Grace and Logan's backgrounds were melodramatic in the extreme. Mia is a plot moppet, seemingly little marked by what is portrayed as a history of extGrace and Logan's backgrounds were melodramatic in the extreme. Mia is a plot moppet, seemingly little marked by what is portrayed as a history of extreme neglect. And yet, something about Young's poorly edited, trite prose hooks me every time. I cannot explain it....more
I found Emma more difficult to relate to than her sister Sam, from For the Longest Time. While intellectually understandable, Emma's reactions to otheI found Emma more difficult to relate to than her sister Sam, from For the Longest Time. While intellectually understandable, Emma's reactions to other people and to traumatic events seemed way off. I was especially put off when Seth manages a violent, traumatic incident on duty and Emma's reaction was entirely self-centered. That said, Seth avoids being a cardboard 'vet with PTSD' character at every turn- although he too is a loner, he proves to be the more emotionally stable, generous, and self-aware member of their relationship....more
Filling the increasingly niche space that was once dominated by Nora Roberts, For the Longest Time is a straight contemporary highlighting complex famFilling the increasingly niche space that was once dominated by Nora Roberts, For the Longest Time is a straight contemporary highlighting complex family relationships and friendships. It is also a bit quirky, with a slight edge provided by protagonists with normal, disappointing failings. Sam's self-sabotage of potentially meaningful relationships and Jake's selfish passivity are real personality dynamics they must navigate to enter a relationship with each other. Even putting aside the fact that I am sucker for high school outsider protagonists, this was a great read....more
I really liked Bella and Rafe. The narrative probed gender norms with Rafe's virginity and Bella's sexual fearlessness. Bella's revenge was clever beyI really liked Bella and Rafe. The narrative probed gender norms with Rafe's virginity and Bella's sexual fearlessness. Bella's revenge was clever beyond words, given the way it exposed the fraternity's misogyny to public comment, thanks to its own members' stupidity. I did not love the way the socioeconomic gap between Bella and Rafe (and between Rafe and his previous girlfriend) was papered over, but that said I see a future for the two of them outside the hothouse of a college campus. I ended up loving this almost as much as The Understatement of the Year....more
In a Courtney Milan-esque way, Thomas takes us far off the beaten path in this quirky, wistful contemporary. Bennett is estranged from his upper-crustIn a Courtney Milan-esque way, Thomas takes us far off the beaten path in this quirky, wistful contemporary. Bennett is estranged from his upper-crust family after running away from school to join his much older lover in California, only to lose her but make millions investing in early Silicon Valley enterprises. And did I mention he's a surgeon, too? Evangeline, a nerdy material sciences professor, has never colored outside the lines, and lives in fear of losing her beloved stepmother to a bout of mental illness. The two meet cute (actually, in desperation), and soon the plot contrives to have them going about in a fake relationship, that quickly becomes painfully real.
This is not conventionally satisfying, despite the detritus of romance novel wish fulfillment. It's actually quite twisty and a little sick, reminiscent of Thomas's earlier The Luckiest Lady in London. Although I was not left with warm fuzzies, I was certainly interested and engaged until the end, both intellectually and emotionally. ...more
I wanted to like this very much. However, Joss's scary obliviousness reminded me more of stalker ex-boyfriend Bill in Crazy For You than the earnest,I wanted to like this very much. However, Joss's scary obliviousness reminded me more of stalker ex-boyfriend Bill in Crazy For You than the earnest, protective, but self-aware magic that was Dominique in The Chocolate Touch, an all-time favorite. While Florand undercut my skepticism by flagging in the narrative Joss's lack of healthy male role models (conveniently to be provided by her ever-expanding circle of chefs, perfumers, and the occasional American business magnate), I still feared for Celie. Little is as scary as a man who has to be taught to listen to no....more
The villain was quite evil, but for all of Rafe's protectiveness, the police staked Josie out at a picnic and then abandoned her as soon as the (plantThe villain was quite evil, but for all of Rafe's protectiveness, the police staked Josie out at a picnic and then abandoned her as soon as the (planted by the villain) distraction unfolded. Le sigh....more
I picked this up at a used book store and decided, "Why not?" It is mostly harmless fun, although the last 30 pages gives up a hint of Singh's later fI picked this up at a used book store and decided, "Why not?" It is mostly harmless fun, although the last 30 pages gives up a hint of Singh's later flair for melodramatic intensity....more
