Kim’s Guest Post of Another Place In Time by Mary Lydon Simonsen

apitmlsMr. Darcy? Time travel? New Austenprose review? Check, check, and check!

Mary Lydon Simonsen (one of my favorite authors in the entire Jane Austen Fan Fiction sphere) recently published her newest novel, Another Place in Time. The premise of the novel has Darcy traveling to the future to find an Austen/Regency scholar that will help him in his bid to win the hand of Ms. Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy in modern times and Chris (the Austen/Regency scholar) in Regency times provides the perfect fodder for laughs as well as much soul-searching.

I truly think Another Place in Time is one of Simonsen’s best works to date. For a direct link to my review, click here.

Kim’s Review of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

frrEleanor & Park was my first foray into the world of Rainbow Rowell books. What a wonderful way to “dip my toe” into the Rainbow Rowell reading pool. Upon finishing it I was quickly directed to read Fangirl, also by Rowell.  Given how much I enjoyed Eleanor & Park, I was eager to start Fangirl immediately. Little did I know the profound way it would change me….

From Goodreads:

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

I thought Eleanor & Park was stellar. I still think it’s stellar. But when compared to the absolute perfection that Fangirl exuded they are simply incomparable. Fangirl speaks to a demographic of people who typically aren’t the heroes and heroines of novels. It champions people who are different. People who go against the flow. People with anxiety. People with learning disabilities. It speaks to lovers of fan fiction. To people so in love with fictional characters that it inspires them to continue writing their story. It’s a story for all the people who had to grow up too fast. Who had to be adults way before their time.  Fangirl is a love letter for anyone who’s gone through a difficult time in their life – whether it’s an issue with family, friends, or themselves – Fangirl speaks to the underdog in each of us. Fangirl gives voice to the confident person living (dormant for some) inside all of us. It is in essence, a love letter to the goodness that exists in human nature. The goodness that exists in us.

I don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to fully express the feelings I had reading this book. All I can tell you is what I said above and that upon finishing the book I went back and re-read if three times. I urge everyone to read it. Then re-read. Then tell a friend to read it.

5 out of 5 Stars (Really 100 Stars)

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Press (2013)
Hardcover: 448 pages
ISBN: 9781250030955

Kim’s Review of Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos

umrkdWith much of today’s media so dominated by all things electronic and instant, it’s sometimes interesting to think of the ever-growing differences in technology between Austen’s era and today.  A clash between these two worlds is the subject of Karen Doornebos’s latest work, Undressing Mr. Darcy.  I’m no stranger to Doornebos, having read Definitely Not Mr. Darcy previously and was eager to see how she tackled this interesting subject.

From Goodreads:

Thirty-five-year-old American social media master Vanessa Roberts lives her thoroughly modern life with aplomb. So when her elderly Jane Austencentric aunt needs her to take on the public relations for Julian Chancellor, a very private man from England who’s written a book called My Year as Mr. Darcy, Vanessa agrees. But she’s not “excessively diverted,” as Jane Austen would say.

Hardbound books, teacups, and quill pens fly in the face of her e-reader, coffee, and smartphone…

…Until she sees Julian take his tight breeches off for his Undressing Mr. Darcy show, an educational “striptease” down to his drawers to promote his book and help save his crumbling estate. The public relations expert suddenly realizes things have gotten …personal. But can this old-fashioned man claim her heart without so much as a GPS? It will take three festivals filled with Austen fans, a trip to England, an old frenemy, and a flirtatious pirate re-enactor to find out….

As expected, Doornebos writes yet another fabulously witty and adorable novel. I’m always impressed with the extent of growth her heroines show, and Vanessa in Undressing Mr. Darcy didn’t disappoint. Vanessa undergoes a total transformation in these pages, one that I believe was actually a long time coming. I’ve read many criticisms of the book claiming that Vanessa changes for a man, but I find that to be untrue. First: the facts.  1) Vanessa is not really a fan of Austen. When her parents got divorced she moved in with her aunt (the Austen-centric one) and found herself with a jealous sibling. Who was she jealous of you ask? Jane Austen. 2) She is GLUED to all things electronic/social media/etc. She cannot go anywhere without answering emails, tweeting, or texting. Her life has literally become all about her cell phone and laptop. There are other things too, but I really just want to discuss these two points, as they profoundly change over the course of the novel.

