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REVIEW:  Promise Me This by Christina Lee

REVIEW: Promise Me This by Christina Lee

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Dear Ms. Lee,

Promise Me This is the fourth novel in your new adult series. I’ve enjoyed the previous books to greater and lesser degrees but overall, I’m a loyal reader interested in seeing where you take us next.

In your latest novel, we catch up with Nate and Jessie, two characters introduced earlier in the series. Jessie and Nate seem to come from two different worlds. Tattooed and edgy, Jessie works at the same tattoo parlor as Bennett (the hero of All of You). She’s an independent free spirit, who loves photography. Preppy and brother of their university’s star football player, Nate comes from a rich family. (He’s the cousin of the hero from Whisper to Me.) They’re happy being just friends and intend to stay that way.

Nate has reasons for this, though. He doesn’t do girlfriends, only one-night-stands. His family background is extremely abusive, and he grew up watching his father abuse his mother. Afraid that he’ll turn out like his father, he’d rather not make romantic connections with anyone at all. Jessie is his safe girl. He can have a relationship with her, but only platonically. That’s enough for him.

But then Jessie walks in Nate with one of his hopeful random hook-ups, and suddenly the guy she’d always thought of as clean-cut and not her type intrigues her. Her curiosity gets the best of her, and courtesy of a photography project Jessie needs to complete, the wall that Nate carefully constructed in his head comes down.

My feelings are mixed about Promise Me This. When I finished, I liked the book overall. I still do. But it took a while to get my thoughts together to write this review. Why? Because despite liking the book, something was missing.

Promise Me This is Nate’s story. He has a lot of damage because of his father, and the effects show internally in the ways he thinks about himself and his predilections in bed. (Nate likes kink, but because of his father, he associates that kind of behavior with abuse, even though it’s nothing of the sort when all parties are consenting.) Much of the book is devoted to Nate overcoming this and healing himself, coming to the realization that he does want a relationship with Jessie and that he isn’t like his father at all.

In that aspect, I actually thought the book did a great job.

The problem is that the book is unbalanced. We see Nate grow and change. We do not see Jessie go through the same transformation. Don’t get me wrong. I liked that Jessie was independent and self-reliant. It’s refreshing when a character has their shit together. But coming to the realization that Nate has depth beyond his preppy playboy ways is not a character transformation. Nor is being the supportive rock as he wrestles with his demons. I want to believe Jessie could be all the traits I loved about her and work through something at the same time.

For me, a satisfying (standard) romance is about two people meeting and overcoming some sort of internal conflict so reach their HEA. But each person should have their own, separate internal conflicts. Each person should work through their issues to reach their happy ending. Nate did but in my opinion, Jessie did not. As a result, I was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied.

I think readers who enjoyed your previous ones will like Promise Me This as well. It read fast, and I found it to be a mellow read. (This isn’t damning praise. I need mellow reads sometimes.) It just lacks a couple ingredients to make it great. B-

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  Downfall by Rob Thurman

REVIEW: Downfall by Rob Thurman

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Dear Ms. Thurman,

I’ve read your Cal Leandros books since they first started coming out. It’s been a ride. I can’t believe we’re already on book 9! It’s rare that I stick with a series this long. In many ways Downfall feels like the end of the series — it’s not (I think there are a couple more books slated to come), but if someone wanted to say goodbye to the series, this would be a good place.

(Note: This far into the series, I can’t talk about anything without spoilers so I apologize for that.)

Downfall splits the narrative between Cal and Robin. As we learned earlier in the series, Cal and his brother, Niko, have reincarnated throughout time and Robin has the (mis)fortune to know them in all their previous incarnation. I say misfortune because the boys have a thing about dying young and badly. Readers can probably guess where I’m going with this — the time to collect has come.

Cal’s half-Auphe side has finally won the battle within him. It’s starting to come out. Cal’s hair starts turning white. His eyes start turning red. His already shaky moral compass becomes shakier. To make matters worse, the Vigil is determined to assassinate him. His ex-girlfriend, Delilah, now controls all of the werewolves in NYC. And his brother, Grimm, isn’t done with him. Suffice it to say, the cards are stacked against him.

Now Robin, who recognizes the signs and knows that the brothers’ end is near, isn’t willing to let them die without a fight. He’s tried to save their past incarnations without much success but this time is going to be different. Why? Because he’s done with them trying to save themselves. They obviously suck at it (no kidding) so he’s going to have to do all the heavy lifting. So he does.

I think the reason why Downfall has a sense of finality around it is because it refers to a lot of things that have happened in the brothers’ pasts. Previous books, previous encounters, familiar faces reappear (George!), all of that. It’s not that things get tied together into a tidy bow because they don’t, but it seemed like things had come full circle. This isn’t a criticism, but it’s an observation. I can tell there are still options to explore in future books, but they almost seem anti-climactic after this one.

Robin’s always been once of my favorite characters, so I was glad to see him get more attention. I also liked the glimpse into his relationship with Ishiah. I laughed at the thought of this angel not knowing what to do about this puck who lusted after him, then “watching out for him” (yeah, okay, Ishiah, talk about self-delusion), and then when he fell/retired/whatever, ended up with said puck — who then proceeded to thoroughly corrupt him. It’s epic, and I love that. Even if Ishiah did a shitty thing to the boys when they were younger.

On the other hand, I normally associate this series with energy and over the top emotion (which I like) and, in my opinion, both were missing here. Downfall is more introspective than previous installments and for me, that made it easy to stop reading and put down. I obviously finished the book, but it had a different tone and I think that is partly what contributes to the “final book” feel.

One thing I keenly felt in Downfall is a lack of major female characters. I get it. The series is about the brothers and Robin, and the focus should be on them. But I felt like women were more prominent in previous books so the cameo from Delilah and her Lupa pack and a phone call from a certain psychic didn’t feel like enough.

I wouldn’t say I was let down by this book exactly, but I’m not sure I got the Cal Leandros experience I’ve come to expect. Maybe I need more time to process. I did love Robin in this book though. C+

My regards,
Jia

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