Hi, my name is Jacqueline, I'm a bibliophile, and I'm in love with this book.
This thing kicks ass. And, I don't mean in the "let's-create-comedic-comm...moreHi, my name is Jacqueline, I'm a bibliophile, and I'm in love with this book.
This thing kicks ass. And, I don't mean in the "let's-create-comedic-commentary-for-the-sake-of-an-amusing-hyperbolic-review" kind of kick-assery. I mean legitimate, I-glommed-this-mofo-in-one-day level of quality. So, what's this puppy about? Okay, quick run down; The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lie, a historical romantic mystery set in China during the Tang Dynasty which follows Yue-ying, a scarred indentured servant working in a Courtesan pleasure house, and Bai Huang, a privileged aristocratic playboy, both of whom are set by circumstances to solve a Who-Done-It murder mystery. And subsequent awesomeness ensues.
First off, let me just put it out there that while I do have some issues regarding the story (we'll get to those a minute), I have to say it; The Lotus Palace is basically the literary equivalent of the TARDIS. I shit you not, from Chapter One this sucker takes you out of your Modern Day Bore-ville and transplantes your ass to ancient China. The textures of the writing are hardcore realistic. So much effort is put to the smallest details in the setting, from Chinese social class structure to the character's attire to dietary rituals, making your brain feel immersed in awesome culture all without becoming boring or textbook-ish.
That said, while I'm fangirling over this thing like a Belieber at her first Justin concert, there are a few figurative landmines sprinkled in the recipe of this novel. "The characters, perchance?" you might be thinking. Nope. In fact, I am completely on board with the ideology that says Huang and Yue-ying are IRL people. While Yue-ying does seem to be given more character development, with Huang kind of feels pushed to the back-burner, I'm okay with this criticism. For the most part, The Lotus Palace is largely told from our heroine's point of view. So such favored attention makes sense. Both characters are still likeable, believable, and interesting.
"The plot?" you could be pondering. Nope-nope. The external conflicts of this piece of fiction, while obviously serving as the Forced Proximity Vehicle by which our two leads are granted interaction, it works. The mystery is believable because just enough focus is directed its way without feeling like a Scooby Doo special. What's more, it paves the way for allowing the book's secondary characters to feel fully realized and dynamic.
"Screw you, Jacquie, I'm done playing your guessing games!" you're now thinking. Okay! Here it is; the big ol' answer to What The Hell Is My Problem is basically the romance between hero and heroine. Yeah, okay, so that was a lot of hyperbolic expository buildup for not a lot of payoff; sue me. As is, while I was in copious love with the initial sexual tension and relationship dynamic between Huang and Yue-ying during the first arc of their story, it kind of died a quiet death from the second to third act. I really can't explain what happened, either; which is not helpful, I know. The two had really rockin' chemistry in the first several chapters, but after the story got rolling it's like their relationship was simultaneously rushed and ignored. What's worse, along with getting fewer relationship development scenes the more the story progressed, I also really struggled buying them as couple-material.
AND THIS FACT KILLS MY SOUL! Why the text-screaming? Because the quality of this story was frackin' phenomenal! The writing was amazing, the pacing was amazing-er, and the characters were the book-people equivalent of chocolate+orgasms+free money; basically all the things that make life awesome. Sadly, our two leads just felt stale, especially when considering their relationship culminates at the end of the book in a pretty unbelievable way. Without activating the Spoiler Bomb, I will say that while I straight up demand an HEA in my romances, I want my Happily Ever Afters to not feel as fake as Pamela Anderson's chest. Even more of a bummer, the ending of The Lotus Palace does give me my couple being a couple, but it does so in a very rushed, unsatisfactory delivery.
Still! Aside from all my bitchy bemoaning, I still gotta give high fives to the author of this little gem. Jeannie Lin kept me hooked throughout my reading experience with this book. I did genuinely care about the characters, and my attention was all wrapped up in the story like a puppy with a ball made of bacon. Yes, I do wish more time had been spent on Huang and Yue-ting's relationship, and yes, while I seriously regret this author's use of time-fast-forwarding in the book, I still stick by my recommendation. Ms. Lin, your book was awesome. Please, give me more!
Seriously. Shut up and know all ye THIS BOOK IS FUCKING FAN-DAMN-TASTIC!
