I've read a lot of regency romances, and I'm always excited to find something that isn't directly cast from the Pride and Prejudice mold and LORD OF ICE is that. A guardian/ward romance at heart, it also features several other tropes that I enjoy, and does them well enough that I didn't find them *too* cliche.
Miranda FitzHubert is the bastard daughter of a nobleman who perished in an accident with his actress mistress. After their untimely deaths, she was given to a guardian, a battle-scarred war hero who drank to forget the horrors of what he'd done. When he's murdered (God, this girl is playing a hideous game of musical guardians), she's given to yet another keeper, another veteran, Damien Knight, the PTSD-ridden Earl of Winterley.
His name is appropriate, because he really is as cold as ice. Damien pushes everyone - especially Miranda - away, because he's afraid of what will happen when anyone gets too close to him, especially at night. Miranda's ex-guardian, Jason, was a close friend of his, and after fighting in war, and getting a taste for it, he's repelled by death, and also by himself for causing so much of it, and not feeling as guilty about killing as he should. His night terrors add a further block between him and Miranda, because he lashes out in his sleep.
Plus, she's his ward and that goes against his sense of honor, of course. Which is horribly ironic, because he meets her when she's performing on stage (she runs away from her school in the evening to pursue her dreams of acting), assumes she's game for a quick fling, and comes perilously close to forcing himself on her. This was not the best introduction for the hero and made me dislike him a lot. I liked him more later, after his character was developed more and he repented his actions, but his treatment of women he considered inferior left a lot to be desired. He doesn't cheat, though, although at one point he considers it...but thankfully, he reconsiders at the last minute (sigh).
There were many great scenes in here. The opening of this book was five-star-worthy. So was Miranda's stint in her Dickensian boarding school with the sinister Mr. Reed. There were deadly chases, near escapes, acts of seduction and treachery, and pretty much anything else you could ask for in a regency era soap like this. If I had any complaints, it's that the side characters weren't really explored to their full potential, and were more like wallpaper or backdrops than actual people, just popping in occasionally to drive the plot or keep the scene moving, rather than displaying any agency.
The villain was decent, and appropriately sneaky and horrible, but I felt like he could have been fleshed out more, too - especially towards the end, when we learn something about him that simultaneously seems more sinister...and yet also comes from way out of left field. It's not really a spoiler to say this, since we're introduced to the villain in chapter one, but because we're given the name of our antagonist so early on I felt the author should have worked harder to make us fear him.
Finally, at the end of the book, right where I expected things to wrap up, the author throws in a last-minute conflict - the Napoleonic Wars - and has the characters have a big fight over it right after they're married. This felt like an unnecessary attempt to bulk up the page count, and annoyed me. Had it gone on for any longer than it did, I would have deducted a star rating because it was totally pointless. The situation is eventually resolved and a happily ever is tacked on, but it left a bitter taint to the story it wouldn't otherwise have had, because it makes Miranda look like a bitch and undermines her vows to support him and give him everything he needs for closure.
These are little nitpicky details, though - the irony is that when everything else in a story is good, you can afford to look a little deeper and discuss the things that would make it a perfect (or close to perfect) read, rather than just a tolerable one (as in the case with bad books). LORD OF ICE is very well written, has a rather strong and enterprising female protagonist, and a pretty icy hero who despite his gruff and tortured exterior, desperately wants to be redeemed. In spite of my reservations, I enjoyed LORD OF ICE quite a bit and would definitely read another book by Gaelen Foley.
When I received a copy of this for review, I was interested to see the author trying her hand at older contemporary. I always like to try and give an author a second chance. Her new adult novels didn't work for me, so I was hoping a book with more mature characters would.
The idea of a lifestyle blogger MC was what hooked me in the blurb. Most of us on Goodreads blog, and for me, it's something I'm really passionate about. I was really excited to see it portrayed in a book, especially since it was apparently an integral enough part of the story that it warranted a mention in the blurb!
