Pros & Cons: Loves Music, Loves to Dance by Mary Higgins Clark

Believe it or not, before I discovered the romance genre, my favorite genre was mystery/suspense. I flocked toward creep-you-out, keep-you-up-all-night thrillers, and when I came across a stack of Mary Higgins Clark books at a yard sale way back when, I scooped them all up and haven’t looked back since! Up until recently it had been a while since I read a book by the “Queen of Suspense”, so when I found myself craving a psychological thriller, I knew it was time to reintroduce myself to MHC.

Enter Loves Music, Loves to Dance by Mary Higgins Clark. Yes, this is one of her older titles, but it still holds up more than 20 years later! In fact, the lack of cell phones and social media was a refreshing pace from all the contemporary stories I’ve read lately–just one of many things that makes this book a great read. Take a look at my pro/con list to get an overall gist of the story.

And, check out my other Pros & Cons reviews here.

Pro-Con Loves Music Loves to Dance

Review: Ivy Lane by Cathy Bramley

Ivy Lane (Part One: Spring) by Cathy Bramley
Series: Ivy Lane series, Book #1
Pages: 87 pp.
Genre: Chick Lit
Published: Apr. 2014, Transworld Digital

Friendship blossoms at Ivy Lane…

Tilly Parker needs a fresh start, fresh air and a fresh attitude if she is ever to leave the past behind and move on with her life. As she settles in to a new town seeking peace and solitude, taking on her own plot at Ivy Lane allotments seems like the perfect solution. But the vibrant, friendly Ivy Lane community has other ideas and endeavour to entice Tilly into seedling swaps and Easter egg hunts. Can Tilly let new friends into her life, or will she stay a wallflower for good?

Ivy Lane is a serialized novel told in four parts – taking you from spring to summer, autumn to winter – which tell a charming, light-hearted and moving story you won’t want to put down. [GOODREADS]

 

It’s been a while since I’ve read a chick-lit book but I’m happy to say that Ivy Lane was a charming short story. Tilly is an endearing heroine looking for a fresh start — something I fantasize about sometimes — and her openness to try new things and optimistic can-do attitude really makes her likable. She’s someone I can picture myself having tea and biscuits with while discussing the best plants for novice green thumbs.

The supporting cast of characters are what makes Ivy Lane feel like a quaint, friendly place worth visiting. Instead of just casually mentioning a neighbor here or there, everyone has their own distinct personality. And the fact that they are so willing to share the fruits of their labor (pun intended!) with Tilly gave me a serious case of the warm ‘n fuzzies! I also really enjoyed the imagery in this story — from the gardening terms to the English countryside descriptions, I found myself longing for a cup of tea and a biscuit while wishing Ivy Lane was a real place I could retreat to for holiday!

Lastly, can we talk about how adorable to book cover is? To be honest, it’s the main reason I chose this book in the first place. I think it perfectly depicts the genre and tone of the story. It was also the inspiration behind the photo collage below, which I think captures the essence of Ivy Lane.

Ivy Lane photo summary

Pros & Cons: Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett

Hello there! I’m back with another review, but I thought I’d try something new this time around… While some books call for fangirling and in-depth analysis of characters, plot and other literary devices, there’s something refreshing about a simple pro/con list that gives an at-a-glance look at the book as a whole (and, let’s be honest, it can be easier to get your thoughts down this way sometimes). That said, I’ve whipped up a pro/con list of a book I read recently — MURDER IS BINDING.

These type of reviews are meant to be short & touch on a few key points that stood out to me — not delve into every single aspect of the book. Are you a fan of pro/con lists? Or do you prefer reviews that dig deep into the story? Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments!

Pro-Con_Murder is Binding1

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

 

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell
Pages: 445 pp.
Genre: Contemporary YA
Published: Sept. 2013, St. Martin’s Press

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind? [GOODREADS]

Oh gosh, where to start with this book. My first reaction is to dive right into fangirling (shameless pun) and gushing over how much I loved this book, but I feel like it deserves more than that… Then again, to hell with it —

*Kermit flail* I LOOOOOOOVED this book SO. FREAKING. MUCH.

kermit flail

You know the books where you just want to crawl between the pages and never leave? The kind where you’re so consumed by the story that you begin to take on the qualities of the main character? This was it for me. While Cath is certainly relateable as it is, I found myself becoming even MORE like here while I was reading the story — awkward, angsty, a hermit (more so than usual), and totally into fanfic (something I’ve never dabbled in). I relived my freshman year through her eyes, experiencing both familiar and new-found emotions that actually made me wish (if just for a moment) that I were in college all over again.

