Posts Tagged ‘loved it’

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You know how sometimes, you’re so beat down by not reading anything good that you’re not motivated to pick up the next book in the stack? And then you finally do and you want to kick yourself because what you’re reading is so much fun that you have trouble putting it down.

Yeah, that.

Jaine herself sent us a copy of her new release, Dirty Like Me, and man, it took way too long to find something that pulled me out of my slump, but this was definitely it. Girl floundering through life meets hot dude. Best friend negotiates a deal for her that gives her more money than she can get her brain around, if she’ll be the hot dude’s pretend girlfriend for six weeks.

Problem is: there’s real chemistry between the two. And they’re both genuinely good people, despite Jesse’s bad boy rocker persona and Katie’s strange life stasis. This, of course, leads to more than a work situation between them, which eventually leads to Katie’s insecurities kicking in.

In a sense, yes, it’s predictable. But what isn’t is how genuinely nice Jesse is. He’s not a tortured, angsty rocker. He’s a normal human being who is considerate of the people around him. He gives a lot of trust to his inner circle, and they all act as though they know they hold a precious gift. Gotta love that.

And Katie’s best friend, Devi, who always ends every conversation with is he good to you – that’s a huge consideration, and props to Devi for asking that question. There’s every reason for a huge rocker type to not be nice to Katie, the newbie on the scene, but Jesse doesn’t take that chance. Like I said: refreshing rocker type.

And refreshing best friend, who looks after her bestie in a way that I wish my friends looked after me. That’s such an important question for any of us in relationships, even if your past isn’t like Katie’s and you’ve never been left at the altar. I’ve written that one down and prettied it up and hung it in my cubicle at work ‘cause it’s a good reminder not just in my private life, but in work, too. Treat and be treated. Be good to each other. I love it.

This book isn’t going to win awards, although it should. Where’s the award for Most Fun Read? Or Couldn’t Put It Down? Or even What To Read When Everything Around You Sucks and You Need to Break Out of the Rut?

Okay, that’s maybe too long of an award category, but man oh man, Jaine Diamond. You get mad props for this one. You hit me at the perfect time and I wish I’d been on top of things in enough time to realize it. Sorry this one’s late.

And thanks for sending a review copy! If you ever want to stop in at The Rock of Pages to talk about your book(s), we’re here for you like raving fan girls. ‘Cause I’m making Susan read this one next. She needs some fun in her life. She’s getting kinda… icky.

This ought to fix her right up. It’s so fun, so hopeful, so fresh.

But… what’s with the title? Who’s the dirty one? And where? That doesn’t come up once. Katie never feels dirty as she’s with Jesse. So… what gives?

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I wrote yesterday’s post awhile ago, and it’s funny that it’s running this week, the week after McCarthy’s second book in the series, Dream Maker, was released. Let me tell you, after reading Dream Maker, I gotta go find that first book.

Here’s the review I wrote before I realized we had two days of Erin McCarthy. Think it’s enough to convince her to come hang out here a bit and talk about this Nashville Nights series of hers?

Can I gush about how much fun this book was? It’s such a simple, familiar setup, one I’ve been seeing a lot lately.
Avery’s lost on a street corner – the why is important, so I won’t spoil it, even though if you’ve read the first chapter, you know – and gets picked up by Shane Hart, music producer extraordinare and brother to Jolene Hart, country music darling.

Throwing caution to the wind and needing to be wild for just one night, Avery takes Shane to a hotel room and screws him silly. It, of course, is wonderful, but Avery promised herself it would be one time, one night, and she leaves a note and sneaks out while Shane snores on. If romance heroes snore.

Fast forward three months. Avery’s found herself a new footing and a job as a songwriter. She’s messing around with a new tune and freezes. That’s Shane in the hallway, loving her song. Or is it her?

It doesn’t really matter. It takes her co-workers about zero time to figure out that there’s some unresolved heat between Shane and Avery, and that’s pretty much it. That’s the plot. Oh, there’s a subplot about Avery’s father, too, and it’s resolved super fast and with zero angst. I wish there’d been more angst about this part of the book.