...Well, no. Annie's blogging is actually a pretty tiny part of the story. And even though she's supposed to be a Big Deal, even gaining top hits in search results for pertinent topics, her blogs really aren't that good or noteworthy. Plus, she's not really a lifestyle blogger, she's a mommy blogger...something the blurb fails to mention. You say lifestyle, and I think home decor, not child-rearing 101.
Despite her blogging presence, Annie is surprisingly naive. I didn't really like her much. She's one of those childlike MCs who falls apart at the slightest conflict, more teenager than adult. There's a subplot where one of her commentors on her blog leaves her "mean" comments that basically sum up to, "you're not all that." And Annie is seriously torn up by this HORRIBLE comment that she isn't all that lamenting that she never meant to become so popular. That is hardly mean- but guess what? It turns out that the commentor is someone who hates her in real life, which is a neat and strange way of explaining away mean comments on the internet. You need a thick skin to blog, and sometimes people can decide to hate you without even knowing you...it doesn't always have to be personal, as in the case here. She's also rife with hormones, practically orgasming every time the hero so much as takes a drink of water.
I also didn't really care for Sawyer, the aforementioned hero. I thought the misunderstanding between them that resulted in their falling out was lame (but I think that about most falling outs - why don't people ever talk?). Sawyer isn't really an alpha jerk, and I found myself wanting to like him, but his character was just so bland. He's a stepford boyfriend, basically - it's like he's reading off a script to tell women exactly what they want to hear "I'll wait for you as long as you need" "your stretchmarks are beautiful" "I think your child is awesome." I'm not ripping on nice guys - I do think it is important to say variants of these things and mean them, because communication and affection in relationship is important, but this was pretty much all that came out of Sawyer's mouth, these perfect boyfriend one-liners delivered with perfect sincerity right before sexually intimate scenes. How convenient.
I also didn't like how Sawyer tried to bully and guilt Annie into staying in Brightwater. I thought that was a really nasty thing to do, especially since everyone who lives there seems to hate her still. Are you seriously going to make the woman you claim to love live in a place where everyone is ready to label her as a traitor to American life just for sitting in a cafe with an espresso? Did they teach you that in your perfect stepford boyfriend classes? Also, the whole Kooky Carson thing was just plain ridiculous. Just because her dad is a photographer, eats quinoa, and listens to 70s music, that makes him a hippie? I am skeptical, Brightwater.
Finally, with regard to the writing style, I feel like the writing was decent at a technical level. There weren't any typos and everything was grammatically correct. But stylistically, this story was ridden with tropes and cliches, so cheesy that I began to wonder if this book was maybe set in Wisconsin, not California. LAST FIRST KISS was a disappointment. I don't think I'll be reading any of the other books in the series.
We're all in the midst of our own existential dilemmas and hearing someone write quirky little diatribes about their Devil Wears Prada-esque boss or the friend who left poop on their carpet can sometimes make us feel as though we aren't alone.
I WAS TOLD THERE'D BE CAKE isn't that different from the hundreds of other autobiographical essays out there, but Sloane Crosley does have a style that is all her own. Some of her analogies are creative and on-point. Not rip-roaringly hilarious, mind, but clever and unusual and amusing. Sometimes she reminded me of me. Other times she reminded me of the me I wish I was. The me who says that clever punchline when it's needed, and not five minutes later, after I've already walked away.
As pithy as Ms. Crosley is, the problem with collections like these is that there are always going to be some stories that just aren't as good as others, and bring down the collective quality of the book as a result. Apart from a few choice stories that really stood out to me, I found them blurring in my head almost as soon as I had read them, and it was difficult to suss out which story was which.
That's really the keystone of this problem: she just isn't memorable. Her stories lack that extra panache that makes them stand out. Jenny Lawson, with her funny sadness, sad funnyness, and taxidermied raccoons, is what Sloane Crosley dreams of being, but she just isn't quite there yet.
Soon, perhaps. But not now.
Honestly, though? If you're looking for a light, fun read written by a snarky and intelligent lady, I would recommend I WAS TOLD THERE'D BE CAKE. It accompanied me to work and various other appointments, and since the essays are only a few pages long, it made it easy to read them in quick, short bursts without having to stop in the middle of a segment (I hate that!).
