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REVIEW:  Driving in Neutral by Sandra Antonelli

REVIEW: Driving in Neutral by Sandra Antonelli

Driving-in-Neutral

A new, quick-witted, quip-heavy romance for grown-ups from Sandra Antonelli about facing your fears — because love is the greatest risk of all.
Levelheaded Olivia Regen walks away from her car-racing career and the wreckage of a bad marriage to take on new work that’s far removed from the twists of racetrack. Her new life is about control, calm and the good friends that she adores.

But her first day on the new job involves getting up close and too personal with her claustrophobic boss, alone in a broken elevator. Her unconventional solution for restoring his equilibrium shocks them both and leaves Olivia shaken.
Determined to stick to her plan, Olivia drives headlong into work and planning her best friend’s wedding, leaving no room for kissing, elevators, or workplace relationships. But Emerson is not one to be out-manoeuvered. Can he convince Olivia that her fear of falling in love again is just another kind of claustrophobia – one that is destined to leave them both lonely?

Dear Ms. Antonelli,

Even before Jane forwarded the information about your latest book, I had already taken notice of it on our submissions page. As you’re one of the few authors I routinely read who features older heroines and heroes in leading romance roles rather than just sticking them in background roles for yuks, I knew I was going to at least try it. I do love catching all the references to things I grew up with such as the “Love Boat” and Olivia’s taste in music.

My, this book has the wedding from hell. A Diva Bridezilla – and she needs those capitals – plus some wedding party members who need a hard right hook to the jaw (these are the bride’s friends?) – are enough to drive anyone but Olivia around the bend. But Olivia handles it with her usual cool, calm demeanor and refrains from telling them where they can stick it. If it were me there, I’d have caught a charge for assault before the vows were finally taken.

Wow there are a lot of secondary, tertiary and quaternary characters in this book. I feel as if I need a scorecard to keep them all straight and wondered if I truly need to keep up with them. In the end I decided that I truly needn’t have bothered with the effort to keep most of them straight.

The blurb does not lie about quick-witted and quip heavy and thankfully most of that is from Olivia’s mouth. She’s smart, she’s sharp, she’s intelligent and she’s fearless. She can also puncture Emerson’s ego and – sometimes – assholic behavior without even breaking a sweat. Even though Olivia is more than ready to verbally defend herself and zap unwary males who try and tease her, I did get tired of the sheer number of times this happens. After getting caught in the elevator with Emerson in a rain drenched state and with her skirt raised to get her knickers untwisted, he gets the wink-winks and she gets the snickers. The fact that this is Real Life makes it all the more depressing.

Emerson is a conundrum. He can spout the most asinine drivel for the longest time and truly seems to have his foot in his mouth every time he’s around Olivia. The man can be clueless about how clueless he is but the analogy of him reverting to a tongue tied awkward teenager who is flustered by the discovery that he really likes a girl is an apt one. He is like the men who want to impress a woman so badly that they end up acting like a fool or a twit.

Olivia is in neutral or as the title suggests, her life is going along in neutral on a straight road to nowhere. Readers see her as calm and in control but only her friends realize how “flat” she is after arriving home from her public and painful divorce. If she doesn’t get emotional, she feels she won’t be hurt again. It’s going to take a lot to pierce her shell.

Yet Emerson is the man to do just that. He finally gets his footing at the wedding and that is when the sweet romance starts. Emerson and Olivia actually begin to talk to each other rather than just slinging barbs and rapier responses. They get to know each other, revealing intimate details of their lives and past mistakes. They talk before taking it physical so when they do finally do that, it means far more than sex. He makes Olivia realize that she’s missed having emotional “road curves” to handle with her lightning fast reflexes.

Emerson also loves Olivia’s quickness, self possession and confidence. He freely admits to the other guys that he wants a woman with experience in her life rather than just big boobs. I like that Olivia isn’t desperate to get a man in her life or indeed, even to find a date for the wedding. She’s just fine going solo, thank you. The farting sofa scene and Olivia’s protective neighbor were hilarious, too.

Both have failed marriages – Emerson’s is more from neglect rather than anyone being an ass while Olivia’s starter marriage was followed by her younger man, Eurotrash race driver marriage. She starts thinking never again, so when she does lose her heart and falls, the betrayal she feels is gut wrenching. The way she handles that is reprehensible but her pain is understandable.

