Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn

Title: The Sum of All Kisses
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon (HarperCollins)
Release Date: October 28, 2013
Where to Buy: Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Books-a-Million
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In this post: 
  • From the Book
  • My Review **contains spoilers**
  • Excerpt (external link to Prologue)
  • About the Author

From the Book:

Hugh Prentice has never liked Lady Sarah Pleinsworth, and his opinion is confirmed when he overhears her yammering on about how she must get married this season or she will simply die. He’s never had patience for dramatic females, and the words shy and retiring have never been in Sarah’s vocabulary. Besides, even if he did grow to enjoy her company, it wouldn’t matter. A reckless duel has left this brilliant mathematician with a ruined leg, and now, unable to run, ride, or even waltz, he could never court a woman like Sarah, much less dream of marrying her.

Sarah has never forgiven Hugh for the duel he fought three years earlier, the one that forced her cousin into exile, nearly destroying her family. But even if she could find a way to forgive him, it wouldn’t matter. She doesn’t care that his leg is less than perfect, it’s his personality she can’t stand.

But when the pair is forced to spend a week in close company they discover that opinions--even those firmest held--can, in fact, be altered. And when a kiss leads to two, three and four the mathematician may lose count and the miss may, for the first time, find herself speechless. 


Lord Hugh Prentice is first introduced to us in A Night Like This, where the story between him and Lady Sarah's family first begins. In that novel, Hugh isn't made out to be a terrible person, but rather a seriously flawed one, and perhaps a bit more than touched in the head.

The Sum of All Kisses begins in 1821, at the time of the ill-fated card game where Hugh loses to Daniel Smythe-Smith and calls for a duel. They're both rather drunk, and definitely not entirely in their right minds. Hugh can't understand how he lost (he's a math genius - hence the title!) and Daniel is as pig-headed as his friend, so the duel happens, and Hugh is seriously injured from it. When Hugh's father, the Marquess of Ramsgate, realizes that his only chance at an heir has been stolen, he chases Daniel through many countries, trying to kill him...and Hugh is the one who brings him back to England (really, you've got to read A Night Like This, it's a fabulous read). 

Fast-forward to the here and now (1824). Hugh is a man of few words. He's brilliant, and serious, and never breaks a promise. But he also hates drama...and that is exactly how Lady Sarah Pleinsworth seems to appear each time he's had the (mis)fortune of hearing her voice.

Lady Sarah is cousin to Daniel, and blames Hugh for the scandal brought upon her family. She, like almost everyone in the ton, suspect it to be Hugh (not his father) who kept Daniel from home. She hates him with every fiber in her being, and she believes him to be the reason why she hasn't wed - she missed her first season due to the scandal, and fourteen (this number is very important to her, as she tries, unsuccessfully, to explain to him) men married that season. 

Their first meeting is explosive - it starts with Sarah confronting him and goes as badly as you'd expect from two people who cannot stand each other. Hugh is curious about her and Sarah is disgusted with his very presence, but they are brought together for the wedding of her cousin Honoria and Marcus Holyrod (Earl of Chatteris). As Sarah loves Honoria above almost all else, she'll do anything to make her happy - even if it means babysitting Hugh during the festivities, so it is obvious to the tongue-wagging ton that the Smythe-Smith family welcomes him and accepts his and Daniel's amends. 

We're given our first punch in the stomach in a very unexpected way, which makes it all the more intense. Instead of it being between both protagonists, it's from an exchange between Sarah and her cousin, Iris. This scene stole my breath, and I felt the burn of tears and hollowness in my chest at Iris's callousness. Iris says, in "that scornful way one could adopt only with family and still hope to be on speaking terms the next day," that Sarah is, at her core, selfish. Sarah is shocked, humiliated, horrified, and shaken - with one sentence, Irish rocks her world from its steady axis and makes Sarah question herself from the inside out. 

Hugh's been dealing with his own self-loathing for years. When he meets Sarah after Iris's comments, he affords her a very basic, but very kind gesture - he affords her the chance to turn her back to a very crowded ballroom and allow her a moment to collect herself, under the guise of studying a painting.

This is opens the door to some very smart, quick and wonderful dialogue. You can actually see, through their words, the feelings that begin to develop between them. Even when Hugh dispels the notion that it is his fault she remains unwed (the fourteen men, you see) and tells her to look in the mirror for the real reason, I could see that she valued the truth in it. They're attracted to each other's wit, and they work very well together in navigating the sometimes vicious ton.

Hugh is desperate not to fall in love with Sarah, but as he gets to know her (and her sisters), he begins to value what he saw as dramatics, but realizes it actually just her personality in the presence of her siblings. The interactions between the Pleinsfields are mind-boggingly dizzying. (Really. That's the best term I could come up with the conveys the speed and inanity that only those lucky enough to have close sisters understand.) Their interactions, though filled with more child-like ideas (the youngest is only eleven), are reminiscent of the much-envied relationship of Quinn's Bridgerton siblings. 

I saw Sarah come out of her "family" shell and into her womanhood throughout this book, and I can't say I've seen that in any others by Quinn. I've always adored the fast-paced dialogue and heart-hurting scenes she manages to consistently produce in new ways, but this book felt just a bit deeper than any of her others (I've read them all at least twice...and in the case of Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, probably close to ten times). I enjoyed watching Sarah blossom from a slightly self-centered typical young lady of the ton (who, in theory, put her family above herself) to a thoughtful woman who, in practice,  actually does put her love and her family first.

A warning, though - if this is your first Julia Quinn novel, there are a of couple things you should know:

1. Quinn writes as though she expects her readers to be intelligent. Her characters have phenomenal vocabularies, don't dumb anything down, and are smart themselves. Quinn rarely spells everything out for you, and this is a VERY good thing. It keeps her books engaging.

