Sunday, January 29, 2012

Now on Facebook!

Books Are My Heroine is now on Facebook! Join the fan page to stay updated with the reviews, giveaways and weekly events I have planned for the upcoming year. I'm very excited to be entering a new social platform, so don't hesitate to leave me a little note on the Facebook page. See you there!

The Look of Love (Mary Jane Clark, 2012)

The Heroine: Piper Donovon, a young woman struggling to make a career for herself as an actress. Forced to move back home to her parent's house, she supplements her income by baking and decorating wedding cakes. After making a cake for a popular soap opera star, Piper is noticed by Jillian Abernathy, the director of Elysium Spa in Los Angeles, and is hired to prepare the cake for Jillian's upcoming wedding. Soon, Piper is sunning herself in the California sunshine, enjoying drinks by the pool and her private suite at Elysium – until disastor strikes and Piper is pulled into the mystery behind the maniac killer that seems determined to stop Jillian's wedding and destroy whoever stands in their path.

The Highs: Its been quite awhile since I've picked up a good, old fashioned mystery, possibly since my Nancy Drew days! The Look of Love is in many ways the Nancy Drew for the grown-up set: a pretty and intelligent heroine with a knack for solving crime, a suspect leaving behind a trail of clues and an ultimate life-threatening confrontation between Piper (a.k.a Nancy) and the perp. It made me nostalgic for my childhood, as well as very determined to figure out who the killer was before Piper did – though, like my childhood self, I am simply not as skilled at crime fighting as Piper and Nancy.

I enjoyed the heavy suspense and I sped through this novel, eager to discover who the murderer was from the cast of potential criminals: the disgruntled ex-employee, the irate father of a botched plastic surgery patient, the facialist who preys on his clients, or perhaps the owner of the spa himself. There were many layers of mysteries inside the bigger picture and I enjoyed the journey to the conclusion.

The Lows: While I was known for enjoying a good Nancy Drew or two back in the day, The Look of Love reminded me why I stopped reading pure mysteries: under-developed characters, the simplistic and uninspired writing style and the lack of emotional connection. Piper Donovan, as heroines go, could be interchangable with any somewhat smart and pretty girl off the street. Two-dimensional and predictable, Piper's perfection (is there anything wrong with this girl?) bored me and even worse, alienated me.

I also didn't enjoy the writing or the layout of this book. While Mary Jane Clark is a popular and well-known writer, I have never read anything she's written and frankly I expected more. Lacklustre and plain, I feel like the same story could have been written by anyone with a basic command of the english language. The extremely short and choppy chapters also irritated me: is there any reason for a book this short (as in, I finished it in three hours) to have over one hundred chapters?

I suppose the worst offence of this book is that it failed to inspire me or capture my emotions the way I expect a good book should. Lacking passion, creativity or, really, effort, I just can't bring myself to recommend this book. Perhaps devoted Mary Jane Clark readers and mystery fans will enjoy it, but its not for me.

Final Thoughts: I had hoped to keep this brief because I really don't enjoy hating on a book this badly, but I really feel its my duty as a book blogger to let you know how much I did not like this book.

Rating: The Look of Love earns four wedding cakes out of ten. 

Buy this book on Amazon here
Connect to author Mary Jane Clark here
Photo from here

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Recommends!

Friday Recommends is a meme hosted by Dani from Pen to Paper, a wonderful book blog that I urge you all to visit! The purpose of Friday Recommends is to share books off my list that I highly recommend my readers take a look at. Today I've chosen Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay. Here's the Goodreads summary:

A mysterious jewel holds the key to a life-changing secret, in this breathtaking tale of love and art, betrayal and redemption.
When she decides to auction her remarkable jewelry collection, Nina Revskaya, once a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet, believes she has finally drawn a curtain on her past. Instead, the former ballerina finds herself overwhelmed by memories of her homeland and of the events, both glorious and heartbreaking, that changed the course of her life half a century ago.
It was in Russia that she discovered the magic of the theater; that she fell in love with the poet Viktor Elsin; that she and her dearest companions—Gersh, a brilliant composer, and the exquisite Vera, Nina’s closest friend—became victims of Stalinist aggression. And it was in Russia that a terrible discovery incited a deadly act of betrayal—and an ingenious escape that led Nina to the West and eventually to Boston.
Nina has kept her secrets for half a lifetime. But two people will not let the past rest: Drew Brooks, an inquisitive young associate at a Boston auction house, and Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian who believes that a unique set of jewels may hold the key to his own ambiguous past. Together these unlikely partners begin to unravel a mystery surrounding a love letter, a poem, and a necklace of unknown provenance, setting in motion a series of revelations that will have life-altering consequences for them all.
I love this book for many reasons: the breath-taking world of ballet, literature and art in Russia, the interwoven flashbacks of present and past, and the suspenseful mystery that kept me guessing right until the end. Well-written and captivating, I devoured this book and it will probably remain on my bookshelf forever. I definitely recommend Russian Winter to anyone with a passion for dance, art, history, romance or just plain old beautiful writing.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy (Karen Doornebos, 2011)

The Heroine: Chloe Parker, a single mother in the Midwest. Desperate for cash, Chloe decides to use her obsession with all things regency – from high tea and letter writing, to men on white horses and of course, Jane Austen – to good use by joining to cast of a documentary meant to be set in Regency England. Unfortunately, its only after Chloe arrives at Bridesbridge Place in the English countryside and it thrust into the authentic 1800s, including chamberpots, chaperones and weekly bathing, that she discovers she has instead become a competitor on How to Date Mr. Darcy, a dating show set in the 1800s. Battling her wily and cunning competitors, the ups and downs of life in the regency and her conflicting feelings for the two eligible bachelors, the handsome and charming Wrightman brothers, Chloe finally is forced into discovering her own place in the modern world and finding love in an unlikely place.

The Highs: I absolutely adore the premise of this novel as a creative twist on the typical historical romance. Not only is the regency era, seen through the lens of a modern heroine, fascinating and hilarious, but the added interest of a dating competition creates both terribly funny conflicts and moments of romance within the beautiful background of the untouched English countryside – with the bonus of plain english, versus the flowery writing style of Jane Austen and her crew, as it can be difficult for some readers to understand (though I myself am a great fan of Austen!)

I really liked the constant twists and turns in the plot. I really feel disappointed when the conclusion of a story seems evident right from the onset, but Definitely Not Mr. Darcy kept surprising me again and again. Particularly the relationship between Chloe and Sebastian Wrightman, the good-looking bachelor and real-life master of Dartworth Hall, was full of unexpected developments and surprising moments. I also loved the romantic aspect of this story, though not specifically the scenes between Chloe and Sebastian. All I'll say is a library lit by candlelight is probably my dream spot for a romantic tryst!

This book is a must-read for any Austen fan. I've always romanticized the era of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley, this novel definitely reveals the ignored parts of nineteenth century – women were not allowed to pursue activities deemed "unladylike", could not go out without a chaperone and were not permitted from even sending a letter to a man she wasn't engaged to. While Definitely Not Mr. Darcy shows a frank and honest portrayal of the period, it isn't all dark and sinister – I found great entertainment in the descriptions of the gorgeous outfits, the unusual food choices and little-known facts, as well as a giggle out of some of the superstitions of the time, such as that fruit was bad for a lady's complexion!

The Lows: At the conclusion of this novel, I felt the romance between Chloe and her chosen bachelor was largely unresolved. I was really disappointed that the scene of romantic resolution that I was waiting for never came to pass. I wish that the author had chosen to continue the story – as it is, it feels unfinished.

I also didn't quite understand the logic behind the base of the novel – how was a rich bachelor supposed to find a good, simple (in other words, not a gold digger) wife when the prize for winning a proposal from him was one hundred thousand dollars? I found that really confusing and questionable.

