Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Reading List by Jennie for January and February

I also read and reviewed VilletteThrown for a CurveThe Countess Conspiracy and Freeing during these months.

dance with dragonsA Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

This is the fifth and, for now, the last book in the A Song of Ice and Fire (otherwise known as Game of Thrones) series. It’s also long. Really, really long. I’ve been reading it since the first of the year and have just now reached the 50% mark. I guess on the plus side there will be less of a lapse between this book and The Winds of Winter for me, which is definitely a good thing; I have enough trouble keeping characters straight as it is, without a five-year wait between books. Anyway, I’m enjoying seeing some of the perspectives missing from book four, A Feast for Crows (books four and five were originally one book, split when it became too unwieldy). It’s especially nice to see Daenerys again. Though things are going so bad for Dany, it’s almost hard to read about. Who knew being the Mother of Dragons would be such a drag? Anyway, someday I’ll finish this and then be as caught up as I can be with doings in Westeros and such (the main advantage of which is that I can’t be inadvertently spoiled).

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six womenSix Women of Salem by Marilynne K. Roach

I heard about this book earlier this year (I believe the author was on The Daily Show) and was intrigued. I’ve long had a bit of a fascination with the Salem Witch Trials, dating back to reading The Crucible in middle school. This book focuses on six women central to the witch trials: the slave Tituba, both accused and accuser, the tragic accused, elderly Rebecca Nurse, accusers Ann Putnam and Mary Warren (Putnam especially doesn’t come off sympathetically at all) and accused Bridget Bishop and Mary English. I thought this was smart as these women really represented a cross-section of Salem society. I was a little hesitant about the author’s conceit of interjecting italicized passages in which she imagines the women’s thoughts and speaks from their points of view, but ultimately the device is used judiciously and sparingly, and it didn’t feel like Roach went too far in her speculation. I gave this book a B+.

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sweetSweet by Erin McCarthy

Reviewed here. I really liked True, the first book in the series, even though it’s an over the top mish-mash of new adult/romance cliches (okay, perhaps BECAUSE it’s an OTT mish-mash of NA/romance cliches, but well done). I was intrigued by the pairing of Jessica and Riley; I’m not sure why I waited to buy and read this one. It turned out to be slightly less intense than the first book; Riley is less of a bad boy than Tyler, and Jessica, predictably, is not as much of a bad girl as previously advertised. I wish McCarthy had let her be; I was particularly irritated that despite Jessica’s party girl rep and Riley’s habitual monkishness, we just had to have a scene in which it’s made clear that he’s had more sexual partners than her. Because heaven forbid it be the other way around. Sigh. Also, the rather superficial depiction of the poverty of Riley’s family was a little distasteful. Still, this was entertaining enough to earn a B from me.

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believeBelieve by Erin McCarthy

I think it was actually the review here that made me get around to buying and reading Sweet, and I liked that book enough to buy Believe after I finished it, in spite of the issues that the review outlines. I feel like this series has gotten increasingly married to traditional gender depictions in a way that doesn’t really thrill me. The romance between Robin and Phoenix is actually rather sweet and low-conflict. But putting aside the question of whether Robin’s sexual encounter with Nathan was or was not rape (it certainly reads like it, but since she doesn’t believe it is, I’m hesitant to call it that), the way she “reforms” after it occurs has a fair helping of (subtle and not-so-subtle) slut shaming. I mean, if a person wants to start dressing differently and wearing less makeup, well, that’s a personal choice. It’s not a reflection on her worth as a person or how “real” she’s being. I think McCarthy’s pulled back a bit on the realistic depiction of college culture, with its hookups, drinking and drugging.  Robin’s whole drinking drama was a bit uneven and preachy;  her decision to stop drinking after the incident was understandable, but I never got the sense that she was actually an alcoholic until late in the book, when things turn abruptly after-school-specialish. Anyway, I gave this a B-. I will likely read the next book, if only to see some deeper resolution between Robin and Kylie.

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Nicole Camden Nekkid TruthThe Nekkid Truth by Nicole Camden

I got this from the Daily Deals based on the strong recommendation; plus, the price was unbeatable. It’s reviewed here. I ended up finding it a little strange. The heroine’s disability wasn’t well-explained (or at least not to my satisfaction), and I couldn’t help but wonder why the people who knew her didn’t identify themselves immediately upon greeting her, which is what I’d do if I ever encountered someone with that condition. (And if, heaven forbid, I ever suffered from such a condition, I’d immediately instruct/nag/beg everyone I knew to do the same with me.) The romance was hot, but suffered a little for me from having so much backstory that we only got in dribs and drabs. I did like the characters, and the writing, though rough in spots, worked well for me. I’d try this author again. My grade was B.

