Love and Gravity by Samantha Sotto

31564042Andrea Louviere is seven years old the first time he appears. While she’s alone in her bedroom, practicing her beloved cello, the light shivers and a crack forms in the wall. Through the crack, she sees a candle, a window, a desk—and a boy. Though no sound travels through the wall, the boy clearly sees Andrea, too. And then, just as quickly as it opened, the crack closes, and he vanishes.

Over the years, summoning the bright, magnetic boy becomes something of an obsession for Andrea. Then, on her seventeenth birthday, she receives a three-hundred-year-old love letter from Isaac Newton. Andrea knows that Isaac will change the world with his groundbreaking discoveries; the letter tells Andrea that she will change him.

As Isaac’s letters intensify in passion and intimacy, Andrea grows determined to follow his clues to their shared destiny—despite a burgeoning romance in the present. Only when she discovers the way into Isaac’s time does Andrea realize that she faces a heartbreaking decision: between what was . . . and what might be.

Review:

I loved and was flummoxed by this book in turns but it always, always kept me reading.  I finished it in less than 24 hours so while I have Things to say know that Love and Gravity is hard to put down.

Also be rest assured that I’m not going to spoil anything… here.  If you’d like to read a more detailed, spoiler-filled version of this review head over to the goodreads version where I give those spoiler tags a run for their money.

Now that that’s out of the way…

~takes a deep breath~

Wow.  What a book.

The good:

  • Time travel and time slip plots can get hairy as far as sequence of events go, but Sotto keeps events mostly on the rails. (Caveats below.)  Each chapter starts by telling us which character we’re following, Andrea or Issac, and places them in time by date and/or age.  In the narrative we’re reminded which years are important, so even when the chronology jumps around we can keep things basically straight.
  • The cast is small so there aren’t too many people to keep track of.  We watch them all grow over time in strikingly realistic ways.
  • Yea for epistolary (ish) novels!
  • If you don’t know much about Issac Newton’s life you’ll find yourself going down delightful wikipedia rabbit holes out of curiosity.
  • Even when things are crazy, even when you’re yelling “What?” and “How?!” at the pages, you will be compelled to read on.
  • Do you need a cathartic cry?  I hope you need a cathartic cry.

The neither-good-nor-bad:

  • This is a novel with a romance, not a romance novel.  If you know what that means then you know what I mean.

The not-so-good:

  • Anachronisms, we haz them.  Spoken British English in 1666 sounds a bit too close to modern American speech for my liking.  There are others but they have to go in the spoiler-ful review.
  • The curse of working in medicine is finding medical goofs in novels.  Won’t bother everyone, I’m sure, but I had to put down the book and vent to my partner before continuing.
  • Events and sequencing get more complicated by the end and I have the feeling that if I looked I would find something that doesn’t check out.  Sotto earned just enough of my trust for me to gloss over inconsistencies, and man there are a lot of balls in the air, but the nagging feeling that something is wrong won’t go away.
  • The whole book stemmed from a plot bunny in a chest, and at times it feels like revisionist history. Andrea is can be seen as a wish-fulfillment Mary Sue – Newton was a great guy and never got married, so let’s go back and put a woman in his life!
  • An apple or gravity reference is cute once or twice but there are so. many. I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes.

In sum my reading experience went like this:

Beginning – Ooo, interesting!  Tell me more.
Third of the way through – I’m not sure I’m on board but I want to see how you manage this…
Halfway point – Hello, anachronism.
Middle-ish – I saw this coming but what the hell was that?!
Last few chapters – ~sob~ No, I’m fine, it’s just that… ~sob~
End – ~runs to write review posthaste~

Idol by Kristen Callihan (VIP #1)

30288788I found Killian drunk and sprawled out on my lawn like some lost prince. With the face of a god and the arrogance to match, the pest won’t leave. Sexy, charming, and just a little bit dirty, he’s slowly wearing me down, making me crave more.

He could be mine if I dare to claim him. Problem is, the world thinks he’s theirs. How do you keep an idol when everyone is intent on taking him away?

As lead singer for the biggest rock band in the world, I lived a life of dreams. It all fell apart with one fateful decision. Now everything is in shambles.

Until Liberty. She’s grouchy, a recluse —and kind of cute. Scratch that. When I get my hands on her, she is scorching hot and more addictive than all the fans who’ve screamed my name.

The world is clamoring for me to get back on stage, but I’m not willing to leave her. I’ve got to find a way to coax the hermit from her shell and keep her with me. Because, with Libby, everything has changed. Everything.

