Many regency romances feature the same plot, with the characters and storylines being virtually interchangeable and utterly forgettable. A DUKE TO REMEMBER, however, really does feature a duke to remember...although in all honesty, it's the heroine, Elise DeVries, who steals the show.
Elise is an agent of Chagarre and Associates. Basically, members of the elite come to her with their problems, which she resolves discreetly - for a price. Elise also works as an actress, and she uses her stage training and her many disguises to solve these cases and gather intelligence. Her latest case is both tragic and bizarre: the sister of a duke presumed dead reveals that her brother is actually alive, and that his cousin, who has seized control of the estate in his absence, has committed their mother to Bedlam and is doing his utmost to see to it that the Duke of Ashland never returns from the dead.
I liked Elise and loved the fact that she was competent at her job. The scenes of her going under disguise and working with her clients were really great, and did a great job capturing her character. Unlike many cross-dressing heroines, the heroine is actually pretty decent at going incognito and it's only by pure happenstance that the object of her search, Noah Ellery, finds out he is a she.
One of the things that dragged down my rating for this book was the insta-love. Right away they're attracted to one another and have sex, which took out any of the sexual tension that makes books like these so fun to read. Even though I know how romances end 99.9% of the time, the will they/won't they trope keeps me turning pages like nobody's business. The tension in this story comes from the fact that Noah is determined to remain in hiding, and he doesn't realize that Elise has been hired to take him back to society to claim the duchy...although even this is resolved quickly. And I must say, props to the author for not having the characters miscommunicate for an infinite amount of pages, dancing around their pile of lies with half-truths and hurt feelings. Elise is straight-up with Noah, which was both refreshing and in line with her characterization.
The romance was just so sudden, that neither of them really had chemistry. So while I felt sorry for Noah and what he had gone through as a child and loved Elise's passion for righting wrongs and kicking ass, I didn't really see them together as a couple, nor did I buy their sudden devotion.
My favorite character in this book was actually a third-tier character who only appears a handful of times. That would be King, who reminded me a lot of one of my favorite book boyfriends, Jerricho Barrons. He's pretty much everything I love in a hero...brooding, dark, mysterious, tortured, sexy, with a generous sprinkling of gamma. When I found out that he wasn't the love interest in this book, I was devastated...although the author teased that he might be one in later installments.
I appreciate Bowen's challenging the stereotypes that are the status quo in regency novels, but the lack of chemistry took what could have been a four- or five-star book for me and downgraded it to a 2.5. I'd definitely read King's story, though. I hope it's dark. ;)
Thanks to the author and the publisher for the review copy!
I remember when I first started getting into romances, I asked my friends for recommendations and Louisa recommended a couple romantic suspense authors to me, including BEG FOR MERCY by Jami Alden. The Criminal Minds comparison sold me on the story. I don't know if you've seen Criminal Minds, but that is some scary sh*t.
BEG is about Megan Flynn who is sort of dating/sort of in love with this cop named Cole Williams. When they're getting frisky, he gets a call about a murder, and Megan is shocked to recognize her own address. Without warning, Cole arrests Megan's brother, Sean. The open-shut case means her brother's death sentence, and Megan loses all credibility as everyone thinks she's crazy to insist he's innocent.
While reading this book, I kept thinking about what I would do if I was in this position. I can't even imagine what it would be like to see a family member arrested for something you know in your heart that they didn't do, but be utterly powerless to protect them from the law. It made my heart hurt.
I have to say that I didn't particularly like Megan and Cole much, though. While I could understand where Megan was coming from, I thought she was an idiot. She was always marching into the face of danger, to the point where she could have been hit with obstruction of justice charges. Did that stop her? Nooooo. She was emotionally manipulative, impulsive, and bitchy, and I did not like that at all.
Cole, on the other hand, is your typical alpha male jerk, who's just a few steps away from peeing all over the heroine's shoes to mark his territory. Every time another man so much as looks at Megan, Cole thinks about how much he'd like to punch that man in the face. The macho bro-standing got old fast, and so did his judgmental attitude. At one point he says that Megan looks like she's gotten her clothes from "Sluts R Us." Nice, Cole. Very nice.
The two of them use sex to manipulate one another and get their way, and I thought that was pretty awful, too.There's nothing really romantic about this romantic suspense, please and thank you.
The suspense aspect of this book is really well done and makes up for the crummy characters. The serial killer in this book is super creepy. What's even creepier is that you almost feel sorry for him when you find out what he went through - almost. (He's still a major psycho, though.) I was able to predict (correctly) who the killer was about 25% in because the red herring was way too obvious a choice.
BEG FOR MERCY was a fast-paced read. I'm interested in reading the sequel. From what I read in the teaser at the end of BEG, it looks like it builds upon the previous events and relationships, which I always like in a story, as it makes it way more complex and interesting.
You know, for a book that's supposedly about nerds saving the day, this book sure puts us down a lot. And I mean, a lot. In fact, every main character at one point takes part in some nerd-shaming.
Genevieve Terrence, the main character, is an ex-hillbilly currently residing in beautiful Hawaii. Jack Farley, the titular nerd in this story, has been crushing on Genevieve ever since they started working together. Gen hasn't noticed, because she's infatuated with her boss, Nick "It's not sexual harassment if they want it" Brogan.Yes, this is one of those books where the heroine mistakes aggressive sexual behavior for the overtures of a long term relationship. And even though she knows that Nick is only inviting her on the business trip to Maui because he wants a one-stand, she is convinced that she can change him. After all, he looks like Cary Grant. He'd make a great husband. He just had a troubled childhood.
Jack throws a wrench in this would-be "romantic" getaway because he's been invited too, to troubleshoot problems in their sister branch, Aloha Pineapple. He's thrilled, because he knows that when Nick inevitably leaves her a sobbing, weepy wreck, he can be the one to pick up those soggy pieces, and tenderly make love to her until she forgets her woes. Because as everyone knows, niceness is totally a synonym for manipulative opportunist.
Unfortunately for all three characters, the plane never makes it to Maui, and Nick isn't what he seemed. (I mean, beyond not being Genevieve's future husband.) The plane gets wrecked, and Genevieve and Jack are marooned on a tropical island with two energy bars and six condoms.
At first, NERD IN SHINING ARMOR was an okay read. It had some troubling gender stereotypes, but most books written during this time period did. And there's something about the chatty, overly familiar narrative style of chicklit written during this time that really appeals to me. Probably because the first romances I ever read were written in this style, and reading them makes me nostalgic.
But I have limits, and this book crossed them about half a dozen times.
Here are some examples:
We learn that Genevieve lost her virginity when she was thirteen-years-old, because she is a hillbilly, and this is all that hillbillies have to do for entertainment because they don't have video games or TV. Genevieve traded hers away because the boy she was dating promised to take her out to the movies for a month. Spoiler alert: he lied.
Genevieve's hillbilly act got old fast. By the end of the book, she was making so many "you know you're a redneck when..."-type comments, that she could have been an opening act for Jeff Foxworthy.
We have sex scenes that read like this:
When he sucked her nipple into his mouth, he made an mmmm sort of noise, as if he'd just taken a mouthful of pecan pie with whipped cream. He certainly knew how to do this part right - exactly enough pressure to send a signal down below, where the welcome party was being set up. Soon that welcom party would be in full swing, ready to greet the honored guest.
"Welcome party," eh? I guess that would make the condom the balloons?
It almost makes you nostalgic for Bertrice Small's "love grotto."
For a nerd, Jack just isn't very nerdy. His inner dialogue is airheaded and he comes off sounding like a cross between a thirteen-year-old boy and a sixteen-year-old girl. When he's not thinking about sex, he's mentally cataloging everything the heroine is wearing and saying things like "omigod!" We're told that he's a brilliant programmer, but never really see any of that in the book. Instead, we're told that he has a home gym because he's too socially awkward to go to the regular gym (because he needs a hot body to appeal to the heroine), and instead of playing video games, he plays flight simulators (because anything else would be *too nerdy*), which is how he's able to land the plane...
He's also...kind of a jerk. He makes so many judgments about Genevieve, and the fact that he is so desperate to reclaim Nick's sloppy seconds really put me off his character. You'd think he would warn her or something, you know, since he's such a nice guy. Then we have this dubious line:
He wondered if the bathing suit was a signal that they wouldn't have sex anymore. If so, it wasn't a very good signal, because those little scraps of material would come off in no time. He'd always thought that was the idea of a bikini - gift-wrapped sex.
That sounds kind of rapey to me. How easily clothing comes off is not a substitute for vocalized consent. And the purpose of a swimsuit is for swimming, obviously. Otherwise it would be called a sexsuit, Mr. Genius Nerd.
The plot is padded out further with a subplot where Genevieve's mother teams up with Jack and Gen's boss to find the plane and save them, with the help of Gen's younger brother, Lincoln. We also find out that Genevieve and her family have psychic powers for some reason, and the sole purpose of these powers is to provide an explanation for how Annabel and Lincoln "just know" exactly where to find Jack and Genevieve without actually looking very hard.
