Reviews, Romance

Review: Passion on Park Avenue

Passion on Park Avenue (Central Park Pact, #1)Passion on Park Avenue by Lauren Layne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish that more romance writers would realize that less is more. So often I’ll enjoy reading a romance only to become annoyed when it becomes a broken record of all the petty roadblocks the central characters have put between themselves making me want to go all Cher in Moonstruck and yell “Snap out of it!”.  Sometimes I even want to slap them. While that did happen to an extent in Lauren Layne’s Passion on Park Avenue, Ms. Layne kept her novel of a former housekeeper’s daughter made good and the boy, now very much a man, who tormented her and helped to bring on her mother’s downward spiral short and sweet. Yet, she was able to add a little weight to what could’ve been a pretty typical romance novel.
I’ve read novels where the author attempted to add some meat to a familiar story but it often felt like it was tacked on – a failed attempt to stand out from the pack. In Passion on Park Avenue however, Walter’s Alzheimer’s not only felt authentic but was actually necessary to Naomi’s journey of forgiveness and healing. Naomi is a great character – strong, and empowering, yet vulnerable and haunted, as we all are, by our past – and Oliver is totally swoon-worthy, which any romance reader knows is very important. Along with the romance, which was sweet with just a little steam, there was also a fun friendship between three unlikely women.   Thank you to Goodreads.com for the opportunity to read this ARC.  I cannot wait to read the next to books in the Central Park Pact series.

There are a lot of romance novels out there.  Among my favorite authors are Susan Elizabeth Phillips (her Ain’t She Sweet is one of my absolute favorites) and Kristan Higgins.  If you’re looking for something short and light, you can’t get much lighter than Janet Evanovich’s early romance novels such as Manhunt and Suzanne Baltsar’s Trouble Brewing features a strong, independent businesswoman like Naomi from Passion on Park Avenue

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For the Love of Books, Year in Review

Shelly’s Year in Books | 2018

It’s that time of year again, time to review my year of reading.  Honestly, it hasn’t been my best reading year.  I don’t want to complain about receiving free books and ARC editions but thanks to my discovery of NetGalley, reading started to feel like a chore.  And that’s never a good thing.  So I’m determined to cut down on the number of books I sign up for and focus more on the books on my own shelves.  Even though I wouldn’t count 2018 as the most enjoyable, any time spent reading is to be appreciated and there are always a few standouts books.

  • For instance?  Amy Stewart released another Kopp Sisters novel, the fourth in the series (and there’s another one on the way for 2019!), Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit.  and she makes my top reads list for the third year in a row.
  • This summer my ever reliable librarian friend introduced me to Louise Miller’s first novel,  The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living and when my library got her second novel,  The Late Bloomers’ Club, I read that one too.   I loved both books and they both make my list.Late Bloomer
  • I encountered a few disappointments from some of my favorite writers:  Neither Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Heroes Are My Weakness or Katie Fforde’s Love Letters were the authors’ best works.  Though I did enjoy Abbi Waxman’s Other People’s Houses it didn’t quite live up to the hilarity of last year’s top readThe Garden of Small Beginnings.  The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion, the author of my beloved Don Tillman series, was one of my least enjoyed books of the year, earning my only one-star review of the year.
  • Then again some well-loved writers equaled or Night of Miraclessurpassed themselves:  When I finally got around to reading the second book of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Dragonfly in Amber, I found everything that I loved about the first book along with a deeper relationship between Claire and Jamie.  My return to Jan Karon’s Mitford series was a joyous one with the short, sweet Christmas story, Shepherds Abiding.  Best of all was Elizabeth Berg’s Night of Miracleswhich contained the unique attention to detail and wisdom that I love about Berg’s writing along with a ton of heart and some lovable characters making it a front-runner for my top read
  • Another front-runner is Jon Cohen’s Harry’s Trees which celebrated two of my favorite things, books and nature, with an enormous amount of heart, a devilish sense of humor, and a dash of adventure.Harry's Trees
  • Finally, if awards were given out for best character, Polly from Kathy Hepinstall’s The Book of Polly would definitely get a nomination.

There are the highlights of my year.  I read some great books but there wasn’t even a competition for my favorite read this year.  I pretty much knew what it would be back in March.  Harry’s Trees is just so full of hope and love and a darn good story that I knew it was destined to be one of my favorites.  Since finishing it, I’ve recommended to everyone and even wrote it in for a Goodreads choice award.

These are just a few of the books I’ve read this year.  To see the full list and read the reviews, check out My 2018 Year in Books on Goodreads!

Source: Shelly’s Year in Books | Goodreads

Reviews, Romance

Review: Heroes Are Weakness

Heroes Are My WeaknessHeroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Books like Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Heroes Are My Weakness are why Goodreads.com needs to update their rating system. The three-star rating I gave it makes it look like I didn’t like it all that much when in fact I did like it quite a bit. Just not enough to give it four full stars. Heroes Are My Weakness is not Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s best novel but when it comes to contemporary romance, a middling effort by Phillips is better than most.
Like her other novels, Heroes Are My Weakness is populated with endearing characters – human and non-human – a little mystery, and a lot of heart. What it doesn’t have is as much steaminess as some of her previous novels. And the sexy moments that are there don’t always flow with the story. That along with some plot holes keep this one from being a great or even a really good addition to Phillips’s works.

If you enjoy Heroes Are My Weakness or are a fan of contemporary romance and haven’t read any of Phillips’s novels, I highly recommend Ain’t She Sweet.

