Friday, March 29, 2013

YOU'RE STILL THE ONE by Janet Dailey, Cathy Lamb, Mary Carter, Elizabeth Bass + GIVEAWAY (US/Canada) ...and the winner is

Mina's Bookshelf review
Goodreads blurb

The winner of a copy of YOU'RE STILL THE ONE by Janet Dailey, Cathy Lamb, Mary Carter, Elizabeth Bass is


Robin, check your email for your instructions to claim the prize. To all the ladies who kindly visited the blog and left a comment, thank you so much!!! You haven't won this time, but more awesome giveaways and reviews are on the way, so stay in touch. Happy Easter everyone!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

CRYSTAL COVE by Lisa Kleypas

Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 5th, 2013 by St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: contemporary romance novel, paranormal romance, fantasy, women's fiction, chick lit, magic, witches
Rating: 5 stars
Purchasing link: Amazon

“…a witch with an empty heart…who yearned for something as extraordinary, and yet entirely normal, as love.”

“…a pathological workaholic insomniac with no soul…he needed magic in the most literal sense…”

CRYSTAL COVE by Lisa Kleypas

Justine Hoffman owns and runs Artist's Point, a successful bed-and-breakfast on the Pacific Northwest island of Friday Harbor. Everybody in her community knows that she has been raised in the pagan tradition, but what she has never openly admitted, not even to her cousin and best friend Zoe, is that she is, like her mother, a hereditary witch. After the premature death of her father, Justine had followed her nomadic mother Marigold around the country, and after the constant wandering of her uprooted childhood, Friday Harbor had come to be the closest thing to a home she had ever known. Justine's resentment for the nomadic pattern of their lives and her lack of interest in embracing their craft, has caused a permanent estrangement between her and Marigold: Justine's life on the island, the beautiful surroundings, the ordinary world of her friends and customers provide her now with the warmth and stability her witch  mother has never been able to convey. Love is still eluding the young and beautiful innkeeper, though, and always has: in order to guard and protect her daughter's heart from the risk of disappointed love, in fact, Marigold had cast a powerful spell on Justine, condemning her to a lifetime of solitude. Even a witch with an empty heart, who feels more comfortable in the ordinary world of Friday Harbor than among her own kind in a coven, needs a soul-mate. Incredibly enough, her wish will be granted by a handsome but soulless man. Software company tycoon Jason Black is visiting the island to survey a parcel of land where he intends to build a community retreat for education: Jason's and Justine's paths will cross and not by accident. The mysterious billionaire, in fact, has an agenda of his own and a well-guarded secret that will bring them together in a whirlwind of dangerous magic, scorching passion, and death-defying love.

Of the three different takes on magic realism featured in the Friday Harbor series (read my reviews of Rainshadow Road and Dream Lake), this is the one I preferred: Crystal Cove is considerably more soulful and better crafted. It seems that  in this fourth installment, Lisa Kleypas has finally found the perfect formula to a more organic combination of romance and paranormal genre. Unlike its prequels, Crystal Cove feels more like a narrative whole, where solid plot, fleshed out characters, and magic element complement and engage each other in that hallmark 'Kleypas' way I've come to love over the years. Sensuality is always an extremely tasteful and emotionally charged feature in Lisa's work, therefore any remarks about her ability to write memorable love scenes may normally sound reduntant...not in this case. Not addressing the 'bondage scene' would be like ignoring the elephant in the room: the -nth use of a dark sexual fantasy, exploited nowadays in an ever growing number of romance novels, has raised a few eyebrows among Kleypas' followers, but in her defense I can tell you that, as the extraordinary storyteller that she is, she found the way to enhance structure and meaning of this sexual ritual, presenting it in a more original fashion...japanese style.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

YOU'RE STILL THE ONE by Janet Dailey, Cathy Lamb, Mary Carter, Elizabeth Bass + GIVEAWAY (US/Canada)

Paperback, 416 pages
Published March 5, 2013 by Zebra
Genre: romance, contemporary romance novel, anthology, women's fiction, chick lit
Rating: 5 stars

