December 26, 2013

Book Review: The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan

At First Sight: Sebastian Malheur is a private man who has a way with the ladies and loves making people smile. He also happens to be one of the leading experts on evolution, inheritance and reproduction, something none of his friends would have ever pegged him for growing up, but which has made him both revered and vilified through out England for the past five years.

But there is a small problem though, all those theories and papers he reads aren't really his, they belong to his best friend Violet Waterfield, dowager Countess of Cambury. Violet and Sebastian grew up together and as adults they have kept each other pretty close, even through Violet's marriage to another man.

For her, Sebastian would do anything, even play the part of a progressive scientist.

Violet's theories and experiments gave her strength at points of her life where nothing else would, same as Sebastian, who was always around and never asked questions, just tried to make her smile. Having seen what the public has done to Sebastian - how he's called a rake and a degenerate - she's terrified of what'll happen if it's ever found that she's the one behind all the scandalous discoveries.

More over, since she was a child, Violet was taught to fear scandal and to keep all her emotions reigned in, so nothing and no one could even come close to the secrets and scandals her family keeps locked tight.

Second Glance: Okay, so The Countess Conspiracy is the third full - length book in the Brother Sinister's series and so far my favorite. During The Duchess Wars and The Heiress Effect, Sebastian and Violet have been in the background, and we have known little of them other than they are very loyal to the other Brothers Sinister and that they are usually in each other's company.

This time they are front and center, and from the very start their story grabbed me. Violet is prickly and so introverted that she even made Me feel outgoing. She doesn't like to be touched and works very hard at concealing everything that makes her who she is deep inside. Yet, I never felt like Sebastian was too good for her, of that he deserved better. I just rooted for Sebastian to crack her shell because she needed him so much.

Violet's story is really sad and I felt sorry for her, and I cried, but I never felt like she was a weak, she was awesome and though I not always liked her, I always found her lovable, even when she couldn't see it herself.

Sebastian was amazing. It had been a while since I had read a hero so decent and so nice, yet he's not a push over (except with Violet sometimes, but he's determined not to let her cheat herself out of the good things she deserves).

There were some scenes with him that just made me swoon. And I loved how much he cared for Violet as a friend, and how much he wanted his brother to be proud of him. There was so much about him I hadn't guessed at from the previous books, but that I was happy to discover.

Also, Violet's mom? yeah, just keep her in mind. 

Bottom Line: I think the Countess Conspiracy was my favorite historical romance I read this year. It was so good, and it made me cry but also made me very happy. Totally recommend.  
starstarstarstarstarPersonal Favorite 

December 24, 2013

ListManiac: Top 5 Favorite Movies of 2013

Yes, I forgot I had a graphic for these things. 

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!! Also, as promised, here I bring you another list about my favorite movies of the year!!

I saw the first Thor movie and I thought it was okay, I hadn't bothered myself much with the Marvel universe before The Avengers to be honest, but post Avengers you get I went to see Thor. And I loved it, it was fast paced, fun and it had Loki - Enough said!

I was never a fan of Monsters Inc - until Planes, I thought it was the worse movie Pixar had ever put out, but I really likes MU, it was basically a college comedy without the lewdness and all that stuff I don't like about college humor. I loved seeing Mike and Sully as teenagers. And you have to admit that that kindergarden-aged Mike W was one of the cutest things ever. 

I wasn't interested in Elysium when I first saw the trailers, not at all, but when I heard it was by the same director as District 9 I knew I had to see it. It was smart, action packed movie with a message to deliver and a story to tell. Definitely recommend this one. I think it said more about immigration reform than any politician this year, and it did it better. 

And yes, I mean the original version with the voices of Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell. I usually prefer the dubbed to Spanish versions (because our voice actors are wicked funny) but this time there was nothing that could match the original songs or the powerful vocal performance by everyone in the cast. Loved the songs, loved Olaf, loved Sven and I have a bit of a crush on Kristoff. Best part though? that this was a princess fairy tale that I can totally get behind, about the different strengths that two sisters have, and the love they have for each other. 

I totally raved about this movie and I pimped out whenever I could. I just loved it that much. It was funny and fast paced and basically just robots punching monsters in the face. And it was Awesome. I don't generally like Del Toro's movies, but Pacific Rim is one that I'm going to keep watching for a long, long time. 

So, that's my top 5, what about yours?

Next up: Favorite books of 2013.

