Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

older heroine and hero

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

AmazonBNKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle

REVIEW:  Hearts and Minds by Rosy Thornton

REVIEW: Hearts and Minds by Rosy Thornton

hearts-and-minds

“St Radegund’s College, Cambridge, which admits only women students, breaks with 160 years of tradition to appoint a man, former BBC executive James Rycarte, to be its new Head of House. As Rycarte fights to win over the Fellowship in the face of opposition from a group of feminist dons, the Senior Tutor, Dr Martha Pearce, has her own struggles: an academic career in stagnation, a depressed teenage daughter and a marriage which may be foundering. Meanwhile the college library is subsiding into the fen mud and the students are holding a competition to see who can ‘get a snog off the Dean’.

The taint of money, the politics of gender and the colour of the SCR curtains: Hearts and Minds is a campus satire for the 21st century.”

Dear Ms. Thornton,

It’s been a while since I read “Crossed Wires” but you’d always remained on my list of authors to keep an eye on and when I was looking to read something a little different, I remembered that I’d bought some more of your books. Though it didn’t turn out to have quite as much romance as I was hoping for, I got caught up in the story, the writing and learning all kinds of things about Cambridge colleges. After reading your page at Emmanuel College, I would imagine that if anyone could write a romance with a sticky legal will issue and get me to believe it, it would be you.

For readers like me who have no first hand experience with Oxbridge and all the attendant traditions, rules and regulations, this is a full on immersion. And I loved it. Senior Tutors, Heads of Hall, actually referring to someone as “Master” and it not be related to BDSM, ents officers, and Michaelmas Term are among the things I can now say I know a little about. Before I read this, my knowledge of the behind the scenes of academia was pretty much limited to the phrase “publish or perish” but no more! I appreciate the way all this information is presented. Since James Rycarte is new to it all, having him be the “guinea pig” to whom all is explained allowed me to vicariously go along when he’s introduced to the “way things are done at St Radegund.”

Interesting as all this is, without characters I cared about, I wouldn’t have kept reading. James and Martha are both at crossroads in their lives. James is switching professional gears, leaving behind the world of the BBC and entering an environment where there are pitfalls at every turn from where he can park his bike, and how will the college keep the library from sinking into the fens to questions of academic integrity. Meanwhile Martha is struggling with a depressed daughter, an inert husband, twenty six hours worth of things to do each day and the worry that her own research and publishing have been allowed to flounder thus rendering her unemployable when her term as Senior Tutor ends.

I felt as if I knew James and Martha. Sometimes I wanted to shake Martha out of her denial and, yes let’s be honest, martyrish guilt. As much as her husband annoyed me as he lay about not even composing poetry in Italian as he was supposed to be doing, he did come out and tell her the truth that not everything is her fault or under her control. Then I stopped and realized that for me to care this much about her, you’d done a good job in making her real. Meanwhile James’ concerns about being accepted in this rarefied world of academic women ring true to anyone embarking on a new career while trying to avoid a misstep. I wavered back and forth about the issue he’s attempting to lead the Fellows through. Does the greater good justify the means or not?

The battle lines and mixed alliances faced over the course of two terms seem realistic from the small annoyances to the gigantic pitfalls. I did lose interest in the activities of certain of the students bent on creating conflicts though not in the way that James and Martha met them and deflected their sting. As I said earlier, I would like for there to have been a romance or even a HFN. Still, I did enjoy my foray into the behind the scenes struggles of the modern meeting the hallowed traditions in this fictional world of St. Radegund’s and in watching, and cheering on, a woman’s day to day struggle to basically do and be everything for everyone. Oh, and I totally agree that the chick lit cover doesn’t begin to do the book justice. B-

~Jayne

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle