Review: “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty

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When I picked up my first Liane Moriarty at an airport a couple of years ago, I had to choose between an exploding rose and an exploding lollipop. From what little I could gather from the cover, The Husband’s Secret, my alternative, was about women with ethical and emotional issues, men with possibly criminal ones, and contentious goings-on at a school. If you’ve read Big Little Lies, or seen the Reese Witherspoon-Nicole Kidman-Shailene Woodley drama now on HBO, you’ll know it has more of the same.

I have always found Ms. Moriarty’s books to be long and gossipy as if she’s using stalling as a literary device. She introduces several sets of major characters, cutting back and forth among them, and scatters the narrative with foreshadowing about the terrible, terrible night — on which something terrible happened. The book is peppered with parents’ voices commenting cryptically and amusingly about whatever it was. Was the root cause a French nanny? An erotic book club? Head lice? Seeing how its predecessor was a #1 New York Times bestseller, Ms. Moriarty seems assured that her readers will happily plow through countless minor incidents to find out.

After a calamity has been established, we jump back to a chapter called “Six Months Before the Trivia Night.” And the book establishes what a power-crazed group parents of kindergarteners can be. The book is set on a scenic peninsula outside Sydney, Australia, near a beautiful beach, where there is only one school, which must accommodate children of very different backgrounds. So there are rich, bossy power moms and mousy stay-at-home types. One of the mice is the literally plain Jane, a single mother trying to make ends meet. New to the area, she gets into trouble before school has even started. At the end of orientation day, a hotshot mother with a high-powered job accuses Jane’s son, Ziggy, of having tried to hurt her daughter. Ziggy becomes a pariah, and Jane becomes a victim.

Two other moms come to Jane’s rescue. One is Celeste, who is impossibly perfect and beautiful — impossibly because, in Ms. Moriarty’s literary universe, everybody is hiding something awful. The other is Madeline Martha Mackenzie, for whom the wearing of spike heels is a main character trait and who tends to get outraged at the drop of a hat. Despite her apparent bubbly nature, Madeline was abandoned by a husband who now has a New Age-y wife and a young daughter who is in the same class with Madeline’s daughter with her second husband. And on and on it goes.

As the book proceeds and the schadenfreude kicks in, we discover just how secretly miserable these women are. Suffice it to say that bullying and cruelty were major themes throughout, with some well-researched parts about domestic violence thrown in. As for the question of whether Ziggy, who turns out to be the product of a one-night stand, really is a vicious boy at heart, the book traces a long strand of DNA right into one of the other kindergarten families.

Ms. Moriarty writes all this in an easy, girlfriend-y style that occasionally sounds flat. And a low-level bitchiness thrums throughout the narrative, becoming one of its indispensable pleasures. The witnesses’ descriptions of whatever happened are usually comically distorted, as in a game of telephone, so that everyone’s understanding of what happened at Trivia Night is at best half-wrong. The Australian busybody is a type very much in evidence here, and if there’s one trait all the mothers share, it’s wanting to bad-mouth all the other ones.

Ms. Moriarty also sends up the kinds of crises that rise to epic proportions in the hothouse of a contentious kindergarten. Woe betide the mother who loses Harry the Hippo, the official class toy. Here’s what she gets for trying to make reparations: “That cheap synthetic toy she replaced it with smelled just terrible. Made in China. The hippo’s face wasn’t even friendly.” Then there are the opposing forces that face off over a petition to ban birthday cupcakes. (“It’s so adversarial. Why can’t you just make a suggestion?”) But by the time the teacher insists that the kids make posters illustrating their family trees, real harm is being done over a supposedly innocent matter. Ziggy doesn’t even know his father’s name. And all hell will break loose if Jane reveals it.

The ferocity that Ms. Moriarty brings to scenes of masculine sadism really is shocking. A seemingly fluffy book suddenly touches base with vicious reality, in ways that gives Big Little Lies a definite edge over her earlier works. She’s done her homework well in describing the uh-oh moments, the tiny slights, the faint changes in the atmosphere around a charming, loving Dr. Jekyll who is about to turn into Mr. Hyde, and the battered woman who has learned to live with this and make excuses for it. Big Little Lies isn’t likely to attract much of a male readership, aside from the demographic of guys who enjoy being demonized. But it champions its women with a handy, all-purpose rationale: Sometimes doing the wrong thing is also right.

Review: “A Window Opens” by Elisabeth Egan

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There was this article in The New York Times a couple of years ago about Amazon, which sparked a larger debate about work culture at tech companies, that kept flashing in my head as I read Elisabeth Egan’s A Window Opens. Although the debut novelist sends her protagonist to work at a company called Scroll, the similarities between the two retail giants are fairly obvious. Both start off selling books and quickly expand to include anything a customer might want. Both make use of computer-generated data for a laser-like focus on commercial success. And both, apparently–if the Times report is to be believed–expect nothing less than complete, servile allegiance from their employees.

