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REVIEW:  For Your Eyes Only by Sandra Antonelli

REVIEW: For Your Eyes Only by Sandra Antonelli

Blurb

By day, Willa is a mild-mannered scientist; by night, she’s on the trail of stolen classified documents. Technically that makes Detective John Tilbrook on her side, but Willa has secrets she can’t share…

John is instantly fascinated by the new physicist on the block, even though Willa keeps her distance. A fan of coincidence and happy endings, John has plans for the secretive scientist with the wicked sense of humour.

But Willa has more than her heart on the line — her best friend is at the top of the suspect list for espionage, she’s having trouble leading her double life, and somehow her hair just turned purple. As days speed past, Willa’s life unravels as she struggles to come to terms with her unexpected feelings for a man she just met. John’s a big fan of happily-ever-afters, but will he believe in love and happiness when Willa divulges the real reason she’s in town? Will he break the law he’s sworn to uphold — for love?

Dear Ms. Antonelli,

I’m afraid this is going to come off a bit like “Jekyll and Hyde” review a book. There are parts of this book I really like and some that seemed aimless to me at the time even though they eventually all tie together. The destination was worth the trip but the ride sometimes got boring.

for-your-eyes-onlyAs with “Renovation,” I am delighted with the ages of these main characters. John immediately notices the fine age lines at the corners of Willa’s eyes and likes them. She’s got character and the wisdom of maturity and he’s the same way. They speak and make references that I grew up with – ABBA song lyrics, and 80s pop tunes – and they both think, as I do, that 8 year olds shouldn’t cake on eye liner and sing about their ass in their jeans. If that makes them – and me – sound like the “next stop is liver spots, incontinence, and dentures” so be it. I know these characters. They are me and I love reading about them as the hero and heroine and not as cute oldsters.

Another thing I immediately picked up on and wish there had been more of is Willa’s synesthesia. I first read about this years ago in an article in Smithsonian magazine and was enthralled. I wanted this too. To hear sound/voices in colors, for my letters and numbers to have color and feeling, to experience the world in such an unusual and fascinating way. The only other romance character I recall with it was in an old book called “Enchant Me Not” by Michele Hauf. So kudos to you for including this and for having it help Willa in her investigation. I just wish a bit more of how she sees life on a daily basis had found its way into the story.

Willa is a strong woman. She can change her own tires – well except for one stubborn lug nut – and if she needs help, she’ll ask for it, thank you. She’s a physicist too! An honest to God, works at Los Alamos, brainiac PhD. I wanted to stand up and cheer about the fact that she doesn’t turn stupid to get a man nor give up life goals. Part of this is that she’s past the age of having children and her idea of marriage and settling down is from the viewpoint of a woman approaching 50 but still, she’s smart and stays that way.

John is the starry eyed romantic of the two, the one who thinks in terms of “meet cute” and romcoms. He’s also almost endlessly understanding when Will tells him she doesn’t have the time for a relationship. John is a man of patience who knows who he wants – Willa – and is willing to put the time into getting her. I did worry at the end when he (finally) blows a gasket and wonder if all your heroes will end up doing this. But then it becomes clear – and you have laid the ground work for this – why he should be allowed to and that what he tells Willa doesn’t mean he doesn’t still love her. As John says, these are extraordinary circumstances, ones involving the FBI, classified documents and national security. In other words, not your every day conflict. Willa does tell him some stuff about what she’s doing but not everything. I can admire that as does John once he’s learned about it.

But as I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but feel that it’s told in vignettes which might be fun to read but which often appeared random and unconnected. I’d finish a section and think, “why is that here?” Why should I care about Willa’s contentious relationship with her step-daughter, the murder investigation John’s working on, Willa’s widowhood, or the fact that several men are falling in love with Willa? Eventually it did all make sense but I think readers need to know to stick with this story.

