I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

[Hi Everyone! I started a class that goes on for a month (it’s for work) and the labwork is seriously cutting into my free time, which means less posting over here on the ol’ blog, at least for May. This class is crazy busy – it’s the pilot  so they’re throwing everything at us right now to see how much we can take. Thankfully there are no grades, but each lab has to be completed correctly in order to do the next one – which means homework that takes me 3 hours every frickin’ day. *shakes fist at instructors who cackle loudly as they give us our assignments*. But I STILL manage to squeak in some reading time, so there. ]
OK, review time.
Copy borrowed from my local library.

I've Got Your Number
Sophie Kinsella

The Premise: Poppy Wyatt was having a bad day. First she lost her engagement ring, the one that’s been in her fiance’s family for at least three generations. Then, her phone is snatched out of her hand by a passing thief on a bike. Now if someone finds her ring, they can’t call her to tell her about it! Frantic, salvation comes to Poppy in the form of a phone she finds tossed in the trash – a perfectly good phone that still works. She quickly tells everyone her new number, but then businessman Sam Roxton shows up. He says Poppy has his phone, and he needs it back. Desperate to find her ring and not to let her fiance Magnus or his intimidatingly intellectual family know it’s missing, Poppy gets Sam to reluctantly agree on a temporary deal – she will forward all his messages until she finds her ring. Of course, nosy Poppy can’t help glancing at a message or two as she forwards it to Sam, and pretty soon she’s giving him unasked for advice about his life and business, and Sam is helping Poppy out with her own problems.
Read an excerpt of I’ve Got Your Number here
My Thoughts: Sophie Kinsella is hit or miss for me. I either like her books OK, but not that enthusiastically (Shopaholic, Remember Me?), or I find them hilarious keepers (Can You Keep A Secret?). Sometimes they fall somewhere in between those two (The Undomestic Goddess). She’s an author who is perpetually on my “maybe” list. I’ve Got Your Number caught my eye because it looked like it had some of the elements that I liked so much about Can You Keep a Secret? (a quirky heroine, an alpha businessman, a plot with an amusing set of circumstances). I wasn’t sure about there being a potential love triangle, but when positive reviews from bloggers I trust came out, it gave me the push to get my hands on it. I’m so glad, because you can put I’ve Got Your Number in the keeper column now. It gave me what I wanted: a chick lit with a nice amount of getting-to-know-you time between characters, good romantic chemistry, and plenty of laughs.
Poppy narrates the story. I liked her. She amusing, but not so silly that I wanted to strangle her, and a pleaser, but not so accommodating that she becomes a complete idiot (I like to laugh, but not at the expense of my respect for the main character). Yes, Poppy has her moments, but I always understood where she came from, even if what she did was sometimes questionable. Plenty of people would peek at someone else’s emails given the opportunity, and who doesn’t understand keeping something quiet so they can themselves time to fix it? Of course, that Poppy is too afraid to talk to Magnus about losing her engagement ring says something about their relationship that she hasn’t admitted to herself, but that’s another issue altogether. Another is her fear of her soon-to-be in-laws, who intimidate Poppy with their genius level intellect. In Poppy’s eyes, the academic Tavish’s are so much smarter than her that she feels put on the spot when they ask her anything.
But what Poppy perceives and what the truth is are sometimes two different things – not just about her in-laws but about other people, including Sam. This is why the outside perspective of a complete stranger (like Sam) works out well for her. Similarly, Poppy’s nosiness starts off like it’s crossing the line, but it has its uses, which Sam finds out. There’s a lot of different elements of their lives in the mix here, and I really enjoyed how Kinsella managed to seamlessly tackle both the corporate politics of Sam’s world and the interpersonal relationship tangle of Poppy’s. There was something so addictive in following Poppy and Sam’s texts and emails and the breathless twists and turns that came from their fateful meeting. Everything manages to make sense in the end, and it worked out in a way that I was happy with. I had been worried about how the story would handle Poppy’s engagement while meeting another man, but that was tied up nicely. I felt that Kinsella made things romantic and even heady with anticipation at the appropriate times. And have I mentioned how hilarious the story is too? There is one part, Poppy and Sam’s second official face-to-face, that had me laughing so loud that my husband reports I scared the cat in the other room. It’s too long to excerpt here, but I tell you, it’s a scene I think about and grin like a fool. Instead, here’s a small example of the texts Poppy and Sam send back and forth. This is early in their relationship and you can already tell that there’s a familiarity forming between these two:

How will you explain missing ring?
I have a moment’s internal debate. What not get a second opinion? Lining up the screen carefully, I take a photo of my bandaged hand and MMS it to him. Five second later he replies.
You cannot be serious.
I feel a twinge of resentment and find myself typing:
What would YOU do then?
I’m half-hoping he might have some brilliant idea I hadn’t thought of. But his next text just says:
This is why men don’t wear rings.
Great. Well, that’s really helpful. I’m about to type something sarcastic back, when a second text arrives:
It looks phony. Take off one bandage.
I stare at my hand in dismay. Perhaps he’s right.
OK. Thx.

Overall: I really liked this one. I thought that I’ve Got Your Number had that perfect balance of hilarity and lightness with a page-flipping, not-always-expected plot while at the same time serving up the slow-burn of two strangers meeting and falling for each other over text messages and emails, shared secrets and experiences. I devoured it and sighed happily at the ending. I plan to eventually buy myself a copy for my keeper shelf.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Smexy Books – B+
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes – “Kinsella at her best: fun & light & romantic & entertaining”
Book Harbinger – “I haven’t had such a fun reading experience since I read my first Julie James novel”
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves – 4/5 stars
Angieville – “a real charmer”