Well, so, yes, I might have just secured my one way ticket to the pillowed...more
Seriously. Shut up and know all ye THIS BOOK IS FUCKING FAN-DAMN-TASTIC!
Well, so, yes, I might have just secured my one way ticket to the pillowed-wall room complete with self-hugging jackets for that crazy-sauce outburst, but it was so worth being committed over. Alas, lock me away Johnny, for I have recently come to the sad conclusion that books are not healthy for you. In fact, they're a bit dangerous to your well being, and unquestionably no-good for your sanity. Books like No Good Duke Goes Unpunished make it very, VERY difficultimpossible emotionally traumatizing to separate fiction from reality. Why? Well!
When a book kicks much ass, you want that thing to be real, dammit. And, let's face it, we're all secretly convinced that Temple and Mara are walking-talking people. Those two characters are the epitome of a huge honkin' bowl of Awesome sprinkled with a sugary goodness pile of Emotional Agency. Yes, yes, our characters are believable, they're likable, they're strong; they're all of that. But, far, *far* more importantly, their back-stories, their personal identities, AND their personal growth, both independently as well as a couple over the course of novel, brings these two fictional peeps into a hot, zesty fiesta of damned good reading.
Oh, and that's not even broaching the topic of the plot! This story is just damned good; all of it. DAMNED GOOD I SAY! The conflict is nuanced and layered, operating as an external crisis driven by internal emotional pain. The progressing of plot points is so well executed in sensical construction that even the most ADHD spasmodic, "Oh-Look-Something-Shiny!" reading attention span would remain hooked throughout every friggin' chapter. The smexy smokin' sensual chemistry (yay for alliterations!) that sparks in every scene between our hero and heroine is, in my obnoxiously unimportant opinion, serious justification for making this Book-Crack-level worthy.
Not good enough for ya to be convinced to read this glorious collection of words? Well, fine! Then how about a story chock full of piss-your-pants-roller-coaster-ing emotional hits within the plot? Temple's Mr. Angsty-Angst man from Angstville level of mistakenly misplaced self-hate? Or Mara's I'm-Apparently-The-Most-Bravely-Bad-Ass, Most-Independently-Self-Reliant-Vagina-Owner moniker holder in Romance Land? Still not convinced? FINE! Throw in some amaze-balls beautimous writing, some burn-this-mother-down hot sex scenes, AND majestic perpetual plot momentum! Because, ya know, as great effing books do. SO HOW? ABOUT? NOW?!
I really do.
Post Review Postscript:
Dear Sarah MacLean: You're birthed in win, and your DNA is basically the equivalent of diamonds dipped in liquid gold. This has long been acceptable scientific truth for you, for your books up until No Good Duke Goes Unpunished have proven as much. Here I must put it to you, though, that you are a mastery of awesomeness. That itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny way you just SHOCKED THE EVER LOVIN' CRAP-LOVE out of your readership with those last two lines of the epilogue about a CERTAIN surprise you've been harboring over the course of three novels? Well. You are officially Queen of Romance. Here's your well deserved fist bump, good woman.
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single mistaken assumption must be in want of a glorious ass kicking. What could I possibly be referring to, you might ask? Well, that being MY ass kicking, obviously, and of course MY epic Bitch-You-Crazy-Wrong initial assumption about this book. To quote myself,
"Eh, almost 75 pages in and a distinctive lack of deep POV. This one might not be a gem."
... Yeah. Say, can we hop in the TARDIS real quick-fast and go deliver a ginormous kick to the forehead to Past Jacqueline?
So, in the spirit of not hating too much on the sins of the past, I have to admit that...well, past Jacquie was wrong, but only to a point. This novel DOES rock the stadium down to rubble, but only a bit after page 75. The first four chapters of this little story are atrociously painful. If the Spanish Inquisition were led by Hitler and Jigsaw, even that level of discomfort couldn't compare to how bad this novel tries getting off the ground. When the reader is first introduced to our two lead characters, everything's chaotic. The introductions of their existence is chaotic, the character's initial meeting with on another in the story is chaotic, hell, even the first several exchanges between Griff and Pauline AFTER their "Hey, I'm A Person With A Name And A Face" are just insanely, well, chaotic!
