15 August 2017

Cupid's Coffeeshop: Books 1-4 by Courtney Hunt

Cupid's Coffeeshop Set One: Boxed Set (Cupid's Coffeeshop #1-4)Cupid's Coffeeshop Set One: Boxed Set by Courtney Hunt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

**Free copy provided by author in exchange for honest review**

This novella collection contains the first four books of a series about the romances that start in a once-popular coffeeshop owned by estranged family members who are trying to return it to profitability. Zooey, her brother Patrick, and their cousin Joe have one year to make the coffee shop a success, so the series has 12 romances. This setup means that the couplings are of the whirlwind variety, which fits the novella format.

Everything from the covers to the tone at the start of each novella screams "sweet contemporary romance", which is why I was surprised when the sex showed up. It's not as vulgar as some straight-up erotica, but it isn't behind closed doors, either. Without the sex scenes, there might have been more room in the word count for building the relationships. The only story out of the four that had an abbreviated sex scene was Cherry Blossom Cappucino, which is a romance between two 70-year-olds. As an older woman myself, I'm not sure whether I should be offended that the author decided readers didn't want to read about two old folks gettin' it on, especially since I felt like the other novellas could have benefitted from that abbreviated approach.

Overall, I thought the stories were cute. I read something that said fans of Gilmore Girls might like this, but I don't think this series quite nails the quirky small-town vibe. Still, it is a nice collection of light romances to have on your bedside table for those times when you want something quick to read in between more intense novels.

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11 August 2017

Sexsomnia: Sleepless in Manhattan by Anya Omah

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Romance
Format: Free digital ARC from NetGalley
Publication date: May 2017
Heat level: Hot

Sexsomnia: Sleepless in Manhattan by Anya Omah is a contemporary romance novel that, from what I understand, fits squarely in the "billionaire alpha" subgenre. The alpha in question is Jayden King, a man who made his money as an owner of hotels and nightclubs. His status and his good looks have made him a desirable bachelor, and he has taken advantage of that fact so often that now he is bored with women and partying. He has turned the full force of his attention to expanding his business and he needs a good personal assistant to handle the many details. One applicant, Abigail Davis, seems perfect -- except they get off on the wrong foot with each other when they first meet. She tells him in no uncertain terms what he can do with his job, but instead of getting angry, Jayden becomes intrigued by Abigail and the chase is on.

Faithful readers of this blog know that I do something of an "auntie test" with the titles I review: can you hand this book to your aunt/grandma/neighbor lady without blushing? I would say, dear reader, that this book is best saved for the girlfriends you share champagne brunch with. The F-word and other sexual terms that some might find crude are used with abandon and the sex scenes (of which there are several) are definitely not behind closed doors.

My biggest issue with this book is that I didn't like Jayden, our hero. I've heard discussions among romance readers where they talk about alpha heroes who are "broken" and their brokenness makes them misbehave, but since I read mostly Christian historical romances I've never run into that archetype. Jayden was a jerk who acted like Abigail was a toy to be owned and that he didn't want anyone else to play with. Right up until the end I want him to suffer just a bit more for his bad behavior.

I had difficulty thinking of this as a romance, even though that is how it is categorized on Goodreads, NetGalley, and Amazon. Jayden and Abigail never really got to know each other. He decided after one meeting that he needed to own her. To her credit, Abigail showed more restraint, but there still weren't any scenes of them getting acquainted or even having a dinner that didn't end up with them tearing their clothes off before they even took a bite of food. They shared some secrets with each other towards the end but it didn't feel like enough to me.

One positive element was Abigail's strength. The story is told in alternating first-person perspective, and in Abigail's chapters we get to hear her inner fears but then she gives herself a pep talk and presents a strong front. Early on in the book, she calls Jayden out for flirting with her during a job interview:

"You know what, Mr. King? I actually do have a request. Stop flirting with me. I thought you were here to convince me to take the job, not to get me to go out with you. Anyway, you've got the wrong girl for this macho-man shtick of yours."

Throughout the book, there are instances where she stands firm when I expect her to give in to Jayden's power trip. There are also scenes where she shows that she genuinely is a smart woman who is good at her job. Wanting to know what Abigail would do and say next is what kept me reading.

I also felt that the author treated the sleep disorder and the therapy sessions with respect. With a disorder that centers around sex, it could have been easy to exploit it for kinky purposes. Instead, it is discussed seriously and represented as a hardship for the sufferer.