But the romance is a fun read. It’s charming, it’s cute, it’s heartwarming. And yes, it’s hot, so don’t think that words like cute and charming and heartwarming don’t mean there’s not some explicit loving happening.

And yes, it’s Rock Fiction. I mean, hello? He’s a music producer. She’s a songwriter. And there’s Jolene running around, too, since she and Shane are some of romance’s almost typical brother-sister loving duos.

This is part of a series, the second book. The first featured Jolene and her love, and we get to see them in this book. I’m not sure where McCarthy’s going to head next, but it’s listed as upcoming and man, I hope I get to read it. I also need to read Jolene’s story. This is some good stuff. Fun, frothy, and… just perfect.

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I’m not the huge classical music fan that Jett is, but I’m a sucker for a historical novel. She probably knows more about Vivaldi and his music than I do, even though I’ve taken to listening to it on Spotify, thanks to this book.

This book is The Violinist of Venice, written by debut author Alyssa Palombo, and it’s the story of the fictional Adriana d’Amato, who shows up on Vivaldi’s doorstep with a need to play the violin. And a sack full of gold.

Vivaldi’s struck first by the gold and second by this woman’s talent. They make beautiful music together, and that’s not a euphemism, although that happens, too. I mean, we all know they’re going to wind up in bed together. That’s not a surprise.

The surprise is in Palombo’s writing, which brings not just the music to life, but the joy and the drive and the need to make it—and the pain when it’s denied.

This author is a maestro similar to Vivaldi himself, as she shows in the character of Senator Baldovino. Initially a creep, he turns out to be a bigger gift to Adriana than much of what Vivaldi himself gives our heroine. And Vivaldi gives Adriana much, unlocking things inside of her that she never would have dreamed possible without him. In turn, she inspires him to write greater and greater pieces of music. And yet, as a couple, they simply cannot be.

Still, there are happy endings, if bittersweet ones, for Adriana. And maybe here, things fall a bit short, as maybe Adriana’s life falls together a bit too neatly in the end. But as a reader, we’re willing to go along with it. After all, we have spent years with Adriana by the time the book ends. We’ve grown to love her. How can we not root for her?

Maybe people who know more about Vivaldi’s music will find fault with some of this book. Maybe people more versed in the Venice of the times will have accuracy issues. I don’t know. I don’t really care. Venice was a character in this book as much as Adriana and Vivaldi and everyone else, and Palombo brings it to life in the same masterful strokes that she uses for everything else.

This is one author to watch. And one book that all Rock Fiction lovers shouldn’t miss. Because Vivaldi may be a priest and not the sexy rocker who usually graces this site, but the music is maybe more alive here than in much of the more contemporary stuff that crosses our radars. And in the end, it’s about the music, not always the men and women who make it.

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It was my friend Jessica Topper who first told me about Erika Kelly’s books. She promised I’d love them – and so I could hardly wait to dig in and see for myself how right Jessica was. Which does not explain why, when I ran into Ms. Kelly’s books in the library a few months ago, I didn’t check them out. I’m kicking myself for that now, of course. Why deny yourself something so good?
Take Me Home Tonight is the story of Mimi, the aspiring chef who works for Blue Fire, the band whose stories make up this series. Mimi chases a dream of working for her father and, by doing so, becoming the princess in his eyes that she’s always wanted to be.

Of course, there’s a love interest, in the form of standoffish Calix Bourbon, the keyboard player with major commitment issues.

That’s pretty much the story: how these two heal each other, grow, and come together. But of course, like the best fiction, there’s way more than that. The characters are smart, they are stupid, they are blinded by love and loyalty, they are brutally honest and walled up behind their fears, and they are both afraid to take chances. They are achingly human.

It’s hard not to love Calix’s major entry into the story, when he pulls up on his motorcycle and saves Mimi from a fight with her father. Without uttering a single word, he establishes his bad boy persona, and it’s both hysterical and hot. This man doesn’t need words and it’s almost a letdown when he does begin to use them, especially because when aroused, he’s got a habit of speaking in caveman grunts. “Want you,” he’ll tell Mimi.

I was into it until one of the other guys in Blue Fire speaks the same way to his girl. And then the magic went out. What a shame; it was such a neat nod to that man on the motorcycle.