Whiskey Road by Karen Siplin

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

Whiskey Road
Karen Siplin

I started reading Whisky Road because it was the latest pick by my readalong buddies Chachic and Holly (of Chachic’s Book Nook and The Book Harbinger respectively). The previous couple of books that we’d chosen for our readathons ended up being a little darker than we were expecting them to be, but we were hoping Whisky Road would buck the trend, especially since it came highly recommended by Angie of Angieville, and has the subtitle, “A Love Story”. Thankfully, we were right.
The Premise: From the back blurb – “After one too many run-ins with irate A-list celebrities and their bodyguards on the streets of Los Angeles, paparazza Jimi Anne Hamilton has decided to throw in the towel. But when she planned to ride her BMW K 1200 motorcycle from California to New York, she didn’t count on having her cross-country adventure interrupted by a motorcycle thief. After the brutal attack, which sees both her motorcycle and camera equipment stolen, she finds herself left with only her helmet, a few clothes, and a bag of money she swiped from her attacker. Disillusioned and hurt, Jimi chooses to recuperate in a nearby town where she meets Caleb Atwood, a local contractor fighting his own demons.
Jimi and Caleb make a mismatched pair: black and white, highbrow and low. But in Caleb, Jimi believes she has found someone who feels as much of an outsider as she is. With Whiskey Road, Karen Siplin again succeeds in giving readers a story about opposites who manage to see what no one else can — that they’re right for each other.”
My Thoughts: When Jimi rolls into the coffee shop Caleb frequents, battered up by some unknown event and dressed in motorcycle leathers but without a bike, most of the people there don’t treat her very nicely. She’s a outsider and a black woman. The only person willing to be helpful is Caleb, but maybe that’s because he’s been treated as a Bad Boy in his hometown long past when he should be. For her part, Jimi’s recent experience on the road makes her wary of a man she sized up as harmless but has traits she associates with racist hillbillies.
Over the next few days, the small town of Frenchman’s Bend gives Jimi and Caleb plenty of opportunities to run into each other, and every time they do, they’re surprised. While they are both as different as two people can be — Jimi being a black city girl from a white-collar family, and Caleb a white country boy from a broken home, they are both so alike. Jimi and Caleb have not been perfect – Jimi questions the lengths she has gone to for a photo, and Caleb, reeling from a failed marriage, sleeps with an older married woman who reminds him of his wife.  Each of them are a little hardened and worn by life, but they quietly see things differently from the people around them, making them outsiders in their own communities, and drawn to each other.
The story flows very simply from there. Caleb and Jimi begin a subtle relationship where the smallest look and gesture holds vast meaning but hesitation and second guessing comes from both sides. The greatest danger to their fragile new connection is the people that surround them. Jimi’s affluent older brother loves living near Frenchman’s Creek but stays apart from the locals. He’s friendly to the contractors that work in his French-style country house, but would frown on one of them dating his little sister. Caleb friends’ problem is not so much about the class difference and more about Jimi’s race and outsider status. And then there are the things in their recent histories that could spell trouble for both of them if they were to mix: the reason behind Jimi’s bruises, and Caleb’s no good older brother, released from prison.
There was a quiet resonance to this story. Fragments stuck in my mind long after reading it: the commentary on racism in little rural towns; how easily one can be sideswiped by that selfish family member; how falling in love is like a beginning. There are some bumps along the way, but was happy when I finished it. The only thing that felt off to me was how abrupt the transition from the climax to the ending was, but I think I was the only one in the readalong that had that quibble, and it was a little one. But then, who hasn’t wanted a bit more time to say goodbye to characters they’ve gotten attached to?
Overall: I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up liking this contemporary novel. It’s a story that is deceptively quiet and slow moving at times, tense with the promise of unpleasantness at others. It was gritty and real, with small town flavor. And most of all, it has love story with an unlikely couple. Jimi and Caleb weren’t looking for or expecting each other, but it only made me root more for them that they found a kindred spirit in the unlikeliest package.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Reviews from my readalong friends:
Chachic’s Book Nook – “an under-the-radar novel that I’ll recommend to readers who like slow burn, complicated romances”
The Book Harbinger – “not-your-average contemporary romance in the best way”
Other reviews:
Angieville– I love what she says about the ending – “Not tied up with a bow, not unrealistic in its perfection, but touched with just the right amount of maturity, rightness, and possibility.”

