Book Review: Falling for the Prodigal Son by Julia Gabriel

prodigal sonA sweet summer romance set on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay

A wealthy heir …

All Sterling Matthew wants is to get his family’s resort back on sound financial footing—and then leave sleepy St. Caroline for good. He expected the inn’s staff to resist the radical business changes he has to make. What he didn’t expect was to find skinny, gawky Lucy Wyndham all grown up.

A woman who’s pulled herself up by the bootstraps …

For years, Lucy wondered whether she’d ever catch another glimpse of the tall, quiet boy she’d crushed on at the Chesapeake Inn’s summer camp for disadvantaged kids. Now he’s her boss—and the attraction is just as strong. When Sterling informs her that the camp must be eliminated to improve the resort’s bottom line, Lucy embarks on an ambitious campaign to save it—even if the price is her job … and her heart.

And a teenage infatuation that’s all grown up.

Received from Netgalley in exchange for a review. Author site here  

Lucy Wyndham returns from holiday early when she hears her boss, surrogate father and mentor is terminally ill.  She has worked at the Chesapeake Inn for 5 years as Marketing Director, and has never seen the boy she lost her virginity to 15 years before when she was a gawky camp visitor.

Suddenly, Sterling is back and running the show, having been pulled back by his mother threatening to disinherit him if he doesn’t. Lucy hopes he doesn’t remember her, and at first it seems so – until an accidental use of her old nickname makes the truth slip out.

The hotel is in financial straits and Sterling insists on various changes – including shutting down the kids camp so that the land can be used more profitably. Lucy knows how much the camp helps disadvantaged kids, and how many people have become successful after having their lives turned around at the camp. The two are at loggerheads, and both decide to seduce the other into changing their minds. Despite the great sex, nothing changes, and Sterling fires Lucy, only to regret his decision!

This is a decent and enjoyable variation on a theme and I stayed up late into the evening finishing it. The sex is occasional, and fades to black before it gets too explicit. The secondary characters are few but more than one dimensional when they appear – a couple of them have the potential to be worked into their own story. Lucy’s home town in Virginia is described in appropriately appalling terms, and you get to feel sympathy for Sterling, who, despite being from a wealthy family, doesn’t fit in with the camp kids, and is brought up by the hotel staff rather than his workaholic parents, so had a very lonely childhood.

Book Review: The Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet

doormountainThe Door in the Mountain is a place where children are marked by gods and goddesses; a place where a manipulative, bitter princess named Ariadne devises a mountain prison for her hated half-brother, where a boy named Icarus tries, and fails, to fly, and a slave girl changes the paths of all their lives forever.

Received from NetGalley in exchange for a review. Author site here

This is a reworking of the story of the Cretan King Minos, his family and the most famous monster of all: The Minotaur.

Everyone wants to be  “GodMarked” (giving them fantastical powers) but not everyone gets so “blessed”.  Minos has an internal fire burning in him, and this can overspill sometimes with flames blasting from his skin.  Pasiphae, his wife, controls water. Her son, Asterion, is born of heat and gods, to become one of the most iconic of figures.  Icarus’ mark has him sprouting feathers, but ultimately is unable to fly, not matter how hard or often he tries.

Ariadne is not the sweetness and light the myths may have lead you to believe. She is unmarked, jealous and manipulative. She only gets worse as she gets older and her younger step brother develops his GodMark powers into becoming the bull he was destined to be.

Her parents are the worst type of dysfunctional – her father is going slowly mad, frequently confronted with his wife’s infidelity with her god, Poisden, every time Minos is with the bull-boy. Pasiphae realises her son is her most powerful tool, and flaunts his status in front of all who care to notice.  Ariadne has the chance of friendship when younger, but turns away from this due to jealousy, and it only becomes worse as she gets older. Meanwhile, Minos develops a way to deal with the Bull Boy (and all his other “enemies”), as well as waging war on the Athenians who killed his other son, which sets up the story of the Minotaur, the labyrinth and the biannual sacrifice of 14 Athenians.