Nice, sweet, and saved from boring by Hank's taste for adventure and sense of humor. I think the book avoids the standard disability/rescue trope by hNice, sweet, and saved from boring by Hank's taste for adventure and sense of humor. I think the book avoids the standard disability/rescue trope by highlighting Callie's own insecurities, fear of risk, and worry that she is a second or default choice. Hank's application of his athleticism and embrace of failure as a learning aid to his disability was captured well, and reminded me somewhat of this story about gymnast Lais Souza. All in all, a solid read....more
This was not quite the book I wanted. In that book, Jeannette is the heroine, not the supportive sister, as she is far more interesting than the ratheThis was not quite the book I wanted. In that book, Jeannette is the heroine, not the supportive sister, as she is far more interesting than the rather conservative Therese. That book also concludes with our protagonists settling into Little House on the Prairie domesticity, not battling the ton for a place in London society. Those complaints aside, I love this new turn Fraser has taken with her historicals. Mixed race Creole heroines (I love Jeannette!) meet wounded British soldier left behind after the Battle of New Orleans? Where have these storylines been all my life? If only Henry turned out to be not something as stuffy as a baron. ...more
Another mid-list Mayberry read, largely because of the uneven pacing between the two halves. Leah's sterile life is a little funny, a little sad, butAnother mid-list Mayberry read, largely because of the uneven pacing between the two halves. Leah's sterile life is a little funny, a little sad, but tolerable because of her nagging self-awareness that she is too entirely square. Will is dreamy, sweet, and dignified in the face of his enormous fear. Their meet cute and subsequent relationship is compelling, and Leah's separate family drama, angsty. This entire momentum is interrupted by Will's medical procedure, and the second half of the book is shared struggle to help him rehabilitate. It's a perfectly fine storyline, but lacks the chemistry of their initial relationship. ...more
The set up was surprisingly affecting. Cam is the odd man out in the village, a prisoner of his own overly serious and proud manner but also a victimThe set up was surprisingly affecting. Cam is the odd man out in the village, a prisoner of his own overly serious and proud manner but also a victim of a small run in that left him feeling unwelcome in his new home. Rob is a bit sketchier, a widower who has settled down comfortably into village life. The sudden flowering of their relationship was a bit abrupt, but necessary given the format....more
I have long since loved O'Keefe's Harlequins, and this is one of my favorites. Every halfway decent contemporary romance should have lots of family drI have long since loved O'Keefe's Harlequins, and this is one of my favorites. Every halfway decent contemporary romance should have lots of family drama, and Jonah and Daphne's respective daddy issues delivered. The final scene when Daphne gives in, demanding kids and hotel room sex, followed by Jonah eating sandwiches with his dad, is a clinch. ...more
Like everyone else in the world, once I got over my disorientation at seeing Milan's new release was an alternating first POV new adult pastiche, I enLike everyone else in the world, once I got over my disorientation at seeing Milan's new release was an alternating first POV new adult pastiche, I enjoyed the book enormously. There's nothing in the genre quite like Milan's use of new adult sparkle to critique American inequality as it plays out on college campuses. If Tina Chen is just a tad didactic in her rants to Blake's father, I hardly cared because Tina Chen is a straight up awesome character. All romance heroines should have a lucky white sweater, pursue premed while secretly lusting after compsci, love to hate the privileged golden boy, and lose their self-composure in the midst of one of those banal and self-pretentious debates in soc class. Blake ends up as someone who really merits a relationship with the fabulous Tina, because without her, in the words of the new adult great The Year We Fell Down, "his shit would not have been shoveled." His enigmatically awful but loving father has the last word in this book for excellent reason, namely, that he is hilarious. I can't wait for the next installment....more
I gave Fading a whirl and could not get through more than a few chapters. Candace's subsequent and very real trauma aside, her narrative voice otherwiI gave Fading a whirl and could not get through more than a few chapters. Candace's subsequent and very real trauma aside, her narrative voice otherwise spoke to me of angsty white-people problems. 'Woe is me that my parents don't understand my artistic ambitions but nevertheless support me in comfort here at university.' Falling was slightly more palatable given Ryan's more mature voice, and so I managed to plow through to the end. Meh....more
