Book Reviews

The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci

Review: The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci

The Ingredients of You and Me was my pandemic book. Before the pandemic officially began, I’d placed my pre-order and looked forward to receiving my copy the day it was released. Fast forward to April 28 and shipping was delayed and the world was a very different place. 

By the time the book finally arrived, I’d already re-read Nina Bocci’s other entries in the Hopeless Romantics series, On the Corner of Love and Hate and Meet Me on Love Lane, and I was so ready for Parker and Nick’s story. 

From the very first pages I knew I loved the story. Bocci has a knack for coming off the starting line strong, and for Parker Adams that meant selling her successful business and discovering that change meant a creativity block for the ages. Her decision to visit her friends in the idyllic town of Hope Lake, Pennsylvania, is more of a desperate attempt to reclaim her passion and figure out what Parker Phase Two looks like. 

It also means going back to the small town where Nick Arthur lives, and that means walking headfirst into some uncomfortable truths as she learns that he has a girlfriend.

Needless to say, Parker’s story isn’t all sprinkles and spritz cookies but thankfully she has lots of friends around to help her rediscover her mojo and whip up some new recipes…but will Nick be in the mix?

Under normal circumstances (as in, not during a worldwide pandemic) I read books really fast. Too fast, really. I can devour a good book in a matter of hours, and while the pandemic provided me with more hours than I was used to, I decided to take my time with The Ingredients of You and Me

The decision to read it slowly came on page 22, when Charlotte tells Parker she can take the 3pm bus from New York and make it to Hope Lake by dinner. 

Hope Lake, you see, is a work of fiction. Nina Bocci dreamed up Hope Lake and I can imagine that she pulled in all of the small town elements she loves to create the picture perfect, Hallmark-Channel-movie-ready setting to deposit her characters and let them play. 

The only way to get to Hope Lake is by car, and like a soap opera set in the 1950s, by bus. 

There is something incredibly special about that. 

Hope Lake is a place where time seems to stand still, so I wanted to read the book like a soap opera, with a little bit each day. (Sometimes I cheated and read a couple of chapters because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next) 

I love the way Bocci allowed the story to unfold so organically. Both Parker and Nick had things that they needed to work out, and these things take time. You can’t rediscover yourself on a deadline. That never works. 

Bocci’s world is one you want to jump into with both feet. The Golden Girls are delightful and I want my own group of Golden Girls to hang out with. I want to bake with Parker and have a reason to visit Charlotte’s flower shop every day. And don’t get me started on Henry’s bookstore….

The Ingredients of You and Me is a romance story for any time of the year. It will be a great beach read just as it’s the perfect book to read when you’re spending the weekend baking. It’s the kind of book you want to get lost in, and once you’re in it you won’t want to leave. 

Click here to buy The Ingredients of You and Me

Undisclosed by Liza Gaines

Undisclosed Proves that Romance and Politics Do Mix

Undisclosed is the kind of summer romance you want to be reading right now. It has all of the thrills of a long ago summer fling, a secret child and two former lovers brought back together to help their candidate run for office. 

Gwen and Mac knew each other in college. In fact, you can say they were close one summer, but after the dog days ended Gwen disappeared leaving a very confused Mac behind. 

Almost 12 years later Gwen shows up for a job interview at a PR firm that is helping to promote the presidential candidate hoping to unseat the incumbent, only to Gwen’s shock she finds that Mac is the one she’d be working with. 

To their mutual shock, they are the best team possible to help their candidate win her way into the White House, but in the process of working together Mac discovers Gwen’s secret: A son, whose eyes are identical to his own. 

Thrilling, isn’t it? And the perfect thing to curl up with on the beach or on the couch this weekend.

Undisclosed comes courtesy of author Liza Gaines, and it’s the first installment of her Public Relations series. I love how Gaines is setting up the series. All of her characters have great depth and are interesting and witty, and it will be fun to learn more about them in future books. Not only that, but this is the first chapter in a larger story featuring Gwen and Mac, and honestly the more the merrier. Undisclosed is just the start of what will no doubt be a very successful series.

