Publisher: Berkley

The Marriage Game by Sara Desai | Book Review

Posted June 26, 2020 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Book Review / 0 Comments

The Marriage Game by Sara Desai | Book ReviewThe Marriage Game by Sara Desai
Published by Berkley on June 9, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Contemporary Romance, Romance
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher (Netgalley)
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3 Stars

A high stakes wager pits an aspiring entrepreneur against a ruthless CEO in this sexy romantic comedy.

After her life falls apart, recruitment consultant Layla Patel returns home to her family in San Francisco. But in the eyes of her father, who runs a Michelin starred restaurant, she can do no wrong. He would do anything to see her smile again. With the best intentions in mind, he offers her the office upstairs to start her new business and creates a profile on an online dating site to find her a man. She doesn’t know he’s arranged a series of blind dates until the first one comes knocking on her door…

As CEO of a corporate downsizing company Sam Mehta is more used to conflict than calm. In search of a quiet new office, he finds the perfect space above a cozy Indian restaurant that smells like home. But when communication goes awry, he's forced to share his space with the owner's beautiful yet infuriating daughter Layla, her crazy family, and a parade of hopeful suitors, all of whom threaten to disrupt his carefully ordered life.

As they face off in close quarters, the sarcasm and sparks fly. But when the battle for the office becomes a battle of the heart, Sam and Layla have to decide if this is love or just a game.

Today I’m posting my book review of The Marriage Game by Sara Desai as part of the official blog tour hosted by Berkley! The synopsis sold me early on, and I was even more eager to jump in and read this diverse, sexy, romantic comedy as soon as I laid my eyes on that beautiful cover! As always, my main points are bolded.

1. First off, I loved the pieces of Indian culture throughout the story. There was so much talk of food, especially, which is always a plus for me. I also found the practice of arranged marriages fascinating. It’s not like I’d never heard of this concept before, but Sara Desai explained it and outlined it in a way that made sense to me in a way it hadn’t before.

2. The humor was spot on, and the banter between Layla and Sam as they duke it out for ownership of their shared office was my favorite part of the book. 

3. Layla was a very fun character to read about! She’s confident and really loves herself. She’s also got big dreams and isn’t afraid to try hard things, even when she’s just been knocked down a peg or two.

4. I loved Layla’s family, but especially her dad. He’s adorable. In an effort to heal her heart, he sets up a secret online dating profile for her and then spends who knows how long surfing through hundreds of profiles and curating a list of 10 men for her that he approves of. He even set up all the meetings with them. What a sweet, caring dad! I mean… I suppose it was a total overstep, but I could see how much he cared and that warmed my heart.

5. Sam’s great, too. He’s got quite a back story that involves some darker issues and a lot of guilt on his part. I loved reading as he worked through these past experiences and it gave me a better understanding of why he was the way he was. His master plan was to get Layla married off so he would win the office by default, so he accompanies her on all these dates to try and make things happen. But he hates all of the guys and his conscience can’t handle talking her into dating any of them. lol.

6. And seriously. Some of these dates and the men on them were hilarious. 

7. The romance was sweet and slow-burning, just like I like them to be. I’ve always been a fan of enemies to lovers romances as well, and this one is a fiery one for sure!

All in all, this was lovely! I really enjoyed reading about a culture I’m not at all familia with, and such memorable and fun characters. I’ll be keeping my eye on Sara Desai!

3 Stars

Beach Read by Emily Henry | Book Review

Posted May 13, 2020 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Book Review / 12 Comments

Beach Read by Emily Henry | Book ReviewBeach Read by Emily Henry
Published by Berkley on May 19, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher (Netgalley)
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2 Stars

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They're polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they're living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer's block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She'll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he'll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

Who doesn’t love a good beach read? This cute summery cover, the fun title, and the unique synopsis had me reaching for some fun, swoony romantic comedy in the sun. While this was a fun book, unfortunately it wasn’t as fun and swoony as I had hoped. As always, my main points are bolded.

