Friday, May 31, 2013

Kel's Romance Reviews

So Enchanting by Connie Brockway

Greyson Sheffield has made her career by exposing spiritualists as frauds, including Fanny Walcott's husband and by association Fanny. Fanny Walcott would like to be normal, but actually has some supernatural power to influence animals. And things happen as you would expect.

This book is kind of hard to blurb in any way that makes sense without spoiling the things that make it most fun. Connie Brockway has a similar style of writing to Julia Quinn and Eloisa James (the three have co-written two books), but with a very different voice. Her voice seems to be a bit more contemporary, which I don't mind. Some people have a problem with anachronistic language, but I do not and really think it makes it sound a bit fresher.

The story itself was fun. I wasn't quite sure where it was going and enjoyed going on the ride. I thought the main characters were awesome and really fleshed out. I also liked the contrast between the main couple and the secondary couple. All four main characters were distinct and unique and fun in their own right. I highly recommend!

The Earl is Mine by Kieran Kramer

The Earl is Mine is the second of the House of Brady and I did not like it much. Pippa has been in love with Gregory forever. Gregory is in love with Pippa, but he has a deep dark secret that he can't tell anyone because he promised and OMG ANGST!

There was a lot that I liked about Pippa, but I didn't like her relationship with Gregory. I couldn't ever get a read on if they were good or terrible for each other. Neither really said what they meant and I thought a lot of the drama was forced. I saw no reason that the two of them couldn't be together since they both loved each other. And Gregory was not very likable. Meh.

I have read all of Kramer's books and this is the first that I haven't liked, so I am still excited to read the next book in the series!

The Naked Marquis by Sally MacKenzie

After the Naked Marquis I only have one more Naked book to read and that makes me so sad. Charles Draysmith has inherited his title after his older brother is killed and therefore must marry. He has known Emma, the vicar's oldest daughter, since she was 6 and he was 10. Since he has to marry, he figures Emma will be a good choice because he likes her and really would like to have sex with her. Emma is extremely naive and has never thought about marriage really since she has raised her younger sister for the past 17 years. She does not take kindly to Charles's proposal. Mostly because he does it with no romance at all and focuses on the practicality and how much he wants to bed her.

And that pretty much sums up the two of them in a nutshell. Charles really does like Emma. And thinks she is lush and thinks she would be a great mother. Emma is a bit spazzy. She has no idea what happens between men and women. This is the only part of the book that bothered me...Emma is from the country yet knows nothing about sex and pregnancy. However, that extreme naivete makes for a rather nice plot point, so I was ok with it.

What I have enjoyed the most about this whole series is that they are all connect. James from the Naked Duke and Robbie from the Naked Earl are best friends with Charles, so they are hanging around. And Meg, the heroine of the Naked Gentleman, is Emma's sister. Much fun! I highly recommend any and all of MacKenzie's books.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Midweek Mancandy: Matt Smith (and his new hair)

We at the Pop Tarts are big "Doctor Who" fans. Jen has been since the new series started in 2005. Kel has been for the past few years (well before it became popular in the U.S.).

In honor of the season finale that just aired (which was epic, Jen would like to note - is it November yet!?), our Mancandy this week is Matt Smith. But this is not about floppy-haired Matt Smith. We are all about his new haircut.

Hello, Doctor!

Floppy-haired Matt Smith is adorable and goofy-looking. Shaved-head Matt Smith is manly. He looks very bad-ass with the shaved head. It also makes his features stand out more, most notably it makes his cheekbones looks ridiculous (and they were already ridiculous)! It's an intense look, but we like it. Besides, it must be a bitch to deal with his crazy floppy hair all the time!

Also, does he not look a bit like the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, (who happens to our favorite Doctor)? Fantastic!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"50 Shades of Blah" - Why I couldn't finish the popular erotic trilogy

I, like many other women I know, read "50 Shades of Grey." I couldn't help myself - I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

"50 Shades of Grey" was OK. (My review is here.) Sort of interesting, enhanced by the fact that it was based on some "Twilight" fanfiction, but not terribly well-written. I decided that I would probably eventually read "50 Shades Darker" and "50 Shades Freed," because I was sort of interested in what happened and it bothers me if I don't complete series. 

