Review: Vienna Waltz by Mary Lancaster

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 17.03.03Synopsis:

Intrigue, suspicion and true love at the Congress of Vienna…

In 1814, with Napoleon finally defeated, the great and the good of Europe descend on Vienna to plan a lasting peace – and to dance.

Ejected from her home on the death of her father, Lizzie Gaunt – along with her gaggle of siblings and a large, unruly dog – finds herself in Vienna with her diplomat uncle. But Lizzie is determined not to remain dependent upon her aunt and uncle for long. After witnessing a daring theft, she recruits the unusual thief to carry out her plan – which should hurt no one except her father’s heir, the vile Russian cousin she’s dubbed Ivan the Terrible.

However, Lizzie’s simple scheme is soon complicated by a wounded Austrian spy, a formidable English matron, a masked Russian rakehell from the Emperor’s masquerade ball, and a mysterious villain selling information that could ruin the Congress before it properly begins. And then there’s Cousin Minerva’s romantic difficulties, and Cousin James’ gambling debts to sort out.

While Vienna dances, Lizzie tries to solve everyone’s problems, and ends by falling disastrously and dangerously in love.

 

Review:

I stumbled upon Mary Lancaster’s Vienna Waltz while doing research for a historical romance I would like to write. Since I love Vienna (it’s one of my favorite places to visit) and I’ve always been fascinated by the Austro-Hungarian empire, this was the perfect historical romance for me to read.

Vienna Waltz starts with a theft. Our heroine, Lizzie, is at the opera with her aunt and cousins when she witnesses a thief snatch a woman’s necklace. This act leads to a case of mistaken identities and romantic intrigues that in the heart of the Austrian capital.

This lighthearted and romantic novel does a fantastic job of capturing the grandeur and the intrigues around the Congress of Vienna, when heads of state gathered to negotiate long-term peace following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Lancaster does a wonderful job of weaving fact with fiction, peppering her story with historical figures and a charming Russian hero, Vanya, who is not at all what he appears to be. In Lizzie, we get a headstrong heroine who is determined to do what she can for her orphaned sisters and brothers, even if it means putting her own life on a shelf.

If you love reading historical romances set during the regency era, but would love to read something other than stories set in England, then give Mary Lancaster’s Vienna Waltz, the first book in her Imperial Season series, a try. It’s exciting, well written and such a delight to read. I fell in love with Vanya and Lizzie and I think you will too.

My rating?

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Review: A Summer Affair by Janae Keyes

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 06.47.44I love short stories. I like the feeling of satisfaction I get when I can read a complete story while on my morning commute or during my lunch break. Not every short story succeeds in eliciting that satisfied sensation–the pacing may be too rushed or the characterisation flimsy, but Janae Keyes’s A Summer Affair most definitely succeeded.

With A Summer Affair, Janae gives us a very emotional and relatable story about unexpected love. We meet Ashlee, a wife and author who is dealing with a clingy child and a neglectful husband. We also have Kyle, the author who just happens to be as sexy as all get-out. Of course sparks fly. And we want them to–even when we know they shouldn’t.

I loved the emotional rollercoaster that Janae takes us on. I also loved how she depicted Ashlee and Kyle’s feelings for one another. It came across, for me, as believable and understandable. This was my first time reading a Janae Keyes book and it definitely will not be my last.

My rating?

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Review: In the Nothing by Nia Forrester

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 21.13.58Nia Forrester’s In the Nothing is one of those stories that sticks with you. This emotionally-charged story is set in Washington, DC and focuses on Trinity, a young woman temporarily living with her verbally abusive aunt and her disaffected cousin while she tries to figure out a better situation for herself. Trinity has been living with them since her mother died of AIDS and has had to deal with her aunt’s fluctuating moods and her cousin’s resentment. All Trinity wants is a better life and, when her aunt tells her one time too many that it’s time for her to look for a new place to stay, Trinity goes uptown and stumbles upon a job at a health food store called the Green Banana. There she meets the charismatic and sometimes very cruel Skylar, who pulls Trinity into her sphere and exposes her to a completely different kind of life.

All I can say is…WOW. In the Nothing shakes you and doesn’t let go. Trinity’s story is so riveting that you can’t help but feel empathy for her, even when she is doing things you wish she wouldn’t. And her cousin, Chanelle, who is silently struggling with depression yet has no way of dealing with it, has perhaps the most heartbreaking story. Her search for love doesn’t go as she’d planned but at the end of the day there is hope for her. And then there is Skylar–dynamic, spoiled, entitled Sklyar. We all know someone like her. She is a whirlwind of unnecessary drama and her bouts of generosity are almost always followed by thoughtless (and sometimes intentional) cruelty. We all know someone like her.

One of the things that I really love about In the Nothing is how Nia handles this story of haves and have-nots. Too often, less-experienced writers simply portray the haves as being entitled whites without considering that entitlement is not simply relegated to whites. Having grown up in a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood and gone to school in a very diverse, affluent neighbourhood in downtown Philadelphia, I could relate to this story. Trinity and Chanelle’s uneasy relationship was almost too close to home for me–I understood Trinity’s desire for something more than the limitations her old neighbourhood represented and I understood Chanelle’s initial inability to realise that her fate was in her own hands.

Pure magic, Nia. Pure magic.

My rating?

5_Star

Book Review: Lifted by Nia Forrester

LiftedWhen I first heard that Nia Forrester was working on Lifted and it would be the third book in the Secret series, I was ready to jump for joy–especially when I heard that this time the focus would be on Tessa, Trey’s younger, a tad bit irresponsible sister. Tessa was one of my favorite characters from Secret and the Art of Endings and I always wanted to know more about her.

