Posts Tagged With: Book Review

PUBLICATION DAY!!

Blue Gentian is officially out for publication, and I’m running it free for the next 5 days to thank you all for following me through this journey.  If you could please consider telling someone what you thought of it (especially consider reviewing it!) I would be the most grateful girl on the web.  Thanks in advance.

So what are you waiting for?  Go get your free copy!

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Winter Reading List 2017

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Finally a blog entry, right?  Work has gotten insane on me.  One of our own went out on disability to get her knee replaced (surgery went well, and recovery is too – yay!), but we’re all doing a little backfilling to pitch in. Couple that with all the beginning of the year crazy and the cold Brian shared that just won’t go away, and it’s a miracle I’ve been able to write at all.

Which is to say that blog entries might be sparser (once a week and irregular?) until March.  We’ll see how it goes.

It’s more than time for the winter reading list. The students came back last Monday and I’m officially late.  So, here’s all the things I’ve read since the fall, and what I thought of them.  I know… I did say there would be less book reviews in the new year.  I’m still mostly holding to that.  But I also said the Reading List was something that would stay.  This one wins the award for most books ever (if that’s an actual award) with 53.

I hope you find something to like in this batch.

 

Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart by Sarah MacLean – I’m basically in love with this woman and consider her books to be the best thing ever.  I have never seen Informed Consent in a romance novel, and not only does MacLean do it, she does it so it’s SUPER hot.  Basic rule for all the MacLean books that follow?  READ THEM NOW.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – Beautifully written, but I just couldn’t get into it.  For some reason, I just felt like I had read this book before.  It didn’t offer me anything new.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater – Again, a very pretty book with not a lot of exciting things to offer.  I decided not to continue with the series after this one.

The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean – A runaway in the wrong (or right, if you like super hot guys) carriage trope, only this one is done remarkably well.

A Scot In The Dark by Sarah MacLean – It’s like if the naked celebrity selfie problem went 17th century on us.  Crazy well done.  And who doesn’t love a lady who ultimately saves herself?

A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean – A marriage of convenience novel in an illicit gaming hell.  He’s trying to keep her “pure.” Sign me up, please!

One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean – Another in the gaming hell series, and just as good as the first.

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean – This one might actually be my favorite of all the Lord of Scoundrels series.  The lady the duke supposedly killed turns up alive, and of course sparks fly.

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery – A comfort read that I’ve memorized parts of, and don’t read often.  It’s such a gem of a book, and I think I got more from it this time than I did as a teen.  She’s saying important things about women and relationships in this one.

Never Judge A Lady By Her Cover by Sarah MacLean – OH so good.  I love the secret that is the premise of this book, though I won’t spoil it for those who are planning to read the others.  And who doesn’t like a newspaperman hero?  I ALWAYS do.  My FAVORITE of the Lord of Scoundrels.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – I’m probably a horrible person, but I just couldn’t get into it.  I think it’s because Kvothe annoyed the CRAP out of me, and I didn’t want to spend any time with him.

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede – I don’t know why I keep returning to this book, because it really isn’t my favorite – it’s too long a timeline and too rambling to be About anything.  But Wrede’s world and alt-history is SO fascinating.  That’s what I go back for, I guess.

Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – This hilarious book is all letters back and forth as the two girls confront separate problems in the country and in town that ultimately end up being related.  Combines Wrede’s awesome alt-history world with regency romance and is perfection.  Bonus points?  It reads like it was fun to write.

What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan – I think this book is for people who aren’t history-buffs and totally crazy about the Regency.  I learned a little bit, but not as much as someone else might have.  Also, I felt kinda “meh” about it.  I struggled to get through it, though ultimately was glad I did.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare – A couple of mystery lovers tryst in a room that both the Hero and Heroine happen to also be in, and they’re blamed.  Now they have to get married, which seems like a hardship but really isn’t after all.  It was definitely a solid novel, but not a favorite or anything.

That Scandalous Summer by Meredith Duran – It’s a marriage of convenience novel, where the hero needs the heroine’s money to keep a hospital he runs open.  I read it all the way through, but ultimately didn’t feel it was great.

Someone to Watch Over Me by Lisa Kleypas – I actually hated this book.  It was basically the plot of “Splash” in 18th century form, but it got a little rapey and awful in there.  I wouldn’t recommend.

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase – Oh, so great.  The heroine is trying to pry her brother away from the hero’s terrible influence.  She’s super-smart, he’s fairly oblivious, and things are basically perfect.  I would 100% recommend this novel.

Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase – Love this novel, too. It’s an already betrothed but fell for someone else totally unsuitable trope, where the hero falls for his fiancé’s dressmaker.  Unique, though, because there’s genuine affection between the hero and his fiancé, just not romantic love.  So great, I kept picking up her books.

Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase – Dressmakers #2, and it features a delightful heroine who sneaks into all the Ton parties to report on the latest fashions.  So great.  Would recommend.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese O’Neil – Totally hilarious and disgusting (in a good way) in every way.  Ever wanted to be a romance heroine?  This will cure you.  And leave you laughing.

The Young Blood by Erin Satie – I loved this book a bunch.  It was well written, and the murder scene was horrifying while still serving the story.  It lost a few points for me for deus ex machina balloon rides, but all in all I would recommend.

Lady Sophia’s Lover by Lisa Kleypas – I was out of stuff to read, and so I DID go back to the Bow Street series, despite my reservations.  This one was better than the last, but still not that great.

Secrets from the Eating Lab by Tracy Mann – Such a cathartic and helpful read.  I’ve read a ton of books and evidence about how diets don’t help, but Mann takes it farther and tells you how to live healthfully at any size.  Finally a course of action that won’t kill me!

Romancing the Beat, Story Structure for Romance by Gwen Hayes – Very helpful as I was planning my Nano novel this year, which was a romance.  And a quick read, which was also nice.

The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman – Oh, I love this man so much.  I got a little bogged down in the section that’s all commentary on comics and things because I don’t read that genre, but otherwise it was magical to read his thoughts on things.

Red Rose by Mary Balogh –   I hated this book completely, was 100% turned off by the way she treated her disabled heroine, and didn’t finish it.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin – I loved this book so much that I started my own project this year.  I’ve almost totally dropped it 3 months in, but I did change several significant things that seem to be really helping me feel better about myself.

Geoducks are for Lovers by Daisy Prescott – I mean, it was the usual contemporary beach house romance, complete with wishy-washy reason for the couple to stay apart.  But it was well written, at least.

The Rogue by Katharine Ashe – While I really loved the tension between the hero and heroine, I also felt like the book was missing something.  Maybe because it’s #4 and they’re not as stand-alone as everyone hoped?

Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt – The plot was pretty great, really, as was the hero and heroine traveling through the slums after a secret.  I think I can’t give it full marks, though, because of a needless almost-rape.

His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander – Uh, no.  This book annoyed the CRAP out of me because there seemed to be no reason at all for the two not to at least schtup each other, and they didn’t.  And it was repetitive.  I read about 75% of the way through before I gave up in disgust.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig  – Maybe the best Christmas book I read this year.  An intrigue with puddings, silly and not too smart but still drool-worthy men, and much Christmas goodness.  Hot, but no sex.

Oh Horrid Night edited by Amber Newburry – This is the book I’m in!  I had a fun time reading everyone else’s stuff, which was oh so creative and very creepy.

All I Want for Christmas is You by Nora Roberts – it was fine, but nothing to write home about.  The kids were cute, the romance just fine.  I have nothing to criticize.  But, I also have nothing to praise, really.

Married for Christmas by Noelle Adams – I actually liked this book quite a lot.  The fellow in the relationship was a pastor, and so I thought it might be sickly religious.  Not so, though.  And very solid, with plenty of hotness and a story line that seemed natural.

A Christmas Kiss by Elizabeth Mansfield – A sweet holiday romance in which the spunky and awesome heroine falls for the father of the house, who’s mad at himself because he thinks she’s engaged to his son.  Sweet.

A Family for Christmas by Noelle Adams – It was written well, but I felt like this missed the mark for me.  They were both missionaries, and for some reason I didn’t feel like I really identified with them, though the writing and story were both solid.

Twas The Night After Christmas by Sabrina Jeffries – A cute and steamy novel about a man and his estranged mother.  The guy falls for his mother’s companion after she tricks them into reconciling.  He was a little too creepy at first, but I ended up liking it.

What A Lady Needs for Christmas by Grace Burrowes – This was one of my FAVORITE Christmas novels this year. It features a Scot, a train escape, an awesome wardrobe, and a precocious daughter.  I didn’t want it to end.

Three Nights Before Christmas by Kat Latham – The heroine is an ex-con and a train engineer, and watching her story unfold was great.  Especially because her brother and the hero are such funny guys.  Plenty of Christmas goodness, too.  Also, the ugliest sweater EVER.

Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan – A VERY cute tale that made me want to at least explore reading the rest of the series.  Plenty of skiing and coziness, along with a mean mother and a teen to adore.

The Duke and Miss Christmas by Amelia Grey – I got REALLY angry with the hero in the first chapter and refused to read the rest of it.  The verdict is a resounding No.

Wallbanger by Alice Clayton – Oh, I love this book so much.  I was skeptical because of the title, but the hero and heroine are both so quippy, and they both have a hilarious posse of friends, and it’s hot all the way through.  Yes please.

