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Cupcakes at Carrington’s by Alexandra Brown

21 Jan

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Georgie Hart loves her job. She works as a sales associate in Carrington’s ladies bag department. Though she works on commission, she loves it. Carrington’s holds all the wonderful memories of her childhood with her now deceased mother. She still gets a thrill every time she steps through the shops doors.

Okay, so she’s in debt up to her eyeballs and hasn’t had a date for Valentine’s Day in years, since the breakup with her ex-boyfriend. However, she finds solace at Cupcakes at Carrington’s, the café run by her best friend Sam, and the occasional Red Velvet cupcake.

Georgie doesn’t mind living the quiet life. However, her world is given a shakeup of the first order when everyone at Carrington’s is informed that sales are declining thanks to the recession and Carrington’s will be going through a makeover where some people will have their jobs declared redundant. The makeover is being done by the evil Maxine who is wielding her axe with a well-manicured hand and a breathy, phone sex voice. She creates instant dislike on first sight. Georgie is heartbroken to learn that she will now be in competition with all the other sales associates. Only those with the highest sales will be able to keep their jobs.

However, there is more than the possibility of being jobless for Georgie to contend with: Her best friend Sam has met Nathan, the man she claims is “the one”, her boss James, who is married, begins to flirt with her, her best mate Eddie is depressed when his boyfriend dumps him for someone else, her estranged father contacts her and Georgie wrestles with whether or not to forgive him and her mountain of debt is growing.

All in all, Georgie’s life has gone upside down. Thank goodness for the red velvet cupcakes that Sam makes. Otherwise, there would be no relief!

When I first got the eBook of Cupcakes at Carrington’s, I figured I was in for a chick lit novel filled with delicious food and a slapdash plot filled with hilarity. Thankfully, Cupcakes at Carrington’s by Alexandra Brown is so much more than just a chick lit novel. It has the humour of Sophie Kinsella, the warmth of Cecelia Ahern and the wit and wisdom of Maeve Binchy and the cheek of “Are You Being Served? “. Even more wonderful is that Cupcakes at Carrington’s is Alexandra Brown’s first novel.

I absolutely loved Cupcakes at Carrington’s. I would even go so far as to call it the perfect novel: secrets, laughter, love and cupcakes. What more do you need? How about characters that are so real they leap off the page? A plot that had many twists and none of them predictable? Characters you love and those you love to hate? Or an ending that will leave you filled with joy? Cupcakes at Carrington’s has all these and more.

I was torn between wanting to take my time reading Cupcakes at Carrington’s and wanting to read it as quickly as possible to find out what happens. The novel is an unputdownable page turner of the highest order and Georgie Hart is a protagonist you will fall in love with and root for.

Not to be outdone, Alexandra Brown’s secondary characters are all wonderful and the perfect complement to Georgie. None of them are cardboard cut outs. Instead, Brown has created an incredible cast of characters to people Carrington’s. Alexandra Brown writes with a deft pen and creates a world I want to live in and characters I’ve grown to love. The result is nothing short of magic.

Thankfully it’s the first book in a delicious new series and the second novel is coming out in November 2013. This is one of my favoutie reads of the year so far and I can’t wait to find out what happens to Georgie next. In the meantime, I’ll wait patiently for the paperback to be released here in Canada so that I can read Cupcakes at Carrington’s for a second time!

Of course there is one thing: the book left me with a hankering for Red Velvet cupcakes. I’ve never had Red Velvet cake but, because of Cupcakes at Carrington’s, I plan to change that in the very near future!

Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handeland

15 Jul

 

There have been rumours surrounding Shakespeare for decades.

Most feel that he could not possibly have written all the works he penned. Some even go so far as to saying he stole works and put his name to them. Others say that William Shakespeare was more than one man.

Even more mysterious are Shakespeare’s Sonnets. The one hundred and fifty four poems, each composed of fourteen lines a piece, all written to a mysterious Dark Lady; a woman with dark hair and a husband. Who was the mysterious Dark Lady? How did Shakespeare write all that he wrote.

