Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Magnate- Joanna Shupe

Magnate (The Knickerbocker Club)- Joanna Shupe
Kensington Books
Release Date: April 26, 2016

Synopsis: Born in the slums of Five Points, Emmett Cavanaugh climbed his way to the top of a booming steel empire and now holds court in an opulent Fifth Avenue mansion. His rise in stations, however, has done little to elevate his taste in women. He loathes the city's "high society" types, but a rebellious and beautiful blue-blood just might change all that.
Elizabeth Sloane's mind is filled with more than the latest parlor room gossip. Lizzie can play the Stock Exchange as deftly as New York's most accomplished brokers--but she needs a man to put her skills to use. Emmett reluctantly agrees when the stunning socialite asks him to back her trades and split the profits. But love and business make strange bedfellows, and as their fragile partnership begins to crack, they'll discover a passion more frenzied than the trading room floor...
Magnate, first in a new series by Joanna Shupe, combines 2 of the more fun romance genre plots: marriage between strangers and being trapped in a storm, and creates something enjoyable new to read.  Set around the March 1888 East Coast snowstorm, Magnate is a clash of cultures when blue blooded Lizzie and self-made Emmett combine forces- first to make money and then to make a marriage.  Both feel an instant attraction for the other, but Emmett is convinced no woman- especially one as fine as Lizzie- could possibly love him.  When a compromising situation forces them to marry both are secretly happy. Then the misunderstandings begin, brotherly blackmail, rebuffed suitors, revenge, and pride prevent them from talking things out and both are miserable.  A huge snowstorm trapping them together in Emmett's office may be the best thing that could happen!  

Lizzie is my favorite sort of historical romance heroine: a strong woman who is willing to go against social conventions in pursuit of what is right and will make her happy.  She constantly buts heads with her conservative older brother and friends, none of whom understand her desire to enter the world of stocks and trades and high finance.  But she knows she has talent and wants to set up a stock brokerage firm that will allow women investors to make money on the stock exchange.  She is willing to work behind the scenes until her success is clear and let a man take the front stage, and is convinced her talent will speak for itself if she only gets a chance.  Emmett is a self-made billionaire who vows none of his siblings will ever have to worry about money. He worked his way out of the slums and doesn't care for "high society" and its rules, but wants his younger sisters to be able to take their place in society when they are of age.  He's now above bending society's rules to get what he wants.  I loved how, as soon as Lizzie proved her financial acumen, Emmett never questioned her, or treated her as second class.  The fact that she was a woman didn't prevent him from accepting her as an equal- even if he does start out backing her mostly to annoy her older brother.  Even when Emmett was at his most annoying, refusing to drop his pride and talk with Lizzie when they started to having misunderstandings, he remained unshakeable in his support of her abilities- the first person to compliment her brains and see her for who she could be.

I loved watching them grow as people and in their relationship, figuring out how a marriage between such very different yet similar personalities would work.  Shupe creates engaging characters that drew me in from page one, and is brilliant in immersing the reader in 1888 New York.  Clothes, transportation, homes, New York itself, were brilliantly described while not making it seem as if she was describing them- the very best kind of world building whether you're writing fantasy or history! Magnate is an engaging, exciting, wonderful read!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Eligible- Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice- Curtis Sittenfeld
Random House
Release Date: April 19, 2016

Synopsis: This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.
Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.
Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . . 

As a devotee of the original Pride & Prejudice, and a confirmed Janeite, I wasn't sure about the idea of "modern retellings" of Austen's books. Certainly they've been the inspiration for countless movies and books, and the originals are still incredibly popular. So much of the tension and urgency in a book like Pride & Prejudice comes from the time period and social setting.  Austen's dry wit and irony perfectly critique 19th century society, social structures, class and gender limitations, etc. How can that be translated into a modern setting convincingly?

In many ways, Eligible answers that question with: it can't.  I enjoyed the book: it was a fast and funny read, and I was always eager to see how the next scene or problem in P&P would be retold. But when I closed the book, I would start thinking of all the things that didn't work, or disappointed.  The Bennet family as a whole isn't especially likable and the foundation of family love that is present in the original is thin at best, and I often thought it was non-existent. Even the relationship between Liz and her father isn't shown as being especially close or supportive.  Most of the problems that you sympathize with in P&P were entirely self inflicted in Eligible.  Mr. Bennet inherited money from his family and seems to have spent his entire working career doing nothing.  Mrs. Bennet is a shopaholic with what seems to be beginning hoarder tendencies. Neither parent seem to care about reality, and are in fact completely unconcerned that their house is falling to pieces, their finances are going down the drain, and their three younger daughters are complete wastes of space.  Mary is a professional student with no apparent purpose in life and a much more purposely unlikeable personality than her socially awkward P&P counterpart. Lydia and Kitty remain clueless and act like teens even though they are both in their 20s and have yet to even try to see the point of getting a job.  Lydia in particular seems determined to get by in life on her looks and what she seems to think is a charming personality.  Even Liz, the main character, is often not especially likable.  Much more judgmental than her counterpart, she tries to "fix" the family while visiting after her father's heart attack by railroading them into accepting major life changes.  As much as you agree that the changes are needed (like selling the house they can no longer afford, and attempting to convince the younger girls to actually get jobs and earn their way), Liz doesn't do anything with much tact or thought to anyone's feelings, just harsh necessity.

