Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Review: The Darkest Joy, by Marata Eros

Review by: Rachel Gonzales

Marata Eros is the author of over seventy titles, including the New York Times bestseller A Terrible Love and the Token series. Her novels cover a variety of genres, including erotica, fantasy, horror, sci-fi, and suspense. The Darkest Joy, published in 2014, tells the story of a young woman who escapes a terrible tragedy only to find solace, happiness, and love in the most unexpected of places.

Official synopsis:
Six months ago, Brooke Starr was one impeccable piano performance away from Juilliard. Now, she is lonely, devastated, orphaned … seeking solace in a place where the sun never sets and trying to make sense of the dark tragedy that clouds her shattered heart.

Deep-sea fisherman Chance Taylor can’t imagine what his life would be if he’d never taken that midnight stroll to the pier. Had never seen the intriguing, raven-haired girl swan dive into the Alaskan sea. Had never plunged into the icy waters to rescue her … and finally felt her electric charge.

As their blazing chemistry consumes them, Chance is determined to save Brooke from her demons. But Brooke knows she must find her own footing. She thinks she’s already lost everything -- until the terror of her past catches up with her and threatens all that she has left: her life, her love, and the freedom to choose between drowning in grief and finding joy in the darkness.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: From Scratch, by Rachel Goodman {ends 8/3}

Sighing, I lean my head back and soak up the sun filtering through the overhang of branches, thinking of all the times Nick patched me up when I was hurt. Even now, the faded scars and slight imperfections covering my body tell secret stories of all the knife cuts he bandaged, the oven burns he soothed, the sore backs and throbbing feet he massaged after grueling diner shifts. 

But then, he's also the one who shattered my heart into so many pieces it shocked my soul into silence.

This book definitely reminded me of the movie Waitress, minus the crazy husband, in that it follows a cook-turned-lawyer as she returns back to Dallas to care for her aging father, who has an operation scheduled soon. Lillie escaped to Chicago a few years back, and now has a new job (lawyer), new life, and new fiancee ... but that might change once she runs into her old love and former fiancee, Nick.

Official synopsis:
A down-home, feel-good debut Southern romance, From Scratch explores one woman’s journey back home to Dallas, Texas, where her family is cooking up a plan that doesn’t quite suit her tastes…

Thirty-year-old Lillie Turner grew up with maple syrup stuck to her skin and bacon grease splattered on her clothes, courtesy of working in the family diner. Thank goodness she escaped all that when she moved to Chicago five years ago. Now a successful strategy consultant and newly engaged to a man who complements her like biscuits and gravy, she has everything she wants.

When an urgent phone call about her father’s health pulls Lillie back to Dallas, she soon learns it was a ruse to bring her home so she can run the diner she’d rather avoid and compete in the Upper Crust, an annual baking competition, with no option to withdraw. Lillie is furious and ready to run back to Chicago, but her father’s haggard appearance makes her wonder if he’s hiding something. Things go from bad to worse when Nick, her handsome ex and the only man she ever truly loved, reappears, looking as scrumptious as ever.

Lillie’s trip home forces her to question the path she’s chosen, find her place in the family she abandoned, and wonder if the life she left behind is what she wants after all.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Those Secrets We Keep, by Emily Liebert {ends 8/1}

Sometimes it was hard to separate Hillary the friend from Hillary the family counselor. Was she analyzing Sloane's every word? Her every expression? Was she judging her for being sent into a tailspin over running into an ex-boyfriend? Hillary had a front-row seat to witness the train wreck of her long overdue reunion with Luke, when, apparently, not only had the cat gotten her tongue, but he'd run off with it. What if she'd observed a significant look or emotion? What if she'd seen Luke's eyes meet Sloane's and noticed the unspoken dialogue they had exchanged? Would she say something to Greg? Would Greg say something to Eddie? Did Sloane even care? It wasn't like she'd done anything wrong by running into Luke.

There was also the considerably more likely scenario that Sloane was reading the situation as if it were an epic love story when in reality it was nothing more than a cheap paperback relegated to the sales bin at the supermarket. 

I reviewed another of Emily Liebert's books almost two years ago (You Knew Me When) and enjoyed that one, so I had high hopes for this one. Those Secrets We Keep is a fun beach read - I actually started reading it at the Grand Haven, MI beach when I was there a few weeks ago - although a little slow in parts.

Official synopsis:
Three women. Three lives. Three secrets.