So, finally, a few weeks ago, I checked out the e-book version of "50 Shades Darker" from the library (no way was I going to actually spend money on that crap) and started reading.

I got 28% of the way through before I couldn't do it anymore. 

**Minor spoiler section**
At the end of "50 Shades of Grey," the main characters, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, break up, and for good reason - she doesn't like that he's into BDSM and decides they're incompatible. Obviously, they're going to get back together for the next two books and, hey, I'm OK with that. She might decide that she liked the BDSM more than she used to, or he will decide that he's in love with her. But Ana can barely function without Christian, and when "50 Shades Darker" opens, it's less than a week later and she just can't live without him.

That was strike one, right off the bat. I am perfectly OK with women going back to their exes (although I would steer clear of Christian Grey for quite a few reasons, mostly because he's an overbearing, demanding, possessive asshole), but not that fast. Have some self-respect! Live with yourself. Get your equilibrium back. That's important in any relationship, but especially one with an overbearing billionaire who just beat you with a belt last week.
**End minor spoiler section**

The real problem I had with reading "50 Shades Darker," though, was the other books I've been reading lately. Just before and while I was attempting to read "50 Shades Darker," I was also reading "Size 12 and Ready to Rock," by Meg Cabot and "Two for the Dough" by Janet Evanovich, and I was getting geared up to read the new Sookie Stackhouse book, "Dead Ever After" by Charlaine Harris. (There will be a review of that book just as soon as I finish it, which will be soon because I can't put it down!)

I came to the conclusion that I like Heather Wells, Stephanie Plum and Sookie Stackhouse much more than I like stupid Anastasia Steele.

It's not that Heather, Stephanie and Sookie are perfect women. They all make stunningly terrible decisions throughout their books. Stephanie and her various flirtations with Joe Morelli, while fun and totally understandable, are especially ill-advised - not to mention that she herself says that marrying her first husband, Dickie Orr, was a really bad decision. (I'm only through the third book - I'm sure she does a lot of other stupid things in the next 16 books.) And if I were Sookie, I would have broken up with Eric Northman quite a bit sooner. But, at the very least, at least they are honest about it to themselves. Ana never seemed to see why running back to Christian was a bad idea, especially when it's almost immediately after they broke up!

Ana also does this painfully annoying thing that her "forebear," Bella Swan, does too - she defines herself by her men. Heather, Stephanie and Sookie steadfastly refuse to do that, no matter what other people try to do. The fact that Sookie can date a couple of different vampires and a were-tiger and come out the other side her own woman is nothing short of miraculous. That's something important for all women - all people, really - to remember. It's not a bad thing to have a solid relationship, or to have your significant other be an important part of your life, but in the end, you have to be your authentic self and define yourself by your own interests and talents, not by the person you're in a relationship with.

On more of a literary level, the problem with Ana is that she's a blank person. She doesn't do anything except think about Christian. She has very few interests, a distant family and friends and virtually no hobbies. She's a boring person, which makes her story boring to read. She needs something to give her a little personality. It doesn't have to be something great, like being a telepath or a bounty hunter in New Jersey or a former teen idol. Some of the best things about Stephanie, Sookie and Heather are the silly details about them, like the fact that Heather loves terrible reality TV and has a huge collection of dolls from the countries she visited on her tours, or Sookie records episodes of Jeopardy! and loves to read, or that Stephanie likes to eat junk food and talk to her hampster, Rex. Ana has nothing - except Christian Grey.

I know that the Heather Wells, Sookie Stackhouse and Stephanie Plum series aren't great literature - they're fun candy for the brain - but at least they feature strong, interesting, likeable women. That's what the "50 Shades" trilogy is missing, and why I just couldn't read any more of it. 

(On a side note, is it just me, or would it be amazing if Heather, Sookie and Stephanie hung out sometime? I can just imagine them eating, drinking, talking about guys and watching bad TV together, and having a great time doing it. Oh my gosh, this is how fanfic gets started, isn't it?)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Kel's Romance Reviews

Three books to review, two that I liked, and one that I did not care for. On with the reviewing!