There was something about Cath that made me connect to her right away — some of which I could directly relate to (a combination of her love for writing & fictional characters as well as her social awkwardness), and some that I’ve never experienced but learned to appreciate while reading this book (her ingrained need to be the “caretaker” for her dad and sister).

Cath is worrisome, awkward, judgemental, creative, caring and REAL. I could both imagine myself AS her as well as someone I could be best friends with. As someone with an extremely small friend circle, this says a lot.

Also, can I just point out how adorable it was that she and Wren were named together? Cather & Wren… I love it! Speaking of Wren, I appreciated the fact that the story showed Wren wanting to branch out on her own. On the surface, it seemed like Wren was a reckless, stupid college student (which she was at times), but to me, Wren’s character was more of a vehicle to show Cath’s personal growth and the fact that she’s not defined by her twin — just like she’s not defined by Simon Snow.

The fanfic part of this story was one of my favorites, not only because I’m a huge Harry Potter fan (which I assume Simon Snow was based on), but also because it added another layer to the story as well as illustrated the author’s exceptional writing talent to write a genre aside from the one Fangirl is categorized as (though it was really “Cath” who was the author of the Simon Snow fanfic ^_^). I’m not familiar with online world of fanfic, but as an outsider, it seemed to me that Rowell did a good job of showing the art of fanfic, as well as the behind-the-scenes pressure and seriousness of it all. When you think about it, Cath was to Harry Potter as E.L. James was to Twilight… Ha! Wouldn’t it be something if she became an overnight sensation for publishing a book that was originally based on Simon Snow? How about a real life fanfic about her rise to fame? Talk about Inception: a fanfic about a character who writes fanfic about another character who’s based on another character? Eek!

mind blown

I digress…

So, Levi… Umph. I ADORED Levi!

adventure time love it

The fact that he WANTED Cath to read her fanfic to him like a lullaby and didn’t judge or make fun of her for it made my heart swell and my gut clench. What girl wouldn’t want that?? Even though it seemed as if he “had it together”, simply because he was older and he smoked and lived off campus, he was just as flawed and lost as Cath, which made him all the more endearing.

This is the first book I’ve ready by Rainbow Rowell and she’s already one of my new favorite authors. Her ability to write characters that are so inherently relateable, regardless of if you really share common traits, is a gift — one that I’m grateful to have experienced. When it comes to deciding if a book is a favorite, of course there’s more to it than simply the book — it’s the book, the mind frame of the reader, the setting and circumstances of how they came to read said book… in essence, it’s the entire reading experience that determines why a book becomes a favorite.

all the feels

Fangirl is one of those rare books where everything came together and made this a favorite that I was pulled into, obsessed with, and actually somewhat melancholy when it was over.

 

Review: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Hex Hall

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
Series: Hex Hall series, Book #1
Pages: 323 pp.
Genre: Paranormal YA
Published: Mar. 2010, Hyperion Books

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It’s gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie’s estranged father–an elusive European warlock–only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it’s her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire student on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.

As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her. [GOODREADS]

 

After a particularly LONG (a near eternity, it seems like) reading hiatus, I was in the mood for something different than my usual romance-genre trope. Enter Hex Hall, an captivating read about a young witch sent to a magical boarding school that I gulped down in one evening.

The story’s first person point of view is its greatest appeal — Sophie is cheeky but flawed, just how I’d imagine a teenage girl coming into magical powers would act. She may only be 16, but her individuality and the way she doesn’t care what others think about her is truly commendable. My 16-year-old self definitely could have taken a page from Sophie’s book!

