Category Archives: romance

Reading: Prosecco and Promises by A.L. Michael

12th February 2018

Requested for review from the publisher on Netgalley.

Mia is trying – and failing – to prepare herself for orphanhood. Her mother died when she was young, and now her beloved dad is succumbing to the cancer he survived years before. The dutiful daughter, Mia finally agrees to her father’s final wish. When the time comes, she is to leave him with his much younger wife, take a plane to the Italian island of Ischia, where her mother grew up and her family still lives, and have a drink in his memory.

Devastated, angry, and broken, Mia arrives in Ischia, to her warm, loving aunt (the only one who knows her father is dying), her shrunken, bitter Italian grandmother, and her fun-loving cousin. She remembers her only other trip to Ischia and seeks out the antique shop she visited only to find herself drawn into the shop owner and his grandson’s lives, as she learns more and more about her mother and herself.

While Prosecco and Promises didn’t appear to be my typical fare, combine Italy and prosecco with a little archaeology, and I’m all in. As in many books, the main character is seeking something, not realizing she really needs to find herself. Ischia is steeped in her family’s history, and Mia wants to learn more about her mother, the fleeting figure she can hardly remember, but at the same time, she has to come to terms with the impending loss of her father. A.L. Michael writes Mia’s ache so well, and I felt for Mia and understood her anger. At the same time, it was evident that Mia’s life was on hold and that the anger that bubbled out of her was directed as much at herself as anyone else. The release she feels once her father dies allows her to fast track the life she didn’t realize she was missing, and I loved that the author didn’t clip the ending but instead allowed Mia room to explore and feel her way a bit.

The cover belies the struggle Mia faces, as this is no chick lit, and Prosecco and Promises was a good mid-winter read, as the sunny Italian island is a perfect foil for the cold weather.

*Read what others have to say on Goodreads.

Reading: The Widow of Larkspur Inn by Lawana Blackwell

31st January 2018

Julia is comforting her youngest child, sitting in contemplation as she mourns her recently deceased husband, when the butler appears to announce the arrival of a guest. The late hour concerns Julia, but she sees the visitor anyway and is shocked when the man explains, hat in hand, that her husband owed him money. Unsettled by the visit, Julia’s life is shattered the next day when she learns her husband had known for nearly a year that the house they shared was being foreclosed upon. The culprit? Her husband’s gambling habit she knew nothing about. The bankers feel obvious remorse for the woman with three young children and recommend she make her home at one of her husband’s properties the bank has no interest in, the Larkspur, an old abandoned inn in a small village, Gresham.

Devastated but determined to make a life for her children, Julia, with the help of a surprising character, makes the decision to turn the inn into a lodging house. Taking her faithful maid and friend Fiona with her, Julia and the children work to make Larkspur a home, and the village offers a lively cast of characters, as do the lodgers Julia secures.

While not much happens in The Widow of Larkspur Inn, in terms of plot, the changing narrators and focus on various characters means you learn quite a lot about these people, and you care about their arcs. Though I didn’t know it to start, the book is also what I’d label Christian fiction, but the proselytizing was not so heavy as to take over the narrative.

A quiet novel in the vein of Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown, I really, surprisingly enjoyed this book and was pleased to learn there were sequels, as I wasn’t quite ready to leave Gresham.

*To see what others have to say about The Widow of Larkspur Inn, click here.

In Which I Liked a Nicholas Sparks Movie…

15th April 2015

For real. So the bff and I rarely get to spend any time together. She’s got three kids; they’re all uber involved in extra activities…yada yada yada. When I realized I’d have a Friday evening to myself, I figured I’d see if I could hang out with her and the kids, but she called and practically yelled in the phone, “It’s meant to be! I don’t have the kids tomorrow! Let’s go see The Longest Ride!”

She hung up about as quickly, leaving me to Google The Longest Ride and then groan. Because The Longest Ride is a Nicholas Sparks movie, based on his book. And I hate Nicholas Sparks films – though that isn’t quite fair, I’ve only watched one – The Notebook – under duress (same bff gave it to me and bugged me for six months until I watched).

Friday afternoon I girded my loins to go the theater to see a film about a cowboy and love. Yech.

At least, I thought I was going to see a mushy film about a cowboy and love. What I actually saw…was a mushy film about a cowboy, and a girl, and an old man thinking back on the love of his life. Cheesy as hell, but I actually liked it.

There was still the obligatory rain scene (I swear, someone could do an academic paper about Sparks’ use of rainy scenes. He must think there’s some real symbolism there or something. Yes! The rain washes away who I used to be and now I am clean and free to love you!). Anyway, there’s also not much in the way of character development: I know two things about Sophia, one of the main characters. She was raised by Polish immigrants. And she likes art.