SO MUCH MADNESS! While there is a healthy dose of info-dump that occurs at the onset of the book, most notably during our heroine's first on-page scene, the early part of the book's tone is painfully hurried. Heroine's doing this while running to go do that, and ooh, look! There's THIS factoid about Pauline, all while the hero's hurrying to enact his Hero Plot here and then just OH MY GOD SO MUCH CRAP! ... Honestly, so much was going on for the setup to get Hero A and Heroine B together that I was so, so worried whether or not these two people were going to be believable.
And, yet, I worried for nothing! After an extremely spasmodic sequences of events, once the plot gets underway, Tessa Dare thankfully does slow her roll. Pauline and Griff do begin developing a very keyed up dynamic that is deeply rooted in point of view. These two people become believably grounded in emotional depth the longer they are on-page, both together as a couple and independently as characters. At the beginning of the story, our hero seems just an irresponsible bachelor while our heroine seems just an uncouth servant. Thank spicy tacos these two explore much deeper realities than their initial characterizations. They are beautiful people, dammit, and their romance story is SO wonderful and YOU JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND!
Yeah, yeah, admittedly tropes are all over the place in this book, but to me, that's a good thing for I love tropes. Any Duchess Will Do is basically a Cinderella story, if Cinderella the character weren't a pushover lackluster dweeb. (Pauline is so much a better heroine than ol' Cindy!) This is the fairy tale that we WANT to believe, that is believable because all the plot points, all the emotion, all the buildup and drama culminate into a romance and HEA that feels real. If the aching feelings of this book could be bottled and sold, world peace would be instantaneously A Thing. The construction of emotions, dialogue interplay and sexual tension (oh sweet smexy goodness, the chemistry!) alone guarantee Pauline and Griff the gold medal for Most Beautiful Romance, Ever. There exists an open honesty between these two that is so uniquely refreshing. It culminates into one effing hot, most sexy, most intense romance love confessions from the hero truly -ever- written!
"You believe I'd value a strand of jewels above your life? I know we've had our differences, Simms, but that's low. You truly think so little of me?...Tomorrow I can buy my mother another necklace. A better one. A half dozen of them if she likes. Jewels can be replaced." "So can serving girls." "Don't. Don't play that game. When I heard you cry out...it was like a saber to the gut. I wanted to die. I could have found you broken or bleeding, or-" His voice broke. "Or worse. Don't tell me I care about polished rocks on a chain. I want to believe you know me better than that." "I do." "And yet you believe I'd be so upset about a necklace that I'd send you away?""
And, hey, that's just the beginning of the scene. This love confession goes into one seriously beautiful outpouring of manly feels, and it is a thing be witnessed! Griff is such an amazing hero, so elegantly written that he will rip your heart out all over the place. When a man, fiction or otherwise says the following, you love him dammit, whether he exists or not!
"You're an intensely attractive woman. You do know that, don't you? You'd believe me if you could see yourself." "I have seen myself. That's the snag, you see." "No, no. Not in a mirror. I know how mirrors work. They're all in league with the cosmetics trade. They tell a woman lies. Drawing her gaze from one imagined flaw to another, until all she sees is a constellation of imperfections. If you could get outside yourself, borrow my eyes for just an instant...There's only beauty."
Oh, God. You just don't even know! This book is entirely emotionally driven, and the few external moments of conflict are spawned by the internal turmoil within our two leads. The drama is believable, but more than that the story is good. The social confines and boundaries these two face are believably overcome. The quite torturous pain Griff deals with throughout the book is creditably dealt with, and the HEA is plausible. This story reaches into your soul in a way that is shockingly intense, and despite the very rocky start to the book you believe it, lock, stock and barrel. The tropes are fun, yes, and the characters are wonderful, of course, but best of all the book is strong, and the story is gorgeous.
You know that moment after finishing a book, when your brain zig-zags like an in-play Ping Pong ball because you can't figure out how you feel about w...more
You know that moment after finishing a book, when your brain zig-zags like an in-play Ping Pong ball because you can't figure out how you feel about what you have just read? Well, welcome to my world. Firstly, let me put this out there, because I feel like if I don't I'm sacrificing virgins on the alter, or something equally heinous; A Rogue By Any Other Name is worth reading. It is, put simply, a good book. Despite my following complaining screed, it's fun to read. But...
...There are some problems.