I’m a sucker for boarding school settings and Hex Hall makes an excellent backdrop to a unique cast of characters. From hot-headed werewolves to stuck-up faeries to ghosts roaming the halls (à la Hogwarts), the magical student body runs the gamut and I wanted to learn more about them and their backstories as well. Because this is the first book in the Hex Hall trilogy, the story did end on somewhat of a cliffhanger, but I guess that’s okay since I was pulled in enough to want to read the rest of the series (as evidenced by my next day trip to the library for books two and three).

In some ways, Hex Hall is your quintessential paranormal YA/magic school trope, but Sophie’s voice is really what makes this story stand out from other stories like it. The twist at the ending will convince readers to stick around for book two, which, if it’s anywhere near as engaging as Hex Hall, will be just as unputdownable!

Review: Born at Midnight by C.C. Hunter

Born at Midnight (Shadow Falls, #1)Born at Midnight by C.C. Hunter

Shadow Falls #1 // 398 pp. // Paranormal YA // St. Martin’s Griffin // Mar. 2011

After a ridiculously long reading slump, I picked this up on a whim from my local Barnes & Nobles. To be honest, prior to this the only paranormal I’d ever read was the Twilight series, which I surprisingly enjoyed loved. Though this isn’t exactly like Twilight, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

SUMMARY: Born At Midnight is the first book in the Shadow Falls trilogy and tells the story of 16-year-old Kylie and how she’s shipped away to a camp for “troubled teens” after being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. There she discovers the camp is actually for teens who are supernatural, not delinquent, though she she’s convinced she still doesn’t fit in there, either.

As if trying to convince everyone she doesn’t have supernatural powers wasn’t enough, she also has to juggle a creepy ghost who keeps popping up, a narcissistic best friend, her parent’s divorce, AND two hot guys who both have supernatural powers and are both into her (oh, the agony!).

Kylie starts off stubborn and judgmental — albeit in a relatable, I-was-a-teen-once kind of way — but she does mature and progress as the story unfolds. Her refusal to accept the fact that she was supernatural was at times frustrating and borderline annoying, but she came through in the end — go girl!

What I found most interesting was the side characters (Kylie’s roommates were wittier than I was at that age!) as well as the explanation of supernaturals. I like the mix of traditional paranormal history with a twist, like when the author explains the origin of vampires or how shapeshifters turn.

Overall, it was a good book that was interesting enough to hold my attention and make me curious to read book two while at the same time still being a quick, lighthearted read.

Review: Falling for Finn by Jackie Ashenden

Falling For FinnFalling For Finn by Jackie Ashenden

141 pp. // Contemp. Romance // Samhain Publishing // Feb. 2013

GOODREADS SUMMARY: When you’ve been burned, the heat of the moment is the scariest place to be.

Six months after a sexual assault, Anna Jameson has decided enough is enough. She’s sick of being a victim, of letting the experience have power over her. She wants her fear of physical intimacy gone, as in now.

In the quest to reclaim her sexuality, she needs a man. A man she trusts absolutely. A man like her best friend, Finn.

Finn Shaw is all about taking risks. He does it every week on his extreme sports TV show. But there’s one boundary he’s never pushed, and that’s his friendship with Anna. When his hyper-intellectual family kicked him to the curb over his dyslexia, Anna stuck by him.

Her request to become friends with benefits throws him for a loop. He can’t deny her anything, but this is a whole different ball game. Once they’re skin to skin, there will be no hiding the fact that he’s loved her for years.

When their chemistry burns out of control, Finn decides he’s the one who’s had enough. It’s time to break out of the friend box—and show Anna that risking her heart is a risk well worth taking. Even if it costs him her friendship.

Jackie Ashenden’s debut release packs a helluva punch!

Even though it took Anna some time to fall for Finn, I fell for him almost immediately. Yes, he’s good looking — okay, he’s hot! — but he’s also extremely patient and thoughtful. What woman wouldn’t want a man who pushed her to be a better person? It’s clear how much he cares for Anna and their relationship made my heart swell — even though they had their explosive moments (boy did they!).

There were times when Anna frustrated the hell out of me and I just wanted to give her a good shake because she was so clueless about how lucky she was to have a guy like Finn. However, it was these same quirks that made her character flawed and three-dimensional. As someone who’d went through a traumatic experience, her willingness and strength to try to take back her life was admirable and I respected her for that.