Similarly, her paramour, Luke, rides bulls to keep his momma on the ranch because Daddy died of a heart attack. But momma doesn’t care about the ranch and wants Luke to stop bull riding because a bull nearly killed him. Motivation enough? I guess.

BUT. The real gem of the film is the relationship between Ruth and Ira, a Jewish couple who meet at the start of World War II, when Ruth’s family immigrates to the US from Vienna. Luke and Sophia save elderly Ira from a car crash, and he asks Sophia to go back for a box of letters that chronicle his relationship with his love. She develops a relationship with the old man, reading him the love letters he wrote and can no longer read and gaining insight into love, life, and relationships.

And I loved it.

Had the majority of the film focused on the contemporary couple, it would have been a snoozefest, but watching Ruth and Ira fall in love in flashbacks and navigate the problems couples encounter was really lovely. Their lifelong love affair was beautiful.

Even though I never thought I’d find myself saying this, I’d actually recommend The Longest Ride. It may be rental material, but if you want a love story that won’t make your eyes roll back in your head (I’m looking at you, every rom-com ever), try this one.

Review: The Drake Equation by Heather Walsh

23rd January 2014

pg1*I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Emily Crossley and Robert Drake would never be matched up on eharmony or match.com. Each is passionate about politics and his or her own key issues. Emily works for a nonprofit devoted to ridding the planet of gas-guzzling SUVs. Robert is a businessman whose business it is to market those same SUVs.

When they meet at an anti-SUV rally Emily hosts, sparks fly…but less from lust and more from a sense of righteousness. Robert follows up with a string of emails, and Emily is intrigued, asking him out before she loses her nerve. As Emily and Robert’s arguments grow more and more heated, so does their attraction.

But how do you reconcile an attraction to someone so inappropriate for you on paper? Emily and Robert both struggle with this, yet each is level headed and logical, able to articulate their stances in ways that aren’t offensive to the other. Plus, there’s more to each than politics. Robert loves astronomy. Emily loves to read. At one point, Emily even questions whether she uses her politics as a way to separate herself from others, a moment of brutal honesty. But it is each character’s openness with one another that allows them to fall in love until Robert’s demanding job overwhelms any chance they have of being together.

At first glance, The Drake Equation made me nervous. Not only is it a romance novel, but it’s also a novel involving two characters whose political beliefs are diametrically opposed. To be together, miraculously, neither Robert nor Emily suddenly changes his or her political beliefs. Neither one gives up a career for the other. That’s not to say that Robert and Emily don’t change or compromise, but so often in romance novels, one or the other of the characters in the couple makes a change that makes my skin crawl a bit. Heather Walsh avoids that and creates a cast of intelligent, thoughtful characters without unrealistic obstacles getting in the way of love, making The Drake Equation the perfect romance novel for people who hate romance novels.

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Review: Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

12th November 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the publisher Little, Brown in exchange for an honest review.

A woman wakes in a French battlefield hospital with no recollection of who she is, where she is, or how she may have gotten there. But she does remember how to assist the doctors and how to drive an ambulance, a difficult skill. From all accounts, she’s American, though it’s only 1916, and American hasn’t yet entered the war. On leave, she attempts to make her way to the Admiralty in London. She isn’t sure why she needs to go there, but the place holds significance for her, and she’s hopeful someone can identify her there.

But on the way, she takes ill, and Dr. August Bridge and his wife take her in. Dr. Bridge is a cranial surgeon, unfit for war because of scoliosis and bad eyesight, and he begins working with Stella in an attempt to regain her memory, as there are moments of clarity for Stella in which she only feels emotion. She sketches disturbing images she sees but cannot determine whether they are true or a figment of her imagination. But the story turns in an instant when Stella remembers her old life.

***

So, you should know that when I was in college, I devoured Anita Shreve books. In my estimation, they are similar to what the Jodi Picoult books are now. Pretty covers. Intriguing stories, but with a depth I usually enjoy more than some other women’s fiction.

Stella Bain was initially enthralling. Watching as she struggles to place herself and recall her reason for being in France is fascinating. I felt as though much of the book would be spent with her and Dr. Bridge working to restore her memory. However, when her amnesia disappears – rather quickly in the scope of the novel – the story becomes something different altogether. Stella begins to tell what brought her from America to the battlefields of France, another different but intriguing narrative. Yet after the reader understands what has brought her to war and what caused her amnesia, the novel begins to wane.

Still a good read, Stella Bain suffers from what many novels in the past several years have – a promising introduction but a less-than-stellar fulfillment of its early potential.

Recommended for fans of Anita Shreve and those interested in World War I.

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