NERD IN SHINING ARMOR was a disappointment. I was hoping for a story where the heroine embraces the nerdy hero's nerdy quirks, and instead found a book where nerds are put down, and it's only when they're transformed to fit acceptable beauty standards that they're found worthy of being love interests. The idiotic villain, numerous deus ex machinas, and unlikable characters were just nails in the coffin. NERD'S one saving grace is that it is compulsively readable (like watching a plane crash), and saved me from being bored during my lunch hour or while waiting between various appointments. But sadly, that wasn't enough to save its rating.
The Under Her Collar series is what some people are calling "inspirational erotica." It's christian-themed fiction about female priests, and about them navigating their relationships and their sex lives while also staying true to their faith.
I really enjoyed the first book in this series, NOT A MISTAKE. Jordan was so calm and level-headed, and I loved the way religion was discussed, as well as the truth that many people often ignore: that beneath their collars, priests are human beings, and therefore not above error. It was a great book about an unwed woman coming to terms with her pregnancy and I adored it.
When the author offered me an advanced copy of her then-unpublished sequel, NOT OVER YET, I leaped at the opportunity. Lily Yee, Jordan's friend, is a woman of color, as well as a priest, and dealing with a whole other set of problems.
NOT OVER YET isn't a pregnancy story; instead, it's a second-chance romance between a priest and a billionaire. Before she got her collar, Lily was the nanny for Eric Roche and his two little adopted daughters. Back then, he was newly divorced and really lonely, and Lily was convenient and attractive, as well as the polar opposite to his cheating, high-strung ex-wife. He eventually proposed and Lily turned him down, and Eric never got over it.
When Lily winds up in dire financial straits and is accused by her church of embezzling funds (by none other than the aforementioned cheating ex-wife!), Eric comes into her life again. Their sexual chemistry is undeniable, but past hurts loom heavily in the past, and forgiveness comes steep. Plus, ex-wife Cynthia is determined to wreck their budding relationship and steal the children - oh noes!
At first I really liked the idea behind the story. Like Jordan, Lily seems level-headed. I could respect her decision of wanting a career over a family, and her resentment of Eric trying to buy her and emotionally manipulate her into taking on a role she didn't want. I liked that she had to deal with issues that people of color really do face, like microaggressions and accusations of "reverse racism." I sympathized with her financial plight and the accusations of embezzlement. I was ready to despise Cynthia as the antagonist of the story, while also ready for her to redeem herself later.
But what always kills a story for me is when I don't like one of the love interests, and sadly that was the case with Eric. He's so manipulative, and his only redeeming value is in his wealth and his sexual acrobatics. I didn't like how he was constantly trying to guilt Lily about leaving him. She wasn't his wife - something he seems to forget. She was his nanny and live-in f*ckbuddy. She wasn't under a contract stipulating that she had to stick around just because the kids liked her and he was hot for her.
Eric continued to be a jerk throughout the story, raising many relationship red flags. Like, at one point he gets angry at Lily for buying a vibrator because he takes it as a sign that the "D" isn't good enough for her (can you say insecurity complex?). He keeps telling her that the girls like her, and that he wanted her to be a wife, so how dare she walk away and hurt him like that (what about what she wants?). He knows she's poor, and yet when Lily tells him that the reason she left was because she didn't feel ready for the role of mother/wife in addition to commuting 20 miles for her priest job, Eric tells her that she could have taken BART. Now, those of you who don't live in California wouldn't know this, but BART fares can range from roughly $2-$14 round-trip depending on where you're going. Daily. That adds up. And that doesn't include parking costs or additional public transportation costs (i.e. taking the bus, etc.).
At the end, though, Lily pulls a stunt that made me dislike her because it seemed so out of character. It was such a terrible way to lead someone on, and I didn't think it was cute or funny at all. I think the author was going for one of those dramatic reveals, like you see in chick lit movies, but this just felt mean-spirited. At that point, I was like, "Well, okay, they're both jerks, so I guess they deserve each other."
Also, some of the "racism" elements were a little weird and made me uncomfortable. Like at one point, someone tells Eric that he's an Asian fetishist because he has these adopted Chinese daughters and now he's trying to get a Chinese wife to match the set. Lily comes to this conclusion herself later, and she and Eric argue about it. There's also this moment that I think was supposed to be touching but came off as super icky, when this parishioner who didn't like Lily changes her mind about Lily being a Chinese elitist because she sees that she's got a "mixed" relationship.
For what it's worth, NOT OVER YET does a pretty good job of covering racism in an inoffensive way (except for that one weird part), but I just couldn't get on board with the male hero. He was awful, and I didn't like him at all. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, dude.
Andrews McMeel knows that their audience loves cats. There is no other explanation.
Books like these can be hit or miss. I always apply for them because I love cats, but the last one I got, BREAKING CAT NEWS, was only so-so.
That is not the case with BUSINESS CAT.
For those of you who aren't into internet pop culture, Business Cat is a popular meme of a cat with a photoshopped tie. BUSINESS CAT borrows heavily from some of those memes, but also has fresh content with a continuing storyline as BC struggles to improve projections, slash the budget, and become Business Pet of the Year.
I thought BUSINESS CAT was really cute and funny. I'm glad I got a copy from Netgalley!
I usually have an idea of what rating I'll give a book by the end of the first chapter. With SACKED, however, I waffled between a two-star and a three-star rating for most of the book, and didn't really come to a solid decision until the very end. This is because SACKED does some things extraordinarily well, and other things...not so well.
SACKED is a romance between a very talented football player and a girl who is a fan of football. Knox Masters knows he's probably going to end up as a first-draft pick, playing for a top NFL team. He's also a virgin, by choice, because he thinks that conserving his energy means that he'll be able to focus on the game more and play better as a result. Ellie Campbell is the sister of one of his teammates. She's been helping her brother cheat (without his knowledge) since eighth grade in order to hide his learning disability. She and Knox hit it off immediately, but she's reluctant to enter a relationship for many Important Reasons.
One of the things I liked about this book was the fact that it had a virgin hero. Usually in books like these, the male character is an overconfident man-whore, who sleeps around and treats women like dirt or objects (I guess dirt technically is an object) until he meets the heroine with the magical goody box who transforms his life completely through the magical powers of virgin!sex. Knox saved himself because he didn't see any point in having empty sex, and instead devoted his time to achieving what was really important to him - his career in football. That's pretty cool.
Another thing I liked about this book was Ellie's relationship with her brother. They cared about each other so much. I loved their interactions. I thought it was heartbreaking how Ellie kept hinting about all the opportunities their school offered for people with learning disabilities, and Jack never took her up on it. His defensiveness was really well done, and I liked how even when they had arguments, they could still forgive one another, and their love was never tested by stupid, pointless drama.
In fact, most of the secondary relationships in this book were really well done. The Warriors' relationship with their coach. Their relationships with one another (loved the guy banter and the football chatter). Ellie's friendship with her roommate. It gave the book a lively, congenial atmosphere that was pleasant and enjoyable.
So, what didn't I like about the book?
Ellie and Knox's relationship is founded on insta-love. Knox decides that she's the one from the very moment he meets her because she likes football and she has the magical ability to tell him apart from his twin, Ty. Believe it or not, this is actually a test Knox subjects all of his potential bed mates to - he introduces them to his identical twin, and then tricks them, to see if they can tell him apart. Smooth.
There's also a lot of explicit sex in this book, to the point where it started getting repetitive and empty. Plus, you get weird turns of phrases like, "long, ropy seed jets" and "I wonder if I can wear her. Whether there's some campus provision that would prevent me from walking around with her attached to my d***." That's not erotic...that's actually kind of creepy.
Knox also has this Edward Cullen vibe, where he pursues the heroine to the point where it seems a lot like stalking, and he doesn't always take "no" for an answer. Towards the end, he becomes even more invasive, which is probably why I didn't like the ending. I don't really like the idea of a guy walking in and taking total control over a girl's life. People who enjoy novels with overbearing heroes who want their women "kept" will probably not mind this as much, but it felt weird to me. Very 1950s.
SACKED is not a bad book by new adult standards. Frederick's writing is clear and fluid, and she captures college life pretty well, in my opinion. I always appreciate when new adult authors take the time to show students struggling with their coursework when it comes to balancing work and play. It was the execution that really killed this book for me. With a few tweaks, I think this is a book I could have loved. I still have the sequel, JOCK BLOCKED, which I plan to read soon, and I'm loving her co-authored series with Elle Kennedy. This book in particular just wasn't right for me.
As a young woman, Grace Marks was arrested for the killing of her master, Mr. Kinnear, and his housekeeper-slash-mistress, Nancy Montgomery. Her "accomplice", Mr. McDermott, is already dead, and Grace is currently awaiting her fate in an asylum. Dr. Simon Jordan is a psychologist who is very interested in Grace because she claims to have no memory of the murder, or the events leading right up to it. Is she mentally ill? Innocent? Or a villain?