Once Upon a Highland Christmas by Lecia Cornwall – Another one of my favorites this year.  The villagers are such well-written characters, and I loved the Lady and Lord, and the way gossip traveled.  They both stubbornly held to marrying others beyond the point of reason, but I still think it worked.  Would recommend.

The Undervalued Self by Elaine Aron – This was an interesting read, and I think it was good for me.  The difference between ranking and linking situations, and how we rank when we should link sometimes, has been very helpful.

A Bad Boy for Christmas by Jessica Lemon – I was not really a fan of this one.  Eventually things get kinda sweet, but the hero in the beginning is a little creepy about his need to “protect” the heroine and it never quite recovered enough for me.

How A Lady Weds a Rogue by Katharine Ashe – This book had all the good parts of an amazing novel, but it somehow didn’t grip me.  I found my attention wandering even as I enjoyed it.  I recommend?  I gave it 4 stars on Amazon.

Seducing Mr. Knightley by Maya Rodale – downtrodden and shy advice columnist known as Dear Abigail reverses things and asks her readers for advice on how to seduce her crush.  Which happens to be her boss.  Nothing to do with Jane Austen (closer to Never Been Kissed, the movie), but features a newspaperman.  Yum.

Grin and Beard it by Penny Reid – It’s the 2nd book in the series, but it’s OH so good and can stand alone.  National Park ranger and movie star fall in love.  She has an amazing career, is Latina, and also a size 14 and totally sexy.  So is he, bear-trapping and all.  It sounds cheesy, but it’s really not.  It’s perfection.

Beauty and the Mustache by Penny Reid – I read the book above and HAD to read the entire series.  This one is technically part of the “Knitting In The City” series, but it features their sister and is also considered Winston Brothers 0.5.  A sad book since it features the death of the MC’s mother, but also a beautiful love story.  And you HAVE to love that gaggle of friends.

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid – The 2nd book in the series.  Two hometown haters fall in love when the girl mistakes the guy for his twin and things get hot.  Full of sassiness, too.  I almost said this one was my favorite so far, but I don’t think I can, really.  It’s impossible to pick.

Beard Science by Penny Reid – I was worried about this one because I don’t really think of Cletus as being romantic.  But he definitely is.  And this book may be the funniest yet because the heroine is so great.  She’s smart but sheltered, so it’s an interesting combination with Cletus’ slyness.

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Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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I’ve been a sickie all weekend, which is the WORST way to spend a few days.  This thing just kept hanging on, too.  I felt a little scratchy of throat on Thursday night, and I’m only just back to the land of the living today.  I feel better than I sound, which is a combination of stuffy and gravely.  The house is a mess, the laundry did not get done.  The only silver lining was the mass amount of fudgesickles I had an excuse to eat.

I did, however, get quite a lot of reading done.  I just read Naomi Novik’s “Uprooted,” which has been on my list since it won the Nebula for Best Novel.

I’ll tell you right now it was SO well deserved.  The basic premise is that there’s a Dragon in the tower in the valley Agnieszka lives in, only he’s not an actual dragon.  He’s a wizard named Dragon, and every ten years he takes a girl to live with him and she never comes home again.  The villagers put up with it because he saves them from the horrible infestation of things that live in the forest that’s forever encroaching on their territory, and a girl every ten years is his only request.  He treats them well.

Agnieszka is one of the girls who will be sixteen when the Dragon needs to take his next girl.  Against all assumptions (it’s supposed to be her pretty, accomplished best friend), she gets picked.  But her ties to the land and to her family are too strong for her to stay in the tower as the rest of the girls did.  And that sets off a chain of events in which kingdom politics, wars, assassinations, infected tree people, and an innocent village will combine together in a fight against nature itself with no one on the side they seem to be.  It’s not a Young Adult novel, either.  It gets both bloody and sexual at times, though mostly it’s not.

Add that to a little bit of love story, and it’s basically the perfect novel.  It made me remember why I like fantasy so much, and reminded of Robin McKinley without the problems of unsatisfied plot lines I sometimes have with her Damar series.  It reminded me a little of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Tenar in the desert too, though Agneiszka’s problem is that she loves too much where Tenar’s is that she can’t love at all.

I’ll be buying the fancy hard cover version of this, and maybe also reading everything else Novik’s ever written (we’ll see).  I highly recommend that you check it out, too, if you have any interest in Fantasy at all.  This is the best of what the genre has to offer.

Happy Reading!

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Book Review: Wolves of Mercy Falls (Shiver, Linger)

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I fell so hard in love with The Raven Cycle books that I started following Maggie Stiefvater on Instagram and Tumblr.  Just so you know, her life is way cooler than yours (and mine).  I offer as evidence her explanation of a race between her and John Green, and their subsequent car fires.  I want to have car fires.  Or, rather, I’d like to have car fire stories I can tell after I’m home and safe.  Bonus points if I don’t actually have to have the car fire to begin with.

