Review: Love Bites: A Collection of Short Stories by Valeria Kogan

love bitesReviewed by Sandra Scholes

Synopsis: This is Valeria Kogan’s debut collection of short stories which all centre on love, from heartbreak to redemption, this is what love is all about whether the people in the stories love each other at all, or start out that way and grow apart later on. There are many elements to love and these stories deal with them; secrets, guilt, jealousy, deception and mistrust. As the stories are written in a no nonsense way, this is a collection of shorts for a real modern woman.

Review: In all there are eleven stories where no one knows how a love affair will end. Valeria was born in Russia and has since moved to the UK where she learned to appreciate art and literature. Other than Love Bites, she is working on her new novel, ‘Bi-Pole-Ar’ which is a semi-biographical look at mental health issues and how other people see us. Valeria thinks that by writing a series of short works, she was also writing her first novel and she would be right. Every author has created small tasters to get potential readers use to their style of writing, and Valeria’s style can easily be seen here. Valeria saw the need to create several different narratives with outcomes that could never be predictable. She wanted do see what would happen if she had no pre conceive idea of how the stories would evolve. Love means different things to different people. In Silent, Carla has a husband, evolving around him as a full grown woman who bears children, but calamity strikes the family causing the silence she has come to expect. Nip & Tuck has a man telling his story of how he wanted to change his wife’s looks, her body by using cosmetic surgery as a beautifying tool, eventually coming to regret his decision. Mute is about a woman who was struck dumb when she first met a man and her intoxication with him that urges her to get his name tattooed on her skin. Tonight has a woman who decides that tonight will be the last time she will act as a prostitute, but the fact that she is dreading it tells you something about the person. Matrimony has Tessa wondering what sort of wedding she wants with the man in her life. Each story is matter-of-fact, and honest showing these diverse women and men of what they think love is and the trouble they have getting into the stereotypical woman/man role in society and the result of it.

Good Bits:

  • Silent is beauty stricken with tragedy.
  • Nip & Tuck is a case of never gilding a lily.
  • Mute is part prose, part poetry and all heart!

Summary: Love Bites: A Collection of Short Stories is an interesting look at the lives of eleven people who are each as different as the rest. They all appreciate men and women in their own way, or have been spurned by them in the past. The stories tell of their partners and lovers with me thing that the best ones were Nip & Tuck, Mute, Tonight and Matrimony. The cover art is of a beautiful woman, bound and with her eyes covered ready to cut the red thread of time with her latex gloved hands. It is a deceptive cover in that it looks like the sort that would grace a slipstream horror novel, and there is nothing horrific about the stories in here.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy: Love Bites: A Collection of Short Stories

Review: The Love of Marisol by Christos Toulouras

Christos ToulourasReviewed by Sandra Scholes

Synopsis: Leo decides to take a trip to Lima, Peru after his marriage has failed. In leaving for a far off place he has left behind all his pain, loss and depression, yet Leo does not expect to find a new love interest there in Marisol.

Review: The Love of Marisol is separated into four chapters; One Night in Bahia, The Smell of Lima, Nena and The House on White Beach. As Leo had been separated from his wife for nine months ad feels the pain of being apart from her for so long. You get to feel the extent of his depression and differs from the first few pages as he feels how his life has taken a wrong turn he does not feel he can escape from. You share his pain, the loss of his wife he spent ten years with who was his first love. We have all had our first love; the one we want to spend our whole lives with, his other regret is his son who he knows he will miss even though they are getting a divorce. Though he had three affairs with other women, he still misses his ex-wife. He tortures himself for having not been a positive person, believing if he had been, he might not have lost Rafaela. For most of the novel, he spends time with new and old friends in Lima, it is only by the third chapter that we get to meet Marisol, so Christos spends a lot of time keeping us waiting for the moment where he might become happier.

Good Bits:

  • Leo’s puffs of marijuana – naughty boy!
  • The love he has for his son and the fact he misses him so much. The sentiment is truly touching.
  • Marisol is a captivating woman he falls for almost instantly.