No one really knows the truth; until now.

Posing as a member of human society in the 1500’s, Shakespeare is hiding a secret that would be devastating should it get out: he is actually a vampire. A member of the undead, he is also capable of raising zombie armies.

William Shakespeare is a vampire necromancer.

Though he has not raised armies of the dead for some time (though he did raise undead armies for Caesar and for Cleopatra), a barrage of zombie attacks are threatening the safety of London and his carefully kept secrets.

All of his secrets are in danger of escaping him when he meets Katherine Dymond. Posing as a boy, Katherine stalks the streets of London as a Chasseur, a slayer or hunter of zombies. After accidentally killing William Shakespeare in the dark streets of London, Katherine flees, hoping not to be haunted by what she has done. Though she has killed zombies, she has never taken another human’s life.

But William Shakespeare isn’t human. Using her scent to track Katherine down, William pledges to love and protect Katherine with the rest of his life; considering he’s already dead, it’ll be a hard promise to keep.

Working together, the two lovers must find out who is raising the army of zombies, find out what they plan to do and protect the Queen of England. All in a days work for your typical necromancer vampire playwright and his lover…

I was a little sceptical of this book at first. I’m a huge fan of the literary mashups by Quirk Books. However, any other mashup I’ve read (with a couple of exceptions) has been lacklustre by comparison and is usually riding on the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, published by Quirk Books in 2009.

Thankfully, that is not the case with Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handeland.

The novel is a sheer delight from start to finish. And it is far from being a mashup. Sure, it takes William Shakespeare and pairs his story with vampires and zombies, but the mashup stops there. Thankfully, Handeland tells her own tale with laugh out loud results.

What I loved about this book, aside from the madcap storyline, was the characters. You really feel for Katherine and for William Shakespeare. He’s suffering from writers block and his words are freed by Katherine’s love for him. The comedy is sheer hilarity and the romance just sizzles off of the page.

Handeland has also done her homework. The novel reads like a farce of one of Shakespeare’s own plays. Women dressing as men, witches, vampires, ghosts, doomed love, a crazy nursemaid and more. Handeland has borrowed freely from Shakespeare’s work and made his story elements her own.

This novel is for anyone who hated reading Shakespeare in high school, or for anyone who hasn’t even read Shakespeare. Far from being a literary mashup, Shakespeare Undead is something altogether more.

An absolute madcap delight, this is one novel you won’t want to miss.

Like Bees To Honey by Caroline Smailes

31 May

 

What happens when you can’t let go of your grief? What happens when it consumes you? When it becomes all that you have left? What do you do? Where do you go? What do you become?

Nina has left her husband Matt and her daughter Molly. She is going back to Malta with her son Christopher to visit her parents one last time. But she is also going home to Malta to confront the ghosts of her past.

Ostracized and cut out of the family when she became pregnant out of wedlock, Nina seeks to mend her relationship with her parents; and if she is lucky, she will be able to mend her heart.

But Nina carries with her more than just hope and grief over her past. Nina carries with her a secret that, should she choose to acknowledge it, will shatter her world even further.

When she arrives in Malta, there is more than just her past waiting for Nina. There are also the dead.

Malta has always been a stomping ground for spirits; and Nina has always been able to see them. A seer from a young age, she has always seen the dead that come to Malta to heal. But now the dead come to her so that Nina can begin her healing.

Can Nina let go of her past to embrace the future? Or will her grief swallow her completely? With help from the most unlikely of beings, Nina might have a chance at redemption…

There is so much I want to say about this novel, but I don’t have the right words to do the novel justice. Not only the novel a beautiful story about love and loss, grief and circumstance, it is also a haunting reminder to live life to the fullest every single day we can.

Smailes, who is no stranger to delving into the darker side of the human psyche, has given us a multi-faced heroine in Nina. Here is someone we can ache for, someone we grow to care about and grow to know over the course of a novel.