Loving Lady Marcia by Kieran Kramer
Loving Lady Marcia is the first book in a series called the House of Brady. Yes, it is like the Brady Bunch. In short, the plot of this first book is that Marcia fell in love with a guy who seduced her, told her they would get married, and then left to go to America, blaming his brother for sending him. Marcia ends up as a headmistress at a school. She also meets the brother, Duncan, who she blames for sending her love away. He is, of course, fascinated by her.

There is more to the story because Duncan is the father of a bastard boy (who isn't seen much, but is a fairly nice addition to the story) and Marcia is fighting to get her position of headmistress back after an old school rival who owns the school fires her.

In general, I really enjoyed the book. It was fun and not terribly slutty. My only problem was that by the end Marcia was willing to give up her dream for Duncan. Not cool. But still, it wasn't enough for me to dislike the book, just a slight annoyance because that is totally not what I would have done in her situation.

The Rules of Seduction by Madeline Hunter
Another first of a series. Which I am really looking forward to reading more of, even though I really didn't care for this book. Hayden Rothwell, as far as Alexia knows, ruins her family, but hires her to be his cousin's governess and his aunt's companion. Obviously, he then seduces her and she falls in love with him. As you do when someone has destroyed your family.

To be fair, he actually was saving Alexia's cousin from being hanged, but she doesn't know that. I had a hard time with this book because I could not figure out why she liked him. Or why she fell in love with him. Or why she married him. That being said, I think the rest of the series will be fun because I like a lot of the secondary characters, like both of Rothwell's brothers, who have books later in the series.

What a Lady Wants by Victoria Alexander
The second book in a series. Because I am a rebel. The series is about four friends who are all trying to put off marriage as long as possible. I enjoy the concept, even if it is not terribly unique.

What a Lady Wants is about Nigel Cavendish and Felicity Melville. Felicity wishes on a star for adventure. Right after, she sees Nigel climbing out of her neighbor's window, followed by gun shots. Nigel ends up on her balcony. Felicity decides right then and there that she wants to marry Nigel. And she sets out to make that happen. Though she doesn't want to trap him into marriage, she wants him to want to marry her.

I really enjoyed this book. It was clever and fun. And Felicity, though I don't necessarily understand meeting someone once and deciding to marry then, is strong and really goes for what she wants. Though she works with Nigel's sister at first to win him, she ends up just sort of telling Nigel her plan. This book was also really funny. Nigel ends up getting shot (accidentally), crashing through a door, and falling off a balcony.

I haven't read a ton of Victoria Alexander, but I am definitely going to make an effort to read her more!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Goodreads Review: "Two for the Dough" by Janet Evanovich

Two for the Dough (Stephanie Plum, #2)Two for the Dough by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have been in a mood for lightweight, fun books lately, and "Two for the Dough" completely fit the bill. There isn't much of real consequence here - there is no deep message - but "Two for the Dough," like One For The Money before it, is a lot of fun to read.

This book follows New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum as she tracks down Kenny Mancuso, who is accused of shooting his best friend in the knee. He's also a relative of Joe Morelli, a vice cop with whom Stephanie has a complicated relationship. Stephanie is also hired to find some lost caskets for an oily local funeral director.

These plot points lead to two great things in the book.

One is that we see a lot of Morelli. A part of me kind of hates Morelli, because he's an ass, but there are some moments of genuine sweetness in the book too that softened my stance toward him considerably (which is good, because I gather he continues to show up in Stephanie's life and, therefore, more books). And since Stephanie knows exactly what kind of guy Morelli is, I don't have to worry about her getting a broken heart over him.

The other great thing in "Two for the Dough" is Stephanie's Grandma Mazur, who accompanies Stephanie to a lot of funerals throughout the book, and generally wreaks havoc at the funeral homes. She is absolutely hilarious throughout the entire book and adds a lot of levity throughout. It's nice, because there are some dark moments in this book.