As A Window Opens begins, Alice is a part-time books columnist and a full-time mother of three. A New Jersey suburbanite, she enjoys spending time with her best friend, who owns an independent bookstore, her lawyer husband, and their extended family. The only disruption in her merry life is her father’s cancer, which has robbed him of his voice but appears to be in remission. All that changes when her husband’s career goes off the rails, and Alice is forced to seek a full-time job.

At first, the position at Scroll sounds ideal. Although Alice doesn’t understand much of the jargon of her new workplace, she is thrilled to be “Content Manager-slash-Industry Liaison,” or, as she is told by her chummy supervisor Genevieve, “an arbiter of impeccable taste,” collecting titles to sell in upscale Scroll “lounges.” She learns to call printed books “carbon based” and to mouth tenets like “we don’t sell merchandise, we sell the future.”

Although the job quickly becomes more than full-time and Alice misses “the kindergarten ice cream social, the first day of school, a PTA meeting,” she is content. Only just as Alice is almost accustomed to both the new grind and the loss of family time, her father’s health takes a turn for the worse. And then her bosses begin to ask for more, pushing Alice into a new position that targets her sensitivities both as a longtime bibliophile and as a mother.

That’s where Ms Egan, currently the books editor at Glamour magazine after a brief stint at Amazon Publishing, falters. Although the “pivot,” to use a Scroll word, isn’t that far-fetched, it is one step too far. It’s all a little too perfectly horrid, just as Genevieve is a little too duplicitous, bonding with Alice over House Hunters before firing off denigrating emails to Alice’s work account.

Likewise, her colleagues–all younger and apparently childless–are a little too clueless. Not one seems to have any understanding of how cancer affects a family, as if illness were only confined to the over-35 crowd, and when, on a visit to corporate headquarters, Alice overhears the line “What can I say? She’s a mom,” she recognizes it as an insult.

 With its sharp, perceptive humour, this novel plays like The Devil Wears Prada for the online giant, poking fun at the kind of ridiculous situations that anyone who has worked with a start-up will recognize. But A Window Opens lacks The Devil Wears Prada‘s moment of realization–that is, any revelation about the awful boss’s humanity. While we do get to see the toll of the stress on Genevieve–“her nails were dull, bitten to the quick. There was a greenish cast to her skin“–we never learn what motivated her. Without more understanding of how she became the “befriend then berate” leader who so disappointed Alice, Genevieve remains one-dimensional, as do too many of the supporting characters in this book.

Ms Egan obviously tapped into the zeitgeist with her debut, capturing not only the craziness of an Amazon-like company but also the debate over the “Lean In” philosophy that would have women, even mothers of three, commit to their jobs at any cost. She does so with wit, weaving the family stories into the workplace saga. But at almost-400 pages, A Window Opens is a little too long for what is simply a humourous, topical novel. The Scroll jargon must have been great fun to write, but replacing some of that with more fully realized characters would have made this book better.

Review: “Blue-Eyed Devil” (Travises #2) by Lisa Kleypas

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Haven Travis thought she was in love. Not even a passionate makeout session with a stranger in the wine cellar at her brother’s wedding could stop her from marrying Nick Tanner, the boyfriend her overprotective family strongly disapproved of. Two years later, after having endured the worst kind of hell in her abusive marriage, Haven returns to Houston to rebuild her life. As she tries to work in her brother’s property management company, start therapy and get a divorce, Haven runs right into Hardy Cates, her sister-in-law’s trailer park teenage crush and now a wealthy Houston oil tycoon. Her body still recovering from Nick’s last beating, Haven is still drawn to Hardy, just as she was when she kissed him two years ago.

Hardy, intent on pursuing Haven, has no idea about the trauma she has suffered. In fact, he still sees her as a spoiled college girl whose apparent liberalism was more intellectual snobbery than authentic sentiment. So when Haven tends to act a bit standoffish in response to his assertive, even aggressive pursuit, Hardy isn’t sure she’s merely skittish or a tease, and he tries even harder to win her over, purchasing a condo in the Travis building where Haven works, buying her a gift that brings back memories of Haven’s childhood, and inviting her to a dance with him in front of her family, who see him as a no good, lying jerk who will take advantage of Haven if given half a chance.