ALIAS GRACE is told from several POVs, which is a device I don't really like. Simon's POVs were odd, especially the sequences with his affairs and his dreams. My favorite POV was Grace as she's telling her story to Simon. I loved the parts about her childhood, and her close friendship with Mary Watney. As Grace tells her story, the suspense builds as the reader begins to wonder how this naive girl who overcame so much in her early life ended up getting sucked into cold-blooded murder.
It's no secret that Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. Her writing is lush and beautiful, and even though it's dense, the story-telling is often just as good as if not better than the story itself. ALIAS GRACE is not my favorite of Atwood's work, but all the elements of why I love this author are present...just perhaps not in the best proportions. ALIAS GRACE suffers in the second act, when the narrative weakens and an odd hypnotism storyline rears its head. The last portion of the story is mostly epistolary, and this seemed designed more to hastily tie up loose ends.
ALIAS GRACE is an interesting book based on a true story, written by one of my favorite authors. It's certainly not a bad book, but it's not one I would want to recommend, and it's certainly not the first book that would come to mind if I were recommending Atwood to a newbie. But if you're interested in Canadian history and love Margaret Atwood, ALIAS is a must-read for you.
This is a rerelease of an older title written by Sabrina Jeffries under the psuedonym, Deborah Martin. Usually, authors use pseudonyms when they're writing in a different genre - either to test a fresh, unbiased fanbase or to keep their books organized by genre. I'm not sure what the purpose was here, but it's interesting to think about.
STORMSWEPT is a historical romance novel set in Wales. The heroine, Juliana St. Albans is the daughter of a powerful lord who has just seized the property of a Welsh squire in a gambling debt, causing the man to commit suicide in his shame. Rhys Vaughan is the son of that squire, determined to get revenge on the St. Albans.
One day, Juliana attends a meeting of Welsh radicals in disguise with her Welsh servant, Lettice. Rhys is one of the speakers, and his intelligence and charisma rallies those assembled. He sees Juliana in the audience and is immediately attracted to her, and impulsively kisses her without knowing who she is, although others are quick to enlighten him. After a surge of anger and a brief misunderstanding, he decides he wants her instantly.
Juliana's brother, Darcy, is furious when Juliana and Rhys elope - even more so when he finds out that Lettice, whom he covets despite being married, is in love with and plans to marry another Welshman, Morgan Pennant. With the help of Juliana's brother, Overton, and a host of other people, Darcy gets Rhys and Morgan impressed in the British Navy, where they are whipped and flogged and forced to fight in battles they have no investment in. Darcy then takes on grieving Lettice as his mistress while Juliana, thinking that Rhys meant to betray her and steal back his land, eventually gives up her husband for dead and takes on a new suitor at the behest of her family (i.e. Darcy).
Everything is fine and dandy...until Rhys returns, back from the dead.
My friends loved this book, and their high praises were a huge factor in why I applied for this book on Netgalley. Now that I've read it, I can see why it was so popular with them. Juliana is a great protagonist. She doesn't take any guff, not even from the love interest. It was refreshing to see a heroine who actually stood up for herself, who was intelligent and kind, and who didn't make stupid, selfish decisions (although there was someone in this book who did make stupid, selfish decisions *cough* Rhys and Darcy *cough*). Juliana was a huge factor in my liking this book.
The quality of the writing was also quite good. I loved the writing, except for the sex scenes, which were mildly cringe-worthy. "Honeypot" should never be used in descriptions of intercourse, ever.
No, my beef with this book is actually the hero, Rhys. I hated Rhys. He was such a selfish, arrogant, stubborn jerk. The lust-at-first sight was bad enough, but then he follows her home, sneaks into her window, and pushes her into eloping by compromising her step by step. Then when he finds out she's planning on marrying someone else, he goes apesh*t. The way he treated Juliana was awful. He takes control of her estate and says she can't have it back until she sleeps with him. He accuses her of being a liar at every turn, and doesn't believe a word she says unless someone mansplains it back to him on her behalf. And, oh, yes, he keeps trying to figure out how to have sex with her without forgiving her.
I wouldn't have a problem with a jerk hero if it weren't so blatantly obvious that we're supposed to feel sorry for him, and the hero does remind us what a victim he is, whining and looking hurt (only when no one is around to see, of course), and generally sulking while expressing his fear of abandonment. Well, I'm sorry, but I felt no pity for this piece of work. Juliana sets him straight on this, and I half-wish she'd married Stephen instead of him because it takes the hero thirty pages from the end before he finally - finally - realizes he was wrong. And it literally takes a declaration from Juliana's brother, a big fat, "I DID IT!" in blinking neon lights, before he does this.
Lettice and Juliana and Morgan were awesome, but Rhys and Darcy are free to go to the devil any time.
I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. Flawed, but a definite improvement over this author's earlier work.
Maggie Sparkes is a super rich heiress who works in nonprofit. When she finds out her childhood friend/the daughter of her maid is dead, supposedly by suicide, she jets out to New York. No way Celine killed herself, Maggie cries to anyone (and I mean anyone) who will listen. But fear not! Detective Dip is on the case, and she's bought friends. She immediately starts going through all of her friend's things and finds items that...disturb her.
For the first 60% or so, this book has a definite IF I WERE YOU vibe. Maggie discovers a notebook in which her friend lists all of her sexual adventures before she died. She starts taking up with the man who might have killed her friend. She wears her dead friend's clothes and lives in her apartment. It's very awkward.
Is this a rip-off of IF I WERE YOU? No. They're very different stories. IIWY was erotica with a mystery thrown in. HWBMR is a mystery with some erotica thrown in. The focal point of this story is the mystery, and I was pleased to see that when it came down to brass tacks, the heroine was more interested in getting closure than sleeping with the hot, potentially murderous dudes (eventually).
At the 60% mark, the pacing picks up dramatically. Instead of slogging through tedious descriptions of Maggie attempting to play Nancy Drew/Gossip Girl, we're presented with even more subjects, interesting evidence, and some truly tense scenes as Celine's diary entries reveal clue after damning clue. Also, I loved the descriptions of old antiques and Chinese pottery. I actually didn't know how "new" bone china was, or how it got its name.
I probably would have enjoyed this more except for the fact that Maggie was a bland character, who didn't really have a personality apart from being rich and harboring an obsessive need to pour huge sums of money into finding out how her friend died. Why? An answer for this wasn't really provided, and I was given the impression that they were somewhat estranged.
I also thought that both she and Celine had definite TSTL tendencies. When they should have asked themselves, "Gee, maybe this person is a little too eager to install this camera into my house" or "maybe I shouldn't mix vodka and sleeping pills while in a fragile emotional state" they threw caution to the wind instead, leaving me shaking my head and muttering, "Really, lady? Really?"
HE WILL BE MY RUIN is mystery "light" with some sexual stuff thrown in. Not really my cup of tea, but I enjoyed it despite that, and found myself pleasantly surprised by this book's readability. Honestly, if you liked IF I WERE YOU, you'll probably like this, as the mystery is a lot better and it doesn't have quite as many long sex scenes. I'm not mad at it. Especially with its $1.99 price tag.
I used to joke that I was technically "Greek" because I was in a society (a lot of societies have Greek names, too) - in fact, I was offered membership to two. But I never rushed, and I didn't have any friends who were in sororities. Ever since I saw Legally Blonde, I was fascinated by sororities. They seemed so girly and decadent and shallow, like a sleepover with Kelly Ripa.
In other words, awesome.
DIRTY RUSH is probably not a realistic portrayal of what sororities and fraternities are actually like, any more than 80s movies by John Hughes were accurate portrayals of what high school was actually like. But it does manage to capture the "spirit" of what many of us wish it was like, which is almost as good.
Especially for those of us, like me, who can only participate in these kinds of events vicariously. This is prime entertainment.
There is an 80s movie vibe to DIRTY RUSH. It's larger than life, exaggerated, cliche, raunchy, and completely OTT. Taylor Bell is the smart, pretty girl who refuses to go to rush but ends up joining anyway because of a boy. Her sorority sisters love-bomb her, there's a scavenger hunt that involves collecting bodily fluids from frat boys, one of her sisters has to go to the ER to have anal beads removed from her rectum, and, oh, yes, the whole sorority is almost torn apart in the wake of a sex tape-slash-drug-dealing scandal.
You know, typical college life.
DIRTY RUSH is the trashiest thing I've read in a while. Parts of it made me angry. I didn't like how they referred to the alcohol as "rape juice" or that they used r*t*rd and autistic as insults. But there were surprisingly good parts, too. Like the acceptance of gay fraternity members, some truly loyal sorority sisters who stuck by Taylor no matter what, and Taylor's relationship decision at the end. If it weren't for the stilted dialogue and choppy transition scenes, I think DIRTY RUSH would have been an edgier, soapier version of Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl series.