1. The first thing I think of when I think about Beach Read is that it’s a lot heavier than I expected. I was expecting a light, fluffy storyline with two authors throwing their witty banter back and forth, all while the summer sun blazes down on them as the waves crash against the shore outside their beach houses. This was not that. We learn immediately that January is reeling from the death of her secret-keeping father. The beach house is the house he owned with his mistress. January finds out about this mistress (whom he was spending time with while his wife, and January’s mom, was at home going through chemotherapy) at her father’s funeral, when said mistress hands her a key, a note, and a teary smile. Holy heavy. That’s a lot to grapple with. While struggling with the worst case of writer’s block ever (because what even is love anymore?), she’s living in his home cleaning out his and his mistress’s things and preparing to sell it. Gus is also carrying a lot of his own baggage. Both characters go through a lot of emotional ups and downs. This book also didn’t feel summery to me. Yes, it’s hot and sticky during the day but no beach stuff really happens. The rom-com field trips that January takes Gus on are highly overshadowed by Gus’s death cult excursions and their own personal demons. The evenings and mornings are cold and damp. I just didn’t get the warm fuzzy feelings I had hoped for with this title.

2. On the flip side, when Beach Read chooses to be a rom-com, it does such a good job! January and Gus have this awesome chemistry. They pick at each other and push each other’s buttons, and the sexual tension is totally there. They spend their days sitting in their own kitchens, which are mirror images of each other, working on their books. If they look up from their laptops they can see each other, through the windows, sitting at their kitchen tables. Even though they both have phones, they choose to communicate by writing notes to each other with sharpies on their notebooks and then holding them up and waiting for the other person to look up and read them. Some of these notes are funny, some are flirty, and some are motivational. This was my favorite part of their relationship, and the book. I thought it was really cute.

3. I didn’t love the execution of January (the romance writer) writing literary fiction and Gus (the literary fiction writer) writing romance. Maybe I didn’t like this because I hate it when my favorite authors make a disappointing genre jump, thereby writing a book that holds absolutely no interest for me. The tidbits of both January’s and Gus’s novels sounded kind of crummy to me. lol. Her literary fiction novel ends up being about a circus, and his romance novels ends up being about a death cult (don’t worry, this is not a spoiler). I would have ZERO interest in both of these books, and I have a hard time believing that this was a good career move for either of them. All for a silly bet. Honestly, I wish this part had been left out. It would have been fine if they’d both just had writer’s block and tagged along on each other’s research trips just for fun.

4. I liked the supporting characters better than the main characters. January’s best friend, Shadi, was my favorite character in the book. She seems like such a sweet, supportive, loving best friend. Throughout the story, a romance is budding in her life, and I loved reading about it. There’s also Gus’s aunt Pete who owns the book store and the coffee shop. Pete is hilarious. January’s publicist, Anya, is a treat and I’d love to read a book about her. Her emails checking in on January’s writing progress were so much fun. She’s got quite a personality.

5. Unfortunately, I never really connected with January or Gus. I liked them, and I felt bad for their heartaches and personal struggles, but I never felt connected to or invested in them. I think that’s why I struggled to get through this book. I’m a very character-driven reader, so not being able to connect with either main character was very hard for me.

6. I did like all the writer stuff. The advance reader copies, the writing process, the writer’s block, professional and reader reviews. That was fun.

7. The death cult stuff honestly made me uncomfortable. It was just too creepy and kind of upsetting in places. If this were in a mystery or thriller I would have been fine because I would have been expecting to feel uncomfortable and creeped out. That’s not what I wanted to feel when I picked up Beach Read, though. I would have preferred more of January’s rom-com 101 field trips. 

8. This didn’t feel at all romantic to me. Gus says some GREAT things that are very swoony on their own, but they didn’t feel swoony when mixed in with everything else. There wasn’t any wooing. I didn’t feel like there were any grand gestures. The cover and synopsis actually seem a little deceiving. The romance is there, and there’s sexytimes… it just didn’t feel romantic.