One complaint that I have with some romance novels is how some heroines who are recovering from abusive relationships somehow subconsciously recognize the hero as “safe” and have little to no compunction about jumping into a relationship–and in bed–with him. What I liked about Blue-Eyed Devil the most is that it did not follow this cliched path. From Sugar Daddy, we know that Hardy has a dark past, and Haven, who had no sexual experience before Nick, was at a double disadvantage, leading to some scenes where there is a realistic sense of conflict between the protagonists, showcasing their vulnerabilities. Hardy has his own demons from his trailer-park childhood, which makes his attraction to Haven very believable in a way that it wasn’t with Liberty, in the same way that Haven’s attraction to a man who reminds her of her approval-withholding father seems kind of logical. For many readers, this kind of psychological layering makes Blue-Eyed Devil an “issue book,” but for me, it’s really a book about people who have issues that make them good for each other but in ways that are really complicated and not instantly negotiable.

Still, the story is a romance at heart, and there is a certain amount of tension between the way the book tries to show Haven’s emotional journey in an authentic way and the almost fairy tale level of happiness we know Haven and Hardy will ultimately enjoy. On the one hand, I was really moved by Hardy’s reaction when he finally learns about Haven’s past and starts putting all the mixed signals in order. On the other hand, it is obvious that the scene was set up to push Hardy and Haven into physical intimacy so that their romance arc could progress. So, while we see Haven struggling to move forward from her abuse by dealing with a sociopathic boss and freaking out about Hardy in therapy, there is also a sense of her recovery being rushed so that Haven can have a healthy romantic relationship as soon as possible.

Plus, it’s not like Hardy is without his flaws, even though we know that he is supposed to be The One for Haven.But his missteps give his character some much-needed depth and let us see that this is a man who understands how vicious families can be, especially when he has his own self-destructive streak to manage. In Sugar Daddy, he was shown to be ruthless, selfish and willing to betray a trust to get what he wanted. But by Blue-Eyed Devil, we are supposed to be able to trust him as an appropriate partner for a largely fragile Haven, which means we have to believe he is fundamentally a decent guy. It might not be a problem for people who haven’t read  Sugar Daddy, but to me, his rehabilitation seemed quite artificial. It was a lot more believable to see what Haven gives to Hardy than to see Hardy as the guy who “saves” Haven.

In the end, though, Blue-Eyed Devil is as misleading a title for what was mainly Haven’s story as Sugar Daddy was for Liberty’s story. It’s not that the romance was an unimportant or peripheral aspect, or that the men were forgettable characters, but that the plot had a lot more substance by being about a woman’s journey to being able to trust and accept herself again. Overall, it was an engaging, emotionally fulfilling and psychologically satisfying read despite its many flaws and inconsistencies.

Review: “Do You Want to Start A Scandal?” (Castles Ever After #4) (Spindle Cove #5) by Tessa Dare

do-you-want-to-start-a-scandal

Tessa Dare has a special place in my heart. Her book, Romancing The Duke, was the novel that got me back to reading historical romances. Its sequel, Say Yes to the Marquess, gave me one of my favourite couples. And When A Scot Ties the Knot, while not as good as the first two, was an enjoyable read I loved because it was right in the middle of my Outlander phase. Do You Want to Start A Scandal is a crossover between Ms Dare’s Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After series, bringing together Rafe’s brother, Piers Brandon, and Charlotte, the last unmarried Highwood sister.

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It starts with the best of intentions. Charlotte Highwood has been labeled the “Desperate Debutante” by the tabloids because of her Mrs Bennet-on-PCP mother who literally keeps flinging her at eligible suitors. At a house party to convince her friend Delia Parkhurst’s parents to permit them to go to Europe before they both become well-married, bored-out-of-their-brains ladies of the ton, Charlotte sneaks into the library to “save” Piers by warning him to stay out of her way. However, her plans go up in flames when she and Lord Granville have to hide behind a curtain in a ‘compromising position’ so as to not be discovered by another couple who enter the room to have a tryst on the desk. Outed by their hosts’ ghoulish son to her overeager mother, Charlotte ends up exactly where she didn’t want to be: forced into a betrothal with a man she doesn’t love.

“I can’t agree to a convenient arrangement, my lord. Your devotion to duty may be admirable, but ‘lie back and think of England’ simply isn’t for me.”

His voice became low and dark. “I cannot promise you everything you might wish, but I promise you this: When I take you to bed, you will not be thinking of England.”

Piers Brandon had hoped to keep a low profile at the house party. A well-traveled diplomat (read: spy, obviously), he did not expect to be distracted from his mission by an outspoken chit. Having spent his life controlling his surroundings to forget his family’s troubled past, the last thing he wanted was any emotional entanglement. And that is exactly what Miss Highwood will be. However, Piers cannot seem to stop himself from continually seeking out Charlotte or putting them in situations that could further ruin her reputation. The easiest thing to do would be to find out who started the whole fiasco and make them fess up. But Piers isn’t so sure he can walk away from the golden-haired beauty or imagine a life without her laughter and charming ways.