Yes, I actually liked this book. I know, I'm as surprised as you are.
As I get older, I find myself being tougher and tougher on YA. I'm not sure if it's because I find it more difficult to relate to the characters, or if the characters are just becoming more bland. In either case, I'm a jaded dame who's hard to please...and who's also a glutton for punishment. It's a dangerous combination.
THE RAVEN BOYS wasn't a book I set out to read. I'd heard of Maggie Stiefvater before, but her work didn't sound like it was for me. Then THE RAVEN BOYS became popular, and I began to see that black and white cover flooding my feed, accompanied by glowing reviews praising the book as magical and original.
Then the book showed up for $1 at my local used bookstore. I couldn't say no to that, you guys. Peer pressure...for $1.
I am such a sucker.
I would like to start by acknowledging the book's obvious strengths. It is very well written. The author has a great vocabulary and she knows how to string words along, like beads on a bracelet, so they look all nice and sparkly and pretty. Sometimes, however, she uses too many beads, and you end up with something way too chunky for convenience. But at least the beads are pretty.
The obvious failing is that this book doesn't know who it wants its audience to be. It's a book about older teenagers written for preteens, and sometimes that shows in the writing, which is so tell-not-show that it's like being beaten over the head with a skateboard (spoiler). I felt like I had Stiefvater holding my hand the whole time I was reading the story, telling me, "Okay, so for this part coming up, I want you to feel scared, okay? And you can tell you're supposed to feel scared because the characters are scared and scary things are happening, so it's okay for you to feel scared, too."
It also really didn't help that I hated Gansey and Blue. Gansey was condescending as all get out, and I got tired of other characters in the book saying that it was because he was rich. There are plenty of rich people who don't go around making others feel stupid about themselves. Being rich may be something that you can't help but condescension is a life choice.
Blue I didn't like because she was such a little twit. The way she treated her mom annoyed me. She was selfish, easily offended, and completely self-absorbed. I suspect I was supposed to think that she was quirky and sarcastic and funny and independent. She's basically the Scrappy Doo of heroines. And everyone knows that Scappy Doo is a major Scrappy Don't.
I kind of guessed that I wasn't going to be a fan when I found out that the outcome of this story hinged on whether or not the sixteen-year-old heroine kissed a boy.
SEX OBJECT is an interesting book, partially because of what it contains but also partially because of how I think people are going to react to it. If you skimmed through it, you might say, "Oh, it's just another one of those self-effacing memoirs of a woman relating all of her sexual encounters." But that makes it too easy to dismiss this book - and it shouldn't be dismissed.
I know "microaggressions" is a loaded word with some people, but there really isn't a word out there that's quite as good at describing those little tiny "tells" of subconscious prejudice. SEX OBJECT shows many of the microaggressions women have to deal with on a day to day basis, from whether it's how women get the short end of the stick in most sexual encounters, to date rape, to sexual harassment, to pregnancies from hell.
SEX OBJECT is a collection of essays and as with most essays, they are uneven in quality. I think the most powerful essays are the ones where Valenti writes about her coming of age, and how young women are often the favorite targets of predatory men. I also liked the essays about abusive relationships, and how abusive doesn't always necessitate hitting - many of her ex-boyfriends found creative other ways of being abusive.
The most relatable chapter for me, however, was the last chapter, in which Valenti provides a collection of emails, tweets, and Facebook messages she's received from men who either insult her looks, threaten her with rape, or otherwise objectify or dehumanize her in an attempt to invalidate both her points and her as a person. It made me think of Buzzfeed's video, What it's like to be a woman online. It's a video I often trot out when reading books like these because it underscores what women have to deal with every day if they have an active, feminist presence online.
There are a lot of topics in SEX OBJECT that make for difficult reading: rape, rape threats, gore, sexual harassment, sexual harassment of minors, and all kinds of other infuriating things. But if you can stomach the content, you should read this book: it puts an interesting spin on what the sexual life of a woman can sometimes be reduced to, and why we should all be angry about it.
Now that I've read TMOLIM, I'm not sure what to think. There were aspects of the story that I liked a lot, and there were aspects that I think could have been done better.
Things I liked:
+ The relationships between the Mackenzie brothers. It was obvious they all cared about one another, even if they had difficulty expressing that. I also liked how they never felt interchangeable.
+ Ian's Asperger's was handled very well, for the most part. He has trouble looking people in the eyes and grasping humor and metaphors. He enjoys patterns, numbers, and has obsessive interests.
+ Beth was a step up from most romance novel heroines. She doesn't stomp her foot or pout. Even though she's a widow, she's not one of those stereotypical "virgin widows" and she loved her late husband, who was - gasp! - an engaged and attentive lover and not gay/impotent/abusive (as the trope often is).
+ Isabella was an AWESOME character. I'm hoping she stays awesome, seeing as how the next book is her story and sometimes characters I liked in previous books undergo curious personality changes so that they fit the plot of the story, but in this book she was great. Wish she'd had more page time.
Things I didn't like:
- The relationship between Ian and Beth was almost entirely sex- and attraction-based. I didn't really see why they liked each other, apart from each thinking that the other had pretty eyes.
- Beth wasn't an awful character, but she didn't seem fully realized, either. I would have liked to have seen her portrayed with more complexity and compassion.
- At time, Ian's character seemed a bit cliche. He has a near-perfect memory - can recall entire discussions exactly for weeks, can play songs after hearing them once, is amazing at calculating the odds for gambling, etc. I know that there are people who are like this, but the savant trope tends to walk hand-in-hand with most representations of autism or autistic spectrum disorder, so it was a bit disappointing to see TMOLIM succumb to this cliche.
I felt ambivalent about the murder mystery. On the one hand, I never guessed whodunnit. On the other, I found the guilty person(s)'s reasons for committing the murder in the first place circumspect and lame.
TMOLIM wasn't a bad book. I wouldn't say it lived up to the hype, but it still manages to stand out in a genre that tends to be overrun with wallpaper historicals that all end up looking alike after a while. Would I read more by this author? Yes. Absolutely.
I love how it says "Praise for You" on the back of the book. Praise for me? Aww, you shouldn't have!
When aspiring author, Guinevere Beck, strides into a secondhand bookstore she has no idea that she's setting the wheels of something utterly terrible in motion. That's because the owner of said bookstore, Joe Goldberg, is a card-carrying psychopath who will do anything - ANYTHING - to get what he wants.
And he's just decided that he wants Beck.
Did you shiver? I know I did. Joe Goldberg is scary AF.
...And yet, at times, creepily relateable.
YOU is a thriller that pokes fun at all the new adult books out there with overly familiar, stalkery love interests. While reading from this book, you really only have one side of the story - Joe's - and he is very, very manipulative. Part of the fun about YOU is reading between the lines, ignoring his narrative and focusing on his gestures and his dialogue, and trying to figure out how Joe appears to others, without his bias.
Also, I love-love-loved the use of social media in this book. Beck is a little too open with her life, she's an over-sharer, and Joe is able to mine the heck out of that, to figure out where she's going, who she's talking to, what her likes and dislikes are. This gets especially creepy towards the middle of the story, although I'm not going to tell you why. You'll just have to find out for yourself.
The literary references and social commentary are also excellent. Joe has some very cutting (and in some cases accurate) remarks about the upper middle class, as well as those who to aspire to be but aren't. He made me laugh, Joe did, and then I felt bad about laughing because this guy is cray.
Then there's Beck and her horrible friends. Beck is so selfish. She's a liar. She's narcissistic, self-indulgent. A social climber. Ignorant and superficial and vain. Maybe a bit of a psychopath herself? I honestly don't know why Joe fell for Beck the way he did, or why he became so obsessed with her. Beck sounds like the type of person you'd complain about to someone else over coffee. Maybe that's the point, though. Obsession isn't necessarily about the person themselves; it's about the pedestal you put them on and the rose-tinted glasses you see them through -
And what happens when those glasses break.
YOU was all anyone who was anyone was reading last year and guess what? It deserves the hype. It's dark and clever and suspenseful and has one of the best unreliable narrators since Humbert Humbert in Lolita. Plus, Stephen King said it was awesome. (Not sure how Joe would feel about that...)
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first Colleen Hoover book that I've ever actually liked.Every single other one of her books that I've read ended up getting a one-star review from me, but this...this was good. I devoured it the way I devoured the Meiji chocolate mushrooms I bought in San Francisco last week: all at once - with no regret.
Sloan is in an abusive relationship with an influential drug-dealer named Asa Jackson. She's tried to leave him before but he has a hold on her that makes this almost impossible, so she's saving up money on the sly and waiting for her chance to escape.
One day in Spanish class, she meets a guy named Carter who's everything Asa isn't - considerate, patient, kind. She feels an instant attraction for him which she unsuccessfully tries to suppress. It's more than a crush, it's a feeling of rapport.
