This is a book you'll finish with a happy sigh. There's no gritty realism or anything of particular weight here, but it's a delightful escape (and itThis is a book you'll finish with a happy sigh. There's no gritty realism or anything of particular weight here, but it's a delightful escape (and it has a great Star Wars joke...I see what you did there, Tessa). Actually, despite what I just said about a lack of weight, I found Isolde (Izzy) Goodnight's struggle really moving.
Izzy Goodnight's father was a hugely-beloved children's author with a HUGE 19th-century British fandom. He wrote fantastical tales of noble knights and beautiful maidens, and Izzy herself was the framing device: all the Goodnight Tales are told by her father to little Izzy as bedtime stories. So Izzy is fixed in everyone's minds as a little girl. No one's really prepared to deal with Izzy being a grown woman with adult needs and desires, so instead of any useful resources she gets sweetmeats and impractical pets. Plus, she doesn't look like the adorable child in the books. She's on the plain side, with unmanageable, frizzy hair. She's also completely broke, because her father never took care of the practical stuff like updating his will (everything went to an awful cousin). She feels she can't ask for help without tarnishing her father's legacy.
When she learns she's been given a castle, it seems like salvation. Unfortunately, the castle's previous owner is not as dead as he was presumed to be. The titular duke is alive and not feeling particularly accommodating, as he's coping with the loss of almost all of his vision. Worse, what he can see and sense about Izzy is powerfully attractive.
I really enjoyed these too, and all the secondary characters. At first I was worried that Dare intended to make fun of her fictional fans (who dress up in costume and take the whole business very seriously), but of course they're instrumental in saving the day. One thing I love about Tessa Dare is that she never pits her female characters against each other. Women who might have been rivals in some other book find a way to be friends. A feminist sensibility informs all Dare's work, and I love it. She plays fast and loose with 19th-century standards of propriety here, but in a comedic romp like this I can suspend disbelief. ...more
I almost gave up on this book in the first chapter or two because May, our heroine, has a bad case of TSTL (too stupid to live). I'm glad I persisted-I almost gave up on this book in the first chapter or two because May, our heroine, has a bad case of TSTL (too stupid to live). I'm glad I persisted--Ruthie Knox won me over and in the end I was 100% on May's team. Ben I loved immediately, but Knox unfolds her characters' strengths and flaws slowly and believably throughout the book. You feel like you're getting to know real people you've just met. I was curious about this author after my only other experience with her, in About Last Night. The sex was hot, and I was intrigued by her unusual characters who felt more like real 21st-century people than contemporary romance characters usually do.
So May. Sweet, innocent, terminally NICE Midwestern May. After rejecting her pro athlete boyfriend's proposal on live television, she storms out of their Manhattan apartment and immediately gets her purse stolen. For most of the book, I was mentally shouting at her to GO TO THE POLICE. No, they probably wouldn't get her purse back, but they could have helped her figure out what to do next. At the very least, they could give her access to a phone. She could have gone to the nearest public library branch to use a computer. She could have called her boyfriend's agent or publicist and told them what happened--not an appealing choice for her, but someone with more spine might have done it. Instead, she wanders into a bar. Rather than asking for the bartender's help, she decides to chat up our surly hero. WHY!?!?!?! I know, I know, to get the romance plot started.
Luckily, things improve from there. We come to see that May is hampered by a lifetime of people-pleasing and not wanting to make trouble. Ben introduces her to New York and, in the process, to the real May who has never had a chance to develop. In return, she draws him out of his angry shell. Plus, there's a lot of wonderful food porn (Ben is an out-of-work chef who knows all the best hole-in-the-wall restaurants and whips cream by hand for breakfast). Together, they feel their way towards a real relationship and their real desires. Of course, May has to figure out whether this New York fling has a future or if she'll let herself be drawn back to her old, safe Wisconsin life. There's some nice drama with side characters, including May's wilder sister who will appear in a future book. All in all, I'm on board!
Jill Shalvis came highly recommended to me as a funny author, and she is, but the book reads like greeting card line exploded all over it. Maddie, TarJill Shalvis came highly recommended to me as a funny author, and she is, but the book reads like greeting card line exploded all over it. Maddie, Tara, and Chloe are sisters, daughters of a free-spirited and mostly absentee mother who has died and left them a crumbling inn up in the Pacific northwest. And there are Cullens! But not those kind of Cullens. Mom left them a recipe box filled with little notes conveying her "wisdom"--most of which is lifted right off said greeting cards or in one case is actually the title of a Loretta LaRoche book.