So, as to point 1 – the dislike of Austen. Vanessa’s enjoyment of the novel comes from her spending time at the JASNA (Jane Austen society of North America) conference. While she’s attending the event (both as a favor to her aunt and her pro-bono work on Julian’s book) she discovers all of these little hidden oddities in Austen’s works. She discovers the sexual attraction between the lines, the social restrictions of women, and the difficulties relationships faced back in the day. The sessions she sits in on help her discover all of the tongue-in-cheek writing Austen did. I don’t think her new appreciation for Austen was because of a man. I think it happened because she started maturing and growing to appreciate Austen as an author and a woman, not as a jealous sibling.

The 2nd point – her inability to live in the now. When Vanessa encounters Julian, he’s living practically like a Regency gentleman. He doesn’t write email and he hand writes letters. He doesn’t use a cell phone or text, he leaves handwritten notes. Through her dealings/budding friendship with Julian she begins to pay less attention to her tweeting and the like. She begins being present for conversations taking place around her. By the end of the book we discover Vanessa has taken a new approach to life: living. I don’t think she does this BECAUSE of anyone specifically, but because she is maturing and realizing that life is fleeting. Again, it’s due to maturity, not a man.

I truly enjoyed Vanessa’s transformation from young, naive, immature (to a point) workaholic to a confident, successful, endearing, witty woman. The friendships she rekindles and discovers along her journey only help her grow up. For a woman to develop without parents it’s not surprising that she’s a late bloomer. It makes her story more realistic and more understandable.  Doornebos’ writing is a definite stand-out from the crowd of other fiction writers out there. She’s a breath of fresh air, with a story full of twists, turns, and Mr. Darcy. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

5 out of 5 Stars

Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos
Penguin Books (2013)
Paperback: 368 pages
ISBN: 9780425261392

Special thanks to Penguin Books for my review copy!

Kim’s Review of The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley

tlglrA few weeks ago Todd wrote a post about what it’s like living with me when a book makes me emotional. As much as I feel bad about making him bear witness to me being a simpering mess, I can’t give up books that elicit strong emotional responses from me.  In my opinion, books that can generate these strong responses are well written, engaging, and in some way relatable. Every book that I’ve read by Lucinda Riley can be categorized as one of these books. Her latest, The Lavender Garden, topped my list of reads for 2013 and is every bit as moving as her last two books The Girl on the Cliff & The Orchid House.

From Goodreads:

La Côte d’Azur, 1998: In the sun-dappled south of France, Emilie de la Martinières, the last of her gilded line, inherits her childhood home, a magnificent château and vineyard. With the property comes a mountain of debt—and almost as many questions . . .

Paris, 1944: A bright, young British office clerk, Constance Carruthers, is sent undercover to Paris to be part of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive during the climax of the Nazi occupation. Separated from her contacts in the Resistance, she soon stumbles into the heart of a prominent family who regularly entertain elite members of the German military even as they plot to liberate France. But in a city rife with collaborators and rebels, Constance’s most difficult decision may be determining whom to trust with her heart.

As Emilie discovers what really happened to her family during the war and finds a connection to Constance much closer than she suspects, the château itself may provide the clues that unlock the mysteries of her past, present, and future. Here is a dazzling novel of intrigue and passion from one of the world’s most beloved storytellers.

As I stated earlier, Riley’s novels make me into a simpering mess. I should add that I LOVE that about her novels. Her novels don’t make me cry due to sadness, they make me cry because of their beauty. The way they explore difficult facets of life. The types of characters she chooses to explore. The Lavender Garden hooked me for one particular reason….the characters. Talk about a smorgasbord of different people!  The mark of good writing is when you get completely immersed into the characters’ lives. You feel joy and pain with them. They aggravate you. They make decisions you cringe or cheer at. Emilie, Constance, Edouard, Alex, etc are all so well-drawn and configured.