You would think that someone obsessed with her grief would grate on your nerves, but that is not the case here. Smailes juggles Nina’s emotions with a deft and subtle grace that leaves the reader not only empathizing with her but sympathising with her as well.

Everyone has done something they regret. Everyone has lost someone they love. Smailes manages to tap into that vein and give us a novel that is filled with real, true emotion captured on the page. Like Bees To Honey is so good that it took my breath away.

I was surprised by how funny the novel was. You would think a novel about the darkness of grief would be hard going, but that’s not so. The novel is full of emotion, yes, but it is such an incredibly human novel. It reminds us of what matters, of the simple things that bring joy. Like Bees To Honey is beauty captured on the page in words.

Like Bees To Honey is also a novel about language. Much like Smailes earlier novels, language plays a big part in Nina’s unfolding story. Nina feels that she has lost her language, that she has lost her home. She tries to find it again in speaking her mother tongue. Maltese is sprinkled through out the novel with handy translations for those who don’t speak it.

The language is almost like the music of the novel. Each time I found a Maltese word, I found myself repeating it, wondering at is shape and it’s sound. Smailes, who is conscious of every word on her page, has placed these words notes, this word music, through out the novel, giving it perfect pace and perfect pitch.

I think the thing that is so delightful about Like Bees To Honey is that everything about it is so completely unexpected. Nothing is as you think it is and the story will not go at all how you think it will. Surprises wait for you, and for Nina, around the turn of every page. I was surprised by Like Bees To Honey constantly and each surprise was a lovely shock to my system.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve been so emotionally affected by a novel. Like Bees To Honey not only touched my heart and my emotions; it touched my spirit.

And it refuses to let go.

Beautiful, funny, moving and haunting, Like Bees To Honey by Caroline Smailes is no mere novel. It is a gorgeous, life changing experience, just waiting to enthral you with its beauty.

Let Like Bees To Honey cast its spell over you. It will haunt you well after the last page is turned.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

4 Apr

 

 

Sarah Addison Allen’s books are magic.

They really are. The stories have magic in them, but the real magic is the joy that they fill you up with once you’ve finished the book.

Her first two novels were Garden Spells (enchanting) and The Sugar Queen (my favourite). Her new novel, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, is a Southern tale of barbeque, magic, family secrets and redemption.

Emily Benedict has come to Mullaby North Carolina hoping to answer the riddles of her past. Who was her mother? What was she hiding from? And why couldn’t Emily be the person her mother wanted her to be?

She arrives in Mullaby to meet the grandfather she never knew; and discovers that there is more to life than she thought possible. Her grandfather, Vance, is a giant. They call him the Giant of Mullaby. But he is not the oddest thing that lives inside their house.

The wallpaper in Emily’s room changes depending on her mood. And, late at night, Emily sees the Mullaby lights, quick moving shapes that move like quicksilver through the trees behind their house.

When Win, a local boy, starts showing an interest in her, Emily is flattered and flustered all at once. How were his family and her mother connected? And what secret is Win hiding? Why can’t he and his family go out at night?

Julia Winterson runs J’s Barbeque. She plans to stay for six months and pay off her deceased fathers debts. And then leave. Nothing had been good for her in Mullaby and there was no reason things should change now.

To pass the time before she gives herself her freedom, Julia bakes cakes. All kinds of cakes. Cakes mean welcome, they mean joy. But for Julia, who guards an earth shattering secret, cakes mean so much more than that.

Sawyer has always had a sweet sense. He has always been able to smell cakes, no matter where they were hidden. They drew him, called to him. He can see the sprinkles of sugar in the air, the twists of vanilla in the breeze. And Julia’s cakes call to him.

But will she forgive him for what he did, so that their love can grow?

Sarah Addison Allen really is magic. Her understanding of people, of the way they interact with each other, of the magic of life is incredible.

She writes such beautiful, incredible books and, because there is usually some element of food involved, I usually find myself quite hungry during the reading of one of her novels. But I don’t mind at all.

