Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Beautiful Enemy - Sherry Thomas (Review)

My Beautiful Enemy book cover
My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas
Series: The Heart of Blade #2
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Source/Format: Publisher (Thanks!) || Paperback
[I received this book for review from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

Hidden beneath Catherine Blade’s uncommon beauty is a daring that matches any man’s. Although this has taken her far in the world, she still doesn’t have the one thing she craves: the freedom to live life as she chooses. Finally given the chance to earn her independence, who should be standing in her way but the only man she’s ever loved, the only person to ever betray her.

Despite the scars Catherine left him, Captain Leighton Atwood has never been able to forget the mysterious girl who once so thoroughly captivated him. When she unexpectedly reappears in his life, he refuses to get close to her. But he cannot deny the yearning she reignites in his heart.

Their reunion, however, plunges them into a web of espionage, treachery, and deadly foes. With everything at stake, Leighton and Catherine are forced to work together to find a way out. If they are ever to find safety and happiness, they must first forgive and learn to trust each other again… (from Goodreads)

Well, I’ll give it to you straight: My Beautiful Enemy was totally not what I was expecting it to be! It’s a lot more serious than The Luckiest Lady in London (my first Thomas romance read!), with higher stakes and grave circumstances. This, however, doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it, because I totally did!

Characters: I absolutely loved Catherine Blade! She reminds me of some of my favorite historical fiction ladies (in particular, Christina from The Lion’s Lady) with her badass fighting skills. I really love that she has Asian blood (Seriously, this is SO. FREAKING. COOL.)! Christina is beautiful, but deadly; vulnerable, but sharp. While I wouldn’t want to be her, I admired her spirit. But here’s a quick confession for you: Leighton Atwood just didn’t appeal to me until a little later in the story. He’s got skills, and deeply cares for Catherine, but I just couldn’t fall for him the way I would have wanted to.

Romance: I actually liked the romance! It was balanced between love and hate, enmity and respect. The potent mixture of feelings that it inspired in me definitely kept me turning the pages all the way to the end. While I didn’t necessarily swoon all that much (a first for me!), I did want them to end up together. My one frustration is that all of the things that they went through could have been avoided if they had just talked it out, though I guess there would have been no story otherwise. (Remember folks, proper communication is important in any relationship!)

Plot: It doesn’t just focus on the romance, and that’s totally cool with me! Catherine, in particular, has a few other things to deal with, and they are things that just so happen to involve Leighton (or happen to be things he wants to involve himself in). I loved the sense of danger and action, and the mystery behind Catherine and Leighton’s history.

Even though My Beautiful Enemy was different, it was still quite readable! I loved the mix of espionage, mystery and intrigue, especially when combined with the romance. I’ve still got quite a few Thomas romances to read, but this one was pretty darn solid.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Vacationers - Emma Straub (Review)

The Vacationers book cover
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Publication Date: May 29, 2014
Source/Format: Edelweiss || e-galley
[I received this book for review from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated. (from Goodreads)

Since we’re well into summer, it seems pretty timely to read a book set in an exotic location. Am I right or am I right? The Vacationers seemed like just the ticket, especially as it’s about a family who goes on vacation in Mallorca for a stretch. I’ve never been to Mallorca per se, nor have I ever really thought about visiting, but I do like traveling when I read my books so I didn’t hesitate at the opportunity to read this!

Here are the three main thoughts I have about The Vacationers, organized in list form because it’s the only way I could keep this neat:
  • Mallorca sounds like a place I’d like to visit! As previously mentioned, I’d not really thought about this place. Ever. But after this book? I think it sounds like a vacation spot that’s right up my alley. The way it’s described gave me the following impression: a place where you can really get some R&R in, surrounded by beautiful scenery, where you can both indulge in solitude and company. Straub really convinced me I’d want to visit, and that’s already good reason to like this novel. 
  • Relationships are a very interesting part of life – whether with family, friend or a romantic partner. What I think really had me interested was exploring the family dynamics in this novel. It felt like a snapshot into the lives of this family – Franny, Jim and their children. Readers will sense the history and nuances between the characters, and even experience a bit of it for themselves. Straub really takes a look at what this family is like, describing them as if they were real people that she knew. I also liked that there were a few other people – friends and romantic partners – who added something extra to the mix. 
  • There’s something missing. This might be because it’s only a brief look into the lives of these characters, really. Or it could have something to do with the fact that they’re displaced from their natural habitat of Manhattan and put in the unfamiliar terrain of Mallorca. But sadly, there was a definite detachment from these characters and their tale.  
While there are definitely positive things about The Vacationers, it was simply an average read to me. I did like how the family dynamic was explored, but I do wish there had been a touch more to it than just these two weeks of vacation. Bonus points for the great setting, though!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Feast of San Gennaro

A couple of years ago, my best friends & I accidentally came across the festivities for the Feast of San Gennaro, an annual celebration in Little Italy. Mesmerized by the lights, sounds and smells of the street fair (which reminded us all so much of our hometown Bacolod and our annual festival, Masskara), we joined the crowd. 

It was really fun to wander from booth to booth, looking at all the merchandise on sale and sampling as much of the food as we could. We wound up enticed to go and have a sit down dinner at one of the restaurants, gorging ourselves on delicious bread, pasta and pizza. It was such a fun night, and we enjoyed ourselves tremendously.

Feast of San Gennaro 2010
Feast of San Gennaro, circa 2010

Flash forward to just this last weekend! Jaymee, her boyfriend Ephy & I decided to venture out together to partake in the Feast of San Gennaro celebration this year. Instead of arriving at night, we went into the early afternoon. The streets were crowded with booths selling merchandise, stalls with various treats (Cannolis! Pizza! Pasta! Gelato! Mozzarepas! Lemonade! Drinks!) and so very many people. 

It was fun to casually wander around and take everything in! We wound up buying a few different things to eat, as well as making a very happy-making purchase of some original Beanie Babies. (That’s a story for another day, by the way, our newfound obsession with hunting them down.)

Feast of San Gennaro 2014
Feast of San Gennaro, circa 2014

The Feast of San Gennaro is a fun celebration with a distinctly Italian flavor! If you live in or near NYC and want a chance to visit, the festivities are until this Sunday, September 21. You can find more info on their site.

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