Riley is a master at weaving the past and present together in a way where it all makes sense. The elements of mystery, love, romance, and suspense that she is able to incorporate into her stories are what make them such page-turners. The twists and turns present in The Lavender Garden make it difficult to discuss any plot points in-depth without giving things away, so just trust me when I tell you – the emotional journey Riley takes you on is so, so rewarding. If you’ve ever read anything by Kate Morton, you’re sure to enjoy Riley’s novels. And if you’ve never read something by either author you’re sincerely missing out.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley
Atria Books (2013)
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN: 9781476703558

Special thanks to Ms. Riley for my review copy!

Todd’s Review of Buzz (The Game #2) by Anders De La Motte

16130351Fresh off of the nail-biting adventures of Game by Anders De La Motte, I was excited to see what else was in store for HP and his fight against the Gamemaker and his empire.  Not only did Game end with an amazing climactic action scene, but there was a definite cliffhanger that made me want to start Buzz as soon as possible.  I knew it was only a matter of time before HP found himself ensnared in the clutches of The Game again, and Buzz did not disappoint in this respect.

From Goodreads:

It’s been four months since he was dragged into the Alternative Reality Game that nearly cost him his life, and HP is still on the run. He has everything he ever wished for—freedom, money, and no responsibilities, but he still isn’t happy. Plagued by insomnia and paranoia, HP misses the rush and attention of The Game. Sometimes he almost wishes the Game Master would find him.

In Dubai, HP meets Anna Argos, a sophisticated and beautiful Swedish IT millionaire. When she disappears, HP is questioned by the police. Fearing he has been found by The Game, HP returns to Sweden after being released from custody. Determined to uncover the truth about Anna’s disappearance, HP uses a fake identity to apply for a job at ArgosEye, the company Anna worked for. In the business of online information management, ArgosEye is involved in some questionable practices, under the control of Anna’s husband, the CEO Philip Argos.

Meanwhile, HP’s sister Rebecca has started dating Philip Argos. When she unknowingly reveals her brother’s real identity to Philip, the police try to bring HP in for questioning again. On the run again, HP refuses to give up and tries to uncover what is really happening at ArgosEye. Before he can find the truth, HP is stopped in his tracks. Thinking he’s about to be thrown in prison, HP is taken to the outskirts of the city and left in the woods, where an elderly man hands him a piece of paper. HP believes the game is over, but is it really just beginning?

I think the best part about this series is the fact that it is multifaceted.  Just when you think that you’ve figured out The Game and HP’s place in it, your preconceptions are turned on their head and you are thrown for a loop.  Not only does this make the plot multi-layered, but it keeps you (and HP consequently) in the dark until the last possible moment.  Not only that, but HP’s overall likability and aloofness makes him an easy character to get along with and root for.  I found myself drawing some parallels between the twists and turns of this series (thus far) and my favorite TV show, LOST.  The plots of both of these franchises are complex and deceptive, and I think that’s what draws me in and makes me want to uncover the truth about The Game so badly, just as I wanted to find out the identity of “The Others” in LOST.  Therefore, it’s not surprising that I’ve rated Buzz so highly, and I cannot wait to read the exciting conclusion to this series: Bubble.

5 out of 5 Stars

Buzz by Anders De La Motte
Atria Books (2014)
Paperback: 496 pages
ISBN: 9781476712918

Special thanks to Atria Books for my review copy via Netgalley!

Kim’s Review of Lila and Ethan: Forever and Always (The Secret #4.5) by Jessica Sorensen

laefaajsWhen I found out that Jessica Sorensen had written one more novella to add to her Secret series I’ll admit, I was nervous. I was already really happy with the outcome of the events of the previous four novels (my reviews of those novels can be found here, here, here, and here!)  I was nervous as I thought Sorensen would potentially create another conflict only in the interest of extending the series, and didn’t think much more could be added to the story.  How wrong I was!

From Goodreads:

Lila Summers just wants to know one thing for certain: that Ethan Gregory will be with her always. Once her friend, he’s become so much more, melting the pain of her past away with each kiss. Now Lila is on a road trip with Ethan, in the wilderness under the stars, and she can’t imagine her life without him. But when she talks about the future, something in Ethan changes . . .