I really enjoyed "Two for the Dough." I liked getting to know Stephanie better, and I continue to like her more and more. She does some pretty reckless things throughout the book, but she also has a lot of street smarts and shows that she's not stupid. She's a tough cookie, and I like that in my book heroines, especially when they're trying to catch murderers and hanging out with jerky guys like Morelli. She is also incredibly hilarious - I laughed out loud many, many times.

"Two for the Dough" made me hungry for more Stephanie Plum adventures. They may not be deep, but they sure are fun to read!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Midweek ManCandy: Leo! (As in, Leonardo DiCaprio)

Since "The Great Gatsby" is coming out this weekend, who else could we feature but the actor playing Gatsby ... Leo!?

There is no denying that Leonardo DiCaprio is hot. But more importantly, he is a great actor. He is one of the few actors who seems to have very few problems moving from teen heartthrob (Romeo + Juliet, Titanic) to serious actor (The Departed, Shutter Island) to rather crazy fun actor (Django Unchained, Great Gatsby).

DiCaprio was one of Jen's first celebrity crushes - she had many magazine photos of him taped to her bedroom wall back in 1997 - but he has aged pretty well. He has a boyish charm to him still, while still looking mature. He went from the adorable blond boy to a very distinguished man. And he really looks delicious both playing serious and silly roles.

We are excited about "The Great Gatsby" for many reasons (we are big fans of Baz Luhrmann's over-the-top style!) but one of the big reasons is to see Leo on the big screen once again! And that, friends, is why he is our Midweek Mancandy!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Kel's Reading Roundup

This week, I read a more varied list of books, rather than just romance novels.

Knock Off & Knock 'em Dead by Rhonda Pollero
Finley Anderson Tanner is a paralegal in Estates with no aspirations of greatness. Her favorite hobbies include handing out with her three best girl friends and shopping for name-brand clothes and accessories that are way discounted. She makes just enough money to have maxed out all her credit cards, but still pay her bills.

In Knock Off, one of Finley's cases thinks that her husband has been murdered. Finley is unable to walk away from the case, which leads her to much danger and a death scare of her own. Knock 'em Dead starts with one of Finley's friends appearing at her house covered in blood, which also drags Finley into a murder investigation.

The F.A.T. books (which I am rereading so I can read the newest book) are amazingly fun. Finley is smart, sarcastic, silly, and romantic. Liam McGarritty is the hot PI, who looks and acts like a bad-boy, but is still a pretty nice guy who tends to help Finley out. Finley's friends are all unique and fun and a bit quirky. The writing is also super fun. Rhonda Pollero used to be a Harlequin romance author, so even though the books are mysteries, there are a lot of sexy hot romance scenes. If you like either murder mysteries or romance novels, you will probably like the Rhonda Pollero books.

The Dangerous Lord by Sabrina Jeffries
The Dangerous Lord is the third of a trilogy by Sabrina Jeffries. Ian is a looking for a bride because he has to  marry and get an heir before thirty. Felicity helps her friend thwart his marriage attempt (sort of), which makes him set his sites on Felicity, who really doesn't want anything to do with Ian.

I found Ian and Felicity both a bit annoying. Ian had some unresolved issues from childhood that makes him want to never love anyone. And Felicity is too proud to admit to anyone that she is out of money, even while trying to raise her three brothers. I loved most everything else about the book. It brought back the main characters from the other two books, who I love a lot. Felicity's younger brothers were fun and a nice levity to the drama of the book. Sabrina Jeffries always has fun and smart characters and this book did not disappoint.

The Naked Gentleman by Sally MacKenzie
I have been reading all the Naked books out of order, which is slightly confusing. There are two couples that have books that happen prior to this one that I haven't read, so I missed out on some good characterization of secondary characters. Putting that aside, I found The Naked Gentleman to be a really fun read.

John Parker-Roth (Parks) pretty much only cares about his plants, and he has an impressive amount of exotic plants. Meg Peterson just wants to get married, which she tries to accomplish by "auditioning" men in the gardens at parties. One man tries to go too far, which causes Meg to end up with her dress torn. Parks saves her from the guy, which causes them to be caught. Parks offers marriage to Meg, which she declines. The entire book is pretty much Parks trying to convince Meg to marry him.