Summary: The Love of Marisol is a slow moving story of a man who has lost love, gone through the depression stage of a divorce and decided to change his life by going on holiday only to meet a woman he feels he has fallen for. You can sense how relieved Leo is to have another woman he can relate to and we all hope that we can find the same in our lives.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Buy: The Love of Marisol

Audio Review: Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove, Book 4) by Tessa Dare

any duchess will doHero: Griffin York has just been kidnapped by his momma. She’s a desperate duchess and wants grandbabies, but her son, the Duke of Halford, has no desire to wed. So they make a deal – he will pick one woman from the ladies present at the inn and if his momma can turn her into a duchess acceptable to the ton he will wed her. Who does he pick? The barmaid. Take that!

“Her – I choose her.”

Heroine: Pauline Simms is just trying to save money to open her own circulating library. She wants to remove both herself and her sister from under her father’s heavy handed rules. She can’t believe he’d sell her for five pounds to a duke. She’s determined to walk away with something from this ridiculous bargain and that is the finances to start her dream. So she agrees to being employed by the duke, take duchess training, and fail at it – but he can have a week – she needs to be home for her sister.

Review: This is a feel-good romance. You will laugh, you will sigh, and you’ll want it to last longer. Griff and Pauline together are a great match. They find the longer they are together the more they have in common. Pretty soon Griff isn’t thinking a week – he’s thinking a lifetime. Some of the best moments in the book are in Griff’s private thoughts as he finds himself thinking again and again “Her – I choose her.”

Pauline’s duchess training is similar to Eliza Doolittle’s. Pauline gets to practice her “H” sounds by reading “H” words from Bible. She adds a few in there to suit her mood too. She starts on her madcap adventure believing everything she does results in failure which should be a plus for her current assignment… except she wants to be told she’s doing well (at failing) and she wants Griff’s approval (and kisses).
You’re going to love Griff’s momma.

Narrator: Eva Kaminsky does a great job switching from a “low class” accent to an “upper-crust” accent. She brings a lot of liveliness to the story and is a refreshing narrator. I’d listen to her again.

Rating: ★★★★½

Buy: Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove Book 4), Any Duchess Will Do (Audiobook)

The Search For A Story When Writing a Book: How to Separate the Suck

ToWishUponARoman_200x300Guest post by Ishabelle Torry, author of To Wish Upon A Roman

As an author and history major still in the midst of my studies enrolled in a university, I often research history that I find to be boring. Why? Because I have to in order to earn my degree, of course! My preferences in history leans toward ancient, the older—the better. However, one of my recent classes was the Renaissance, and I was less than thrilled at first—until I realized just exactly what the Renaissance really consisted of. It was more than a new age, but the revival of the old ways and studies, aided by a new thought process called humanism. This fact intrigued me.

I started to wonder just what exactly lent to this new ideology in history. So I read, and I read. Not only did I read my required texts for assignments, but I did extra research on my own. And you know what I found? Henry VIII. Yep, good old Henry the Horny, Henry the Religion Changer…or dare I say it—Henry the Wife Executioner.

His affairs were fascinating, and his court deliciously scandalous. Aside from Henry, there had been only one other English monarch that dared to marry whom he desired against the wishes of tradition pre modern age. But Henry took it a step further. He made it a habit to search for love. Unfortunately for Anne Boleyn (second wife) and Katherine Howard (fifth wife), he proved to be fickle and untrusting. OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! However, the tawdry ending of these two women, not to mention the divorces to the other wives, taught me something—and it was related to the Renaissance notion of humanism and individuality.

There was more to the Renaissance than a revival of classical literature and new methods of painting, such as that of Michelangelo. The people of Tudor England were influenced by humanism and individuality, and they sought it with all their worth. There in fact was a new era emerging in regards to marriage and sex, and most importantly love. In a sense, Henry VIII may have led the way to modern day romance.

And Henry wasn’t alone! His sister, Mary Tudor, also married Charles Brandon against her king’s wishes because she loved him, and he her. Later on down the line, Elizabeth I would also refute the status quo, and decide not to marry at all! See the connection…people were thinking for themselves. They desired, and they went for it.