Ethan has no doubts about his feelings for Lila. His life with her gets better every day-and that’s the scary part. How can he walk into a future where he has everything to lose? With Lila, his whole heart is on the line for the very first time. But if Ethan can’t give her the promise she needs, his greatest fear might come true: he’ll lose Lila for good.

Lila and Ethan: Forever and Always was a perfect “final act” to The Secret series.  As I said earlier, I was afraid that the main conflict contained within the story-line would be contrived and unnatural.  Fortunately, this was not the case, as the discord between Lila and Ethan seemed to stem from the natural growing pains any relationship would experience.  As these concerns were dealt with and worked through, I was happy to follow along as Lila and Ethan learned even more about each other as they dealt with these problems.  In a way, these differences made their relationship seem even more real and relatable.  I know we as readers are sometimes conditioned to look for the “happy ending” in most stories, but I believe that Sorensen has accurately reproduced the problems that most couples face once the honeymoon period is over, and I was happy to follow Lila and Ethan along for one last adventure.  If you’ve been a fan of the series thus far, you owe it to yourself to finish this final chapter.

5 out of 5 Stars

Lila and Ethan: Forever and Always by Jessica Sorensen
Forever (Grand Central Publishing) (2014)
eBook: 128 pages
ISBN: 9781455584659

Special thanks to Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for my review copy via Netgalley!

Kim’s Guest Review of Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson

umdtwMy first Austenprose review for 2014 is now live! I reviewed Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson, which is a contemporary retelling of Pride and Prejudice.

You guys know I love my Pride and Prejudice re-tellings and am always looking for the newest, most creative one out there. Imagine my surprise when I was scouting around NetGalley and discovered Wilson’s version had Darcy as a purebred dog breeder and Elizabeth as a down-on-her-luck teacher turned dog shower. 

Sparks really flew in this book, which absolutely captivated and charmed me thoroughly.

For a direct link to my review, click here!

Jen’s Review of The Storycatcher by Ann Hite

tsahI’m not entirely sure how to review this book without sounding overly cliché. So, let’s start with the fact that I read mainly British or French historical fiction. This book, The Storycatcher by Ann Hite, is neither of those. But after reading some reviews on Goodreads which stated, “I usually don’t read this kind of book, but it was awesome,” I decided to give it a try. I’m very glad I did.

The synopsis really doesn’t do the book justice. It’s far more complex than it leads you to believe. There are many characters and what seems like many plots, however, they come together in a huge spider web (make sure you read the names on each chapter as the POV changes with each one. I did not find it hard to follow, but I can see how one might be confused.)

From Goodreads:

Shelly Parker never much liked Faith Dobbins, the uppity way that girl bossed her around. But they had more in common than she knew. Shelly tried to ignore the haints that warned her Faith’s tyrannical father, Pastor Dobbins, was a devil in disguise. But when Faith started acting strange, Shelly couldn’t avoid the past; not anymore.

Critically acclaimed, award-winning author Ann Hite beckons readers back to the Depression-era South, from the saltwater marshes of Georgia’s coast to the whispering winds of North Carolina’s mystical Black Mountain, in a mesmerizing gothic tale about the dark family secrets that come back to haunt us.

If a book is listed in the “supernatural” category I tend to stay away. I mean, I never finished one of The Babysitter’s Club books because: ghosts. But the “haints,” as they’re called in The Storycatcher are more like messengers than ghosts. The only thing the people on the mountain really had to fear was one who was still alive. The story of these haints had to be told, no matter the cost. Only the truth can allow these haints to rest.

Sins of the past and present collide in this intrinsically woven novel that really is … a page-turner. Suspenseful, interesting, amazing characters and “AHA!” moments make this a very epic read.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Storycatcher by Ann Hite
Gallery Books (2013)
Paperback: 352 pages
ISBN: 9781451692273

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy!