When I apply for ARCs on Netgalley, I usually go for the romances because that's kind of my thing. But sometimes these rando titles appear, and they're so off-the-wall, I can't help myself - I apply for that sh*t.
THE AMAZING TOYS OF MARVIN GLASS is a collector's guide-cum-art book cataloguing the brainchildren of Marvin Glass, an influential toy designer whose greatest influence spanned from the mid-50s to the early-70s. Some notable toys of his that you may recognize are Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, Operation, Ants in the Pants, and Mystery Date, to name a few.
The pictures in this book are high quality and look glossy. It's an ebook, so I can't really talk about page quality or anything like that, but based on the resolution in my e-copy, I'd guess that this would be really nice in hard cover.
Each picture of each toy has a price range from what the toy would be worth in good condition with the original packaging and what it would be worth mint. Most of them are still fairly affordable, not much more expensive than a new board game would be if you purchased it from the store. I'm a board game fiend, and I was amazed at how fun some of these board games looked. There's one called Billionaire, one about auctions, one that looks like Clue(do) except with witches called Which Witch? Oh, and then there's a haunted mansion one! I think some of these games need re-releases.
At the end of the book, you find out the author is a collector and seller of these toys, herself, and it includes a link to her webpage, timewarptoys.com. I believe she said that she was in business since 1996, which is pretty impressive. But not surprising. I've noticed that a lot of these collector books are written by collectors, and I like that, because their passion really shows in how the book is put together and in the knowledge of the material. I've gotten two other books from Netgalley about collectors, one about knockoff barbies from the 60s-80s and one about Victorian glass domes and esoterica, and both were absolutely wonderful and fun to read.
If you are a fan of toys, grew up in the 50s-70s, like vintage things, or enjoy quirky coffee table books, I think you would enjoy AMAZING TOYS OF MARVIN GLASS. It was a breezy read, and I had a great time flipping through it (figuratively) in between historical romance novels.
There are two camps when it comes to Colleen Hoover's books: Team CoHo and Team WTH (why the hype?). Until very recently, I was solidly Team WTH. I'd read HOPELESS, the book that made Hoover a big-name hit, and was horrified by how bad I found it. I also tried reading one of her more recent works, NOVEMBER 9, and was so disgusted by both characters that I ended up slogging miserably through all 310 pages of it.
You're probably asking yourself, "If you hate her books so much, why read them?" The answer is that I like to give authors multiple chances before giving up on them completely. Some are just lost causes for me: for whatever reason, their plots and writing styles are totally incompatible with my preferences. But Hoover had versatility going with her. Yes, I hated both books that I read, but for different reasons: they were both written very differently, about different subjects, with very different writing styles.
My hope was that, eventually, Hoover would write a book that would work for me.
Ironically, the first book of hers that I ever liked was totally free to read. Hoover published TOO LATE on Wattpad for readers to enjoy without paying a dime. Skeptically, I began reading the book, fully expecting the worst. Instead, I found myself hopping aboard a speeding train filled with drama, abuse, angst, sex, drugs, and violence. Normally, I take what her hardcore fans say with a grain of salt, but this time, they were 100% correct: this book wasn't like anything she had ever written before. It was dark, unpleasant, gritty. The Queen of Fluff had decided to don studs and a mohawk.
When her fans then began saying that IT ENDS WITH US was the same - also dark, also unpleasant, and also completely unlike anything she'd ever written - I decided to trust their opinion, and once more, they were totally correct. It's difficult to explain what IT ENDS WITH US is about without delving into spoilers territory, but abuse is a prominent theme. It was a theme in some of her other books, too, but here, I felt that Hoover really went out of her way to deal with it as realistically and sensitively as possible. If you're interested enough to read the afterward, you'll find out why.
The best comparison I can think of is to imagine that a character in one of Sarah Dessen's books grew up and then decided to narrate the dramatic experiences in her early twenties. Like all other CoHo protagonists, Lily Bloom has unconventional quirks and an irritating name, but it's seriously downplayed. Likewise, the slut-shaming is completely absent. Lily's friendship with Allysa and Lucy is decent and healthy. Her relationships are a bit more complicated for reasons that are difficult to explain, but I wasn't really happy with either love interest, not even the one I was supposed to be.