Her sense of observation is spot on, her dialogue rings true and her characters are people you can love and care about and dream about long after you’ve finished the book.

Though her books are always grounded in reality, there is always some element of magic to them, some element of the unknown, that takes what could be a saccharine storyline, but which becomes utter joy in Sarah Addison Allen’s hands.

Her books are joy; she creates joy. And that is the best magic of all.

Dangerous Highlander by Donna Grant

16 Feb

 

Generally, historical and paranormal romance don’t mix.

They are two separate genre’s that don’t get along with each other very well. When I’ve read historical paranormal romance before, one of the two elements falls flat. Either the historical setting takes a background to the paranormal story. Or the paranormal part of the story is overshadowed by the setting.

Either way, it is normally a genre that doesn’t work very well.

So imagine my surprise when I picked up Dangerous Highlander by Donna Grant and ended up blown away. I have read several of Grants other novels, but Dangerous Highlander leaves them all choking in the dust.

Dangerous Highlander is set in the Scottish Highlands and concerns three brothers: Lucan, Quinn and Fallon. They are three immortals who carry a curse inside of them.

Inside of their bodies rests the being of a God bent on destruction. When they let the God inside of them lose, they become that God and have that God’s powers. Unable to come to terms with what they are, they hide inside of their castle and become beings of legend.

Their lives change when Cara MacClure nearly dies. Lucan takes her into the castle, knowing that he risks exposing what they are. Though he knows that he shouldn’t, Lucan feels a passion for Cara that pulls at him, that heats his skin. He wants her but knows that she will not want him when she finds out what she is.

But all is not what it seems. Though Cara knows it not, there is magic inside of her. Magic that someone would kill her for. Can Lucan protect her and his heart? Or will they give into the passion that consumes them both?

I haven’t enjoyed a historical paranormal romance so much in years. Filled with glorious detail, fantastic locales, believable characters and passion that scorches the page and burns the fingers, Dangerous Highlander is one heck of a fantastic book.

Not only does Grant give us characters we can know and love, she surrounds them in a story that pulls you in from the first page and refuses to let go, even after the last page is turned.

Thankfully Dangerous Highlander is the start of the new Dark Sword Series. I, for one, can’t wait for more.

Thaw by Fiona Robyn

16 Feb

 

“I feel strange after writing today. Like I have a blackbird in my stomach.”

What would you do if you decided to die?

You may try to leave your mark on the world in some way. You may give away all your earthly belongings. Or you may keep a journal to leave as your suicide note.

Ruth is turning thirty three years old. She doesn’t know if she wants to live anymore or whether or not she wants to turn thirty three. So she decides to keep a journal, a diary, documenting each day as she gets closer to the date she has chosen to end her life.

She has given herself three months. Three months to write every day so that she will leave behind a detailed suicide note, showing that the taking of her life was no easy decision.  In this way she hopes to provide some measure of comfort to her family that will remain behind and to leave behind her story.

As Ruth begins to write, we are pulled into a story that begins to unfold like a rose, revealing a petal at a time. And much like a rose that unthaws after a cold night and unfurls itself, grows and changes, so does Ruth.

Knowing that the end of her life is coming soon, she begins to throw caution to the wind and do things she never would have done normally. This includes sitting to have her portrait painted, trying to maintain relationships instead of shutting people out and reliving memories that she would prefer stay buried.

As Ruth gets closer and closer to the date she has chosen to die, she begins to thaw and change and become someone different than she was. But the question remains: does she want to live? And how many ways are there to die?

Thaw is the third novel from accomplished author Fiona Robyn and is one of the best books I have ever read. That doesn’t do the book justice; there are no words or adjectives to accurately praise this book. It is beautiful beyond words.

Part of the novels power lies in the strength of Robyn’s writing. Ruth’s voice is so pure, so real, that you feel as if you know her after only a few pages. She could be your sister, your close friend, your aunt. Ruth is a real, living, breathing woman who’s hurts are ones we recognize and empathize with right away.