But it turns out that Carter isn't what he seems; and to make matters worse, he's involved with Asa. So much for her chance of playing it cool and hoping she never lays eyes on him again! As Carter's and Sloan's feelings for one another grow and Asa grows increasingly jealous and insane, tension spikes, leading to what you know is going to be a major shit-storm of a climax.
Obviously, Hoover doesn't disappoint. She's become pretty infamous for her mind-fucking climaxes. TOO LATE is no exception. There were several twists and turns that definitely took me off-guard.
So why did I devour TOO LATE when all of her other books made me want to throw them out the window? The writing was better here. Bar a few typos that I chalked up to a lack of professional editing, her prose was significantly less clunky than it was in earlier works. Also, previous Hoover love interests were kind of slimy and overly familiar, whereas Carter plays it cool and - gasp! - actually respects the heroine's boundaries. There were moments when he was an utter jerk and I wanted to slap some sense into that fool, but for the most part, I liked him. Shocked? I am, too.
But don't think that the males in here are all likable, because the villain - Sloan's rapist, abuser boyfriend, Asa - is sicker than me after I've eaten a bowl of corn chowder (because I'm allergic to corn, you see - ha ha). Oh my God, his POVs made me feel like I was coated in a thick layer of slime. He's sexism personified, clad in designer pants, and everything he said made me want to punch him. Men are biologically driven to cheat. Women are biologically obligated to remain faithful in spite of this. All women are whores unless they're virgins who only sleep with one man for the rest of their lives. He gets sexually aroused by hymens. Oh yes, this guy is a real piece of work. And when he starts talking about marriage, Tim Curry's performance of "Don't Make Me Laugh" from Pebble and the Penguin started playing in my head on repeat because Asa is SO DRAKE, you guys, it isn't funny.
Not sure what else to say about this novella that doesn't veer into spoiler territory. I like this edgier, darker version of Colleen Hoover. It's practically a shoujo manga. And guess what? It's free.
AMERICAN GIRLS was a quirky, interesting read. It's about a girl named Anna who has a massively dysfunctional family. Her mother had a midlife crisis after she came out as a lesbian, only to have yet another inseminated child. Her father is married to a woman half his age. And her sister, Delia, is off in LA somewhere, making a tenuous living as a bit actress.
After a high school prank goes terribly wrong, Anna decides she can't take anymore and it's to LA she flees, to a sister who isn't all that pleased to see her and is busy wrestling with demons of her own.
Anna is a flawed heroine in the best sense of the word - she's self-conscious, awkward, selfish, and yet, she really does try to be a good person. It just takes her a while. She's also morbid as hell, and has a dark sense of humor that made me cackle while also looking around guilty, like maybe I oughtn't to laugh.
I noticed that the UK version is titled MY FAVOURITE MANSON GIRL and this title actually makes sense, because Manson is one of Anna's morbid interests and at one point during her stay in LA, a creepy indie producer actually hires her to do some research about Manson and his gang and give him her thoughts about the girls and the cult and everything. AMERICAN GIRLS, on the other hand, seems a bit vague, and its reference in the story isn't all that crucial, whereas Manson is.
AMERICAN GIRLS actually reminds me of a book I used to love in high school. It was called BLISTER by Susan Richards Shreve, and it was also about a girl making her own way in the world after a traumatic family event. Both books deal with being a poseur, bullying, selfish parents, and travel, set against the backdrop of typical YA coming-of-age themes.
Give it a read. If nothing else, it'll make you laugh inappropriately. Thanks for the free copy, Netgalley!
I saw Smoke in O Magazine as part of their summer reading list. The concept sounded fascinating and I immediately suggested it to my library - they bit, and I got to be the first one to read that sucker! Score for me!
In SMOKE, sinful thoughts and actions are accompanied by bursts of smoke from the body of various colors. The upper class are not supposed to Smoke as much and do their damnedest to control it, whereas the lower class live in a crust of Soot.
Thomas and Charlie are two boys at an English boarding school, where inquisition-like inspections for Smoke and Soot are routinely used to shame pupils and make them feel impure and base. But soon they begin to suspect the system isn't fair: Julius, an evil and sociopathic boy, never seems to Smoke...
Is there, perhaps, a way to cheat?
Like others, I loved the first 1/3 of this book. Seeing the class system portrayed in the hierarchy of an all boys' school was very interesting and kind of reminded me of Lyra's Oxford in Phillip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS, except instead of Dust there was Smoke.
The second 1/3 drags a little, although I liked the mystery and the science of Smoke and the introduction of religious fervor. That was a concept that was also present in HIS DARK MATERIALS, and it was controversial enough that the Church that was an antagonist in the series was eliminated from The Golden Compass movie entirely (also eliminating any possible chance at creating sequels, sadly). This was well done, and I liked that there were extremists on both sides - scientific zealots who blurred the lines between experimentation and cruelty and religious zealots who blurred the lines between transcendence and sociopathy. It was very interesting and well done.
The last 1/3 is where the book jumped the shark. Throughout the book, there are various POV swaps and until the last part of the book I didn't mind them too much because they drove the pacing of the story. Here, they began to feel unnecessary, as a way to bulk up the page count - but it was like halting a rollercoaster, and totally skewed my enjoyment of the suspense and tension. So did the unnecessary addition of a love triangle.
Honestly, part of me wishes that the story had been confined to the boarding school, where the enemies were sinister teachers and psychotic boys. Especially since despite making the story so broad in scope, we never really find out where Smoke came from or how exactly it worked (or if we did - I missed it, but I don't think it was mentioned, at least not clearly). SMOKE actually has many of the same problems as another book I read recently, THE LAND OF THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD. Both had great concepts, but fell flat when it came to controlling pacing and telling the origin story.
Remember those Point Horror books that were so popular in the 80s and 90s? R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, Diane Hoh? When I was in middle school, my school library had a little bookshelf crammed with these trashy gems, and I checked them out by the dozen. I think by the time I had my commencement ceremony, I'd read all of the titles they had in circulation.There were various themes, but my favorite was always The Deadly Party - a throwback to parlor murder mysteries and escape the room puzzles, the deadly party was all fun & games until it wasn't.
THE ASSASSIN GAME is a modern version of The Deadly Party. Set in a Welsh boarding school, it is about a game of Assassin that goes horribly wrong. I took one look at that summary and instantly requested this as an ARC, which I then proceeded to forget about until a couple days ago. I downloaded THE ASSASSIN GAME and promptly read it in a sitting.
"Killer" is their more sophisticated version of Assassin and is kind of like a cross between Assassin and Mafia. Cate, our main protagonist - who also happens to own the island the school is built on, has been angling to participate for years - membership is highly exclusive and members can only be chosen - and now, she finally has her chance, thanks to her friends Marcia and Daniel.
Her school provides the perfect gothic backdrop with its patchy wi-fi and misty shores. The rules are simple. One person is the killer. The game ends when everyone is "killed" or the killer is discovered. Players have multiple chances to guess the killer's identity, but if they're wrong, they're dead. Deaths are supposed to be funny pranks, but since this is a spin-off of The Deadly Party trope, you know that someone is going to take things too far. Which they do, obviously, with a very fatal turn.
I really found myself enjoying this book far more than I thought I would have. I'm kind of jaded when it comes to YA. I think I'm getting too old. It's harder to relate to younger characters and their decisions. I often finding myself muttering, "crazy young whippersnappers..." and shaking my head over underage tomfoolery. I was able to shelve that for this book. Killer actually sounds fun - well, not the Too Far bits, but the premise of the game itself. I could understand why Cate got caught up in the thrill of it, and why nobody wanted the game to end. The suspense was TERRIBLE.
I mean that in the best way.
However, as much as I enjoyed THE ASSASSIN GAME I have to admit, it has its flaws. The romance elements in this book seemed forced. Cate is torn between two boys - a manic genius who might also be dangerous and a mopey nerd who can't take "no" for an answer. I was not impressed with either boy - especially when one of them commits what was pretty much an act of sexual assault. The villain in this book was also cringeworthy. I'd guessed who it was halfway through. Finally, Cate's narrative is emotionless and wooden. I would have liked to have seen some genuine emotion - fear, passion, something - from her, and instead was treated with...nothing.
THE ASSASSIN GAME is a light, fun read that I think will appeal to younger teens and twenty-year-olds who are feeling nostalgic for the trashy mysteries of their youth. Honestly, getting to relive the fun of reading a book that's meant to be pure thrill and nothing else was really great. Perfect for summer. Don't go into this expecting a whole lot of suspense, but do expect to be entertained.
Erotica is a tricky genre for me. I know what I like & I know what I don't, and first and foremost, a work of erotica has to have good writing and a decent story. Some people can enjoy smut for the sex scenes alone - not me. Plot, or GTFO.
HOW NOT TO FALL is one of the better new adult/erotica works I've read over the last five years. It would probably make my top ten list, and would definitely make my top twenty. The writing is great, the sex scenes are great, there's dialogue and character development, the characters are both intelligent, and the author really makes a point of putting emphasis on consent.