“What’s your plan…?” she whispered. “Do you mean to kiss me so long and so hard that I’ll forget your identity?”
“No.” His hand slid to the back of her head, tangling in her hair–so tightly she gasped. “I mean to kiss you so long and so hard that you’ll forget yours.”

Since the hero’s a spy, the story has the requisite lock-picking, dangling from windows, mysterious fires being set, poison, and even more mystery solving. Actually, most of that is done by Charlotte, not Piers, which drives him up a wall. Piers may be the worldly one, but Charlotte has so much more emotional maturity. She knows what she wants for her future. She doesn’t want to settle; not for a loveless marriage, even if it is with a man above her station. And as she grows to care for Piers, she wants more for him as well.

She unsettled him; he anchored her. Together, they could be more than they were apart.

Their romance is so lovely and sensual. I loved every single thing about it. It builds slowly and believably while they are embroiled in the search for the couple actually in the library having sex. The more time they spend together the more they want each other. The more they want each other, the deeper they fall in love. Piers is sigh-worthy, Charlotte is so fierce and kind and loving. Together they are sure to have fans of this genre squealing in excitement and swooning from the love overload.

For all the fun and froth, though, there are some very well-realised moments of deeper emotion in the story.  I particularly enjoyed the scene when Charlotte comes to a fuller appreciation of what her mother’s life has been, which is poignant and nicely understated.

Although the book fits into two different series, it’s not absolutely necessary to have read either of those in order to enjoy it as it works perfectly well as a standalone.  Charming, sexy, and often laugh-out-loud funny – seriously, I’ll never think of perfume or look at an aubergine in quite the same way again! – Do You Want to Start a Scandal? is just the ticket if you’re looking for a well-written, feel-good read.

Review: “The Singles Game” by Lauren Weisberger

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In the latest from The Devil Wears Prada author Lauren Weisberger, professional tennis player Charlie Silver plays by the rules. She’s polite, congenial—and ranked 23rd in the world, disappointing early predictions she’d take her love of the game to the top. After her good-girl game stops her from asserting herself at a disastrous moment, nearly ending her career, she’s ready to take risks—but is she ready for the consequences?

Charlie hires a hotshot coach who decides her image needs a little more intimidation factor. Dressed in black and nudged from flirtation to a full-on celebrity relationship, Charlie is told that her team is just changing her persona, not her personality. But as her ranking—and her profile—climbs, she starts to lose track of the line between the two.

The Singles Game highlights Weisberger’s familiar theme of a woman finding the balance between letting the world talk her out of a dream, and letting the world seduce her into sacrificing more than she should to achieve it.

Some of the best points of this book include backstage access to the wild world of elite tennis—as wild as top athletes who barely touch alcohol and prioritise a good night’s sleep can be, anyway. Casual tennis fans and gossip aficionados alike will enjoy the product of Weisberger’s research behind the scenes of world tennis, which included extensive access at tournaments like Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, an interview with Serena Williams’ hitting partner, and more.

One of the strongest aspects of the picture Weisberger paints is a sense of being inside a world usually glimpsed only in TV clips and magazine articles. The reader gets the juicy feeling of knowing the real story behind the gossip even before it hits Page Six—but feels the ordinary loneliness of a workaholic, too.

The fast-paced summer read lacks the gripping tension of Weisberger’s best-known hit, and Charlie’s moments of crisis fall a little flat. But the glamour tantalises and doesn’t take over the story, and while a little two-dimensional, Charlie feels relatable even as she trots red carpets (in customised Louboutins, naturally) and wears a literal (if tiny) crown.

It might just inspire readers to get in shape—or else just sit back, turn on a tennis match, eat something delicious and enjoy the freedom of not having to live like an elite athlete.

Review: “Love Irresistibly” (FBI/US Attorney #4) by Julie James

Love Irresistibly

I have realised that whenever I read a Julie James book, a few things are guaranteed to happen. I will say ‘Aww’ about a million times. I will laugh out loud while grinning a couple of hundred times. I will fan myself twice or thrice during every sex scene. And I will irrevocably fall in love with a hero with a four-letter name. I’m talking about you, Jack, Nick and Kyle, especially you, Jack. 😉 And I’d like to welcome to Cade Morgan to the club.

I am so happy after reading Love Irresistibly! It is what I look for in a contemporary romance: great characters, a believable blend of romance, funny dialogue that all comes together in a story that flows with feeling and depth to it as well. It’s damn near perfect.