Between big sister Tara's Southern Belle mannerisms and little sister Chloe's "wild child" ways, no cliche is left unturned. Maddieie is refreshingly normal by comparison. Perhaps that's what makes her so attractive to Jax, our rather too perfect hero. He's hot, he's a master carpenter who used to be a high-powered lawyer, he's the town mayor, he's kind to women and animals...I have nothing against the "average girl gets super-hot guy" trope, but Jax pushes the limit. He also comes on very strong. Our hero and heroine go from meeting to making out in the space of a few hours. I will say this for Shalvis' female characters: they embrace their sexuality. In fact, I think the best thing about the book was the women's unabashed desire for and enjoyment of sex. There's a lot of sex, and it happens at the drop of a hat.
Overall, a cute story that might be trying a tiny bit too hard to be cute. ...more
If you know a Southern belle, or like to marvel at their ways, this book will amuse you. Cassidy is pretty darn funny (bless her heart). I enjoyed reaIf you know a Southern belle, or like to marvel at their ways, this book will amuse you. Cassidy is pretty darn funny (bless her heart). I enjoyed reading about a former mean girl struggling to find redemption. Dixie was lovable, despite (and sometimes because of) her past bad behavior. Once you get past the barrage of Southern cliches, this is a moving story of people learning to let go of the past. The set-up is preposterous ripe for humor--our hero and heroine are forced to live together in their deceased best friend's mansion and compete for the right to take over his phone sex business (in a conservative Southern small town). Of course, no actual phone sex occurs in the book--heaven forbid our hero or heroine perform sex work, let alone enjoy it! Dixie totally fails at playing a dominatrix but manages to be a success dispensing advice to her callers. The possibility of men-seeking-men calling in for our hero is never explored. It will be interesting to see if Cassidy ever deals more directly with her characters' profession in a future book, since of of the Call Girls employees will be the heroine of the 3rd full-length novel.
One thing keeping me from a higher rating: the portrayal of Sanjeev, the Indian housekeeper. It's not terrible, but it's somewhat iffy. The dead best friend rescued an orphaned Sanjeev from poverty and brought him to the US as a teenager, and yet we're supposed to believe he still doesn't grasp English idioms and interprets them literally? He's an ESL speaker, not Commander Data. Surely we should be past this whole "magical foreigner"/loyal retainer thing by now. ...more
Meredith Duran, where have you been all my life? Or more properly, where have I been? I picked this up on a mention by Rose Lerner, another historicalMeredith Duran, where have you been all my life? Or more properly, where have I been? I picked this up on a mention by Rose Lerner, another historical author I recently discovered (go read her!). It's one of the most intelligent historical romances I've read.
I'll admit upfront that I love stories about the good girls, the "diamonds of the first water", the ones who successfully navigate society's tricky waters. What's going on in their heads while they smile at people they don't like and embroider handkerchiefs? Gwen Maudsley is such a heroine, although with the added complexity of her humble origins. She's had to work twice as hard to be liked, to be accepted, to be like everybody else--and it still isn't enough. After being jilted for the second time, Gwen finally has an awakening. The scene in her bedroom after she's left at the altar, where she dares to think about breaking a vase--that's when I knew this book was going to be awesome.
I was worried this was going to be a cliched "teach me about sex, you wicked rake" kind of plot, and it sort of is but mostly isn't. Gwen and Alex have known each other most of their lives, and their attraction is nicely woven in with their friendship. It's fun to watch Alex slowly realize he loves Gwen as she spreads her wings. If some of the things she does require you to suspend disbelief--when would a lady like Gwen have had a chance to learn arias from Carmen? (which is a mezzo role, not a contralto--sorry, I'm a pedant!)--they're also pretty delicious. And the sex when we finally get there is genuinely hot.
I was left with just one question--why did Gwen put in pagodas at Heaton Dale just to tear them down again? Did she just change her mind? Were the pagodas something she thought she "should" do and then tearing them down is a symbol of her independence? Maybe I'm overthinking the pagodas. :) ...more
OK, so there's no doubt that Kristan Higgins can write. People keep recommending her to me and talking about how screamingly funny she is. I asked a fOK, so there's no doubt that Kristan Higgins can write. People keep recommending her to me and talking about how screamingly funny she is. I asked a friend where to start and she suggested the Blue Heron series, of which this is book one. And she IS funny. The trouble is, I found these characters hard to like a lot of the time. There was also a hugely transphobic incident in which a transgender woman is misgendered, called a transvestite, and treated as the butt of a joke by the author. Left such a bad taste in my mouth. I love romance, and the genre's come a long way, but we have a ways to go! If anyone has recs for romances where trans people are portrayed well, please share!