Added later: I totally forgot to mention 3 movies that I really liked but I didn't see in theaters.
First, the best documentary I saw this year, Blackfish - which uses the tale of Tilikum, one of the orcas being kept by SeaWord, to make an industry-wide commentary on why keeping orcas and other sea mammals as amusement park attractions is not good, yet is not preachy, just states the facts as it knows them.

And Second, What Maisie Knew - this has to be my favorite remake/adaptation of a book I saw this year. Maisie is a five year old caught in the middle of her parents' divorce - who use her as a bargaining  chip though they love her in their own selfish ways - and finds refuge and love in their respective new spouses.

Lastly, the best made for TV movie I saw this year goes to: How to Fall in Love. It actually came out last year, but I didn't see it until this one when I was binge watching tv movies. It's the story of a former nerd called Harold who ends up hiring the Annie, the girl he had a crush on in high school, as a dating coach. So fun, so sweet, probably the best romantic comedy I saw all year.

December 21, 2013

List Maniac: Favorite Obsessions of 2013

So, it's that time of the year when we all make our lists and I plan to make a series of them about the stuff I have loved - and hated - during this grueling year (well, it was grueling for me :P I hope it was good for everyone else, I really do).

So, without futher ado, here are my 
Top 5 Favorite Obsessions of 2013

# 5 - Kitchen Scramble.
Facebook and I have a very complicated relationship, sometimes I can get enough of it, sometimes I forget about it for weeks at a time. This year though? a little game called Kitchen Scramble showed up in the later part of the year and I became obsessed... like I play it all the time, and generally love it.

Plus, they put new levels every month.

After last year's vlog of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I was super excited to see what they would tackle next. The answer? Emma. Now, I have a love-hate relationship with Emma. I love her, I love where she ends up, but sometimes the trip there can make me REALLY dislike her. So far, Bernie Su & Co have managed to capture what I love and what I don't like of Emma pretty perfectly, while updating her character a lot.

Plus, I love Mr. Knightley.

#3 - Cracked's After Hours.
Sometimes when life, and work, threaten to bring me down, I just spend hours upon hours on YouTube watching videos (mostly movie trailers. I find them soothing) and one day I stumbled into Cracked After Hours. The After Hours videos feature four friends talking movies at a dinner and exploring the weird and twisted messages in movies and games. I love it. They always make me laugh and they put up a new episode every month.

#2 - The DBSA Podcast
So, for the last couple of years Jane @ Dear Author and Sarah @SmartBitches have been putting out this podcast where they talk romance novels and books in general and are basically just a riot. I've been a long time fan but this year I was really obsessed with it. Mostly because I had to ride the subway often (which I SO DON'T LIKE), and to get myself pumped up to do it, I would reward myself with listening to the podcast afterward.

MovieBob has these two video columns at The Escapist and I binge watch them like crazy whenever I'm feeling down, I think I've gone through the entire playlist twice (there are over 200 videos). 
On Escape to the Movies he reviews recent releases and in the Big Picture he talks more about pop and nerd culture in general - I really love when he talks about obscure cartoons because it turns out I've seen most of them and I just laugh, and I generally agree with his reviews, which almost never happens to me.  (I'm putting an example of one of my favorite vids bellow). 

Anyway, those are my obsessions of 2013. How about you guys?

Up next? Favorite Movies of 2013!

December 19, 2013

Two For One Review: Mistress of the Wind and His Convict Wife

Hello mah peeps! I'm doing a 2x1 review this time around because I kind of don't have much to say about either of these:

The Deal: After seven years spent as a virtual slave in an Australian brothel, Irish convict Colleen Malone was sent back to jail when the brothel's owner realized she had gotten pregnant. Colleen is desperate to find a way to save herself, and her child, and she knows the only viable way is to find someone who would marry her. Women as scarce, after all, and marriage can very well get her out of the prison. 

Sam Briggs left London and moved to Australian - taking a job as an overseer in a large farm - and he does not want a wife, but he does need a housekeeper, and he lets himself be convinced to take one of the female inmates as such. He doesn't expect to have a woman, Colleen, beg him to help her or that the fact that she's such a low inmate make it necessary for them to marry, rather than her just getting a work permit. 

My Thoughts: Well, I hoped this story would be emotional and interesting and intriguing, but it never quite worked out. His Convict Wife is a very short story and things quite never develop, and everything feels a bit rushed from start to finish. Colleen and her cousin are in Australia, presumably, because Colleen's cousin got tangled with someone above her station; but we are never really told why. Sam is grieving and everything but I never felt like I got to know him or believed that he would fall in love with Colleen. 