Brooke Morgan, a brilliant lawyer and general counsel for Sterling Restaurants, came from humble beginnings. She wants to climb the corporate ladder and prove that she belongs where she is and where she’s going. Cade Morgan, assistant U.S. Attorney and former football star, is making a name for himself going after corrupt politicians. He wants to set up a sting in one of Sterling’s swanky restaurants, acting on a tip that a corrupt senator would be dining there. Cade shows up at Brooke’s office with two FBI agents in tow thinking they would help intimidate Brooke into helping him. Brooke is no pushover and wants details before she commits. I didn’t have to wait long for Julie’s trademark witty banter to make its appearance.

“That is nice, Mr. Morgan. Because in response to your tough-guy speech, I, in turn, would’ve had to give you my tough-girl speech, about where, exactly, federal prosecutors who come into my office looking for assistance can stick their obstruction of justice threats.”

Their opening meeting sets the stage for what’s to come. Cade’s tall, dark and gorgeous, has a ‘prosecutorial, I-ask-the questions-I-don’t-answer-them’ demeanour and isn’t shy about throwing around being an AUSA to get what he wants for his investigation. Brooke’s smart, ambitious and beautiful and isn’t shy about going after what she wants. I was impressed by how the power balance is maintained between them professionally. They feint, they dodge, they impress each other with their legalese and the sizzling heat starts to build. Both are busy at their jobs, have friends, work late, text a lot – in other words, they resemble actual people.

The damn-this-is-some-hot-sex is great and fun and funky with the red heels and lawyer skirt-suits Brooke wears. She and Cade prove it is possible to have steamy sex anyhow and anywhere. The timing of the start of their sexual intimacy seemed just right – they don’t immediately springboard into shagging each other senseless, but they are healthy adults who like to indulge themselves. I like how the sex is just a part of their growing relationship. It starts casually but moves toward something deeper like the scene where Brooke takes of Cade’s sore shoulder or when Cade makes dinner for a tired Brooke.

While I would be perfectly content to read almost three hundred pages of sex written by James, there’s a lot more to the story. Brooke and Cade read as real people instead of coming off as character checklists. Their pasts do affect who they are now. She feels driven to succeed partly because of all that her parents gave up to further her education and chances while he is reluctant to let anyone in because of how his father abandoned him when Cade was a child. But the great thing is James didn’t make these issues the be-all and end-all of who they are or make them all overly angsty and tied up in mental knots about it. One of the strengths of the book is how Brooke and Cade slowly develop as a couple while accumulating inside jokes, sharing their pasts – including things they’ve never told anyone else – and the intimacies of their lives.

One of the other things I liked most about Love Irresistibly was how Brooke is a confident, smart, determined workaholic who hasn’t felt the need to curtail her ambition for past relationships. When she does sit down and take stock of how this is impacting her life (first) and possible relationship (second), I didn’t feel as if she was selling out for love or that she caved to the feeling that she couldn’t have it all. The fact that she got to dictate her terms and came out ahead while scoring more time for her personal life was awesome. Cade’s past as a star quarterback who let football stand in for his lost relationship with his father has coloured how deep he’s let relationships get. It takes a blast from the past to open his eyes to it but in the end, it helps him take the plunge to let Brooke in and to want to be let into the inner circle of her life. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record again, I like how this signals the change in their growing relationship.

Since this is the fourth book in the series, lots of characters from past stories make appearances (More Jack. Yay!), without making it look like they are crowding the story. I really liked how James made space for the readers to find out about Rylann’s proposal and Cameron’s pregnancy.

My review of the previous book in this series carried a slightly disappointed tone. I’d like to say that Ms James more than made up for it in Love Irresistibly. Love the red dress and suit on the cover. Loved the move from romantic suspense to hardcore contemporary romance. I found it to be a richly rewarding tale with all the aspects coming together to show the story of two modern people, stretching and growing as individuals even as they meld together as a couple.

However, Ms James, I am still waiting for Agent Wilkins’ story. 😛

Review: “About That Night” (FBI/US Attorney #3) by Julie James

About That Night

There’s no easy way to say it so I guess I’ll just come right out and get it over with. The honeymoon’s over. About That Night is a pretty good book but I don’t love it as much as I did Something About You. It hurts me to say it, but I guess the review will tell.

Relaxing in a college bar after the finals are over for her first year in law school, Rylann Pierce is ready to have fun. So she doesn’t shoot down the hot guy who tries to chat her up. She knows he’s the ‘so cute he knows he’s so cute’ type, but she can’t help herself. After her friends deliberately leave her at the bar with him, Rylann has no choice but to be walked home by gorgeous playboy-cum-billionaire heir Kyle Rhodes. One steamy kiss later, they make plans for a date the next night, but fate intervenes, and Kyle stands Rylann up.