Review:

Just what I needed, right when I needed it.

The good:

  • This novel is comforting, which I wasn’t expecting from a rock star novel.  Both leads are getting over something that happened earlier in the novel and they help each other through it with friendship and a healthy dose of comfort food.
  • I love the characters as people.  The cast list is small so we really get to know the minor characters, and every now and then a nugget of casually dropped information hints at awesomeness in future books.

    Suddenly I remember that the press has called Jax a devil in an angel’s body, and Killian an angel disguised as the devil.

  • There are some nice insights, too.

    I’m comfortable, but I don’t feel sexy.  That’s the thing no one ever tells you.  Sexy can be both a weapon and a wall of defense.

  • Liberty is unabashedly feminist and calls people on their bullshit – it’s glorious.
  • The sexual tension starts right away but is kept in check for a long time.  Feel the slow burn.  Love the slow burn.
  • We see what Killian’s celebrity means to Liberty, and how it could totally derail the relationship if they let it.  It may be a “fantasy” romance but reality still checks in.
  • The band is getting back together and the changes this time around are explored and embraced.
  • …which is a long-winded way to say awesome characterization all around.

The not-so-good:

  • The plot is highly predictable. There’s also some time jumps in the last quarter that feel too short for all the stuff that happens.
  • The sense of place is lacking, with Callihan leaning on famous locales so we fill in the details ourselves.

Idol is a big, warm hug of a romance when I needed exactly that.  Brava.

Her Halloween Treat by Tiffany Reisz (Men at Work #1)

29095423It was a devastating dirty trick—Joey Silvia just found out her boyfriend of two years is married. What. A. Dick. Joey knows her best chance to get over one guy is to get under another. Of course, heading home to her family’s remote cabin in Oregon poses some challenges in the “available men” department…until she discovers this cabin comes with its own hot handyman!

Holy crap, Chris Steffensen. When did her brother’s best friend turn into a hard-bodied pile of blond-bearded hotness? He’s the perfect Halloween treat—and a surprisingly dirty rebound guy. For a couple of weeks, anyway. Except that Chris has other ideas…like proving to Joey that this blast from the past is a whole lot more than a naughty Halloween hookup.

Review:

Reisz is one of my go-to authors and she delivers again with this category romance. Categories are shorter romances that are part of a line, a niche that is dominated by Harlequin.  They tend to be shorter, rarely topping 250 pages, and the lack of real estate means the story is concentrated on the couple and their developing love story.  Wendy the Super Librarian does a great job explaining the appeal over at Heroes and Heartbreakers.  Personally I like that they’re conveniently packaged, perfect for when my brain has scattered to the winds. (2016 – good riddance.)

Shorter books are a natural fit for Reisz, who has a habit of breaking up anything over 300 pages into smaller chunks.  The plot is tight, the characters are fully realized, and the sex is oh-so-hot.  I love that there are LGBT characters whose past struggles and current joys ring true.  Sometimes categories give me emotional whiplash when a character’s development is cut short but Reisz has all the beats covered.  Joey acts more rashly than I would at times, but given her circumstances it’s completely understandable.

I also like that Joey’s best friend is real-world wise, not parent-y or moral authority-y wise.  Here’s Kira when Joey laments that the last two years of her life have gone “down the toilet”.

“Look, I know breakups are hard.  And they’re ten times harder when somebody lies or cheats.  I know.  I’ve been there.  But Ben was not your whole life. You have a job you love that you kick ass at… You have friends – me, for example – and what more do you need than me?  And you live in fucking Honolulu, Hawaii, so close to the beach you can see actual whales from your apartment window.  Can you really tell me that’s all down the toilet?  Really?  Go look.  Go look in the toilet and tell me if you see any whales in it.”

“Kira…”

“Go. Look. For. Whales. In. Your. Toilet. Right. Now.”

All in all a hot, satisfying, quick hit of romance from the incomparable Reisz.

Everything to Me by Simona Taylor

Synopsis:

ea3395979891cd8547b1a9b372a93606When she jets down to the Caribbean, Dakota Merrick doesn’t expect to spend the night with Trent Walker at his luxurious island hideaway. The bad blood between the music columnist and the ultra-charming jazz producer vanishes with their first kiss. Dakota’s enchanted by the erotic atmosphere of the world-class resort and the passionate music she and Trent are making together.

Trent knows he shouldn’t trust the ambitious reporter. But living out his most sensual fantasies with Dakota is a temptation no man can refuse. Until a breaking scandal threatens their tropical idyll. Will Dakota choose ambition over a future with him? Or can Trent find the right notes to play a love riff straight into her heart?

