Dear Mr. Knightley – Katherine Reay

Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen.

DMK

I beg to differ, there was not a dash of Jane Austen in Dear Mr. Knightley it was more like the top fell off the salt shaker. I was terribly disappointed in Dear Mr. Knightley, I adore Jane Austen, the originals, retellings, modernizations what have you, even the cover tempted me. All of the components seemed to be present, truly I am still trying to figure out what went wrong with Katherine Reay’s story.

Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.

After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.

I have read a few epistolary formatted novels recently and I think part of my issue with Dear Mr. Knightley was plain overexposure. There is no contribution from Mr. Knightley to balance the constant barrage of Samantha or at least there wasn’t at the 20% point where I packed it in and called it a day. Samantha is withdrawn and isolated unsurprising considering she grew up in the foster care system. Her character was hard to sympathize with and the ridiculous quoting of novels was out of place in a contemporary setting and frankly jarring when attempting to follow the course of the story. I found her character next to impossible to like let alone empathize with and I just could not find it within myself to persevere.

Ultimately, I think it was the utter lack of a single relate-able Austenesque plot that compromised my ability to enjoy this novel. If the author had selected a one work and used that as the framework for the rest, the whole might have seemed more coherent. For example, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey both feature characters separated from their families and their progression from relative innocents to maturity. Northanger Abbey would have been particularly apt given Catherine Morland’s fascination with Gothic novels.

AUTHOR: Katherine Reay

RATING: DNF

GENRE: Fiction

Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher for an honest review. 

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Covert Assignment (Covert #1) – Missy Marciassa

CA

Elle is ready for graduation and full-fledged adulthood: no more living like the leftover of her parent’s divorce. She’s about to graduate with her degree in Information Science (the 21st century term for Library Science) and has a ten-year plan as well-designed as any model for analyzing metadata: earn her JD/MBA, enjoy a couple of years as a single professional, then marry her college sweetheart, Adam, and start her own family.

Eleanor Paquet returns from a less than satisfying holiday with her mother and stepfather to photos of her boyfriend with his lab partner in flagrante delicto. This not the last of the shocking news awaiting Elle, her lab assignment collecting and analyzing gaming data has in fact been part of a covert operation for the CIA.

CIA recruiters show up on campus, and they aren’t just interested in recruiting Elle for future employment: turns out she’s already working for them since they’re funding her thesis. Hot operative Preston Raddick is tasked to work with her. Preston isn’t just hot: he’s hot for Elle, but is he offering happy ever after or happy for right now? A fling with Preston could be the beginning of a new life plan, which is exciting and scary, especially with espionage thrown in. Elle needs a predictive model to tell her which decisions have the greater likelihood for happiness…

Preston Raddick, the field agent assigned to the op is way out of her league or is he? Before long Elle is fielding the attention of her quasi ex-boyfriend and her very attractive CIA liaison. Elle isn’t prepared to abandon her life plan i.e. marriage and children with the unreliable Adam regardless of the opinions of her friends nor is she able to fully commit to him either. Elle is faced with the difficult decision of picking the life she has had laid out for her or taking the road less traveled.

CA2In the days before he hit the big time as the director of feature films like Star Trek and Mission Impossible J.J. Abrams created the award winning television series Alias. Covert Assignment by Missy Marciassa could easily pass as Sydney Bristow‘s story before she came to work for the CIA. Like the character played by Jennifer Garner, over the course of the story Elle is transformed from graduate student to an adult making adult choices and living with the consequences of those actions. Covert Assignment was a light and entertaining beginning to a series and I am looking forward to seeing what is next for Elle in Covert Interview.

AUTHOR: Missy Marciassa

RATING: 3 1/2 Stars

GENRE: New Adult/Romance

Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Into the Storm – Melanie Moreland

Into the Storm by Melanie Moreland features an agoraphobic author who finds his entire world is changed after he rescues an injured woman when her car crashes into a tree on his property. Joshua Bennett is a recluse his only companion is his large breed dog Bear, while preparing his rural Ontario property for the ensuing storm, he finds the car door open to the elements and the driver inside insensible and bleeding. Fleeing an abusive relationship, she regains consciousness with no idea who she is and how she came to be there.

Into the Storm-frontMelanie Moreland captivated me in her strange yet effective inversion of Stephen King’s Misery. In what I found to be a refreshing departure from the norm, Into the Storm is set in Ontario. It was particularly fitting to be reading this as winter arrived and how last weekend shutting down the very highway Ms Moreland referred to in her novel.