As to the story itself--there's a lot to enjoy, despite the characters' tendency to snipe at each other. If you're a fan of stories where the hero and heroine trade insults right up to the moment they fall for each other, this might be up your alley. And it's mostly the secondary characters who grate. Once he stops being a dick to the heroine for no apparent reason, Levi is an appealing hero. I felt for the younger Levi and Faith. Higgins pulls no punches on the class divide in her fictional community. All their struggles--including Jeremy's, in denial about his sexuality--were believable. You can see how he might have convinced himself that what he felt for Faith was enough. There are also laugh out loud moments, and I cheered for Faith as she stood up for herself while Levi waffled about what he wanted. I just wish she'd stop calling people "hemorrhoids." Do people actually say that?
My major beef with the story is that I think Higgins doesn't quite make the case for Levi and Faith being in love. They go from mutual resentment to love too fast for me. I think we're meant to see Levi's apparent lifelong distaste for faith as some kind of denial/pigtail-pulling, but it just didn't work for me. I'm not sure whether I want to try something else by Higgins. Advice?
The death of Hilola Bigtree, star of the Bigtree family's alligator-wrestling show, leaves a gaping hole in the lives of her three children. With theirThe death of Hilola Bigtree, star of the Bigtree family's alligator-wrestling show, leaves a gaping hole in the lives of her three children. With their livelihood in jeopardy, each of the surviving Bigtrees looks for their own way out: eldest son Kiwi leaves their Florida swamp home for the mainland and a rival tourist attraction, teenage daughter Osceola disappears into a world of ghosts, and youngest child Ava sets off on a heroic quest.
We spend most of the story with Ava, seeing her adventure from her own childlike point of view. When reality reveals itself to be darker than she has supposed, we share her sense of betrayal. Funny, harrowing, full of language so beautiful you'll want to read and re-read favorite phrases, Swamplandia! is above all a story of family love--the one thing a child truly needs to survive.
Russell's stories have grown richer and more satisfying since her first collection without losing their delightful weirdness. "The New Veterans", in wRussell's stories have grown richer and more satisfying since her first collection without losing their delightful weirdness. "The New Veterans", in which a massage therapist tries to lift the weight of memories from a soldier returned from Iraq, hit me like a punch to the gut. Other stories are more fanciful but equally powerful: former US presidents are reincarnated as horses; silk factory workers in Meiji Japan undergo a macabre transformation and take revenge on their recruiter (so good!). The title story was actually the least compelling for me--short story endings are often inconclusive, but this one really left me hanging. Elsewhere, Russell leaves conclusions up to the reader to better effect, as in the chilling ending of "Proving Up". I just love Russell's way of delivering beautiful lines you want to stop and reread while still writing convincingly in all kinds of voices, especially kids and teenagers. I think she's going to be one of the greats of her generation....more
David Plotz is a very funny man. In what could be thought of as a companion piece to A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically, Plotz records his offDavid Plotz is a very funny man. In what could be thought of as a companion piece to A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically, Plotz records his off-the-cuff responses to reading the entire Hebrew Bible. Because he's a self-confessed Bible ignoramus, he has some surprising and wonderful insights (had you ever considered that Joseph's bad policy in Egypt lead directly to the enslavement of the Israelites a hundred years later? Or that Isaac never really does anything...in Plotz's words, he's the Harpo Marx of Biblical patriarchs?). Because it's a collection of observations, the book naturally lacks a certain depth and cohesiveness--but that's not really a criticism. Plotz's enthusiasm for the more narrative books is infectious; the book's energy flags a bit once it reaches the prophets and psalms. As he promises, it's perhaps the only Bible book designed for bathroom reading (a chapter here, a chapter there)....more
A tiny book drawn in an almost child-like style, Nicolas sneaks up on you. In deceptively simple vignettes, Girard explores his long journey towards dA tiny book drawn in an almost child-like style, Nicolas sneaks up on you. In deceptively simple vignettes, Girard explores his long journey towards dealing with the pain of his little brother's death and reveals the oblique manner in which many boys and men grieve. It feels more like a self-printed booklet you might have picked up in the back of the comics shop than the typical weighty "literary comic"...I guess that's the point of their "petits livres." It also feels distinctly Canadian--so many Canadian artists seem to share a talent for keen observation, as well as for conveying emotion and humor in sparse lines....more