Yes, I know.  This is why I’m never going to be that cool.

But her awesomeness and my religion-like devotion to Blue and the boys meant that I needed to see if I had an awesome backlist to read.

The verdict?  While I’ll read the stuff she writes going forward (and maybe the Scorpio book?), I’m not terribly impressed with her older work.  I read the first two books of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series (Shiver and Linger), and I’m not sure if I’m going to read the last one.

The series has all the things it should to be amazing: beautiful writing, interesting characters.  It’s all danger, ice, snow, and wolves with some books and music and high school antics thrown in for good measure.  It’s like if all your fantasies of what Twilight should have been come true.

Except that for some reason the yummy ingredients make a flat cake.

You can see glimmers of the sassiness and truth that made Raven Boys such a gem, but the books never quite get there.  The best character in the whole series is Rachel, who gets very little screen time.  Grace, the main character, is too bland to inspire devotion and not bland enough that you can insert yourself on her without thinking about it too much.  The books are beautiful, but they lack profluence* in places as Stiefvater lingers on the relationship between Grace and Sam or on description. Plot twists are predictable.

I can forgive all those things, though. I have before for other authors.  I think the reason I can’t here is that there’s nothing new to grasp at, to make the other sins worth it.   It mostly feels like a series I’ve read before.  I like that series, I like that this is an ideal version of it, but in the end it has nothing to offer that I don’t already know.

That being said, I was interested enough to read the novels through pretty quickly.  The emotion she evokes in the books is genuine, and I found myself caring, if not about the characters, then about the outcome to their stories.  I will also say that the books won several awards, so I might be full of crap.

And, of course, as I’m looking at the book art to download the covers on the top of this blog I’m also seeing all the fan art and getting warm fuzzies about the series and the characters.

It’s a solid choice as a read, there are just other things out there with more to them.  I would recommend the Wolves of Mercy Falls books to people who haven’t read Twilight, and would heartily recommend the series instead of Twilight.  But if you’ve been down that road already, just go pick up Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest instead.  You’ll get more bang for your buck.  And if you haven’t read The Raven Cycle yet go do that IMMEDIATELY.

 

*Profluence: A term coined by John Gardener in his book “The Art of Fiction.” The sense that a plot is flowing, moving the reader continually and evenly toward a goal that is well planned; that we are getting somewhere.  It’s the way the cause-and-effect connective tissue that makes up a novel interacts with the overall plot and story arc.

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Okay, so I know that “keep the secrets” is a thing, and I’m going to try my best to hold to that.  However, this review discusses the plot of the book, so be warned.  I won’t give away anything that is a major secret, but reviewing a book without talking about the book is impossible.  If you want to stay 100% pure, don’t read any further.

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The Harry Potter books are an interesting thing.  They’ve become such the stuff of legend that it’s hard to separate the myth from the actuality.  I just know that I read them recently and fell in love all over again, so they do stand the test of time.  I was obsessed so quickly with the series when I was younger, attending every midnight release and reading the book in a day.  I’m a huge fan.  I’m quiet about it, but that doesn’t mean the fervor burns any less bright.  I didn’t attend the midnight release for Cursed Child, but some things haven’t changed.  I read this book in a day.

In general, I don’t like plays as reading material.  I think I should say that, too, so you know where I’m coming from.  Without anyone to speak them, the words can sound sappy and trite.  Without the emotion and the inner life of the characters, the narrative feels cold.  That disappears when you have actors to play the parts, but reading the script on the couch doesn’t help.  I was predisposed to love the book; I was predisposed to hate the book.

I ended up falling somewhere in between.

The basic premise of the play is this: Harrry and his youngest son Albus don’t get along.  At all.  Some of the problems seem to stem from the fact that Albus was sorted into Slytherin and makes a best friend in Scorpius Malfoy, but mostly it’s because Albus can’t come to grips with some of the things Harry has had to do to save the world.  Most notably, the death of Cedric Diggory.  Shenanigans ensue.

By the end of the first part, I was angry.  The plot seemed much like Back To The Future: Harry Potter Edition.  I felt like the whole thing was an excuse to trot out everyone’s favorite characters from the series who died or disappeared and had nothing original to offer me.  Was it neat to be back at Hogwarts?  Yes.  But that’s all I can really say for it.  The world felt cold, the scenes passed too fast.  I loathe reality reunion shows when everyone talks dirt about the contestants and rehashes their time in the sun.  I didn’t need the Harry Potter version.  I could go on and on: Inexcusably, Ron is the buffoon he was made out to be in the movies, and not himself at all.  They play with time, and the way they play with it is so anti the rules set out in the book that it’s maddening.  People are outright friendly to Malfoy, who did unspeakable, unforgivable things in the novels. I mean, I’m all for nice.  Nice is what you do when you’re an adult.  But friendly is a little steep for someone who broke your face, tried let Death Eaters into the school, constantly uttered racist slurs, and allowed your best friend to be tortured.  How much time do you have for me to rant?

