Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Subway Girls Review

Title:  The Subway Girls
Author:  Susie Ormand Schnall
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press
Release Date:  July 10, 2018
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating:  5 Fabulous Hearts

*Many thanks to St. Martin's Press (Thanks, Jordan!) for an arc of this book.

In 1949, dutiful and ambitious Charlotte's dream of a career in advertising is shattered when her father demands she help out with the family business. Meanwhile, Charlotte is swept into the glamorous world of the Miss Subways beauty contest, which promises irresistible opportunities with its Park Avenue luster and local fame status. But when her new friend—the intriguing and gorgeous fellow-participant Rose—does something unforgivable, Charlotte must make a heart-wrenching decision that will change the lives of those around her forever.

Nearly 70 years later, outspoken advertising executive Olivia is pitching the NYC subways account in a last ditch effort to save her job at an advertising agency. When the charismatic boss she’s secretly in love with pits her against her misogynistic nemesis, Olivia’s urgent search for the winning strategy leads her to the historic Miss Subways campaign. As the pitch date closes in on her, Olivia finds herself dealing with a broken heart, an unlikely new love interest, and an unexpected personal connection to Miss Subways that could save her job—and her future.

The Subway Girls is the charming story of two strong women, a generation apart, who find themselves up against the same eternal struggle to find an impossible balance between love, happiness, and ambition.

The Subway Girls is a heart-touching story, one that held me in the palm of its hand right through the end.  Readers should know it's not just another historical read, but rather a story that utilizes a small piece of history in the telling of the beautiful, seductive, emotional journey of two women in their pursuit of true happiness.  I love the way the author uses two women from different generations to portray and compare the plight of women pursuing their dreams and the choices they're forced to make.  Charlotte & Oliva are both strong, determined women whose paths eventually cross, forever changing both their lives.  The Subway Girls is their story.

In 1949, Charlotte's career avenue was limited if not nearly impossible.  The idea that a woman could have a career beyond that of a typist or a wife and mother was ludicrous and those brazen enough to pursue it were often ridiculed.  But, if they were pretty (and lucky enough to be chosen), they could go the modeling/beauty queen route and use their new found fame as a springboard to new opportunities.  (Historical Fact:  From 1941 to 1976, the New York Subways Advertising Company held Miss Subways' contests with the winning contestants featured on subway posters.  The contest helped open some otherwise closed avenues to these women, affecting their lives in many different ways.)  Through Charlotte's story, readers learn how it eventually changed her life.

In 2018, Olivia enjoys a women-friendly work atmosphere, but even in the here and now she faces challenges unique to women.  She's living her dream job in advertising, but at what cost?  Like Charlotte 70 years before her, she's facing some hard decisions while fighting the good-old-boys mentality of the corporate world.  When an opportunity arises for her to pitch an advertisement campaign to the New York Subway Authority, Oliver discovers the past Subway Girls Campaign and a connection that elevates this story to another level comes to light.

The Subway Girls is a fascinating, entertaining work of historical fiction, propelled to life through the use of alternating past/present chapters until characters' paths cross, intertwine, and proceed forward together.  As the fast-paced plot unfolds, it becomes clear that women of all generations still struggle with the same age-old battle of balancing love, family, and careers.  At times, I found myself frustrated over the pain and indecision inner turmoil causes both women even as I recognized it as something I've dealt with myself.  Schnall's descriptive abilities are evident, bringing characters and setting to vivid life - so much so that I felt I was there, struggling and fighting right along with them.  The author's writing flows effortlessly from past to present, chapter to chapter, creating a story that's easy to follow and hypnotizing to watch unfold.  A charming, fabulous, inspiring, burn-the-midnight-oil Must Read!  I highly recommend this story to everyone!

My Rating:  5 Fabulous Hearts . . . And that's the truth!
Cross My Heart . . . xxx

Friday, February 23, 2018

Ink Review

Title:  Ink
Series:  A Love Story on 7th & Main
Author:  Elizabeth Hunter
Publisher:  Elizabeth Hunter
Release Date:  March 13, 2018
Order Link:  Amazon

My Rating:  3.75 rounded up to 4 Tattooed Hearts

*Many thanks to the author for an arc of this book.

It’s everything but business as usual.

Emmie Elliot hadn’t expected to come back to Metlin, California. She definitely didn’t expect to stay. She returned to her childhood home with a mission: Sell the building that housed her grandmother’s book store and move on with her life.

But life doesn’t always go according to plan.

To reopen her grandmother’s book shop, Emmie will need a hook. She’ll need a strategy. She’ll need an… Ox?

Miles Oxford doesn’t have much interest in quiet bookstore owners. He’s a tattoo artist without a space to work, and the last thing he wants is to get involved with anyone after his last disaster of a relationship. Work and pleasure don’t mix for Ox, but since he doesn’t have any interest in the cute girl with the bold business proposal, he should be safe from any awkward complications, right?