Final Thoughts: As I stated above, a must-read for any history buffs, lovers of historical fiction and Jane Austen fanatics. Funny, creative and surprising, I really enjoyed this book.

Rating: Definitely Not Mr. Darcy earns seven scrolled letters out of ten. 

To buy this book on Amazon, click here
To connect to author Karen Doornebos, click here
Photo from here

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wishlist Wednesday!

This week I'm wishing for A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson. I came across this book in a magazine article and I've been eagerly awaiting its release ever since! It also seems appropriate since today is the release day! Here's the summary from Joshilyn Jackson's website:

Every fifteen years, trouble comes after the Slocumb women. Now, as their youngest turns fifteen, a long-hidden grave is unearthed in the backyard. Headstrong young Mosey Slocumb is determined to find out who used their yard as a make-shift cemetery, and why. What she learns could cost her family everything.  As forty-five year old Ginny fights to protect Mosey from the truth, she’s thrown back into the arms of the long-lost---and married---love of her life. Between them is Liza, silenced by a stroke, with the answers trapped inside her. To survive Liza's secrets and Mosey's insistent adventures, Ginny must learn to trust the love that braids the strands of their past---and stop at nothing to defend their future.

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty will be released January 25th, 2012. 

Wishlist Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Dani at Pen to Paper


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Love in a Nutshell (Janet Evanovich & Dorien Kelly, 2012)

The Heroine: Kate Appleton, a recently divorced young woman struggling to find the money to refurbish her family's old home on Lake Michigan, called The Nutshell, into a bed and breakfast. Hired by Matt, the sexy owner of the Depot Brewery, to spy on his employees and figure out who has been sabotaging his business, Kate finds herself in the direct path of the culprit. Lively, funny and brave, Kate takes on danger and hijinks in order to save her family home and finds love in the process.

The Highs: Love in a Nutshell is a hilarious and fast-paced read. I especially enjoyed the protagonist, Kate, whose energetic, outgoing attitude and fearlessness really adds a fun and exciting factor to the book. Kate is definitely a welcome change from the romantic, softly feminine heroines from period stories. Thoroughly modern and ready to take on the world, Kate is the type of heroine that provides a great beach read or quenches a chick-lit craving, akin to Becky Bloomwood from Confessions of a Shopaholic.

I also loved the romance between Kate and Matt, her boss at the Depot Brewery. It develops slowly and naturally over the course of the book, with enough humour and wit to balance out the tenderness. Matt is a great hero for the story, and has enough panache himself to be a good match for Kate. Their romance is sweet, funny and most importantly, believable.

I also enjoyed the mystery element of the story. Kate is hired by Matt to find out who is sabotaging his business and I liked the clues woven subtly into the plot. Typically I have a pretty easy time figuring out who the culprit is, but even I was fooled by Love in a Nutshell. I liked the surprise!

The Lows: I wished there was a little more character development in the minor characters, such as Kate's friend Ella and Matt's sisters. I felt like Ella especially was just a stock character, without any real purpose other than someone to act as a sounding board for Kate (though friendships like this do exist in real life!).

Though this story is cute and funny, I missed the substance of more serious novels. I would advise anyone looking for meaning behind literature to skip this one.

Final Thoughts: Love in a Nutshell is a funny, action-packed read for anyone looking for a quick hit of girlishness and frivolity.

Rating: Love in a Nutshell earns seven pints out of ten. 

To buy 'Love in a Nutshell' on Amazon, click here
To connect with Janet Evanovich, click here
Photo from here

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Dark Side of Nora Roberts

I don't think anyone can consider themselves a true book worm unless they've picked up a book by Nora Roberts at least once – if anything, just for her massive repertoire, cult-like following and constant presence on the New York Times bestsellers list. I always thought of Nora Roberts as a writer for my mother's generation, complete with the horrible 90s cover designs, until I picked up a copy of Divine Evil last spring at the drugstore.