I gave Sexsomnia: Sleepless in Manhattan two stars on Goodreads and three stars, which represent "it's OK" on each service. The novel was well written and I don't feel like I wasted my time reading it, but I would say that it is geared more towards those who want to get their rocks off than someone looking for a romantic tale.

There is no affiliate link in this post, but you can find the book on Amazon and even read it free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

08 August 2017

The Cherry Cola Book Club by Ashton Lee

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: General fiction, possibly women's fiction
Format: Digital audio book checked out from my local library via Overdrive
Read by: Marguerite Gavin
Publication date: April 2013
Heat level: none

Disclaimer: There is an affiliate link for Book Depository at the bottom of this review. If you click through and buy this book or any other book, it would help me out financially. Thanks!

Isn't the cover of this book lovely? I must admit that I added the book to my library wish list based on the title and the cover alone. Anyway . . .

The Cherry Cola Book Club by Ashton Lee is the story of a failing library in Cherico, MS. The head librarian is Maura Beth Mayhew. She got the job right after receiving her library science degree and she is determined to make a go of it, despite the City Council's desire to shut the library down and redirect its pitiful budget towards building an industrial park. In an effort to remind the residents of the library's benefits, Maura Beth starts the Cherry Cola Book Club. Will the book club help Maura Beth save the library and her job?

Although the term "cozy" in the book world usually refers to a type of mystery novel, I think it fits this book well. Nothing violent or too shocking happens to anyone and the only sexual content is so far behind closed doors that you could hand this book to your grandmother without blushing. Because of this, some readers may find the story too slow. It took a while to get to the first book club meeting and the author did bang the drum a bit too much about the benefits of the public library. Perhaps there is someone out there who needs to be reminded of the library's importance to the community, but as a reader who gets at least 95% of her reading material from the local library, I felt like Lee's efforts were lost on me.

Perhaps my sexism or limited education is showing, but I was surprised to find that the author, Ashton Lee, is male. I'm not accustomed to reading this style of fiction written by men. This is an accessible comfort-food sort of book. I would call it women's fiction, but it isn't that highbrow or literary and I'm not sure that Maura Beth, our heroine, goes through that much emotional growth. I would be more likely to recommend to a female friend than a male friend, though, and that is the target for women's fiction.

The very traits that may turn some readers away from this book may attract other readers. I didn't realize until I was halfway through the novel that this is the first book in an ongoing series. For that reason, I can excuse all the character bonding that didn't seem to go anywhere; it was all part of getting the reader to care about the characters so they will want to pick up the next book. I did enjoy reading about small-town life and characters of all different ages. Also, the scenes describing the book club meeting towards the end of the novel moved me enough to add another star to my rating of the book.

Since I did experience this in audio form, I would like to add a word about the narrator, Marguerite Gavin. It is difficult for me to listen to actors doing southern accents because a lot of times there are exaggerated. However, Gavin did a very good job with both the male and female characters. She has recorded over 400 books across a variety of genres, so chances are if you listen to audio books you may have already heard her.

I would say that The Cherry Cola Book Club feels like the first episode of a family TV show of yore. There is a little excitement -- not enough to shock you, but just enough to make you want to pick up the next episode (book) and find out how Maura Beth and her friends are getting on.

The Cherry Cola Book Club on Overdrive
The Cherry Cola Book Club on Book Depository

05 August 2017

Dumpling Cats by Sarah Sloyer

Format: Digital ARC received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Publication date: 14 Jun 2017

Disclaimer: There are affiliate links at the end of this review. If you click through and buy something (not just this book, but whatever you want), it will help my bottom line. Thanks!

The subtitle of this pattern book (Crochet and Collect Them All!) shows the author's inspiration. Neko Atsume is a popular mobile game from Japan that involves attracting cats to your yard in order to collect them, and the chubby little amigurumi characters bear a striking resemblance to the cats in the game. You don't have to be a fan of the game to fall in love with these Dumpling Cats, though. Making stuffed items can be addictive!

I haven't made any of these patterns, but based on my experience in reading crochet patterns I would say this book is pretty straightforward. There are patterns for 25 cats plus patterns for a few accessories like a cat bed. Each cat has a name and a short blurb describing its personality. The patterns are written clearly and each one has several photos showing steps in the construction process. There are a few intermediate patterns in the book, but the majority of them are labeled easy. If you have any experience making amigurumi at all, these patterns will be a breeze for you. Several of the patterns seem to build on others, like a cat with a fish tail, so that should help if you decide to make the entire collection.