She sells ink. He tattoos it. Unusual? Yes. But a book shop/tattoo studio might be the ticket for both Emmie and Ox to find success on their own terms. As long as they keep their attention focused on business.

Just on business.

What's the common denominator between a bookstore & tattoo shop - a bookseller & tattoo artist?  INK!  Can they coexist in the same space?  In harmony?  Maybe . . . If the parties involved can agree on some ground rules like keeping their relationship strictly business and their hands to themselves.  Easy, right?  Not when sparks are flying and desire threatens better judgment.

Ink is a sweet, low-angst contemporary romance.  While it started off a bit slow for me, it was easy to feel the undeniable chemistry building as Emmie and Ox danced around their mutual but unspoken attraction.  Emmie is a quirky, down-to-earth, bohemian-style book girl - a t-shirt & jeans girl with a tendency to run when doubts and fears overwhelm her.  Ox is a tall, dark, oh-so-handsome giant of a man with tantalizing tattoos covering his delicious body - a man that's surprisingly sweet.  At first look, these two couldn't be more different.  But don't forget what they say about opposites attracting! 

Ink is intensified by a diverse support cast that enjoys stirring the pot and fanning the flames, adding to the "everyone-in-your-business" small town feel of the story. Their actions and words breathe life into the visual setting that Hunter has created.  I laughed at the snarky banter and soon found myself pulled into the growing tension between the main characters.  While I would have enjoyed seeing the conflict explored in a little more detail, Hunter's writing flows effortlessly, as always, making for an easy-reading, slow-burn romance that I enjoyed reading.  The stage is set for subsequent books which I look forward to. Another Must Read by Elizabeth Hunter!

My Rating:  3.75 Tattooed Hearts . . . And that's the truth!

Cross My Heart . . . xxx

Friday, February 16, 2018

Riven Review

Title:  Riven
Author:  Roan Parrish
Publisher:  Random House LLC - Loveswept
Release Date:  May 29, 2018
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating: 
Cover:  5 Seductive Hearts
Story:  5 Raw, Sensual Hearts

*Many thanks to Loveswept for a copy of this arc via Netgally.

Theo Decker might be the lead singer of Riven, but he hates being a rock star. The paparazzi, the endless tours, being recognized everywhere he goes—it all makes him squirm. The only thing he doesn’t hate is the music. Feeling an audience’s energy as they lose themselves in Riven’s music is a rush unlike anything else . . . until he meets Caleb Blake Whitman. Caleb is rough and damaged, yet his fingers on his guitar are pure poetry. And his hands on Theo? They’re all he can think about. But Caleb’s no groupie—and one night with him won’t be enough.

Just when Caleb is accepting his new life as a loner, Theo Decker slinks into it and turns his world upside-down. Theo’s sexy and brilliant and addictively vulnerable, and all Caleb wants is another hit. And another. That’s how he knows Theo’s trouble. Caleb can’t even handle performing these days. How the hell is he going to survive an affair with a tabloid superstar? But after Caleb sees the man behind the rock star, he begins to wonder if Theo might be his chance at a future he thought he’d lost forever.

Readers Beware!  Riven is raw, seductive, and highly addictive!  Once you partake, you'll be hopelessly hooked and craving more, more, more . . . more of Theo & Caleb, more of their sensual, passionate story & music, more of this author's rhythmic, unique voice.  What struck me like a lightning bolt about this story is the "honesty" resonating throughout, growing stronger & more demanding beat by beat.  Although denied by both men for a long time, it drives both main characters to finally face the haunting, debilitating truths holding them each back individually.

There's little doubt that Riven is character driven - the story of two men consumed heart and soul by music in its purest form.  Caleb's career has waned as he succumbed to the rock lifestyle and is now paying his penance - left believing that the only hope for his sanity and survival is giving up the very thing that keeps his heart beating - music and everything & everyone associated with it.  On the other hand, Theo is riding the monster crest of fame, but he's drowning under the never-ending adoration of fans and the relentless pursuit of paparazzi - a reluctant rock star in that he hates the fame, lifestyle, and all it entails.  He, like Caleb, lives for the music and songs reverberating in his head. 

As this story opens, the two men meet and their erotic, passionate, troubled journey begins.  Their chemistry is electric, and readers are gifted with love scenes that are highly combustible.  Parrish's characterizations are authentic - so real and powerful and explosive that my heart overflowed with their truths and turmoil.  There's a song from Dan Hill (later recorded by other artists) from way back that portrays Theo & Caleb and their conflicted emotions and inner battles best for me (it is not used in this book).  I began hearing it in my head as this story played out and will quote it here as it describes the way I saw and felt these two men better than my own words can.  The chorus goes like this:

Sometimes when we touch,

The honesty's too much,
And I have to close my eyes & hide.
I wanna hold you 'til I die,
'Til we both break down & cry,
I wanna hold you till the fear in me subsides.
(*by Dan Hill - Protected by copyright)

The honesty and love of these two men for music and each other is painful, all-consuming, & overwhelming at times as they work through their fears in an effort to move forward. And yet, through it all, they always feel genuine.