Review:

Starting off there is so much to like about this book, a romance that takes place in the author’s native Trinidad and Tobago.  Columnist Dakota is there to cover a huge jazz festival where several of Trent’s acts are performing.  When her hotel reservation goes up in smoke he offers her the second bedroom of his cabin at Rapture, the erotic resort he’s staying at (all the normal hotel rooms were booked, natch).  They have a contentious relationship – Dakota broke a story that nearly ruined the career of one of Trent’s starlets, Shanique.

This is all fine.  Things start to go south in the details.

The story Dakota broke is perfectly legit – Shanique’s voice started to go and instead of cancelling or postponing a few dates on her tour she lipsynced to a singer backstage a la Singin’ in the Rain.  That’s a big deal.  That’s a story.  No one can blame you for covering that.

That doesn’t stop Trent from being sore, and the couple has some spirited discussions over dinner, while walking, at the cabin… pretty much all the time.  I didn’t mind it because there’s a lot of emotional stuff for these two to get through if they’re ever going to be a couple.

But then Dakota stopped thinking like a journalist. Upon hearing a newly revitalized Shanique at the festival:

…her story had brought low such a talent, almost destroyed such a star.  She felt rotten.  The standard journalist excuse the people’s right to know, felt hollow and insubstantial.  She hadn’t written that story because of anyone’s right to know.  She’d written it because it would have been a shot in the arm for her career.

Um.  Shanique and her managers were duping people, giving them something other than what they paid for.  That’s a big deal.  People do have a right to know.

Later it becomes clear that Dakota got the story because she was sleeping with a source, one of Trent’s rivals.  And now that she’s with Trent she’s, you know, sleeping with another source.  The tiny shreds of respect I still had for Dakota died right there.

Near the end, due to spoilery things I won’t go into, Dakota makes a job switch that’s supposed to be a step down from columnist – editor of a new and upcoming music magazine.  But that’s a huge step up, making her responsible for many other people’s reporting.  She who has a shaky grasp of journalistic morals has become the guiding compass for an entire publication.  Nope.  Nopenope.

Other things irked but weren’t deal breakers, like having sex in a natural hot spring.  (Don’t do it people, or in hot tubs either.  There’s nasty stuff growing in there.)  I liked reading about the island of Tobago and what life is like there, and felt safe knowing that someone from there was telling the story.  But I just can’t get over the sleeping with sources (twice! with no remorse!) thing.

Grah.

It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Chicago Stars #1)

Synopsis:

6651365The Windy City isn’t quite ready for Phoebe Somerville—the outrageous, curvaceous New York knockout who has just inherited the Chicago Stars football team. And Phoebe is definitely not ready for the Stars’ head coach, former gridiron legend Dan Calebow, a sexist jock taskmaster with a one-track mind. Calebow is everything Phoebe abhors. And the sexy new boss is everything Dan despises—a meddling bimbo who doesn’t know a pigskin from a pitcher’s mound.

So why is Dan drawn to the shameless sexpot like a heat-seeking missile? And why does the coach’s good ol’ boy charm leave cosmopolitan Phoebe feeling awkward, tongue-tied…and ready to fight?

Review:

I can see why many people like this book but I have to wonder if it’s a generational thing. Is this one of those pre-enlightenment books I’ve heard about where the guy is an asshole, the girl is a pushover, and the plot is maddening?

Phoebe, a girl abused in her youth that has no real connections to her family, was left her father’s football team in his will. She gets to keep the team if, and only if, the league basement Chicago Stars make the AFC championships this year.

She decides the best thing to do is ignore the team completely as she knows nothing about football. Contracts need signing and she’s the only one with any legal authority, but hey, not her problem.

She finally comes around and decides to go to work. In the process she falls in love with the coach, Dan, for no reason I can possibly see. He’s quick to anger, crap at apologies, and seems to think fleeting good intentions make up for all his faults. The only person he is consistently nice to is Molly, Phoebe’s teenaged half sister, as he demands admiration above all else and she readily provides it.

Many passages made me downright mad.  Shall we have a sample?

A sprinkling of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, all well-dressed and prosperous looking, mingled with the crowd.

You know, instead of the shabby, poor looking minorities you’re used to. ~fume~

And in the waaaah? department:

He grinned as he pulled away from the curb. If the Russians had been smart, they’d have taken Phoebe’s radioactive body into account before they’d signed off on that nuclear proliferation agreement with the United States.