The synopsis is pretty in-your-face-like-whoa simplistic; boy wants revenge, girl harbors means for revenge, annnnnd...marriage. While there is obviously a bit more to the structure of the story, that oversimplification is the meat-and-taters of the thing. As far as plot goes, there isn't too terribly much happening in the background lives of Penelope and Michael. This is sad, because I think if there were other motivating elements to the story, the thing would have bazooka-ed on up as a better read. As is, we've got Penny and Bourne circling each other in a very off-beat dance of "What's Going On With The Two Of Us, Yo?"
As far as characters are concerned, I'm thinking Penelope was a lot more fleshed out as a person than Lord Bourne (or Michael, he's a tad crazy-sauce Bipolar with his name for some inexplicable yet obvious reason.) The nature of the story grants us a significant amount of time inside Penny's head at the onset of every chapter, which is good like a sunny day at the beach, and bad like the subsequent sunburn. I, personally, believed her motivations, her actions and goals within the book, I just didn't like 'em. Too often, I felt like screaming...
...In the singular form, of course. Essentially, Penelope took so long to develop her backbone to Michael that I grew more irritated with her than I did with the hero's occasional Ass Hat #3 moves. It was such a relief towards the end of the story when she began showing some spirited spunk for herself, but by that point, I felt it was too late for me to truly appreciate her attitude. The above sunny day/sunburn analogy comes into play here, for the doorway, the one in which we're granted access to this chick's identity, is solely streamlined through letters to a dude (Michael) who's ignored her for years. Add that to the fact that she's all Mrs. Droopy-Eyed Pup about her new hubbie, and I wanted to just, well...
Michael gets the same treatment, too, of course, but to a lesser extent. Yeah, yeah, that's probably sexist, but at least his motivations came from a bit more believable context. However! Despite the bad character aspects, and the occasionally forced plot-points that just didn't flow well, the story read surprisingly well! From my review I'm sure it seems otherwise, but, since I have no problem DNF-ing a book in a split second if the thing becomes unreadable, that's not the case. A Rogue By Any Other Name reads well, predominately because of the fact that, despite having occasionally shit-tastic character motivations, Sarah MacLean makes you care about Penelope and Michael, as well making you wish for their HEA.
But, that in and of itself is the problem. You like Michael, you like Penelope, but rather quickly upon seeing them finally find one another emotionally, the two are easily forgotten. If anything, this book is prime sequel-bait, because if for no other reason it's hooked me like a Diabetic to a chocolate fountain; I want Pippa and Cross' book! The final scene of this novel makes you go uber-gushy; I admit it. I mean, c'mon, a nerdy girl in Victorian England paired with a tall intellectual ginger? Yeah. I'm all over that.
Oh, don't mind me. Just, you know, sitting here, basking in the brilliance of one of the most exciting roller coasters of fiction I have ever read. Ev...more
Oh, don't mind me. Just, you know, sitting here, basking in the brilliance of one of the most exciting roller coasters of fiction I have ever read. Ever. Hyperbole might admittedly be my thing, but let's lock that bitch right up and never refer to it as anything but copious truth. The facts are these:
1. Kristen Callihan will one day be a national treasure. 2. Moonglow is one of the most adventurously entertaining stories you will ever read. 3. You will feel All Of The Feels throughout the course of this novel. 4. Orginality is NOT dead; it's name is Moonglow.
Dear wondrous bacon, where does one even begin?! I mean, logically it's first with the characters, who deserve a damned review all on their own reality of "These People That Aren't People Be Kick Ass." Aside form all the necessary adjectives (likable, believable, interesting, etc.), Daisy and Ian are so much more than simple description. If Einstein, Kant, Kipling, and Sherlock Holmes were given a decade and an endless supply of cocaine, even they couldn't convey to you the earth-shattering, level-this-sucker-to-the-ground depth and complexity embodied by our two leads. Their evolution as whole-bodied characters reveals itself layer by layer, each chapter in the book pealing back more interest and emotional agency to their existence as people. Am I in love with Daisy and Ian? Well.
Truly it's not my fault, for obviously there's a national conspiracy at hand that has genetically engineered the perfect construction of plot with excellent writing quality. Callihan delves into a paranormal world that feels such a part of the fabric of reality within its fictional setting. The historical elements mesh perfectly with the other worldly-ones, which are fundamentally unique in their own right. Yes, we've read about werewolves, but not these lycans. Yes, we've seen be-gifted heroines with powers over the elements, but not with this backstory. Yes we've seen the animated dead, but not with that steampunk Grim Reaper twist.