2. The dialogue in this novel is, perhaps, her fastest to date. I love when characters go back-and-forth so fast that I'm slightly out-of-breath when the scene ends, but in this, the dialogue is not only fast, but so confusing. I think it's intentional. We are, after all, dealing with a family of four sisters who know each other inside and out. Sarah is the eldest, Harriet is an, um, imaginative playwright, Frances (the 11-yr-old) strongly believes in unicorns., and Elizabeth is superior in such a teenage way...their interactions are so startlingly dead-on as to how sisters talk with each other, that I wonder how much fun the author's family get-togethers might be.

3. Pick up every other JQ novel out there. She is a master of human interaction, of human connection. And she'll get you right in the heart every time.

About the Author

#1 New York Times bestselling author Julia Quinn loves to dispel the myth that smart women don't read (or write) romance, and in 2001 she did so in grand fashion, appearing on the game show The Weakest Link and walking away with the $79,000 jackpot. She displayed a decided lack of knowledge about baseball, country music, and plush toys, but she is proud to say that she aced all things British and literary, answered all of her history and geography questions correctly, and knew that there was a Da Vinci long before there was a code. Ms. Quinn is one of only fifteen members of Romance Writers of America's Hall of Fame, her books have been translated into 26 languages, and she currently lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest.

You can find her at her website, on Facebook, or at her author page on Avon Romance.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: Things Good Girls Don't Do by Codi Gary

Title: Things Good Girls Don't Do
Author: Codi Gary
Publisher: Avon (HarperCollins)
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Where to Buy: Amazon Nook 
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


From the book:

For Katie Conners, being a good girl just isn't worth it anymore. It used to mean getting the life she always wanted. But that was before she got dumped and her ex got engaged to his rebound. So, after a bad day and one too many mojitos, Katie starts making a list of things a girl like her would never do, not in a million years...

As a tattoo artist with a monster motorcycle, Chase Trepasso isn't the kind of guy you bring home to mom and dad.

And when he finds Katie's list in a bar, he's more than happy to help her check off a few items. Especially the ones on the naughtier side

Katie's more than tempted by Chase's offer, as long as they keep things uncomplicated. But as they spend more time together, she may just wind up breaking the most important rule of all: Good girls don't fall in love with bad boys.

My review:

I love my romance novels to be realistic with a happily-ever-after. Characters can be placed in extraordinary situations, but if the beta hero suddenly goes all alpha, or the heroine does an uncharacteristically or unexplained stupid move, I become exceptionally disappointed.

This book was not disappointing in the least. 

Katie is working hard to figure out who she wants to be. It's taken awhile - including the death of her mother and being dumped by her long-time boyfriend - for Katie to realize that she's sick and tired of doing what everyone expects - which is to say, a doormat. 

Katie was raised by a mother who drilled good manners and good breeding into her core. Katie is a lady - doesn't yell, doesn't argue, and and doesn't do anything outside of her mother's (and society's) good-girl standards. But after she has just a couple of drinks at a bar (a no-no), she draws up a bucket list of sorts - a Things Good Girls Don't Do list. She resolves to check each and every one of them off her list...and she would've simply tossed the list in the trash when she sobered up, if it hadn't been for Chase Trepasso talking a very close, very embarrassing look at the list - and holding her to it.

The romance between these two evolves quite naturally. On the surface, each is the opposite of the other. One is rough-and-tumble, drives a motorcycle, and is a tattoo artist. The other is sweet, fresh-faced and strives to put her best face forward, always. The people they are beyond what the world sees are complex. They face the same battles we all have - bucking society's conventions, breaking free from our parents' expectations, and finding that one imperfect person who is perfect for us.

I thought I'd get annoyed by Katie and all her do-goodiness, but I was thrilled to be wrong. It is with a significant effort and a lot of self-growth that she's able to push her mother's voice out of her head. She held tight to the values instilled in her, but by the end of the book she refuses to let them define her anymore. I actually said, "Bravo!" aloud (which raised The Husband's eyebrows, but he knows me enough now to just shrug his shoulders and keep on doing whatever it is he does while I lose myself in a book). 

Chase isn't off the hook, either. He comes out of the gate as closed-off, rough, and uninterested in a relationship. But he's a caring person, and after a few times taking care of Katie (he brings pizza to her house, and she's - of course - worried about the gossip mill in town; he brushes the gossip off in such a logical way, it makes you laugh), it's apparent that there is WAY more to Chase than what he allows people to see. Katie's personality really works its magic on him - it's almost with bemusement that he finds himself missing her presence when she's not near, and his jealousy is not over the top in some effort to prove to the reader that he really does love her.

Everything in this story just fit. I was able to so fully lose myself because there wasn't any part where I thought, Yeah, right. Like that would ever happen. Jealousy between the characters? No one was told off in an over-the-top and unwarranted way (it's always the poor waitress who somehow becomes the one to get told off in stories...). No one had a lightning bolt revelation of love. And no one had someone else point out that one was in love with the other. The big gesture in the book was not on a grand scale, and it was just right for this couple.

The only issue I had was the best friend, Steph. She came across as trying to step in as the mother figure, and I found her to be annoying. What saved it was when Katie did, too - a fact I really appreciated and related to.

Seamless, flawless brilliance. We need more Codi Gary books on the shelves - I do hope she keeps writing. I can't wait to read her other titles in this series - she has two more coming next spring. I highly recommend this book.

 (Disclaimer: I was provided an digital copy from the publisher for an honest and unbiased review.)