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Characters

Fictional Friends (and Boyfriends)

What makes an unforgettable character?  A hero you want to root for?  A villain you love to hate?  If I knew those answers, I’d probably be a better writer than I am.  All I know is that there are some characters that have, for one reason or another, stayed with me since I met them.  Some are like friends I visit often for some comfort and a good laugh, some just seem like they’d be fun to hang out with, some become book boyfriendsJ, and some are so wonderfully bad that I love to hate them.  Now that I’ve added Soulless’s Alexia Tarabotti to my list of favorite characters – yes, I have a list, doesn’t everyone? – I thought I would introduce you to a few of my other favorites:

  • Sherlock Holmes – No, I’m not on some bandwagon though I am obsessed with BBC’s “Sherlock”. I’ve loved the character of Sherlock Holmes since reading “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” and “The Speckled Band” in middle school (probably even longer thanks to The Great Mouse Detective, but discussion of that would be in another blog altogether).
    I couldn't resist! Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes complete with death frisbee.
    I couldn’t resist! Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes complete with death frisbee.

    Yes, he’s brilliant and solves impossible cases but what I like most about Sherlock is his snark.  In the books, he is excellent at insulting people without them realizing it.  And, most of the time, he only insults the characters that deserve it.  He’s actually pretty nice (by his standards) to the good people in the stories.  He just has an awesome bulls**t detector.

  • Augustus McCraeLonesome Dove could be unbearably heavy and dreary without someone to lighten the mood (just read Streets of Laredo and tell me it’s not a bit depressing). But Gus isn’t just a funny guy who likes to enjoy his life.  His quips and anecdotes are often full of wisdom and he really is a great leader of men.  Unfortunately, he’s also stubborn as hell in the end.  I’m still mad at him.

    Robert Duvall as Gus in the mini-series version of Lonesome Dove was perfection.
    Robert Duvall as Gus in the mini-series version of Lonesome Dove was perfection.
  • Ramona Quimby – In my younger days, I considered the star of Beverly Cleary’s delightful series one of my best friends. Like me, she is a little sister but she has the spunk I wish I had and the courage to get into all the trouble I wish I had been brave enough to get into.
    Ramona the Pest (Ramona #2) by Beverly Cleary
    Ramona the Pest (Ramona #2) by Beverly Cleary

    My favorite Ramona book is Ramona the Pest when she’s in kindergarten.  She chases a boy, pulls a classmate’s bouncy curls, draws her Qs into little cats, and gets into all sorts of scrapes at school and home.  As a shy quiet child, I wanted to be Ramona.

  • Atticus Finch – I hope it isn’t a crime these days to say Atticus Finch is one my favorite characters. I haven’t read Go Set a Watchman yet, so as far as I’m concerned, To Kill a Mockingbird is the only source for the character of Atticus or any of the Finches.  He is probably the noblest character in American literature, living by and standing by his values even when it is difficult and potentially dangerous.  Most importantly, though, he is the kind of father I would want for my children.

    Another reason to love Atticus Finch. It gives me an excuse to post a picture of Gregory Peck looking all noble.
    Another reason to love Atticus Finch. It gives me an excuse to post a picture of Gregory Peck looking all noble.
  • Sydney Carton – The main protagonist of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities may seem like the polar opposite of Atticus Finch what with his drinking, laziness, and gloomy view of the world but he is every bit as noble. He finally finds a cause or purpose, whatever you want to call it, and then sacrifices himself (literally!) for it.  He dies so that the woman he loves can be happy with the man she loves.  And right before he loses his head, he says one of the most beautiful lines in all of literature:  “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
    Ronald Coleman as Sydney Carton in the 1935 film adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities.
    Ronald Coleman as Sydney Carton in the 1935 film adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities.

    I would’ve loved you, Sydney!

  • Elizabeth Bennett – If I can’t actually be Pride and Prejudice’s enviable heroine, Elizabeth Bennett, I would love to just hang out with her (and Jane, and Charlotte). Elizabeth is feisty, opinionated, intelligent, and has a wicked sense of humor.  And she got the dreamy Mr. Darcy just by being her feisty, opinionated, intelligent self.  And by learning to see beyond certain prejudices of course.

    Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett from the 1995 BBC mini-series
    Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett from the 1995 BBC mini-series

The mention of Mr. Darcy brings me to the subject of book boyfriends.  Mr. Darcy is definitely on that list as are a few other Austen heroes.  Mr. Tilney from Northanger Abbey runs a close second to Mr. Darcy thanks to his delightful sense of humor and Persuasion’s Captain Wentworth is a favorite because of the incredibly romantic declaration of his love for Anne (swoon!).  There are some fantastic fictional men not penned by Miss Austen.  If you’re looking for a good man, try Levi from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Colin Byrne from Ain’t She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (he has kind of a Sherlock Holmes meets Mr. Darcy thing going on), Hugh of Harrowfield (also known as Red) from Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, Matthew Clairmont from Deborah Harkness’s All Souls trilogy (or Gallowglass if you prefer your vampires a little rougher around the edges, or everyone’s current favorite Scotsman, Jamie Fraser from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.  There have been so many more literary men in my life; these are just a few of my favorites.

You'd didn't think I'd miss the opportunity to post a picture of Colin Firth did you?
You’d didn’t think I’d miss the opportunity to post a picture of Colin Firth, did you?

There are so many unforgettable characters out there, whether they are noble heroes, wicked villains, or scene-stealing secondary characters, that I can’t possibly go into detail about them all.  Here are a few of my Honorable Mentions:

As you’ve probably guessed, I could go on and on but for now, I’ve gone on and on long enough.  These are just a few of the memorable characters I’ve encountered in my lifetime of reading.  Who are your favorite characters?