The negative reviews I looked at complained that this book relies on emotional manipulation to get the point across, and while I didn't take issue with that as much as they did, I totally get what they mean. On a scale of one to Jodi Picoult, this book scores Jodi Picoult. But I was so pleased by the strength of the writing and the satisfying ending that I was able to ignore my qualms. I did have qualms, though, and that's the reason this book is getting three stars from me, as opposed to four or five. I just wasn't invested enough in Lily to feel the feelings that made everyone feel. I did sympathize with her though, and I thought the author's note at the end was really powerful.
This is a solid addition to Colleen Hoover's repertoire. There are now two Colleen Hoover books that I did not hate. I'm slowly stepping out of Team WTF, and finding that, while the grass may not be quite as green on the other side of the camp, there are some very lovely flowers scattered throughout here and there for those who care to enjoy them.
All too often, compassion is taken for weakness with female heroines. It's often what causes their downfall, creating snafus that the other characters must work to resolve. Compassion is not Lola's weakness. It's a part of her character, and one she sometimes has to set aside in order to do her work. Because Lola is not the docile gangbanger girlfriend she pretends to be; she's secretly the leader of the Crenshaw Six, and she's damn good.
What really makes LOLA is...Lola. I loved Lola's character - she's tough, and does incredibly brutal things that strike terror into the hearts of men; she's strong and indomitable; she can compartmentalize, stowing her kind nature away to do business with the gangs; and she's clever. I loved her cunning, and the way she pitted cartel against cartel in order to come out on top and survive. You don't often see cunning female protagonists in fiction, but Lola was that, and a very successful example, at that.
Lola gets into hot water when her gang - specifically her younger brother - screws up a heroin drop. But it turns out that the effort was skewed from the get-go. Someone made off with the drugs way too quickly, and when they finally get hold of the cash, it turns out to be colored paper. What ensues is a tangled plot of rivalries and betrayal, and a ticking clock that ultimately results in Lola's death.
As calculating and cunning as she is, she's also fiercely protective of younger women who are sexually abused by older men. Later on in the book, you meet a little girl named Lucy, whose mother sells her to adults for drug money. Lola bonds with Lucy, and their relationship is an oasis of cuteness in the midst of all this violence.
I think fans of Orange Is the New Black will really like LOLA. The politics and drama are balanced well, and Lola is an awesome heroine who is also a person of color. She's one of the strongest, most complicated, interesting heroines I've encountered in a while, and I can't tell you what a breath of fresh air it was to see one who didn't just talk the talk, but also walked the walk.
Would I read another book by this author? Oh, heck yes. Sign me up right now! And thank you so much to the publisher for handing me this copy for review!
Normally, I'm skeptical when people say, "Spoilers will ruin the book!" 9/10 times, this is simply not true. But in the case of DARK MATTERS, it's definitely true. Spoilers will ruin the book.
I haven't read too many good science fiction thrillers recently, but DARK MATTERS is one that deserves to be put alongside successes like JURASSIC PARK and THE MARTIAN. It's what THE FOLD wanted to be, but didn't have the wherewithal to accomplish. It's Paycheck, but with a better script.
Jason Dessen is an average guy, living a bit below his means. He's under-employed, but he loves his wife and his kid. Sure, he has regrets, but he's a decent guy, and makes do with what he has.
One day, a man in a geisha mask holds him at gunpoint and after leading him to some kind of abandoned bunker, injects him with drugs and locks him in a room. When Jason wakes up, he's in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by unfamiliar people. They call him by name, but they insist that he's something he's not. And when he gets free...everything has changed.
That's all I'm going to say, because that's all I can say.
Jason is an excellent protagonist. He's loving and ordinary and wants to do the right thing. His emotions get the better of him but never in a terrible way. Much like Mark Watney, you just want the poor guy to catch a break so he can go home. There was never a moment I didn't root for him.
