Sunday, February 27, 2011

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Hidden Away by Maya Banks

Hidden Away
Maya Banks

Page Count: 336
Release Date: 1 March, 2011
Publisher: Berkley Sensation (Penguin)
Kim at SOS Aloha for review.

The Kelly Group International (KGI): A super-elite, to secret, family-run business.
Qualifications: High intelligence, rock-hard body, military background.Mission: Host/kidnap victim recovery. Intelligence gathering. Handling jobs the U.S. government can't...
A man who shoots first and asks questions later...
Most people would take an all-expenses-paid trip to the beach in a heartbeat. Garrett Kelly only accepts to keep tabs on Sarah Daniels, who's in hiding after witnessing a murder by Marcus Lattimer, her half-brother—and a personal enemy of KGI. This gig may be beneath a disciplined soldier like Garrett, but if he gets a shot at Lattimer, it will all be worth it...

...and the ultimate moving target.
But Garrett hadn't counted on falling for Sarah. He'd considered seduction as a tactical maneuver, but when he glimpses Sarah's dark past, he feels an urgent desire to keep her safe—even after she disappears on him. Garrett doesn't know exactly who, or what, Sarah's running from, but whatever it is, she's running for her life...

What Stephanie Thought: I usually don't find myself enjoying romantic suspense because I like my romance books to be simple and realistic, something I can snuggle up with after a long day and not have to think too deeply about. Hidden Away, March's upcoming Berkley Sensation release, is an exception though. Frankly, I loved it.

Let me begin with the story line first. I had not realized, when I started reading, that this book was the third installment of Maya Banks's KGI series. So, much of the plot was confusing, but I had it down pat once I was about halfway-through; it wasn't that hard to figure out and I will personally say it makes a great stand-alone novel. The Kellys are a noble, cunning family with a proud line of spies, agents, and soldiers alike. All of the Kelly sons were once part of the Marine or the Army yet Garrett Kelly, though only in his thirties, is retired due to injuries. He now accepts top-secret missions to save and protect refugees and victims of crime or war. And he thought by leaving the military, the hard part was over—until he was assigned Sarah's case.

To make a long story short, Sarah Daniels was raped by her boss, Allen Cross, and her half-brother, Marcus, rebounds with a cold vengeance by murdering him. Once the trigger is pulled though, is when Marcus realizes that killing a man right in his office is a tragic mistake, and Sarah, the only witness of the shooting, is forced to run away in order to keep her half-brother safe from the government.

Even before actually meeting Sarah, Garrett knows there is something about her that draws him to her. He willingly accepts the mission, and locates Sarah at her "hiding place" way too easily. Though he is hired by the very men who want to convict Marcus, he lies to Sarah saying Marcus is the one who brought him to her, and unfortunately, Sarah believes him.

Hidden Away is a story of failed trust, loyalty, and deceit. Sarah's journey of losing herself within Garrett's charm and kindness is portrayed beautifully, only to have it shatter when she finds out he is actually after Marcus. Garrett's struggle to remain loyal to his family and the KGI, but "fall head over ass" is admittedly enlivening, but heartbreaking at the same time. And the way Sarah is able to rebuild her trust in the man she realizes she loves is a warm, hopeful ride that is complemented by strong passion and scintillating romance.

By far, Hidden Away was made enjoyable most by Banks's writing style. Her voice is rich and detailed, but not too flowery, and her writing contains LOTS of humor, provided, it's mostly crude. However, that's my kind of story: one with wit and vulgarity, so I found it entertaining. A warning for the more genteel: there is a lot of swearing in this book. Maybe one or two swear words per page, oftentimes more. I didn't have a problem with it, but some of you might, so it's just a heads up.

Another thing I loved about this novel. Berkley Sensation is the erotic imprint of the Berkley Publishing Group. Unlike most erotic novels however, Hidden Away does not have characters sleeping with each other all over the place within the first few chapters. In fact, despite major flirting, innocent kissing, and somewhat heavy petting, actual sex does not occur until about the last quarter of the book. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think it enhanced my anticipation of the story because I knew Sarah and Garrett had it bad for each other; it was just a matter of when they would express that attraction. I was at the edge of my seat the entire time building up to the (sinfully) steamy sex scene. Not only because of all the suspense with guns and fighting, because I just needed to know what would happen in the relationship. And Banks certainly satisfied by detailing a scene of passion sensually and enticingly.