Series Spotlight: The Westfield Wolves Series/Regency Vampyre Trilogy by Lydia Dare

This past summer, as I was stalking the Nook sales site, I found several books by Lydia Dare that intrigued me. While I don’t read as many paranormal books as I used to (I’m not sure why), I still like throwing one or two into my reading pile every few months to help me mix things up. The “one or two books” I threw into the mix this year turned into seven, with another two being thrown into my to-read pile. The seven books I read turned out to be two series by Lydia Dare (actually two authors – Tammy Falkner and Ava Stone) that intersect each other. The first four books are part of The Westfield Wolves series, the next three are the Regency Vampyre Trilogy, followed by two more Westfield Wolves books (another wolf book is slated for 2014 release and will be the tenth in this dual series.)

wolf1-4

So why am I telling you to read these books? It’s because of the kick-ass, take no prisoner heroines. You see, all the male characters are strong, powerful, domineering men. They’re werewolves and vampires, so their domineering natures are to be expected. However the women that enter their lives are no simpering misses. These women stand up to their domineering partners, challenging them and effectively wrapping these men around their little fingers. There is nothing they won’t do for their women, especially fall in love, which is something they’ve all sworn never to do due to their wild natures. Yet these fearless women show them how much better life is with someone by their side; they are an equal partner with whom they can share the ups and downs, the good and the bad.

vampire1-3

The books that really stand out in this series are Tall, Dark, and Wolfish and It Happened One Bite. Tall, Dark, and Wolfish follows Benjamin, a werewolf who has suddenly stopped changing during the full moon, and Elspeth, a healer who is part of a coven of witches in Scotland. Ben travels to Scotland in search of a famed healer (Elspeth’s late mother) to help him with his “ailment”.  As Elspeth is the only remaining healer, he finds himself in her company often as she tries to figure out how to get him to turn back into a wolf.  The two have such sharp and witty dialogue that I couldn’t help but fall in love with their story and subsequent relationship.

wolf5-6

In It Happened One Bite, Elspeth’s coven sister Blaire travels to a castle in Scotland that she never knew belonged to her family.  While exploring the castle she finds a man, James Kettering, locked in her cellar.  It turns out that her mother and the four other witches of their coven locked him in the cellar 20 years earlier for reasons unknown to James, Blaire, or the current coven. What I liked about this one was the change in Blaire’s character over the course of the novel.  She’s the battle witch of the coven – she can shoot fireballs, is excellent with a bow and arrow, etc. Her personality is already a bit more hardened and tomboyish to begin with, but to watch her fall in love was great. And James – he’s never threatened by her tough exterior. In fact, he loves her sarcasm and dry wit. He knows deep down inside she’s capable of great warmth, kindness, and loyalty. Their story definitely hooked me and made me extremely excited to continue the series.

I hope that I’ve given you enough reasons to read these series, as they aren’t ones to miss. And for those of you nervous to read something that is a collaboration of two authors, let me assure you that their writing is so flawless and seamless that you truly cannot tell that it was written by more than one author.

In (story) chronological order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. A Certain Wolfish Charm (Westfield Wolves #1) – 4 out of 5 Stars
  2. Tall, Dark, and Wolfish (Westfield Wolves #2) – 5 out of 5 Stars
  3. The Wolf Next Door (Westfield Wolves #3) – 3 out of 5 Stars
  4. The Taming of the Wolf (Westfield Wolves #4) – 5 out of 5 Stars
  5. It Happened One Bite (Regency Vampyre Trilogy #1) – 5 out of 5 Stars
  6. In The Heat of The Bite (Regency Vampyre Trilogy #2) – 4 out of 5 Stars
  7. Never Been Bit (Regency Vampyre Trilogy #3) – 3 out of 5 Stars
  8. The Wolf Who Loved Me (Westfield Wolves #5) – On my to-read list
  9. Wolfishly Yours (Westfield Wolves #6) – On my to-read list

Kim and Kelly’s Review of Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2) by Jessica Clare

batbjcSeveral months ago, I read Stranded With a Billionaire by Jessica Clare (because I love billionaire romances) and was impressed with the way Clare was putting a new spin on the trope.  In most billionaire romances I’ve read, the men win over the women with their money; taking them on trips, buying lavish gifts, or giving them whatever their hearts desired. Instead, Clare wrote about a woman unimpressed by wealth. A woman who valued her independence and wanted to make her own way in the world.  When I found out that the second book in Clare’s Billionaire Boys Club series was modeled after Beauty and the Beast I knew I was in for a treat.  My reading bestie, Kelly, from Reading With Analysis, jumped on board and joined me in reading/reviewing.