I knew all the Myths and Legends as a kid (a LONG time ago) and whilst I remembered the important bits – bull, labyrinth, ball of wool so as not to lose one’s way, etc etc,  I had forgotten enough of the smaller pieces to appreciate that the author has taken some liberties, but none are to the detriment of this story.  I dont know if knowing the original myth is a help or not – it allows the reader to predict what happens next (and the likely result of the second/final book in the series) but then the author has made it different enough to beg the question “would it matter if you didnt?”.

It did drag a little at the end, but the author has left the story at a point where Theseus has turned up ready to confront the Minotaur.  Apparently pitched at the YA market, this is a challenging book – not because of any inappropriate scenes – but because of the need to see it through to the end. However with the publication and success of the Rick Riordian books and the followup films, there seems to be an appetite for a retelling of these stories

 

 

Sunday Salon: What I wish I’d known when I started blogging

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I started blogging over here in 2007 and whilst it doesnt have the same publishing rates or followers as my book related site, which I started in earnest in 2012. I thought I’d put down my thoughts on what I wish I’d known when I started blogging

  • That inspiration can and will be finite – that post wont come, fully formed, and ready to go in plenty of time
  • That just because you build it, doesnt mean they will come. Not without a LOT of prompting and active marketing over social media.
  • You don’t live in a vacuum especially if you want to succeed.
  • That Stats aren’t everything
  • That other bloggers can be fibbing (just a little) about their stats (moi? jealous? :))
  • That if you’re not that into what you’re blogging about, your readers are going to know and the posts are going to get harder to write
  • Only the few manage to quit their day job purely because of the revenue their blog pulls in – don’t expect to be one of them
  • Be prepared to change
  • Be prepared to take advice, or at least see what others are doing and go “there’s a good idea, I’ll try that one…..”
  • I found this post over on Book Bloggers International, about getting burnout on blogging – which includes some things NOT to do when you feel like giving up. (Spoiler Alert: Yes, you can give yourself permission to walk away…..)

So for the bloggers out there, no matter how long or short you’ve been blogging – let us know what you wished you’d known when you started – do you have anything to add?

 

 

Book Review: Married to a Rogue by Donna Lea Simpson

marriedrogueFrom the author of The Earl of Hearts comes a Regency romance celebrating the witty and romantic world that fans of Georgette Heyer have fallen in love with.

Lady Emily Sedgely, separated from her husband and bored to distraction after years of solitude in the wilds of Yorkshire, is stirred by a sudden thirst for life and eagerly returns to London for the Season. Back in the swirl of society, she quickly warms to the attentions of an ardent young Frenchman—until a chance encounter with Baxter, her estranged husband, leaves her as confused as ever about her heart’s true longings.

Baxter, the Marquess of Sedgely, was given to dark moods and an uncertain temper that doomed his marriage. Finding relief in travel, he spent five years gallivanting the Continent and has now returned to London with a comely young mistress—and a dangerous secret. Cavalier about his safety, he discovers a far greater concern—for just one look at Emily stirs a realization that while his life may be in danger, it is his heart that faces a more immediate peril.

When Emily’s young French suitor arouses suspicions that he may not be all that he appears and a unknown assailant makes several attempts on Baxter’s life, the two are driven to protect each other and surrender to a passionate reawakening—and neither will rest until they are safely in the arms of the only person they’ve ever loved.

Received in ebook from Netgalley in exchange for a review.  Author’s website is here

The story starts 5 years after Baxter and Emily have seperated and they see each other across a crowded theatre. Emily has spent much of the last few years marrooned in Yorkshire, where the solitude away from the London scene has not prevented her putting on some weight (which is referenced by everyone at every opportunity). Believing that Baxter is still on the continent, and that she is therefore safe from running into him, she returns to town for some company.

Baxter, who has been working for the government as a courier and part time spy, has returned to London with a mistress half his age, and his enemies trying to kill him.  He is bored of his mistress and is already trying to work out how to ditch her when he sees his wife on the other side of the theatre and begins to realise what he’s lost.