It just wasn't a very romantic story and it definitely wasn't a romance novel, even though it's being marketed as one. Is not a bad read per se, but it would have benefited a lot from having more page time to develop.

Mistress of the Wind by Michelle Diener 
The Deal: Bjorn has been cursed into taking the shape of a great polar bear, and unless he can find the one girl he ever wanted to marry - which he met briefly when he was but a child - he shall remain in that shape forever. It has taken him almost his year-long grace period, but he has finally found her.

Astrid, said girl, is the youngest daughter of a woodcutter, whose whole family is in deep poverty and whom sometimes feel like the wind speaks to her. She's afraid of the bear that one day shows up at her house, offering her family gold in exchange for her willing coming with him as his companion. 

Astrid isn't sure but agrees for the sake of her family. Finding herself deep into Bjorn's world without really understanding what's going on. 

My Thoughts: East of the Sun, West of the Moon is one of my favorite fairy tales ever, so I always jump at the chance of reading retellings of it when they show up. Mistress of the Wind - while not bad - its not one of the better efforts. 

Again, things feel rushed all the time, and things progress at an odd pace. Astrid and Bjorn are thrown together, sure, but she kind of starts trusting him too quickly yet she doesn't really? It's hard to explain. Bjorn is stubborn, and that doesn't gel well with Astrid, she hates being in the dark about what's going on and rushes foolishly into danger. 

There are a few neat twists to the story here - like whom Astrid turns out to be - but all in all, it wasn't different enough and I never really connected with the characters either, so it was fun reading it but I would probably wouldn't do it again. 

December 17, 2013

Book Review: Ripped by Sarah Morgan

The Deal: Hayley isn't having a great day: she's at her ex's wedding, acting as a bridesmaid to a former friend - all to show that she's SO Over  the aforementioned Ex - and wearing the ugliest yellow dress in the history of Bridesmaid-hood. And Nico Rossi, the best man, is glaring at her from across the aisle with great disapproval.

Which doesn't improve once her too-tight dress splits, revealing that she wasn't wearing a bra and leaving her naked from the waist up. And forcing Nico to come to her rescue.

Nico and Hayley have never seen eye to eye... until they start making out out of the blue while he's helping her with her dress and chiding her for being at the wedding at all. 

My Thoughts: Ripped was a really fun holiday novella. What I described above was just the very beginning of the story - which culminates on New Years's Eve.

I really liked both of them, particularly when they were together: they were nice, successful - I loved that Hayley was an engineer and dreamed of working for NASA one day - and had a great relationship with their respective siblings.

It was just an all- around fun book, and there is plenty of Christmas/New Year cheer int it, without it being too much or too focused on the holiday spirit. I do wish the story was a bit longer, but that's mostly because I would have liked to spend more time with these two.

And I'm really looking forward to the next book on the series, about Hayley's sister Rosie. 
PS - Fair warning, though, the story is less than a 100 pages long (around 95)

December 16, 2013

Book Review: Sleigh Bells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan

At First Sight: Kayla Green doesn't like Christmas... in fact, she hates it enough to volunteer to work during the holidays, as the PR firm she works tries to land a new client. Said new client is Jackson O'Neil -owner of a luxury chain of hotels in Europe, who is currently trying to save his family's ski lodge in Vermont.

Jackson is surprised when Kayla agrees to spend a whole week in Vermont with him and his family and he really hopes that she'll be able to convince his stubborn grandfather to go along with Jackson's business plan - which includes hiring Kayla's PR firm to promote the lodge at s bigger scale-  so they don't lose the Lodge.

Kayla thought that by going to Vermont, she would avoid Christmas in the city, but she wasn't counting with the winter wonderland she found at the lodge, or with the fact that Jackson's family was totally Christmas obsessed. 

Second Glance: Okay, so I'm a little torn about this book. On one hand, I really liked it: the setting, the characters, etc. But on the other hand, the plot has so many holes on it that it does not bear thinking about it too much.

Kayla was very serious and capable, and had a genuine reason not to like Christmas, she feels a strong attraction to Jackson, but she mostly wants to do a good job. Jackson has a lot of family baggage but he's trying to do the right thing by his family. The O'Neils are a very close knit group, sure, but they also have a lot of issues - which I won't name because it would just be like a grocery's list - but they are good people.