While there are any number of stories out there about secret kids from long ago flings, what I love about Undisclosed is that Gwen and Mac were as good for each other over that summer long ago as they are now, working together as a team. Mac has to decide the kind of man he wants to be, for himself, for Gwen and for his son, and it takes him a while to get there. Gwen is steadfast, confident and just as surprised to see Mac has he was to see her. (They’d been close that summer, but evidently not close enough for her to know his full name…which makes for a very tantalizing story)

Clocking in at roughly 75,000 words, Undisclosed is a fast read. Once you get going, it’s hard to stop. Those are the kinds of books I love, and I think you’ll love Undisclosed, too.

Undisclosed is available now from the following retailers:

Order Links: 

Amazon 

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Apple

About Liza Gaines 

Liza Gaines grew up in Michigan before moving to Virginia in 2007.  She misses her family and the Great Lakes but has otherwise fallen in love with her adopted home state.

A dedicated reader, Liza often has her nose in a book.  She also enjoys cooking, baking, knitting, and watching terrible science fiction movies with her husband.  Their small farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia is home to an ever-expanding menagerie that currently includes three dogs, five cats, two horses, and three goats. 

Connect with Liza: 

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/LizaGaines

Website:  http://www.lizagaines.com/

Newsletter:  http://www.lizagaines.com/newsletter/

Into the Light

Review: Into the Light by Katherine Hastings

Into the Light by Katherine Hastings is the story of a wealthy, centuries-old vampire named Aiden who needs someone to volunteer as his blood donor. In exchange for her blood, he’s offering a life beyond her wildest dreams and a hefty payoff at the end. Emilia is fresh out of a horrible marriage that left her in financial ruin, and she can’t resist Aiden’s offer. What neither of them counted on was the attraction between them.

The story hits on a few common romance tropes: Aiden is a billionaire, which allows him the lavish lifestyle that makes the story possible. Then there is the paranormal aspect of the story: Aiden is a vampire. He’s a billionaire vampire so he checks a few boxes in all of the right ways. 

Into the Light was a wholly unexpected but absolutely delightful discovery. I came upon the story because I’d been reading paranormal YA books and the helpful algorithm on Kindle suggested I give it a try. 

Boy was it worth it. 

I read the book over two days, purposefully taking as much time as I could because I didn’t want the story to end. Aiden was charming, Emilia was strong and smart and sassy, and Aiden’s best friend and personal assistant Mark deserves his own story because he’s a spitfire of energy and enthusiasm. 

I didn’t know what to expect from the story, and I was very happy to see that when the story started taking what I thought to be a turn toward Cliche Ville, it veered sharply and surprised me with a very fresh and very satisfying twist. Hastings wastes no time setting up her characters in a way that draws readers in from the start, and once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. 

I’m a huge fan of vampire stories. I’ll take them all, from YA to gritty vampire thrillers and even dark horror. Aiden is the kind of vampire that knows how powerful he is and he doesn’t apologize for it, and that’s how vampires should be. (At least, that’s what I think) And Into the Light offers a fun and unexpected twist in a genre that tends to get bogged down by the same stories told a million times with little variation. 

For anyone looking for a feel-good escape from the daily grind, Into the Light is your ticket and it’s the kind of story that you will return to every time you need to spend an afternoon with the perfect book boyfriend. 

Into the Light (October 2019)

By Katherine Hastings

384 pages

Flyte Publishing

Random Musings Becomes Random Readings

After a lengthy hiatus, I’m back to my blog. You might have noticed the new title. “Random Musings” was fine, because in the moment it allowed me to write about anything that came to mind. Literally, random musings. Now it’s a little more intentional. Random Reading is a home for my book reviews and any random thoughts that pop into my head, usually about the books I’m reading. 

These days, though, I’m much more intentional with my writing. Just when I thought I was going to be caught up in the horrors of California’s ill-informed AB5, I was offered a job by the company I’ve been freelancing with for years. I thought I was going to be forced to say goodbye, and then suddenly I was saying hello to a whole new era in my writing as an official Staff Writer for FanSided, with my area of expertise being The Walking Dead

I’m covering DC Comics for a lovely Australian comic book website, Soda and Telepaths

That means my days are filled with the undead and comic books, but I felt like I was missing something. I’ve always wanted to be a book blogger and when Random Musings was at its peak, I did indeed write about the books I was reading. 