It’s been a while since a book made me cry, but parts of the story were so emotional that I couldn’t help it — the on-air scene, for example. Even with the waterworks turned on I kept on reading while sniffling. In fact, I didn’t stop reading and in a matter of hours I had finished the entire book!

This is a strong start to Ms. Ashenden’s author career. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next!

Review: Rev It Up by Julie Ann Walker

A picture summary of Rev It Up, by Julie Ann Walker:

If pictures aren’t your style, check out my RT review of the third Black Knights Inc. story, which features:

  1. A sexy surfer — who isn’t a fan of those? (Answer: no one!)
  2. Sleek, chrome motorcycles — this is what the Black Knights are known for, after all.
  3. The gritty streets of Chicago — descriptions of the city leap off the page.

Of course there’s more to this action-packed story than that, but tell me you’re not hooked after getting a peek at that surfer’s bod board! Also, if you’re new to the series, here’s book one and two if you’re the type who prefers to start from the beginning (like I am).

 

Review: Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

Exclusively YoursExclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

Kowalski Family #1 // 282 pp. // Contemp. Romance // Carina Press // May 2010

GOODREADS SUMMARY: When Keri Daniels’ editor finds out she has previous carnal knowledge of reclusive bestselling author Joe Kowalski, she gives Keri a choice: get an interview or get a new job.

Joe’s never forgotten the first girl to break his heart, so he’s intrigued to hear Keri’s back in town–and looking for him. Despite his intense need for privacy, he’ll grant Keri an interview if it means a chance to finish what they started in high school.

He proposes an outrageous plan–for every day she survives with his family on their annual camping and four-wheeling trip, Keri can ask one question. Keri agrees; she’s worked too hard to walk away from her career.

But the chemistry between them is still as potent as the bug spray, Joe’s sister is out to avenge his broken heart and Keri hasn’t ridden an ATV since she was ten. Who knew a little blackmail, a whole lot of family and some sizzling romantic interludes could make Keri reconsider the old dream of Keri & Joe 2gether 4ever.

After months of hearing about the notorious Kowalski men, I figured it was high time I found out what all the hoopla was about. Enter Exclusively Yours, book one of the Kowalski Family series. Wow. I finished this book in a matter of HOURS!

To be honest, I was expecting a typical light contemporary romance — which I have no problem with; in fact, it’s one of my favorite genres — but what I got instead was so much more than “fluff.” Exclusively Yours is wrought with complicated family relationships, as well as two people whose love for each other is both long-lasting and complex.

I was taken by Joe Kowalski from the very beginning. Not only is he an incorrigible flirt, but he’s also up front and honest — with both his family and Keri. Also, despite not having any kids of his own, he comes across as a man who truly loves his family.

Keri is also likable, but I have to say that I rolled by eyes at her a few times. I admire the fact that she takes her career seriously, but there are a few instances where she’s way too prissy (i.e. cliché bitching over a broken nail and harping about needing a facial). I get that she’s spent the last 20 years in LA, but her high-maintenance attitude doesn’t really fit with her character, who seems fairly down-to-earth. On the other hand, it’s refreshing to see a woman portrayed as career-driven instead of one so quick to drop everything in her life for the hero. I actually appreciated the fact that she follows through with her assignment after their time together. Let the hero do the chasing!

The rest of Kowalski family plays an important role as well, especially Terry, Joe’s twin and Kerry’s ex-best friend. Her marriage troubles add another layer to the story, which made me sympathize for her… at times. However, I’d have to say that about, oh, 85% of the time she is a major bitch. Yeah, I said it. I get that she’s going through a tough time, but more often than not she’s just a spiteful shrew. Ugh! I know that Ms. Stacey did an excellent job with this story if she could make me love this book despite an unlikeable character. Though it’s Terry’s issues that play a role in setting the story apart from other stock contemporary romances.

Overall, I have to to say that Exclusively Yours is a great introduction to the Kowalski family. At the moment there are five more books in the series, which means I have five more opportunities to delve deeper into the Kowalski family tree!