On the surface, Sloane has the perfect life—an adoring husband, a precocious daughter, and enough financial security to be a stay-at-home mom. Still, she can’t help but feel as though something—or someone—is missing....

Hillary has a successful career and a solid marriage. The only problem is her inability to conceive. And there’s a very specific reason why....

As the wild-child daughter of old family money, Georgina has never had to accept responsibility for anything. So when she realizes an unexpected life change could tie her down forever, she does exactly what she’s always done: escape.

When these three women unite for a three-week-long summer vacation in beautiful Lake George, New York, even with the idyllic location as their backdrop, the tensions begin to mount. And they quickly discover that no secret can be kept forever....

Sloane and her friends Hillary and Georgina are staying at Sloane's aunt's cottage in Lake George, NY, when Sloane runs into Luke, a former boyfriend. Sloane has a perfectly nice husband at home, Eddie, who will be joining the girls with Greg (Hillary's husband) at the house in a few weeks, but seeing Luke makes feelings come back from the one summer they spent together.

Meanwhile, Georgina decides to crash the trip last-minute, and she's running away from something, though Hillary and Sloane aren't privy to this info until later on in the novel. Hillary may seem perfect, but she's also harboring a secret, especially from her husband, and it's a secret that could be life-changing.

This book was definitely a quick read, although I haven't had a lot of time for reading lately so it took me a week or so to finish it. I liked You Knew Me When (see above) a little more than this one, but that novel focused on two women and this one focuses on a group of friends (three women); in the Q&A with the author at the end of the book, she mentions that she wanted to try writing about three women instead of two this time. 

The ending was also very open-ended, which I always dislike in books, but the author said not to count out a sequel, which would satisfy me - I'd like to see more of these characters.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who likes a "beach" read (aka: a quick read) or who likes "chick lit." Liebert has written one other novel, too, When We Fall, and I'd like to check that out at some point too.

3.5 stars out of 5.
{Click here to purchase}

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

More about the book, from the author:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Book Review: The Lost Concerto, by Helaine Mario

Once more he thought about the Bright Angel file locked in his briefcase and the woman code named Concerto. Magdalena O'Shea. Add in Zachary Law. Victor Orsini. What connected all of the players? What was the one thing they all had in common? Sofia Orsini? No. Education? No. Work? Friends? Passions?

"Music," He said suddenly.


What if the O'Shea woman had something Orsini needed? She was a musician, after all. If music was the common thread, then Magdalena O'Shea was at the center of the storm.

I was invited to review this book through Tomoson (a review website) and was intrigued by it - I'm a (former-ish) violinist and I love books that weave music themes throughout. The novel ended up being very Mary Higgins Clark meets Harlan Coben, and I ended up enjoying it even though it was a little lengthy (about 425 pages).

Official synopsis:
A woman and her young son flee to a convent on a remote island off the Breton coast of France. Generations of seafarers have named the place Ile de la Brume, or Fog Island. In a chapel high on a cliff, a tragic death occurs and a terrified child vanishes into the mist.

The child’s godmother, Maggie O’Shea, haunted by the violent deaths of her husband and best friend, has withdrawn from her life as a classical pianist. But then a recording of unforgettable music and a grainy photograph surface, connecting her missing godson to a long-lost first love.

The photograph will draw Maggie inexorably into a collision course with criminal forces, decades-long secrets, stolen art and musical artifacts, and deadly terrorists. Her search will take her to the Festival de Musique, Aix-en-Provence, France, where she discovers answers to the mystery surrounding her husband’s death, an unexpected love—and a musical masterpiece lost for centuries.

A compelling blend of suspense, mystery, political intrigue, and romance,
The Lost Concerto explores universal themes of loss, vengeance, courage, and love.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Quick Pick & GIVEAWAY: Hope Out Loud, by Kristina Riggle {ends 7/25}

  • Opening lines: The handwriting on the postcard is spiky and jerky, as if someone were trying to yank it away from my father before he finished what he had to say. 
  • Reason I picked up the book: I love all of Riggle's other books - I actually had the chance to go to a reading of hers in Warren, MI a few years ago too. I read the novel that this is a follow-up novella to, also (The Life You've Imagined), although I don't believe I reviewed it here. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • Five years after the summer of The Life You’ve Imagined, Anna Geneva’s mother is getting married. This means Anna must return to her hometown and the scene of her infamous affair with her teenage love Will Becker, who was married at the time, with a young daughter. Anna plans to avoid him, watch her mom get married, and hightail it back to her private law practice and her cozy apartment in Chicago.