9. I came away feeling kind of dark about the entire reading experience. The ending wasn’t even satisfying. 

All in all, I’m kind of all over the place with Beach Read. I liked some parts, I was meh about many parts, and I really didn’t like some parts. There was SO much going on. The book was kind of all over the place, now that I think about it. I think my biggest issue, though, is that I couldn’t connect with the characters I was really supposed to love and feel for. I really think that’s where it all went wrong for me. Not being able to connect with them made their story feel very flat and not the least bit romantic. I’m disappointed.

2 Stars

Well Met by Jen DeLuca | Book Review

Posted March 25, 2020 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Book Review / 4 Comments

Well Met by Jen DeLuca | Book ReviewWell Met by Jen DeLuca
Series: Well Met #1
Published by Berkley on September 3, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Romance
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher (Netgalley)
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4 Stars

All's faire in love and war for two sworn enemies who indulge in a harmless flirtation in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author, Jen DeLuca.

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon's family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn't have time for Emily's lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she's in her revealing wench's costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they're portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can't seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.

I’ve always thought going to a Renaissance Faire sounded like a lot of fun, so I was immediately drawn to this title that predominately takes place at one. The story is just as adorable as the cover! As always, my main points are bolded.

1. I will admit that it took me a little while to get into this one. Things moved slowly as Emily settles in to take care of her sister, April, and her niece, Caitlin, after they were in a car accident. Emily tries to find her footing in a new town, recover from a bad relationship, and find new direction in her life. She ends up being roped in to Renn Faire and the first part of the book is mostly practicing for Faire, hating on Simon, and slowly making friends. It wasn’t heavy (or even semi-heavy) on the romance at all until about halfway through, but hang in there because you’ll love it once it starts. 

2. Simon and Emily each have baggage they’re carrying around, so it makes complete sense that they don’t like each other so much in the beginning. Simon is living in the shadow of his older brother, the founder of the town’s Renn Faire, since he died of cancer. He’s bitten off way more than he can chew, and is living a rather unfulfilling life. He plays a pirate at Faire, and I love that part of his personality. He’s able to let go of everything and have fun when he pulls on his black leather costume, and Emily and I both fell for him as we saw more of that side and less of his grumpy, frazzled side. He can also be incredibly romantic. Emily has come out of a really toxic relationship recently, and doesn’t know where her life is heading once summer is over. I really liked how authentic and down-to-earth she was. I also love the devotion she feels to her sister, and the bond she shares with her niece.

3. There are actually a lot of really fun platonic relationships in this book. Emily’s family relationships are so sweet. She’s also got Chris, the queen of Renn Faire as well as the owner of the bookstore Emily is working at. Then there’s her Faire friends, Mitch and Stacey, that she meets up with for pizza on Sunday nights after Faire is over for the week. I loved all of these secondary characters so much. Mitch in particular is so funny. He wears a kilt without a shirt during Faire and has the cockiest personality. But he’s also mushy and sweet to his friends. And Stacey is the sweetest best friend type.

4. I loved Renn Faire. The descriptions of what it looked and sounded like were so amazing that I felt transported to the woods and felt like I was the one watching the jousts and hearing the characters speak in their period language. The costumes, food, music, and set-up all sounded like so much fun.

5. The romance is so sweet. At one point, Simon decides he’s going to give Emily her first proper wooing and it’s so wonderful that I was giddy from it. These two have such great chemistry, and they also have this special bond that goes deeper and allows them to help each other through their issues.

All in all, I loved Well Met! It was the perfect mash-up of fantasy and reality, friendships and romance, and light-hearted fun that punches you in the feels. I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the series!

4 Stars

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang | Mini Book Review

Posted January 10, 2019 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Book Review / 9 Comments

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang | Mini Book ReviewThe Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Published by Berkley on June 5, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Romance
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
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1.5 Stars

A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there's not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases — a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice — with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan — from foreplay to more-than-missionary position...