Nine years later, Rylann has just moved back to Chicago after the breakup of a relationship to be the newest AUSA in the Special Prosecutions Division. To get her feet wet, her boss, Cameron Lynde (yay!), hands her a plea agreement to grant the ‘Twitter Terrorist’ aka Kyle Rhodes an early release. Not exactly a meet-again-cute.

Kyle Rhodes arrives in court expecting to see the asshole AUSA who’d railroaded him and called him a cyber-menace to society. Yes, what he did was stupid. But when a guy is publicly dumped by his girlfriend in under 140 characters and sees a video of her frolicking with a movie star minutes later, he might feel the need to resort to some whisky, fuelling a dumb hack attack that shut down Twitter for 48 hours. Kyle eventually sobered up and came back home to face the music, and he would still be facing it if his twin sister hadn’t struck a deal with the FBI for his early release. Imagine his surprise when the girl he shared an unforgettable night with almost a decade ago walks in to free him.

Well, Kyle gets his life back but acts difficult when Rylann needs his help on another case. Still, he steps up and does the right thing, finding himself increasingly attracted to Rylann. He also decides he wants to discover what she looks like under all her sexy, power suits. So….they date. Rylann does badass prosecutorial stuff. Kyle gets a new business venture started. And they have hot sex. And a few disagreements. And….work things out. The end. Okay.

There is plenty of James’ trademark bantering, and I loved it. The dialogue between Rylann and her best friend Rae is also amazing. Kyle meets Nick and Jack (<3), and they do the manly sports/trash-talk thing. This stuff is awesome as usual. Also, the sex between Kyle and Rylann is smoking hot.

I do have several complaints from the book, though. First of all, why is the cover not nearly as hot as the previous two? I was really hoping to see a heroine in a sexy red dress and a hero with lustrous, golden hair. Second, why was Wilkins’ angle dismissed in half a page? Third, why was there no element of suspense or danger? Can’t complain about the last bit much because it just meant more sex scenes 😛

They finally have a couple of mushy scenes and work things out, but the way the resolution came about did nothing to assuage my unease. There’s very little real conflict between Rylann and Kyle. James spent half the book stressing how it would be a BFD if an AUSA dated an ex-con, but when the world finds out, there is no exploration of how Rylann and Kyle deal with it. Where are the grand gestures? Where are the Matt and Meredith/Zack and Julie moments?  How does it finally make sense?

So, About That Night is a fun book with witty dialogue, about two beautiful people who have mindblowing sex as they fall in love and overcome a few tiny speed bumps on their road to a Happily Ever After. I would recommend it to hardcore Julie James fans and anyone who wants a fun, light read. Fingers crossed, the next one will be a lot better.

Review: “A Lot Like Love” (FBI/US Attorney #2) by Julie James

A Lot Like Love

I would like to apologise to all my subscribers for spamming their inbox today. I am extremely sick, and all I can do is lie in bed, read steamy romances and post reviews :p I discovered Julie James yesterday, and I haven’t been able to stop reading her books. But I think this is my last review of the day so please bear with me and I hope you like it. 🙂

In A Lot Like Love we meet Jordan Rhodes, she is the daughter of one of Chicago’s richest men. She is independently wealthy thanks to her business and a down-to-earth father who wants his children to earn what they have. Some months ago her twin brother Kyle went to prison, and since then she has been sick with worry about him. So when the FBI offers to release him in exchange for her help to catch a crime lord and one of his associates (who happens to be a client of hers) she accepts. All she has to do is go to a party with an FBI agent posing as her date and distract the bad guy while the agent plants some bugs in the place. But all goes wrong when the nice and easygoing agent gets sick and is replaced by Tall, Dark and Smouldering Nick McCall, and they are forced to keep faking that they are dating when it turns out that the bad guy has feelings for Jordan.

I admit that it took some time for me to get into the book; the first part was a bit slow for me, but oh boy does it gets better. I have to say that is no coincidence this book is titled A Lot Like Love because that is exactly how I felt about it. The main characters are incredible; Jordan is a great protagonist; she is funny, down to earth, hardworking, loving, and sarcastic. I haven’t enjoyed a heroine that much in a long time. I loved a lot of things about Nick, but the best part was that he had a distinct voice. Yes he was a typical alpha male, but you could really get him, he wasn’t just another stereotypical hero, he felt like a real person (or as real as someone that hot can be).

I think this is one of James’ better qualities as a writer -and she has lots of them- every character is perfectly defined. Most of the time when reading a book narrated in third person all the character’s points of view sound a bit alike, more like you are reading the author’s voice than the character’s. Not so in James’ case, in every POV I felt like I was inside their heads especially with Nick and Jordan.