I found the sexual tension of Parks and Meg to be super fun. They obviously are attracted to one another, but Meg thinks that Parks doesn't care about her at all. John doesn't really do much to convince her besides consistently asking her to marry him. The secondary characters are all really fun, especially John's family. His sister Jane, though not in the book much, is hilarious when she is. What really makes the book is Meg's sister and John's mother.

Not my favorite of the Naked series (that would be The Naked King, about John's brother Stephen), but still a very entertaining read.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Goodreads Review: "Size 12 and Ready to Rock"

Size 12 and Ready to Rock (Heather Wells, #4)Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heather Wells is one of my favorite book characters to come along in a long time, so I was really excited to read another book in the series about her by Meg Cabot.

"Size 12 and Ready to Rock" follows Heather, a former teen pop star, as she works in the fabled "Death Dorm" at New York College. This time, it's summer and the dorm gets commandeered to hold the Tania Trace Rock Camp and film a reality show called "Jordan Loves Tania," starring Heather's ex-boyfriend, pop singer Jordan Cartwright, and his pregnant wife, singing sensation Tania Trace.

But when a member of the production crew dies under mysterious circumstances, Heather is thrown in the middle of a scary world - one where somebody apparently wants Tania Trace dead, and doesn't care who gets in their way.

To make matters even more complicated, Heather is now in close contact with her ex-boyfriend's family, and what they don't know is that Heather is not only dating, but is engaged to Jordan's semi-estranged brother, Cooper.

The No. 1 thing that makes "Size 12 and Ready to Rock" such a joy to read is the wonderful character of Heather Wells. Cabot did a fantastic job when she created this funny, snarky, caring, relatable woman. Heather comes alive on the page, from her love of bad reality shows to her concern about her doll collection to her love of the students (which Cooper calls her "Misfit Toys") she cares for in the dorm. She gets a great opportunity to grow, too, as she spends time with Tania and learns more about her life.

I really enjoyed seeing more of Tania and Jordan, too. They also really got a chance to grow, and even though they're still pretty dippy, I liked seeing their characters develop some more.

The plot of "Size 12 and Ready to Rock" is a good one. I was surprised by several of the sneaky twists and turns, and it ended up being a pretty engaging little murder mystery. The book also tackled several darker subjects - the most notable being fertility and abuse - and although some of the conversations about them were a little clunky, it's refreshing to see books that have positive role models that talk realistically about issues of the day.

Overall, though, "Size 12 and Ready to Rock" is basically the definition of a breezy, fun summer read. I could hardly put it down, and I laughed a lot (Meg Cabot knows how to write humor!). I really enjoyed reading it, and I can hardly wait for the next one, "The Bride Wore Size 12," which is scheduled to be released in September.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Midweek Mancandy: Robert Downey Jr.

With "Iron Man 3" coming out this weekend, signaling the beginning of the summer movie season, we knew that our Midweek Mancandy had to be the star of the "Iron Man" franchise, Robert Downey Jr.

(Photo from Tom & Lorenzo)

Now, of course, Robert Downey Jr. has a traditional sex appeal. He has a great body and a nice face. Look at any picture of him and you know he's hot. 

But his personality is also hot. He's a funny guy who doesn't seem to take acting too seriously. It's refreshing, especially because he is a genuinely talented actor who really could act like a serious asshole about his craft. But he has fun with it, which you can see in the "Iron Man" movies and in "The Avengers." Yes, sometimes he can act a bit too douchey and goofy on the red carpet, but then he does something absolutely perfect, like his outfit for the "Iron Man 3" red carpet in Germany (above) and we fall in love with him all over again.

RDJ also gets mad props from us for the way that he pulled himself out of a really dark place and re-emerged into the Hollywood scene a changed man. From for a huge chunk of the 90's and early 00's, he had major drug problems, and he had to spend time in jail and rehab and relapsed several times. He finally got sober in 2003 and clawed his way back into the business. We admire him for that, and that only makes him more worthy of mancandy props.

So here's to you, Robert Downey Jr. - we can't wait to see you kick off the summer movie season in style!