Thursday, October 9, 2014

(Review) He's So Fine by Jill Shalvis

Title: He's So Fine
Author: Jill Shalvis
Series: Lucky Harbor, #11
Published: September 30, 2014 (Grand Central Publishing)
Rating: Staying in Tonight
Format: Egalley provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review (Thanks!); paperback borrowed from my sister, borrowed from the library.
Summary: For Olivia Bentley, Lucky Harbor is more than the town where she runs her new vintage shop. It's the place where folks are friendly to strangers-and nobody knows her real name. Olivia does a good job of keeping her past buried, not getting too cozy with anyone . . . until she sees a man drowning. Suddenly she's rushing into the surf, getting up close and personal with the hottest guy she's ever laid hands on.

Charter boat captain Cole Donovan has no problem with a gorgeous woman throwing her arms around his neck in an effort to "save" him. In fact, he'd like to spend a lot more time skin-to-skin with Olivia. He's just not expecting that real trouble is about to come her way. Will it bring her deeper into Cole's heart, or will it be the end of Olivia's days in little Lucky Harbor?
I had He's So Fine for several weeks before I finally read it. I would look at it, get excited, then stop before I actually read the first line. Why? Because reading it would mean there would only be one more Lucky Harbor book for me to read ever, and that's just a terrible thought. Thankfully, the release date came around, and my cousin devoured this book faster than you can say "sa-woon." This, of course, prompted me to finally crack it open (figuratively speaking, obviously, as it was on my Nook), so we could discuss it!

As always, it was wonderful to be back in Lucky Harbor. I always like seeing it through the eyes of characters who are both new to town (Olivia) and those who grew up there (Cole). And, of course, those who make the town as quirky as it is (Lucille, who had recently navigated the transition from Facebook to Tumblr, due to their less restrictive photo policies, all the better for posting shirtless photographs of our favorite resident ship captain).

Oh, Cole. He is what made this book for me. Truthfully, I was surprised to learn this book was about him, because in the Lucky Harbor mini-trilogies, the most intriguing hero of the three is usually saved for the last book, and I was drawn to Cole immediately. (I am certainly eager for Tanner's now! Who knows what amazingness Shalvis has been holding out on us?) Far be it from me to complain, though! I'll take a nice, sexy, honest, comfortable-in-his-own-skin handyman any day of the week. Cole had some things he had to work through, but he was definitely the star of the show.

Olivia was a little difficult to get to know as a character, because she was hiding a lot of her past. She had been a child star named Sharlyn, but her super popular show was canceled when at age 16, she finally looked too old to convincingly play a young girl anymore. After this, she had a typical Hollywood meltdown, went into hiding, and rebuilt her life as Olivia. She was scrappy, smart, and dedicated, but she was also used to being secretive and hiding her past. This created a problem when she started to get involved with Cole, who was all about the honesty.

Their interactions were spectacular! I mean, really. Their first official meeting happened because she jumped into the water to rescue Cole after watching him fall from a boat, only to make matters worse because he was actually fine, and she had no idea what she was doing. It was hilarious! She had the best of intentions, though, you had to hand it to her. Though they got started on kind of a crazy foot, Cole and Olivia fell into something like friendship pretty quickly and naturally, but although they had some pretty sizzling attraction, things had to be worked out before either was ready for a real commitment.

I only had a few small problems with this book. One is that the book felt kind of thrown together at times, the writing a little rushed. I would have liked to see some of the details a little more fleshed out, and I definitely wanted more interaction between the three main guys.

However, I was super excited to see Callie, Becca and Olivia's new neighbor, show up! She's clearly going to be the third heroine, and I'm already anticipating her story. Especially since she used to have a crush on Tanner AND is related to Lucille. I know the next book is going to rock. If I can ever convince myself to read it, that is. But if He's So Fine - and all the previous Shalvis books I've read - taught me one thing, it's this: Saying "yes" to a Jill Shalvis book is always the right answer.
For a guy balancing his weight between the stern of his boat and the dock, thinking about sex instead of what he was doing was a real bonehead move.