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he's making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic...

I had been so SO excited to read this book when I’d heard people compare it to The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. I went into it very excited for a similar, swoony, romantic story and it just didn’t work for me at all. I’m leaving my very tiny review here to inform my readers of my overall thoughts, but I wasn’t in the mood to go into more detail than this.

Things started out great and I loved the characters (I still just adore Michael in particular), but things changed for me at about 50% when the story shifted to a very strong focus on sex. I did not enjoy the countless numbers of graphic scenes. I don’t mind sex scenes at all, but these went on and on and were described in way more detail than I was comfortable reading. I started skimming past them to try and find more actual story, but there wasn’t much else that I could find. By about 86% I got to see how everything ended for each of these characters, and I did love that. The ending was sweet and deeper than the bulk of the book. I’m glad I read the end, and wish that there had been more substance throughout the middle.

1.5 Stars

Under the Same Sky by Genevieve Graham | Book Review

Posted July 5, 2018 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Book Review / 1 Comment

Under the Same Sky by Genevieve Graham | Book ReviewUnder the Same Sky by Genevieve Graham
Series: The MacDonnells #1
Published by Berkley on January 3, 2012
Genres: Historical Romance, Paranormal, Romance
Pages: 319
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher (Mail)
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3 Stars

The year is 1746. A young woman from South Carolina and a Scottish Highlander share an intimacy and devotion beyond their understanding. They have had visions of each other their entire lives. And yet they have never met.

Now, with their lives torn asunder, Maggie Johnson and Andrew MacDonnell's quest to find each other is guided only by their dreams— and by the belief in the true love they share.

On the Carolina frontier Maggie Johnson’s family struggles to survive. Maggie’s gift of “the sight” and her visions show her a presence she calls Wolf. She watches him grow from a boy her age to a man even as she goes from child to woman.

Andrew MacDonald has always wondered about the girl he sees in his dreams. He is able to talk to her through their thoughts and vows that even if he must cross an ocean he will find her.

They are thrust into different situations: Andrew fights for the doomed Jacobite cause and Maggie is captured by slavers, then rescued and brought into a kind, loving Native American tribe. They each believe in destiny and the power of the love they have shared forever.

Lots of things about this book excited me. I love historical romance, the back of the book and the cover reminded me of a light, fluffy romance with a paranormal twist (like a Lynn Kurland book), and I loved the idea of telepathic communication across the world, between two characters who have never actually met each other. During tough times these two characters appeared to one other to help, either delivering advice or actual strength. As they got older, their ability to communicate grew stronger and they began to fall in love. The romance was incredibly sweet. They were childhood sweethearts, who were there for each other all the time, even though they were on completely different continents. I love this idea.

While I did like it, this book is far from the light, fluffy romance I was expecting. The cover is quite deceptive, as this book is a rather heavy and sometimes dark read. This time period was a pretty awful time, especially for women, and the author does not sugar coat it, which I respected. At the very beginning of the book, Maggie witnesses the death and/or murders of several family members. She and her sisters are abducted by men hoping to sell them, and are beaten and raped to within an inch of their lives. Andrew goes to war in Scotland, and also experiences a lot of death and heartache. This is all described in great detail, and it actually upset me so much that I thought I would not be able to continue. I was so curious to see how things ended, though, that I decided to continue on with it. To all my fellow tender hearts out there, if you can make it to page 115, you are going to be just fine. The book does lighten up, and it even gets suspenseful and exciting!

A tribe of Cherokee Indians rescues Maggie and her sister from their captors, and takes them in as part of their family. I loved this entire protective and loving group of people. I have not had the opportunity to read much about Native American tribes, except for my history books in school. I learned so much about the culture and belief system of this tribe, and was captivated by their story and strong, almost religious, ties to Mother Nature.