Can I take a moment to appreciate that, actually? Because I feel like there's a belief that talking about consent is unsexy for a lot of people, in the same way that talking about contraceptives is. That it's a "mood-killer." Well, Foster shows that this doesn't have to be the case. Contraceptives AND consent are both discussed, and in all sexual encounters, both characters are enthusiastically consenting and I think that's great.
Moving on - with some mild spoilers (readers beware).
Annie works as a research assistant, and is preparing a mock dissertation before going to med school. The only problem is, she's fallen for her post-doc, British accent and ugly Oxford shirts and all. After an awkward and bumbling start, she's delighted to find that he feels the same, but he agrees to the relationship on the condition that she wait until after classes, when he's no longer officially her adviser and has no power over her grades/lab hours/etc.
What follows is a lot of sex, but it's not mindless. Annie and Charles learn many things about one another, some of them charming, some painful. They engage in some light bondage, which raises further issues, like the importance of consent and the consequences of emotional surrender. This sharing creates an intimacy that comes dangerously close to love, which could lead to heartbreak because neither plan on giving up their plans for the other. Other topics of note are privilege (which was actually very mindfully done, with a self-awareness that escapes most new adult characters), obligation, self-care, love, relationships, and psychological well-being.
I started out this book with low expectations, which was a good thing because it meant that this book totally blindsided me with its awesomeness. There was a point where I thought for sure that HOW NOT TO FALL would get five stars, but it has some issues that were a bit troubling.
First off, what I liked:
Annie. She's a great heroine. She actually reminded me of me in many ways, which is great, because I don't often see heroines who remind me of me. Many people said that she was immature and naive, but that's how I was as a college student; and the way it's portrayed here is very realistically done. She wants to change the world and believes she can because she's never failed at anything in her life. She believes she can change Charles, too, and it's a little heartbreaking when she realizes she can't.
Charles. He's a dominant hero done right. I will admit that I liked him a little more in the beginning than I did towards the end, because I feel like the author jumped the shark with regard to his character development. But I loved his intelligence and his resolve and his control, and his determination to be a decent human being, even - especially - when it wasn't easy.
The sex scenes were very well written, and not at all silly. Even when there were things that I didn't personally like, I never cringed or felt grossed out. Foster is a good writer and knows when to describe and when to leave things to the reader's imagination.
What I didn't like:
I didn't see the point in making Charles minor nobility (I mean, just because he's English...?) or of giving him a dark and tormented past. Part of what made this book fall in my eyes was the decidedly FSoG turn it took in the second act. Charles's insistence at being in control in all things (not in as many words, but he is pretty controlling in a "for your own good" kind of way - and it's essentially chalked up to noblesse oblige), the suggestion that his childhood and bad parental figures made him this way, and some of the things he does to Annie were highly reminiscent of FSoG. He even gives her a first edition of an old book that she likes as a gift!
I think there were also too many sex scenes. There was a tipping point where the sex scenes began to overtake the plot, and I'll admit to skimming a couple of the more redundant ones in the second act. They were all incredibly well written, but after a while it got a bit dull seeing the two of them using sex as a way to deal with whatever emotional hashing out that they were going through at the time.
Also, Annie is - spoiler - a virgin, and she pretty much becomes a sexual pro right off the bat, having multiple orgasms at the drop of a hat, not feeling any awkwardness or pain or discomfort, and just in general being Queen of the Sex Fairies whenever her clothes come off. I know that's a trope that annoys many people on my friends list, so be forewarned, it's in here.
Charles is also a bit affected. At times, his speech got to be a little irritating. It didn't bother me that much because I knew people who talked like this in college because I hung out with a bunch of highly affected nerds, but if it got too much for me, I know it'll REALLY irritate people who don't like pretentious intellectuals. So keep that in mind. There are pretentious intellectuals in this book.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Overall, though, HOW NOT TO FALL was a really great read. I'm grateful to the author and to Netgalley for providing me with a review copy because it's not something I would have picked out for myself. In fact, I came very close to not reading this book at all! Boy, am I glad that I did.
We read OUT ON GOOD BEHAVIOR as a nod to Pride Month in my romance book club/discussion group, Unapologetic Romance Readers. Dahlia Adler has made a name for herself advocating diversity and intersectionality in YA and NA, and I've been meaning to read her for a while, so kudos to sraxe for getting the ball rolling on that with her recommendation.
OUT ON GOOD BEHAVIOR is a love story between a pansexual girl named Frankie Bellisario and a lesbian named Samara Kazarian, who's so deep in the closet that she's got one foot planted firmly in Narnia. Both girls have a deep and undeniable attraction for each other, but Frankie enjoys sleeping around with whichever one of her FWBs she has on call and is reluctant to enter the monogamous lifestyle and Sam has a republican family who's majorly into politics and she's terrified of what will happen when word gets out - especially if there's no committed relationship for her to fall back on. Who wants to go that alone?
Frankie wants Sam, but she doesn't want to commit. It's basically the stereotypical "playboy settles down" stereotype that's so prevalent in YA/NA, except gender-flipped. On one hand, this was refreshing, because women are often portrayed as meek virgins who have no idea how to go about pursuing their sexuality until a man walks up with the key, but there's still a virgin in this story - the only difference is in this case, the playboy and the innocent are both women. And all refreshing changes aside, I have to say that gender-flipping the stereotype didn't make it any more palatable.
Here's the thing about Frankie. I think she's kind of creepy. Sam's her friend's roommate, and while in their room, Frankie starts sniffing Sam's stuff and touching all of her things until her friend tells her to stop. She essentially says that if Sam doesn't want the attention, she shouldn't be so attractive. She uses her FWBs as substitutes for Sam to vent her sexual frustration, and spends a huge portion of the story whining about how she doesn't want to be tied down to anyone else. She also plays into a lot of the pansexual stereotypes (they don't know what they want, they can't keep it in their pants, they're not monogamous, they're attracted to everyone), as sraxe and Red both pointed out in their reviews, which is unfortunate.
For a while I sympathized with Samara, because who hasn't been attracted to someone they perceived as being the "wrong" person? I've been in that position before as a young adult, and it's difficult. Her struggle between wanting to pursue romantic happiness and her terror at being abandoned by her friends and family was really touching, and it saddened me that this wasn't really explored in greater depth (and her racist/bigoted family kind of disappears from the story entirely once Sam and Frankie get involved - were they OK with it after all, or do they just plan to conduct their relationship in secret forever and ever?), as I feel it's a topic that many LGBT+ people struggle with (sadly) daily.
My feelings for Samara changed after what I'm going to call The Misunderstanding. As with the last book I read - RUINED BY RUMOR - the conflict in this book hinges upon the two pigheaded MCs being too stubborn to talk to each other for five minutes, so they end up hurting each other until the truth is revealed. One of the most important factors in any relationship is communication, so the fact that an understanding of this magnitude could happen really did not bode well for the couple. I also found it difficult that Samara, even as inexperienced as she was, would not want protection or an STD test before initiating a sexual relationship with someone who had as many sexual partners as Frankie, especially since she was actively sleeping around with people who weren't exclusive, either.
I appreciated what OUT ON GOOD BEHAVIOR was trying to do, I just didn't like the characters it was doing it with. OOGB could have been an F/F version of Elle Kennedy's THE DEAL, and instead it was, well, just another basic new adult love story. I did like the female friendships in this book - something that many new adult books lack - and the dialogue, for the most part, flowed naturally and was engaging. Adler is not a bad writer by any means - something else that sets her apart - and I would read another book of hers, because I think I could really like her work. This one just wasn't it.
For what it's worth, though, the sex scenes are hot.
Megan Hart is one of my go-to guilty pleasure reads. She isn't afraid to write outside of the box and try new genres, and the quality of her writing is a level above most books in the genre. The only thing that keeps her from being a favorite is that she writes just as many misses as she does hits. This...was a miss.
COLLIDE starts off promisingly enough. Emmaline had a traumatic head injury when she was young, which has caused her to intermittently experience fugue states where she blacks out. Her fugues seem to have gone into remission so for the first time (in her thirties) she's moved out of her parents' house.
She and her friend Jen frequent a coffee place called Mocha, which also happens to be the hangout of local artist/ex-model-slash-actor from the 70s, Johnny Dellasandro. The moment Emmaline lays eyes on him, she becomes obsessed, and starts watching all of his movies, buying a ton of his memorabilia, and contriving to worm herself into his life by any means possible - including stalking.
Emmaline's fugue states also start up again, preceded by the smell of oranges. In her fugues, she pictures herself back in the 70s, having sex with a Johnny who's thirty years younger, and in his sexual prime. Soon, past and present become increasingly difficult to distinguish and as her fugues become worse and worse, Emmaline begins to fear that she'll lose her freedom...and Johnny.