At first I didn't even put two and two together: Divine Evil is a suspenseful mystery, complete with satanic cults and devil worship, with a fantastically dark cover (I'm secretly coveting that red velvet cloak!) But alas, it turns out I had discovered the lesser-known dark side of Nora Roberts. And just to clear up the misconception for other readers who may think Nora Roberts is only for the middle-aged, I'm introducing three great books I enjoyed immensely:

Divine Evil (Nora Roberts, 1992)

The Heroine: Clare Kimball, a successful sculptor living in New York City. Faced with a creative block, she returns to her hometown of Emmitsboro, a sleepy village surrounded by fields and woods, for a chance to recharge from her hectic life and to confront the demons of her childhood that still haunt her to this day. But under the guise of picturesque village life, an evil force is stirring in the forest, a force that refuses to let the events of the past die and is a looming threat in the present. With the help of Cameron Rafferty, the town's hunky chief of police, Clare must fight for her life against the satanic powers of evil that lurk right in her own backyard.

Sacred Sins (Nora Roberts, 1987)

The Heroine: Dr. Tess Court, a prominent psychiatrist in Washington, D.C. When a serial killer nicknamed "The Priest" begins targeting victims in the area, Tess is reluctantly persuaded to help out the police with a psychiatric profile. Paired up with notorious bachelor, Detective Ben Paris, Tess is determined to find and help the lunatic who believes committing murder will help absolve his victims of their sins. Unfortunately, Ben Paris is just as determined to pull the madman off the street – either dead or alive. Tension comes to a head between these two unlikely partners when Tess reaches out in compassion to the killer, only to find herself the next object of his deathly obsession.

Brazen Virtue (Nora Roberts, 1988)

The Heroine: Famous mystery writer, Grace McCabe, who has landed in Washington, DC, to visit her distant sister, Kathleen. Recently divorced and struggling for cash, Kathleen confides that she has taken up a job moonlighting as a phone sex operator, under the alias Desiree, for Fantasy Inc. Though Fantasy, Inc. promises anonymity to its employees, it only takes one startling event to hint towards a break in the system: Kathleen, strangled to death on the floor of her office. Grief-stricken, Grace is determined to catch her sister's killer, even if it means getting in the way of Detective Ed Jackson, her sister's next door neighbour and homicide detective, or throwing herself directly in the deranged killer's path.

Though these books were written well before the millennium (and, actually, before I was born!), good writing and an exciting plot never goes out of style. I'll still be trolling the book aisles for some of Nora Roberts' darker works for years to come. 

Wishlist Wednesday!

Wishlist Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Dani at Pen to Paper, meant to highlight upcoming releases that we're psyched to get our hands on!

Today, I'm looking forward to Sherri Wood Emmons new novel, The Sometimes Daughter. I loved, loved, loved her first book, Prayers and Lies (the review of which you can see below). Emmons is a fantastically talented writer and I think she can make any story feel magical! Here's the Goodreads synopsis: 
Judy Webster is born in a mud-splattered tent at Woodstock, just as Crosby, Stills, and Nash take the stage. Her mother, Cassie, is a beautiful, flawed flower-child who brings her little girl to anti-war protests and parties rather than enroll her in pre-school. But as Cassie's husband, Kirk, gradually abandons '60s ideals in favor of a steady home and a law degree, their once idyllic marriage crumbles.
Dragging Judy back from the Kentucky commune where Cassie has taken her, Kirk files for divorce and is awarded custody. When Cassie eventually moves to an ashram in India, Judy is grief-stricken. At school, she constructs lies to explain her unconventional home-life, trying desperately to fit in to the world her mother rejected.
Cassie calls and writes, occasionally entering Judy's life just long enough to disrupt it. But little by little, Judy is growing up. As she grapples with her father's remarriage and her own reckless urges, she encounters all the joy and heartbreak that goes with first love, first loss, sex, drugs, and self-discovery. And when Cassie comes home again, Judy, who has tried so long to find a place in her mother's life, must finally decide what place Cassie claims in hers. . .
The Sometimes Daughter will be released on February 1st, 2012. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Prayers and Lies (Sherri Wood Emmons, 2011)

The Heroine: Bethany Wylie, a young girl growing up in sixties-era Indiana. Over her summers spent in West Virginia, Bethany forms a close bond with her cousin Reana Mae, a troubled child running wild amongst the poverty, tangled relationships and old gossip of the Coal River Valley. The story follows Bethany and Reana Mae as they grow from children to women, the course of their lives influenced and changed by the family secrets that are revealed and the ultimate tragedies that steal their innocence forever.