And that was another thing I didn't expect, going in. I wasn't expecting this book to toy with my emotions the way it did. There were moments that were terrifying. I was reading this book in the dark with the lights off, but had to turn them back on because I had this fear that I was no longer alone. There were moments when my heart was in my throat and I couldn't bear to read on. And there were moments that had me crying because the thought of what Jason was experiencing was just so awful.
I wouldn't be surprised if DARK MATTER wins a Goodreads Choice Award when voting starts. It certainly deserves one. And I think it would make an excellent movie, too, for what it's worth.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the advance review copy!
I told myself I wasn't going to buy any more ebooks until I cleared out my Kindle, but then I saw one of my friends' reviews for this book pop up in my feed, and realized it was a whole dollar cheaper than the last time I looked at it, and it was remastered and expanded.
Well, shoot...so much for any pretense of fragile self-control.
To be fair, WILLING VICTIM has been on my to-read list for a while. I've had half a dozen people recommend it to me, and the summary seemed really good. Plus, I've read another book about rape play, called ASKING FOR IT, and the inevitable comparisons between the two books made me even more curious.
Both books do deal with rape play but the approach is drastically different. ASKING FOR IT is more in keeping with the "dark" erotic romance trend spurred on by the popularity of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Even though it deals with kink and BDSM-like themes in a fairly straightforward way, both characters are tortured and have dark paths, inadvertently contributing to the stereotype that normal, well-adjusted people can't get involved in the kink/BDSM scene.
ASKING FOR IT is also a full-length novel, which means it has times to expand on characterization and relationships in a way that WILLING VICTIM, which is a novella, doesn't.
I liked both books, but I do think that being a longer book gives ASKING FOR IT an advantage that it definitely utilizes to its fullest extent, which is probably why I enjoyed that book more. WILLING VICTIM, on the other hand, has better characters, and given the page time they have, I think the author did a fantastic job breathing life and complexity into them. These characters have their fair share of issues too, but it's more normal, run-of-the-mill stuff that doesn't tie into histories of abuse.
Let's take a moment to appreciate the hero in this book, Michael Flynn. He really is a decent guy. Yes, he's into some edgy stuff in the bedroom, but the author makes it very clear that Flynn would never go beyond what a woman wants, and would always stop if she said stop. I also thought it was really sweet that he watched to make sure that women leaving his apartment got into their cars safely. That is such a considerate thing to do and speaking as a woman, I love it when men do this. Also, those arms and abs. And that accent. I'm sorry, but I can't even right now.
Will definitely have to check out some of this author's other work!
I was psyched when I received ARCs of both Hollywood Hot Mess and Total Trainwreck from Netgalley. HHM was a really great portrait of the toll celebrity life can take on a damaged soul. Carly Klein was tormented by tragedy, and struggling to overcome her addictions to drugs, alcohol, and high risk behaviors. When she met another actor who was just as broken as she was, only slightly better at hiding it, there was drama of the kind you normally only see in manga or telenovelas, and it was just as addicting.
HOLLYWOOD HOT MESS doesn't exactly end on a cliffhanger, but it does end on an unresolved note. Both Carly and Devon have secrets that they haven't told one another, and by the end of the first book they still haven't confided in each other.
TOTAL TRAINWRECK starts out with Carly recovering from a mean hangover after a night of regression following Devon's revelation that he will never leave his common law wife for her. There's a lot of "we can't be together, it will destroy us" nonsense before Devon finally confesses what his big secret is. The sad thing is, he doesn't actually confide in Carly until his evil common law wife, Heather, shows Carly a copy of the tape that she's using to blackmail her husband with.
The drama I liked in book one is still present, and to be fair, TOTAL TRAINWRECK does handle a lot of things really well. But whereas in the first book, I sympathized with both protagonists even if I didn't like them as people, in TOTAL TRAINWRECK I actually really started to hate them. A lot.
First, even though they resume their relationship and do a lot of sneaking around, Devon still insists that he can't be "officially" together with Carly and he never takes her anywhere nice. They just have sex in dark rooms and dark corners. Despite this, he gets incredibly jealous if Carly associates with other guys, and later on, something happens, and Carly has to make a very important life choice which Devon totally tries to commandeer. And I was like, "Um, excuse you. Just who do you think you are? You have no right to try to micromanage such an important decision like that, especially not with guilt trips, you big fat hypocrite!"
