Book Review

Book Review: Dr No Commitment by Virginia Taylor.

DrNCA mischievous romantic comedy, about a man who’s always run from love and the girl who just might catch him.

Ally was warned about Rohan Sinclair when she first moved to town – and she is determined she won’t let this gorgeous, model-dating doctor distract her from being the best nurse she can be. Problem is, this bad boy just happens to live in the room next door . . .It’s hard enough to resist his persistent charm at home; almost impossible when they are thrown together at work . . . But a little innocent flirting never hurt anyone, right?

Wrong. Ally knows it’s a terrible idea to fall for a man who will never commit, but what if in every other way he’s her perfect guy?

This novella is part of the Random Romance imprint, the digital first romance list from Random House Australia. I read an outback set title, Beneath Outback Skies earlier this year and enjoyed it so was curious to see how I’d get on with a medical romance.

The book feels like it starts a little way into the story. Whilst I’m a fan of books getting on with the story telling from the get go, in this instance I felt like I was missing a whole heap of information I needed to know. Much of this was delivered in the first 10% of the book, but unfortunately relied on some pretty clunky dialogue to get the necessary exposition out of the way.

The reader learns much more quickly than Ally that Rohan has a secret (to be fair you would think anyone around him might be suspicious but apparently not Ally), but the reveal of this is kept until infuriatingly late in the course of the novella. I do wonder whether it was the incessant game playing that both characters engaged in that kept Ally from wondering just who Rohan was – I can’t remember the last time I encountered characters so difficult to get a handle on, and as a result to care about.

There were elements of the story that worked well for me. I enjoyed Ally’s work as a midwife, particularly learning a little about how this role varies in Australia. I’m always a fan of medical stories though so this aspect of the book was always going to be an easy sell.

Overall I found this novella a really frustrating read, and I wasn’t really satisfied by its conclusion. Looking at other reviews I seem to be in the minority, most readers who’ve reviewed it really liked it but for me it just did not work and was a thoroughly disappointing read.

Dr No Commitment is published by Random Romance. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book via NetGalley.com all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: All I Want for Christmas by Esme Taylor.

AIWFCSometimes the best gifts are unwrapped…

Ella is dreading Christmas. She vowed to change her life this year, and although breaking up with her boring boyfriend was the first step, she’s been too scared to take the next, and her life has become small.

But then, when working at a Christmas party, Ella meets Joe. The attraction is instant and convenient: neither is interested in more than a fling. While Ella’s been stuck, Joe’s been running. He’s been travelling for a year and has no plans to stop, but he’s home to spend Christmas with his huge, loud family. His father wants him to stay and join the family business, but Joe’s not yet ready for that kind of commitment and isn’t sure he’ll ever be. But as the snow and the presents pile up – and Ella and Joe’s clothes come off – Ella realises she needs to start living again. And that maybe all she wants for Christmas is Joe…

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS is part of Hot Key Books’ exclusive new novella list, and one of a series of five available this Christmas. Unlock your naughty side!

25% Christmas, 50% Romance, 25% sexual content.

Hot Key Unlocked is the new digital first imprint from Hot Key Books, publishing stories aimed at readers aged over 16. They’re publishing books in batches, with books written by both experienced and new writers each time. The launch batch was a collection of 5 festive romance novellas, All I Want for Christmas grabbed my attention as it is written by YA author Keris Stainton, using a pseudonym as the content of this book is a little more grown up than her already published novels.

It’s no secret that I love a good romance, when I’m reading one I want to identify with the characters, swoon over the leading man and feel entirely invested in the central relationship. I can very happily say this this story ticks all of those boxes really well. As the book is aimed at the older end of the YA audience there is some steamier content, I was pleased to see that this is well written and makes excellent use of well placed scene changes – the more explicit stuff all happens off page.

Within the first chapter I was completely and utterly hooked, the very mention of Joe sporting a Santa hat like a beanie (you can read this bit in the excerpt available on the Hot Key Unlocked site here) was enough for me to know I’d fallen for both him and the book.

My love only grew as I progressed through the book, the characters are the sorts of people you’d like to spend some time with – there are scenes described where a group of them are sitting drinking and chatting, I felt like I was sitting there with them. I think anyone reading this book will find they identify with more than one character, their feelings and where they are in their lives easily transported me back to my time just out of university.

Another aspect of this book that I loved was its setting. I always love to see books set outside of London or “the countryside” so the North West of England setting of this book was a real delight.

This book is novella length so it’s a fairly quick read. It’s perfect for curling up with a mug of tea or glass of wine and ignoring the weather and seasonal stresses!

All I Want for Christmas is published by Hot Key Unlocked.

Book Review

Recent Reads: This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith & Little White Lies by Katie Dale.

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith. Headline.
HappyIf fate sent you an email, would you answer?

When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O’Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.