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Zelda: A Biography by Nancy MilfordZelda: A Biography by Nancy Milford

Continuing (sort of) my habit of reading about writers whose works I haven’t even read (I’m embarrassed; I’ve never made it through The Great Gatsby, though I do intend to someday!), I picked up this biography of Zelda Fitzgerald (though it really covers Scott and Zelda almost equally). What can I say about it? It was depressing. It’s depressing to read about alcoholics and the mentally ill. And then they die young. (Side note: Is this like complaining that the food at the restaurant was terrible, and the portions were skimpy?) Anyway, I guess I was hoping for a little more Jazz Age glamor, and we do get some of that, but the monsters are always lurking underneath the surface. The author is fairly even-handed in presenting both “sides”, if you’re inclined to take a side in Scott v. Zelda. He definitely used a lot of their lives in his writing, and so in a sense used her, while being terribly jealous and controlling about her own writing efforts. On the other hand, he was more patient than one would expect a self-absorbed genius to be of the vagaries of her illness. Her obsessive mid-life attempt to be a ballerina just about drove ME crazy, and I was just reading about it. This was a B.

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

7 Comments

  1. Janine
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 14:51:22

    I’m scared of the George R. R. Martin series.

    I have The Nekkid Truth TBR, so I’m glad you liked it, though you’re right, it seems odd that people who know the heroine and are aware of her disability wouldn’t immediately identify themselves.

    Zelda looks interesting. When did you try The Great Gatsby? Recently or in high school? The gorgeous prose was wasted on me as a high school student, but in my thirties I came to love the book. There’s plenty of Jazz Age glamor in it, though also a lot of alienating privilege, which is the point.

    I’ve also heard good things about Flapper by Joshua Zeitz, though I haven’t read it; it seems like something you might enjoy if this time period interests you.

  2. Jia
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 15:06:40

    If you read the next book in McCarthy’s NA series, do tell me if the issue between Kylie and Robin is resolved. I didn’t like how sexual assault was portrayed in Believe, so I don’t really have faith that it’ll be handled well.

  3. pooks
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 15:35:13

    Have you read The Paris Wife? I really enjoyed it, and the Hemingway scholar I know says it has gotten good reports in Hemingway circles. Like you, I read it even though I’ve never read Hemingway.

    I reread The Great Gatsby this summer–or rather, listened to it as an audiobook. It’s true that it has beautiful prose, and when I first read it years ago and then listened to it I was very aware of that. But it’s not a story that sticks with me. It’s not one of my personal classics, for sure.

  4. Jennie
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 23:17:06

    @Janine: I have never really read more than a few pages of The Great Gatsby, honestly. I think the last time was years ago. Maybe it suffers from being a story I know too well through other mediums (like Pride and Prejudice). I do want to really read it at some point. I may check out Flappers; thanks.

  5. Jennie
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 23:46:31

    @Jia: Yeah, I don’t know, but I’m curious to see the resolution. It’s really hard to know what happened between Nathan and Robin, but it certainly doesn’t look good. For it NOT to be rape, you’d have to accept that she looked much more sober than she was (which I think apparently wasn’t the case from some of the accounts of the night?) or that Nathan was just as drunk (which seems logistically unlikely, and anyway as I’ve heard it described, just means that they raped each other. Though I have mixed feelings on that concept).

    Actually, re scenario #1, I’m not sure if it’s technically rape (as opposed to “rape-rape”, eyeroll) anyway. Even if Nathan didn’t know Robin was too drunk to consent, does it count as rape? I’m confusing myself here.

  6. Jennie
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 23:52:46

    @pooks: Thanks for the rec; I’ve heard good things about “The Paris Wife.”

  7. oceanjasper
    Apr 19, 2014 @ 06:15:24

    @Jennie: Jennie, you may be right about the plot familiarity thing. I was so lucky that I had to read both The Great Gatsby AND Pride and Prejudice when I was in Yr 11 (ie a high school junior) and I knew nothing about either of them (this was prior to the 1995 P&P mini-series).

    I remember in each case having no idea what was going to happen next (the publishers clearly felt that such classics required no plot details on the back cover) and being utterly delighted by their twists and turns. I’ve read both books many times since as part of teaching them to high school English students, and on subsequent readings I could appreciate the language and the narrative structure. But that first time I was enthralled by the story, which is something that can’t happen when you’ve seen several screen adaptations that then get in the way of the reading experience.

    Apparently Baz Luhrmann has never read Gatsby either. Now THAT I do find mind-boggling….

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