“You’re engaged to be married,” Callie reminded her.
“Yes, but it’s Captain Jack Sparrow,” Becca said. “He’s a fictional character. You’re allowed to lust after fictional characters when you’re engaged. It’s in the Engaged Handbook somewhere.”

“Just because we’ve,” she said, “doesn’t mean–”
“We discussed your sexual vocabulary. ‘It’ is not on the list of acceptable descriptions for what we did.”
“Fine,” she said. “We had wild monkey sex that ruined me for all other men. Happy?”
“Getting there.”

Thursday, October 2, 2014

(Review) Once More, My Darling Rogue by Lorraine Heath

Title: Once More, My Darling Rogue
Author: Lorraine Heath
Series: Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, #2
Published: August 2014 (Avon)
Rating: Stay Up 'til 2 AM
Format: Paperback borrowed from the library
Summary: Born to the street but raised within the aristocracy, Drake Darling can’t escape his sordid beginnings. Not when Lady Ophelia Lyttleton snubs him at every turn, a constant reminder he’s not truly one of them. But after rescuing her from a mysterious drowning he realizes she doesn’t remember who she is. With plans to bring her to heel, he insists she’s his housekeeper—never expecting to fall for the charming beauty.

While Ophelia might not recall her life before Drake, she has little doubt she belongs with him. The desire she feels for her dark, brooding employer can’t be denied, regardless of consequences. So when her memory returns, she is devastated by the depth of his betrayal. Now Drake must risk everything to prove she can trust this rogue with her heart once more.
I went into Once More, My Darling Rogue very excited but also a little hesitant. I'm not always a fan of amnesia stories. Although they can be enjoyable, a lot of them wind up blending together in my mind because they're so similar. In order for me to desire to read one, I need something more. The heroine being completely hateful to the hero, followed by the hero taking advantage of the heroine's amnesia and making her act as his housekeeper? That'll do it. I knew Heath would have to tread carefully, because while the story would definitely be unique, it could also be the perfect setting for a good, old-fashioned alphahole, the fastest way to ruin a book. Thankfully, my trepidation was for naught. I fell head over heels for this book and devoured it in a day.

Let's start with the characters. In the beginning, Ophelia Lyttleton was kind of horrid. And I LOVED it. She was spoiled by servants, totally taking them for granted, and you know what? That's real. Highborn ladies of the time were pampered, waited on hand and foot by servants. They weren't expected to do anything for themselves. She was of the upper class, and she was well aware of it, having been raised by a father who drilled into her their superiority to those of lower birth. It was incredibly refreshing to see this, even though it did not make her the most likable of heroines at first. In addition, she was a total witch to the Drake, snubbing him repeatedly in front of others. To be fair, we mostly saw this from his perspective and memories, and the small glimpse we got into Ophelia's head showed that she was using this behavior as a defense mechanism against her attraction toward to Drake, someone with whom she could never be associated without losing her dowry and what was left of her family. There was also a lot more going on beneath the surface with her, secrets she did not reveal even in her thoughts until much later in the story.

Then there was Drake. I think the first line says it all:
I was born Peter Sykes, the son of a murderer, the son of a woman murdered, a heritage that has always haunted me.
Um, HELLO. Way to make an impression with the first line. It wasn't at all what I expected when I cracked open the book. That first line captivated me, and I continued to be intrigued by Drake through the whole book. He was smart, a great businessman, intimidating, but fair, but he had innate inferiority issues due to his birth, despite being raised in a duke's family. (I was completely intrigued by his pseudo-adoptive parents, as well, and I really hope Heath has written their story at some point in the past. I got that impression, and I would love to read it!) He also had a dragon tattoo. I'll let you read the book to discover where, but I'll just say that there was a scene about it that caused some definite swoonage.

Drake and Ophelia each brought out the worst in each other. She was mean to him to keep him at a distance, and the easiest method was to remind him of his inferiority. This was his one big weakness, the one issue that would really get to him. While usually in amnesia stories, I prefer to know how the hero and heroine would have gotten together without that particular plot device, I don't think this one would've worked without it. They were caught in a circle of animosity. They needed some reason to see beyond the barriers they had erected. And in their particular case, I don't believe that really would've happened in normal circumstances.