The Highs: There are some stories that stick with you for a long time, and I know that Prayers and Lies is one of those stories. Beautifully written, with a carefully constructed plot and characters that feel so heartbreakingly real, this novel is haunting and addictive. The narrator Bethany's voice is so clear and unique that she seems to take on a life of her own, living and breathing right off the page. I cared for her immediately and couldn't stop reading until I found out what happened to her next and how yet again her life would be twisted around by the unending turns in the plot.

This novel is packed with suspense. The plot jerks the reader in a dozen different directions, all leading up to a climactic ending at the speed of a freight train. The author's writing is also the perfect example of creating a mood and atmosphere: there is a sense of foreboding that hangs over the tale, drawing you into the dark, sick world of Bethany and Reana Mae's childhood until you are completely enraptured. I think writing professors should use Prayers and Lies as an example of perfect writing in every lecture!

The ending does not disappoint in this tale of family drama and lost childhoods. By the time I had turned the last page, my emotions were raw and I felt spent and exhausted. This story touched me deeply, the way any excellent book should, and I will certainly be adding this to my favourites list.

The Lows: Prayers and Lies definitely warrants a "sensitive subject" warning. The story overflows with discomforting topics and I would advise anyone who is sensitive towards child abuse, suicide, rape, violence, sex, swearing and substance abuse to read with caution. This book was very upsetting emotionally and I often had to remind myself that it was fiction for comfort.

Final Thoughts: This book will be on my shelf for a long, long time and I expect it will become dog-eared with love. I'm eagerly looking forward to Sherri Wood Emmons's next project!

Rating: Prayer and Lies earns nine dirty secrets out of ten. 

To buy this book on Amazon, click here
To connect with author Sherri Wood Emmons, click here
Photo from here

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Vintage Affair (Isabel Wolff, 2009)

The Heroine: Phoebe Swift, a vintage fashion enthusiast opening up her own vintage clothing store in London. Haunted by the recent death of her best friend, for which she believes she is responsible, Phoebe finds kinship in Mrs. Bell, an elderly lady with a secret to share. Phoebe attempts to help Mrs. Bell find closure with her past while navigating her new relationship with a single father and an unlikely friendship with a newspaper journalist. As Phoebe comes closer to finding out what really happened in Mrs. Bell's past, she ultimately finds closure and truth in her own life.

The Highs: I enjoyed A Vintage Affair much more than I did The Very Picture of You, a book I previously read and reviewed by Isabel Wolff. Though the writing of both books are equally charming and suspenseful, I found Phoebe's story more complex and therefore more interesting. The numerous layered subplots of this book keep each chapter fresh and I found myself tearing quickly through this novel.

I absolutely love the mix of past and present within the plot. Though the story doesn't include any actual flashbacks, I love the effect history, both within society and personal, has on the present and that is definitely felt in the plot of this novel. Even the placement of vintage clothing in the story tells us a little about the past. Not to mention the details of the gorgeous garments in Phoebe's story create beautiful descriptions.

Also, Phoebe's emotional journey feels very real and organic. She is a well-rounded character, with both good and bad traits. She is a little aloof and somber, but she has a very kind, generous heart within her serious exterior. I felt a real camaraderie with her and I was really invested in her story. I'm so happy that everything turned out well for her in the end (I don't feel that saying this is really much of a spoiler since it's described as a "romantic comedy")!