Another thing I really liked was the issues of family in here. I really liked that these characters had families; how often do our romances exist in a family-free vaccuum? Maybe not as often as memory is trying to serve, but here, the family issues fuel the plot, fuel the characters’ motivations, and help shape the entire story. Both Calix and Mimi are chasing their families, but for different reasons. Calix’s family is close. Mimi’s is the opposite, although not to the polar extreme, fortunately. If anything, Mimi’s family is more in keeping with the relationships a number of my friends and I had with our own families at that age: wanting the best for us but unable to trust that we needed to fumble through on our own in order to be able to fully appreciate the success that came out of those struggles. Even more than the band, I loved the family members, although I’m a little iffy on Jo. She seemed to come around too fast, to be too normal compared to what we are set up to expect.

Coming into the series with this book, I was a bit let down that the members of Blue Fire come off as largely interchangeable. Granted, this is Mimi and Calix’s story, and they should take center stage, but I’d have liked to see more personality in the men, even if that meant they had to struggle a bit with the family for the reader’s attention; the series as a whole does, after all, revolve around them. It took me a good three quarters before I could recall which man had paired off with Violet and which with Emmie. This had a dual effect: to both irritate me beyond belief and to make me swear to go to the library already and catch up on what I’ve missed.

I liked that Mimi was a breath of fresh air and a disruptor in Calix’s life, and I liked that Calix is less of a bad boy and more of a rock, especially for Mimi, but also for his family, for better or worse. This man is solid, and probably one of the best fictional rockers I’ve encountered. And believe me: Rock Fiction is my category. I’ve met fictional rockers. Calix is right up there. Calix is welcome in my life. What a shame he’s not real…

I’ll definitely be reading this one again, for a couple of reasons. The e-ARC I got from NetGalley had formatting issues. I know I missed nuances that I’d have better appreciated without this issue. But also, as I said, I need to start with the first book, You Really Got Me, and immerse myself in the full Blue Fire experience. Take Me Home Tonight was a good place to start, a great introduction to this band, but dammit, it was so good, I want more. MORE.

Just as my buddy Jessica Topper warned me: I’m now an Erika Kelly fangirl.

Don’t miss this series.

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When Jessica Topper asked if I wanted a review copy of the next installment in Adrian and Kat’s story, begun in the most-excellent Louder Than Love, I am quite sure she could hear me scream in frustration that she hadn’t just gone ahead and sent it. Like she even needed to ask?

(Jessica has class. What can I say?)

This little novella is more like a dreamlike fairy tale than anything else. It takes place over 24 hours, maybe not even that long, and it brings the cast from Louder than Love back while introducing new characters, as well.

There’s not a huge amount of conflict here, and it’s almost entirely Kat’s internal struggle that fuels the story, even as it’s Adrian who fuels the action. He creates an amazing, dream-like fairy tale for Kat, and there’s no doubt that this man can make things happen.

The conflict lies in Kat, who worries about the future. What’s the status of Adrian and his band, whose first concert ended at the end of Louder Than Love, the echoes of which haven’t quite died as Deeper than Dreams opens? Can Adrian handle the rock and roll lifestyle again—and does he even want to? What about Kat? Is this a world she can fit into? Is she tough enough to fit in, or will the hard edges of rock and roll send her running back to her quiet life in her quiet little town? Does she even want to fit in?

What does the future hold for Kat and Adrian?

These are big questions, and they are dealt with in a very short space. Maybe too short; this novella feels more like a stolen moment in Adrian and Kat’s life than a complete work. The problem with this short length is that there’s a lot that Kat needs to uncover and come to terms with before we are convinced that the fairy tale ending’s promises will come true.

I’m not convinced, myself. Not yet. I need to see more growth in these two, more of them together handling the adversity that’s going to be thrown in their paths. There’s not a lot of character growth in a work this short; as I say to my editing clients, in a novella, something’s always gotta give. And yet, it is quite easy to write this off as a typical second installment in a trilogy—a bridge between the action-laden first and third volumes.