    But in a town as small as Haven, avoiding the elder son of a prominent family is harder than it seems, especially with so much shared history. And Maeve Geneva’s wedding? Well, the bride is starting to worry that maybe she’s not ready to marry again after all, though she swears her ex-husband’s affectionate postcards have nothing to do with that.

    Anna thought she’d left her hometown behind for good five years ago, but she’s learning it takes more than two hundred miles along the Lake Michigan shore to put Haven truly behind her …
  • Favorite paragraph:
  • We did it all backwards. Our teenage love was uncomplicated and easy. We had a friendship of like minds plus passionate ardor: hesitant virgins making clumsy love in a moonlit park. Our drama and crises came later, when we should have been old enough to know better. As it turned out, we were merely old enough to take something lovely and ruin it. 
  • Recommended for: Anyone who likes a quick story - this is a novella, and it's about 125 pages in print or 85 pages on Kindle, according to Amazon. Also anyone who has read The Life You've Imagined, even though this can be read as a standalone novel too.
  • Something to know: Kristina Riggle is from the west side of the state, and one of my favorite (real) cities there is Grand Haven - I'd like to think "Haven" is based on that city, and so I could kind of see it in my mind as I read this novella.
  • What I would have changed: I would have maybe made the novella a little longer, or perhaps a full-length book - I wanted to know more about what happens to these characters after the novella ended.
  • Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here.

*Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this book from the author for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book Review: Maybe in Another Life, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Will we or won't we? and If I let him take me home, will it mean more to me than it means to him?

I look at Ethan and then I look at Gabby.

Life is long and full of an infinite number of decisions. I have to think that the small ones don't matter, that I'll end up where I need to end up no matter what I do.

My fate will find me.

So I decide to ... 

This novel was fantastic. I shouldn't be surprised, because I loved Taylor Jenkins Reid's other two novels too, and I also love books that follow two parallel storylines (sort of like a "choose your own adventure") ... but I'm still thinking about this novel, a few days later now.

Official synopsis:
From the acclaimed author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do comes a breathtaking new novel about a young woman whose fate hinges on the choice she makes after bumping into an old flame; in alternating chapters, we see two possible scenarios unfold—with stunningly different results.

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Liferaises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

GIVEAWAY: Mama's Boy, by ReShonda Tate Billingsley {ends 7/22}

Mama's Boy was just released on July 7th (check back later for my review) and I have a chance for you to win a copy!

When her son is in trouble, a heartbroken mother finds the courage and faith to save him, in ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s powerful family drama MAMA’S BOY—a novel as timely as today’s headlines.

The breaking TV news rocks Jasper, Texas, to the core: a white police officer is fatally shot in a scuffle with three black youths—and a cellphone video captures Jamal Jones, the sixteen-year-old son of esteemed Reverend Elton Jones, escalating the tragic encounter. Now, as the national spotlight shines on a town already rife with racial tension, Jamal is a murder suspect on the run. And all of Jasper—even the reverend’s congregation—rushes to judge the teen they thought they knew.

But Gloria Jones knows her son best, and she races to find Jamal before the law does—to the outrage of her workaholic husband. Once she finds him, she has to decide whether to turn him in or help him run. With ruthless prosecutor and Houston mayoral candidate Kay Christensen hungering to put another young thug behind bars, Gloria will face her biggest battle yet. And when long-hidden secrets and shocking lies come to light, throwing Jamal’s case and his destiny into a tailspin, all Gloria can do is pray that the truth—and a mother’s unconditional love—will be enough to redeem the mistakes of the past and, ultimately, save her son.

MAMA’S BOY will have readers engrossed in thoughts of what they would do if facing the same situation, and inevitably having the conversation with others—a page-turner and conversation-starter all in one.

ReShonda Tate Billingsley is the national bestselling author of more than 35 books. Four of her books will be made into BET movies: Let the Church Say Amen, Everybody Say Amen, and Say Amen, Again, (winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work), and I Know I’ve Been Changed. Regina King will direct Let the Church Say Amen. Queen Latifah’s Flava Unit will be producing. Scheduled air date for Let the Church Say Amen is August 30, 2015. TV One will premiere both The Secret She Kept and The Devil is a Lie in 2016.