Trapped by the storm and isolated from the outside world, they slowly open up, learning to trust and love, until the world once again shows up, threatening the fragile peace of their newly discovered world, and tearing them apart.

A literal hermit, Joshua has not left his property in years due to crippling agoraphobia the result of a brutal attack that almost killed him. He is unwillingly captivated by his uninvited guest, whose timid demeanor leads him to nickname her “Rabbit”. Rabbit slowly and inexorably works her way into this hardened man’s defenses but how long will their ideal last before the real world intrudes.

For the most part I was impressed and entertained by Into the Storm, Moreland hit all her marks in creating an interesting, compelling romantic thriller. As such I expect she will do well in her future work. Into the Storm had the flaws that one would expect in a debut, which it was. For the first two thirds of the book the story moved at a brisk pace easily sidestepping an over abundance of detail that would just bog things down. What was problematic for me was the last third of the story, once “Rabbit’s” identity was revealed and we revisit her life before the storm. Quite simply the conflict was over complicated and the ending was painfully long almost like the “mini-movie” at the conclusion of Speed. The HEA was lovely but personally I could have done with a little less detail that being said I did enjoy Into the Storm and would definitely read more by this author in the future.

AUTHOR: Melanie Moreland

RATING: 3 1/2 Stars

GENRE: Romantic Suspense

Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Danger! Will Robinson, Covet – Tracey Garvis Graves

What if the life you wanted, and the woman you fell in love with, belonged to someone else?

Covet

Let me say before I continue with my review that I find adultery and infidelity personally abhorrent but as I read Covet, the circumstances that Claire and Daniel find themselves in are all too plausible. In fact, I began to ponder the question simple as it may seem, what is worse an emotional or physical affair? It’s a slippery slope from one seemingly innocent step to the next.

coverChris and Claire Canton’s marriage is on life support. Downsized during the recession and out of work for a year, Chris copes by retreating to a dark place where no one can reach him, not even Claire. When he’s offered a position that will keep him away from home four nights a week, he dismisses Claire’s concern that time apart could be the one thing their fragile union can’t weather. 

Local police officer Daniel Rush used to have it all, but now he goes home to an empty house every night. When Claire is hired to do some graphic design work for the police department, her friendship with Daniel grows, and soon they’re spending hours together.

I read and loved Tracey Garvis Graves bestselling novel On the Island. I found the subject matter compelling, even if I did feel that ultimately she pulled her punch in having Anna and T.J. quite unrealistically wait literally years to consummate their union, seemingly until it was more socially acceptable considering the vast age difference between the characters. Then after reading Uncharted I suspected that Garvis Graves success was a perfect example of the one hit wonder, although it was a reasonably entertaining story the purpose seemed lacking other than an opportunity to revisit Anna and T.J.

However, Covet convinced me that Tracey Garvis Graves is a talented storyteller capable of capturing and holding the readers interest in a challenging and competitive marketplace. I only had one issue with Covet, but it was a significant one. The author clearly wishes to depict controversial subject matter in her work for which I applaud her. Nonetheless I believe that her stories would transcend from entertaining albeit somewhat trite novels to something truly remarkable if she would only have her characters take that next step to that place that is not so easily defended and perhaps not quite as morally acceptable.

AUTHOR: Tracey Garvis Graves

RATING: 3 1/2 Stars

GENRE: Contemporary Women’s Fiction

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/enlightened-living/200809/emotional-infidelity

Deja View? Seducing Simon – Maya Banks

SS I think I may be having the equivalent to a literary mid-life crisis. Either that or I am insane, at least according to Einstein’s  definition I am, because I keep reading books by Maya Banks and therefore must be expecting a different outcome rather than outrage and frustration. Yet that seems to be the most common reaction I have after reading her novels. Actually if anything I am becoming more enraged with each story I read, Seducing Simon was no exception.

Insanitydoing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – Albert Einstein

Maya Banks is very prolific so there must be something in her writing that is drawing “us” in although what it is defies me. Having an inquiring mind I feel like I should be able to identify what the secret to her success is and thus this posting.

One fateful night, Toni Langston seduces her best friend, the guy she’s been in love with forever. Two problems-he doesn’t remember a thing that happened and now she’s pregnant. Toni is devastated and humiliated when, in the heat of the moment, he calls her by his girlfriend’s name. The next morning, Simon remembers nothing of the previous night and Toni is only too relieved not to remind him. Two months later, she discovers she’s pregnant. She wants Simon to love her, apart from any obligation he might feel because of the baby.