A wonderful juxtaposition of sequential art and photojournalism. Full of well-observed insights about Afghanistan, cultural differences, and war. It'sA wonderful juxtaposition of sequential art and photojournalism. Full of well-observed insights about Afghanistan, cultural differences, and war. It's tragic that the photographer of the title, Didier Lefevre, died at the age of 50....more
This was fascinating, and perhaps the only truly accurate and scientific diet book ever written. I ding it a couple stars because of a certain lack ofThis was fascinating, and perhaps the only truly accurate and scientific diet book ever written. I ding it a couple stars because of a certain lack of style--the author is clearly a scientist trying hard to appeal to the layman--but the first half especially is a compelling look at what research actually tells us about our relationship with food. This book will also kill whatever desire you may have ever had to eat at a big chain restaurant. Would you like a nice grilled chicken breast? How about one that's been processed to the point where it's basically, as one industry person is quoted calling it, "adult baby food"? ...more
OK, so I am admittedly a crazy Eloisa James fan. To me, she can do little wrong. That said, I don't blindly love all her books. Even the excellent DesOK, so I am admittedly a crazy Eloisa James fan. To me, she can do little wrong. That said, I don't blindly love all her books. Even the excellent Desperate Duchesses series has had its uneven spots. The best thing about the series has been been the ongoing story of sophisticated Jemma and her estranged husband. I was almost disappointed that Jemma's book had arrived--I was enjoying her story too much to want it to end. But This Duchess of Mine is, I think, Eloisa James' masterpiece. I laughed out loud at it, and I was moved by it. The conversation of veiled insults between Jemma and the Marquise was perfection. The slow development of understanding between husband and wife was touching. Although James has used the plot device of a husband with a seemingly-incurable ailment before, her writing has developed to the point where she can render Jemma's anguish with utter conviction. Nobody mixes humor, historical knowledge, and modern sensibilities like James, and she's at the top of her game here....more
When I read that the hero of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie was a Victorian-era undiagnosed autistic savant, I had to check it out. I am not a fanWhen I read that the hero of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie was a Victorian-era undiagnosed autistic savant, I had to check it out. I am not a fan of the traditional "wounded" romance hero who just has massive daddy issues. I'm always looking for a hero with interesting problems, not just the problem of being a lantern-jawed asshat. Ashley has come up with the perfect conceit: sure, it's another emotionally unavailable hero, but this time he has a good excuse! He actually can't pick up on social cues, and it takes him a reasonably long time to figure out that what he's feeling is love. In the mean time, there's a nicely complex mystery, excellent side characters, and a heroine who never acts Too Dumb to Live.
My only minor complaint is that Ashley is really trying for an erotic romance, and while most of the sex is well-done and relevant to the plot, she has to squeeze in a few more scenes that are pointless and, what's worse, are described by the heroine in her journal. It veered into "Dear Playboy, you'll never believe what happened to me!" territory. If you were a respectable Victorian widow, would you write about giving head in your journal? Still, this is a very minor flaw in an almost-perfect romance. ...more
Let me just start by saying that this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good book. It is porn, pure and simple. But, so enjoyable! It totalLet me just start by saying that this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good book. It is porn, pure and simple. But, so enjoyable! It totally satisfied as a guilty pleasure, having everything I secretly love in a romance--saintly, meek heroines, tough-but-sensitive heroes, a little light B&D, and almost no conflict whatsoever. Perfection, especially for lazy vacation days! Also, Whiteside writes hot, kinky sex scenes. Lots of them! This is an "erotic romance" for sure, which means it's porn with a discreet cover. I must give the author props for having the right balance of plot and sex--I was never tempted to skip over sex scenes to get to the plot (or, as is more often the case, vice versa). Sure, the villain is an all-out, mustache twirling cliche, and there are gratuitous flashbacks and noble Chinese sidekicks, but none of this spoiled my fun. I will totally check out the rest of the series, because I do love my porn dressed up in corsets and petticoats. Somehow the combination of porn and the historical Wild West setting was irresistible. ...more
So far, so hilarious. It's actually kind of wrong to classify this as nonfiction (or, as I call it here, "truth is stranger..."), but fake almanacs stSo far, so hilarious. It's actually kind of wrong to classify this as nonfiction (or, as I call it here, "truth is stranger..."), but fake almanacs still count as nonfiction in library-world. ...more