You really don't; not til you read the book. (Seriously, hon; read this thing.) I mean, in this single novel we've got smokin' hot romance that is emotionally fueled by the most heartbreaking needs-some-lovin' hero and heroine, a Who Done It mystery, a monster on the loose, one hella screwy love triangle that is an acid trip into Feelville, a bloody half-century family feud even Dr. Phil wouldn't touch, all topped off with some of the most NO-WAY plot twists that would leave Steven King salivating. And, if all that wasn't enough to make you want to devour this book NOW, DAMMIT, then at the very least ignore that huge run-on sentence, for my sake. Additionally, know that you're crazy.
*Dodges the hate.* Okay, so aside from my being a douche-nozzle, I will admit that if the book contained a single flaw, it would have to be that a LOT is going on in this story. Such is a good thing, in that it makes for some hella-damn interesting story telling...but not such a good thing for crowding out room for more emotion-building between Daisy and Ian. While it would have been nice to see just an itsy-bitsy bit more of these two constructing their emotional connection, the specific plot points that occur do believably allow Daisy and Ian to short-hand their way to the lovey-dovey sentiments. Confused?
(view spoiler)[Basically Ian gets his flesh literally eviscerated (facial muscles mutilated, bloody chunky inside bits falling out...yeah) all to ensure Daisy's well being. Daisy's trust in Ian's humanity sparks a bond that supersedes the need for copious love-growing exposition. So, yeah. If that's not enough to excuse the lack of an extra heaping spoonful of emotion-cresting-telling, then may Alan Rickman help you. (hide spoiler)]
The non-spoilery answer is that Kristen Callihan is a goddess, and you should worship on her alter of awesome writing skills, dammit! She creates spectacular spectacularness and you effing -NEED- this in your life for your own well being! Moonglow's entire cast of characters are all equally well written and they're just waiting to be your friend, and you want to know the future of your friends don't you? DON'T YOU?!
Read this book. Now.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Whoa. Um, yeah, don't mind me, just sitting here flambéed by The Best Book, Ever.
This novel? Just read it.
Do it, now.
So, that's my review. Okay, bye guys!
*Goes to sit in a corner and promptly cuddle Cecila Grant's book of awesomeness.*
Oh! You're still here! My, my, I see that means I'm to provide a bit more articulation for the gloriousness that is A Gentleman Undone. Damn. Logical thought is beyond me right now! But, give I must, and so, hold on to your feels, ladies and ladies, here's the skinny; heroine's name is Lydia, she's a prostitute-turned-courtesan, freakishly intelligent, a cardsharp, excellent mathematician, AND the very definition of amaze-balls; hero's name is Will, he's the holy-baby-Jesus perfected mix of Alpha and Beta, has one of The Most tortured back-stories, and is the most romantic and emotional fictional dude you will ever read.
"But Jacqueline!" as I'm sure you're not exclaiming right this frakking' minute, "What makes this book so great?!" Well, grip tight your ass end, because there are a billion reasons why this book wins everything. Okay, fine, geez, you and your specifics; not a billion, just three because apparently The Internet and it's attention span can't handle infinity.
Reason #1: Characters
Both lead characters are stand-outs in the wide wide world of romance fiction. As previously noted because I'm apparently an Alzheimer's patient, Lydia is a paid prostitute from page one, which is rare because most “fallen women” of romance have that as a backstory, not an on-page reality. Lydia rocks at her chosen profession, and though she is a tortured heroine, no doubt, with one hell of an emotionally crippling past, in spite of such she’s strong in her sexuality and confident in sex. She's a woman of bravery and integrity that makes you want to tackle hug her with All Of The Loves. She is the sexual leader of this romance story, she is the woman to figure out the conflict’s resolution. In a phrase, she's perfectly imperfect.
Reason #2: The Story
Wanna know how to create some Epic Book Crack? Take a page out of the Cecilia Grant manual, which states, "Write a story that is cohesively shit-tons of entertaining, but that is impossible to extrapolate on with accurate definition because reasons." What's so impressive about A Gentleman Undone is that the novel never ceases in twisting on itself. It veers to different plot points, different emotional notes, and eye-bugging revelations, all while maintaining a uniquely steady-but-quick storytelling pace. At its heart, while there are believable and heart-pumping external conflicts, the novel never loses sight of the fact that it's a romance, so the story pays ass-loads of attention to the emotional tensions and lovey-doveys.
