the consequences.
Second chance romances are my favourite (yep, I'm a broken record and you'll continue to hear that from me until I can no longer flail about books) so Say You Still Love Me was right up my alley. What I liked about Tucker's approach to the trope was that the relationship began at summer camp (so, hello, perfect for summer) and it featured characters who were from two very different worlds.

The other thing Tucker did with this novel and the second chance trope was tell it in two time periods. There was a chapter in the present ("Now") and then a chapter from 2006 ("Then") when Piper and Kyle were both counsellors at summer camp. Each chapter moved forward in time and, slowly but surely, the story came together and all the little mysteries (what happened to their friend from camp? Why did they break up?) were solved.

Another of my all-time favourite authors is Sarah Dessen. She writes strictly contemporary YA novels (the only kind of YA I'll read these days and even then only from specific authors) and I've been reading them since I was about 15. Her books often take place in the summer because she sees the season as a transformative one where absolutely anything can happen. Once I got thinking about Tucker's latest and all of Dessen's books, I realized something. Say You Still Love Me is what would happen if Dessen's characters grew up and we got to see what they were up to years after a magical, life-changing summer. No wonder I loved it so much.

Three side notes. The first, I love this cover. Just love it. It reminds me of where I grew up and the docks and trees that are found all over the bay. The second is I'm fairly certain Tucker referenced one of her own books in a very sneaky fashion. Piper catches Kyle reading a thriller and its cover features a blurred person with their palm pressed against a pain of glass. Sound familiar? Third, Kyle changes his last name to Stewart, which was his mom's name. I did the same thing when I turned 18. And the name I changed it to? Stewart.

I'm not sure if this book will get bumped to the top of my favourite of Tucker's books - and I can't quite put my finger on why. I thought it was a unique story (yes, there were tropes but Tucker used them well and put her own spin on it) and the characters were interesting (I loved that Piper was smart and kicking ass in the corporate world) and had chemistry. It was still really, really good though and one I'd highly recommend for the second half of your summer (it takes place in part at summer camp, of course you want to read it in the summer).

Say You Still Love Me is yet another wonderful novel from K.A. Tucker. She knows how to write real, angsty, and interesting novels and I always look forward to them. I'm a bit jealous of all of you who haven't read this one yet because you have such a treat to look forward to. I, on the other hand, am already impatiently waiting for what Tucker writes next!

*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.*

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Review: Discretion

It is a happy, happy day in my world when Karina Halle has a new book out. Discretion is her latest and, unlike the majority of her books, has been traditionally published. I wasn't exactly thinking about how the book might be different than her self-published titles but I realized after devouring finishing it that it was true Halle, through and through and I am so thankful the publisher didn't mess with her signature steamy angst that I've come to love.

Here's the synopsis:
From New York Times bestselling author Karina Halle comes a delicious saga of wealth, luxury, and scandal—and the wicked secrets of success behind an envied family dynasty.
The Riviera means indulgence—if you’ve got money. For Sadie Reynolds, a down-on-her-luck student, the Riviera means dingy hostels and back streets. When a wrong turn puts her in jeopardy, the last thing she expects is to be saved by the most handsome stranger she’s ever locked eyes with. When she later wakes up in a luxury suite with a Mediterranean view, she’s in the tender care of her rescuer: Olivier Dumont, France’s most eligible bachelor, billionaire hotelier, and heir to the Dumont fashion fortune.
Olivier also owns his reputation for scandal. But Sadie is unlike any woman he’s ever met. Her humble persona and wild innocence promise real passion. He’s promising Sadie something too: anything she wants. From Bordeaux to Cannes to Paris, Sadie’s past in America is swept away and replaced with a fantasy too good to be true.
Pulled into Olivier’s orbit of wealth, glamour, and excess, Sadie discovers that the Dumont dynasty comes with a legacy of wicked secrets. And Olivier’s secrets may be the most damning of all…
On the one hand, I am PUMPED that Discretion has kicked off a new series from Halle. I loved it and want more. Lots more. I was not ready to say goodbye to this family and all of the secrets that are still hidden. On the other I have to wait to find out what happens next! And there are so many secrets that still needs to be unravelled. Luckily, we only have to wait until November for the second book, Disarm. It will feature Olivier's adopted sister and their cousin.