Cute, sweet, but kind of fluffy and boring. Florand's signature move is big misunderstandings between sensitive, even traumatized people. Layla and MaCute, sweet, but kind of fluffy and boring. Florand's signature move is big misunderstandings between sensitive, even traumatized people. Layla and Matt are so nice and sensible they end every conversation in accord, which is played up for even more (almost but not quite too much) cloying sweetness. But there's really not much conflict, and the book literally unfolds within the space of a week. Not the strongest installment of Florand's chain of attractive French chefs and perfumers......more
All that is good and bad about old-school romances is packaged in this book. Alana's big secret is melodramatic and not quite sensible- the villain isAll that is good and bad about old-school romances is packaged in this book. Alana's big secret is melodramatic and not quite sensible- the villain is so obvious it makes one despair for Alana's good sense. Trevor is the same tired archetype of the nouveau riche achiever, arrogant and confident in his realm but riddled with insecurities when dealing with a 'lady.' Very Mr. Thornton. Despite all the tiresome bits, the angst was quite lovely, mostly when Trevor regretted his actions and their impact on Alana's life....more
It has been quite a while since I finished, but I still remember Ward's sweet and sad recounting of loss. Ward works back from the death of a friend,It has been quite a while since I finished, but I still remember Ward's sweet and sad recounting of loss. Ward works back from the death of a friend, through the death of three more friends, to recall her last summer with her brother, and his own death just shy of twenty at the hands of a drunk driver.
Ward focuses on how much she loves these black boys and men who died young, mourned by their friends and family but unnoticed and not valued by the larger community. In telling their stories she also shares of herself and her struggle to build an identity that encompasses home and the different world she was thrust into with her private school education and all that follows. While capturing all that is sweet, painful, and sincere in their lives, she also conveys the oppressive closeness of her hometown, the lack of opportunity and low expectations for something different or bigger.
The small stories are what bring the biggest pain:
"You selling again?"
"Yeah." He glanced away from the television and toward me. Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the screen. "I'm looking for a job."
"You think I like to do this shit?" he said. "I ain't like the rest of these fools out here. You know when I got a job, I work."
I was his big sister: I was worried about him. He'd dropped out in ninth grade, enrolled in and attended Job Corps for a couple of months. After he was written up for not making it to school on time and threatened with expulsion, he'd quit. Why'd you stop going to Job Corps? I'd asked him. Because when I drive to school in the morning, I got half-naked girls running out the projects and flagging my car down when they see it. He'd shrugged. What the hell am I supposed to do? He wasn't kidding. Girls he dated actually did that, and I didn't doubt him when he said it; he was that handsome. Eventually he enrolled in GED classes. He'd thought about joining the military briefly, but after watching Full Metal Jacket, he'd decided that he was not a soldier. I don't want to die like that, he'd told me when I asked him why he'd changed his mind.
I knew then, dimly, how the world was changing, how America was hemorrhaging blue-color jobs overseas, how factory jobs like the one my father had once supported a family on were becoming a rarity while only dead-end service jobs remained, and my brother was burning through those in search of something with a future.
"What you watching next?" I said, and sat on the edge of his bed. He made room for me, assessed his VHS collection.
"Want to watch Total Recall?"
He shrugged, and I saw my father in him then, in the lovely lean globes of his muscled shoulders, in the straight, clean line of his collarbone, in the dimpled seat of his neck. He'd been husky so long it was a surprise to see him before me, suddenly a muscular, square-shouldered man.
"Okay," he said.
I settled in the dark to watch the movie with him, waiting for him to say something else, but he squinted at the television, and there was a line between his brows, his black-brown eyes serious. He rubbed the bottom of his foot on the carpet, and the smell that was him, that aroma of cut hay and coconut oil and salt, settled in the room. I drew my knees into my chest, set my chin on them, and watched Arnold fight the alien predator that threatened to kill him. He was outmatched and outmuscled. He was scrappy with brawn and foolish hope.