In a very “Friends” type arrangement, Toni lives with her brother and two of his firefighter coworkers. Their ideal is shattered when roommate A.J. drops his watch in the wastepaper basket in the washroom and comes across a positive pregnancy test while searching for the offending time piece. The core plot is actually right out of 2001’s Friends season eight story arc when the group discovers someone is pregnant, in much the same manner if I remember correctly. Hi-jinx ensue and it is revealed that it is not in fact Monica who is pregnant but Rachel and the father is none other than Ross. Substitute Toni for Rachel and Simple Simon (as I dubbed him) for Ross and you will get the gist of things.

As much as I love the friends to lovers plot-line, I can only read or listen to, in this case, a finite number of agonizing passages from both sides bemoaning the threat to the relationship that becoming romantically involved poses before I want to start screaming. This in and of itself really didn’t compromise the integrity of the story but it was just one of the many transgressions made by this author in what was as a whole an overwrought heavy handed audio-book.

Toni has been hung up on Simon for years, a situation that seemed hopeless. That is until he comes home drunk after intending to surprise his girlfriend, and instead he gets the surprise finding her bed with another man. She seizes the opportunity to show the object of her affection how she feels. Perhaps naively Toni is shocked when Simon drunkenly calls her by his now ex-girlfriend’s name before passing out. Justifiably humiliated she retreats and is relieved when Simon awakens with no memories of the prior evenings events.

My sympathies were firmly on the side of Team Toni, that is until she revealed that she suffered from an incurable malady I affectionately call “stupid heroine syndrome“. Simon was only marginally better, thus my nickname of Simple Simon. The news of Toni’s pregnancy shocks her brother and roommates, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at her later actions considering her initial plan of action was to leave her family home to live alone, ostensibly to hide her pregnancy as long as possible, even though she had only a part time job and no real means to support herself and her baby.

I initially and rather unkindly (I admit) scoffed at the fact that Toni was still a virgin at the seemingly advanced age of 25. That is until I took it upon myself to do some research and came across a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics and found a sexual behavior survey conducted between the years of 2006 and 2008 stated that 29% of females aged 15-24 reported that they had not engaged in sexual practices involving intercourse. Now as to why Toni wouldn’t have thought to use a condom is a discussion for another day.

Just as her brother and roommates are adjusting to the upcoming change in their living arrangements another firefighter from their station asks Toni out. An occurrence that discomfits Simon greatly. By confessing her predicament to Mike it is possibly the only act within the whole story where Toni shows a modicum of sense. Deciding a relationship is out of the question Mike conspires with Toni to seduce Simon. The plan, in short, was pretend to date Mike, dress seductively and touch Simon a lot to which he reacted in an appropriately male fashion. I won’t sport with your sensibilities by going into detail.

In an incomprehensibly stupid act, at least to me, Toni decides to play flag football with the firemen and of course she is knocked down. When she starts spotting, instead of immediately seeking medical assistance like any sane woman, she opts to go home. Once I managed to close my mouth I immediately googled the author to see if she was a mother as the only reason I could conceive of that she would write something so ridiculous would be out of plain ignorance. I then audited my friends who are mothers to see if the idea of spotting was as terrifying to them as it was to me. The response was unilaterally “Go directly to the doctor, do not pass GO, do not collect $200!” Only one hedged that if the child was unwanted perhaps the answer would be different but Toni maintained throughout the novel that she loved her baby despite the stupidity of her actions surrounding its conception.

Once her “plan” to seduce Simon began to, excuse the pun, bear fruit did she confess that he was the father of her child? No, of course not. Opportunity after opportunity arose for Toni to come clean and instead she would continue to choose the stupidest course of actions possible from those that mildly endangered her unborn child, overworking herself and not eating properly to those that were wildly risky driving home in the middle of the night during a freak ice storm. Perhaps her actions would be more selfless if the father of her child was an uninterested, unemployed scumbag. However Simon, even before realizing that he was going to be a father, stepped into the role repeatedly offering to accompany Toni to her appointments and even rubbing her feet!

Toni was without a question one of the stupidest, most selfish heroines I have ever had the misfortune to read about. I debated and have concluded that Seducing Simon defies rating. Save your sympathies though because in my opinion I don’t deserve them since I decided to follow this up by listening to Colter’s Woman by Maya Banks. A story that features not one, not two but three brothers who are looking for ONE woman to share their lives with. Cue the banjos now, or am I the only one who is having visions of Deliverance?