For the best reading experience, you’ll need to have read Louder first. Again, pretty typical for a second volume. The question is if there’s a third or not…

While we wait, you want to go back and read Louder Than Love. Otherwise, you’ll be lost as to who these people are, what their backstory is, and what’s going on.

Besides, Louder is one of my favorite books of the past few years. And now Deeper is one of my favorite novellas.

Because despite it all, we all want fairy tale days and experiences like Adrian gives Kat. We really do.

I can’t wait to read the third entry into this world. It’s not Adrian and Kat’s story, though! Stronger than Steel, it’s called, and it’s the story of one of Adrian’s bandmates. I can hardly wait; this guy’s intrigued me from the moment he stepped onto the page. And that impatience describes my need to read it. Riff, where are you, man?

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I am not the heel here. Susan is.

This morning, she sent me the file containing Louisa Bacio’s The Big One. She’d had it since last Rocktober; it had gotten buried in her inbox. She’d even blogged about getting it, so we’ve all been waiting all this time. Especially me.

Let me tell you, this one was worth the wait. I wish I could do another post or three about it ’cause it’s that good and you all should go out and pick it up and read it. You really should.

If you remember, this is the one with the bomb shelter. The one with the marketing assistant ordered to show her dirty secret—the bomb shelter—to a potential client, the rocker. He may or may not be willing to shoot his next music video in there.

But disaster strikes, and believe me when I say it’s a lot less obvious on the page than it is in this review. And Kayla and Sebastian are trapped because she’s installed a lock that can’t be opened. It’s a way to keep looters out.

Or two people inside, she realizes.

This is a novella, which was the major downer of the whole experience. It took like an hour to read (Again, Susan! WHAT were you thinking???) and I got to the last page and wanted to reach out to Louise and shake her a good one. I wanted her to have Shaken Baby Syndrome ’cause I wanted more. More Kayla. More Sebastian.

But especially, more of what happened to them once they left the insulated bunker. That sucker is insulated in a lot of ways: from what is happening outside, and from what’s going on inside. The bunker becomes their safe place, where they can reveal parts of themselves that they’ve kept hidden from others. Maybe it’s the dark, maybe it’s knowing they are trapped, maybe it’s their attraction to each other… who knows? I don’t. And I don’t really want to. This isn’t one of those novellas that you want to think too much about. You want to sit back and go along for the ride even though these people are complex and real. None of that phone it in stereotype here. Well, okay, a little bit, and only where Sebastian is involved. He’s larger than life, of course. He’s a rock star! His charisma oozes out of him, even when he’s at his most vulnerable. But he’s also more than your normal stereotyped rocker, and that’s the best part of him.

This is a fun ride. It’s a sexy ride, with some great whoo boy hot love scenes. And I loved the way Sebastian talked about his man parts. Totally cracked me up. I’d kill for a man with that kind of sense of humor about himself.

My only complaint is that I wanted to be with Kayla and Sebastian longer. A lot longer. I want to know if they can make it once they’re together in the daylight.

Oh, okay, I’ve got another complaint. There’s talk of a periscope that Kayla has put in so she can see what’s going on outside. She peeks through it once. But then the whole idea of how bad it was, what’s going on, the idea of this secret tool to peek at the world from a hidden safe spot… none of that gets used. It’s dropped, and that’s too bad.

But, this was a novella, after all, and by definition, they gotta be short. Something always has to go in a novella, and here it wasn’t so major. I mean, it could have been the development of the characters.

I’m really glad character development didn’t suffer. It’s what makes this story so earth-shaking good. Get it? Earth shaking?

I’ll be here all night. Or so I’m told.

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I don’t cry. I’m told it’s because of the trauma I’ve faced so far in life. Personally, I think it’s because I found a better outlet, one that doesn’t leave me with puffy, red eyes and ruined contacts.

So, yeah, I was mortified when I got to that scene in Jessica Topper’s The Dictatorship of the Dress and tears were streaming down my face. It wouldn’t have been so bad except I was sitting in a waiting room at the time. I had to put the book down and read some women’s magazine before the tears would stop.

I don’t routinely read women’s magazines.