I really, really liked Maggie and Andrew. Maggie is so incredibly strong and resilient. I admire her, and wish I had the kind of strength she has. Andrew is the perfect sexy Scottish highlander. He cares so much for Maggie, his family, and his friends. He’s also very loyal and honorable. We see him interact with two very young orphaned children, and he is amazingly sweet with them. He really is pretty perfect, and I know I would love it if he came to me in my dreams! His accent is also pretty adorable, but sometimes I had to read his lines out loud in order to understand them. :)

Genevieve’s writing style is gorgeous. Her word choice stirred the same emotions in me that her characters felt. She sent me to the woods where Maggie was held captive, to the battle fields of Scotland, to the rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands, and to the deep southern colonies of North America. The dreams Maggie and Andrew had about each other were mystical and magical. Everything seemed so real to me, and I was completely captivated, even though parts of this book really upset and disturbed me.

I would definitely recommend this book to lovers of historical romances with a bit of a paranormal twist. Yes, it’s heavy and dark in places. Yes, I had a hard time convincing myself to finish it at one point, but I am so glad I did. You can’t fault the author for retelling history. This all really happened, and I was amazed reading what people are willing to do to each other. The story is also magical and romantic, and I really loved reading about Maggie and Andrew’s journey to find one another. We are left with no loose ends, and you’ll be very happy with how things turn out in the end.

3 Stars

Murder for Choir by Joelle Charbonneau (Review & Giveaway)

Posted July 5, 2012 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Book Review / 14 Comments

Murder for Choir by Joelle Charbonneau (Review & Giveaway)Muder for Choir by Joelle Charbonneau
Series: Glee Club #1
Published by Berkley on July 3, 2012
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher (Mail)
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3 Stars

Even as a struggling opera singer, Paige Marshall has never seen anything like the cutthroat competition of the Prospect Glen High School show choir. Coaching these championship-hungry students may be her toughest gig yet...

Especially when her best young male singer is suspected of killing the arrogant coach of Prospect Glen's fiercest rival. To clear his name, Paige will have to sort through a chorus of suspects, and go note-for-note with a killer who wants her out of the spotlight for good.

Welcome to today’s stop on the JKS Communications virtual book tour for Joelle Charbonneau’s newest book, Murder for Choir, a cozy mystery filled with singing, dancing, competition, and intrigue. I’m so glad you stopped by!

Seeing as how I was a show choir girl all through high school and college, I was incredibly excited to find a mystery novel that centered around such a fun time in my life. It was also nice to step away from the young adult books for a little while and read about people closer to my age. As always my main points are bolded. :)

1. I think the idea for this book was fun and unique. You can do a lot with a show choir, and there are a lot of story elements you can tackle. I’ve never watched the TV show Glee, but a blurb on the cover said, “Imagine if Stephanie Plum joined the cast of Glee…” I’ve also never read a Stephanie Plum novel! Haha. So, I can’t agree or disagree. Perhaps this will give you an idea, though, of what the book is like. :)

2. Paige Marshall is one of those characters that you want to either scream at or be best friends with. On the one hand, she’s always getting herself into trouble. She’s that heroine in the movies who walks out in the dark in her socks because she thinks she heard someone out there. You want to yell at her, “GET INSIDE, DUMMY!” I feel like she was lacking in basic, common sense. It got her in trouble. On the other hand, though, she’s sweet and is doing all of this to save a teenage boy who was accused of murder. She had good intentions, so I guess I can look past that. Haha. She’s also pretty funny.

3. Paige’s three co-workers: Devlyn (my favorite), Larry, and Felicia, were great characters. They were all very different from one another, with dynamic personalities, which was really nice. Sometimes supporting characters are boring and kind of mush together. I really liked them, though, except for officer Mike. I did not like him at all. Throughout the entire book he seemed aloof and unorganized. Plus, he seemed to be a total playboy. Paige’s Aunt Millie was a little over the top for me. She kind of reminds me of Richard’s mother in the TV show, Castle, if you’re familiar with that: tacky clothes, money, a Mark Kay pink Cadillac, and a pushy personality. Both women love their families, though, which is why I can let the tackiness slide and adore them both. And I must admit, Millie was hilarious. Her taxidermy pets and pink platform shoes were heartwarming.