{Click here to purchase}

This book is very timely, based on recent events, and it sounds like a good read. You can find the author at these events, as well:

Wednesday, July 15th, 6:00 – 8:00 pm (today!)
The Twig, 306 Pearl Parkway Suite 106, San Antonio, TX

Saturday, July 18th, 2:00 – 4:00 pm
Houston Public Library, 5411 Pardee St., Houston TX 77026
*An event with ReShonda’s daughter Morgan Billingsley

Tuesday, July 21st, 7:00 pm
Barnes & Noble, Westheimer Crossing, 7626 Westheimer, Houston, TX
*An event with Victoria Christopher Murray

Thursday, July 23, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Epps Memorial Library, 1324 North Simmons St., Lake Charles, LA

Saturday, July 25, 1:00 pm
Barnes & Noble, 4155 Dowlen Rd., Beaumont, TX

Sunday, August 9th, 3:00 pm
Durham County Main Library, 300 N. Roxboro St., Durham, NC

BOOK FESTIVAL: September 4th – 6th, 2015
Decatur Book Festival, Decatur, GA (10 minutes outside Atlanta)

BOOK FESTIVAL: Saturday, September 12th, 2015
2nd Annual Literacy Mid-South Book Festival, Memphis, TN

Saturday, September 19th, 9:30 – 6:00 pm
Durham County Library, Southwest Regional Library, 3605 Shannon Rd., Durham, NC

Monday, July 13, 2015

GIVEAWAY: Calm Like Home, by Kaisa Clark {1 e-book, ends 7/19}

Calm Like Home releases on July 15th, and you can win yourself an ebook copy here!

Official synopsis:
Alexa Clausen has never fallen. She’s never soared. She’s lived her entire life floating midway between passion and despondency, never experiencing those extremes. But all it takes is one evening with Adam Westbrook to draw her out of her shell, to leave her feeling bold for the first time ever. He is fiery and magnetic. He is gravitational, that inescapable pull no one can avoid. After a few chance encounters, Alexa accepts that she can’t stay away, can’t deny the electricity she feels every time he comes around.

But as the intensity between them deepens, she also can’t avoid the subtle hints that Adam is hiding something. His wide smile and radiant eyes obscure some burning secret, some detail of his past that resurfaces to steal his joy. The farther Alexa falls, the more she realizes just how little she really knows about Adam and how far he is willing to go to cover up the truth.

Calm Like Home is a story about love and longing, growth and stagnation, discovering one’s counterpart but losing oneself, and ultimately finding that one person truly has the power to change everything.

About the Author:
Kaisa Clark is the author of the new adult novel Calm Like Home. She is passionate about reading and writing and also has an intense love for music, coffee, and dark chocolate. She lives with her amazing husband, sweet dog, and kooky cat.

I haven't read this book, but from the synopsis, I want to - it sounds like a fun read.
{Click here to purchase on Amazon}

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

GIVEAWAY: paperback copy of Toxic, by Kim Karr {ends 7/17}

Kim Karr's newest novel, Toxic, hit stores yesterday (7/7) and you can win yourself a copy here!

Official synopsis:
Phoebe St. Claire is beautiful, privileged, hard-working...and the heiress to a failing hotel empire. Determined to save her family's legacy, Phoebe is all business and no pleasure-- until Jeremy McQueen reemerges into her life, transformed from the sexy bad boy of her past to a modern Gatsby of the nightclub world. The same Jeremy McQueen who broke her heart and never looked back. The same Jeremy McQueen she can never forget and who might hold the key to saving her hotel ...

Set amidst the dazzling background of NYC and the exclusive Hamptons and filled with a cast of unforgettable characters,
Toxic is perfect for fans of Gossip Girl's elite and beautiful crowd and The Notebook's passionate and heartfelt journey to romantic reunion.

I haven't read this book yet, but it sounds like a fun read - I was a big fan of Gossip Girl when it was on TV, as well.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, by Amy E. Reichert {ends 7/13}

She wondered if Al would call. That caused her stomach to do a flip; a drunken, sloppy flip, but a flip nonetheless. She vowed not to discuss work or jobs with him. He'd be her escape from reality. Never mind that her lungs had stopped when he'd caught her and her hands itched to feel what hid under his neat, preppy appearance. She'd always kept her impulses grounded, but tossing her cautions in the air with Al might keep her occupied while life as she knew it blew away.