The problem, like I said, is the plot holes: Kayla is too naive expecting that a place that advertises itself as a winter wonderland will be devoid of Christmas, the way the reason why she hates Christmas is dragged out was a bit bothersome because there isn't that much to it.  Jackson and Kayla's relationship progresses way too quickly (they go from "lets keep it professional" to "You're the Only One For Me" in less than a week), and so on and so forth. 

Bottom Line: While I was totally enchanted by the background of Sleigh Bells in the Snow, and I definitely plan to pick up the following books, I can't say that I Loved this book, but I did like it and while I was reading it it was fun, it was only later, as I thought about it that the flaws became all too clear. But I would still recommend it for some holiday fun. 

December 12, 2013

Book Review: Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

At First Sight: Isaiah Walker needs money if he wants to keep on living with his best friend Noah, as he waits to age out of the foster care system and to graduate high school, he doesn't want to go back to live with his foster parents or to be sent to a new foster home if the state discovers he hasn't been living with them for months. So he's willing to do something he swore he would never do: illegal drag racing. Just for a night, just to keep himself afloat.

Rachel Young is tired of having to pretend to be someone she's not in order to make her mom happy, but her whole family depends on it, as she's the only one who can keep her mom from wallowing in the lost of her first daughter Colleen, who died before Rachel was even born. Having to be perfect for her mother all the time, and being over protected by her four older brothers, has left Rachel with a propensity to have panic attacks (which she always hides from everyone). The only thing that makes Rachel feel like herself is driving her mustang as far as she can.

When a drag race gone wrong leaves Isaiah and Rachel both in danger and indebted to a local criminal, their lives become deeply entangled.

Second Glance: I don't think I'm doing a good job of summarizing this book, but I've been trying all afternoon and this is as good as it got. I really don't want to give much of the story because I found it pretty interesting and entertaining. And what I said, it's really just the first, say, quarter of the story.

Crash Into You jumps right in to tell Isaiah and Rachel's story, and I really liked both of them. Isaiah has a lot of anger but he's very loyal to those he loves and really wants to make something of himself, even if his aspirations aren't the same as Noah's. Rachel is stuck with a life that makes her really unhappy, her family loves her but they are also very selfish and expect her to be Colleen 2.0 so her mother can be functional and happy, and they pretend not to see how much that's hurting Rachel.

Isaiah and Rachel are very different, but find comfort in each other. To Isaiah, who hasn't experienced many good things in life, Rachel is like an angel who loves cars as much as he does, and who accepts him for who he is - scary tats and piercings and all - while Rachel sees Isaiah as the one person who likes her for herself.

They are both messed up in different ways but together they make each other better. And I love when I find that in a story.

Plus, in the background, we got plenty to keep us interested as the story progresses, Isaiah's mom is trying to return to his life, and his social worker Courtney is determined to make him deal with her; Beth's four brothers are a bit messed up in their own ways, and Noah and Echo (from Pushing the Limits) are still around, struggling with their own issues, but happily together.

And then there is Abby. I love Abby. I haven't loved a secondary character this much in a really long time and I hope I get to read her story sometime.

Bottom Line: In my opinion, Crash Into You was worlds better than Dare You To, I kind of liked it as much if not better than Pushing the Limits. I was frustrated by the story sometimes, but the characters always made sense and sounded true to themselves, and the story kept the tension going until the end. All in all, a win in all accounts. 

starstarstarstar1/2Personal Favorite 

December 3, 2013

Book Tour: Fighting for the Edge by Jennifer Comeaux

At First Sight: Emily is living her dream, she's one half of one of the top rated pairs skating teams and has a great partner in Chris (who keeps her calm during the competitions, something she never managed to do before pairing with him), and is married to her handsome coach Sergei and has a real shot at winning in the Torino Olympics.

Aubrey is also living the dream, she has a great partner in Nick, and great coaches and she's one half of the top rated US ice dance team. If it weren't for an ill advised one-night stand with a Canadian skater - who now won't leave her alone - her life would be awesome.

Until their skating ring is destroyed during a freak snow storm, and both Audrey and Emily (and their respective teams) are forced to decamp to Boston as they get ready for nationals and the Olympics.

But with their last chance at Olympic Glory in sight, life is not done sending them curve balls.

Second Glance: Fighting for the Edge is the last book in the Edge trilogy, which up to now has following Emily as she fell in love with Sergei; but this time around we also get to see Aubrey's perspective.

I have to say that I liked this change, and the fact that it was very easy to identify who was talking - because Emily's POV is in first person and Aubrey's in third - and this made the pace of the book a little more brisk, which I really liked, plus I liked seeing these two girls with similar dreams but who are at very different stages in their lives, even though they are the same age. It was a nice contrast.