Some of the dialogue was repetitive. This wouldn't have been so disappointing if the original line wasn't so good. I would come across a line while reading and laugh out loud thinking, "Oh my gosh, this is great." But then about fifty pages later, the same line would come up again, which took away from my initial awe of Banks's delightful verbosity. That is the only thing I disliked about Hidden Away. Other than that, it is perfect, perfect, and more perfect. Not one stray bullet.

Stephanie Loves: "'It's all right,' he crooned as he stroked down her arm. 'You're safe now. Take some deep breaths.' ... Gradually her heartbeat slowed and he could no longer feel the erratic thump of her pulse. She raised her head, bumping his chin as she stared across the room at the table where his gun rested.

'You have a gun,' she whispered.
He winced. Trust her to notice that detail. She was probably one of those women who fainted at the sight of a weapon.
She raised herself off his chest to look into his eyes. 'Can I have it?'
As what-the-fuck moments went, this one was one of the bigger ones. The thing was, she was dead serious. There was an earnestness to her gaze that said she really wanted him to give her his gun. Shit."

Radical Rating: 9 hearts: Loved it! This book has a spot on my favorites shelf. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Monday, February 21, 2011

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Save as Draft by Cavanaugh Lee

Save as Draft
Cavanaugh Lee

Page Count: 336
Release Date: 1 February, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher, via Romancing the Book, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you both!!)

A love triangle evolving over e-mails, texts, and Facebook messages that makes you wonder if the things we leave unsaid—or rather unsent—could change the story of our lives.
Sent: Monday, February 14, 2011
From: Izabell
To: Reader
Subject: Save as Draft
Are we Facebook friends yet? I'm the wactress (waitress/actress) turned lawyer who lives her life online. Anyway, I've got this problem. There's this guy Peter. He's my best friend and co-worker, and we just started dating, which is potentially a huge mistake. But that's not all. There's this other guy, Marty from eHarm, and he ran with the bulls in Spain. I can't get him off my mind. What a mess. I'd love your advice if you can take a second out of your crazy, high-tech life. Shoot me an e-mail, text me, or BBM. And friend me if you haven't already! You can find me on Facebook under Save as Draft.


What Stephanie Thought: Save as Draft is a charming novel that's bound to leave you hanging and frustrated at end, the very first epistolary fiction piece I've read since Paula Danziger's Snail Mail No More

Written entirely in emails, text messages, and Twitter updates, this book is sweepingly honest, as well as full of emotion. There lies a secret thrill in being able to peek inside someone's private life, especially in an era that is so dependent on internet communication.

Cavanaugh Lee does not stop there. The essence of Save as Draft delves even deeper than the privacy of a password-protected email account, because the reader gets the inside scoop on what the characters don't. Emails that have been "saved as draft" or in less-techy terms, written but unsent, are revealed, opening up a whole nother road in knowing what the characters are actually thinking. 

Izzy and Peter, the engaged couple seemingly have everything paved out ahead of them. But miscommunication and too many saved drafts take a toll on the passionate relationship. You'll love reading how their relationship builds, climaxes, and abruptly falls, making you both cringe (because of how closely this hits to home—this might as well be YOUR love life in YOUR email account) and smile (from the wit and the glad-it-wasn't-me! incidents) all within the same page.

I love how the plot  is conveyed through Facebook notifications (Izabell Chin has added you as a friend on Facebook) and eHarmony profiles to develop characters. It's a fun, flirty way to get to know the protagonists and the main conflicts.

The ending made me so mad, but I couldn't have made it any more perfect. I won't give any spoilers, but I will say that it was sort of a tragic ending. Meaning, things do not end happily-ever-after as predicted. The ending is happy yes, just not the way I had thought it would be. Save as Draft is a heartbreakingly realistic novel that demonstrates human error in the ways we never speak what we think... and never think what we speak either.

Stephanie Loves: 
"I joined eHarmony ... destroy this e-mail at once. I can't believe I'm even telling you. If you ever tell a soul, I will have you murdered by an Italian man with greasy hair whose name is Angelo.

You should totally do eHarm too. Some of these dudes are hot. I'm sure the girls are hot as well. I mean, I'm on there. ;-)"

Radical Rating: 8 hearts: An engaging read; highly recommended. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Saturday, February 19, 2011

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Sex, Lies, and Soybeans by Rick Goeld

Sex, Lies, and Soybeans
Rick Goeld

Page Count: 272
Release Date: 1 October, 2010
Publisher: self-published
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author, via LibraryThing, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

Sex, Lies and Soybeans is a sexy techno-romp... with a message.