Most authors spend years trying to achieve the balance and poise that Robyn has achieved and she does it with beauty, grace and a deft hand. Ruth is so real that she seems to live beyond the printed page. Her voice is so real, so tangible, that she stays with you long after the last page of Thaw has been turned.

What Robyn has really given us is an intimate study of human nature; of what drives a person to make the choices they do, regardless of the consequences. Robyn has given us hope and despair, joy and sadness, true emotions bottled up and stored within the pages of her novel.

I went through a whole gambit of emotion while reading Thaw. I laughed, cried, smiled, felt fear, joy, sadness. It takes a very talented author to evoke emotion in a reader, emotion that is true and pure. Thankfully, Robyn has that talent and more.

I have been thinking of Ruth since finishing Thaw and while there is sadness there, there is joy too. Joy that Robyn has given us the gift of Ruth, one of the most incredibly real literary characters to come along in years.

Sins of the Flesh by Caridad Pineiro

27 Oct

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Caterina Shaw is fighting for her life.

A talented cellist, she is quickly going blind. With no options left to her, she agrees to undergo a highly experimental gene treatment. The treatment restores her sight and turns her into someone she barely recognizes.

The experiment also turns her into a supposed murderer. Accused of a viscious murder she knows she didn’t commit, Caterina takes her life into her own hands.

On the run for her life, Caterina tries to piece together what happened to her and come to grips with her new life. She knows that she will have to prove her innocence, that she will have to fight for her life, if she has any way of figuring out who the murderer really is.

She doesn’t know that someone has been hired to find her.

Mick Carrera is a mercenary and has been hired to find and capture Caterina Shaw. He’s been told that she is a vicious killer and that she must be stopped at all costs. But when Mick does track Caterina down, the description of her he has been given does not match what he sees.

Caterina is wounded and vulnerable and an incredible mystery. She heals quickly, more quickly than a normal human should. And her skin can take on any hue to camouflage herself. Mick knows that something horrible has been done to Caterina and before he can decide if she is a murderer, he must first find out what was done to her.

Normally he stays emotionally distant from captives in order to finish his mission, but there is something about Caterina that pulls at him and at his heart. Soon, the two are giving into the passion that consumes them even as a dangerous group is plotting their next move, with Caterina as the pawn…

Sins of the Flesh is a flat out incredible read. I was pulled into the story from the first page and kept enthralled until the last page was turned. My meagre plot summary can’t even come close to the emotion, thrills and passion that Sins of the Flesh contains. It only scratches the surface.

Sins of the Flesh has something for everyone: passion, lust, romance, science fiction plot lines that tangle the reader up in its spell. It has engaging characters with depth and emotion and more thrills than a novel three times its size.

It takes a very talented writer to find the perfect balance of all these elements and Caridad Pineiro manages this with aplomb and flair. She has created the beginning of a series that can only get better. And that’s saying something as Sins of the Flesh is the best romantic suspense novel I’ve read in years. It truly is her best book yet.

What I love most about Sins of the Flesh is that nothing is what you think its going to be. Caridad keeps the reader constantly on the edge of their seat with more twists and turns, thrills and chills than a roller coaster. Sins of the Flesh is a wild ride from start to finish that leaves you wanting more.

Caridad’s strength lies not only in her writing, but in the incredibly real characters she creates. You become emotionally involved with Mick and Caterina and the secondary characters of the novel. These are people you care for, people you root for.

It’s sometimes difficult in the romantic suspense genre for writers to create believable characters with depth, but Caridad has created a whole cast of characters that seem to live and breathe off the page. By the end of Sins of the Flesh, you know these people. She has created a world and its people that you would swear really exist.

Thankfully, Sins of the Flesh is the first in a series. The book had a satisfying ending but it did leave a few strings dangling to tempt me with more. I can’t wait to find out what happens and what sinfully delicious story Caridad will give us next.

This is the best romance I have read in years. If you read one good book this fall, make it Sins of the Flesh by Caridad Pineiro. After the first sinful bite, I can guarantee you’ll want more.