Whether you want to make a cat to give to your child, to decorate your desk, or to stuff with a bell and give to your real live cat to play with, Dumpling Cats gives you several cute options to choose from.

Dumpling Cats at Book Depository
Dumpling Cats at Amazon

04 August 2017

Review: Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Christian historical romance
Format: Free digital ARC via NetGalley, offered in exchange for an honest review
Publication date: 01 Jul 2017
Heat level: None

Disclaimer: There is a Book Depository affiliate link at the bottom of this post. If you decide to buy your book through this link, it would really help my bank balance. Thanks!

The full title of this book is Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection: Nine Stories of Poverty and Opulence During the Gilded Age, and that mouthful gives the reader a good idea what she is getting. For those not familiar with the term "Gilded Age", it refers to the 25-year-period of US history (give or take a few years) following the American Civil War that is characterized by the extremes of booming economic growth and widespread social injustice. These novellas take the reader back to the days when inventions like the railroad and the automobile were new and exciting, but there were also people trying to escape poverty and disease.

I've mentioned in the past on this blog that I am a fan of Barbour Books' novella collections, and this one lives up to the standard of the others that I have read. The Gilded Age is one of my favorite eras for historical romance, and these stories didn't disappoint me. There were a few stories that I wished were fleshed out more, but only because I enjoyed the characters and premise so much that I wanted to spend more time with them.

As I have come to expect from Barbour Books, there is nothing in this collection (such as sexual content or violence) that would make me hesitate to hand it to a conservative relative. Some romance fans object to stories where the heroes are overly macho or where the main couple seems to fall in love instantly, but there isn't any of that in these stories, either. I don't think secular readers would find the Christian content intrusive.

Picking a favorite story from the collection was impossible because there were several that appealed to me. Even though I am not a sports fan, I enjoyed the fact that "The Right Pitch" was centered around a female baseball team. "Win, Place, or Show", a story about a socialite falling in love with her riding instructor, was written well enough to make me forget it was a novella; nothing felt rushed or left out. "The Gardener's Daughter" was an intriguing story about a resort town caught up in a trend of intellectual self-improvement that made me wish that the author had been given a few more pages.

A novella collection like this is good to have on hand for those times when you want to start and finish a romance in an afternoon. If you've had your fill of Regency romance and want a different setting, give Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection a try.

Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection on Overdrive
Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection on Book Depository

07 July 2017

Friday Reads, 07 Jul 2017

Although I have been reading this week, there hasn't been much of note. I've been dipping in and out of books on Kindle Unlimited, trying to decide if it is worth keeping the subscription after my free trial ends. I've seen a few titles that I would like to read in the future, but frankly, my budget is so tight right now that even $10/month makes a difference. There are so many titles on my TBR that are available at my local library that paying for a book service seems irresponsible. I guess I made up my mind, didn't I?

I have three books on the go:

Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection: Nine Stories of Poverty and Opulence During the Gilded Age   Of Rags and Riches is a novella collection and it is also an ARC for a book that was published a week ago. You know how I feel about letting ARCs languish on my TBR, so I will be rushing to finish that one.

Whiskey Sour (Jack Daniels Mystery, #1)  I had every intention of abandoning Whiskey Sour because mysteries and thrillers are not really my thing. However, I got far enough along in the book that the story keeps popping back up in my head. The same thing happens when I watch a TV show or movie. Even if the show is awful, there is usually a point-of-no-return where I have watched too much to abandon the story easily; I have to know how it ends.

Then We Came to the End I was excited when I received my paperback copy of Then We Came to the End, but after reading only a few pages I could tell that I would have to push myself to finish it. I will definitely read it because the publisher sent me a free copy, but so far I have the impression that this is one of those books where nothing really happens. It will be difficult to get through 300+ pages of observations without action.

You may have noticed that I am not particularly enthusiastic about any of these books. They are all well-written, but they have that sense of obligation hanging over them that makes the contrarian in me push them away. I don't want my reading life to be like exercise -- something I do because I should but I don't get any enjoyment out of it. It has been a while since I lost myself in the world that a book has created. I want to feel that again. Maybe with the next book.