It takes place in a dystopian future where a variety of diseases have decimated most types of food animals. Soy has become the "go to" crop for protein, and the Soy Industry has become the world's most powerful food consortium. Their long-term goal: dominate the worldwide food market. Their interim goal: saturate the American fast food market. The influential state of Texas is their first target. Lobbyists introduce legislation that would allow the Soy Industry to dominate the Texas fast food market.

But Victoria Blackburn, Chairman of the Texas State Senate's Food and Drug Committee, blocks the legislation. Soy Industry attempts to influence her are unsuccessful, so Plan B is devised: Penetrate her family and twist a few arms—or worse—to change the Senator's mind. Her brother, William, a slacker with an overactive sex drive, is identified as the "weak link" in the family. Sex, Lies, and Soybeans is fast-paced entertainment that mixes outrageous sex, deception, technology, and screeching plot twists with a serious message: What will happen if we become too dependent on genetically-engineered food?

What Stephanie Thought:
Sex, Lies, and Soybeans is a novel about manipulation. Manipulation of humans by technology, genetically-enhanced food, and of course, sex. Set in a quasi-dystopian era where meat is scarce as a hen's tooth and paper is unheard of (that frighteningly doesn't seem too far from today), Rick Goeld uses human deception and error to convey an important message about risky fast-food choices.

Charles Ray is just a soy advocate. He wants soy to dominate, and he wants it bad. He's screwing his assistant, "Manta Ray" (haha, pun intended) who characters are led into thinking is his sister (yeah, ew), who's screwing uber-nerd, Blackie. Then there is the roadblock in Charles's ambitions: Victoria Blackburn, Blackie's older sister, who coincidentally is also screwing her assistant... as well as Manta (obviously, there's no penetration). So as you can tell, there is a lot of sex, sex at night, sex standing up, sex between women in a senator's office, going on. Charles thinks he can manipulate Victoria by kidnapping her, because after all, it's her vetoing vote that counts. But his plan does not go so swell because Blackie is clever enough to figure out his ploys before Victoria is severely harmed (though practically raped, would be another story).

The plot is weak and far-fetched, but the Goeld's writing style is easy. And his hidden, well-portrayed message is clear: the human obsession to have the latest and the trendiest can lead to demise. The soybeans (that eventually kill Charles) could represent trans fats. Aspartame. Palm oils.

I'm having a really hard time giving this book a definite rating. I enjoyed it as a quick read; it took me only about an hour and a half to complete. But I'm not sure if I would recommend it. I liked it, but it wasn't particularly good. Does that even make sense?  I want to give it ♥♥♥♥ because it is undeliverable (in terms of sharing with friends or commending as a novel), but I also want to give it ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ because of how well I read it. I can't even compromise because NO I wouldn't recommend it, and YES I would mind re-reading. I'm just giving it ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ but it actually means ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ which is really really weird and does not mean fifteen hearts (dear God no).

In essence, Sex, Lies, and Soybeans is a love story. An extremely sexified (is that a word? Well, it is now) love story that warns the reader of what we has flawed human beings, will go to just to have our ways.

Stephanie Loves: "How can you mend a broken heart?
The words, the title of a song by the Bee Gees, had been looping through Blackie's consciousness for days. He'd been wandering up and down sidewalks, staring at strangers, searching—no point denying it—the face of his girlfriend. Or ex-girlfriend."

Radical Rating: 
7 hearts: Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

cupid's got nothing on me ❤

I shouldn't be blogging this late but it would be sort of mean to hold contests and not choose winners. I have a few, from my CSN gift card giveaway, my Follower Love Giveaway Hop and the first winner from my Great Big Romance Giveaway (still open!).
Drumroll please....
 Seo won the $25 gift card to CSN Stores. Congrats, girl!!
I had such a great turnout for my CSN contest, I decided to host a mini surprise giveaway just for the entrants:
Jessie H won a $10 gift card to Amazon. Yay, Jessie!!
SiNn won a copy of The Dangerous Viscount from my booklist. Yay, SiNn!!
Stephanie M won a swag pack full of promo goodies. Hurray, Stephanie!!

 Izzy won the $25 Amazon gift card. Way to go, Izzy!!
Jessica won the $25 Barnes&Noble gift card. Woohoo, J!

PiinkPoodle won the Spice prize pack for making the most comments on my blog during the duration of my 300 follower goal. Thanks and congratulations, PiinkPoodle!!