So, I am sure you’re asking where the creativity is in this brief history lesson? Peeling back the suckish layers of history of Henry VIII’s political endeavors (if that’s what bores you) and other duties to England, there is still an awesome story to be told involving sex, love, lies, marriage and betrayal. It’s almost like a sordid romance novel, per se. And say you’re fascinated with the political aspects, and the suckish part to you is the romance—there is still a story to be found. The point is THERE IS ALWAYS a story where you look if you know how to separate the suck.

I dare anyone who reads this blog to pick a time period in history and read a little about it. Can you separate the suck and form a possible story line?

Author Bio: Ishabelle Torry is a full time mother, wife and student. She enjoys time with her family, and their plethora of pets on the farm. In her spare time, she is constantly dreaming of characters and the worlds they are found in. Occasionally, Ishabelle has been known to argue with her characters and bribe them with cookies when they have a wayward moment.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IshabelleTorry?ref=bookmarks

Follow on twitter @ishabelletorry

Book Blurb:

When Lucy received the locket from the estate of her aunt, it came with a warning to never speak his name…but where’s the fun in that?

Trapped for seventeen hundred years, General Hadrian Marias awaits his release from a crystal prison and a chance to find the reincarnated soul of his wife, Lucia. Instead, upon being summoned into the modern world, he finds Lucy—the descendant of Genevieve, the Celtic witch responsible for his entrapment. Everything he knows about Lucy stems from his experience with Genevieve, but he soon discovers the only thing Lucy shares with her ancient ancestor is an uncanny resemblance. He quickly finds himself drawn to the feisty vixen. But can he ever forgive himself for losing Lucia of the past, and move forward with Lucy?

Lucy Brady was devastated to receive word of her aunt’s death. Her only joy, a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation. Inside the golden locket hides a crystal containing the essence of Hadrian. Even though warned to never say his name, she chalks it up to superstition and inadvertently summons an ancient Roman general who demands his freedom from her tyrannical bloodline. Deeming the general’s appearance a prank, Lucy agrees to grant his freedom—in lieu of sex for a fortnight. Will the next fortnight of passion be enough to keep Hadrian at Lucy’s side? Or will he choose absolute freedom from her bloodline?

Buy: To Wish Upon A Roman

Excerpt:

Hadrian was infatuated by the witch’s sudden change. Her demeanor had gone from a scared rabbit to a cunning wolf as she slowly advanced in his direction. She looked ready to pounce.

Damn the gods.

He shook his head in frustration, swearing at his lack-wit brain. He assumed the dark woman with the strange clothing and heavy face paint had been Genevieve’s kin, but instead the innocent angel before him was the vile sorceress’s descendant. How could he have missed it? She even had the same violet pigment as Genevieve. He now knew for certain this pale beauty was his newest captor. “Release me.”

“You never answered me,” she purred prettily, taking slow deliberate steps toward him and emphasizing the sway of her hips.

Hadrian grunted. The witch recognized her powers already. She was another generation warned in advance; already knowing he couldn’t harm her physically as long as she controlled him.

Damn her smugness! He took a step back with each forward step she took. “Stay back, witch.”

He didn’t mean it. He felt himself harden with her approach. He hated her. Nay, he didn’t, but he should. Something about her perplexed him. She has her ancestor’s looks. Genevieve. His last step back was blocked by the loveseat. He thought to sidestep the smiling vixen, but a squared table blocked his path.

Curse her and her second sight! She has me purposely trapped!

The witch appeared to enjoy his uneasiness as she played cat and mouse. She obviously delighted in being the predator, moving in just the right way to keep him cornered. Her siren voice with its otherworldly quality beckoned him as she spoke. Aye, she was just as much the devil’s mistress as Genevieve.

“I ask you one more time, Hadrian Marias: Why should I release you?”

His pulse pounded in his ears. “It would be the honorable thing to do, milady. Seeing your family has held me prisoner for almost two millennia.”

“I see.” She dared to wink. “What’s in it for me?”

His paranoia threatened his temper. He felt the sudden need to hide from this enchantress. He would not make the same mistake again and trust a witch. No matter how beautiful she was or innocent she appeared, she was evil. Genevieve’s blood ran through her veins. “What do you want?” He finally managed to ask, hoping she didn’t hear the apprehension in his tone.

She threw her sultry head back and her laughter floated on the air and teased his defenses.