But by the end of part two, it had redeemed itself.  Not enough to be fully satisfying, but enough that I didn’t feel like my money had been extorted.  The kids end up falling into disaster, the adults band together like old times to try and help, and it’s suddenly a new story with the old relationships I know and love.  It suddenly feels like Harry Potter and it starts to really grapple with its premise that sometimes bad things have to happen to create a good world. It becomes more the book I wanted.

I’m not gonna say don’t read it.  Because you either will or you won’t.  And I will also admit that there may have been no way this book could live up to the huge expectations I had of it.  But if you read it, just know that it probably wasn’t the thing you were expecting to get, though some of the qualities make sticking to the end worthwhile.

 

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Book Review: Fragile Things and The Darkest Part of the Forest

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I realized, as I was writing this review, that I have reviewed Black and Gaiman together before now.  Their work is so different,  but it feels like 2 sides of the same coin in many ways.  Gaiman writes mostly for adults, Black for YA.  Gaiman deals in myth, Black in fairy tale.  The books are filled with the weird and the strange.  And those weird, strange things often take place in the modern age.  It was an accident that I’m putting them together this time.  They’re the only 2 non-fiction books that I haven’t reviewed yet.  It seemed right to do them together at the same time. So here we are,  with the books fulfilling the “a book that will be a complete mindfuck” and “a book you bought long ago but still haven’t read” categories for the reading challenge.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman:

I should probably couch this review by saying that I mostly don’t enjoy short stories.  Or, rather, that there is a celebrated type of short story that I loathe, full of beautiful words and terrible happenings that brings me more unsettled upset than entertainment.  It’s a staple of the genre. But I love Gaiman, and I have read all his novels already.  Some multiple times.  Also, his work is always a mindfuck.  It’s strange in ways that are completely right yet unexpected.

I enjoyed Fragile Things and I didn’t, in about equal measure.  A Study in Emerald is worth the price of the whole thing, I enjoyed it so much.  I think anyone with a penchant for Doyle would.  But there were others in there that just made me rather horrified.  They were all so hit and miss that it’s impossible to go through and say worth it/skip of each, which I would have to do.  And to be honest, if you can find Emerald not in this book, that’s the route I would go with.  For me, the joy wasn’t worth the pain.  The quality of the work is amazing, the subject matter was not often my cup of tea.

Looking for something Gaiman to read?  American Gods, The Graveyard Book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Stardust are all good options.  Looking for something new of Gaiman’s to read?  He just came out with a non-fiction book of essays “The View From the Cheap Seats,” which I hear is good (although I haven’t gotten around to it yet).

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black: 

Every time I read Holly Black, I remind myself that I need to read more Holly Black.  I don’t know why she doesn’t come to mind as an immediate “yes” author to me.  Everything I have read of hers has been joyfully frightening, fascinatingly horrifying.  This one is about a modern town on the edge of faerie.  There is a horned prince in the forest, sleeping in a glass coffin, and then he goes missing. And then people start dying.

It’s all the things I loved about the Tithe world with a more epic heroine to balance out the story.  There are several things in the genre that are always a YES for me (almost irrespective of content).  Fae, love stories, and women with swords are a few of those, which this book has in spades.  I loved it.  It made me want to buy Valliant immediately, and then re-read Coldest Girl in Cold Town.

I bought this book almost a year ago.  I don’t know what made me linger in reading it.  I lingered with Gaiman’s Ocean, though, too.  I think perhaps it’s because I know I’m going to love it so much and I only get to read it for the first time once, that I feel the need to savor it as much as possible.  Or maybe it’s a fear of ultimately not liking something I’m looking forward to so much.  Both Black and Gaiman always deliver, though.  I should remember that more.

The final verdict on Darkest Part of the Forest is go buy it now.

Happy reading!

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Book Reviews: A Little Romance

I’m very far ahead on the reading challenge at this point, but VERY far behind on getting reviews of everything done.  Which means I’m going to review two of the romance novels I’ve read so we can get that out of the way.  I feel like love of romance novels is a personal topic, and I usually don’t review them in detail.  But I pledged to review everything on that challenge list, so…

Before I go full-throttle review, I think we should talk about romance novels.  They are full of cheesy moments, sappy dialogue, silly euphemisms for body parts, and unlikely scenarios.  I consider that a feature of the genre, not a deterrent.  So when I discuss the novels, I think you should know that all of them are typical historical romance fare and are therefore to be judged on a different standard than, say, something by Donna Tartt.

