November 25, 2014

Book Review: In Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins

At First Sight: Emmaline Neal moved to Manningsport, after her longtime boyfriend left her for a fitness guru; and over the course of two years she has remade her life. She loves her house, her dog and her job as one of three police officers in town.

But when the invitation to said ex-boyfriend wedding arrives, Emmaline starts to scramble for a date, mostly because, since her parents and her ex's parents are friends, she can't decline the invite and she doesn't want to be the loser who shows up without a date. 

Everyone in town tells her to ask Jack Holland, who has being the "Friend-Date" down to an art, and often escorts all type of female acquaintances and friends to events, just because he's a nice guy. 

Emma doesn't want to ask him though, since she has a rather big crush on him; and because she doesn't want to be a burden since she knows Jack has plenty on his plate. 

A couple of months before, Jack rescued four teenagers that drove over a safety rail and fell into a lake, which had the whole town touting him as a hero, much to his discomfort. And now he struggles with PTSD and guilt over the fact that one of the kids -the driver - is still in the hospital in a coma. 

So Jack could really use a few days out of Manningsport and the wedding seems as good an excuse as any, so he agrees to go with Emma.

Second Glance: I have this thing with Kristan Higgins' books. I really enjoy her writing and her style and she has this almost unparalleled ability to suck me into a story. 

Form the moment I started to read In Your Dreams I was hooked, I wanted to keep reading because I found Emmaline likable and Jack was a really nice guy -typically the type of guy I really root for in Romance- but then I hit the wall I hit each and every time I read a Higgins' book: her parents showed up. 

See, I don't know what it is or why she does it, but Higgins often writes these seriously awful parents into her stories, usually they a) take the heroine for granted, b) compare her unfavorably to her siblings or c) humiliate her often just because they are crappy parents I guess. Or all of the above. In this case it was all of the above.  

But whatever, I expected that to a point.

Where this book broke for me, though, was with Jack. He has a knight in shinning armor complex a mile wide, which is amply exemplified by his relationship with his ex-wife, Hadley, who decided to show up back in town after she put him into debt, cheated and lied to him during their brief marriage.

Even though he doesn't like her, Jack often goes out of his way to be nice and "rescue" his ex from the various scrapes she gets herself into, never really stopping her firmly as she continues to interfere in his life. Hell, at one point he cancels a date with Emma to go have diner with Hadley and her sister, just because the sister was in town. And late in the book he says some really mean things to Emma, never apologizing properly and never groveling. 

Yet, by the end, he just throws a ring at her and it's all good. 

I really wanted Emma to assert herself more and a lot earlier than she does. She often just rolls over and takes it. Accepting half-assed apologies from Jack and her parents. I wanted some confrontation, and I don't think it's just my latin blood speaking on that regard. I wanted Emma to say "Look, you made me feel really bad!" and for Jack to say something other than "Ooopsie!" which is what his "apology" amounted to. 

Also, I haven't spoken much of it because I found those parts really boring, but a lot of the book is dedicated to Emma's ex Nick and the woman he dumped her for, Naomi. They were both awful, awful characters with no other reason for being that humiliating Emma and acting like that woman from the Biggest Loser times a thousand.

Bottom Line: As I said, I give massive props to Kristan Higgins for being such a good writer, she has mad chops in that regard. But her character building invariably infuriates me at one point or another during her books, and In Your Dreams is no exception, which sucks because I really liked Emmaline for the most part, and I liked her sister Angela a lot but, as a whole, the book was both maddening and underwhelming. 

November 16, 2014

Book Review: The Governess Club: Sara by Ellie Macdonald

The Deal: Sara Collins is shy and yearns for a quiet life as a vicar's wife, only she can't tell anyone that as she is one of the founding members of the Governess Club. She doesn't love teaching as her friends do, but is willing to do anything she can to help them fulfill their dreams. 

Nathan Grant is an ambitious young politician, who decided to spend some time in the countryside after his political career was derailed a bit, and it's then that the two met. 

Nathan is adventurous and a bit wild, traits that should usually frighten Sara but instead call to her own wild side, the side of her that was suppressed by her overbearing mother when she was younger and that now longs to break free. 

My Thoughts: Sarah's story short and for the most part sweet. She is an interesting character torn between her inner life and her outward persona, which she kind of hates a bit; but she was quite likable most of the time, which is good since this is a very character driven story. 

Nathan was okay, but I never felt like I fully got to know him and a lot of things about him were left pretty much in the air. He could also be a real jerk sometimes. 

The story works beautifully when they are together, though it can feel slow at times. And I'm not sure I loved the ending, but over all it was a good read. 

November 5, 2014

Review and Giveaway: A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Devi (Book Tour)

At First Sight: Mili Rathod has been married for as long as she can remember, to a man she hasn't seen since said wedding 20 years ago when she was only 4 years old. And there is no sign that she will be seeing her husband any time soon, but at least being married has given her certain opportunities that would have escaped her otherwise, like going to University and then to study abroad to America, all in the effort to become a well-educated modern wife.