Jessica Topper—who has become a friend of mine, our bond forged in rock and roll and its first cousin, Rock Fiction—can write. With a pointedness, a poignancy, a realness, and an honesty that takes my breath away. Which is exactly how I came to be sitting in a waiting room, bawling.

I take solace in the fact I wasn’t sobbing. I suspect if I’d been home alone, I might have been.

So. The story leading up to this point seems simple: Laney Hudson is taking her mother’s wedding dress to Hawaii. Her mother’s already there. The groom’s already there. The bridal party is already there and texting her pictures of their toes at the beach and by the pool. In short: it’s all set except for Laney and the dress.

Her mother doubts that Laney can accomplish this simple task, and in a homily to Jewish mothers everywhere, she lets Laney know it. As a result, Laney feels like the family fuck-up even though she’s had this amazing life until now. Still, she can’t see the good. Too much trauma.

I can relate.

Noah’s also got an amazing life, but he’s trapped, engaged to the boss’ daughter. He should be set for life, living the dream, and he is, but … he feels shunted aside. Something doesn’t feel right, and he’s not sure what it is. But she’s the boss’ daughter… and his life is good, right?

These two wind up sitting next to each other in an airplane bound for Chicago. Even before their connecting flights are cancelled due to a snowstorm, their situation has become like the proverbial snowball barreling down a hill.

It’s how lighthearted this novel is, despite its serious points, that makes it such a poignant read. Noah makes a nest in the Jacuzzi tub when he and Laney have to share a hotel room. Laney wears Noah’s Converse shoes when she realizes throwing away the boots with the broken heel wasn’t such a smart move.

But there’s a deep point to all this. Throwing those precious boots away when they no longer function is the start of Laney’s facing her past and the things she’s lost – and the things she can’t let go of. Noah makes due in the sort of luxury he should be enjoying properly. But maybe Noah and proper aren’t meant to be.

And then there’s the elephant in the room. Allen Burnside, the tour de force who used to oppose Laney’s mother in the battle over Laney’s soul. Allen had wanted to set her free, she was convinced of it, until he up and died, breaking their engagement before he did so because, as he said, she would make a lousy widow.

How can Noah compete? He’s Allen’s opposite… or is he? As the snowball that is the Noah and Laney Chronicles gains momentum, each layer of snow gathering on that ball is really the stripping away of layers of self-preservation, self-deception, and the growing self-awareness that lets both Laney and Noah move forward in life.

They learn, they grow, they risk it all.

I dare you not to cry.

So one question left: Topper is one of my favorite Rock Fiction authors after her amazing debut, Louder than Love. Neither Laney nor Noah are rockers… why am I even bringing up the question of Rock Fiction?

Let’s revisit Allen Burnside. Drummer for Three on a Match, one of the best band names I’ve encountered recently. It’s got a ring to it, a rhythm. Go on, say it out loud. Feel how it rolls off the tongue. It really is a shame this band doesn’t get more time on the page, but Topper’s no slouch. If there’s a story, she’ll tell it. Or she’ll answer to me.

But back to Allen Burnside. Allen, who is the ultimate rocker in that he takes over and dominates the story. There is no Laney and Noah without Allen there, overshadowing things, looming over it all. He’s pulling the puppet strings; there’s no doubt about it. So yeah, Dictatorship of the Dress becomes Rock Fiction. Rock and Roll will never die, right?

Right.

Allen’s got a friend, too. A Scary one, and he’s the reason for my tears. I’ll let you discover what that means, exactly. Keep the tissues handy, as this is one of the rawest, most poignant scenes I’ve ever read. It’s also really the penultimate scene in the book even though so much happens after it. It’s not a climax in the traditional sense of a climax in a story, and it’s good that Topper’s not afraid to push the boundaries. You could even argue that the plot’s climax happens later, but this scene is definitely The Moment for Laney on her emotional journey.

Aww, just go pick up a copy. Yes, the situation with Noah’s life is a bit too pat, but … hey, you can’t get every single element right, can you? Besides, the way he handles the fallout from the choices he makes shows real class. Laney’s mother is going to love this boy. Even his Italian side. What is it with Italians and Jews, anyway?