It doesn't come as a big surprise that Darcy is also not especially likable, is far ruder than the original, and his original declaration of love makes you want to punch him.  What is disappointing is that by the end of the book I was never actually convinced why Liz and Darcy ended up together- there weren't great changes in either of them, no real excuse for Darcy's behavior, and no convincing chemistry or love between them. The only likable main characters in the book were Jane, a yoga instructor who remains sweet and forgiving of Bingley even after he proves to have no spine, no great character, and not much to recommend him other than money and (eventually) loving Jane; and Kathy de Bourgh, Liz's feminist idol whose walk on role is more an acknowledgement that any version of P&P requires a de Bourgh at least in passing than anything else.  Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins ("Cousin Willie") likewise seem to have been written in more because of formula than that they had a useful role to play.  Lydia's great indiscretion, a major turning point in the original and a genuine catastrophe for the whole family, is really only a problem to her conservative parents. Darcy doesn't get to save the day, the family, or sacrifice his own comfort and feelings as a way to show his changed heart and love. Wickham remains a complete and unlikeable jerk, but not the horrible deceiver and seducer of P&P.  

The subtle social criticisms and humor of P&P are in no way subtle in Eligible.  Every possible stereotype is invoked, sometimes for laughs, sometimes you're not sure why. Eligible's humor is more crass than subtle, and social and gender issues hit you like a hammer.  Most of the characters are one-sided and Darcy, one of literature's greatest romantic heroes, just falls flat, as does the development of Darcy and Liz's romance. Liz, whose P&P counterpart is (in an approximation of the word's of Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail) "one of literature's most complex heroines"     is anything but that in Eligible.

What is surprising is that I enjoyed Eligible while I was reading it. It was after I'd finished that the book fell apart for me.  Maybe it's unfair to compare it so heavily with Pride & Prejudice- it's a different author and a different time/social frame.  Maybe the book would stand better as its own story.  But it also seems impossible not to make the comparisons, especially for someone who loves the original book- which is presumably the audience expected to read Eligible.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Fortune Favors the Wicked- Theresa Romain

Fortune Favors the Wicked - Theresa Romain
Kensington Books
Release Date: March 29, 2016

Synopsis: As a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Benedict Frost had the respect of every man on board--and the adoration of the women in every port. When injury ends his naval career, the silver-tongued libertine can hardly stomach the boredom. Not after everything--and everyone--he's experienced. Good thing a new adventure has just fallen into his lap…

When courtesan Charlotte Perry learns the Royal Mint is offering a reward for finding a cache of stolen gold coins, she seizes the chance to build a new life for herself. As the treasure hunt begins, she realizes her tenacity is matched only by Benedict's--and that sometimes adversaries can make the best allies. But when the search for treasure becomes a discovery of pleasure, they'll be forced to decide if they can sacrifice the lives they've always dreamed of for a love they've never known…

Fortune Favors the Wicked features two rather unusual, and extremely enjoyable, characters: Benedict Frost- naval lieutenant, world traveller, and writer, blinded several years ago and readjusting to life in England; and Charlotte Perry- vicar's daughter and courtesan, who is on the run from her previous life and a dangerous man in it but hasn't quite figured out what her new life will be. Both could seriously use the reward the Royal Mint is offering for stolen gold coins in order to start their new lives. But treasure hunts bring out all kinds of people and when the stolen gold is traced to Charlotte's family's village, violence follows. Charlotte and Frost put aside their competition for the gold in order to discover who has killed the only local witness, and it becomes a little more personal when the killer also attacks Frost.  

Both Charlotte and Frost have a jaded view of the world and their place in it, but are still working to create new lives for themselves.  They learn to first respect and then trust each other, and discover what love is only when both think they have to give it up.  Fortune is full of well written descriptions and vivid characters that kept every page fast paced and alive, enjoyable from start to finish. By the end we have also been introduced to Frost's sister - I can't wait to read her book!

An enjoyable read with fresh and vivid characters; mystery and hidden treasure; and a very happily ever after. A must read for romance lovers!    

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Icing- Kelly Jamieson

Icing (Aces Hockey Series #3- Kelly Jamieson
Random House LLC
Release Date: April 19, 2016

Synopsis: Duncan Armstrong may be an NHL star, but he’s a country boy at heart. His ultimate fantasy is going home with the Stanley Cup, not a gold-digging airhead who aspires to be a trophy wife and nothing more. Newly single and hoping to enjoy a night out with his teammates, he ends up hitting it off with a down-to-earth waitress who’s a complete breath of fresh air—until Duncan learns that she’s a part-time model. He tries to forget about her, but their sizzling chemistry has him coming back for more.
Amber is working hard to put herself through school, and has zero interest in dating a professional athlete. She’s seen firsthand how fame and fortune can mess with their heads—her father’s brilliant football career ended in a firestorm of addiction and infidelity. So Duncan’s attentions immediately have her on the defensive. Still, there’s something different about him. And once she stops trying to freeze him out, irresistible temptation turns into all-consuming passion.