That being said, I still look for streamlined language, an interesting and new-ish storyline, and plenty of good description.  I will always maintain that good writing is good writing, regardless of genre.  It’s the stuff that happens in romance novels that I’m not sure everyone would agree on being their thing, not the quality of the writing itself.

Here we go:

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Mine ‘Til Midnight by Lisa Kleypas (a book that’s on fire)

Not only is the book full of fiery, lusty happenings, but their house eventually catches on fire.  It seemed to fit.

I am fairly torn when it comes to Lisa Kleypas.  She does that thing in romance novels where the girl says no way, the guy does it anyway, and then the girl likes it.  I hate to be all “rape culture!” on everyone, but it makes me uncomfortable and is the trope I like LEAST in the genre.  I know that in the Victorian era, women had to be circumspect about their relationships.  But this isn’t a Victorian book.  It’s a modern book, written by modern people, for modern people, that happens to take place in the Victorian era.  I demand that the fiction fit my modern values.  Which means no possible rape scenarios, please, regardless of how much love is between the characters.

It’s all throughout this book, too.  Which made it hard to like wholeheartedly even though I LOVED almost every other aspect of it.  It’s an unusual premise, the family is unlucky and really funny, and the love interest is a hot bad boy.  Bonus points for the fact that he’s Romani, and Kelypas is pretty good (to my untrained eye) at being respectful while still dealing with prejudices at the time.  More bonus points for Beatriz and her pet lizard. Who makes an appearance at the dinner table.  If we are giving kudos for originality, this one has it in spades.

While it was mostly good, it also had a supernatural aspect that I felt was thrown in at the end without enough foreshadowing, and seemed a little silly as a result.

I’m critical, but I read the thing in 1 day and then bought book 2.  So I did enjoy it despite the flaws.  I have now read the entire backlist of Eloisa James and Julia Quinn, so I now have to find a good substitute.  Kelypas is almost in that league for me.  If only she’d cut out this no/yes stuff.

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My American Duchess by Eloisa James (a book no one wants you to read)

This category was the HARDEST for me, because no one has ever cared much what I read.  My parents’ shelves were as open to me as anything on my own shelves, I always got whatever was on my book list for presents at Christmas/Easter/birthdays, and my grandparents used to hand me things that might have been considered too old for me.  Like Damon Runyon at the age of 12. (He’s one of my favorites, but the heavy use of slang isn’t something that’s easy to get into, and it can be violent).  I got my hands on my first romance novels in high school.  No one has ever really cared.

But I needed something forbidden.  Which made me think of the stigma around romance novels.  And here we are…

At this point, I’ve read all of James’ back list.  This one falls somewhere in the middle of the pack for me, although maybe more towards the top than the bottom.  It’s a good, solid romance that has all the things I’m looking for – including an awesome American heroine.  She has a reputation for being flighty after ending a few engagements, and she’s determined to stick her current one through.  Even if he’s the wrong guy, and it’s his twin brother she really wants.  Bonus points for her being from Boston, which is where a huge contingent of my own family is from.

The book features a pineapple debacle, a twist in how the two eventually get married, and much fun along the way.  About ½ of the book takes place after the 2 are already married and attempting to figure things out, so that’s unusual in a romance novel, too.  Although it may not be the best of James, it’s definitely some of the best in the Romance genre.

That’s it for now, although more reviews will follow soon.  Happy reading!

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Book Review: Witches of Lychford

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I am charging along on the reading challenge.  As of today, I’m 11 books ahead and pretty proud of myself, though I still have about 7 to read from the list.  I discovered, thanks to Tor, an amazing book called Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell.  It is glorious in its absurdity and also heartbreaking at times.

The basic premise is that a big-box store wants to open on the town borders, straddling the line and changing the roads.  Where local crank Judith didn’t care about all of that before the location was announced, she now knows that building the superstore like that will cause the wardings on the town to fail, literally letting in a host of hellish demons.  The company representative seems to be one of them.

Judith has to band together with the faithless priest and the unbelieving magic shop owner to stop the nefarious plot to build the market.  All three of the women are dealing with their own issues around life and death, having to work through them to save the town.

Such a great premise, right?  And it mostly lives up to its promise as a traditional fae/forest/witchcraft fantasy set in untraditional times.  The only issue I had with it was its shortness.  It’s a novella, and it didn’t need to be.  There is meatiness there for a full-length story.

In class, I was taught that novellas typically only had one story line to them, because it was too hard to wrap up multiple story lines in under 50,000 words without the reader feeling cheated.  This book shows the truth of that.  3 different story lines for the 3 different characters, and none but Judith’s felt like it was fully satisfying.  That being said, it was still a fun, quick, romp.  I would heartily recommend. If the worst criticism I have of a book is that I wish there were more of it, it’s doing pretty well.