This book also has a lot more extra-romantical stuff than did “Renovation.” The investigation is a major part instead of mere background “white noise.” Willa and John spend a lot of time “on paper” apart because of it. It also comes complete with an alphabet soup of FBI agents. The stakes here make me glad I don’t deal with this level of classified stuff. Thank you for managing to keep it straight and fairly easy to understand even if I have no clue what Willa and her colleagues actually work on when they’re doing their physicist stuff.

My feelings about how to grade the book shifted as I neared the end. I loved that John brings Willa “back to life” and gets her to laugh again. I love that Willa inspires John to be the romantic hero it seems he’s always wanted to be and shows that nice guys can finish first. The resolution of the document leaks actually seems more realistic to me than a bunch of Black Ops crap. The angst and pain that they both go through on the way to a HEA – which I agree is better than a happy ending – feels like two mature people who have lived and lost and are delighted (and a little scared) to find love again. I just wish so much of the body of the book hadn’t seemed so random while I was reading it. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

REVIEW: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

 

“Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? Open her heart to someone?

Or will she just go on living inside somebody else’s fiction?”

Dear Ms. Rowell,

Your books have the ability to take me back to certain times in my life. From the weirdness of Y2K, to the social acceptance issues of high school, to the jumble of conflicting emotions that signal the new world of college, I remember it and feel that you’ve captured the essence. I love that you set your books in Nebraska. So often it’s Texas, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado that get all the Midwestern US state love so “Go Nebraska!”

 Fangirl by Rainbow RowellCath not only has to deal with being a freshman at college, she also has to come to terms with her twin sister’s desire for independence from their twindom. I think you’ve nailed that awkward lurch towards independence that is freshman year. Excitement crossed with a little uncertainty and some bad decisions.

Cath and Co aren’t perfect. When she continues to argue her point about submitting her fanfic story for an original writing assignment with her professor, I wanted to pip up from the back of the office and say, “Don’t keep digging the hole any deeper.” and “No, you can’t submit true fanfic as an original work.” When Levi reminds Cath that she’s lucky her professor is giving her a second chance and Cath still shows a hint of sulk, I wanted to say, “this doesn’t happen in the real world after graduation.” Unfortunately, Wren’s battles with alcohol play out on college campuses each year. But then the sisters are still 18 and learning.

As for the actual reams of Simon Snow fanfic included in the story, it does show that Cath is a good author. Plus she reads it aloud to Levi it does serve as a kind of initial bonding experience between them but I did get tired of it. I wanted more of the real world and less of the “Simon Snow” world – more Cath, Wren, Levi and Cath’s wonderful roommate Reagan and less fanfic.

Is Levi too perfect? Yes, Levi is almost too perfect. He’s the perfect starter boyfriend who might in the future merge into the perfect keeper boyfriend and maybe more. He’s cute in his own receding hairline way, he doesn’t push Cath too far or too fast, he has the patience of Job for Cath’s fumbling foray into dating, he’s supportive of Cath’s fanfic writing and the time she and Wren need to reestablish their relationship. He’s funny, he’s well mannered and an all around decent guy. I love that he is all this but one or two faults beyond occasionally filching Cath’s power bars would have made him a touch more real.

Cath and Wren’s relationship with their father and mother served as the opening basis for the girls’ deepening involvement into the Simon Snow fandom. When their mother left and their father would get into his manic moods, they could control something in their lives by controlling the fanfic. Cath’s writing gets polished and honed from her time in the world – much like that of some now famous authors. She just has to gather her courage and confidence built over her two semesters at UNL and step off the Snow cliff into her own fiction. I doubt that the 1st semester Cath could have done it but after watching her grow and change, I can see that by the end of the book, she’s ready to try her wings.

The ending feels confident for these characters and open ended. Cath and Wren have survived their freshman year, found people they care for and about, the Simon Snow fanfic has been wrapped up, Cath has taken baby steps towards finding her own way in her own fiction and feels secure about her feelings towards her mother. At one point, after he’s started to try and convince Cath to date him, Levi asks her, “Are you rooting for me to win?” Well, I was rooting for all of them. B

~Jayne

 

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