BUT ANYWAY. Now that I've written an essay on the first 50 pages or so, I can move on to the rest of the book.

When Drake found Ophelia washed up on the side of the river, he rescued her. After he got her safely to his house and discovered who she was, he had the brilliant housekeeper idea. And this is where it all could've gone horribly wrong. Thankfully, it didn't. At this point in the story, Drake hated Ophelia, and I could absolutely see why. He had every reason to. He had an irrational whim and went with it. He just wanted a laugh, a little revenge, something to keep her in her place when she tried to humiliate him again in the future. He wasn't going to make her do anything potentially dangerous or harmful, only tedious things like preparing dinner and dusting the library shelves.

But - insert shocked face here - things didn't go as planned! Due to circumstances, Ophelia had to stay with him longer. And while Drake had a few idiotic moments and should've told her the truth way earlier, I always understood his reasoning. With the way things played out, Drake and Ophelia got to know each other for real, in a way they never would have before the accident. And oh, oh but it was wonderful to watch. I enjoyed both of their perspectives. Ophelia knew instinctively that something was wrong with her new life, knew that something was off, but she was a good sport and went along with it. Her attempts were sometimes rather hilarious, like when she went to prepare a pheasant for dinner:
She couldn’t cook something that had the ability to glare at her, to make her feel guilty about preparing it.
By the end of the story, Ophelia had a new-found respect for servants and their jobs, having been in their shoes for a while. But that was pretty much all that changed. It wasn't a magical transformation from evil termagant to glowing saint, something that is common and drives me absolutely bonkers. Ophelia always had a good heart: loyalty, devotion, compassion towards animals, and many other qualities. We just didn't see them until she (albeit, unwillingly) let her guard down and allowed Drake to see them.

And did I mention the chemistry? Because yowza! The chemistry between these two was phenomenal. You could tell from the beginning that there was something explosive there that was being strongly repressed on both sides. Obviously Drake held back for a long time once she was in his care, but there was still attraction simmering between them. While I wouldn't exactly call it a slow burn, it unfolded slowly and deliciously, and I enjoyed every moment.

Once More, My Darling Rogue fulfilled every one of my wishes and expectations. Heath took a prevalent plot device and put a unique spin on it with refreshingly real, flawed characters. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys actual hate-to-love stories, because this one was well executed and absolutely lovely. It made me want to go look up more books by her, which I will very likely wind up doing.
I was born Peter Sykes, the son of a murderer, the son of a woman murdered, a heritage that has always haunted me.

Friendship isn’t measured by time. It can happen in the blink of an eye when you meet someone you like.

If looks could kill...well, hers might wound him, but it wasn’t going to be the death of him.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top Ten Books That Were Hard to Read

Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
This Week's Topic:
Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Us To Read (for whatever reason)

Racquel's picks
01. Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard: this book had Racquel written all over it but I just It wasn't for me at alllll. I'm pretty sure I'm one of the .00001% that didn't enjoy this book.

02. OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu: I had to take breaks while reading this because it made me so uncomfortable and I had to breathe but I mean this in the most positive way out there. This is a gigantic compliment because OCD Love Story is just THAT GOOD.

03. There Will Come a Time by Carrie Arcos: I had to take crying breaks while reading this because it just affected me so much. It's such a beautiful book that packs SO MUCH emotion. Gah. Read it.

04. Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas: I LIVE on spoilers. I read the last page before I first page. I wikipedia the entire season's summary when I binge watch a TV show. I do everything possible to everything TV, movie and book related so it was SOOOO difficult for me to NOT spoil Dangerous Girls and I DID IT! I did not spoil it for myself. This is a MIRACLE! I literally had to talk to myself and talk myself out of looking at the end.

05. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay: I flip-flopped between THIS IS BRILLIANT and UGHHHHH WHY USE THAT STUPID CLICHE PLOT DEVICE so much while reading The Sea of Tranquility, it was just exhausting. I loved it for a few chapters, hated it for the next chapters, loved it again, repeat. It's definitely a book that made me think.