"We took separate roads - but that doesn't mean we can't go back. No" - he shook his head - "not back. Forward. Life is still full of possibilities for us. And one of them is us, together." ROMEO & JULIET...AND JANE by Elizabeth Basset

YOU'RE STILL THE ONE by Janet Dailey, Cathy Lamb, Mary Carter, Elizabeth Bass

What I am reviewing today  is an anthology co-authored by some of the most prominent names in the romance and women's fiction industry. Few authors have the ability to deliver a solid tale within the limited space of a short story without lacking intensity and emotional impact, or without rushing the narration through a poor world and character building. In this case, not only these fabulous storytellers avoided those flaws, they also succeeded in lacing the canvas of vastly exploited tropes such as star-crossed lovers and second chances  with touches of humor and magic-filled serendipity. Bittersweet memories of an ill-fated love and regrets for what might have been haunt for years the protagonists of these stories, but be it a chance at love and family for a woman born on the wrong side of the tracks (The Apple Orchard), or a magic encounter in The Big Easy (A Kiss Before Midnight), a juvenile love blossomed on the stage of a high-school play (Romeo & Juliet...And Jane), or an ex-husband trying to sabotage his ex-wife's engagement to another man (The Devil And Mr. Chocolate) , true love is the undercurrent of electricity that defies time, misunderstandings, even magic spells, bringing soul mates and old flames back together. Of the four short stories featured in this lovely collection, two in particular impressed me for their originality, emotional poignancy and complex narrative structure: in The Apple Orchard by Cathy Lamb and A Kiss Before Midnight by Mary Carter, setup, conflict and resolution are more developed, emotions are more powerful.
"A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick - a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart", reminds us Neil Gaiman. Janet Dailey, Cathy Lamb, Mary Carter, and Elizabeth Bass didn't fail in this respect. You're Still The One is a heartwarming and uplifting celebration of love lost and regained.

*Review copy generously offered by the publisher in exchange for an unbiased opinion.


The publisher is graciously offering a copy of YOU'RE STILL THE ONE to a lucky US/Canada resident who will leave a comment about this review. Let me hear your thoughts about second chances in romantic fiction and please leave your email address in the comment section. Thank you and good luck!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes

Hardcover, 369 pages
Published December 31, 2012 by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
Genre: contemporary novel, women's fiction, romance
Rating: 5 stars plus

ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes 

It was on a rainy morning in the central London traffic that the life of a vital, charismatic, and handsome man was changed forever. A road accident had permanently damaged Will Traynor’s spinal cord and reduced him on a wheelchair: once a lover of extreme sports and a powerful businessman, Will is now quadriplegic, he has lost forever the use of his legs and has a very limited use of hands and arms. Not only does he need to be constantly assisted and monitored by medical staff; his mental welfare is compromised as well and, after a failed suicide attempt, his parents decide to hire a caregiver/companion who might help him and encourage him to adapt to his new circumstances. 
“[…] his condition [is] not just a matter of being stuck in that chair, of the loss of physical freedom, but a never-ending  litany of indignities and health problems, of risks and discomforts.” 

Will's paralysis is not a reversible condition; the only thing doctors can do for him  is trying to reduce his pain, stop him from atrophying and keep his physical condition up, but there is nothing that therapy can do to lift his spirit. Louisa Clark, just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life and only bread-winner in her family, is in desperate need to find a new job. While seeking for new opportunities, a well-paid and temporary position as a caregiver for a disabled man seems to be her only option, and although she believes to be inadequate for the job because of her lack of professional skills, she appears to have the right mental attitude to deal with the dejected and disabled Will Traynor. Lou may not be refined or highly educated, she doesn't have fancy hobbies or trips abroad to show off on her resume, she doesn't belong in Will's high society world, but she is attentive and emphatic, cheerful and chatty. With  her extravagant clothes and snappy tongue she amuses Will to no end, bringing in his otherwise grey and sterile life a blast of color and warm sweetness. With her ability to tune into Will's needs and emotions, not only Lou succeeds in tearing down the walls of sarcasm, anger and frustration he has erected around himself after the accident; she even convinces him to allow himself to find a reason to live through experiences that might generate happiness and contentment. Against all expectations, Will and Lou will find themselves intensely connected and  drawn to each other by an irresistible chemistry, more powerful than all the challenges and limitations imposed by his physical disability. But for a man who used to be at the top of his game, and now completely powerless, vulnerable, and unable to do a single thing for himself, even love may not be enough to steer his mind from an heartbreaking decision. 