Samir Rathod worked hard to become one of Bollywood's most successful directors, and enjoys living the high life and dating beautiful actresses. However, under that public persona lies a man who would do anything for his family. 

So when Samir's brother Virat finds out that he's still married to Mili, Samir decides he's going to fix this for his brother, hunting down the elusive bride and getting her to sign an annulment, so Virat can keep his life - and his new family - intact.

Once in Michigan, and after meeting Mili under less than auspicious circumstances, all of Samir's plans start to turn upside down, as Mili doesn't turn out to be like anything he imagined. She's smart, kind and beautiful, and before he knows what's going on, he finds himself stepping into Mili's life unable to tell her who he really is. 

Second Glance: There are many words I could use to describe A Bollywood Affair. For one is compulsively readable - once I started I couldn't and I didn't want to put it down! - and its sweet, and the characters are truly unforgettable. 

I kept thinking about Samir and Mili over and over, wondering how their story would unfold, and eager to get back to them. Both of them are very complex individuals. Samir is full of guilt and fear and is a bit damaged, but that doesn't stop him from being a good son and a good brother and generally a very decent human being. He has had lots of darkness in his life, but he is not a dark character.

Mili is stuck between two words and forever in a holding pattern, it seems. She wants to move forward, to start her life, but she can't until her husband comes to claim her; yet she has taken the time in between to make something of herself and take care of her grandmother as best she can and always willing to open her heart to new people. 

They were very interesting and I enjoyed being in their heads. The secondary characters were a little bit less well drawn - with the exception of Virat and his and Samir's mother Lata who seemed more fully formed - but since the story was centrally about the time Samir and Mili spend together I was totally fine with that. 

Even the setting was very interesting - most of the story takes place in Michigan with a little on Mumbai, and there is lots of references to Bollywood and the business, though they don't over power the story -and the food!! Oh, they talk about food so  much in this book.

Bottom Line: I can't recommend A Bollywood Affair enough. It really grabbed me from the start and I was sad to see it end - I kind of wanted to spend more time with Samir and Mili - but it was very satisfying. And you know what? It did have a very Bollywood-esque feel to it, thanks to the turns that the story took, and I mean that in a best posible way.
starstarstarstarstarPersonal Favorite 

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This review is part of the A Bollywood Affair Blog Tour @ Tasty Book Tours. For the rest of the tour stops go here.  And to enter the giveaway, just proceed bellow:

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A Bollywood Affair (Excerpt)

Samir heard a loud crash. He ran to the open stairwell and leaned over the railing. Some sort of crazy creature with the wildest mass of jet-black curls was dusting herself off and trying to grab a fluorescent yellow bike from a jumbled heap. Was she stealing it? In her rush to pry it free she stumbled backward and her eyes met his. Something in the way she looked at him set alarm bells gonging in his head. His eyes swept from her panicked stance to the low-hanging balcony. Had she jumped? Damn it.

“Hey! Wait a minute. Are you Malvika?” he yelled at her.

Her eyes widened to huge saucers, as if he’d accused her of something truly heinous. Was she crazy? She had to be because before he knew what to do next she yanked the bike free, hopped on it, and took off as if he were some sort of gangster chasing her with a gun.

He ran down the stairs, taking almost the entire flight in one leap, and saw her desperately peddling away from him. The rickety piece of shit she was riding wobbled and teetered, looking even more unstable than she did. She turned around and gave him another terrified glance. What was wrong with the woman? Just as she was about to turn away again the bike’s handle jerked at the most awkward angle as if it had a mind of its own and she went hurtling into a tree at the end of the street.

“Holy shit!” He ran to her.

By the time he got to her she was lying on her back, her butt pushed up against the tree trunk, her legs flipped over her head like some sort of contortionist yoga guru and the bike intertwined with her folded body. Through the tangle of hair, limbs, and fluorescent metal he heard a sob and a squeak.

“Hello? Are you all right?” Leaning over, he lifted a long spiral lock off her face. It bounced against his palm, soft as silk.

One huge, almond-shaped eye focused on him.

“Teh thik to ho?” he repeated in Hindi. He had no idea why he’d spoken it or why he had used that rural dialect he now used only with his mother, but it just slipped out.

The tangled-up, upside-down mess of a girl, looking at him from behind her legs, literally brightened. There was just no other way to describe it. Her one exposed eye lit up like a firework in a midnight sky. He pushed more hair off her face, almost desperate to see the rest of that smile.

“You can speak Hindi,” she said, her surprisingly husky voice so filled with delight that sensation sparkled across his skin.

For one moment the almost physical force of her smile and the uninhibited joy in her voice stole his ability to speak.