4. The mystery was very intriguing, but not entirely realistic to me. Paige, a teacher, took the police investigation on herself and ended up getting into a lot of trouble. She should have been arrested so many times for interfering with a police investigation, but she never did. If you can look past the fact that this all would most likely never happen, and just enjoy the story for what it is you’ll be fine. :) I had to keep reminding myself of this throughout the book. I guess I watch too much CIS/NCIS/Castle/Blue Bloods. I just wasn’t buying it.

5. Regardless of my former point, I was kept guessing on who did it until about the last quarter of the book. I actually figured it out before Paige did, which made me really proud of myself! Usually the ending is a surprise to me.

6. Maybe I was just lucky, but my show choir experiences were not this cut throat and ruthless. Directors did not have to sleep with adjudicators in order to get higher scores or placements. Students did not wish someone dead or threaten people in the hopes of winning a competition or getting ahead. We all just liked each other and enjoyed the music we made together. So to me, this also felt unrealistic. But the author is a major musician and performer, so maybe she saw this kind of thing happen in her choral experiences. I was just surprised. Haha.

Overall, this is a fun little mystery. I enjoyed the characters and the basic plot line. Joelle is a great storyteller, and I enjoyed her writing style. While I found things to be a little unrealistic, once I looked past that and just focused on the story I began to enjoy it more. Was it my favorite book? No. But I would recommend it to people who love mysteries, a little romance, a little suspense, and choral singing.

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Head on over to the other stops on this tour for more reviews, author interviews and guest posts, and more giveaways!

3 Stars

Sound of the Heart by Genevieve Graham (Review & Guest Post)

Posted May 22, 2012 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Book Review, Guest Post / 3 Comments

Sound of the Heart by Genevieve Graham (Review & Guest Post)Sound of the Heart by Genevieve Graham
Series: The MacDonnells #2
Published by Berkley on May 1, 2012
Genres: Historical Romance, Romance
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Author
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4 Stars

Dougal MacDonnell, a fierce warrior from the Highlands of Scotland, is able to hear the thoughts of other men and dream how the future will unfold. Devastated by the loss of his family during the Battle of Culloden in 1746, he fosters a deep hatred for the English. But when Glenna, the love of his life and a Scottish outlaw, is captured and shipped overseas, Dougal is forced to join an English army made of vanquished Scots. Now fighting on the side of his sworn enemies, he embarks on a journey that will take him across the seas to the colonies. There he will risk everything for the chance to find his true love.

(Even though this is a companion novel, it can be read as a stand-alone. The first book is Dougal’s brother’s story.)

I read Genevieve’s Under the Same Sky and reviewed it over at The Broke and the Bookish last month, so I was excited when Genevieve contacted me and asked if I was interested in reading this companion novel. Under the Same Sky was a tricky read for me, as some of the subject matter was highly distressing, and my tender heart had a hard time reading the recounting of certain historical happenings, including rape, abuse, and war. I wrote to Genevieve about my struggles, and we began discussing history and how women were treated during the times this book covers. Genevieve is here today to talk about what she and I discussed (how researching opens up so many unknown truths), and you can find her guest post beneath my review of Sound of the Heart. Now, on to my review (which I will try to keep brief so this post does not turn into a HUGE read!)! I fear my review will be vague, as there are so many ways to include spoilery… but I will do my best to not spoil anything! As always, my main points are bolded. :)

1. I went into this book expecting a darker read, like Under the Same Sky. The covers of both books are rather deceptive, so don’t assume you’ll be getting a light, fluffy romance when you pick them up. Sound of the Heart is much lighter than Under the Same Sky, and I actually ended up liking it even more than I liked the first one. I rarely like sequels or companions as much as the first book, so I was pleasantly surprised at my reaction to this one.