I didn't like the relationship between Emmaline and Johnny. It was obsessive and unhealthy, and I didn't buy the connection between them. The age difference wasn't handled well (she's in her thirties, he's in his fifties, and at one point in the story the heroine's mom says that practically makes him a pedophile). Their relationship was completely sexual and the sex scenes were OTT. Every other chapter! It got to the point where there was just no tension or anticipation and I began skimming every time they took off their clothes. The paranormal element was also at odds with the story.
If you're new to Megan Hart, I don't recommend starting with COLLIDE. FLYING is better if you're looking for an erotic drama, and HOLD ME CLOSE if you're looking for something like Jodi Picoult.
I blame Bill Nye for fostering in me a fascination with all things science (something I think he'd gladly take the credit for). Romance novels might be my one true love, but pop science nonfiction is the other woman, my secret mistress, the one I keep coming back to again and again on the sly.
I was trying to talk about why this book is so good, but my friends and family were having none of it. So instead, I'm going to talk to you, my delightful captive audience, and let me just warn you right now that if the thought of reading about people eating other people squicks you out in a major way, you might want to consider hitting the "pause" button and exiting stage left.
Don't say I didn't warn you!
P.S. In case it weren't obvious, seeing as how this book isn't published yet, I received a copy of this to review honestly from the publisher + Netgalley.
CANNIBALISM: A PERFECTLY NATURAL HISTORY is written in the style of Mary Roach. What I mean is that it's a mixed bag of anecdotes, ranging from the scientific to the pop-cultural, with a lot of (interesting) tangents. The author has a wry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that keeps rearing its head, but sometimes he'll get too caught up in the subject to be funny, and this variance in tone is a bit jarring.
The prologue opens up with some examples of cannibalism that are readily accessible to the public: Hannibal Lecter, and the inspiration behind him: Ed Gein. After a compelling introduction, Schutt launches into cannibalism in the natural world. Birds eating the eggs of other birds. Spiders and praying mantises eating their mates. Tadpoles eating other tadpoles. Sharks eating their fellow baby sharks in utero. Cannibalism is rarer in mammals, but there are examples of it, especially when said animals are overcrowded and over-stressed (think hamsters).
Next, he talks about cannibalism in ancient history, like in cave people and dinosaurs. It's more difficult to prove this, because there are so many variables that you can't control for, and I think these chapters were fascinating because they really show how much detective legwork archaeologists have to pull in order to give us science.
After this, there are a couple chapters about cannibalism in culture. Pop-culture and mythological cannibalism (Hansel and Gretel, TITUS ANDRONICUS, the Chronos myth, etc.), endo and exocannibalism (for example, eating your family to honor their bodies vs. eating your enemies to gain their strength), medicinal cannibalism (eating body parts or drinking blood for medicinal purposes), placenta eating (Buzzfeed did it), and cannibalism in history.
Two historical accounts of cannibalism really stood out to me and that was 1) Queen Isabella issued an edict saying that only New World peoples who were uncivilized and/or cannibals could be enslaved, so Columbus and his men intentionally and wrongfully labeled many island tribes as "cannibals" so they could be enslaved and sold, and 2) George H.W. Bush was the only man in his group to survive being eaten by an isolated, starving group of Japanese men during WWII, in what came to be known as the Chichijima Incident.
The last couple chapters were about prion diseases, which I actually knew a lot about because I read this great medical mystery on the subject a few years ago. It's called THE FAMILY THAT COULDN'T SLEEP and it's about Creutzfeldt-Jakob's disease, scrapie, kuru, and spongiform encephalitis, and how they are all linked (spoiler alert: cannibalism). Schutt interviews some of the scientists who pioneered this research and some who are continuing to develop it, including one woman who believes that these diseases might be caused by a sneaky virus, and that the malignant proteins are just symptoms to an altogether more sinister cause.
If you are interested in science books and have a strong stomach, I heartily recommend that you read CANNIBALISM: A PERFECTLY NATURAL HISTORY. It's a fascinating and balanced look at a taboo subject, and I learned a lot about so many things I am now kind of wishing I hadn't.
I just got into Neko Atsume and it's really fun, like having a zen garden of virtual cats. Cats are just really cute, okay? And they get a bad rap. People think that cats are jerks because they aren't unconditionally loving, like dogs. Cats are individualistic - they have different personalities, like people, so you never know what you're going to get. They're the chocolate variety box of pets. That's one of the things I like about Neko Atsume: the cats play with different toys and warm up to you at different rates. It's what I like about this book, too. The cat main characters - Lupin, Puck, and Elvis - are all completely different, and react to various scenarios in different ways.
I got this as an ARC from Andrews McMeel over a month ago but haven't been able to read it until now. Honestly, BREAKING CAT NEWS is like the cat version of Anchorman. You have these three cat bros who run their own news station "cat news," where they report on events like "there's another cat in the window," "there are fireworks in the sky, the world is ending," and "the human bought a new kind of cat food, the horror." As someone who has owned cats for the better part of a decade, I can attest to the accuracy of this comic, and I've definitely had my shoes puked in when a change in cat food was found unsatisfactory.
The illustrations are round and soft and very good, and I always found it hilarious when the artist drew them puffed up with rage. Lupin, the white one, is probably my favorite cat because he's the calmest. Puck is curious and mischievous and Elvis is quick to anger and kind of mean-spirited. Elvis also has a rivalry with one of the neighborcats, who likes to press against their windows and get belly rubs from the humans - something which makes him fluffy with rage.
BREAKING CAT NEWS is definitely a book for cat owners and cat lovers. If you don't own cats or like cats, I don't think you'll be able to appreciate this in the same way, just like how I wouldn't be able to properly appreciate a comic that was dedicated to the love of dogs. I don't hate dogs, but I've never owned any, either, and I don't always understand why people are so crazy about them. A dog comic would be a very poor choice of entertainment for me. But if you're a cat lover, this will definitely make you smile - it captures the furry idiosyncrasy that is cat pretty well.
P.S. At one point, one of the cats said, "CN News." Cat News News? That seems a bit redundant, like saying "ATM machine," or "estimated ETA."
I've said over and over that zombie books just aren't for me, so it just figures that R. Lee Smith would be the one to prove me wrong. Smith is a relatively recent discovery for me and quickly became a fast favorite, because honestly, how can you NOT fall in love with an author who can convince you that demons, insect-men, lizard-men, and zombie men can be romantic leads?
LAND OF THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD is a post-apocalyptic book set in a grim world where a man named Azrael has taken over England and raised the dead. Zombies (called Eaters) wander across the landscape, eating the unwary, and providing a living, crawling fortress for the heart of his realm: Haven.
Humanity has all but destroyed itself - and the land, and the sky - in a failed attempt to destroy that which does not die. Our heroine, Lan, has yet another idea. She plans to go to Haven and demand an audience, to persuade Azrael to destroy the Eaters.
She ends up becoming his mistress instead.
LAND OF THE DEAD is a difficult book to rate, because there were things I loved about it and things I didn't. One of the things I loved was the supporting cast. One of Smith's strong points is that she breathes life into ALL of her characters, not just the leads. Batuuli, Solveig, Serafina, Deimos, and Wickham were all wonderful characters, and I liked them a lot more than I did the two main characters, which was unfortunate - especially since at least one of these characters never makes it to end credits.
I also loved the world-building. It felt unfinished - especially since we never fully understand what Azrael is or how humanity crumbled - but it was imaginative and original, just like all of Smith's other works. I saw another reviewer saying that she wished she could live in Smith's head for a day, and I can't help but agree. Her stories are truly unique, and she knows how to turn a phrase. The best way to describe her work is to say that she's like if Stephen King wrote fantasy/horror romances.
Lan was something I felt ambivalent about. Ditto Azrael. Their characters were well fleshed-out but I was so tired of them arguing over and over. Especially since most of these arguments were just repeats of the last arguments. Here's a quick synopsis. Lan: "Kill the Eaters." Azrael: "No." Lan: "Please." Azrael: "No." Lan: "Pretty please." Azrael: "No." Lan: "I hate you." Azrael: "K." Lan: "Let's have sex." Azrael: "K." Lan: "And afterwards, maybe you'll kill the Eaters...?" Azrael: "NO, ME-DAMMIT." *flips table*
By the end of the book, I do think their relationship had evolved past that, but Azrael changed a lot more than Lan did, and he sacrificed far more, in my opinion. His choices actually won me over because they showed how much he had grown from the beginning of the story. Lan, on the other hand...did not. Although I did appreciate the fact that she wasn't beautiful and was also illiterate and crude. That was a refreshing change from the usual line-up of impossibly beautiful and clever heroines that line the fantasy and science-fiction shelves.
The constant arguments and inconsistent pacing make this book feel a lot longer than SCHOLOMANCE or LAST HOUR OF GANN. I found myself wishing I was reading those books instead at several points during this book, because LAND OF THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD felt like a less cleanly executed meld of those two stories. It's a great story, but it's not one I would suggest to readers discovering Smith for the first time and I think people who aren't fans of Smith or her verbose writing style will be frustrated with the rambling length of this massive tome.