She squinted those impossibly bright eyes at him. “Sorry, is that the only line you know?”

“What? No, of course not. I know lots of lines.” Wow, that must be the stupidest thing he’d ever said in his life.

She smiled again.

He gave his head a shake and forced his attention on her mangled situation instead of that smile. As carefully as he could he pulled the bike off her. “Can you move?”

She bit down on her lip and tried to push herself up. But instead of her body moving, her face contorted with pain and tears pooled in her eyes.

He dropped down to his knees next to her. “I’m sorry. Here, let me help you.” He ignored the absurd shiver of anticipation that kicked in his gut as he reached for her.

No man had ever touched Mili like that. Ridhi’s ridiculously handsome brother wrapped his arms around her and tried to ease her into a sitting position. Pain shot through her back, her legs, through parts of her body she wasn’t even aware she possessed, and all she could think about was the warm bulges of his arms pressing into her skin. So this was what a man’s touch felt like.

Yuck. She was an awful pervert. You’re a married woman, she reminded herself.

But then he gave her another tug and she forgot her own name. Pain buzzed like a million bees in her head. She tried to be brave but she couldn’t stifle the yelp that escaped her.

“Shh. It’s okay. Let me look at that.” He propped her up against his chest and reached out to inspect her ankle. His face faded and blurred and then came back into focus. His skin was almost European light and his hair was the darkest burnt gold. If he hadn’t spoken Hindi the way he had, she might have mistaken him for a local.

He touched her ankle and she was sure something exploded inside it. She sucked in a breath and her head lolled back onto his chest. A very bad English word she had heard only in films rumbled in his chest beneath her head, which suddenly weighed a ton. Her stomach lurched. She heard a pathetic whimper. It had to be her. He didn’t look like the whimpering type.

“Shh, sweetheart. Try to breathe. There, in, then out.” His breath collected in her ear. His voice had an almost magically soothing vibration to it. He slipped a cell phone out of his pocket. “Is there anyone I can call? We need to get you to a hospital.”

At least that’s what Mili thought he said, because her ears were making funny ringing sounds. She leaned back into his wall-like chest and tried to focus on his face, which started spinning along with the fading and the blurring. “Snow Health Center is around the corner. I can walk.”

“Right,” he said. “Or why don’t you ride your bike?”

She was about to smile, but he made an angry growling sound and scooped her up in his arms. How could a flesh-and-blood body be so hard? Like tightly packed sand, but with life. The buzzing in her ears was a din now and she had to fight to keep her eyes open. He jogged across the parking lot to a very shiny action-film-style car.

“I’m going to put you in the backseat, okay?”

She nodded. As long as he kept talking to her in that soothing voice of his, she didn’t care what else he did. “Your car is yellow,” she said. “Just like my bike.”

He grinned and laid her down on the backseat of the roofless car so slowly, so very gently, she felt like she was made of spun sugar. Her ankle hit the seat and she felt like a sledgehammer on an anvil. She dug her fingers into his arm to keep from screaming. He didn’t pull away. He just kept talking in that magical voice until finally he faded out. The last thing Mili remembered was asking him to put her bike in the rack. No, the last thing she remembered was his smile when she asked him to do it.

Mili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years—not since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. Her grandmother has even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to be—if her husband would just come and claim her.

Bollywood’s favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a na├»ve village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samir’s tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, she’s trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Mili’s life—cooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommate’s elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie.

Heartfelt, witty, and thoroughly engaging, Sonali Dev’s debut is both a vivid exploration of modern India and a deeply honest story of love, in all its diversity.

Advance Praise for A Bollywood Affair:

“Sonali Dev is a fresh new voice in romance. A child bride who’s all grown up, a sexy Bollywood director, and deeply-felt emotions that will keep readers turning the pages. A Bollywood Affair has it all.” –Susan Elizabeth Phillips, New York Times Bestseller

“Deeply romantic and emotional, with characters I fell in love with, A Bollywood Affair is simply unputdownable. It’s sexy, it’s dramatic, but most of all, it’s a sweet, hot love story that made me sigh and smile and want to read it all over again as soon as I turned the last page.” -Nalini Singh, New York Times Bestseller

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Sonali Dev’s first literary work was a play about mistaken identities performed at her neighborhood Diwali extravaganza in Mumbai. She was eight years old. Despite this early success, Sonali spent the next few decades getting degrees in architecture and writing, migrating across the globe, and starting a family while writing for magazines and websites.

With the advent of her first gray hair her mad love for telling stories returned full force, and she now combines it with her insights into Indian culture to conjure up stories that make a mad tangle with her life as supermom, domestic goddess, and world traveler.

Sonali lives in the Chicago suburbs with her very patient and often amused husband and two teens who demand both patience and humor, and the world’s most perfect dog.

Find Sonali Here: Website | Facebook Twitter | Goodreads