This time, we find Tessa in San Francisco, avoiding the friends she’d moved there with since she has lost interest in the bakery they’d started together. Tessa’s living in a crappy apartment, waiting bar at a gay country-western bar called the Hood Range and involved with a woman called Lisa who refuses to come out of the closet. It’s fairly obvious that Tessa is dissatisfied in love and in life. With each of her therapy sessions with Dr. Young, we get a sense of a young woman who is frustrated, resentful and (though she would never admit it) afraid. She’s considering ending her relationship with Lisa because she knows they are destined to fail and whatever attraction she had for Lisa has faded with each time Tessa is forced to pretend she is just a friend. And Tessa doesn’t really see them as being in a relationship–they are just hooking up, with no real strings attached.

Enter Lisa’s younger, a tad bit irresponsible brother, Ty. While Tessa is initially forced to pretend she and Lisa are “just friends”, she finds herself drawn to Ty. There is definite chemistry between them–which Tessa tries to deny at first. She has so thoroughly defined who she is by the fact that she has always been attracted to women that what she feels for Ty unsettles her. And his being Lisa’s brother doesn’t really help things. Soon Tessa and Ty are hanging out, hiding their friendship from Lisa, spending most nights together and growing more and more attached to one another without realizing it. Only Dr. Young and Anzu, Tess’s closest friend, seem to be able to see that what’s going on between Tessa and Ty is more than just friendship and sooner or later Tessa will have to face the music.

I really loved how Nia handled the most complicated question in Lifted: how do we define ourselves? Are we defined simply by who we usually have sex with, or by who we love? This is an issue that Tessa struggles with throughout Lifted and it rings true without ever making the reader feel like Tessa is someone who should not be taken seriously. Tessa and Ty’s relationship and how it grows makes for an interesting story. And how those around them react to it, plus the secrets both keep and how they are revealed….it’s a compelling novel. You’ll find it difficult to put down.

Kudos to Nia for taking on such a charged topic and creating such a beautiful love story. The demanding reader in me wants to read more about Ty and Tessa, but the ending was so satisfying. Sometimes we don’t need to know everything. Imagining the continuation of the adventure is equally fulfilling.

My rating:

5_Star

Book Review: Chasing Athens by Marissa Tejada

Chasing Athens CoverWhat would you do if the man you loved convinced you to move to another country with him, then left you there while he was working and playing away, only to have him return and announce he doesn’t want to be married to you anymore? That’s the dilemma facing Ava Martin, a small-town girl from a college town in Upstate New York, at the beginning of Marissa Tejada‘s Chasing Athens.

When we meet Ava, she is lost, trying to figure out what went wrong in her marriage as she navigates the beauty and chaos that is modern-day Athens. The Athens Ava encounters is not the picture-perfect version on the glossy pages of a travel magazine–it is a city roiling in chaos thanks to the dire Greek economic crisis, a city of violent protests and random strikes–yet even with all of the unrest, Ava and her friends Nikos and Eleni go out in the evenings for bouzoukia, dancing and drinking into the wee hours and enjoying their lives. All three are trying to find someone–Nikos is always on the lookout for pretty exotic (for him) girls whom he tries to charm with the foreign phrases he’s learned, Eleni puts on a hard-to-get facade as she weeds out the men who don’t meet her standards and Ava tries to find away to forget Greg, the husband who has left her.

As Ava explores Athens and the Greek islands, she also begins a journey of self-discovery. Her entire life has been a series of other people setting sail for her–she has never been the captain of her own destiny. Now, with Greg out of her life and her overprotective mother across the ocean in Ithaca, New York, Ava has the chance to make her own choices and mistakes and learn from them. As she traverses the dating world with many love in translation moments,

Chasing Athens is a fantastic story of heartbreak, self-discovery and finding love again. I really loved how Marissa depicted Athens so that it came alive for the reader. I haven’t been to Athens since the late 1990s but reading Chasing Athens rekindled within me all those memories of the city, of Piraeus and the islands.  What I also loved about this novel is how real Ava’s struggle felt. She is not a two-dimensional character and her honesty and naiveté after so many years of having others dictate her life ring true. She struggles, she is frustrated, she does dumb things without becoming a character we pity. Instead, we empathize because we’ve all–at some point or another–slept with the wrong man, been embarrassed on public transportation or dealt with a catty rival who tramples on our self-confidence.

Ava’s friends are another plus for Chasing Athens. Nikos and Eleni’s spontaneity and optimism (even in the face of the looming political and economic crisis in Greece) keep Ava buoyant, especially in the early days of her separation from Greg. And their unwavering support makes me wish I had them in my life too! 🙂 And then there is the Greek George Clooney…well, I won’t give anything away, since I think you should read the book.

I also love that Marissa delves into the cultural differences Ava encounters and shows us how her horizons are expanding for every day she remains in Athens. This is an American Abroad novel that really shows us what everyday life is like for an expat as they try to learn a new language, a new culture and its unwritten rules. And as a fellow expat, I can relate to Ava’s predicaments and the worries she has while trying to live in Athens.

So if you’re looking for something to read this autumn that will instantly transport you to Athens–no passport required–and you love chick lit and romantic fiction as much as I do, then you should add Chasing Athens to your To Be Read List on Goodreads. Better yet–buy it and read it now to keep that summer feeling strong within you. You may find yourself wondering why you haven’t taken the chance and moved to Greece to have your own adventure!

Intrigued? Then find out more about Marissa Tejada and her writing by connecting with her on Twitter, FacebookGoodreads and Instagram.

My rating? 

5_Star