The other great character was Kyle. James’ comedic abilities shined through him. He went to prison after shutting down Twitter, come on! How cool is that? Also, he looks like Josh Holloway, and everybody in prison calls him Sawyer. The inmates and corrections officers were also endearing.

The pacing of this story was up and down for me, and there were some scenes that I wish had had more meat to them, especially with Jordan’s friends and family meeting Nick. Those parts were fleeting and could have been explored more. I also think the love in this story seemed to sneak up rather quickly, but I’m able to overlook that to a certain extent because of the characters’ ages. I think with more experience, you’re better able to discern what it is you’re looking for in a partner, and Jordan and Nick knew what they wanted. As far as points of view go, the villain’s POV could have been cut out. It didn’t enhance the plot, and I think the events leading up to the end of this story would have had more of a shock factor without it. After Nick’s conversations with his mother, an epilogue with Jordan meeting Nick’s family would have been a wonderful addition to the story! I wish we’d been able to see that.

I wouldn’t give this book a 5/5 because I think it was not as steamy and hilarious as Something About You. Still, I had a great time reading the book and loved watching yet another tough FBI agent meet his soul mate where he least expected her. Poor Agent Davis must really fear he’s running a matchmaking agency rather than an FBI field office at this point. And though I’m excited about Jordan’s brother Kyle in the next book, when will we get Wilkins’ story?

Review: “Something About You” (FBI/US Attorney #1) by Julie James

Something About You

How do I love this book? Let me count the ways. Contemporary romance is my favourite subgenre, though I’ve always been a bit sceptical of stories that involve an element of suspense. Which is why I am so pleased to have stumbled across Something About You, a perfect storm of awesomeness and the ideal read for when you’re super sick and in need of a distraction. Trust me. I would know.

Also, before I start talking about the story, let me just take a moment to fangirl over the cover. It’s unique, hot and eye-catching. Not to mention a very smart reference to a dress the heroine wears. Kudos to Julie James for pulling that off.

Three years ago, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde worked closely with FBI Special Agent Jack Pallas on an investigation that went totally FUBAR. His career was in the toilet, and he blamed her for totally screwing him over. He ended up in the remote wilds of some place that wasn’t Chicago nursing a big old grudge over how wrong things went and didn’t expect to see her again–until she overhears a murder in a hotel room next door to her own, and Pallas is assigned to the case.

From the first scenes, the dialogue is dry champagne crossed with pop rocks. (That’s a good thing.) It crackles, it’s funny, it makes you laugh, and it isn’t ever fake or cliche or completely unrealistic. These are smart, intelligent people who speak like normal humans and don’t ever mouth cliches unless they’re using one to tell the other off.

What did I love the most about this book? Let me see. A heroine who is smart, acts smart and when she’s told she needs to be under protective custody, she doesn’t fight it with the same old stupid plotting I’ve seen with this kind of novel. She doesn’t think it’s fun to escape her police escort; she agrees to have them come along for a bridal party at a nightclub and ends up telling them all about her friends and the wedding she’s going to be in. They like her, and she likes them. She’s good at her job and follows her professional principles even when she has to come to Jack’s rescue. And even after he loses control and tells the world she had her head up her ass during a previous case. Bliss.

And then there’s the hero who is portrayed as being as sinfully delicious as a double fudge chocolate cake with chocolate chips on top. And whipped cream. Jack’s initially not thrilled to have Cameron back in his life–just as she’s not too thrilled with him, but he takes her protection and her involvement in the case seriously and treats her with professionalism. He explains why she needs to be under protective custody instead of just strong arming her even though he’s willing to protect her at any cost. Bliss, bliss.

And when you add these two together you get some off the charts sizzling chemistry!  All that tension lead to some unbelievably hot steamy scenes.The dialogue is fantastic. Smart, snappy, funny yet realistic. I can’t count the number of times I laughed while reading the book.

Before he could call her bluff, Cameron grabbed her purse and headed for the door. The hell with her stuff, she’d get it later. “It was nice catching up with you, Agent Pallas. I’m glad to see those three years in Nebraska didn’t make you any less of an asshole.”

She threw open the door and nearly ran into a man standing in the doorway. He wore a well-cut gray suit and tie, appeared younger than Jack, and was African American.

He flashed Cameron a knock-out smile while precariously balancing three Starbucks cups in his hands. “Thanks for getting the door. What’d I miss?”

“I’m storming out. And I just called Agent Pallas an asshole.”

“Sounds like good times. Coffee?” He held the Starbucks out to her. “I’m Agent Wilkins.”

Part of James’ deft character building skills include the redevelopment of traditional and expected character roles. The best friends are real, and if there’s a potential for a cliche, it never goes where I expected it to go. She updates and then redeploys the expected trope, and makes each character, not just Cameron and Jack, into amazing people. There was real emotion for each and no limited role for any character. Bliss, bliss, bliss.