Undeniably Yours by Shannon Stacey

Undeniably Yours
Shannon Stacey

Undeniably Yours is the second book in the Kowalski series, this time centering on the romance of another Kowalski brother – Kevin. This is the brother who was introduced in the first book – the ex-cop, divorced bachelor who runs a bar. Although characters from the first book appear in this one, you do not need to read the series in order. (If you’re interested in the first book, Exclusively Yours, I reviewed it here:https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg)
This review based on an eCopy from NetGalley.
The Premise: (feeling lazy, here’s the blurb from the author’s website): “One-night stand + two percent condom failure rate = happily ever after?
Bar owner Kevin Kowalski is used to women throwing their phone numbers at him, but lately he’s more interested in finding a woman to settle down with. A woman like Beth Hansen. If only their first meeting hadn’t gone so badly…
Beth’s tending bar at a wedding when she comes face to face with a tuxedo-clad man she never thought she’d see again. She tries to keep her distance from Kevin but, by last call, she can’t say no to his too-blue eyes or the invitation back to his room. Then she slips out before breakfast without leaving a note and, despite their precautions, pregnant.
Kevin quickly warms to the idea of being a dad and to seeing where things go with Beth. After all, he’s not the player she thinks he is. But she’s not ready for a relationship and, given his reputation, it’s going to take a lot to convince her to go on a second date with the father of her child…”
Read an excerpt of Undeniably Yours here
My Thoughts: Beth Hansen is a nomad. She finds a place on the map that appeals to her and she moves there when things at her current town get too stifling: “when I reach the point in relationships people start keeping tabs on me and making decisions for me, I get on a bus to someplace new.” She is fiercely protective of her independence to the point of blind stubbornness. When she gets pregnant (even with a condom) from a one night stand with Kevin Kowalski, she is not thrilled that it means a permanent tie to someone she considers a womanizer.
Kevin may have had a lot of women throw themselves at him at the bar, but he’s ready to settle down, and he wants a real relationship with Beth. The problem is that after their night together, Beth constantly resists anything that feels like a relationship. For the baby, she has to accept Kevin’s offer to move her from a unsafe apartment to an apartment across the hall from his above the bar, but Kevin has to choose his words carefully to get her to agree to anything beyond that. She thinks a serious relationship would be too much on top of being pregnant, especially since, if it ends badly, it would affect their child.
Undeniably Yours is about Kevin and Beth slowly getting to know each other after they’ve already gotten pregnant. Kevin has to slowly break down Beth’s defenses and convince her to consider being with him. In the meantime, there are plenty of loud Kowalski get-togethers and family moments. I’ve decided that the wry, sometimes frank humor from a lot of tell-it-like-it-is characters is what I like the most about this series. I feel like I’m guaranteed a general feeling of amusement from reading these books. Some of the commentary can get a bit.. salty, but this is an adult book, so whatever (there’s sex too, FYI).
I think that this book makes a good go of trying to convince me that Beth has reasonable fears, but I never quite understood her need to not be tied down by relationships with other people. The reason given was that her parents were overly-suffocating when she was growing up, but to make a person never want to stay in one town and never want to have people keeping “tabs” on her? I didn’t quite understand it. That seemed extreme. Later, when she admits to herself that the real issue is “not only imagining herself in one place with one person, but wondering for the rest of her life, especially during the rough patches, if they were just pretending for the sake of the child”, that admission comes too late – I’m already convinced that Beth has weird intimacy issues. It didn’t help that while Beth herself is the big hurdle to her own HEA, Kevin is pretty much a saint. If I can pick on a trend in this series so far, it is that while the women have to work through some issue, the heroes in these books are almost too perfect in comparison. I mean, this guy waits all through the pregnancy, not caring about the women that are slipping him their numbers, for someone who shuts him out constantly and tells him that all they are are friends who happen to share a baby? Makes me feel like it’s a struggle between feeling slightly irritated at Beth or irritated at what a martyr Kevin is. Of course, with these surprise pregnancy romances, there’s only so many ways the story can go. If Beth wasn’t resistant, then  this would be a very short story. I just wish we could have had the “do you want to be with me for obligation?” issue as Beth’s primary issue instead of her improbable nomad complex.
Like it’s predecessor, Exclusively Yours, Undeniably Yours has a secondary story. In this case it is a romance between Paulie, who works at Kevin’s bar, and Sam Logan, a customer and someone from Paulie’s past. As with Kevin and Beth, the hurdle in their romance is on the female’s side again – Paulie freaked out on her way down the aisle because she felt like she was conforming to her parents expectations and not being herself. The improbability in this one was that Paulie loved Sam yet never confided her fears to him, but this was easier to believe than the hurdle in the main romance. It was a fine secondary story but I enjoyed Paulie’s friendship with Beth and with Kevin more than her romance, which I felt competed with the main one. I would have been fine without it or with it in its own separate book.
Overall: Enjoyable in a “escapist popcorn read” kinda way. The writing is compulsively readable, and the relationships between characters, especially the dynamics of big family, felt very comforting to read about. That, the humor, and of course the guarantee of a HEA make this a fun contemporary romance. My only issue, and I feel like a dog with a bone over it, is the heroine’s intimacy issues (I keep revisiting it and it just doesn’t make sense). I can see that being a big sticking point for a lot of people, but if you enjoyed any other of the Kowalski books, this is still worth a read – ultimately I feel like this book lost points from me over it, but not a whole lot.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Literary Escapism – positive
Pearl’s World of Romance – 9.0 (Awesome)
The Book Pushers – C-

The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy by Sara Angelini


I was curious about this one, touted as “A thoroughly modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice“, with Darcy as a judge, and Elizabeth Bennet as a trial lawyer. Hmm. Liked the idea, wasn’t sure how it would play out.
The Premise: (taken from the back blurb) “Judge Fitzwilliam Darcy is terribly bored — ready to hang up his black robe and return to the life of a country gentleman–until he meets Elizabeth Bennet, a fresh-faced attorney with a hectic schedule and no time for the sexy but haughty judge. Sparks fly as the two match wits and battle their overwhelming attraction”
My Thoughts: OK, so the very first page of The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy worried me a little. He’s with Charles Bingley, who is debating whether to buy a Lamborghini Murcielago, and throws out a comment about selling his McLaren to Ralph Lauren a few years back. The in-your-face over-the-top wealth was semi-eye rolly, but Darcy is supposed to be very wealthy. Thankfully, by page two, when Darcy begins what starts off as a typical day at work as a judge, he started to become less like a fantasy and more like a human being. His wealth, thanks to inheritance, and his interest in American law, thanks to an American mother and a barrister father are established, as is why he is a judge at a young age (and why he’s tired of it). Despite his wealth and power as a judge, I thought Darcy was likable, even funny, at least in his head.

“Still irked by the sudden transfer of Judge Clayton’s calendar, the Honorable F. Darcy entered the courtroom with an annoyed swirl of black robes. Sometimes he imagined himself as Professor Snape when he wore them. Considering how frequently he wished he could zap some people out of existence, it was fitting.”

Pretty soon, Darcy meets Elizabeth Bennet, but his toughness as a judge does not make him very likable to her on her first day as a trial lawyer.  Since he also slicks down his hair and wears glasses to appear more experienced, Elizabeth mistakes him as older, not thirty-seven. Later, when she overhears him say about her, “Look, she’s not pretty enough to tempt me. Do you have any idea what kind of a headache even the appearance of impropriety could cause?”, she doesn’t focus on his sensible statement, but on his dismissing her as not pretty. Now she really doesn’t like him, but while she nurses her resentment, an oblivious Darcy notes her attractions:

“Having experienced the mortification of being found not tempting, Elizabeth found it very hard to take Judge Darcy seriously. On the contrary, she thought of him as a sort of joke.  She showed her indifference to him by refusing to take the bait when he said something offensive — as he did on a daily basis. While professionally she was without fault, she danced on the edge of disrespect with pert glances and cryptic Yes, Judge Darcys. She dubbed him Clark Kent — without the sparkling personality– and made fun of him on every opportunity. The ember of resentment had taken root and burst into a full-fledge flame of defiance.
Oblivious to her true feelings, Darcy quickly concluded that she was the most capable and intelligent attorneys he had the privilege to work with, crafting creative settlements and persuasive briefs. He was always impressed by her dedication when he ran into her at the elevator after hours or on the weekends.  She met each of his challenges with spirit and never backed down when he ruled against her; he enjoyed sparring with her. If he found himself looking forward to her cases, it was in a purely intellectual sort of way. It had nothing at all to do with her velvety brown eyes.”