Ward's narrative is strongest when she is immersed in this intimate world. A few stretches toward broader commentary and an awkward footnote demonstrated her sometimes unsuccessful effort to knit the personal and the political. I sometimes felt there was no need; beyond the obvious cliche, her warmth and love and caring for these men is an inherently weighty thing in our country today, a thing of value that she has shared with the world, to our gain....more
Haunting and cold and devastating. "I was gay, and bold, and wicked/And never knew I was happy" (pg. 51).
It's been over a month since I finished thisHaunting and cold and devastating. "I was gay, and bold, and wicked/And never knew I was happy" (pg. 51).
It's been over a month since I finished this collection, and what remains most strongly are the moments of intense emotion, captured and preserved in one or two line images: "And street bonfires blazing red/Like roses in snow are flowering" (p. 67). Akhmatova's life was hard, beyond my experience, and I feel it when she cries, "There is a frontier-line in human closeness/That love and passion cannot violate-...Those striving towards it are demented, and/If the line seem close enough to broach-/Stricken with sadness... Now you understand/Why my heart does not beat beneath your touch" (p. 72). Of all her poems of loss, I was wrecked by Lot's Wife:
And the just man trailed God's messenger, His huge, light shape devoured the black hill. But uneasiness shadowed his wife and spoke to her: 'It's not too late, you can look back still
At the red towers of Sodom, the place that bore you, The square in which you sang, the spinning-shed, At the empty windows of that upper storey Where children blessed your happy marriage-bed.'
Her eyes that were still turning when a bolt Of pain shot through them, were instantly blind; Her body turned into transparent salt, And her swift legs were rooted to the ground.
Who mourns one woman in a holocaust? Surely her death has no significance? Yet in my heart she never will be lost, She who gave up her life to steal one glance (p. 105)
When reading this poem I was reminded most strongly of Ghayath al-Madhoun'sThe Celebration, and his line, "put your dreams in the shed, and give the plants on the balcony plenty of water/for the discussion with iron may go on for a while." It's the loss of all small, good things, civilization, in the fighting and the flight. "Like the high power/Of purest sound, Separation, you're/Homeward-bound. Familiar buildings/Look out from death at us- And there are still things/A hundred times worse/For me to face than all/I faced, that other time... Through my crucified capital/I'm going home" (p. 127)
Lot's Woman is also a much translated poem, and it is here that I wonder if D.M. Thomas's efforts are among the best. Judith Hemschemeyer's version, missing a stanza, still flows with a rhythm lost in Thomas's version:
And the righteous man followed the envoy of God, Huge and bright, over the black mountain. But anguish spoke loudly to his wife: It is not too late, you can still gaze
At the red towers of your native Sodom, At the square where you sang, at the courtyard where you spun, At the empty windows of the tall house Where you bore children to your beloved husband. . . .
Who will weep for this woman? Isn't her death the least significant? But my heart will never forget the one Who gave her life for a single glance.
Then again, I infinitely prefer the crux of the poem in Thomas's mouth: "Who mourns one woman in a holocaust?" Ignorant of Russian, I am unable to judge beyond the effect in English.
Of course, the crowning poems of this or any Akhmatova collection are Requiem and Poem Without a Hero. They are bare and prophetic, as promised:
I should like to call you all by name, But they have lost the lists...
I have woven for them a great shroud Out of the poor words I overheard them speak.
I remember them always and everywhere, And if they shut my tormented mouth,
Through which a hundred million of my people cry, Let them remember me also...
And if ever in this country they should want To build me a monument
I consent to the honour, But only on condition that they
Erect it not on the sea-shore where I was born: My last links there were broken long ago,
Nor by the stump in the Royal Gardens, Where an inconsolable young shade is seeking me,
But here, where I stood for three hundred hours And where they never, never opened the doors for me (p. 193-4). ...more
Ty and Shelby are fascinating characters. If Shelby has been infused with just a bit of too much angst, such is life. If Ty's warmth, reliability, andTy and Shelby are fascinating characters. If Shelby has been infused with just a bit of too much angst, such is life. If Ty's warmth, reliability, and understanding is just a tad too perfect- I can deal.