Then Graham finds out that Ellie’s Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media’s spotlight at all costs?

I loved Jennifer E. Smith’s previous novel The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight (see my review here) so was really excited to pick this book up to read. The prologue sets up the story beautifully, an email sent accidentally to the wrong address initiates a conversation between two strangers. The spark between the two jumps off the page and you find yourself instantly invested in what’s going to happen between the two of them. I actually paused when I reached the end of the prologue so I could hug the book – I loved it that dearly already.

The rest of the book lives beautifully up to the joy of the prologue. Reading the book gave me lovely warm, happy feelings – the blend of humour, romance and fun makes for a delightful read. There is a quest aspect to the book, this is something I love when it’s done well and as you’ve probably already guessed it’s done well in this book.

I loved both Ellie and Graham they were the sort of characters I’d have like to have hung around with as a teenager. My only sadness came from the fact that the book had to end, I could have read about them for far longer. That said, I was highly satisfied by the ending and was left with an entirely content feeling.

Little White Lies by Katie Dale. Simon & Schuster.
imageThe first time Lou meets tall, dark, and handsome Christian, she knows he’s hiding something. Why does he clam up every time she asks about his past? Why doesn’t he have any family photos and why does he dye his blond hair black?

Then suddenly his terrible secret is unveiled to the world – and it seems everything he’s ever told Lou is a lie. Can what the media are saying about him really be true? Should Lou trust him? Or is she in terrible danger? But Christian isn’t the only one keeping secrets. For what if their chance meeting was no accident at all …?

As lie follows lie, nothing is as it seems, and soon Lou finds herself ensnared in a web of deceit, her loyalties torn, her emotions in tatters as she faces a heart-wrenching dilemma: should she shatter the lives of those she holds dearest, or betray the guy who, against all odds, she’s fallen in love with?

This is another book I had high hopes for, having loved Katie’s debut novel Someone Else’s Life (see my review here). The blurb grabbed my attention, I couldn’t wait to dive in and find out what on earth it all meant.

By and large I really enjoyed the book. The university setting is always one I want to see used more (despite it being set at university with slightly older teens this book is definitely young adult rather than new adult) and the mystery builds nicely within the book.

Partway through the book something happened that I found hard to swallow. I’m fine with twists and turns, and I love having the rug swept from under me by a plot but unfortunately in this instance there was a twist that just didn’t work for me and it took me a while to settle back into the book.

The characters are vivid creations, you really feel like you’re surrounded by them. The situations that they find themselves in are big and challenging, the way they deal with them is always understandable even if it doesn’t always seem like the best choice – this helps the characters to feel believable.

My quibble with a plot twist was not enough to stop me enjoying the book. It’s a tense read and one that left me thinking for sometime after I’d finished reading.

Book Review

Recent Reads: The Diviner’s Tale by Bradford Morrow and Temptation Island by Victoria Fox.

A round up of some of the books I’ve recently read.

imageThe Diviner’s Tale by Bradford Morrow. Corvus.
Walking a lonely forested valley on a spring morning in upstate New York, having been hired by a developer to dowse the land, Cassandra Brooks comes upon the shocking vision of a young girl hanged from a tree. When she returns with authorities to the site, the body has vanished, leaving in question Cassandra’s credibility if not her sanity. The next day, on a return visit with the sheriff to have another look, a dazed, mute missing girl emerges from the woods, alive and the very picture of Cassandra’s hanged girl.

What follows is the narrative of ever-deepening and increasingly bizarre divinations that will lead this gifted young woman, the struggling single mother of twin boys, hurtling toward a past she’d long since thought was behind her. The Diviner’s Tale is at once a journey of self-discovery and an unorthodox murder mystery, a tale of the fantastic and a family chronicle told by an otherwise ordinary woman.

When Cassandra’s dark forebodings take on tangible form, she is forced to confront a life spiraling out of control. And soon she is locked in a mortal chess match with a real-life killer who has haunted her since before she can remember.

This book doesn’t fit neatly into any pigeon hole, and I think this is one of the reasons I loved reading it so much. It is a blend of thriller, mystery, and family orientated women’s fiction – sitting wonderfully in its own space carved out somewhere between them all, with Cassandra’s divination, and ability to see the future adding an air of the supernatural to the mix.

This book is quiet, and peaceful, despite its sometimes difficult subject matter it is a beautiful and most satisfying read. The characters are well developed and interesting, I particularly loved the dynamic between Cass and her sons, at times it made my heart ache in the best possible way.