I do not usually lose my composure when I read a tear jerker novel, but ME BEFORE YOU by acclaimed author Jojo Moyes absolutely stunned me. It reduced me to an emotional wreck like very few books have been able to do in a long time, my emotions and reactions to a delicate matter such as voluntary euthanasia still raw days after the last page was turned. What the romantic cover artwork and upbeat book jacket blurb deceivingly tend to present as a modern fairy-tale turned out to be a much more complicated and profoundly ethical debate on the moral issues and legal legitimacy of  the personal right to death for people who suffer from debilitating conditions and terminal illnesses. Narrated through the intimate and candid perspective of the generous and genuine female protagonist, Me Before You is an authentic gem, an unforgettable love story enhanced by Moyes' compelling and luminous prose. Exquisitely heartbreaking.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 16, 2012 by Kensington Books
Genre: historical romance novel, Victorian England, holiday, Christmas
Rating: 4.5 stars

Young widow Camille, Lady Lydingham, had grown up thinking that there wasn’t much use for true love in a practical world. Grayson Elliott, her first and only genuine love, had come forward with an ill-timed declaration, right on the eve of her arranged marriage to an older and much wealthier man.  After revealing his feelings, Grayson had vanished, disappointing Camille’s hope to be rescued at the altar from a loveless marriage. He had fled to America bringing his broken heart and wounded pride with him, spurred by the sheer determination to prove himself to Camille by making  his way into the world and building a fortune. Eleven years later, Grayson is back in England and ready to fight for the woman who never abandoned his thoughts: for too long they had been like “a play without a last act”, and the now outrageously wealthy Grayson is ready to pull the final curtain on his unrequited love for Camille. His timing seems to be wrong once again, though: the young widow has recently met Nicolai Pruzinsky, prince of as small as unheard-of kingdom of Avalonia. The charming royalty, who’s traveling incognito across Europe in the hope of fully and freely enjoying foreign Christmas traditions, represents everything Camille has ever wanted, handsome and perfect as if he had just popped out of one of those fairy tales she devoured as a young girl. Maybe too perfect to be real.
Animated by her childish dreams more than true feelings of love, she sets her heart on Pruzinsky. So, when she learns that he is a fan of Mr. Dickens and that he is quite eager to experience the winter holidays the way they are portrayed in the novelist’s books, she decides to provide him with that proper English Christmas experience as well as a proper English family to go along with it. Afraid that her extravagant relatives will embarrass her in front of a royalty, and taking advantage of a temporary permanence abroad of her flamboyant mother, in fact, Camille hires a troupe of actors to fill her country house and pose as her family. To add complications to her preposterous plan, her long-lost love shows up at her manor, but when it seems that the farce can only end up in disaster and escalate in a huge scandal, the sweet memories of a distant past and her unquenched love for Grayson will remind Camille that, far from being shallow and mercenary, her heart is capable of true love. 

This historical romance novel by #1 New York Times best-selling author Victoria Alexander was quite a delightful read, reminiscent of a farcical comedy a la Shakespeare, twins, mistaken identity and all. I particularly appreciated Alexander's use of the classical unities (events unfold along one unique plot line, in one location and in a limited span of time), and her ability to get her well-paced narration flowing  almost entirely with the use of dialogues. I found Camille’s character to be an original and unconventional female lead, a more practical sort of woman than your usual Victorian romance novel heroine.
Fraught with witty dialogues and lively lines delivered by Alexander with the elegance and the perfection of a string of pearls, What Happens At Christmas features an entertaining holiday pageant brightened by the breezy tones of a light-hearted comedy.

*Complimentary copy graciously offered by the publisher in return of an unbiased review