The dynamic that is played throughout most of the book, but especially during the emotional culminating scenes between Lydia and Will, are BURSTING with excitement. There is a truly distinct and interesting drama that is played out by the very on-page reality of Lydia’s lover. This sparks so much enjoyable tension and conflict for hero and heroine, which builds layer upon layer before the first pivotal climax of the novel. Without delving into spoilers, while there exist scenes wherein Will is damned amazing, it’s noteworthy that he does something specific within the plot that paints him as a dashing, heroic, amazingly sweet and undeniable knight in shining armor to which I doubt any moment in any romance novel could compare! His heroics are so public, so calmly sexy, so astoundingly selfless that if you, dear reader, come across this scene without fan-girling all over yourself, without fist-pumping the air with all of the YEAH BUDDY, SCREW YOU ROANOKE (the “antagonist” of the novel)…well…then I fear for your sanity, girlfriend.
Reason #3: The Writing
Call me crazy, call me a whackadoodle in desperate want of a helmet, but I'm forever-more convinced that Shakespeare and Jane Austen had a baby girl together, and her name is Cecilia Grant. This awesome Warrior Of The Pen is not only talented in being able to rip your heart out with just a keyboard and some not-real people, but holy bannanas; that woman can also write a sentence like nobody's business! The way phrases are turned on their heads and given whole new life, the way scenery is depicted with mere lines of text, the way emotion is nuanced and body language exceptional, the way elegance is paid to the smallest of words so leaves me drooling like a retarded dog. Paragraph one's last line, "...slick to the elbows with the life of other men" gives you, dear awesome-sauce reader, just a taste at the genius contained within A Gentleman Undone.
...It so is.
And, on that unhealthy-healthy note, I'm bowing out because if I keep rambling on like I'm guano, our lovely author might just slap a restraining order on my ass. So! Read this book, love this book, because if you don't...well...
Holy friggin' Shakespeare, Batman, it's GOOD BOOK NOISE! *Cue book-happiness.* I read lots of books, and thus far, this year, aside from my favorite a...moreHoly friggin' Shakespeare, Batman, it's GOOD BOOK NOISE! *Cue book-happiness.* I read lots of books, and thus far, this year, aside from my favorite author's new releases, A Lady Awakened is truly my favorite book of 2012!
This novel is so brilliantly constructed that, literally, even starting this review seems impossibly monumental. So, let's start from the start...The first aspect of A Lady Awakened that hit me in my awesome-book-spot was the writing's quality. I wasn't even three pages into this novel, and I knew, even then, that I had some serious quality-skills in my hands. Not only are the technical components to the writing so flawless well written, not only does the writing style flow like water, but the voice of the narrative is so powerful, so effortlessly beautiful, that I literally felt as thought I were holding literary magic in my palms.
So, the writing? EPIC GOOD. Next would, logically, come the characters, but here comes a problem. The characters launch themselves in a forcefully subtle manner onto the pages, but do so via the story. I doubt very seriously if any author has so perfectly captured the divine balance between character and plot, interweaving both their development, and immediate introduction with the reader, in such an elegant reality. Martha and Theo immediately set themselves apart from the status quo of romance couples because of their story, even from their first meeting. As the story progresses, their strength in personality, believability, likability, and depth begin at Chapter One as perfect, and only continued to improve throughout.
So rich in character were Martha and Theo that, honestly, their development walked hand-in-hand with the plot. This is ironic, in a way, considering that most romances have peaks and valleys within the context of the story-line. This was absolutely not the case, here. A Lady Awakened opens with Story Point One that snowballs into a wonderful building of character-based plot points throughout every chapter. This escalation rises to an interestingly unique climax, entirely unexpected and unpredictable, and the book comes to a close. That, ladies and gentlemen, takes mad-writer-skills!