Now, usually for follower hops, I do surprise contests but right now it's 1. my bedtime and 2. I'm not in the mood. Instead, I'll do a supersecret contest right here (see how this post isn't even tagged with "contest"? See how sneaky I am?) for those who actually are bothering to read this entire post. First person to make four comments anywhere on my blog and email me the links (thestephanieloves[at]gmail[dot]com) gets their choice of a free book from my booklist (which has considerably dwindled ever since I joined Paperbackswap...) or a swag water bottle stuffed with jewelry, magnets, tea, candy, and makeup :)

Congratulations to the winners and a huge fantastic hug to all of my new followers. Love you all!! Happy Valentine's day from me to you
Oh, and if you're sour about being single today and are in the mood for a laugh (or, if you're like me and are procrastinating and just ran out of coffee), check out my friend Kris's post at DIK Ladies today. She is fucking hilarious. I love her!

ALSO. To listen to me rant about sex and romance, check out my guest post over at my blog buddy Nanny's site, Getting Naughty Between the Stacks. Sex toys AND romance novels will be given away. Gasp!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

one day, those love songs are going to be about me ❤

Dreaming as if.
We're all friends and we're all lovers.
Name: Jared Followill
Age: 24
Location: United States
Status: too variant to determine
: the 'do, the hands, the pretty-boy grin, the cigarettes
Stalk him: Kings of Leon official website

Friday, February 11, 2011

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Perfection by Julie Metz

Julie Metz

Page Count: 352
Release Date: 18 May, 2010
Publisher: Voice (Hyperion)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by Romancing the Book, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

Julie Metz had a seemingly perfect life—an adoring husband, a happy, spirited daughter, a lovely old house in a quaint suburban town—but it was all a lie. 
Julie Metz's life changed forever on one ordinary January afternoon when her husband, Henry, collapsed on the kitchen floor and died in her arms. Suddenly, this mother of a six-year-old became the young widow in her bucolic small town. But that was only the beginning. Seven months after Henry's death, just when Julie thought she was emerging from the worst of it, came the rest of it: Henry had hidden another life from her.
Perfection is the story of rebuilding both a life and an identity after betrayal and widowhood. It is a story of rebirth and happiness—if not perfection.
Julie Metz offers a stunning and dazzling peek into her past in Perfection with her astonishingly lyrical prose. It is tragic enough that she was widowed at such a young age, after only sixteen years with her beloved husband, Henry. But what she disastrously discovers a mere several months after the devastating loss, is that he was having an affair for more than a year—with none other than her acquaintance and mother of her daughter's best friend, Cathy. Imagine what kind of betrayal you'd feel at that sort of discovery. A man you've loved, a man who's loved you deceiving you like that—and finding out AFTER he's dead. The anger Metz portrays is not malicious, and not even vengeful. It is only full of desperation and the distress every heartbroken woman is apt to feel. However, it certainly does not end there. By sifting through Henry's old email records, Julie yet again discovers, Cathy was not the only one. There were more women before and after Cathy. Yes, women. Women Julie has only once met at social events, women Julie was unaware of in existence, women Henry lightly joked about when he was alive. Women who haven't corresponded with Henry through email that Julie still doesn't know about. 

I was astounded by Julie's courage. After a bit of research, she contacts all the women in Henry's email account, and surprisingly, develops platonic, even friendly, relationships with them. Henry is a common ground for Julie and those women, and after his passing, it was the only place Julie can find true comfort in. It takes an unbelievable strength to get the guts to do that. To face one's fears directly. And for it, I commend Julie greatly.

Perfection is a remarkably personal novel that makes me want to by the end, get to know Julie better. I can't even refer to her as "Metz", I just want to call her Julie! Her story will rather than fill you with pity, bring a sense of understanding and admiration toward her, for her strength, endurance, and unwillingness to give up. She could be your best friend. She could be your sister. She could be your mom or that nice lady who smiles at you every time you see her at the park. She could even be you.

I am deeply impressed by Metz's incredible writing style. Her words have the ability to both depress and delight the reader, making Perfection an unforgettable read in which every single page is worthwhile.

Stephanie Loves: "[Henry and I] had shared some real moments. With effort and patience, I might find something I could keep at the end of all this, though I had an overwhelming urge to throw out all my life with Henry and start over with just Liza, the two of us heading off down a long road to somewhere in an old jalopy, one suitcase rattling in the backseat."