Whilst the book is a quiet read, this doesn’t mean the mystery element is any less gripping – there is a genuine sense of puzzlement as you read the book, Cass is very unsure about what is going on at times and the reader is in the same position. A couple of times I thought I’d worked out the mystery element and then very quickly realised I’d got it completely wrong.

imageTemptation Island by Victoria Fox. Mira.
Welcome to Paradise. Only the rich are invited…only the strongest survive. But is it heaven on earth or a devil’s playground? Fame. Money. Success. Lori wants them Aurora is being destroyed by them, and Stevie’s got them at her best friend’s expense. These three women are all drawn unwittingly to the shores of Temptation Island, all looking for their own truth. But they discover a secret so shocking there’s no turning back. It’s wicked, it’s sensational. Are you ready to be told? The island promises the one thing money can’t buy – but the glittering waters drown dark secrets… The price is devastating.

I loved Victoria Fox’s debut novel, Hollywood Sinners, so had pretty high expectations when I sat down to read this, her second book. It has a quick, pacy opening that has you wondering what happened to cause this incident – the book then jumps back in time a few years and steadily works forward to the opening incident. Needless to say, as you read the book you draw your own conclusions about the opening – I wonder how many readers got it as wrong as I did.

There are three women at the heart of this book, they are all clearly defined characters whose lives appear completely unconnected but naturally over time you start to see their plot threads twisting around each other’s. There’s a really sinister side to this story, I found that the more I read the less sure I became the I actually wanted to know what was going on (though of course I only read faster to discover it).

Overall I enjoyed this book a lot, it ticks all the key boxes and does so in style. I did have one major quibble with how one of the main character’s storyline was resolved, for me it was really unsatisfactory. This didn’t detract from the overall experience of the book, but did leave me wishing that things had gone the way I’d wanted them too – but then that’s not real life is it.

Book Review

Recent Reads: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers, Crossing the Line and Dare You To by Katie McGarry.

A round up of some of the books I’ve recently read.

imageSome Girls Are by Courtney Summers. St Martins Griffin.
Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard—falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her and her best friend’s boyfriend start going around. Now Regina’s been “frozen out” and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend… if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.

Regina is the focus of this book, once a member of the highest and meanest tier of school, some pretty awful actions mean her position changes overnight – she’s now at the very bottom of the pile and number one target for her former co-conspirators. The opening of the book, the incident that causes this downfall, is hard to read and leaves you wondering what else is going to happen in this book.

The book is all about the social structure of high school, particularly the more toxic aspects of it. The teenagers in this book are not nice, they have few if any redeeming qualities. Their actions are brutal, and the consequences are far reaching. All of this makes the book a gripping, but unpleasant read – the tension levels at times made me feel sick with nerves. Never once though was I put off, this is such a strong novel, it’s hard, shocking and oh so very real. It’s been a couple of weeks since I read it, and still I’m thinking about aspects of it – truly a book that gets under your skin.

imageCrossing The Line by Katie McGarry. MiraINK.
Katie McGarry captivated readers with her “riveting, emotional”* Young Adult debut, Pushing the Limits. In this gripping novella, she tells the story of Lila and Lincoln, who discover that sometimes it’s worth crossing the line for love…

Lila McCormick first met Lincoln Turner when tragedy struck both their lives. But she never expected their surprise encounter would lead to two years of exchanging letters-or that she’d fall for the boy she’s only seen once. Their relationship is a secret, but Lila feels closer to Lincoln than anyone else. Until she finds out that he lied to her about the one thing she depended on him for the most.

Hurting Lila is the last thing Lincoln wanted. For two years, her letters have been the only thing getting him through the day. Admitting his feelings would cross a line he’s never dared breach before. But Lincoln will do whatever it takes to fix his mistakes, earn Lila’s forgiveness-and finally win a chance to be with the girl he loves.

Wow, that’s a pretty long blurb for a novella, I’m afraid my review will be quite a bit shorter!

I really loved Pushing the Limits and was thrilled to hear there would be further books and novellas featuring key characters. This is the first of the novellas, focusing on Lila – Echo’s best friend. I must admit it took me a few pages to settle into the book, and understand how it fitted into the world McGarry has created, but as soon as I’d done so I loved it.

Whilst it is a much shorter story, I didn’t feel robbed or cheated – the characters are still well developed and I really cared about them. I particularly loved hearing about Lila’s wonderful organisational techniques – I’ve got a few new ideas to try now!

imageDare You To by Katie McGarry. MiraINK.
If anyone knew the truth about Beth Risk’s home life, they’d send her mother to jail and seventeen-year-old Beth who knows where. So she protects her mom at all costs. Until the day her uncle swoops in and forces Beth to choose between her mom’s freedom and her own happiness. That’s how Beth finds herself living with an aunt who doesn’t want her and going to a school that doesn’t understand her. At all. Except for the one guy who shouldn’t get her, but does….

Ryan Stone is the town golden boy, a popular baseball star jock-with secrets he can’t tell anyone. Not even the friends he shares everything with, including the constant dares to do crazy things. The craziest? Asking out the Skater girl who couldn’t be less interested in him.