Pick up a copy. Keep the tissues handy and take your contacts out. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Thanks to Jessica for putting a copy aside for me. What an incredible read.

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Melissa Wells clearly has Google alerts set because she found her book, Come Dancing, included on our overall list of Rock Fiction here at The Rock of Pages. She was kind enough to get in touch with me and send me a review copy. And I meant to send it on to Jett, I really did.

But some sixth sense interfered and before I knew it, I’d loaded it onto my Nook and was forty pages in.

My sixth sense is smart. Come Dancing took me back to my own past, to a New York I’d forgotten about.

In a nutshell, it’s the story of rocker Jack Kipling, who sees editorial assistant Julia Nash dancing the night away in New York’s famed Palladium. He’s smitten, even moreso when she doesn’t jump in his bed or play hard to get; she’s naturally cautious. Their relationship grows, it evolves, and most of all, Julia herself grows and learns to see what she’s capable of: in work, with her family, and with her relationships. She learns what she wants from life.

I loved this book. Yes, there’s that stroll down memory lane even though Come Dancing is set in an earlier era than the late 80s/early 90s when I was a frequent visitor. The garbage night treasure hunts, the Halloween Parade, the characters who made New York so colorful and vibrant… they were all there, teasing out memories I’d long forgotten. No wonder when I hit San Francisco in the early 2000s, I was nonplussed by what caught the attention of my travel buddies and friends. After that era in New York, nothing else compares.

But there’s more to love. It’s the slow unfolding, the way the reader gets to know Jack as Julia peels his layers away. At first, I didn’t much like him and thought he was transparent or thin as a character. But slowly, we see beyond the image to the man, a man with real struggles and a pain that a lot of Rock Fiction doesn’t go near. Jack is a broken man, in his own way, but he’s also working to overcome, and that’s admirable, indeed.

Julia, too, grows from her relationship with Jack, but even more from her friendship with the girlfriend of Jack’s bandmate and from two of her co-workers who know she can rise above the lecherous boss – oh, how I remember those, too! – and have her back when she most needs it.

A couple things bugged me, though. One was the stereotypic naked blonde in Jack’s bed. The entire situation was a cliché, to the point that when Julia made her impromptu decision, I knew what was going to happen, how the blonde had gotten there, and how disruptive to the storyline she was going to be. Okay, an early draft of my own Trevolution stories might have included this exact scenario – like I said, cliché!

The other thing that bothered me was that although you can’t help but root for Julia, she’s a bit of a wunderkid. She gives Suzanne the idea that becomes her artistic breakthrough. She edits best-selling books. She lands the memoir and triumphs over her too-perfect rival. She encourages Jack to overcome his issue, which I won’t spoil but really love how it’s handled (and yes, I picked up on the problem before Julia did). She’s the perfect dancer. Handles the lech of a boss and Jack’s idiot bandmate perfectly. It gets to be a bit much once you take a step back and analyze it, but at the time, it works.

Of course, she’s not perfect. But maybe she’s a bit too idealized. Even the breakthrough with her mother is a little too neat, a little too simplistic.

Still. This is one of those books I wish I’d edited, not because I could make it better so much as because it would have been great fun. Julia is from my neck of the woods, after all – although her mother seemed more West Virginia than Western PA.

One thing I struggle with is that a large number of other reviewers didn’t recognize that the book is set in the 80s. What a shame. It was a dead giveaway for me on page 2 (or 8 in my copy), with the first mention of the Palladium. I never made it there, hanging at (my favorite) The Limelight, CBGB’s, or the Cat Club, but believe you me, I knew the Palladium. I remember being sad when I heard it had closed. I suppose if you came into pop culture after 1991, you’d miss that cultural marker. Which is too bad; Leslie Wells captures the era like a pro. The last time I read a book that was so quintessential New York of my own past was Fat Kid Rules the World, which also remains as one of my all-time favorite Rock Fiction books.

Can’t wait to see what else Leslie Wells has up her sleeve. From the look of it, there’s two backlist books I need to track down – and rumor has it a sequel to Come Dancing is in the works, as well. I’ll go read the old stuff that while you go dancing with Julia and Jack.