Icing isn't just something to do with a puck anymore. Kelly Jamieson's Icing is a fast-paced and ice-melting romance that forces two people to confront their own prejudices and past baggage if they want to have their happily ever after.  Duncan Armstrong has been a professional hockey player for years and still manages to retain a Wisconsin farm boy laid back approach to life.  He loves hockey and his team, enjoys summers off fishing at his cabin and helping with multiple youth hockey organizations, dates shallow puck bunnies and can't seem to figure out why he's unhappy in the relationships.  After dumping his latest girlfriend, a professional model, he decides to take some time off from dating and try to figure out why the relationships never work. That lasts for a couple of hours- just until he meets Amber, the new waitress at his regular hangout.  She refuses to have anything to do with a professional athlete and as soon as he finds out that her other job is being a model he thinks he should forget about her.  Fortunately for the characters and the reader the chemistry between them is hot enough to melt the ice and they end up in a relationship despite themselves.

Amber had her life turned upside down by her professional football player father who did drugs, alcohol, and just about everything else he could before winding up bankrupt, divorced, and in jail.  She watched her mother fall apart afterwards and has no intention of becoming like her mom.  She prizes her independence and is willing to work multiple jobs to pay for college and still send money home to her clueless mother.  Obviously she has some rather understandable emotional baggage and starts off by painting Duncan with the same brush as she sees all professional athletes- just like her father.

There were times when I wanted to hit these two with a hockey stick over their inability to get over past hurts and see that what they had with each other was special and worth the effort.  Neither was willing to see their issues and work on them even after getting it pointed out multiple times. Both made plenty of mistakes in the process. But the lightbulbs (or goal lights in this case) do finally go off in time.  I thought is was really sweet that Duncan was so unsure of himself with women- very different from the usual male athlete character.  And easy to forget, or cover up, which made some of Amber's mistakes pretty normal.  Who expects a hockey player with women throwing themselves at him to need to be reassured that he's a great guy? Duncan's mistakes were more annoying- he kept on making the same mistake and expecting a different reaction, then making an even bigger mistake way after he should have known better. But that's real life- people mess up relationships. It's the lucky and smart ones who figure out when it's worth fixing them.

This was a great read: fast-paced, funny, and sexy. There's a, especially great scene where Amber and her roommate decide to try watching a hockey game when neither of them knows a thing about the game- with some hysterical reactions to announcer commentary.  Watching the characters come together and support each other when things get tough was great and the secondary characters are as well written as the main ones- you'll definitely want to read Jamieson's other books in the series after this!

If you like scorching-hot hockey players, Kindle melting chemistry, sweet and relatable characters, and a lovely story with heat and heart, Icing is for you!  

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

King Maybe- Timothy Hallinan

King Maybe (A Junior Bender Mystery)- Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime
Publication Date: April 12, 2016

Synopsis: Los Angeles’s most talented burglar, Junior Bender, is in the middle of stealing one of the world’s rarest stamps from a professional killer when his luck suddenly turns sour. It takes an unexpected assist to get him out alive, but his escape sets off a chain reaction of blackmail, strong-arming, and escalating crime. By the time Junior is forced to commit his third burglary of the week—in the impregnable fortress that’s home to the ruthless studio mogul called King Maybe—he’s beginning to wish he’d just let the killer take a crack at him.

King Maybe is my introduction to Timothy Hallinan. Written in a fast paced style that reminds me of Janet Evanovich, it's a fun mystery where the crook is the hero of the story.  Junior Bender (yes, that's his real name) is a talented burglar with great sense of humor, snark, and sarcasm, who spends most of this book not listening to his instincts.  Of course, it would be a much shorter book if he did.  

Things start out with Junior almost getting caught during the theft of a valuable stamp from a professional killer and his day goes downhill from there. He's probably Los Angeles' only thief/unofficial private eye and the kind of decent guy who finds himself constantly dragged into helping people who are only vaguely friends- when they aren't trying to kill him.  In King Maybe he winds up trying to help a "friend" threatening to kill him, then gets forced into a third burglary within the space of four days.  But when the person who hires him for the last burglary is also the person he's supposed to be robbing, and a sociopathic movie mogul, what could possibly go wrong?

King Maybe has a complex number of heists, characters on a sliding criminal scale, and story lines that sort themselves into a brilliant ending where almost everyone gets what they deserve. The only disappointing thing about this book was that- although teased- we never find out what Junior calls his car.

An overall fun book for mystery lovers and a good introduction for those of us who haven't read Hallinan's previous books.  Luckily, there are quite a few to catch up on while waiting for his next book.    

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.