Plus bonus points because it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.  Happy reading!

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Book Reviews: The Raven Cycle

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Although I didn’t read as much as I expected I would on vacation (between my awesome family that I never get to see and the cold I caught, it was inevitable), I’ve been working on the books I wanted to read this last week.  Slower than vacation, but still charging ahead.

Which is to say, I have fallen headlong into the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater and I don’t think I’m ever coming out.  I am so in love with these books that I don’t want to read the end.  Because then it will be over and Gansey will be dead (maybe), and I can’t hang out at Monmouth Manufacturing or with Blue in her crazy house, or long to protect Ronan from his dreams, or see if Adam actually makes it out of Henrietta.  I’m as in love with them all as Blue is.  It’s amazing how that can happen in just a week.

I’m using quite a few of them in the reading challenge, so I thought I’d do a full review of the series.  All the things I mentioned above are stuff you learn within the first few chapters of the first book, so I don’t think they REALLY count as spoilers.  Certainly no more than Synopsys do.  I’ve tried to keep them out of the following as well.

The premise of all the books is that a group of 4 prep school boys, headed by the dynamic Richard Gansey III, are looking for the body of a Welsh king who is buried on a ley line in Virginia.  Blue Sargent, the daughter of the town psychic, has foreseen that Gansey will die this year.  They, of course, get enmeshed and start unleashing all sorts of supernatural stuff over the countryside.  And then there’s Blue’s curse that she will kill her true love, but only if she kisses him…

The Raven Boys:  I originally decided to pick up the series because Tumblr seemed to love it.  They love stuff I sometimes don’t, though, so I was still skeptical (I really didn’t like Hunger Games, for instance).  It was a solid book, well written and interesting.  I felt at the end of it as though I would certainly pick up the next book, but that it probably didn’t deserve all the endless hype.

That impression may not be entirely accurate to others’ experiences, though.  Tumblr spoiled one of the major secrets of the novel for me, which left me unsurprised when it was revealed.  Sometimes I can enjoy the build-up even if I know what’s happening, but in this case I mostly just felt like the novel was… I don’t know.  Not fully flat, but flatter than I’d like. Solid, but existing within many tropes of the genre.  Good fun but not a life-changer.  I would pick up other Stiefvater works, but she probably wouldn’t make the auto-read list of authors who I will buy their work no matter what.

I’m glad I kept reading, because it only got better.

The Dream Thieves: I do not know how to say enough of this book. Things get weird and creepy super-fast.  Where Raven Boys felt likely and somewhat predictable to those who know the genre, Dream Thieves did not at all.  It’s rare for a sequel to be better than the original, but this one was better in spades.  Bonus points for a strangely loveable hit man, some car racing, and some seriously scary dreams.

It was like now that Stiefvater had done all the foundation work, she could really let loose.  This book makes you love and fear Ronan, makes you ache for his family, and introduces a higher magic into the Raven Boys world all at the same time.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue: It is in this book that things really start to open up.  It’s no longer a small group of boys and Blue looking for a king.  It’s a world of dangerous people out for dangerous things.  It fulfils the promise of its atmosphere that people will die.  It’s a book of caves, forests, bees, and blood.  The boys cling to their prep school antics, but it starts to feel like they are clinging to a semblance of sameness and not actually jolly.

The thing I appreciated most about this book was that it focuses more on the women of Fox Way than other books have.  It’s the most female-centric of the series, though the boys are still main players.  The ladies at Fox Way are just such interesting characters that it adds an additional dimension to the series that wasn’t there before.  I can’t say too much more without spoiling it all, but I’ll just say “HOLY CRAP!” and let you read it for yourself.

The Raven King: I didn’t want to start this book, because it meant the end.  And the end is a scary thing when it likely contains the death of Gansey.  It was prophesied within the first few pages of the series, which means it has to happen somehow.  I’m just crossing my fingers that the way it happens isn’t somehow permanent.  Or that they can stop it.  By now, I’m as in love with Gansey as the rest of them are.  I’d follow him into an underground tomb in a heartbeat too.

I thought Lily Blue was tense and deadly, but Raven King as proven to be more so, by spades.  The things they had managed to sort of tie together haphazardly before, or ignore, all come unraveled in disorderly and frightening ways.  I didn’t exactly have nightmares, but I dreamed that I could dream the way Ronan does.  Which shows how much this has gotten into my psyche.  The book has fulfilled all my longings for the series and then some, too, which is nice.  It’s a good wrap up.  Even though I don’t want it to be wrapped up…

The long and short of it is that I now feel like the book not only deserves all the hype, but that I never want the series to end EVER.  I’ll even wait a year for the next book.  Please, Maggie?  I don’t care if it’s all done, I can’t give them up.  My only regret is that I’m visiting my sister in law (who lives in Virginia) at Christmas time.  It would have been lovely to read a series I’m obsessed with in the location it’s set.  If only I had waited… (I’m also glad I didn’t wait).