I always enjoy reading about leads with real life problems- Shelby is struggling to care for her declining mother while Ty is parenting a child he did not even know about until recently. Well-written, angsty, but believable and funny- O'Keefe now writes what Susan Elizabeth Phillips use to, but even better....more
I adored Free, and quite agree with Dear Author that it was nice to see a social justice activist finally get her full due in the romance format. UnliI adored Free, and quite agree with Dear Author that it was nice to see a social justice activist finally get her full due in the romance format. Unlike Dear Author, I had and have no problem with Milan's very deliberate use of modern social justice problems in her historicals- identity, autonomy, sexuality, social status, class, and voice were all issues struggled with at the time, as they are today. Our inclination to think that constant forward progress has brought us to this enlightened day blinds us to the reality that we are not the first (nor will we be the last) to try and construct authentic lives in the face of these social barriers.
That said, the romance pancaked on an unbelievable hero. Angst, angst, blah, blah. Now, Leighton of My Beautiful Enemy, there was an angsty hero. Edward? Not so much, although interesting to see that shout out to the admittedly bloody Franco-Prussian war....more
I increasingly feel Thomas is constrained by the artificiality of publishing a historical romance novel. The Hidden Blade, a supposed prequel, was a bI increasingly feel Thomas is constrained by the artificiality of publishing a historical romance novel. The Hidden Blade, a supposed prequel, was a better book by far, rich with small details that brought the interior life of its two protagonists to the fore. In comparison, My Beautiful Enemy is telegraphic, jumping from plot point to action scene in order to bring all elements to a resolution.
I adore Thomas's choice to meaningfully set the book in Ch'ing China, and the fact that while her leads may be British at least in part they have the will and desire to move through the world entire to find a place that suits them both.
However, this story had the potential to be a sweeping epic, big, meaty, sad, and sweet. Instead, by cramming the second half of the story into the slight page count and format of a historical romance, Thomas lost the richness that defined the first chapter. Key moments were compressed, leaving me somewhat dissatisfied. I wanted much more of everything, and cannot help but wonder if Thomas would be better off self-publishing a la Courtney Milan.
I forgot how sincerely moving this book is. Rachel's regret in the face of her son's anger and Devin's still-self-centered but increasingly heartfeltI forgot how sincerely moving this book is. Rachel's regret in the face of her son's anger and Devin's still-self-centered but increasingly heartfelt efforts were surprisingly wrenching....more
Rich, evocative, and angsty, this book reaffirmed my love for Thomas's writing. Ying-ying, raised as the pampered daughter of a powerful prince's courRich, evocative, and angsty, this book reaffirmed my love for Thomas's writing. Ying-ying, raised as the pampered daughter of a powerful prince's courtesan, learns at once a series of martial arts from a washed up gambling addict as well as her own vulnerability and isolation due to her gender, birth, and half-racial identify. On the other side of the world, Leighton learns of the secrets lurking beneath his idyllic, privileged childhood. Too good to be true, as a child he sacrifices repeatedly to help the (somewhat hapless, if loving and kind) adults of his remaining family.
This full-length book reads as story in its own right, not as the set up of two characters who meet only once before the end. I'm so happy I read it, and do look forward to My Beautiful Enemy....more
Finally, a nice, compelling, well-written, non-foolish historical. How I've missed thee. Nev and Penelope have the virtue of behaving as the young, naFinally, a nice, compelling, well-written, non-foolish historical. How I've missed thee. Nev and Penelope have the virtue of behaving as the young, naive teenagers that they are without ever seeming cartoonish. The tension over conditions on the home farm was also interesting, a smidge of North and South livening the plot. ...more
So maybe I really liked the movie 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but the proximate cause of my reading these stories is the doomed affair in Clouds of WiSo maybe I really liked the movie 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but the proximate cause of my reading these stories is the doomed affair in Clouds of Witness between the murder victim and a mysterious Viennese mistress. The high drama, rigid social rules, and hopelessly destructive passion always struck a certain chord and I wanted more...