Now, I’m launching Random Readings as a means to write about the books I’m reading. (Let’s face it, I’m really doing it to justify buying so many books…) The trifecta of The Walking Dead, DC Comics and Books is finally complete. 

I’m reading a lot these days. Life hasn’t stopped for me with the quarantine. I’m still working just as much as I was before, if not a bit more. The reality is that I’m reading to allow my brain a chance to escape, so I’m reading a lot of Young Adult, paranormal and romance to give myself an escape. 

I buy a book, read it, and then buy whatever else is recommended to me when I reach the final page. That plan of attack has taken me from YA books about hot aliens in high school to a boarding school for vampires, werewolves and witches in Alaska, and just about everything in between. Lots of YA, lots of random romance and even a few thrillers. (I highly recommend Lawrence Wright’s The End of October if you’re looking for a very timely tale about a worldwide pandemic…)

At any rate, moving forward you can expect a lot of book talk around here. Hopefully you enjoy reading about what I’m reading, and as always I thank you for reading my words. It truly means a lot.

Review: Gabriel’s Promise by Sylvain Reynard

Julia and Gabriel Emerson are basking in the joy of their first child, Clare. No matter how many pink flamingos adorn their yard, nothing will get in the way of their happiness in this blissful moment. However, Gabriel receives email has the potential to send shock waves through their marriage. This is Gabriel’s Promise.

Gabriel has been invited to Edinburgh as part of a prestigious lecture series, but accepting the offer means leaving his infant daughter and beloved wife back in Boston. Should Julia pack up and leave with her husband, she risks losing the academic standing she worked so hard to create. In short, it’s a mess.

Interestingly, academia has always been the Emerson family’s greatest passion and greatest foe. It brought Julianne back to Gabriel, it drove them apart and it brought them together again. Now their bond is stronger than ever before, even more so with their daughter, but the prospect of moving overseas or having to endure a long distance relationship introduces a maelstrom into their previously peaceful waters.

While Gabriel ponders his dilemma, Julia deals with complications from giving birth to Clare and she tries to keep them from her husband. Like most secrets, though, they have a tendency to implode at the worst possible moments, putting even more stress on the couple while she prepares to return to her coursework.

There’s also a mysterious threat lingering in the darkness, one that’s tied to Gabriel’s art collection on loan to the Uffizi Gallery. While the biggest honor of his professional career dangles like a carrot under Gabriel’s nose, he must find a way to put the needs of his family first.

Longtime Sylvain Reynard fans will appreciate Gabriel’s Promise because it weaves all of his books together with one silky white satin ribbon. Gabriel’s Inferno gave rise to the Gabriel Series, but Reynard didn’t stop there. In less than a decade he managed to create three distinct “worlds” that are all tied together by the city of Florence, Dante, works of art and themes of love, hope and redemption.

Without spoiling anything, Gabriel’s Promise is a book best enjoyed if you have read all of Reynard’s other books. I’ve seen other people suggest that it can be read in any order, and while that’s mostly true, I think it makes more sense if you read it last so that you can fully appreciate all of the Easter Eggs that pop up. After all, Gabriel and Julia made cameo appearances in the Florentine Series and Gabriel’s Promise fills in lots of gaps, bringing a brand new perspective to both series. 

Everything about Gabriel’s Promise is perfect. Gabriel is delightfully stubborn and occasionally obstinate, but he’s always the loving and thoughtful husband and father. Julia is a wonderful mother and she’s also quite adept at managing the demands of her PhD program while tackling motherhood and Gabriel’s, ahem, needs….

Reading Sylvain Reynard’s books is a full sensory experience that wraps itself tantalizingly around the story itself. It’s not enough to read the words and devour the story, rather the story devours the reader in the most delectable way. Reynard’s prowess with language is enjoyable in itself, but I have to think that somewhere Dante himself is smiling at Reynard’s uncanny ability to combine a love story with themes of intrigue, history, art and religion. 