Their mutual friend Lessington seeks Emily’s help in protecting Baxter, hoping that her appearance will give Baxter something to live for and therefore take the attempts on his life more seriously.  Baxter realises that he has been cow-towing to his domineering mother too much and as a result, is much at fault for the failure of his marriage as anyone else. He failed to defended his wife in order to keep the peace with his mother, who takes every opportunity to denounce Emily as worthless (and fat).

Emily is courted by a young French Vicount, who tries to seduce her, though his motives are soon up for question. Emily, and therefore Baxter, get involved with Lady Grishelda May van Hoffen and her fears that she is to be “sold off” to a much older man by her slattenly mother, who is in thrall to “Captain” Dempster. There is much talk about sex within marriage, and the occasional safe (fade to black) scene between Emily and Baxter.

It is a multiple POV story, rather than from just Emily’s view, so allows for some of the secondary characters to be filled out more successfully than other accounts. It allows you some understanding of why Belle does what she does (because she doesn’t know any different, and she believes what she does is the only possibility). Lessington – Less – is a theatre producer and there is every hint that he is gay, if you only read between the lines.

The “May” story line is analogous to the Pride and Prejudice Lydia/Wickham story, where a young girl’s virtue is at stake because of a silly mother, and a young attractive man comes to the rescue.

Everything is soon pulled together and ends up as it should be.  This is a more challenging book than standard “fluff” romances and deserves the time and attention to complete, even if it takes longer than standard romances. Baxter is a little disappointing, in that he can court disaster as a courier for the government but ruined his marriage by not standing up to his mother to protect his wife.

Book Review: Nightmare in Burgundy by Jean-Pierre Alaux

nightmareThe Winemaker Detective leaves his native Bordeaux to go to Burgundy for a dream wine tasting trip to France’s other key wine-making region. Between Beaune, Dijon and Nuits-Saint-Georges, it urns into a troubling nightmare when he stumbles upon a mystery revolving around messages from another era. What do they mean? What dark secrets from the deep past are haunting the Clos de Vougeot? Does blood need to be shed to sharpen people’s memory?

Received from Netgalley in exchange for a review. Translated from the French, it is the third in the Winemaker Detective series, following on from Grand Cru Heist.

Benjamin Cooker, half French, half English, finds himself in Burgundy where he is to receive the honour of  being named Chevalier du Tastevin by the Knights of the order (slogan ‘Never whine, always wine!’). He takes the opportunity to spend a few days in area, staying in the small town of Vougeot, in order to do some tastings of the local producers in order to prepare notes for his new book.

However, the trip is spoilt when two young men are shot dead in the process of spraying some graffiti on a wall – there has been a spate of slogans written in Latin on walls around the town. Benjamin cant resist trying to work out what these couplets mean and why they have been daubed on the walls.  He invites Virgile, his young and attractive assistant, to the town to lends a hand with the investigations, whilst allowing the younger man to continue his foray into wine tasting.

This is a shortish book, and not the first of the series. There is not much in terms of description of Cooker, which may have been done in a previous book (or perhaps because this is related to a TV series I’ve never heard of, it allows for anyone to be cast in the role).  Virgile isnt described much either, apart from being a terrible flirt and a hit with the women.

There are some great descriptions of the food eaten and the wine drunk (they seemed to be a little more detailed in the previous book), as well as some of the local traditions and fokelore. The denouement comes a little quick and the clues are a little tenuous to get to that point, but that is only a small point in an otherwise enjoyable and short book.

More about the book

 

Book Review: Grand Cru Heist by Jean-Pierre Alaux

grandcruIn another Epicurean journey in France, renowned wine critic Benjamin Cooker’s world gets turned upside down one night in Paris. He retreats to the region around Tours to recover. There a flamboyant British dandy, a spectacular blue-eyed blond, a zealous concierge and touchy local police disturb his well-deserved rest. From the Loire Valley to Bordeaux, in between a glass of Vouvray and a bottle of Saint-Émilion, the Winemaker Detective and his assistant Virgile turn PI to solve two murders and very particular heist. Who stole those bottles of grand cru classé?

Received in ebook format from Netgalley in exchange for a review.  This is the second in the series (I have yet to read the first), and it finds Benjamin driving his top end Mercedes one evening, only to be carjacked, and in hospital for over a month to recover.