Searching for Someday (Searching For #1) – Jennifer Probst

SearchingKate has sworn off dating, not that she hasn’t given it a good college try. After one hundred failed dates looking for Mr. Right and on more than one occasion surrendering her potential life partner to their “soul mate” literally mid-date, she feels deserving of a break. Besides she doesn’t need another man in her life when she has Robert, her special needs canine.

In charming Verily, New York, Kate Seymour has a smashing success with Kinnections, the matchmaking service she owns with her two best girlfriends.

But Kate’s more than a savvy businesswoman: She’s gifted with a secret power, a jolting touch that signals when love’s magic is at work. It rocked her when she picked up a strange volume of love spells in the town’s used bookstore . . . and it zapped her again when she encountered Slade Montgomery, the hot-tempered—and hot-bodied— divorce lawyer who storms into Kinnections demanding proof that playing Cupid won’t destroy his vulnerable sister, Kate’s newest client.

The only way to convince this cynic that she’s no fraud, and that love is no mirage, is for Kate to meet his audacious challenge: find him his dream woman. Can Kate keep their relationship strictly business when her electrifying attraction nearly knocked her off her feet? Or has the matchmaker finally met her match?

Slade doesn’t believe in love, he sees evidence of its fragility everyday in his work as a litigator. When his emotionally vulnerable sister decides that she is not only moving out but signing up with a matchmaking agency. Slade feels he has no choice but to thwart her plans anyway he can.

Icy blonde Kate couldn’t be more different than Slade’s celebrity crush Zooey Deschanel but generations of women in Kate’s family have been blessed/cursed with the ability to recognize their one and only true love. Fate be damned Kate refuses to accept that someone so seemingly unsuitable could be her soul-mate that is until he kisses her.

“I don’t negotiate with terrorists, Mr. Montgomery. This includes bullying divorce lawyers who think their God.”

Robert (1)Jennifer Probst meticulously created an electric believable connection between Kate and Slade. The by-play between these characters was intelligent and witty, the supporting characters were intriguing and layered within this straightforward romance is the unwavering belief in love’s ability to prevail, be it within families, friends or even with your pet. Searching for Someday was my first foray into Ms Probst’s writing but it won’t be my last.

AUTHOR: Jennifer Probst

RATING: 3 1/2 Stars

GENRE: Romance

Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Sia – Josh Grayson

Sia-cover200x299Josh Grayson’s Sia is a nice story, an unpretentious fantasy that is part Clueless and part Mean Girls. A teenaged girl awakens on a park bench dressed in running gear with an iPod playlist as her only clue to her identity. Fearful and disoriented she is almost immediately accosted by sexual predator and narrowly escapes forced prostitution by leaping from a moving car. A kind homeless woman comes upon Sia cold and shivering that evening and shows her how to survive on the streets. When a volunteer recognizes her she is abruptly thrust back into a life she doesn’t remember surrounded by shallow cruel people.

When seventeen-year-old Sia wakes up on a park bench, she has no idea who or where she is. Yet after a week of being homeless, she’s reunited with her family. At school, she’s powerful and popular. At home, she’s wealthy beyond her dreams. But she quickly realizes her perfect life is a lie. Her family is falling apart and her friends are snobby, cruel and plastic. Worse yet, she discovers she was the cruelest one. Mortified by her past, she embarks on a journey of redemption and falls for Kyle, the “geek” she once tormented. Yet all the time she wonders if, when her memories return, she’ll become the bully she was before…and if she’ll lose Kyle.

Pollyanna (1960 film)
Pollyanna (1960 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will admit at times Sia’s “Pollyanna” type naivety seemed discordant with the behavior of your typical contemporary teenager. However, would someone whose core values were decent, stripped of all prejudicial influences, not be drastically changed by the experience of living on the streets? I scoffed at Sia’s immediate rejection of seeking assistance from the police upon awakening but in interest of moving the plot forward I was willing to suspend disbelief somewhat and chalk it up to disorientation. Ultimately, even if Sia’s actions were idealized and the situations that she faced somewhat conveniently resolved. The reader should take into account the author’s objective, which was to write an uplifting “feel good” story with a positive message, in my opinion he has succeeded admirably.

AUTHOR: Josh Grayson

RATING: 3 Stars

GENRE: Romance/YA

Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.