2. Now, we’re still dealing with some heavy subject matter, it’s just spread more thinly throughout the book, plus there’s much less violence towards women, which is what I struggled with in book 1.

  • The bulk of the first part of the book tells us all about Dougal’s time being imprisoned as a POW after he survives the Battle of Culloden (which is actually told in great detail in Under the Same Sky). The struggles of life in prison during this time are told in great detail, and I felt so badly for Dougal and all the others with him. There was a lot of violence, and prisoners were killed or beaten for the smallest reasons.
  • Women were treated very poorly and we read some instances of rape and abuse. It’s much tamer and less detailed than in Under the Same Sky.

3. I really liked Dougal. You don’t learn much about him in the first book, but I liked him just as much as I liked his brother, Andrew in Under the Same Sky. We’re given another sexy Scottish Highlander with a cute accent and a sweet demeanor. He befriends and watches over two younger boys who are imprisoned with him, and I loved the tender bond the three formed. He sort of adopts them as his own brothers after his family died in the battle. The loyalty to his family was very touching. I love family guys. I also really liked his friend Joseph, who had a lot of personality and a sense of humor that lightened the mood during the dark times of the story.

4. Glenna is a very dynamic character, with a lot of secrets. I won’t tell you how she falls into Dougal’s life, because that’s a spoiler, but I really liked her. I appreciate the fact that Genevieve writes strong female characters. So many historical romances make women look like submissive, meek little chickens with no backbones or common sense. Glenna was SO strong, just like Maggie was in Under the Same Sky. She was thrown some major curve balls in life, but she’s still a sweet character with a lot of street smarts.

She is captured from her humble home with Dougal and shipped overseas, where she is sold into slavery. Hello? I had no idea white slavery existed during this time, nor did I know that Scottish men and women were essentially kidnapped and shipped to the Americas to serve as slaves or fight for the English Army. Her life as a servant starts out better than most, but then things go wrong and she is placed into a terrifying situation. She fights back, though, and I kept saying, “Yes! You go girl!” all throughout the book. I loved watching her grow. She also runs across some wonderful friends, and I enjoyed reading their stories as well. They all had such sweet personalities, even though their lives were far from pleasant.

5. The romance was really wonderful. Glenna and Dougal are adorable together! Sadly, a lot of this book is them trying to get back to one another once they are separated, but you can feel the longing they share. Their love keeps them alive, and I really enjoyed reading about a love with that kind of power.

6. Again, Genevieve does not disappoint with her writing style. It’s gorgeous. She has a way of packing you up and taking you to the settings in the book. She also has the power to make you feel what the characters are feeling. I know that’s why I struggled so much with Under the Same Sky, and why I ended up really enjoying both books. It’s because her writing is so powerful that it feels real. You’re sent on this roller coaster of emotions and feelings, and when the ride is over you’re as in love with the characters as they are with each other.

Overall, I’m so glad I read this book. I loved reading about Dougal and Glenna’s love story, and I enjoyed learning more about the history during this time in Scotland, England, and the American Colonies. I would recommend this to lovers of historical romance and historical fiction. Genevieve has a book 3 in the making, and I KNOW I want to read it! It tells the story of Adelaide, Maggie’s sister in Under the Same Sky. SO exciting! Hopefully Penguin picks it up, as I know it’ll be nothing short of amazing.

 

Genevieve Graham graduated from the University of Toronto in 1986 with a Bachelor of Music in Performance (playing the oboe). While on a ski vacation in Alberta, she met her future husband in a chairlift lineup and subsequently moved to Calgary to be with him. They have recently settled in a small, peaceful town in Nova Scotia with their two beautiful daughters. Writing became an essential part of Genevieve’s life a few years ago, when she began to write her debut novel, Under the Same Sky. The companion novel, Sound of the Heart, will be in stores May 1, 2012.

The Trouble with Research…
is that you find out stuff.