He is out of sorts when he is discharged so decides to go on a short Epicurean break around the Loire valley to get his mood back. Elizabeth, his wife, agrees to let him get on with it on his own, whilst she returns to their home to look after their dog Bacchus instead.

Benjamin has some lovely food and wine (some meals and drinks expounded to great length in the novel), and comes across another wine merchant who seems to have access to some of the wines – and a car – that Benjamin covets. However, after a heavy eating and drinking session, things go awry when Morton’s companion storms out, to be found strangled the following morning. The concierge of the hotel where Benjamin is staying is found dead later the same day, hanging from a tree, the result of an apparent suicide.  Meanwhile, whole shipments of Premier/Grand Cru bottles – €100+ each – are being stolen, seemingly to order.

Despite the deaths, Benjamin is excited about life again, and starts to investigate, along with  with his assistant Virgile (who gets sent to do the boring job of picking up the stolen Mercedes from Germany).  Finally after some investigations, along with minor input from the police, the deaths and the thefts are sorted out. The story being set in the middle of winter, when little is done in the vineyards, allows for little time needed to expostulate on the day to day vine maintenance.

This is definitely a book for those who like the finer things in life (or at least like reading about them). The food and the wine and the cigars makes you want to open a Premier Cru of something lovely, sit back and enjoy a good cigar. The mysteries are secondary to the food and wine, and whilst diverting and entertaining are not the point of the story, so shouldnt be thought about too deeply. Would be interesting to see if this ever gets shown on English TV (either in the original French or a variation of same).

GRAND CRU HEIST website

Book Review: Ameera Unveiled by Kathleen Varn

ameera

At the age of forty-eight, happily remarried and retired from her legal assistant gerbil wheel, Kat decides to break out of her shell and try her hand at belly dancing. What begins as a hobby leads her to filling a coveted spot in Palmetto Oasis Middle Eastern Dance Troupe. With less than eight weeks to prepare, Kat’s thrown into a world of performing she is terrified to face, all leading to a week of giving lessons and performing in Jamaica. Travelling with eight glittery strangers, she forges deep bonds under outrageous circumstances at what they’d soon all discover was a clothing-optional resort. Struggling with paralyzing stage fright and searching for the deeper root of her fears, Kat feverishly seeks a way to release Ameera, her inner dance queen. By the end of the week, the audience is mesmerized by the powerful presence and synchronicity of women joined at the hip by scarves and some glitter. Kat soon knows, with the help of eight sisters in dance, that she is finally part of a tribe, discovering an oasis to refresh her thirst to be part of a circle of women.

Received from Netgalley.com in exchange for a review

This is a semi autobiographical story (the main character being called Kat Varn) about a middle aged woman on her second marriage, retired, and looking for something new to do. She signs up for a belly dancing class, which makes her confront her crippling self doubt. This started in childhood, when her mother and ballet teacher were overheard agreeing not to let her keep coming to class, followed by years with a controlling first husband who constantly put her down to control her.

She forces herself to keep going to class, even though she believes the other women seem to be so more talented than her. Details of the classes are kept to a minimum, and the secondary characters – from the new husband, to the daughters and teachers – are one dimensional and are barely fleshed out.  She auditions for and is accepted by a dance troupe, whose first trip away is to Jamaica, to a resort called Hedonism II, which is a swingers and nudist resort where it seems that anything goes. It seems that Kat is not quite a “prude” (she doesnt strip off, but then she doesnt run away screaming either) and is more concerned with the fact there are no events planned for the week that the troupe are in Jamaica. The Ladies in the troupe become less one dimensional once they arrive in Jamaica, where there are daily bonding sessions, usually over alcohol, where everyone gets to share why they have found themselves in a belly dancing troupe in Jamaica.  The story culminates in an evening event where the ladies get to show off their skills.

The book did drag for me quite a lot, and it took effort to pull me back in in order to finish it. 

In Summary: I can see where some people may take inspiration from the story about confronting low self esteem and stage fright but it took some effort on my part to finish.