But what begins as a dare becomes an intense attraction neither Ryan nor Beth expected. Suddenly, the boy with the flawless image risks his dreams-and his life-for the girl he loves, and the girl who won’t let anyone get too close is daring herself to want it all….

This is the first of the companion novels to Pushing the Limits, it focuses on Beth – Noah’s friend and housemate and introduces Ryan, a baseball star in the making.

I have to admit, when I read about the dare element of this book I was really worried. I generally find that books with secrets like this leave me so stressed out as I read, and so I end up not really enjoying the book. I was so pleased to find that this part of the plot didn’t play out as I’d expected it to, and so I could just enjoy the reading experience.

The majority of this book is set at a different school, in a different town, to Pushing the Limits so there’s a whole new lot of characters to get to know. Beth makes numerous trips back home though, giving us time to catch up with Echo and Noah, and with Isaiah.

This isn’t a perfect book, but the writing is so good that I was completely swept away by the reading experience and can happily overlook things that might have been gripes in a weaker book. I’m completely in love with this series, I think it’s the closest a series of books have got to making me feel the way watching Friday Night Lights did.

Book Review

Book Review : Beneath Outback Skies by Alissa Callen.

BeneathOutbackSkiesA captivating rural romance featuring an indomitable young woman determined to save her family farm, and the city-boy who is not all he seems…

Paige Quinn will let nothing and no one distract her from caring for her crippled father, Connor, and fighting for her remote, drought-stricken property, Banora Downs. Least of all a surprise farm-stay guest named Tait Cavanaugh, whose smooth words are as lethal as his movie-star smile.

Except Paige can’t help noticing that, for a city-boy, Tait seems unexpectedly at home on the land. And he does ask a lot of questions…

It doesn’t matter how much he helps out or how much laughter he brings into her life, she soon suspects he is harbouring a big secret – the real reason he has come to Banora Downs…

The first romance books I ever read were written by Australian author Lucy Walker so when I was contacted by Random House Australia to ask if I’d be interested in reading any of the inaugural titles from their new digital-first list Random Romance I jumped at the chance. I chose to read Beneath Outback Skies because of its outback setting, the blurb reminded me a lot of the Lucy Walker stories I’d read as a teen which were often set in the outback.

There was something very nice about reading a book set in hot sunny Australia whilst the snow was falling over the UK, though the drought conditions did make me think about how the grass is always greener! The book is set on a remote property, Banora Downs, part of a small, very rural community. I liked the sense of community within the book, whilst Banora Downs is a way out of the town its happenings are known by everyone in the town – something I can identify with a little.

The main thing you want from a romance novel is for the romantic leads to be great characters, and for you to really believe in the relationship. Beneath Outback Skies really doesn’t disappoint, whilst this book doesn’t fall into the insta-love trope that many romances use there is a definite sizzle from the first time Paige and Tait meet. I really liked the way their relationship evolved over the course of the book, it felt natural and very believable.

I was a little concerned when it became clear that part of the plot hinged on a secret that Tait was keeping from Paige, I’ve read books where this isn’t handled well – I normally end up a bit of a nervous wreck by the end of the book. I didn’t need to have worried though, it’s handled really well.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it’s one of the better romances I’ve read in the last couple of years. I shall definitely be keeping an eye on the other books brought out on the Random Romance list.

Beneath Outback Skies is published by Random Romance from 1st February 2013. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book via NetGalley.com all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith.

SPoLaFSWho would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan’s life. Having missed her flight, she’s stuck at JFK airport and late to her father’s second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon-to-be stepmother Hadley’s never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport’s cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he’s British, and he’s sitting in her row.

A long night on the plane passes in the blink of an eye, and Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other in the airport chaos upon arrival. Can fate intervene to bring them together once more?

Quirks of timing play out in this romantic and cinematic novel about family connections, second chances, and first loves. Set over a twenty-four-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver’s story will make you believe that true love finds you when you’re least expecting it.

When I travelled by plane for the first time on my own I found myself paying far more attention to my fellow passengers, and thinking about the fact that on a long haul flight you spend more time sat next to a complete stranger than you might in the space of a year with a distant relative yet you often get off the plane still knowing absolutely nothing about them. So when I heard about this book I was really intrigued by the plot, it sounded like something I’d really enjoy.

Enjoy? I absolutely loved it! Within the first few pages I was completely wrapped up in the story, from Hadley and Oliver first meeting to their plane journey and then their respective stories in London. The plot is lovely, and sweet, with plenty of funny bits, making it a really really good romantic comedy.

Hadley and Oliver are both great characters, I really enjoyed getting to know them both. The budding friendship and romance between the two of them felt really genuine and played out well. I also liked the way the supporting characters were written, Hadley’s dad and stepmom-to-be in particular.

I thought this books was brilliant, it’s a slim book so a fairly quick read, but one that I know I’ll be revisiting time and time again.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is published by Headline in the UK.