Sharon's Picks
I'm so excited about this list! I know, it's a weird thing to be excited about, but I am. Books can be hard to get through for a variety of reasons, and I think those reasons can add to my overall enjoyment of a book, or at least the experience of reading it (I know, I'm weird, but does this make sense to anyone else?). It can also obviously cause major problems. I have some examples of both in my following list!

01. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. I normally enjoy classics, and I'm all for shipwrecked/alone on a deserted island stories. I probably devoured Island of the Blue Dolphins twenty times growing up, and that's not an exaggeration. But UGH, this book was possibly the most boring thing I've ever read. I only slogged my way through it because it was for school, and I'm not a CliffsNotes kind of girl.

02. Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams. I actually devoured this book pretty quickly, because it was addicting (plus the fact that I read it during Bout of Books). But it had some really tough subject matter that made it hard to read emotionally. Plus, physically, it's really hard to read when you're pretty much constantly crying for half the book. (SO worth it the challenge, though, because the book is fantastic and all kinds of beautiful.)

03. Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma. This book packs a punch so intense it almost physically hurts to read it. It's dark and hard and forbidden and twisted. I was completely sucked in, captivated from start to finish, reading the entire book in one sitting. I felt like I barely breathed for hours, but it just made the experience that much more intense. Not a book I plan on re-reading, because it's a tough one, but WOW. If you're up for the challenge, I recommend it.

04. Falling into You by Jasinda Wilder. On the other side of the coin from Forbidden, though, we have Falling into You. It could have been a similar experience, but it wasn't at all. Aside from the first portion of the book before the "real" story began, there was barely a glimmer of light to be found. It was like I was drowning and couldn't get back up for hours. And not in a good way. It was all of the suckage without any of the good parts (emotional impact, connection to the characters, a good love story, etc.). It took every bit of optimism I possess (and that's quite a lot; I'm a pretty happy person) to make it to the end of this book.

05. Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. This one was a challenge for me to read because I found both of the main characters annoying. And by that, I mean I didn't like the heroine much at all, and by the end of the story, I still thought she was way too good for the sexist idiot of a hero. I'm all about the characters, so since I didn't really have much to root for in this story, it was a challenge for me to finish it.

06. Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. I started referring to this book as The Book That Will Never End. Every time it seemed like the hero and heroine could have their HEA, a villain sprang to life, or they randomly needed to relocate across the country from some vague reason. It was still pretty good, but it was a challenge to make it through the whole thing.

07. The Vincent Boys by Abbi Glines. This one's pretty simple. It's hard to read a book when you're alternating between annoyance, incredulity, and rage.

08. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. I wanted to read this for years. It was supposed to have this huge, epic, forbidden romance. The book was freaking long, and the Ralph and Meggie interacted for like 50 pages interspersed through the entire book.

09. Ulysses by James Joyce. I know a lot of people hate this book. If I hadn't first been introduced to it in an English class where my professor was a total James Joyce fanboy scholar who wanted to help us understand, I may have been among them. It was a huge challenge, and it it took a good chunk of time and effort to read. But this was one of the cases where the effort made the experience that much sweeter.

10. Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas. I hesitate to add this one to the list, because I wouldn't exactly call my experience a challenge. It was pretty easy to read, compelling even. My eyes were moving of their own volition, independent from my brain which alternated yelling "THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE GOOD. STOP READING!" and "OH MY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING, READ FASTER." It was a rollercoaster, and I was pretty sure I didn't want to know what was going to be waiting at the end of it. I struggled against myself while reading, so it was a challenge in that aspect. (Obviously, I finished. My mind was blown.)

Honorable Mention: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. I didn't want to include this on the actual list because it doesn't apply to the entire book. Basically, the first half required some major pushing through. I was confused as all get out, hadn't the faintest idea what in the freaking universe was going on. And I didn't care. If I hadn't been reading this with Racquel, I most definitely would have abandoned it. Pushing through was a major challenge. But then it changed and everything made sense, and it became super addicting and and wonderful and not hard to read at all. It's now one of my life goals to encourage everyone to read this book, and then give them the following advice: "Whatever you do, DON'T STOP READING."