While Darcy and Elizabeth are misunderstanding each other in the courtroom, Elizabeth’s sister Jane begins her residency at Meryton Hospital, and meets the very affable pediatric surgeon, Dr. Charles Bingley. Pretty soon they’re dating, which causes Elizabeth and Darcy to run into each other even more. On one occasion, a Halloween party, Darcy is in disguise as a racecar driver complete with helmet, and makes an impression on Elizabeth who doesn’t know who he is. Of course, he doesn’t reveal himself, but later, in a proposal-type scene with a law related twist, he finds out Elizabeth can’t stand him, and is horrified.
Until they start their relationship, this is a story with a delicious amount of slow burn and great exchanges where their hidden feelings (Darcy’s crush and Elizabeth’s dislike) bubble beneath the surface. I was enjoying the read, but then, things get VERY physical. I was actually surprised by the level of heat in this book because of the amount of slow burn before it. I had expected the story to continue to be demure, or for there to be a sex scene or two, but no, this Elizabeth and Darcy, they are quite sexually compatible. I feel like a prude, but it was a bit much for me, and I think a big part of this was feeling uncomfortable with all the sex and the characters are named Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. If they were named something else, or if this book wasn’t described as a modern Pride and Prejudice, I’d have felt differently about the sex scenes and their frequency. Maybe it just made me uncomfortably aware of the line between homage and fanfiction.
Of course, the characters don’t change just because they had sex. Elizabeth and Darcy continue to be likable, and I enjoyed the banter between them. However, once their relationship changed, so did the story. After they took that step into intimacy, their problem is that it is wrong for a judge to be involved with a lawyer to appears before him in court. This is where the story is most unlike the original — their feelings in the face of their responsibilities. I thought this was a great moral dilemma that they had to wrestle with and I was interested in how it was played out, at least half the book involves this issue and I wished it wasn’t so drawn out! It felt like they were going around in circles and rehashing the problem for a long time until a decision was finally made. It felt a bit like forced drama.
I would also say this is pretty loosely based on Pride and Prejudice. Darcy’s aloofness and Elizabeth’s initial dislike, followed by a sort of proposal and rejection, while her sister Jane and Bingley fall in love — these are there, but there are so many differences. Bingley doesn’t need Darcy’s permission to do anything, and is a much less codependent friend. Caroline Bingley is Darcy’s friend with benefits. Charlotte Lucus is a lawyer friend of Elizabeth’s, she’s a lesbian, and Bill Collins has a bit part as a habitual offender. Georgina and Darcy are both close, but Wickham is in Georgina’s past and is practically a non-entity in the story. I wouldn’t read this book expecting the same story as that of Pride and Prejudice, because you would be disappointed. I feel like the characters could have been renamed and the Jane Austen association taken away, and this could be perfectly fine if packaged as a contemporary romance.
Overall:  The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy is the one I would recommend for fans of the Romance genre, but not for those looking for something that exactly follows the Pride and Prejudice formula. This one falls squarely under the contemporary romance label, but it also contains a lot of sexual situations. The sex surprised me – It’s several months into the story before things get physical, but when they do, they really do! A part of me wished the characters were named something other than Elizabeth and Darcy because of this. I also felt the story could be tighter; I wouldn’t have missed some sex scenes or minded if the moral dilemma of a judge dating a lawyer weren’t so drawn out. Other than that, I enjoyed the way Darcy and Elizabeth were re-imagined as a judge and a lawyer, and the author wrote with authority on the judicial system. I also liked the easy humor in the characters and the great natural dialogue.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
I didn’t find any in my blogging social circle, let me know if I missed yours!

Such a Girl by Karen Siplin


Such a Girl
Karen Siplin

As a lover of Jane Austen retellings, I HAD to read this book when I heard that it was a retelling of Persuasion. Unfortunately I was disappointed in this one, and I think the big issue I had has to do with my personal aversion to angst in the books I read.
The Premise: Kendall Stark is a phone operator in a well-known New York City hotel. Nine years ago, she left the love of her life, Jack Sullivan, because her college friends didn’t think he was going anywhere. Now he’s a successful owner of a brewery who is visiting Kendall’s hotel, and Kendall is stuck in a lowly job and in an unfulfilling relationship with a married man.
My thoughts: When I began Such A Girl, expected it to be a light story based on the other modern-day Austen retellings I’ve read, but this story isn’t quite that. It begins with Kendall taking a smoke break and seeing her ex, Jack Sullivan crossing the street towards her. There is an awkward exchange as Kendall realizes that while Jack has done well for himself as the owner of a brewery, she’s still stuck where she is. In the hotel hierarchy, a job as a phone operator is low on the totem pole, and from Kendall’s descriptions of it, it’s a job with backstabbing co-workers, a micromanaging boss, and lots of angry guests screaming in your ear.
Kendall’s life of listening in on the hotel guests, hating her job, and her relationship with a man who was married was a big downer. Instead of amusing anecdotes from working at the hotel there is nothing but negative stories about the place.  I hoped that the tone would change as the story progressed, especially when Jack reenters her life, but this was not so. Instead Jack stays at Kendall’s hotel and begins to pay visits to her friend’s dinner parties, as a way of showing off his success. As a result there are arguments between the two (usually when Jack puts his foot in his mouth), that are really uncomfortable to read. Kendall seemed to divide people into those who are like her — living paycheck to paycheck but not looking to do more, and people who do have money, like the guests in her hotel. Jack did not help. I found Jack’s behavior passive aggressive, and Kendall’s reaction defensive. After these fights (which were frankly not sexy at all), I could believe that these two dated nine years ago, but that there was anything still there was harder to buy. Either way, neither Jack nor Kendall acted particularly likable and I had a hard time buying any chemistry between their characters.
At this point I figured out that: this is a really loose retelling of Persuasion. The only thing it takes from it is the story of two lovers who are separated and reunite years later, but all the side plots and side characters from that story are not here. Instead of the Elliot family, Kendall has her friends, Amy, Nick, and Gary, who didn’t think Jack’s antisocial and unambitious personality was right for Kendall, who was a sunny girl with goals in college (something she is not now). The rest of it isn’t there. Instead it’s replaced by numerous stories of hotel guests treating employees badly and conflicts with management, or Kendall and Jack’s repetitive fights that go no where.
Outside of Kendall’s life at the hotel and dealing with Jack’s return, are her home and love lives, and neither are tranquil. Her home is an apartment she and Gary rent, but a disruptive neighbor moves into the apartment upstairs making Kendall’s life even more miserable. I think I was supposed to side with Kendall, but frankly, I thought she was just as much in the wrong as her neighbor. Their conflicts just made me feel secondary rage. And as for her romantic relationships, Kendall has a casual relationship with Sage, a married man that she doesn’t love. Basically there was no where in Kendall’s life where she wasn’t unhappy or doing something self-destructive.  Things ultimately work out for her at the end of this story, but the ride was not easy.
Overall: This is a very readable story but at the same time it is very real.  I think it is best not to approach Such a Girl expecting a light-hearted retelling of Persuasion, because that’s not what this is. I really wanted to like this one because of the promise of a retelling, but every facet of Kendall’s life felt dreary to me.  I couldn’t connect to it.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly


A Weekend with Mr. Darcy
Victoria Connelly

The Premise: Katherine Roberts is a university lecturer going to an annual Jane Austen weekend at Purley Hall, Hampshire. For the past three years she’s been invited to talk, but this year, she’ll also be meeting romance novelist Lorna Warwick for the first time. Lorna and Katherine have been exchanging letters for a while and have developed a close friendship through their mail. What Katherine doesn’t know is that Lorna Warwick is really a man named Warwick Lawton. Warwick never expected a fan letter from Katherine to turn into such a great friendship, and from his side, love. He’s panicked that when Katherine finds out he’s Lorna, all that they share will be destroyed. The Jane Austen weekend is Warwick’s chance to meet Katherine and tell her the truth, but when he sees her, he may not be able to go through with it.
Going to the same conference is Robyn Love, a Austen fan whose boyfriend Jace is completely insensitive to her and her interests. Her hope for a nice weekend by herself is thwarted when Jace invites himself to her trip at the last minute, and then expects her to rearrange her plans to spend time with him. When Robyn meets Dan at Purley Hall, it brings her incompatibility with Jace into sharp contrast. While Jace has completely different interests and can’t stand Jane Austen, Dan shares her love of animals and the country, and he’s willing to read Jane Austen. On the other hand, Jace wants to take their relationship to the next level and has been with her through a bad time. It all leaves Robyn very confused about what she should do.
Read an excerpt of A Weekend With Mr. Darcy here
My Thoughts: This is a story told in the third person, but it is a very intimate, confiding type of third person, often revealing the streams of consciousness of each of the characters as the story goes along. The three people that the narrative centers around are Katherine, Warwick, and Robyn. Katherine is a university lecturer tired of lying boyfriends (one caught with an ex-girlfriend, one caught with a wife!), Warwick is a popular romance novelist afraid of telling the world his real identity, and Robyn is a sweet Austen fan stuck in a bad relationship.
This is the first in a series called the Austen Addicts, and for good reason. When the book begins we are allowed a brief glimpse of Katherine, Warwick, and Robyn’s everyday lives, and then the setting changes to Purley Hall, where their three fates converge. Their reason for being there is of course the Jane Austen weekend, so a lot of the book is about the conference, which includes the lecture Katherine gives, the various events they go to, and general conference goings on. It is all Jane Austen, all the time! I enjoyed this to some extent.  The conference was a good way to show the characters meeting and getting to know each other over a shared passion for Austen and mutual dislike over the caustic Mrs. Soames. I was also really interested in some of the creative ways that Austen was celebrated at the conference.
The issue was that after a while, I wanted the story to be more about the individual characters instead of going into every minute detail of the conference. It got a little tedious, especially since, on top of the conference, the characters muse about Jane Austen whenever they can. At first it was cute when Robyn packed her Jane Austen books and went into detail about the state of each of her reading copies (of course she has more than one copy of each book), and when Katherine thinks about how her period drama DVDs got more use after a bad break-up. But over the course of the book, when Austen was referred to in every other page, and some small part of their life would begin a long internal monologue on Jane Austen, it felt like repetitive “filler”, and I started to feel irritation when the narrative went on another Austen-related rumination.
Warwick, Robyn, and Katherine were all likable characters, but I wanted to know more about them, and less about Jane Austen. The bones were there for what could have been an interesting set of characters: Warwick’s reasons for hiding the truth of his identity to Katherine, Katherine’s reasons for being wary of lying men, and Robyn’s conflict between what she knows (Jace), and what she wants (Dan). The story maintains a sort of light touch when it came to going into these issues. I think of all the three characters, Robyn’s story is what went the furthest, but it still felt like it could have gone a lot further. I felt like the narrative was playing things safe by focusing on Austen and the conference so much and avoiding character development.
Overall: This felt like one for the Austen-super-fans, because it’s a love letter to Jane Austen. The Austen conference in a beautiful country house and characters who can’t help thinking about their favorite author is great for a Janeite who wants to live vicariously, but as a chick lit novel, A Weekend with Mr. Darcy isn’t very substantial. The plot and character development were on the simple side of the spectrum. Once the charming setting wore off, I found the story flat.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
About Happy Books – “Lovely, charming, entertaining and beautiful”

Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg


Prom & Prejudice
Elizabeth Eulberg

This is a review of an ARC copy I forwarded on from another blogger.
The Premise:
This is Pride and Prejudice set in the prestigious world of uber-elite boarding schools where the most important thing in the world is the prom. Prom at Longbourn Academy can make or break a girl, and the student body doesn’t want a repeat of a few years ago, when a scholarship student not only snagged the most eligible boy from neighboring Pemberley, she showed up in a department store-bought dress and was featured in the New York Times Style section. For her predecessor’s faux pas, the newest scholarship student to Longbourn Academy, Elizabeth Bennet, is routinely hazed. The only people who treat Lizzie like a human being are her sweet roommate, Jane, and the other scholarship student at the school, Charlotte. Lizzie perseveres however. She has no interest in the Prom, but she’s delighted for Jane when she falls for the unpretentious Charles Bingley, but can’t stand his best friend, Will Darcy.
My Thoughts: This was a very quick read – I read it over the course of one evening in a couple of gulps. There’s only 227 pages and a lot of it is dialog so it goes very fast.
I thought that the idea of doing a retelling of Pride and Prejudice around a boarding school and around Prom was a really great one. The wealth of the characters and the visits to different houses translates well to this setting, and the reduced circumstances of the Bennet family is reflected in Lizzie Bennet as a scholarship student and Jane and her sister Lydia as daughters of a recently laid off executive. The core characters of the original are there (Lizzie, Jane, Lydia, Charles, Carolyn, Charlotte, Darcy and Mr Collins – Colin here), without the Bennet parents or any interfering great aunts.
That said, this Lizzie and Darcy are very different from the originals. Lizzie is determined and talented, but she doesn’t have the personality that observes the world and remarks upon it that the original does. In fact, she seems to build a wall between herself and the wealthy. Maybe this should be expected from the way she’s treated at school. In any case, Lizzie’s prejudice is against the very rich. Similarly Will Darcy different from the original. For most of the story his character basically stands there while Lizzie willfully misunderstands him and tells him off. I knew very little about him and had no idea why he keeps trying to see Lizzie after she repeatedly yells at him, except that this was a retelling of Pride and Prejudice and that’s just what he’s supposed to do. It is fine that Darcy and Lizzie are not the same as the original, but I didn’t feel any chemistry between them for most of the book, and didn’t understand why Darcy liked Lizzie. It’s only after they figure out their misunderstandings that their relationship becomes more believable and sweet, but the original attraction was something that felt unexplained unless I think about the original and what happens there.
Darcy doing something just because that’s what his character is supposed to do exemplifies what I had problems with in this story. I think it’s biggest flaw is a stiffness which seems to be the result in rigidly following a certain path. Take the dialog for example. As I already mentioned, there’s a lot of it, so it was a shame that I’d regularly hit a phrase that has odd, formal quality, especially when it’s coming out of the mouth of a teenager.  Maybe this was done deliberately, but in this setting, it’s jarring.  I had a hard time imagining teens who begin conversations with “Bennet? I’m afraid I don’t know your family. Where do you vacation?” or the a teenage boy saying, “How could you say such a thing to me?” during an argument.  When particular dialog was taken from the original and mirrored in Prom and Prejudice (take Darcy’s first declaration to Lizzie for example), it feels like it’s a pale copy that doesn’t hold the same feeling.
Similarly, the brilliant observations of high society that are in the original are missing from this retelling. Instead there’s a stereotypical view of the very rich, which makes any observation about them kind of moot. While I really liked the idea of the boarding school setting, I found the execution very shallow. A whole school is so obsessed with Prom that everyone would pick on some lowly scholarship student because of what another scholarship student did years ago?  Perhaps if it was one pocket of mean girls or some girl with a particular grudge, I’d have gone along with the idea, but this scenario of a whole school holding a grudge didn’t fly.
I wanted to like Prom & Prejudice, I really did, but it didn’t quite hit the mark.  It’s only when the story veers away from the original and focuses on Lizzie’s love of music that I felt like the story shone. These were the cute moments in the story and what ultimately made me kept reading and actually like how the story ended. I think that if this book broke script like this more, I would have been happier with it.
Overall: There are some cute moments in this high school version of Pride and Prejudice, and I liked the ending, but it has a stiffness throughout that kept me from enjoying it as much as I wanted to. It felt like the book spends too much time trying to emulate the original. I would have been happier if this book veered off into its own path and spent more time making the romance between Darcy and Lizzie believable and its own. However, I may be in the minority in my opinion, as I see a lot of reviews with a more positive response than mine.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
She is Too Fond of Books – positive
Steph Su Reads – 2.5 out of 5
The Compulsive Reader – positive
Amaterasu Reads – 4 out of 5
Galleysmith – mixed
Austenprose – 4 out of 5
Loved the trailer for this one:

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale


Midnight in Austenland
Shannon Hale

In Austenland, actors play courting gentlemen and cater to fantasies of Mr. Darcy and other Austeneque heroes for rich female customers. Austenland was about a reporter working on a story about this place, and I enjoyed it, so I was excited to see that Shannon Hale was releasing a follow-up, Midnight in Austenland. This is a review based on an eARC copy.
The Premise: Charlotte is a nice and practical woman who is also rather clever. She has two children, a nice husband, and a flush retirement account, thanks to her business sense. Then her husband James became not-so-nice. He slowly pulls away from their marriage until one day, Charlotte finds herself divorced, older, and a little bit lost. With her kids staying with their father and his new wife for three weeks over the summer, Charlotte decides to book a vacation. Admitting to the travel agent that she’d love to be in an Austen novel, Charlotte finds herself with a booking at the exclusive Austenland.
Unfortunately for Charlotte, she can’t stop her clever mind from chugging along. Worrying about her kids is driving her crazy, so instead she focuses on the people around her. Wondering if Miss Gardenside’s sickness is real or feigned, what is stressing out Mrs. Wattlesbrook, and if Mr. Mallery is sexy or sinister keeps Charlotte busy until she discovers a dead body. At least, she thinks that’s what it was, but she can’t prove it. Suddenly everything and everyone in Austenland is suspect.
My Thoughts: Charlotte is a very likable heroine –  successful in her online landscaping business, a protective mother, and just a little bit of a over-thinker (in an endearing way). For a long time, she felt her husband moving away from her, but no matter what she did to try to mend their marriage, nothing worked.  I felt for her as the only person trying, while James had already checked out. When she finds herself single again, her self-consciousness about not knowing what to do with herself. She worries about what the divorce will do to her teenage daughter and her young son, and she tries to date (and fails miserably). Even in Austenland, where Charlotte can pretend that she’s someone else, she realizes that she can’t stop being the person she is.
So to distract herself from her usual worries, Charlotte begins to look at the guests and actors she’s surrounded by in Austenland. These characters are sketched quickly but distinctly.  The gentlemen/actors courting the three guests are her friendly pretend brother, Mr. Edmund Grey (Eddie), the affable Colonel Andrews, and the dark and broody Mr. Mallery.  The guests: repeat visitor Miss Charming, the sickly Miss Gardenside (who Charlotte recognizes as a pop singer her daughter adores), and her nurse, Mrs. Hatchet.  Then there is household staff, including Charlotte’s lady’s maid, Mary. And finally Mr and Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the owners of Austenland. With all these personalities before her, and with the parlor mysteries that Colonel Andrews devises, Charlotte has plenty keep her imagination going. That is, until one of the games takes a dark turn and the story becomes less about Charlotte on vacation and more about Charlotte solving a mystery.
Because of this mystery, Midnight in Austenland was a very different story than Austenland. If Austenland is chick lit with shades of Pride and Prejudice, Midnight in Austenland is a suspense-comedy reminiscent of Northanger Abbey.  Charlotte’s thought process is a funny thing, and she can’t decide at first if she really felt a dead body or not. Was it part of the game? Was it her imagination? Or was it a man’s corpse? There’s no way to say for sure until she gets to the bottom of things, so she uses her clever mind to investigate. In the meantime, Charlotte finds herself extremely aware of the dark and mysterious Mr. Mallery (and the feeling appears mutual). This is a man so at home in Austenland, Charlotte can’t imagine him anywhere else. If Mr. Mallery is the bad boy of the place, Eddie, her ‘brother’, is the nice guy.  While Mallery exudes danger, Eddie is safety, even if Eddie seems to treat Charlotte’s strange behavior as a joke or product of his ‘sister’s’ overactive imagination.
This is a fun romp with some humor and suspense, and an interesting cast of characters. I enjoyed that Charlotte was not the typical chick lit heroine (twenty-something young working girl), but a older, divorced suburban mom with a brain she can’t stop from churning. But it’s also not a story with huge surprises. It’s clear early on who is behind things and who Charlotte should be with. The mix of the Gothic mystery in the modern day makes the story humorous for some, possibly too farcical for others. For those who want a romance, the mystery leaves less room for the relationship to develop. This also felt like a really short book. Now, my nook has 189 pages for the eARC, while the publisher says the hardcover is 288. Maybe my ARC is missing some scenes added on later? I enjoyed what was there, but it all ended a little quickly for me.
Overall: Charming but not what I expected. Don’t expect this to be your typical chick lit or to be the same type of book as Austenland was. This is more Northanger Abbey than it is Pride and Prejudice, but it was a nice little romp. I wished for a little more romance and a little less farce, but I also went into this book expecting something in the same vein as Austenland. If I hadn’t had this expectation, I think I would have fared better. If I reread this book knowing what I now know, I’d like it more.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Searched but didn’t find reviews within my blogging friends circle. Let me know if I missed you and I will link your review here.

The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

This is a retelling of a lesser-known fairytale (Maid Maleen) that I have been meaning to get my hands on for some time. I finally found a copy while perusing a new used bookstore in Sedona, AZ (where the parents and in-laws live) and read it over the end of last year.
The Premise: Dashti is a mucker girl who gets a job as a lady’s maid on the very day that her lady is imprisoned in a tower for seven years. This is because Lady Saren refuses to marry Lord Khasar, claiming a prior engagement with another nobleman – Khan Tegus. While Lady Saren’s father shouts and the other maids run away, Dashti vows to stay beside her lady. The two girls are holed up in a small tower, and Dashti begins a journal detailing their days. Both Lady Saren’s suitors come by: Lord Khasar to taunt and torment them, and Khan Tegus to speak, but Lady Saren commands Dashti to impersonate her with Khan Tegus. As months go by and turn into years,  the food supply dwindles and Lady Saren settles into a dark depression. Only Dashti’s no nonsense attitude and faith in her gods keeps her from losing all hope herself.
My Thoughts: This is a epistolary novel told through Dashti’s entries in her journal, which she names “The Book of A Thousand Days”. From the get go, Dashti proves to be a heroine familiar with having to persevere when times are tough. She is a mucker – used to a nomadic lifestyle that depends on things beyond human control. She’s weathered a few hardships before selling her last animal for a job in Lady Saren’s household.  When Lady Saren, a young girl like Dashti herself, is put in a tower by her own father, Dashti is the only servant willing to take care of her lady.

    My lady was squeezing my arm so tightly now, my fingers felt cold. One of her cheeks was pink from his slap, her brown eyes red from crying. She reminded me of a lamb just tumbled out, wet all over, unsure of her feet and suspicious of the sun.
She’d be alone in that tower, I thought, and I remembered our tent when Mama died, how the air seemed to have gone out of it, how the walls leaned in, like to bury me dead. When Mama left, what had been home became just a heap of sticks and felt. It’s not good being alone like that. Not good.
Besides, I’d sworn to serve my mistress. And now that her hair was fixed and her face washed, I saw just how lovely she was, the glory of the Ancestors shining through her. I felt certain that Lady Saren would never disobey her father lightly. Surely she had a wise and profound reason for stubbornness, one blessed by the Ancestors.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ll stay with my lady.”
Then her father up and slapped me across my mouth. It almost made me laugh.

I liked Dashti a lot. Not only does she have skills for survival, but she also knows how to write and how to sing mucker healing songs. She’s self-sufficient, unlike her lady, who falls apart inside the tower. Dashti is the one looking at how much food they have and rationing it, worrying about the mice, cleaning, fetching water, and going about the day to day tasks of survival. Faced with a problem, Dashti doesn’t sit around – she does something. She’s just as worried as Lady Saren is that they may not survive, and yes, every so often she cries and despairs, but she picks herself up and carries on.

Day 528
Today I thought I would like to die, so I went into the cellar and smacked a few rats with the broom. It helped some.