Radical Rating: 9 hearts: Loved it! This book has a spot on my favorites shelf. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Monday, February 7, 2011

❤ follower love giveaway hop!

Okay I've been very very bad. Usually I put together prize packages for bloghops, but this one sort of slipped! I'm not even going to use my usual bloghop format.
For everyone's sake I'll just make it simple rather than silly. I'm giving away two $25 gift cards.
One for Amazon
and one for Barnes & Noble.
The rules? Be a follower. I love all my followers and would love to have new ones. You ALL are beautiful, wonderful, fabulous, and magnificent. Sorry I couldn't put something cool together. But please understand that life often gets in the way :)
Anyone who follows me on Twitter (@lovestephaniexx) gets one extra entry.

To complete your entry, you must leave a comment on this post with your email address and Twitter username (if following). I will be verifying whether people are following or not. 

If you love romance books, please consider checking out my Great Big Romance Giveaway also. The requirements are simple; it's a comment contest, which means all you have to do is make comments (as many or as little as you like) throughout the blog.  I appreciate and encourage reader/blogger comments in general, keep in mind :)

I've a $25 CSN gift card giveaway going on too. Enter if you desire!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

what would i do without ❤

Me: You know what the best part of flying is, besides takeoff?
Him: What?
Me: Soaring through the clouds.
Him: Jesus Christ.
Me: What?
Him: That's so profound.
Me: Well, with twenty-four hours in a day, I've got to put my mind on something. It's that kind of stuff that makes me smile.
Him: Aw hell no.
Me: [giggling profusely]
Him: Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever seen you frown.
Me: Is that...a bad thing?
Him: No. I think you're beautiful. 

And that's what being loved should feel like ❤

Saturday, February 5, 2011

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Message to Love by Liz Arnold

Message to Love
Liz Arnold

Page Count: 348
Release Date: 12 May, 2010
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review

Audra Wakely's father has been seized by Spanish authorities and imprisoned for sympathizing with Cuban rebels. Raising the money to bribe officials, if necessary, she sets off for Cuba to rescue her father. She doesn't bargain on the interference of any U.S. officials—that is, until she meets Rollins McBride.

Lt. Rollins McBride of the newly designated U.S. Naval Intelligence service is assigned to track Audra on her journey. He's to arrest Greg Wakely, a U.S. citizen, for treason and gun smuggling. His mission and his heart are taken by surprise by the feisty beauty who sets a stubborn path toward finding her father and proving he isn't a traitor—no matter what or who gets in the way.


The Spanish-American War is set ablaze in
Message to Love.

What Stephanie Thought: I was really impressed by this book's complex plot. Brimming with accurate details from the late 19th century era, it is a romance full of both suspense and danger.

Audra's journey begins in her comfortable and rather privileged home in the United States. Fresh out of her preparatory school and innocent as can be, she meets Rollins, a dashing but overly confident lieutenant who claims to be on a "mission" to watch over her in her father's absence. 

Self-sufficient and inexorable, Audra doesn't want his assistance. But Rollins still insists, and before he or she know it, they fall in love. There are several extremely passionate scenes in Message to Love—Audra and Rollins's love is certainly intense, and certainly real.

Trouble brews when sleazy Jasen Angler (long-time property rival who's recently bought almost everything Audra has left to her name) follows her to her trip to Cuba. She's in search of her father, and she doesn't need him. Or Rollins for that matter. But they both come anyway. Turns out, Jasen and some other corrupt officers have been planning to take advantage of Audra—and her fortune.

Then she discovers that her life—her life as she knew it—is not what she thought it was. And that Rollins, the good guy, the lover, isn't who he says he is.

The ultimatum offered to Audra is that she is to choose either her father's life or her first love's—the type of decision neither you nor I would even consider to make. As a happily-ever-after romance, however, all ends well: the bad guys perish and the good guys (Greg and Rollins) survive. I thought it ended rather abruptly, but other than that, Message to Love is a  sweet, adventurous read. It's slightly slow-moving, but that's because of the exquisite detail Arnold offers. I definitely recommend it to all historical romance lovers—especially those who appreciate a little love-making.

Stephanie Loves: "'Death is no place to linger, my friends,' he offered. 'The fortunes of many men are lost in the wind because they live in the vicious grip of death's power. Exile, self-recrimination, revenge. It causes it all. It is a tragic fame to live in death.' He downed the last of his liquor. 'This, a soldier knows the best. Death is no place to stay.'"

Radical Rating: 7 hearts: Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