The relationship in this book has been compared to the one in You've Got Mail, one of my favorite movies, so I knew I definitely wanted to read this novel. In this case, instead of a department store mogul and a small bookshop owner, we have a newspaper restaurant critic and a restaurant owner and chef, and I definitely was not disappointed by this incarnation of the similar story.

Official synopsis:
YOU'VE GOT MAIL meets HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE in this delightful novel about a talented chef and the food critic who brings down her restaurant — whose chance meeting turns into a delectable romance of mistaken identities.

In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancĂ©…until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.

Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.

The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?

Set in the lovely, quirky heart of Wisconsin, THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE is a charming love story of misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and the power of food to bring two people together.

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Chasing River, by K.A. Tucker (Burying Water #3)

I wander over to the rail and gaze out on the stretch of water that cuts through the heart of Dublin, watching the tiny ripples dance along the surface, and consider my next move. This is, after all, part of why I took this trip in the first place. To experience life while I'm young and unattached. To make memories that will last me a lifetime. To find out if the Amber I've known all these years - with an overprotective sheriff father and a practical surgeon mother looking over my shoulder - would make the same choices as the one who is free of scrutiny. Do I abide by the black-and-white limits I've set for myself because that's who I truly am or because that's who I am while being judged? And how far into that gray area might I venture before I go running back to my familiar boundaries?

This is the third novel in the Burying Water series, which includes a book of the same name (#1) and Becoming Rain (#2). All of the characters pop up (even if just by reference) in all three books, which is fun, but each one focuses on a different character. Chasing River focuses on Amber, the sister of Jesse (who was featured in Burying Water, and whose friend Luke was featured in Becoming Rain). Amber is taking a trip to Ireland, but what she finds there may surprise herself.

Official synopsis:
Armed with two years' worth of savings and the need to experience life outside the bubble of her Oregon small town, twenty-five-year old Amber Welles is prepared for anything. Except dying in Dublin. Had it not been for the bravery of a stranger, she might have. But he takes off before she has the chance to offer her gratitude.

Twenty-four-year-old River Delaney is rattled. No one was supposed to get hurt. But then that American tourist showed up. He couldn't let her die, but he also couldn't risk being identified at the scene—so, he ran. Back to his everyday life of running his family’s pub. Only, everyday life is getting more and more complicated, thanks to his brother, Aengus, and his criminal associations. When the American girl tracks River down, he quickly realizes how much he likes her, how wrong she is for him. And how dangerous it is to have her around. Chasing her off would be the smart move.

Maybe it's because he saved her life, or maybe it's because he's completely different from everything she's left behind, but Amber finds herself chasing after River Delaney. Amber isn’t the kind of girl to chase after anyone.

And River isn't the kind of guy she'd want to catch.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Review: The Vanishing Season, by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Unable to sleep, she peered out into the dark yard. Across the field yellow light from the white house’s windows shone through the rain, giving off a comforting sense of safety and the feeling that something else was out there in the world besides just her and her parents.

Maggie dreamed that night about the lake, black and shining in the dark, with angels spreading their wings on its surface. Open and close, open and close, like the wings of moths.

Official synopsis:
Girls started vanishing in the fall.

For Maggie Larsen, the town of Gill Creek is only a stopgap before college and freedom. Until she meets Pauline and Liam. What starts as an uneventful year suddenly changes. Someone is killing teenage girls, and the town reels from the tragedy. As Maggie's and Pauline's worlds collide and change around them, they will both experience love and loss...

The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson turned out to be nothing I expected. Based on the synopsis, I anticipated a mystery or ghost story with a little romance thrown in. It's not really any of those things even though elements of all three play into the book.

The Vanishing Season focuses on discovery. The mood the author creates sweeps over the reader the way a winter wind shifts the snow, covering the landscape in an even, eerie white. Sadly, I read it at the wrong time of year. I still enjoyed it, but I wish I could have traded the early weeks of summer for brisker days of late fall and early winter when the book takes place. The setting calls to mind the smell of the first snow, the chill in the air, the coziness of being inside and the crisp serenity of ventures into the snowy landscape. I recommend one read the entire book in a chilly, gray weekend or afternoon (maybe just after Thanksgiving). Get some cocoa or tea, and venture out into the wintery chill of the evening wrapped in a blanket to read the last chapter. (You don’t have to do any of that, but it will lend a great deal to the mood).

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