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Reading List by Sunita for September

Reading List by Sunita for September

While perusing Netgalley as well as recommendations from trusted sources, I discovered that a few of the books I was interested in were the second, third, or even later installments of a series. Then my list got longer when Carina Press put a slew of their mystery series’ first volumes on sale at $ .99. Being someone who likes to read in order, I went back to the beginning, and I had a great time.

 

Cornick Lady and LairdThe Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick

I reviewed and recommended one of Cornick’s other historical romances at the beginning of the year, and I finally got around to the first in her newest series. I’m mostly not reading Historical Romance for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere, but Cornick often works for me, especially her early 19thC-set books. This series revolves around the MacMorlan sisters, with the first installment featuring a marriage of convenience story. Lady Lucy MacMorlan finds herself blackmailed into marriage by Robert, Marquis of Methven, who needs a wife and an heir within a short period of time if he is to keep his inheritance intact. Both Lucy and Robert are scarred by tragedies in their past, and despite their long-ago attraction to each other, neither wants to marry. But marry they do, and the second half of the story has them learning to trust each other enough to love, facing the fears born of their pasts, and vanquishing a villain. Cornick does a terrific job of bringing to life a Scotland we see all too infrequently in Historical Romance: don’t be fooled by the tartan on the cover, this isn’t Ochlassieland, it’s Scotland. I liked both Lucy and Methven, although both do a couple of things that seem plot-driven and out of character with their otherwise intelligent portrayals, and the misunderstanding that stretches out the last third of the story is briefer and more organic than in the last book. Grade: B

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Claverton Binary WitnessBinary Witness by Rosie Claverton

I saw a cover on Netgalley that really grabbed my interest, but when I read the blurb I realized it was the second in a series. Mulling it over, I checked out the first book and discovered it was only $ .99. I downloaded it, started reading, and was hooked. Amy Lane is a computer whiz who helps the Cardiff, Wales police force in their investigations. She is agoraphobic, so her sister arranges for her to have a cleaning service. Jason Carr shows up to clean her house, she reluctantly lets him in and a tentative friendship begins. Jason is an ex-con who needs a job and Amy needs both a clean apartment and a leg man. When women start disappearing, Amy and Jason combine forces to investigate, using Amy’s computer skills and Jason’s knowledge of Cardiff. The style is occasionally bumpy; it reads like a debut novel. I’m not a big fan of serial killer or women-in-jeopardy plots and this one took a long time to unspool. But I liked Amy and Jason so much I didn’t care. There is no romance between them, but it doesn’t seem out of the question for the future, so I hold out hope! Claverton is a hospital psychiatrist and both the Cardiff setting and Amy’s condition seemed very well done to me. I’m really looking forward to the next book, Code Runner. Grade: B-

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Murder-by-the-Seaside lindseyMurder by the Seaside by Julie Anne Lindsey

This is another first in a series from Carina, also $ .99, and it is most definitely a cozy mystery. Patience Price is a Human Resources professional who has been laid off from her job at the FBI. She comes home to Chincoteague Island, where her hippie parents still live, to set up a psychology practice. Her arrival coincides with a murder and her high-school flame is the most obvious suspect. Despite still being furious with him for the way he left town after graduation, Patience agrees to help find out what happened. This puts her in constant danger but it also integrates her back into the town. The writing is smooth and assured, and Patience has a very enjoyable voice. There are not one but two romantic possibilities, each different from the other, and Patience’s parents and friends, as well as the townspeople, are sketched deftly and with humor. This is not a city-awful, small-town-wonderful book; Patience goes back because she’s broke, and there are both good and bad people to deal with. I don’t know that I could read a ton of these types of light cozy mysteries in a row; there an awful lot of eccentric people and crazy events. But I enjoyed this one and have already added the next installment to my TBR. Grade: B-

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Wells Presumed DeadPresumed Dead by Shirley Wells