Devil’s Mistress…

She smirked. “In fourteen days, I will release you, but only if you become my sex slave and guarantee my satisfaction.”

Buy: To Wish Upon A Roman

Review: To Catch a Princess (Gambling on Love, Book 2) by Caridad Pineiro

to catch a princessReviewed by Sandra Scholes

For the woman who has it all…or so it would seem. Princess Tatiana does have it all, wealth, family and a career, but she has remained unmarried for a while, and to her horror, her parents have decided to arrange a marriage for her to another royal. She sees it as an affront on her modern ways, but her parents see otherwise. A jewel thief is roaming around and threatens to ruin any plans she has for her exhibition.

The story starts with the jewel thief pulling off a Mission Impossible style deal with a top banker. It’s easy for Shea posing as Mr Smith to interact with him, and even gets another job for being so good at getting him what he needs. The next job he does will be high profile with lots of celebrities, rich and royalty attending so it is sure to get in the news if he performs the heist the way he wants it. The reason Shea is doing this job is he wants to settle down and change his ways – even thieves need to live a normal life some time, and with the money he would get from this heist he will be able to retire for good.

The Prince’s Gamble (Gambling on Love #1) was the first book in this series but to be honest it can be read as a stand alone novel rather than a continuation, and this I think is rare considering how much stock is put on sequels to successful novels. In today’s times no girl wants to be married off to a perfect stranger, so I could feel how bad this would be for Tatiana to bear as she only wants an ordinary life where she can live it without any interference from others. In this case who can blame her for having this feeling as it’s not everyone who wants to be a fairytale princess living the high life with endless dinners and knee deep in jewels. Tatiana being an ordinary girl is what is part of the magic of this novel, as she comes across as honest and appreciative of others being around her, but only for the right reasons.

Peter is her assigned body guard, but she longs for a time when her family aren’t meddling in her life, and she can settle down with the man she wants to be with rather than being married off to make them happy.

Caridad is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling paranormal and romantic suspense author who wrote her first novel while in the fifth grade. Since then she has been writing until her first novel was released back in 1999. Over ten years later, she is still writing some of the most fun and engaging novels when she isn’t an attorney and wife and mother, not to mention fashionista.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy: To Catch a Princess (Entangled Ignite)

Review: Three Sisters (Blackberry Island, Book 2) by Susan Mallery

three sistersThis book is not an anthology, but there are three stories intertwined in it. Three Sisters is the nickname for three Victorian houses on a cul-de-sac and with a name like that, it is easy to see that the three women who own it will become as “sisters” in their friendships to one another.

Romantic relationships are at the heart of the novel, but it is not your traditional romance novel. It’s more women’s fiction with romantic elements. I found two of the three stories very depressing for much of their page time and should come with a warning label for some readers. The issues in the novel are not lighthearted ones and could be tough to read emotionally for some women.

One woman deals (or not) with grief over the death of her infant son and it is destroying her marriage. (Her husband isn’t handling it any better and gets drunk to avoid his grief.)

Another woman is struggling in her marriage because she needs order and perfection to counter her childhood abusive relationship with her mother. Her needs, which are silent and never spoken, affect her household and all her children see her as the bad guy. (How could her husband who indicates knowing this tragic past, say/think the things he did and not be more sympathetic or handle his own concerns/needs better/sooner?)

The last woman faces the challenges of new beginnings after her fiancé dumps her at the altar and runs off with his secretary to get hitched in Vegas. I by far, enjoyed her story the most. I liked her, her new fella, and the daughter.

Each of the married women’s struggles is handled with respect, but the story is at times very much a downer. It’s not until over halfway through the book that things start to look up for the two married women on the street, but getting there was painful for me. Their husbands also had to come around and I wasn’t convinced by one of them for a while because it seemed like all the blame was on the wife. Not fair.

The book will tug at your heartstrings, but you have to ask yourself do you want them to be tugged so hard? It ends happy. I give 2 Stars for the married couples’ stories and 4 Stars for the single gal’s story…

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Buy: Three Sisters (Blackberry Island)

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Review: The Scent of Jade by Dee DeTarsio

The Scent of Jade Dee DeTarsioReviewed by Karin of Savvy Thinker

I had high hopes for this book, but it didn’t pan out quite the way I expected. Let’s just say I did no like the man she ends up with on the final page. I think it was the wrong choice, and that spoiled the book for me.