Does. not. compute.

So getting to the end of the novel was hard. While Phillips’ writing style is technically solid she leaves little for the reader to figure out herself. Even with all this explaining I find Phoebe’s emotional journey unrealistic.

Is this Old Skool?  Am I just missing something? If I didn’t need this book for a challenge I would have never made it to the end. GRAH.

Signs of Attraction by Laura Brown

Synopsis:

29863612Do you know what hearing loss sounds like? I do. All my life I’ve tried to be like you. I’ve failed.

So I keep it hidden.

But on the day my world crashed down around me, Reed was there. He showed me just how loud and vibrant silence can be, even when I struggled to understand. He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever known. His soulful eyes and strong hands pulled me in before I knew what was happening. And as I saw those hands sign, felt them sparking on me, I knew: imperfect could be perfect.

Reed makes me feel things I’ve never felt. It’s exciting…and terrifying. Because he sees me like no one else has, and I’m afraid of what he’ll find if he looks too closely.

The only thing that scares me more than being with him? Letting him go.

Review:

I jumped on this book when I heard it was written by an #ownvoices author. People writing about their own experience for the win!

The first half sucked me in and kept me reading late into the night. I loved watching Carli and Reed fall in love – they make an adorable couple. Reed introduces Carli to the Deaf world, something she never encountered as she grew up hard of hearing with hearing aids, and I cheered for them the entire way.

At around the fifty percent mark the story takes a turn that, if this were a fanfic, I’d call hurt/comfort. One of our pair needs some love to get through something awful, and the other person delivers. I was okay with it.

But then the whole conflict blows up. It goes from an ‘us vs them’ mentality to ‘me vs you’ within the couple, as well as ‘me vs myself’. All the information that gets added from that point on is angsty, from family dysfunction to fighting your own demons to anger at people from your past. Seriously, it’s a lot, and a sharp change from the generally amiable first half.

Props to Brown for writing true to her own experience – I would love to see her write more d/Deaf characters, and for there to be more in the genre as a whole. The medical stuff is done better than in many romances so that’s nice, too. I still have a couple of minor quibbles, but that’s the medical interpreter in me talking.

If you love heartrending stories you’ll be at home, but after the awesome beginning there was too much angst for me.


You may also enjoy:

27282629  Until Tomorrow by Annie Kelly

The Sari Shop Widow by Shobhan Bantwal

Synopsis:

6408205Since becoming a widow at age twenty-seven, Anjali Kapadia has devoted herself to transforming her parents’ sari shop into a chic boutique, brimming with exquisite jewelry and clothing. Now, ten years later, it stands out like a proud maharani amid Edison’s bustling Little India. But when Anjali learns the shop is on the brink of bankruptcy, she feels her world unraveling…

To the rescue comes Anjali’s wealthy, dictatorial Uncle Jeevan and his business partner, Rishi Shah — a mysterious Londoner, complete with British accent, cool gray eyes, and skin so fair it makes it hard to believe he’s Indian. For Anjali, he stirs something a powerful attraction she hasn’t felt in a decade. And the feeling is mutual…

Love disappointed Anjali once before and she’s vowed to live without it — though Rishi is slowly melting her resolve and, as the shop regains its footing, gaining her trust. But when a secret from Rishi’s past is revealed, Anjali must turn to her family and her strong cultural upbringing to guide her in finding the truth…

Review:

This book started off well enough but soon got bogged down in the characters’ heads. There’s one scene that you 1) see, 2) see again as the heroine muses over what happened, 3) see again as the hero muses over what happened. I just wanted to get back to the story.

The characterization bothered me, as well. Rishi starts off very happy not being married, and has trouble seeing himself getting married. His live-in girlfriend is just his speed. But then he goes back to England on business, breaks up with her, and starts wooing Anjali hardcore…? What made him all “I want a wife and kid NAO”?

Likewise, Anjali is shown as someone who hasn’t completely gotten over her husband’s untimely death. Totally fair – it’s something she’ll never get over completely. But no one helps her get through the last bit of grief, or walks with her as she faces why, exactly, she has trouble moving on. The only argument she hears is, “It’s been years, it’s time.” That doesn’t really help.

Chekhov’s gun makes a literal appearance – shown once, mentioned afterwards once, never used. Le sigh. So while the family dynamics and depiction of Indian-American culture are nice the book left me with a big “enh”.