Riven is NOT your typical Rock Star story; in fact, there's nothing "typical" about this book.  It's a gift, a rare treasure - one readers only dream of discovering once in a blue moon hidden among all the other books on the shelf.  The sensuous yet mysterious siren of a cover seduced me into taking a closer look at this book, and the blurb sealed the deal.  I decided to take a chance on it and am so glad I did.  Roan Parrish has delivered a story and characters that will forever play in my head, heart, and soul.  All I can ask is "More, please!"  A Page Burning, Must Read!

My Rating:  5 Raw, Seductive, Sensual Hearts . . . And that's the truth!

Cross My Heart . . . xxx

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Southern Quilts: Celebrating Traditions, History, and Designs Review

Title:  Southern Quilts: Celebrating Tradition, History, and Designs
Author:  Mary W Kerr
Publisher:  Schiffer Publishing
Release Date:  April 28, 2018
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating:  5 Quilted Hearts

*Many thanks to Schiffer Publishing for an arc of this book via Netgally.

In more than 270 color images, hundreds of quilts, juxtaposed for the first time, celebrate and explore the South's rich quilting history. Quilt expert Mary W. Kerr joins 13 other textile historians to show why Southern quilts have a distinctiveness setting them apart, including factors like their patterns, use of tiny pieces, and specific color choices. Learn how the South's quilting traditions developed among all socioeconomic levels, and in communities such as African American, Scots Irish, and German. The use of cotton, the prominence of making-do aesthetics, and other characteristics are discussed, with in-depth looks at topics like feed sack use and tri-color quilts. Explore the classic patterns of Crown of Thorns, Whigs' Defeat, and Double Wedding Ring. Enjoy regional treasures like Texas Rattlesnake, the Shenandoah Valley Farmers Fancy, and many more. This compilation includes quilts from every Deep South state, offering commentary, examples, and insights.

My Review:
Rich in the tradition of the old South in which my grandmother and mother grew up, Southern Quilts is a beautiful treasure trove of hundreds of stunning quilts - all vividly brought to life in pictures and by the inclusion of many of the South's quilting traditions and the history accompanying them.  This is not a "how-to" book on quilting, but rather a book to be enjoyed and shared with others interested in vintage quilts and the history of their journey over time.  I especially liked the in-depth look at the materials used as Southern women learned to not only make-do, but turn out beautiful quilts from the materials available to them.  The patterns, colors, and quilting designs are unique and reminiscent of the time period . . . truly classic pieces of art and history.  Quilts that began as a way to keep family members warm at night evolved into beautiful works of art deserving of being showcased and handed down from generation to generation.  Years ago, most girls learned to quilt as a child as did I.  I was blessed with the opportunity to perfect my skills at the hands of my aunt who was an award winning, master quilter in our area.  I have never equaled her level of work, but pride myself on the quilts I have made just the same.  Quilting is truly a work of love as is, I suspect, this beautiful book of quilts.  A Must Read for both experienced and want-to-be quilters!

My Rating:  5 Quilted Hearts . . . And that's the truth!

Cross My Heart . . . xxx

Friday, February 9, 2018

Force of Nature (Aaron Falk #2) Review

Title:  Force of Nature
Series:  Aaron Falk #2
Author:  Jane Harper
Publisher:  Flatiron Books - Macmillan
U.S. Release Date:  Feb. 6, 2018
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating:  4 Thrilling Hearts

*Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of this arc via Netgally.

Five women go on a hike. Only four return. Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry, asks: How well do you really know the people you work with?

When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.

But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?


A riveting, meticulous, suspenseful follow up to Harper's award winning debut novel, The Dry!  It's never easy for a sophomore book to live up the hype and anticipation of readers when the first one was such an astounding success.  The temptation is great to compare them and expectations are always high for the second novel to be as good or even better than the first.  Like other readers, I couldn't wait to see what Harper would do with book 2 and where she would take Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk.  While The Dry remains my favorite of the two, I quickly found myself totally engrossed in Force of Nature and with heart racing, I read nonstop until I reached the end.