From Goodreads:

Real-estate tycoon Hunter Buchanan has a dark past that’s left him scarred and living as a recluse on his family’s palatial estate. Hunter is ready to give up on love—until he spots an enigmatic red-haired beauty and comes up with an elaborate scheme to meet her.

Gretchen Petty is in need of a paycheck—and a change. So when a job opportunity in an upstate New York mansion pops up she accepts. And while she can overlook the oddities of her new job, she can’t ignore her new boss’s delectable body—or his barely leashed temper.

Hunter’s afraid his plan might be unraveling before it’s truly begun, but Gretchen is about to show him that life can be full of surprises….

Kim: My favorite fairy tale has always been Beauty and the Beast.  The feminist side of me would say it’s because women are painted in such a good light.  But the romantic side of me would say what’s more beautiful than a relationship built on inner beauty?  I’m assuming that after reading that it won’t come as a shock that I absolutely loved Beauty and the Billionaire.  Clare’s done a phenomenal job smashing the common billionaire trope with this series (you know: man has tons of money, woman opens legs for it, etc.) It’s because she writes about women that own up to their sexuality and desires, but more importantly want to be respected as women, not objects that can be bought.  They aren’t impressed by the riches their men have, they are instead impressed by the emotional lengths their men go to win them.

Kelly:  It’s no secret that I’m leery of billionaire romances (especially billionaire/ingenue pairups. Ugh!), so I was pretty dang reluctant to give this series a try, but Kim can be rather persuasive.  Also, I trust her taste in books.  Anyway, one of the things that I liked about the first book was that Brontë was uncomfortable with Logan’s wealth.  It reminded me (a little bit) of one of my favorite sequences in the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice, when Mr. Gardiner chides Lizzy for being such a snob, objecting to poor Mr. Darcy for his wealth.  And, since I am predisposed to like anything that reminds me of Pride and Prejudice, I liked Stranded with a Billionaire and decided to continue reading the series.  I’m glad I did, because I liked Beauty and the Billionaire about a billion times better than the first one.

Kim: Having read the three books available so far, I can say that Beauty and the Billionaire is my favorite of the series.  And that’s mainly because of Gretchen and Hunter. Gretchen is the creme de la creme of female characters. She’s smart, sassy, witty, totally in touch with her sexuality, strong-willed, and independent (among other things.)  As Kelly said, Hunter’s wealth doesn’t make her drop on a bed and open her legs to keep him.  She’s instead wooed by all the small things he offers her.  Each day Hunter sends her roses from the greenhouse he tends to with a note asking her to join him for dinner.

It’s probably a good idea to give a small bit of background on Hunter. Hunter is a mangle of scars that occurred after he was kidnapped as a child. Since then he’s lived as a loner in his huge mansion. When I say loner, I mean it. Hunter is a virgin (and all the more adorably awkward because of it.)

Kelly:  Hunter lives his life in almost complete isolation, so he’s more than a little socially awkward at the beginning of the book.  There are quite a few parallels to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in this story, particularly in the early scenes.  All of Hunter’s initial attempts to befriend Gretchen are epic fails because Hunter has such a difficult time navigating social waters and managing his own insecurities.  Let’s face it: Hunter has a lot to be insecure about.  His face, chest, and hands are scarred, and he’s missing a finger; he’s not pretty.  Hunter spent most of his childhood in seclusion, homeschooled until he was sent to college ostensibly to learn and network but really to be ogled and ostracized.  “Socially awkward” doesn’t quite communicate the extent of Hunter’s struggles.  His experience of society was decidedly negative, and he doesn’t believe that anyone can look past the scars to appreciate the man underneath. Further, he views himself (his visage) as a menace to society.  So his isolation is the best thing, a kindness, for all parties.  I enjoyed watching his journey and loved that Clare paired this reclusive and insecure man with vivacious, confident, and accepting Gretchen.  She really is one of the best heroines I’ve ever come across.