Whatever You Like by Maureen Smith (Brand Clan #1)

Synopsis:

9068545By day, Lena Morrison is an ambitious grant writer. By night, she’s an escort to some of Chicago’s most successful men. Sex isn’t on the menu—Lena’s job is to provide her elite clients with comanionship and sparkling conversation. She enjoys the extra income, but even more, Lena loves the empowering feeling of being appreciated for her beauty and her brains.

When tycoon Roderick Brand hires Lena as his date for a private party, their electric attraction leads to the most erotic night of her life. Incredible as the experience is, she vows not to mix work and pleasure again. But Roderick is relentless. His irresistible proposal: three weeks fulfilling all his fantasies, in exchange for a million-dollar grant that will guarantee Lena a major promotion.

Lena can play that game. She’ll give him the hottest, wildest sex he’s ever had, then she’ll walk away, leaving him aching for more. But when it comes to desire, rules—and hearts— are easily broken. And the best-laid plans have a way of working out in ways neither could expect….

Review:

This book starts well enough – classy escort falls for a super sexy client who happens to be an energy magnate. Sparks fly, she manages to (mostly) stick to her principles, they have hot sex. All well and good… until they jet off to Tokyo.

I almost wailed, “Nooooo!” Japan is so hard to get right, and having lived here for the better part of a decade every mistake sticks out. And wow, there are a bunch. Flowers symbolizing death decorate their hotel room. One of the stickiest snacks ever is used as a “finger food”. Tea ceremony is done with plain ol’ sencha (simple green tea) and called an acquired taste (the correct tea is matcha). They take the bullet train for short hops around town, which is impossible because as a long distance train the stations are few and far between. Many-layered kimonos slip off with a shrug.

And then their whole relationship turns on one candid photo. GRAH! So while the beginning was okay this ended up a one star read for me. I feel kind of bad about it – if the trip to Japan was mentioned in the cover copy I wouldn’t have even picked it up. Ah, well.

 

Spice and Smoke by Suleikha Snyder (Bollywood Confidential #1)

Synopsis:

13447917To their adoring public, Avi Kumar and Trishna Chaudhury are Bollywood’s sweethearts. Behind closed doors, their open marriage lets them freely indulge in all manner of forbidden passions. The arrangement suits them both, but as they begin filming on the set of their new movie, the heat of new and rekindled flames singes the pages of what they thought would be a fresh script.

When costars Michael Gill and Harsh Mathur arrive on set, the sexual temperature goes up exponentially—at least for Trish. She can’t take her eyes off Harsh, for whom she’s carried a torch for years. Avi’s instant attraction to Michael, however, bounces off Michael’s solid wall of resistance.

Meanwhile, ex-boyfriends Vikram Malhotra and Sam Khanna, cast as fictional enemies, are finding it harder and harder to control the very real demons that once cost them the love of a lifetime.

Review:

Avi and Trishna are the darlings of Bollywood, a married couple that can do no wrong. Few know, however, that their marriage is an open one and that they both pine for someone else. While shooting their newest film they, and a bunch of other people, find that love and angst are forever intertwined.

The plot of this novella is, like the relationships, a bit tangled. Continue reading “Spice and Smoke by Suleikha Snyder (Bollywood Confidential #1)”

Until Tomorrow by Annie Kelly (Flirting with Trouble #2)

Synopsis:

27282629Carson Tucker only has one thing on her mind: getting her life back on track and pursuing her teaching career. She can’t afford to be distracted, yet no amount of good sense can compel her keep her mind—or eyes—off the brooding and mysterious Wyatt Sands. She agreed to be his tutor and help him finish his degree, but now she’s wishing she could inspire him in more ways than one…

He makes her want to break all the rules…

Still reeling from the tragic accident that took his best friend’s life and left him wheelchair-bound, all Wyatt Sands wants to do is forge ahead without any attachments. His solitary lifestyle works well until the after-hours sessions between him and his tutor turn hot and steamy. As the chemistry between them fuels a passion that is too electrifying to be denied, will Carson be able to break down the barriers that Wyatt has erected around himself—or will their fiery passion burn them both?

Review:

Like many romance readers I have trope catnip (marriage of convenience!  a bantering couple!) and trope poison (secret babies, Navy SEALs).  Until Tomorrow has none of my catnip… but none of my poison, either.  I was going to pass it by until I saw that Wyatt is in a wheelchair.  A hero that’s disabled, the rarest of the rare!  I’ll have some of that, please.

“But wait”, I can hear you say, “isn’t that guy on the cover standing?” Continue reading “Until Tomorrow by Annie Kelly (Flirting with Trouble #2)”