I write Historical Fiction, so that means there’s going to be a certain amount of research involved. When I started writing, I had no experience with researching, other than what I did eons ago in school, but I was excited about starting. My first book, “Under the Same Sky”, takes place in the 1700’s, a time of which I had no knowledge, other than what I had read in well-written historical fiction, like the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon, and the “Into the Wilderness” series by Sara Donati. The time period sounded gritty and exciting and full of adventure. A perfect setting!

When I realized my hero’s name was Andrew MacDonnell, I enthusiastically went online and researched the MacDonnell clan tartan. When I got past all the advertisements (and pried my eyes off pictures of models and movie stars in kilts), I ran headlong into a discovery that made me shake my head with confusion. Did you know … It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that clans began to claim their own tartan? Until that time, the variation in tartans was a regional thing. The striped patterns were based on the dyes available in the region. Oh, and in the beginning I had no idea that the words ‘plaid’ and ‘tartan’ weren’t technically interchangeable. Maybe in North America they are, but in Scotland, a ‘plaid’ is a wool tartan blanket which the people slung over their shoulder.

For that first book, I also studied the Cherokee and other Native American tribes and absolutely loved researching them. I dug in deep, exploring the seven different clans within tribes, the animal totems, the beliefs after death, hunting rituals … and I ended up with about 50,000 extra words that had nothing to do with the story. They were pretty fascinating reading, but took the story completely off track. So I cut them and stored those chapters away for another time.

I’ve come to believe deeply in the importance of revealing truths in historical fiction. While I’m no expert, I know a lot of things now that I never knew before. For example, I was aware that it was tough to be a woman back then, but I had no idea just how bad it was. One in three women died in childbirth. One in three! Was every one of those babies fathered by a husband? No. Rape was a fairly common occurrence back then and since women had little protection and no rights, it was practically impossible to punish the perpetrator. Unwanted pregnancies were occasionally terminated by herbal concoctions or more brutal methods, but the mother rarely survived. If she did, it would be a miracle if she ever managed to bear another baby.

“Sound of the Heart” gives the reader a taste of prison life for battle captives in 1746. When the defeated Scottish warriors arrived at the prison, after walking three hours, were they fed? No. They were locked up for two days with no food and no medical aid. Did men die easily on the battlefield, succumbing to wounds with a final loving word whispered to their loves? Since pain relief was barely used and loved ones were often miles away, I’d say no.

Some authors research political aspects, society rules, formal issues. All are valid, important facts within historical fiction. I have chosen to follow a grittier path. My characters are every-man and every-woman, commoners who have never seen silk or pearls. Often, though, they have a little something “extra” (like psychic powers). I throw them into scenes they might not survive if it weren’t for their strength of character or something changing in the situation that frees them. Like my characters, I don’t know anything about the “regency” side of history. I only know about the often agonizingly painful realities of life back then.

“Sound of the Heart” also introduces readers to an ugly aspect of history that many of us (including me) otherwise wouldn’t know about: white slavery. Beginning in the 1600’s, hundreds of thousands of white slaves were taken to the colonies. They were treated as badly as their black counterparts, and often worse. They were usually less expensive, because they were constantly being replaced. After all, the colonies were a hot climate compared to overseas. Working plantation fields was far too much for them, and many died.

I know some people are put off by violence in historical fiction, and I’m sorry when my stories upset them. I salute those readers who battle through the difficult parts so they can get to the end. I was once accused of using rape as something of a plot vehicle, which actually left me slack-jawed. The thing is, just because I include these things in the stories doesn’t mean I make them up. I don’t. These are real situations. And just like white slavery today, it is important that we stop looking the other way. I refuse to sugar coat the truth, and I don’t pull punches. At the same time, I stay away from gratuitousness.

Okay. Hopping off my soapbox now.

I guess the moral for today is you never know what you’ll find when you start researching the past. But chances are, if you persevere and keep digging, you’ll come away with treasure.

4 Stars