My biggest problem with Gabriel’s Promise is that I want more. I read it in a day, unable to put it down. Thank goodness Gabriel’s Inferno premieres on Passionflix in March, otherwise I might be climbing the walls in earnest.

Gabriel’s Promise gets five well-deserved stars.

Review: ‘Meet Me on Love Lane’ is an absolute gem

Meet Me on Love Lane is the second book in Nina Bocci’s Hopeless Romantics series, but this charming tale is so much more than your run of the mill romantic fiction. 

There’s nothing like picking up a book without knowing what to expect, only to find yourself drawn in by the compelling story and relatable characters. I had to stop myself from devouring Meet Me on Love Lane too quickly because I really wanted to take the time to really savor every moment. (That said, I finished it in three days)

Charlotte Bishop finds herself on a bus to Hope Lake after New York becomes too hostile an environment for her. Hope Lake is where she lived until she was ten, at which point a nasty divorce pulled her away from her hometown and her mother prevented her from returning. Upon her return she discovers that Hope Lake is nothing like she remembered.

With the help of her vivacious grandmother, her father and her childhood friends, Charlotte tries to embrace the town even though she’s planning on a return to New York at the end of summer. What she didn’t count on was being courted by her father’s partner, one of the town’s doctors, or the handsome English teacher who seems familiar even though she’s not sure why. As she struggles with her past, Charlotte’s once uncertain future comes into sharp focus the longer she stays in Hope Lake…and that’s not a bad thing. 

Meet Me on Love Lane is more fiction than romance, and I think that’s an important distinction because even though love and relationships are central themes in the book, it doesn’t read like a traditional romance. Charlotte has a complicated and rather traumatic history, and even though it might seem like a summer in idyllic Hope Lake would be a soothing balm for her troubled soul, the exact opposite is actually the case. Moreover, she’s not looking for love when she arrives – in fact, the story is a testament to how love appears when you least expect it but need it the most. 

USA Today bestselling author Nina Bocci is a masterful storyteller, and she has created a wonderfully complex playground for her characters. The fictional town of Hope Lake comes to life in vivid detail, and Bocci has taken time to ensure that each character is robustly multidimensional. Charlotte is someone that is easy to relate to as she tries to move forward and put her past behind her. She’s far from perfect, and her quirks are what make it so easy to root for her to succeed, not only in love but in life. 

With a healthy mix of wit, humor and drama, Meet Me on Love Lane is an utterly enchanting and captivating story that whisks the reader to the charming town of Hope Lake. If you’re looking for something to read on the plane or if you need a good story to help you unwind at the end of a hectic day, this is the book for you.

Meet Me on Love Lane is available in stores and online. The next installment of Bocci’s Hopeless Romantics series, The Ingredients of You and Me, is due in April 2020 and is available for preorder now. 

Book Review: The Raven, by Sylvain Reynard

The Raven

By Sylvain Reynard

Publication Date: February 3, 2015

Review by Sarabeth Pollock

 

When the sun goes down in Florence, the Prince of Florence awakens.

In Sylvain Reynard’s novella The Prince, we met the mysterious Prince of Florence.  Now in The Raven we learn more about the mysterious Prince and we also meet a woman who captivates him in a most unexpected way.

It’s May of 2013 and the Prince of Florence has just retrieved his prized collection of illustrations from the Uffizi Gallery.  They’re not copies, as Professor Gabriel Emerson believes.  They’re original drawings by Sandro Botticelli, and they had been stolen over a century prior.  But just as the Prince is about to celebrate, he hears a woman’s screams and he smells blood.  The vampyre rushes off to make sure he’s the first one to find her.

Raven Wood is an art restorer at the Uffizi Gallery.  On this night she’s walking home from a party when everything changes.   A week goes by that she can’t remember.  Raven wakes up and is literally a completely different person on the outside.  She also discovers that the Uffizi has been robbed, and she’s at the top of the suspect list.  It isn’t helping things that her disability no longer exists and she looks like a completely different person.

In the meantime, the Emerson Family-Professor Gabriel Emerson, wife Julianne, and daughter Clare-have arrived in Florence as the police search for clues in the robbery.  Little do they know, they’re being watched by a dark presence who presides over Florence when the sun goes down.