The Lows: On the back cover of this book, it says that it is a "romance". I really do not agree with this label. Though there is a romantic subplot to the story, it is not at the forefront of the novel and, at the end, the story is really about Phoebe's emotional journey to acceptance of the past. The important themes are friendship, redemption, forgiveness and loving yourself, not romantic love. I wouldn't have felt too disappointed about this, except for the fact that the story hints to a romantic relationship at the end, but never confirms it. This leaves me wondering, which is really just annoying.

I also felt that the ending was a little too "clean". Every subplot ends in a perfectly happy, perfectly packaged ending. Real life is rarely like this, and it irks me when authors complete their stories this way.

Final Thoughts: I adored this book and I got through it quickly. It's sweet, happy and uplifting – all the makings of good chick lit.

Rating: A Vintage Affair earns seven vintage gowns out of ten. 

To buy 'A Vintage Affair' on Amazon, click here
To connect with author Isabel Wolff, click here
Photo from here

Friday, January 6, 2012

Guest Post on Pen to Paper!

Hello, Bookies! Just wanted to let you all know that I have written a guest post on the lovely Dani's blog, Pen to Paper. To see my thoughts on all things heroine, click over to Pen to Paper now! The direct link to my post can be found here


Click the button to visit Dani at Pen to Paper!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Silver Girl (Elin Hilderbrand, 2011)

The Heroine: Meredith Delinn, the wife of famous investment banker Freddy Delinn. When it is revealed that Freddy is operating a Ponzi scheme and is sent to prison, Meredith is forced to escape the media frenzy in Manhattan and rely on her childhood friend, Connie Flute, to hide her at her Nantucket beach house for the summer. Though Nantucket may be the best destination for a care-free summer, Meredith is plagued by the FBI's investigation of her and her son, the loss of her marriage and an unknown stalker, whose threatening actions leave the women scared and vulnerable. Meredith's only solace is her best friend, Connie, and over the course of the summer, both women learn the importance of friendship, forgiveness and love.

The Highs: I absolutely adore Elin Hilderbrand's writing style. Her characters are created to be completely three-dimensional. The author avoids the rich trophy wife stereotype completely: Meredith is instead an intelligent, Ivy-league educated woman, devoted to her sons and known for her trademark horn-rimmed glasses. And instead of the devoted hanger-on friend, Connie is a fiery, vivacious beauty with a penchant for wine and coping with the loss of her husband from brain cancer.

Each character's present actions are so embedded in the past that the effect is pure, steady and consistent characters that have their own unique voices. The sections of the book that focus on Meredith are distinctly her own, just as Connie's ring true with her character. This can be quite difficult to do, so Elin Hilderbrand's masterful effort was both impressive and beautiful, forcing me to fall in love with both Meredith and Connie.

The plot to Silver Girl is crafted just as delicately as the characterization and includes many little twists and turns to keep readers guessing. In light of the Madoff crimes from a few years ago, the subject of "the wife left behind" is relevant, interesting and reads like a juicy look onto the other side of a scandal. I also loved the way flashbacks into the past were integrated into the story. It allowed me to get to know the characters better and it was really enjoyable.

Not only does this book include great characters and an interesting plot, but the Nantucket scenery descriptions are simply beautiful and has left me longing for a beach vacation. Reading Silver Girl leaves you feeling like you're on vacation!

The Lows: I really wish the story included an explanation from Freddy. While Meredith's examination of her husband does seem to explain why he did what he did, I really would have been interested to hear what he had to say. I also wish we knew whether or not Meredith was going to divorce Freddy at the end of the story. Obviously, I loved this book if I adored the characters enough to wonder what happened to them!

Final Thoughts: I loved Silver Girl and I will most likely read it again in the future. Right now, I'm saving up to go out and buy all her other books!

Rating: Silver Girl earns eight glasses of white wine out of ten. 

To buy 'Silver Girl' on Amazon, click here
To connect with author Elin Hilderbrand, follow her on twitter here
Photo from here
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