And, for the most part, I really liked the book. I love the world of figure skating, and I loved being inside it from two skater's perspective - though it was a bit eery since I remember both Torino and Salt Lake with perfect clarity, so I was, like, Whoa! sometimes when they talked about the games.

My one concern for the book came later on, and I can't really discuss because it goes deep into spoiler territory, but yeah, it made me question how realistic some of the things were.

But, on the other hand, I totally loved Chris and Sergei. 

Bottom Line: Save for that thing, I really enjoyed and loved the book, it was easy to slide into the world and easy to read (I mean this in a good way) and it was a lovely visit with friends I hadn't seen in a while. I also liked that it wasn't as dramatic a story as the two previous ones, so it was just a lot of fun to read. In any case, I really recommend Fighting for the Edge for anyone who likes sports books, and skating books in particular. 
fighting for the Edge tour

Fighting for the Edge Cover

 Fighting for the Edge Two friends. Two dreams. One night that changes everything… Ice dancer Aubrey London scoffs at romance. She’s focused on winning a medal at the upcoming Olympics and uses that as her excuse to avoid serious relationships. But when she and longtime friend Chris Grayden are thrown together by unforeseen circumstances, Aubrey finds herself questioning everything she's ever known about love, complicating her life both on and off the ice. 

Pairs skater Emily Petrov embraces romance. She and her husband Sergei still act like honeymooners two years after their wedding. As Emily’s coach, Sergei provides constant support while she prepares to challenge for gold at the Olympics. But Sergei’s support might not be enough to help Emily overcome the one challenge she never saw coming. 

With the Games only weeks away, Emily and Aubrey are on the verge of realizing their dreams. But one snowy, stormy night sets in motion a series of events that will test them in ways they never imagined, giving them more to fight for than Olympic medals.  

Praise for Fighting for the Edge "Emily and Aubrey's final challenge is Jennifer Comeaux's greatest victory. Both touching and suspenseful, Fighting for the Edge is a game changer that will have fans of the series giving both the characters and the author a standing ovation once they've turned the last page. If I could pass out medals, Jennifer would earn gold for writing my favorite romance of all time." - Jenna at Jenna Does Books 
 "Jennifer Comeaux puts you in the action, makes you smell the ice and hear the roar of the crowd during the nail-biting competitions, and she's a master at creating first love jitters in your stomach from the steamy scenes that are so hot without being explicit." - Christina Jean Michaels, author of Epiphany   

Author Jennifer Comeaux
Jennifer Comeaux is a tax accountant by day, writer by night. There aren't any ice rinks near her home in south Louisiana, but she's a diehard figure skating fan and loves to write stories of romance set in the world of competitive skating. One of her favorite pastimes is travelling to competitions, where she can experience all the glitz and drama that inspire her writing.

When not working or writing, she is an avid follower of the sport of figure skating, travelling to competitions around the country. Those experiences allow her to see another side of the sport and serve as an inspiration for her writing. Jennifer is blessed with a wonderful family and many friends who have encouraged her to pursue her dream of being a published author.

Tour Giveaway

$25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash
Ends 12/19/13

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

November 27, 2013

Book Review: Snowbound with the CEO by Shannon Stacey

I've seen 3 different books
with this cover... so far!
The Deal: Ever since she started to work for Adrian Blackstone as his assistant, Rachel Carter has had a crush on her boss. But she's also very aware that her job with his company - which specializes in renovating and preserving old buildings - is one in a million. So she has never acted on her feelings, and she doesn't even suspect that Adrian might feel the same way. 

But her does, Adrian likes Rachel, and he knows she's his work "soulmate" as they have similar  sensibilities and work ethic and both of them enjoy the work and the challenge  that those beautiful, old buildings represent. And both of them are prepared to keep things professional. 

Until they get stranded at a luxurious hotel - where they were hoping to make a pitch for their next big project - and decide to have a fling. 

Which gets complicated when they try to keep it professional at the office once they get back. 

My Thoughts: Snowbound with the CEO was a really fun novella. I thought it did a great job in establishing whom Adrian and Rachel were, and since they already knew each other and worked together, I could easily buy into the idea of them deciding to have a fling, rather than it being a case of insta-love, which almost never flies with me. 

The complications also made sense and I appreciated that they were born out of them trying to be TOO professional when they got back, rather than some silly, overly-emotional reason. 

All in all a very satisfying short story, and really nice for the holiday season without overplaying the Christmas theme.