Kim: And I believe Hunter is one of the best heroes as well. To view himself as the menace to society? His soul is beautiful but the way he views himself (not just the way he sees himself externally) is heart-breaking. He keeps mirrors in his office so that he “never forgets” his appearance or why he lives in his mansion alone. He is also so generous. He pays his staff excellent wages and keeps his crotchety, old, and rude housekeeper on simply because the man has been there forever.

I fully approve of the way he “uses” his wealth. Unlike other billionaire novels I’ve read, Hunter tries to use his money to give, not gain. Even when he sets up the fake book project for Gretchen, he does it with the intent that he hopes he gains her as a friend. A friend.

Kelly:  It could have been totally skeezy, right?  Reclusive billionaire creates a live-in project in order to lure a young woman into his home… You’d expect that kind of premise to be the lead-in to Criminal Minds, but because Hunter is so well-crafted, the reader always knows that he’s not a creeper.  It also helps that every increase in intimacy between Hunter and Gretchen is initiated by Gretchen (sometimes by accident.)  With so much agency in the story, Gretchen never seems like the unwitting victim of some billionaire mastermind.

Kim: YES. Their first interaction with each other is when she unwittingly sees him after he gets out of the shower. She has never seen him or his scars before and is at first mesmerized by his hot bod.

At the end of the hallway, not a hundred feet from where she was standing, a door was opening. A man emerged, rubbing his head with a fluffy white towel to dry his hair, humming to himself. HIs face was hidden from her but…nothing else was.

And oh, mercy, he was gorgeous.

He was utterly naked, his skin gleaming with with drops from his shower. His legs were tanned and shadowed from the wet hair clinging to them, and his legs were thick with cords of muscle. Nice, wet chords of glorious muscle..

He was hung, too. Gretchen didn’t mind noticing.

He of course freaks that she sees him and tries to hide his scars from her.

Kelly:  But Gretchen is more aware of having been caught ogling his manparts than anything else.  I mean, she notices his scars, but she saw his penis first, so — quite accidentally — her impression of Hunter is sexualized before she even has a chance to feel pity for him.  Of course, Hunter doesn’t really get that (from his perspective, he’s a recluse who has arranged for Gretchen to *maybe* become his friend, and then he goes and flashes her? Oy.)  Hijinks ensue, including my favorite bit of dialogue in the book:

“Are you drunk?” he asked abruptly.

“No,” she said, drawing out that one syllable. Okay, so the pajamas weren’t making the best first–um, second–impression. “I’m friendly. I saw you out here and wanted to talk.”

“I have nothing to say to you.”

So this wasn’t going well. When he began to stalk away at a pace more rapid than she could sustain in her oversized boots, she panicked. “Your penis!” she called out. “I saw it!”

Kim: Yup, that’s Gretchen. Just telling it like it is. She goes on to flash Hunter so that they’re “even” and then begins her attack on him. I don’t say attack in a bad way, just that she knows Hunter’s sensitivity and reluctance to push himself on her because of his inexperience.  And this is why Gretchen is awesome. Knowing everything she does about him, knowing that he’s scarred both inside and out, she still sees something deep inside of him that speaks to her.  And what can she do but go after it?

One thing I wanted to mention here. There isn’t much of a “plot” so to speak. The majority of the book is spent with Gretchen in his mansion working on the book project he’s set up for her. However the lengths of character development and growth that exist in this book is astounding. To me, THAT is what makes a book good/author amazing. When one can develop characters without crazy plots of kidnappings, rapes, and dark abusive pasts, and just develops the characters in the here and now, THAT is writing. And damn good writing at that.

Kelly: Amen to that.

Kelly’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Kim’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Beauty and the Billionaire by Jessica Clare
Berkley Publishing (2013)
eBook: 261 pages
ISBN: 9781101621240