Second, I actually felt really bad for Heather, and I was disappointed that the Heather ARC was resolved the way that it was. It was brutal and cruel. She was a terrible person, but I didn't think she deserved what happened to her. And since both Carly and Devon were responsible for what happened to her, that made me like them a lot less as a result.
Third, the quality of the writing goes way down in this book. The sex scenes are awkwardly written, I started noticing more typos (and the first book had none), and there's a portion of the book that involves an Italian priest who speaks Spanish instead of Italian, and when he's giving a command, he says the (Spanish) noun instead of the (Italian) command imperative verb conjugation.
Fourth, there was a strange, borderline-homophobic moment in the book that made me uncomfortable (the heroine freaks out when asked if she's a lesbian). There's also a lot of pro-life stuff that is shoved down the readers' throats towards the end about how babies are always miracles and people who love their spouses don't abort children...I always question why content like this is included in books like these, especially if the heavy subject matter is at odds with the rest of the narrative.
For the most part, this was still a decent book, and the writing quality is mostly okay. But it was a significantly poorer quality effort than its predecessor, HOLLYWOOD HOT MESS, and had some really strange scenes that were bizarre even for Hollyweird. I really had to suspend my disbelief. I was also very frustrated that the child abuse plot line never is fully resolved, despite the fact that the author spends two books building up to Carly's ability to acknowledge and deal with it consciously. After all that, you're just going to skip over the entire confrontation scene? So disappointing.
I'm a fan of Carina Press. Whoever vets potential books has really good taste. I often find titles through them that I really like, that are in genres that aren't normally to my taste (e.g. erotic or new adult). HOLLYWOOD HOT MESS is no exception. These lifestyles of the rich and famous-type stories usually have me rolling my eyes, but I liked the cover, and the summary hinted at a deeper story. Accepting this ARC from Netgalley seemed like a no-brainer.
Carly Klein was a beloved child actor on the show Life On Easy Street. Then something terrible happened to her, and she drowned her memories of the traumatic event in drugs and alcohol. Her self-loathing culminated in a suicide attempt, and now her agent has her on lock down. She's fresh out of rehabilitation and about to do a King Henry VIII-inspired erotic romance with Sexiest Man Alive, Devon Hayes, provided that she doesn't violate her NDA.
Devon Hayes is part of the HeaVon (Heather) power couple. He's fourteen years older than Carly and seems to have all his shit together. Naturally, Carly hates him. And when she makes the mistake of admitting that to a reporter, she fully expects to be fired. Instead, she gets invited to Devon's tropical island getaway.
And things become complicated.
Carly is so broken, and this makes her bitchy, self-centered, and mean. It's rare to see an author who can write a character who is so damaged and unlikable and yet still make you feel sorry for them, but Evie Claire manages to do this not just with Carly but also with Devon. Both of them are trapped in a glass fishbowl, unable to be themselves, and so they lash out against the glass, even though it hurts them, because they're powerless to do anything else. It's really quite heartbreaking.
Carly never tells Devon the truth about why she does the things she does, and Devon doesn't tell Carly his secret, either. Unexpected, but not necessarily unwelcome. I'm far too used to books where both characters spill everything after one night of good sex, so it seemed more in line with their characters that they would be more guarded, even after some impromptu acts of intimacy.
The Hollywood Hot Mess series is the good kind of trashy that you can expect from manga or soap operas. In other hands, I feel like this book could have come off as silly or clumsy, but the writing for HOLLYWOOD HOT MESS was actually really, really stellar, and there's some incredible characterization for the main characters and the supporting characters that will have you wanting to scream or cheer by turns. Thank God I have the second book waiting in the wings...
Also, speaking of lockdown, just who the heck is this author? They're not on Goodreads and there are no links to Twitter, website, or Facebook pages in the back of the book. Is this the pseudonym of someone famous? Tell me who you are, please, so I can trumpet your name from the rooftops!