As much as Dashti has skills that her lady does not, Dashti considers herself a servant and of a lower class than her lady. The class boundaries are very clear in her mind, and while others would think ill of Lady Saren for her uselessness in the tower, Dashti does not. Dashti believes in the gods and that the gentry have the mark of the Ancestors on them. It is Dashti’s job as a servant to obey and make her lady’s life easier. In many ways, Dashti’s unwavering belief make her something of an innocent, but I found her faith and heart endearing. It made her character very pure of heart, which fit well within the fairytale structure of this story.
When Lady Saren’s suitors pay them a visit at their tower, Dashti begins to realize why Saren refuses to marry Lord Khasar and prefers Khan Tegus. While Khan Tegus is likable, Lord Khasar is terrifying. Lord Khasar is a power hungry ruler who wants to take over all the Eight Realms. In this fairytale retelling, Lord Khasar is very clearly the bad guy while Khan Tegus is the Prince Charming of the tale, but the story puts a little twist to both the concepts. There is both a romance and a vanquishing in this story, and I don’t want to go into it and spoil anyone’s fun, but I have to say that both had me cheering.  I think that the structure of the story, as a series of journal entries, forces the narrative to sometimes focus on the mundane details over action, but I never found myself bored. Instead I was charmed by Dashti’s voice and her evolution from an ordinary lady’s maid into someone who could be the Hero of the story. I couldn’t predict what way the story was going to go, but I loved the way it unraveled.
I also loved that this story had a Mongolian influence. The Eight Realms and the Gods as Dashti knows them are clearly from Hale’s imagination, but the clothing, the animals and landscape, and many other details are very Asian.  There are also a lot of charming drawings that pepper the text which underline that these characters have Asian features. I really enjoyed reading a story that was so steeped in this sense of place.

Overall: This could be my favorite Shannon Hale story. I like a lot of Shannon Hale’s stories, but The Book of a Thousand Days had such an endearing heroine: a maid with a big heart who is determined to take care of her lady. It was heartwarming to see such a good character get her happy ending. This hit the right “fairytale” note while mixing in fantasy and Mongolian inspired story elements. I’m calling it a keeper.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Stephanie’s Written Word – positive
SFF Chat – positive
My Favourite Books – positive
need_tea – B
christina-reads – positive
temporaryworlds – 5 out of 5 stars

Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

Exclusively Yours
Shannon Stacey

Shannon Stacey has gotten a bit of buzz online amongst the romance reviewing community since she debuted with Exclusively Yours, which was published as an ebook by Carina Press, Harlequin’s e-only imprint. Now, her books are going to be in print too (from HQN). I stumbled on Exclusively Yours on netgalley a few months ago and requested it based on the good reviews. I’m always on the lookout for good contemporary romances and this seemed to have a great premise.
The Premise: Keri Daniels is a journalist, who unfortunately, has a boss obsessed with the reclusive author Joe Kowalski. Joe Kowalski happens to be Keri’s high school boyfriend – the guy she dumped when high school ended. Keri would like nothing more than to never see Joe again, but when her boss finds out Keri’s long held secret, it’s either get an interview or lose her job.  Now Keri is back in her hometown and living her worst nightmare. Joe says he will answer her questions, but for a price. All she has to do is join him on the Kowalski family camping trip, and for every day she survives with his siblings, their spouses, his parents and a rowdy bunch of Kowaski offspring, she can ask one question. Keri was never a camping sort of girl, but now she has to spend time with a family that has every cause to dislike her, especially Joe’s twin sister, Terry, her one time best friend who now holds a monumental grudge.
Read an excerpt of Exclusively Yours here
My Thoughts: With the premise of Keri’s ex-boyfriend being in the position to make Keri really suffer on the camping trip, I was expecting a lot of back-and-forth friction between the ex-lovers, but this story surprised me. Other than his idea of the camping trip, Joe seems rather forgiving of his ex-girlfriend that broke his heart and sent him into such a dark depression that he took to drinking. In fact, he looks at Keri with much the same appreciation as he used to in high school and is pretty much a nice guy about the whole breakup. The rest of the Kowalski’s are pretty zen as well. Except for Terry, who has her own reasons to be angry at Keri,  no one seems to hold a grudge. This was a little weird, as I was expecting SOME resistance to Keri, and maybe some hurt feelings on Joe’s part, but it was also refreshing to have a not-so-predictable plot.
Instead of the expected drama of Keri’s inclusion to the Kowalski camping trip, much of the story focuses on the personal dramas of Joe’s siblings amongst the woods and ATVing. His sister Terry is dealing with hurt feelings because her husband moved out. She can’t help herself from reliving her husband’s departure and wondering what went wrong. She’s in no mood to deal with Keri, her once best friend that phased her out, then broke her brother’s heart. You can’t help but feel like Terry is taking out all her pain on Keri, just because she is a convenient scapegoat, and this would be right. Terry’s complicated situation and the way she acts out was well done. I didn’t particularly like Terry, but I understood why she acted the way she did, and I liked the secondary story of her marriage woes (I had quibbles with how this was resolved, but nothing major). While Terry has her problems, Joe’s brothers also have theirs. Kevin is a bachelor and bar owner who just got out of a bad divorce. Mike is a family man with four boys and who doesn’t want any more kids, but his wife Lisa, wants one more. This leads to some spectacular spats.
Compared to the drama going on among the people around them, the drama between Keri and Joe feels relatively tame. The biggest issue starts off as the conflict between Joe keeping his secrets (a mysterious engagement, his subsequent shunning of the limelight), and Keri needing a juicy story. But as the story continues Keri realizes that she has the same choice to make as before: whether she should choose Joe and her hometown, her career and L.A. Along the way of course, there is also the sexual tension they have to contend with, and much of the camping trip involves the dance between two obviously attracted people. Joe sees Keri and feels just like he felt about her in high school, and Keri feels like getting involved with Joe again would just be a big mistake. I liked the relaxed banter and the adult way that the hero and heroine acted throughout the book, and their obstacle to a happy ending felt more realistic than some of the others I’ve read in contemporary romance.
Overall: An enjoyable contemporary romance with humor and likable protagonists. I would say that it was a nice romance but the sense of family (their shenanigans and tribulations) and the well developed secondary characters brought Exclusively Yours up a notch from the average ‘fun romance read’. I’m interested in reading the next in the Kowalski series – this time about bar owner brother Kevin.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Buy ebook: Amazon (kindle) |  B&N (eBook)
Other reviews:
Monkey Bear Reviews – B-
One Good Book Deserves Another – 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Dear Author – B-
Pearl’s World of Romance – 10 out of 10