Along with the unusual realities of the plot's divine evolution and conclusion, so, too, were the themes presented in Grant's book. I've read romance for eleven years now, and in all that time I have not once come across some of the character behaviors, actions, and exchanges that take place in A Lady Awakened. Never have I read a romance where sexual tension exists by not existing. Never have I read a romance where sensuality comes in forms not at all of the physical. Never have I read a romance where the author doesn't resort to cliches to conclude one aspect of a couple's reality to force upon another. And, most importantly, never have I read a romance I love this...damn...much!(less)
This book had me terrified, because the opening praise for Perfect Chemistry utilized a quote by Chasing Heroes, comparing this book to Twilight, in a...moreThis book had me terrified, because the opening praise for Perfect Chemistry utilized a quote by Chasing Heroes, comparing this book to Twilight, in a positive light. Thank GOD they were wrong!
I never thought I’d say these words; I read a YA first person, and I liked it!
Ironically, neither statement is in and of itself unusual, since there exist modifiers to each. Firstly, I’ve read Young Adult one other time (Sherrilyn Kenyon’s CON series). However, this is the very first time I’ve read a YA that was independent of my favorite author. Additionally, I’m still adamant in my hatred of a strict first person novel. Thank the literary gods that Perfect Chemistry was written in split-first person. Not only was this my first experience with reading first person, and enjoying it, but likewise it was my first experience with split FP.
This book, frankly, blew my ever lovin’ mind. One of my biggest problems with YA is the fact that, from what I’ve witnessed, experienced, and heard, most come off as being mediocre drama. At best they seem to be the literary equivalent of reality television, and at worst they’re hum-drum with one dimensional everything. This was so, so not the case for Perfect Chemistry. Here is a book that encapsulates the very definition of quality.
One of my favorite aspects to this novel is the realistic emotion, and genuine humanism evident in the characters, as well as their reactions to life. From hearsay, I’ve always understood most YAs to utilize not just one dimensional characters, but clichés and caricatures as their protagonists. Elkeles does an amazing job of taking two, very easily written-off high school stereotypes, the Rich Good Girl and the Bad Boy, and turning them completely on their heads. Both Brittney and Alex were multifaceted with believable motivations and realistic dynamics. To say that I liked these two characters, their faults and qualities included, would be a massive understatement.
In the arena of characters, I too must say that Elkeles hit a field goal, slam-dunk, goalie, and any other potential sports metaphor, in regards to the emotion that was brought on-page. Almost from the opening sequence I knew that I was delving into a world that would be unique in its own right. I did not, however, expect said uniqueness to translate into heart wrenching emotion and real-world consequences and wonderful storytelling. Hot damn if I wasn’t pleasantly, surprisingly shocked to find out otherwise.
The plot of Perfect Chemistry was unique, too. This is not to say that the storyline within said novel hasn’t been done before; it has, most assuredly. Rather, the fact the hero and heroine were so lifelike, so well written allowed me to forget I was reading a tried-and-true story type. So engrossed was I to the events, actions, and thoughts of Brittney and Alex that I transcended that fine line between story and reader. I was Brittney, I was Alex. This could be attributed to the split first-person aspect of the novel, but I insist it results from the sheer excellence Elkeles maintained in her writing.
I think, truly, what made this book so amazing was the fact that, while obviously never forgetting its reality as a romance, the story wasn’t afraid to venture off into different realities and real-world issues. Social class, poverty, affluence, stigmas, peer pressure, betrayal, violence, body image, drug use, identity crises, abuse, sex, the pressure to succeed, disabilities, culture, isolation, love, disillusionment, misunderstanding, education, prejudice, friendship, death, judgment, guilt, respect, fear…the list of topics dealt and addressed by this novel is seemingly endless. And yet, despite all the subjects noted, holding the pieces together are just two characters, and their perspectives. Of all the aspects that I love in regards to this book, and there are many, the one that still awes me is Elkeles bravery in going to places few YA authors do, and yet still manage to maintain humor and occasional levity when appropriate.
Another wonderful element to this book comes its pacing, as well as its climax and subsequent conclusion. Throughout the entire story, at no point did I ever think, “Okay, already, c’mon with it.” Every plot point succeeded in bringing about the next plot point, every scene was relevant and substantial to the characters, or the story. And, if that weren’t enough, the climax was intensely dramatic, and yet believable considering the subject matter.