The plot also reveals the villain and spends some time in his head–but it doesn’t become fearsome or tiresome, or an exhaustive list of How Psychologically Fucked Up Is That Guy OMGWTFPUPPYKILLER.

My lone point of discomfort was how very, very neatly and bow-wrapped glittery perfect the ending was, with every loose end tied down and each piece of perfection lined up flawlessly. It had an overwhelming fairy tale aspect that didn’t fit with the realistic honesty of the characters and the plot.

Overall, Something About You was a fantastic read. I recommend this if you are in the mood for a good contemporary adult romance. It’s one of the best I have read!

Review: “Modern Lovers” by Emma Straub

Modern Lovers

When do the wheels come off the wagon?  In your 20s, after a short-lived stint in a rock band? In your 30s, after your kids have sucked the life out of you? In your 40s, after you acquire grey hair and a real estate licence? How about when your almost-adult child starts having sex with your best friend’s almost-adult child? Or maybe it’s when you, nearing 50, find a guru? And the guru turns out to be a con artist?

Sigh. It’s all of the above in Emma Straub’s witty third novel Modern Lovers. Elizabeth and Andrew are a married couple in their late 40s living in Brooklyn, a few doors down from their former college band mate, Zoe, and her wife, Jane. Along with their college friend Lydia, their band, Kitty’s Mustache (a nod to Tolstoy’s heroine), first sang what later became a monster hit called ‘Mistress of Myself’ (Sense and Sensibility FTW), one of those anthemic, eternally meaningful songs whose lyrics people tattoo on their inner arms.

Lydia died glamorously of a drug overdose at 27, leaving the remaining three band members to round the corner on hipster senescence without her. There’s a saying about beautiful women and champion athletes dying two deaths. To that, I might add this: To be once young and briefly famous and painfully of-the-­moment and then morph into ­regular-people middle age is rather more insulting, as if your whole life is the worst Instagram fail.

And this is where we find the novel’s 40-something friends, past millennial hipness and on into hot flashes. Zoe and Jane own a restaurant; their daughter, Ruby, is sullen, sexual and terribly chic. Their marriage has traveled into the chill zone of lesbian bed death. Meantime, Elizabeth, a rebellious rocker in college, has traded her guitar for a career selling real estate in Ditmas Park, in one of those ­enclaves where you brew your own kombucha or risk the neighbors’ disdain. Her husband, Andrew, an aimless trustafarian, perceives himself as a brave escapee from the limestone canyons of Park Avenue. In reality, he’s a dilettante who meanders from career to career, working vaguely at a lifestyle magazine for Brooklyn fathers and seeking fulfillment through cinematography classes and carpentry. At one point, his guru—Dave, distinctive mainly for his large, shiny teeth—remarks on the artful imperfection of the shelf Andrew is fabricating: “This is beautiful, man. Wabi-­sabi, right?” It is, in fact, not an example of wabi-sabi, the Japanese term for artful imperfection and decay. It’s just sloppy woodwork.

The teenage children begin an affair. Zoe and Jane’s restaurant burns down suspiciously. (But their marriage is simultaneously and magically rekindled, apparently, by a good Chinese meal.) Elizabeth, succumbing to the entreaties of a stealthy Hollywood producer, signs away her and Andrew’s rights to a movie in the works about the mythic Lydia. (The producer describes it as “ ‘Ray’ meets ‘Sid and Nancy’ minus the Sid, meets ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter,’ only the coal miner is an orthopedic surgeon from Scarsdale.’ ”) Elizabeth learns that Andrew may have had sex with Lydia when they were all in college, a discovery that sends their marriage into some sort of cliff-of-divorce drama that I can’t really fathom. Why the huge sense of betrayal? It wasn’t last week, after all. Does anyone remember who anyone slept with in college? (And if you do, don’t email me and burst my bubble.)

Perhaps these Brooklyn couples in their postmodern Peyton Place—one with nutritional yeast and cosmic trance nights and talk of ayahuasca retreats—are more sensitive than, say, most of the married couples in Tolstoy, Updike, Henry James, D.H. Lawrence or Jackie Collins. Or even, I would venture to say, Dr. Seuss.

Modern Lovers hurries to tie up its loose ends, and the interwoven climaxes seem sludgy. The final chapter employs a lazy literary device, a series of announcements (a notice in the New York Times weddings section, trivia from one character’s IMDB page, a précis of a thesis proposal, postings from foodie websites) that would seem more at home in the closing credits of Animal House. (Bluto becomes a United States senator!) But up until then, Modern Lovers is a wise, sophisticated romp through the pampered middle-aged neuroses of urban softies.