'Letter from an Unknown Woman' is claustrophobic and laden with risible angst. I am glad I did not stop there, however, as the opening of 'A Story Told in Twilight' is gorgeous and the quiet dignity of the matron in 'The Debt Paid Late' is an excellent rebuke of the pointless tragedy of the unknown woman. All of the stories focus on obsessive first love, embraced in three cases and absent in the fourth. What is now mocked and trivialized (weeping hysterical girls thrusting arms out to the Beatles, Bieber, whomever) is given a rich inner life, heavy with opportunity and danger that is incarnated in two cases by a sexually potent older male artist.
The translation is well done, with simple, clear, and intimate prose:
My husband was greatly surprised to see me back from my holiday so soon, and even more surprised to find how happy and reinvigorated those two days away had left me. He described it as a miracle cure. But I see nothing miraculous about it. Nothing makes one as healthy as happiness, and there is no greater happiness than making someone else happy.
Has rain been sweeping over the city again in the wind? Is that what suddenly makes it so dim in our room? No. The air is silvery clear and still, as it seldom is on these summer days, but it is getting late, and we didn't notice. Only the dormer windows opposite still smile with a faint glow, and the sky above the roof ridge is veiled by golden mist. In an hour's time it will be night. That will be a wonderful hour, for there is no lovelier sight than the slow fading of sunset colour into shadow, to be followed by darkness rising from the ground below, until finally its black tide engulfs the walls, carrying us away into its obscurity. If we sit opposite one another, looking at each other without a word, it will seem, at that hour, as if our familiar faces in the shadows were older and stranger and farther away, as if we had never known them like that, and each of use was now seeing the other across a wide space and over many years. But you say you don't want silence now, because in silence one hears, apprehensively, the clock breaking time into a hundred tiny splinters, and our breathing will sound as loud as the breathing of a sick man. You want me to tell you a story. Willingly. But not about me, for our life in these big cities is short of experience, or so it seems to us, because we do not yet know what is really our own in them. However, I will tell you a story fit for this hour that really loves only silence, and I would wish it to have something about it of the warm, soft, flowing twilight now hovering mistily outside our window.
Maia is a great vehicle for this story- he reacts exactly how I would expect from someone with no immediately obvious skills but keen self-awareness, compassion, and fairness. His callow, self-indulgent moments are balanced by his wonderful wit and ability to laugh at the emperor with no clothes. I also loved that he has no special gifts, no magical destiny, and is as vulnerable as a kitten with only his relationships with others keeping him afloat.
For Maia's sarcastic, perceptive headspace alone this book would be worth price of admission. It's all the better for tight plotting, well-done swirls of political intrigue, a strong cast of secondary characters, and its themes of inheritance, tradition, difference, and self-determination. Fabulous....more
I waffle on this one- I like it well enough to re-read on occasion, and the closeted first husband is an interesting (if fraught) theme in a minor keyI waffle on this one- I like it well enough to re-read on occasion, and the closeted first husband is an interesting (if fraught) theme in a minor key on the philandering straight first husband, but there is not much novel or particularly well-crafted here to truly hold my attention....more
If not quite what I wanted it to be (where is the Joanna Bourne of early 20th century historical romance) I was hungry enough for this setting to be pIf not quite what I wanted it to be (where is the Joanna Bourne of early 20th century historical romance) I was hungry enough for this setting to be pleasantly surprised by a better-than-mediocre book. Testament of Youth this is not, with even young soldiers thought lost on the front making it through the war intact, but Robson does a decent job of conveying the hopeless mess of life near the front. There are not nearly enough military medical protagonists in circulation (just think of how excellent The Wedding Journey is!) either....more
A nice story of a father getting to know his daughter after many years apart, with a low key romance thrown in. A definite improvement over Carolina GA nice story of a father getting to know his daughter after many years apart, with a low key romance thrown in. A definite improvement over Carolina Girl, much more in the Nora Roberts style that I liked so much in the first installment....more