I enjoyed LAND OF THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD but I do consider it a step down from some of her previous works. That said, I'm still very interested in reading more of her work, and I hope that her next WIP is just as original and disturbing as all of the other books of hers I've read.
Huge thank yous to the author and publisher for putting this book up on Netgalley. It's probably one of the best books I've received for review from that site this year. I'm rather desperate to get my hands on A WOUNDED NAME now. Authors who excel at doom and gloom are so few and far between
But Hutchison does. Oh, boy, she does.
I would be very surprised if Hutchison never read John Fowles's THE COLLECTOR - the parallels are numerous. Both are about obsessive men who compare women to butterflies and see them as sexual fetish objects to be owned and collected. Both are about women held captive who are desperate to escape. That said, I am not implying that THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN is derivative in the slightest. It is possible to be influenced by other work(s) and still make your story your own - something Hutchison does with great skill. Honestly, it reads like Gillian Flynn decided to rewrite THE COLLECTOR as a dysfunctional harem in the style of James Patterson's Alex Cross books, and it's darned good.
Maya was taken from the Garden. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are interviewing her to find out about the other girls and also about the man who called himself the Gardener. As the interview unwinds, we are left with bits and pieces of the story. The Gardener kidnaps young women and tattoos butterfly wings on their backs. He keeps them locked away in a glass harem, until they turn twenty-one-years of age. All the girls are marked with death the moment they come into his "care."
Maya had a dysfunctional childhood that forced her to become street smart at a young age. She knows how to read people and how to manipulative people, and she's not above using either of these skills in order to help escape. But as she gets to know the women she's trapped with the walls come down, and she finds herself more emotionally involved than she ever wanted to be - especially when some of her friends end up dying.
The writing in THE BUTTERFLY is gorgeous. The pacing is also really good. I found myself reading large chunks of this at a time without getting bored, which is often a good indicator of how good the author is at spinning out tension. I also loved the gritty realism in this book. One of the reasons I love Gillian Flynn's work, for example, is because she isn't afraid to write flawed female heroines or anti-heroines. Hutchison is much the same - she's damaged and can be a little cruel herself, which I appreciated, because given what she's gone through, why shouldn't she be?
I also really liked how The Gardener wasn't a stereotypical villain. He had moments of kindness, and even though he murdered and did terrible things to his Butterflies...it was chilling, because you could tell that he didn't think he was doing anything wrong. He really believed what he was doing was love. His sons, Avery and Desmond, were also interesting characters - Desmond, especially.
Anyone looking for a good psychological thriller/mystery will do well to read THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN. It's clearly influenced by a lot of great writers, but does an amazing job standing on its own two feet. Would love to see a movie version of this book one day! Think of the costumes!
DUKE OF SIN was probably one of the best regency romances I'd had the pleasure of reading in a while. There are two things I love in romance novels: gamma heroes & slow-burn romances. This book had both. I was able to recommend it to all my friends in good faith & was delighted to see that they enjoyed it, too!
ONCE UPON A MOONLIT NIGHT popped up on Netgalley recently & I was super excited when I was approved. It's a novella following Hippolyta Royle after she escapes from the mad duke. I liked Hippolyta in DUKE OF SIN, and was interested in seeing what her story would be like.
Unfortunately, OUAMN misses in a major way. Hippolyta is made into a foot-stomping, tongue-sticking-outting impotent heroine whose only purpose is to serve as a foil for the hero.
The hero is a jerk, who, when he happens on the scared, mud-covered heroine, assumes that she is either a whore or an actress and doesn't fail to inform her as such. She attempts to correct him and tell him that she's actually a rich heiress (totally a smart thing to do when people are trying to kidnap you for your wealth), but he just haw-haws, and continues to insult her.
DUKE OF SIN was so good that I was expecting to be a little disappointed by any sequel that came after (because it's hard to write two major hits in a row), but this just seemed like it was in a different class altogether- it was rushed, the romance was unpleasant, the hero was a jerk, the heroine was ridiculous, and somehow the characters decided they loved each other even though the hero did nothing but insult her & ogle her chest. I'm hoping that this was a fluke; the result of writing a novella too quickly and making the rookie mistake of assuming that rushed is ok in a novella.
For what it's worth, I did like the secret about the heroine even if I didn't like the way it was broached. Also, the hero has a pet mongoose, and I thought that was neat. :)
This was a buddy read with my wonderful Goodreads book group, the Unapologetic Romance Readers. We had two books of the month for June - one was KULTI and the other was RUINED BY RUMOR. Being a fan of all things historical, I knew immediately which of the two books had my vote!
Right away, I realized that RUINED might not be my cup of tea. Roxana is a spoiled, superficial princess-type character who is very self-centered and naive in the worst possible way. She will go into situations, look around at what's happening, and immediately find the most cock-eyed explanation for what's going on. This is a girl who would watch Blue's Clues and think she's brilliant for finding the 32" x 32" royal blue paw print on an otherwise white wall.
She's engaged to a soldier named George Wyatt who actually reminded me a lot of Wickham's character from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. He's charming and boisterous and very popular with the ladies. A little too popular, as Roxana soon finds out - he dallied with many foreign women while stationed abroad, even as his fiancee waited for him chastely back in England. Events transpire that result in the engagement falling apart, leaving Roxana feeling utterly disgraced.
And then, if that weren't enough, she is compromised at a party by the very man she's believed has scorned her for all these years - Alex, Lord Ayersley.
Ayersley has actually been in love with Roxana for all these years but has been too shy and awkward to say so. But his happiness is tainted by the knowledge that Roxana doesn't like him, and is marrying him solely to avoid her own ruin. I actually liked Ayersley for 80% of the book because he's a sweet, sexy, beta male and how can you not like that? But then there is another Big Misunderstanding that causes him to say some incredibly hurtful things before storming off under a cloud of butthurt.
I suspect Everett was attempting to channel a bit of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. The alliterative title, regency setting, and the characters that are reminiscent of Darcy and Wickham completely went over my head until I actually sat down to write this review. That's because Roxana is not an Austen heroine. She's not complicated or fiery or intelligent or complex enough, and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE really only had one misunderstanding between the h and the H - not five.
That's my biggest problem with this book, and what ultimately ended up preventing me from enjoying it. The entire premise is hinged on multiple misunderstandings that could have been resolved (and are! at the end!) with five minutes of conversation. Ayersley thinks Roxana doesn't like him. Roxana thinks Ayersley is in love with another woman. Ayersley thinks Roxana is cheating on him. Roxana thinks Ayersley won't sleep with her because he doesn't love her. It goes on and on.
Celebrity memoirs can be hit or miss with me. I have found that unless they are either a) part of a fandom I ardently worship, b) have a story to tell that I can personally relate to, or c) just dishing out some A+ gossip, I have difficulty finishing them.
IN THE COUNTRY WE LOVE is about Diane Guerrero's childhood. She grew up in numerous poor neighborhoods with her Colombian parents, both of whom were illegal immigrants. One day, when she was 14, she came home to find that both of them had been taken away without notice, leaving her behind.
Guerrero writes about her depression, and how this disruption in her life damaged not just her relationship with her parents, but many of her personal relationships to come. She talks about self-harm, her frustration with being poor, and the heartbreak of watching her parents apply again and again for citizenship, only to be taken advantage of by conmen or repeatedly denied.
The end of the book is a bit more heartening. She gets into acting and writes about how she received bit (but recurring) parts on both Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin. She ended up writing a cathartic op-ed piece about immigration that drew the attention of the president himself, and ended up becoming rather vocal on her pro-immigration policies and the benefits immigrants have to offer.
There are two authors listed in the back of this book, so I am guessing that means that Guerrero was working with a ghost-writer or a co-writer - not an uncommon phenomenon with celebrity memoirs. I do think that both authors did a good job creating a single "voice" that sounds genuine and authentic. I sympathized with Guerrero's plights, even though I couldn't relate to them. It was amazing how much she was forced to endure before making a name for herself. I watched one of the interviews she gave and it was very emotional; she is obviously very passionate about what she believes.
The only chapter that doesn't really jibe with the rest is the last chapter, which outlines Guerrero's thoughts on immigration, closing with tools for immigrants to seek out help or make their voices heard. Before this chapter, IN THE COUNTRY WE LOVE wasn't very political, so this 180 was a bit of a surprise, and didn't really fit with the rest of the book. I also think that her views will likely alienate her from a lot of readers who might not believe every person who wants to come to the U.S. should be let in, even if they don't subscribe to the Great Wall of America plan of the hard right.
This was decent. I'm not sure I would purchase it myself, but I was very grateful to receive the opportunity to read it from Netgalley and the publisher. I'm also glad to see an alternative view on immigration being posted by a person of color to contrast the many (and there are many) anti-immigration and/or xenophobic views that are spewing all over the internet right now. I may not agree with some of what she says, but I value her arguments and what she is trying to represent.