This is the third of my Carina $ .99 specials for the month (just call me Pavlov’s dog). This was written back in 2010 and is the first of the Dylan Scott mystery series. Scott is a policeman who lost his job for using excessive force on a suspect and went to prison for it. His wife has thrown him out of the house and seems ready to make it permanent, his mother has moved into his tiny new flat, but at least his son still loves him and he suddenly has a job offer to find out what happened to a woman who went missing thirteen years ago. I found Dylan really annoying in the first few pages, as he mentally insulted women drivers and talked about his wife as if she were a stereotype rather than a person he knew intimately and loved. I almost didn’t keep going, but I liked Wells’s voice, and Dylan improved immensely. He’s a bit of a clueless type when it comes to women, but he respects them more than I initially thought. The mystery itself is interesting and the missing woman comes to life as a sympathetic person over the course of the book. Dylan’s impromptu partnership with a retired policeman was enjoyable, and I especially liked his relationship with his son (despite their love of Arsenal). Both Dylan’s mother and wife are revealed (to the reader and to Dylan) to be complex and layered by the end, and the door is open for a reconciliation. The Lancashire setting was well depicted, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series. Grade: B-

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The Year We Fell Down (The Ivy Years #1) by Sarina Bowen The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen

I bought this book because I couldn’t resist Jane’s money-back guarantee, especially given how many of my other DA and Twitter buddies had raved about it. I thought that if any NA book could work for me, this one would. And to some extent it did. I can see what readers have loved about it so much. Corey and Hartley are completely appealing, and Corey’s matter-of-fact approach to her disability is a refreshing change from genre fiction’s standard treatment of such issues. I agree that for someone who was injured so recently and whose life was turned upside down, her equanimity seems a bit overdone, but I’d rather have that than the angst-fests and appropriation I more often see. The depiction of the unnamed Ivy League institution is very well done, as is the general feel and rhythm of college life. I’m glad I read the book, but I’m not going on to the next in the series. One reason is that I grew tired of the narrator’s voice even though I didn’t get tired of her, if that makes sense. There is an artlessness to the writing that made it almost monotonous to read. I rarely find myself wishing for more complex prose in genre fiction, but here I did. The second reason is not about the book, it’s about me. As a college professor, it feels voyeuristic to read about the personal lives of students who are all too similar to the ones I see every day, and I can’t get them fully out of my head when I should be immersed in the story. That said, it feels like a very good example of the genre. Grade: B

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REVIEW:  Live For Me (Blurred Lines, Book 2) by Erin McCarthy

REVIEW: Live For Me (Blurred Lines, Book 2) by Erin...

live for meDear Ms. McCarthy,

I managed to make it all the way through the first book in the series without realizing that it was based on Wuthering Heights, even though the hero and heroine were named Heath and Cat. In my defense, it was definitely a loose interpretation. The parallels between Live for Me and its inspiration, Jane Eyre, were a lot clearer, which ended up being both a strength and a weakness in the book.

Tiffany Ennis is only 18, but she’s lived a pretty tough eighteen years. Her father was never in her life, her mother was a drug addict who died when she was young, and she was in and out of foster homes until her grandmother took her in as an adolescent. That was hardly a refuge, though, since Tiffany’s grandmother was both verbally and physically abusive and mostly seemed to want her granddaughter around as an unpaid servant. One day during an argument her grandmother throws Tiffany out for good, which ends up being something of a godsend.

Tiffany is able to stay with friends (the couple from the first book) while looking for employment, and is lucky enough to quickly land an extremely cushy job as the caretaker of a mansion owned by a music producer from New York. She figures she will have solitude on the remote estate in Maine (near the desolate island where she grew up, Vinalhaven), since the owner is rarely there. She can save her salary up for school, where she hopes to get a nursing degree.

Tiffany’s solitude is interrupted on her very first night alone in the house, though, when the master of the house appears. Devin Gold turns out not to be the old man Tiffany had assumed he would be – instead he is 30, ridiculously handsome and something of a savant in the high-powered music world in New York. His unexpected arrival (along with his dog, Amelia, who immediately takes a shine to Tiffany) upsets Tiffany’s equilibrium; she finds herself unexpectedly attracted to him and unsure and awkward about it (understandable, since he’s her boss, much older and in every way has far more power than she does).

I’m sure there are readers who will stop right now and decide that this is not the book for them – readers who don’t like big age difference and/or power differential between the h/h in their romances (such readers are pretty common in my experience). Some of those same readers probably disliked Jane Eyre for similar reasons. But what made the situation a lot less icky (to use the technical term) for me, in both cases, was the heroine. In both Jane and Tiffany we’re given a heroine with a very strong sense of self, one that can’t be cowed or manipulated even by an older and more powerful hero. That’s not to say there aren’t crunchy moments, though.