In Force of Nature, five women strike out on an office team-building hike through the rainy, cold, and deadly Giralang Ranges of Australia.  Readers soon sense a strong undercurrent of animosity among them, and by the time they finally stumble back out into civilization, there are only four women remaining.  The mystery of what happened on the dangerous trek plays out in "real" time as the story alternates between the hour by hour agonizing, seemingly doomed trek of the women and the current search by authorities, including Falk & his new partner.  Readers should do themselves a favor and avoid any and all spoilers.  Dive into the book unaware of what's to come - just as these women were unaware of the perils and challenges they would face before all was said and done.

As in The Dry, the setting plays the part of a character in Force of Nature and is a relentless, ongoing threat to the women's survival.  Harper writes in beautifully vivid, descriptive detail placing readers right in the heart of the potentially deadly forces doled out by an unforgiving mother nature.  As the story unfolds, the tension escalates and fear and panic serve to uncover the ugliest mask worn by human nature (masterfully portrayed by Harper), revealing several secret unknowns to readers.  As sure as the gray skies and incessant rain, a feeling of impending doom descends setting an ominous tone early that escalates all the way through to the heart-pounding end.  Jane Harper brilliantly delivers another stunning novel that I found as addictive and seductive as the first!  A Page Burner!  A Must Read!

My Rating:  4 Thrilling Hearts . . . And that's the truth!

Cross My Heart . . . xxx


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

IWSG: Pick A Favorite?! *Gasp*

Like many of you, I have a passion for books as both a reader and a writer and find it nearly impossible to pick one all-time favorite.  I can list my Top 10 Favorites (maybe) and after agonizing over it (and begging forgiveness from the heroes & heroines who deserved, but didn't make the final cut), I can name my Top 5 books (in no particular order).  But ask me to name my Favorite Book out of the thousands of books I've read in various genres, and I'll most likely hyperventilate and quite possibly pass out.  Like a mother picking a favorite child, I just can't do it.  Why?  Because like people, the best books in any genre are unique in their own way - each commanding my attention for different reasons and yet all holding me in a trance and ultimately owning me heart and soul.

No matter the genre (whether I'm reading or writing it), a well-crafted "real" book must include several things to excite me and find its way onto my favorite book list including but not limited to:

1) Well-developed, complex characters that I love to love or love to hate - either way they're unique, believable (whether human or not), and unforgettable, often preying on my mind long after I read (or write) the ending of their story. 
2) Well-developed, intriguing plot lines that quickly draw me in - as curvy and dangerous as our back country roads, winding perilously near the edge causing me to hold my breath in trepidation before I finally emerge on the other side to find everything expertly woven together in a surprise ending. 
3) Settings so vividly alive that I see, smell, taste, and feel them as they evolve into a living, breathing character, often leaving me knowing that this particular story would never have worked as well in any other setting.
4) A distinctive tone that defines the mood early and maintains it throughout.

Many good books I've enjoyed meet some of my requirements, but those that leave a forever mark on my soul are gifted with all of them and always leave me feeling a little giddy and emotionally drained as I yearn for just one more page, chapter, or book . . . needing to feel that "falling in love" feeling all over again.  As an author, it's what I aspire to do - write a book that leaves someone somewhere feeling that way.  And I hold my own writing to the same high standards I demand from other writers which leads me to this month's IWSG question.

What do you love about the genre you write in most often? 
For an established author who writes almost exclusively in one genre, this is probably a no-brainer.  For authors who have published in multiple genres, it's most likely a fairly easy question. But for writers still trying to find their own path, it can be a little more complicated as they need time to develop their creativity and style and discover the genre that excites them most.  As for myself, there's so much I enjoy about reading and exploring my writing potential in different genres. But for now, I find myself gravitating toward the paranormal and suspense genres or variations thereof.  My current work in progress is romance/suspense - a little dark and edgy with an ominous undercurrent of pending doom - and yes, if pushed to choose, it's my favorite genre in which to write.  As to what I love most about writing in this or any genre, see my four "must-haves" above.  They hold true for any book in any genre whether I'm writing or reading, and the creation process involved is the reason I love writing.  I get stoked about the endless possibilities when planning and developing my setting, plot lines, tone, and characters, and I love the giddy feeling that occurs when ideas are popping and things click.  No drugs needed here to get high!  Give me a story that's working, and I'll fall in love all over again.

How about you?  What do you love most about the genre you write (or read) most often?  What makes you shout to others, "You simply MUST read this book"? (other than the fact that it's yours, and it's awesome, of course!)

The Insecure Writer's Support Group is a community of writers who share ideas and encourage other writers. It's a great place to express doubts and concerns as well as offer and receive tribulations and guidance from other writers. IWSG posts the first Wednesday of every month. I think you'll find it to be a great writer's resource that's well worth your time. Be sure to stop by and visit with some of the other IWSG writers/bloggers at IWSG Members.

Many thanks to our awesome February Co-Hosts:  Stephen Tremp, Pat Garcia, Angela Wooldridge, Victoria Marie Lees, and Madeline Mora-Summonte!