So, obviously, if I'm that psyched about a sequel, I clearly adored this book. Halle delivered her usual angsty romance in a BIG way and I was completely committed to Olivier and Sadie's relationship. I liked that, while they were immediately attracted to one another, they took it slow and really found respect for one another before jumping into bed together. Both Olivier and Sadie were, in a way, running from something - Olivier from a deal he signed with his uncle a decade prior (and I have THOUGHTS on that deal but can't spoil it) and Sadie from a recently broken heart and her reality back in Seattle - and they were so wary of the feelings they were having for each other. And those feelings? Hoo boy, they were smokin' hot. 

Even though there are a lot of "rich boy, poor girl" stories out there, Halle's take on the trope felt original. Olivier's wealth is so outrageous that it almost didn't seem real. It was sort of like a fairy tale. He also, thankfully, wasn't the kind of guy who felt the need to show off his money in ridiculous ways. He was as secure as a thirty year old guy can be as he's facing down a ticking time bomb of a deal with an evil family member. He also recognized that Sadie was fiercely independent and spoiled her in a way that respected her as a person and made her feel comfortable. She fought it a bit and never once took advantage of his wealth either. But, hey, who would want to turn down elegant dresses or luxurious hotel rooms, complete with room service?

And those evil family members? Oh my word, I don't trust them at all. They's so terrible and vindictive and Halle writes them so well. I can actually say that I hate them - that's how powerful Halle's characters are.

There's so much more that could be said about Discretion but I fear I'll get even closer to rambling territory if I go on much further. Basically all you need to know is that I loved Karina Halle's new book and think that she's hit on a series that will be just as addictive to other readers as it was for me. 

*A copy of this novel was provided by the author via Social Butterfly PR and by the Canadian distributor, Thomas Allen & Son, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Friday, August 2, 2019

Review: The Lost Girls of Paris

I'm a big historical fiction fan, especially when it comes to novels set in and around World Wars I and II. Bit of a depressing time frame, to be sure, but there are so many interesting stories to be told - and invented - during that time. I especially love that authors are diving into what it was like for women during that time and shedding some light on the women who served their countries in unconventional, hidden, or forgotten ways. Pam Jenoff's The Lost Girls of Paris is one such book as she tells a story inspired by a group of women who were spies in WWII.

Here's the synopsis:
1946, Manhattan. Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.
Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.
Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances.
Eleanor Trigg was inspired by a real person, Vera Atkins, who was in charge of a group of women who were sent to France to be spies. I highly encourage you to jump down the rabbit hole of research and learn more about the women who inspired Jenoff. Her novel is good but knowing the real story is so much better.

I often say that historical fiction can be quite tricky to get right. Personally, I want to read novels that are believable and really feel like they could have been written during that time period. I want authenticity but I also want a story. If I wanted to know the exact details of a battle, for example, I would find a history book (yes, this may be contradicting my above paragraph where I encourage actual, hard research. I stand by it.). But what I really want to know is what it would have been like for the people, especially the women. The stories of so many women have been lost because they weren't off fighting in the trenches like the men were. I appreciate when authors like Jenoff can tell the female side of war and what it was like for those not directly involved in battle.

There are three women at the centre of this novel - Eleanor, Marie, and Grace. I think Marie's story is at the forefront and is the most developed. Grace's is developed as well but I don't feel like her story is finished and I want more (this isn't a bad thing - I just could clearly see that Grace had so much more to offer than the novel allowed for). Eleanor is an extremely important character who I think could have been explored a bit more. Perhaps Jenoff was wary of diving too deeply into Eleanor's character because she was so closely based on a real person?

Now, I did give this book four stars on Goodreads because I really did enjoy reading it. That being said, I'm not really sure it's technically a very good book. Or maybe it might be that there are better books? The idea is a great one (and the cover is to die for) but I can't help but wonder if the actual execution could have been better. Perhaps I wanted the characters to be better, stronger, less...girly.

All in all, I liked The Lost Girls of Paris. I think Pam Jenoff found an interesting part of World War II's history that hadn't been explored in a historical fiction novel before. It's definitely worth a read if you're a historical fiction fan.

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