Oh well, I’ve bought all the pretty hardback copies and they’re winging their way to me via Amazon right now.  I’ll just have to reread them 6 months from now at Christmas time.

And in the meantime, I have plenty of other things to console me.  I’m in too much of a book hangover to contemplate what, exactly, but I’m sure I’ll start something else soon.

 

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Book Review: Little Women

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The last time I tried reading Little Women I couldn’t do it.  I found that I had memorized so much of it that it no longer operated like a book in my mind.  When I read, the scenes play as if they’re a movie.  Memorization = no movie = bad reading experience.

But I loved that book so much in high school.  I couldn’t even exactly say why, but just that it seemed so perfect.  I wanted the little shabby house, four sisters to romp with, and a neighbor like Laurie to pet and tease and wheedle.  I wanted a mother as supernaturally wise as Marmee is to just make most of the decisions for me.

Back then I identified mostly with Amy.  She’ll do anything to be liked, has a heck of a temper while still being hilarious (especially in her misuse of the English language), and gets into the funniest scrapes.  Like the time she tried to cast her foot in plaster and it hardened too soon.  So she just had a bucket stuck on her foot until Jo could stop laughing long enough to cut her out again.  There’s also the clothespin she uses to re-shape her nose (I never liked mine, either), and the weird dress up box she gets into at Aunt March’s.  They hand over the sugar bowl to her whenever she gets cross.  She cries over her math homework.  I mean, Amy’s truly my patronus.  Or was.

I decided to read Little Women again for a couple of reasons.  The first was that people were saying a lot of things online about it, and I wanted to read it with a more careful and critical eye.  The second was because I thought it would do for the 2016 reading challenge.  The book doesn’t remind me of Christmas as much as it probably should (yeah, it starts at Christmas, but 90% of the book is another season).  But it does remind me heavily of another season in my life.  Besides, it’s probably been ten years since I’ve tried it.

I am here to report that it’s better than you remembered it.  No, really.  That’s a possible thing.

Or at least it was better than I remembered it.  And I think this is why:  It talks frankly about poverty, shows it in a cheery if sometimes inconvenient light, and doesn’t give false hope.

I couldn’t have put it into words before now, but I’m awfully mad at American society under general principals.  It 100% isn’t true at all anymore that if you work hard enough you will be able to achieve the American Dream (if it ever was), and yet you are told a thousand times over that it’s the truth.  I’m of a generation who is tens of thousands of dollars in debt, has come of age during the WORST financial crisis seen in 80 years, often works multiple jobs to make ends meet, and yet is still called lazy because they are treading water in financial insecurity.  I’ve worked those multiple jobs myself.  Hell, I’m currently working one job with what  would be considered a middle class salary and I’m driving a jalopy and worrying about the grocery bill.

And I’ll be honest: my job is not what I thought it would be when I was 15.  I don’t hate it, certainly, but it’s not one of those “never work a day in your life” jobs.  It’s fine, I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing it well, and all the bills eventually get paid.  But I feel like  I at least deserve financial security if I am working that hard.

And then I crack open a page on the March girls.  And there is catharsis.

I found myself much more a Meg this time around.  She works as a governess for a couple of spoiled children and doesn’t like it, but it pays the bills.  She has to continually watch the older son blow fortunes on vices, money that they throw away but that would make a sea-change worth of help to her poor family.  She hangs out with Sallie Gardner and Annie Moffat who also have heaps more means that she does, and she must continually deny herself the trinkets and things they purchase without thinking. (See: my entire Chapman experience).  She’s always fussing with her wardrobe to make it nice, has terrible yet hilarious domestic trails after she gets married (oh, the sticky, jam covered kitchen), and has a rough transition to living with John Brooke and making the marriage work.  But in the end there is heaps of love and she is rewarded with a too-tiny yet cozy home they rule together, which Laurie dubs the Dovecote.

There is no “deserve” in this book. There are only choices and trials for all the girls.  The reward for their work is a better character and a good relationship with the people they love.  With some harmless, romping fun in between to break up the monotony, of course.  There is no promise that hard work = security in anything but secure relationships.  There is no expectation that any of the girls will find their “calling” and work at something they enjoy, or that work will ever be a pleasant thing.  There is only pride in pitching in to help and in a job well done.

I realized that I’d do better to take some of those ideas and start trying to live them.  So there I am again, in the same place I was 20 years ago: trying to use this book as a roadmap for life.

I guess some things never change.

Now excuse me while I go read Meg’s marriage scene again.

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