The Raven is a departure from the paranormal romance genre in that while the love story between Raven and the Prince (whose true identity is revealed in the book) is a large part of the plot, there are many other elements that come to the fore.  Salvation, hope, redemption, faith…these all play a central role in the story.  There’s also the political system at work in the vampyre world; the Prince of Florence reigns over the Consilium, a council of vampyre elders who serve their Prince much like a presidential cabinet.  There are rumors of hostility from neighboring provinces that keep the Prince in a state of constant vigilance, and when he finds himself falling for Raven, he knows that she will always be a target among his kind.  However, the Prince finds that his Cassita is worth fighting for.

The best thing about having my own blog is that when I write a review, I can say whatever I like.  Normally I try to stay as objective as possible.  But not today.  I love this book.  This book appeals to me on so many levels.  I love the characters, I love the story, and I love how the story is woven within the history of Florence to such an extent that Florence herself has become a central character.  Sylvain Reynard’s writing is magical that way. I’m not even sure that paranormal romance is a suitable descriptor for this new series.  It’s literary fiction, with a splash of paranormal romance, intermingled with historical fiction.  The lush prose and vivid imagery are utterly captivating.  The only real comparisons I can draw to other authors in the genre who write with such attention to detail are Anne Rice and Deborah Harkness.  I have spent the past weeks imagining the Prince and Raven and wondering what will happen next.  It isn’t often that characters capture my imagination so thoroughly, but Raven and the Prince have.

I am eager to see what Sylvain Reynard has in store for his Florentine Series.

 

Click here to read Part One of my interview with Sylvain Reynard

Click here to read Part Two of my interview with Sylvain Reynard

Click here to buy The Raven

Click here to buy The Prince

Book Review: The Prince, by Sylvain Reynard

The Prince

By Sylvain Reynard

Publication Date: January 20, 2015

Review by Sarabeth Pollock

 

There is a whole other world that comes to life in Florence as soon as the sun goes down.  With The Prince, New York Times Bestselling author Sylvain Reynard launches the brand new Florentine Series in which we meet the eponymous Prince of Florence.  The Prince is furious because one Professor Gabriel O. Emerson has arrived at the Uffizi with his young wife, Julianne, to celebrate the opening of the gallery’s newest exhibit: One hundred illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy, created by the Renaissance master Botticelli himself.  Emerson’s collection is the most comprehensive set of copies in existence…only the Prince knows better.  Not only are they not copies—they’re originals—they were stolen from him over a century prior.

Yes, you’ve guessed it: The Prince isn’t an ordinary man.  He is a vampyre.

The Prince is a novella that introduces readers to the darker side of Florence ahead of the release of the first full novel in the series, The Raven, due out on February 3rd.  It truly is an amuse bouche of a story, designed to draw readers in and captivate them with the mysterious figure known only (at this point) as the Prince.  Fans of Reynard’s Gabriel Series will delight in seeing The Professor and Julianne once again in The Prince; the novella is set during the gallery opening at the Uffizi in Gabriel’s Redemption.  Gabriel and Julia meet the mysterious Englishman in a chance encounter, and Gabriel is immediately suspicious of the strange man.  Little does the couple know, however, that they have been under his surveillance and he’s hell-bent on recovering his prized collection, at any cost.

The Prince of Florence is powerful, fierce, respected, alluring, and deadly.  Despite his power and his devastatingly good looks, there is an underlying melancholy in his demeanor that he must keep hidden from his council and the other vampyres around him.

As with all of Sylvain Reynard’s books, The Prince has been meticulously researched so that the setting is just as much a character as the Prince and the rest of his preternatural companions.  The city of Florence shines in the golden light of Reynard’s prose.  Reading Reynard’s books is like taking a survey course on the history of Florence and its art and architecture.

The Prince is a wonderful introduction to the Florentine Series.   Fortunately for readers, the next book arrives in a few short weeks, providing just enough of a taste to whet their appetites.

 

Click here to read my interview with Sylvain Reynard.

Click here to buy a copy of The Prince