In Live for Me, it also helps that Devin does try to keep his distance from Tiffany, and is clearly troubled by the age difference. This contributes to my confidence that Devin was attracted to Tiffany in spite of, rather than because of, her youth. There is some contrasting of Tiffany’s unspoiled innocence in relation to Devin’s jaded and corrupt NY friends, but that dynamic seemed to have little to do with her age and it’s one that I see in a lot of romances, anyway (too many, IMO; I understand the appeal of the trope but it’s not a favorite of mine, especially as I’ve matured).

Still, as I said, there were some squicky moments; it doesn’t help that Tiffany is very small in stature (as was Jane in JE, but I don’t remember getting the sense that she looked like she was 14, as I do here) and that at one point another character mistakes Tiffany for Devin’s daughter. The issue sort of faded into the background for me as the story went on and the characters (especially Tiffany) became more fleshed out in other ways, but I could definitely see it bothering other readers. I really could’ve done without the hero’s music industry nickname “Gold Daddy” and the way it’s used in an inane and distasteful conversation that Tiffany overhears between Devin and one of his bimbos.

In spite of all of that, there was a point probably halfway through the story where I was really riveted – I had that “don’t want to put the book down” feeling that is really unusual for me. (Is it weird that even as an avid reader I don’t usually have trouble putting a book down? I feel like it is. But I digress…) I don’t know that I can even clearly articulate *why* I was so absorbed, but I think it probably had a lot more to do with Tiffany than with Devin. Sure, part of it is that she is the narrator and the reader is privy to her thoughts; it’s natural under those circumstances to identify with her more. But Devin himself is just not *that* interesting, I don’t think (or to put it a different way, the reader isn’t given enough insight into what is interesting about him). He seems to have had a fairly happy childhood, followed by a super-successful career (one that doesn’t always make him happy, but that’s not so tragic) and an unhappy marriage. The marriage though, in contrast to Rochester’s in Jane Eyre, wasn’t the result of family pressure or trickery (I mean, his ex was definitely manipulative but the marriage itself mostly seemed to be the result of youthful foolishness on his part). There just doesn’t seem to be that much reason for Devin to be the brooding anti-hero who exiles himself in torment on his remote estate. (To be fair, this portrayal of him was rather fitful, so maybe it’s unfair for me to hang it on him, but OTOH, the inconsistency in characterization was its own problem.)

The story started to fall apart for me in the last third or quarter, mostly due, I think, to the characters acting in ways that didn’t really make sense but corresponded, roughly, to the plot of the Bronte novel. First Devin is senselessly and extravagantly cruel to Tiffany for no real reason, except I guess to drive her away by showing her the “real” him.Then she finds out something about him that throws her for a loop, and flees. This is clearly meant to correspond with Jane fleeing Rochester after finding out about his mad wife in the attic in Jane Eyre, but the parallel doesn’t work on several levels: first of all, the revelation, while upsetting, is not nearly on a par with the one in JE and 2) she doesn’t flee right away, but rather dithers around some, allowing herself to be taken to Devin’s apartment in New York before deciding she just can’t handle his world and its complications. Which makes her seem flighty and reinforces for me that she’s a goddamned teenager who doesn’t have any business being involved in such a serious relationship with a much older and more worldly man. Which was a fact I’d successfully avoided for a good part of the book; I resented being reminded of it.

As an aside, one (minor-ish) point – Tiffany alludes on several occasions to being biracial. I would have liked to have seen this further explored – as it was we never even find out what ethnicity her father is. I thought that was a little strange; it would seem to me that growing up biracial in a place as white as Maine (94.4%, if Wikipedia can be trusted) would’ve contributed to some of Tiffany’s sense of alienation. Maybe it did, but we didn’t hear very much about it, which I found a little disappointing.

Overall, as a take on Jane Eyre (there are a lot of parallels thrown in – again, way more than I found in You Make Me/Wuthering Heights – but probably detailing them would be spoilerish?) this wasn’t entirely successful, and I couldn’t help but think it would’ve worked much better if the conflict in the last third had been reworked. I’ll also say that to the degree that it was “good” it was more on an emotional level than a literary one (I don’t say that to be snobbish but just to make it clear that there are probably a lot of readers who might not have the emotional connection to the book that I did). And I’ll just reiterate one last time that it was mostly the heroine who made the book for me (which is a big thing, obviously, in a first-person story – liking/relating to the storyteller). My final grade for Live for Me is a sort-of-shaky B+.

Best regards,

 

Jennie

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