These two get taken to the edge before the romance gets reeled back in. Frankly after how Olivia acts and what she does, I wondered if Emerson would be able to forgive her. If not for his determination and that of their friends in trying to get them back together, all would have been lost. The end of the book was too abrupt for me but they’ve already said a lot and maybe Emerson will concentrate on changing Olivia’s mind for good rather than hyperventilating on the elevator ride down. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

REVIEW: Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

A-Season-of-Storms

A mystery trapped in time…

In 1921, infamous Italian poet Galeazzo D’Ascanio wrote his last and greatest play, inspired by his muse and mistress, actress Celia Sands. On the eve of opening night, Celia vanished, and the play was never performed.

Now, two generations later, Alessandro D’Ascanio plans to stage his grandfather’s masterpiece and has offered the lead to a promising young English actress, also named Celia Sands—at the whim of her actress mother, or so she has always thought. When Celia arrives at D’Ascanio’s magnificent, isolated Italian villa, she is drawn to the mystery of her namesake’s disappearance—and to the compelling, enigmatic Alessandro.
But the closer Celia gets to learning the first Celia’s fate, the more she is drawn into a web of murder, passion, and the obsession of genius. Though she knows she should let go of the past, in the dark, in her dreams, it comes back…

Dear Ms. Kearsley,

I know you’re hard at work on your newest book so I’ll happily dive into this reissue while waiting. Patiently…. Okay, not so patiently. Before getting started with my thoughts, I’d like to give a shout out to the fine Sourcebook people at Netgalley who worked so hard to make sure the e-arc was ready to read.

Even after reading the blurb I still wasn’t entirely sure what to expect here but then that often happens to me when reading one of your books. In fact, that’s one of the things I look forward to – figuring out just what the heck is going on. Usually it takes a while for all the carefully laid pieces to fall into place but once they do, it all makes sense and I see – ah, that’s why this character or that bit of scenery or the whole sequence was so important. I will admit that sometimes patience isn’t my strong point but when I can hold onto my horses and just wait, good things come to me.

There’s a lot of information that must be presented here and I like the authorial use of the one knowledgeable friend up against the know-it-all as a neat way to convey important information rather than the dreaded info-dump or “as you know, Bob” method. After all, I’m sure we’ve all endured a friend or acquaintance who just can’t keep from slipping into lecture mode or one-ups-man-ship. At times during the guided tour of Venice, I had to wonder if it was all necessary but in the end, it is worth the time spent. The visuals of Alex’s country estate, though, are breathtaking. I wanna go there and see that.

Celia is a very Mary Stewart-ish heroine when faced with the handsome, and rich, hero who has a sophisticated woman with her claws in him. Celia is more naïve, innocent and uncalculating which, of course is what draws the hero in. The information at the end when he tells her that he realized all along what the Evil Other Woman was doing and that it had no effect on him was a nice cap to The Smile which told her that he was all hers.

If I ever need to stage a play, I now have a good idea of what I’m in for. I knew there must be a lot of both excitement and tedium that goes into getting a production ready and I think the story conveys it without getting bogged down in the minutia. It’s also an ingenious way to show Celia maturing as an actress, coming to terms with issues in her past then moving beyond them and bonding with two important people in her life. Also yay rah that her two “fathers” are such well rounded characters instead of stereotypes.

The long time setting up the characters, plot and location give a slow acceleration that allowed me the opportunity to get to know everyone and feel the friendships, antagonisms and tensions building. But the feeling of meandering around a bit diluted the menace too. Celia the First’s fate kept getting lost – or rather wasn’t referred to very often, maybe every 100 pages or so. If I didn’t know it was important, I wouldn’t have realized it was important.

The ultimate scheme that’s going on didn’t become clear until nearly the end of the book but when it’s all explained, it makes perfect sense and is totally believable. I like Alex’s view of the treasures of life – there are some things of which we’re merely caretakers during this life and others that would be irreplaceable. We do well to know the difference.

Getting to read “Season of Storms” is a nice way to wait for your next new novel. It’s got the trademark mystery x exotic location x gentle romance. If it takes a little while to finally get to where it’s going, the scenery sure is nice along the way. B-

~Jayne

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