Incidentally, I must give Elkeles excellent props, for despite briefly using the “high school girl lost her guy” trope, this was done in a realistic, and then admirable way, predominately following with the “get on with your life” message. While I’m a romance novel addict, I despise the “everything’s over for me without him” sentiment so popular nowadays. Lastly, the epilogue! How on EARTH could I read that wonderfully concise ending, and not leave the story with that wonderful Happy Book Feeling? To say I will be continuing with this author’s work is a statement of the obvious!(less)
When considering my reaction to this book, in general, overall, I'd have to say enjoyment was found. At the end of the story, I admit freely I was fas...moreWhen considering my reaction to this book, in general, overall, I'd have to say enjoyment was found. At the end of the story, I admit freely I was fascinated by the characters. I found the plot to be readable. The dialogue was believable. The external drama was interesting, and well written. But, there were some issues.
From the beginning of the novel, to the end, I found the leading characters in the story to be very much grounded in reality. One of my biggest criticisms of a book forms itself when the people within a story are flat and without life. In Secrets of a Proper Countess, while I have other criticisms, this is not one of such. Both Blackwood and Isobel are given distinct personalities which form themselves very well, and allow for the sense that these two are real people, with real feelings.
However, with compliment comes criticism. Firstly, while the above holds true for the hero and heroine, it does not hold so for the secondary characters. Along with the two antagonists of the book, whose on screen viciousness is only truly depicted at the end of the book, thereby making them seem less of a threat throughout the story, I likewise found the secondary protagonists, Adam and Marianne, to be TSTL. The Too Stupid To Live designation holds more for Marianne, considering her actions and out-of-place reactions to her predicament with Isobel at the story's close made her seem vapid, which drastically contradicted the tone of the story the author was so obviously trying to create. Adam, though, was more of a placeholder character for Blackwood, seeming to play the External Doubt for him in a very awkward and spastic way.
The plot of Secrets of a Proper Countess holds as much merit as criticism. The story did fascinate me, however, since the high drama finality of the book was unexpected. Largely, Isobel's struggles throughout the story focuses on her internal conflict in coping with the role she plays in her family, specifically with her in-laws. The danger she courts by dallying with Blackwood plays out more like suspense, rather than true conflict, since it is largely emotionally based.
All changes dramatically by the end of the story, the nature of the story transforming from internal to a very hard-hitting external conflict. Which, sadly, didn't lend itself well to the story. This is so because, frankly, the author handled such transformation by not handling it. Instead of threading the transformation throughout the story, providing intrigue with drama and suspense, Cornwall instead decided to slap the reader with this change by giving us an 89 page climax!
Yep, that's right. Very, very heavy grit-your-teeth, squint-your-face-because-you're-kept-in-a-constant-state-of-Holy-Shit-What-Now?! is elongated over an absurd amount of time. Starting on page 274, and not ceasing until page 363, the fate of the primary characters are unknown for a ridiculous amount of time. While high-drama is okay for a climax, and almost expected, really, it is not okay when it is used simultaneously for a story's turning point, as well as its closing Final Problem. Big, big no-no for me.
Aside from drawing out the drama to an unnecessary degree, Cornwall also disappointed me in another big area; the romance. Fundamentally, I am reading a romance, and with that fundamental reality comes the fact that while I enjoy danger, intrigue and mystery as much as the next reader, I still want my romance. One of my biggest criticisms of this book is the fact that the hero and heroine go from Lusty Pants to Love-Lovey with no emotional framework in between.
Frankly, there was so much plot to this book that such rudely shoved itself in between the romantic development Isobel and Blackwood needed in order to make their romance and HEA believable. Such development was so nonexistent that, by the time the couple was proclaiming Love-Lovey-Loveness, I was excessively irritated because it came across as painfully dull, and fake. What's more, the hero considered Isobel to be a traitor and murderer not a few pages prior to deciding that he loved her! Our gallant hero instead claimed it was Adam's fault for making him doubt Isobel!!! (Yes, three exclamation marks were indeed necessary.) So, yeah, big problem, there.
So, overall, this book? Yep. Its got issues, big issues. However, at no time was I so disgusted with the story that my hands ever itched to throw it against the nearest wall. Likewise, regardless of the Big No-Nos within, the novel was entirely readable. I did connect with the characters, despite wishing they'd connect more with one another. I did enjoy the plot, despite feeling as though it's conclusion was longer the President Bush's presidential term. And, overall, I did like this book, Big No-Nos aside. But, as with any novel, if it's written well enough, it can endure in spite of itself.(less)