Julie Fraser is in a less than perfect marriage. She doesn’t have much guts, and her husband is jetting around the world on business. She decides to surprise him in Costa Rica – and she gets a surprise, finding him in the midst of sex with a beautiful woman. Without thinking, she snatches a jade relic – and ends up on the run herself.

It has been compared to Romancing the Stone, and the similarities – reluctant heroine traipsing through the jungle – was too similar to me, although other aspects of the story were different.

I did like that she became more gutsy and feisty along the way.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Buy: The Scent of Jade

Who Hasn’t?

LusciousGuest blog by Amanda Usen, author of Luscious

Have you ever just wanted to start over? Walk out the door and never come back? Get in the car and not tell anyone where you are going or when you will be home? Hop on a bus? A train? A cruise ship?

Perhaps a better question would be: who hasn’t?

I am the first to admit that I married a nearly perfect guy. Not only does he support my writing career, he cooks, cleans, adores the children and is more fun than a barrel full of puppies. I keep my trap shut when my friends are complaining about their husbands. What am I going to do? Make something up?

And yet…all that perfection is a lot to live up to. When I write all day and don’t touch the dishes and the laundry, sometimes my husband comes home from work and starts cleaning. Am I delighted? Nope. I feel guilty. Angry. Like a failed housewife. Naturally, I pick a fight with him for the perceived criticism. And he fights back by saying he doesn’t mind doing it, so why do I care if he does it? Now some would call him passive-aggressive and others would label me certifiably insane. My point is this: even stable marriages aren’t seamless. I’ve sat on the front steps and gazed down the street, daydreaming about what it would be like to walk away to a new life. I’d never do it—because I’m NOT certifiably insane. I just have a few issues, like most people.

At this point, let’s add the fact that I have three kids, six pets and four part-time jobs. It’s not my husband I want to escape. It’s my to-do list. I adore my life and everyone and everything in it. I’d never walk away, not when I have Olivia, the recently-divorced chef heroine of my new book, Luscious, to do it for me! She did not have a perfect marriage. Her husband cheated on her a zillion times and nearly ruined her restaurant because he was such a lousy cook. If you’ve read Scrumptious, you know exactly why Olivia is ready to run—her marriage is over, she hates her job and her two best friends have fallen in love with each other. She plans to quit her job, sell her house and get lost in Europe, but first she has to go to Italy and tell her parents she doesn’t want to run the family restaurant anymore. I channeled my own frustrations to write Olivia, and then I gave her a vacation. With the freedom to do some soul searching, Olivia rediscovers her cooking mojo. With her longtime crush Sean Kindred along for the ride, Olivia finds romance. But will any of her epiphanies translate to rebuilding her real life? Or will it all go up in smoke?

For me, that’s the beauty of reading or writing a romance. I can take a vacation from my own frustrations and live someone else’s life for a while. I’ll suffer their troubles, and my own problems will seem trivial in comparison. Since it’s a romance, it will end happily, and I can return to reality with a sense of optimism. Or maybe I’ll fall in lust with the hero and want to have make-up sex with my husband. That works for me, too. This is not to say that reading romance novels can solve marriage problems! Remember, I’m the first one to admit I lucked out in the husband lottery. Many of our “problems” are caused by me, and cooling off with a book is how I work my way around to a sincere apology. A glass of wine works sometimes, too. Or a snack. All three at the same time is my idea of a vacation, since I can’t take off for Italy like my character, Olivia.

Amanda UsenI’m a simple woman – books, beverages and food put me in a better frame of mind. Although it is smooth sailing in marriage land right now, I’m about to dive into “Can’t Buy Me Love” by Molly O’Keefe. My beverage of the moment is Arrowhead Spring Vineyards 2010 Chardonnay, a wine I helped harvest while doing research for Luscious, and I’m eating as much grilled bruschetta as humanly possible. What about you?

GIVEAWAY: For the chance to win a copy of Luscious, tell me what you are reading, drinking or eating…because I’d never ask you to dish on your relationship! (Contest open to US and CAN. Ends August 7, 2012.)

Buy: Luscious