Best of 2015 list.
For my end of the year list I usually try to include the most memorable books for me, so if I cannot remember the book without looking through my reviews it does not make the list.
1. Astrid Amara “Song of the navigator’
I was in love with this book since the moment I bought it and inhaled it. I enjoyed this writer’s work before but as I said in my review her artistic choices do not always work for me and I have not had much luck with betrayal/slavery stories where betrayed guy forgives the one who did the betrayal. More often than not I do not find them convincing. Not so here – Cruz and Tover stayed with me long after I read the book and I still remember them vividly.
2. M. Keedwell “Dark economy”
And to think that but for my friend’s recommendation I could have missed this one. I have not read too many memorable historical romances in the last year and considering that historicals are one of my favorite subgenres, I consider this to be an unfortunate occasion. This is a historical mystery and some reviewers found that romance was secondary storyline, but to me there was so much unresolved tension between protagonists that I was extremely happy with the romance in this book. We have excellent antagonistic chemistry between the men which is based on real conflict. Cadell is a medical student who is robbing graves because he genuinely wants to become a better surgeon and to help people and he does not have enough bodies to practice on and Blaine knows that robbing graves is still illegal and he wants to catch Cadell because he is sure that Cadell is guilty. The main storyline of the book is Cadell investigating a murder because he becomes suspicious about what happened to one of the men whose body he was going to dissect and he decides to go and get justice for the deceased. I enjoyed this one a lot. Review Here
3. Charmed and Dangerous anthology.
I thought this was a very strong offering – I think I enjoyed six or seven stories in this anthology, but the reason it made my list was mostly because of once again Astrid Amara and Ginn Hale. Here is what I said in my review about their stories.
Ginn Hale – Swift and the Black Dog
When Jack Swift killed a tyrant and won the revolution he became a national hero. But someone in the new government prefers dead heroes to living, swearing, cynical wizards. Caught between bullets, revenge and desire, Jack had better be swift indeed.
From my review:
I think for me this story was the darkest and the best in the anthology. It is no secret that I love Ginn Hale’s work, but for me past performance is no guarantee of the future success even with my favorite writers, so I definitely did not approach this story as a guaranteed win. This novella explored the themes of what consequences winning the revolution can often be for its participants and for the society.
Astrid Amara – The Trouble With Hexes
P.I. Tim Keller has a problem. And the only person who can solve it is his ex-boyfriend, Vincent, whose job as a hexbreaker was the reason they broke up. It’s hard admitting he was wrong, especially when coughing up organs. But there’s a missing person to find, a hexmaker to hunt down, and a romance to repair before Tim breathes his last.
This was one of the most romantic stories in the anthology for me. Although it is a standalone novella, this story made me feel as if I had known Tim and Vincent for a long time. In a world where characters in m/m books often forget that they have jobs and professional responsibilities, it was so refreshing to read about two men who, despite being deeply in love with each other, broke up because Tim could not handle the demands Vincent’s job put on him and his health. Of course I could see why Vincent, who is essentially a magical healer, would not stop helping sick and often dying people to get rid of hexes, but I also get how Tim just could not deal with what Vincent’s job demanded from him. There is nothing better to make you believe in the realities of magical healing than to see the consequences of a deadly hex on yourself. When Tim comes to see Vincent again, he is very ill and if they do not act fast he might die pretty soon. I could feel the love and regret between these two. And neither of them wanted to get his heart broken again, but love was still there and of course it ends well. I anticipate rereading this story more than once.
Full review of the anthology could be found here.
4. Joanna Chambers “Unnatural”
I thought this book was lovely. As the blurb states, this story is about Captain Ian Sinclair, who briefly appeared in “Enlightened” as Murdo’s friend.
I loved this book despite the fact that for most of the story not really much happened in the present storyline, but the author made me care about these guys so very much that I just was so eager to figure out what is stopping them from being together and how they could overcome it.
5. Magic Shifts (Kate Daniels #8) – Ilona Andrews.
At the end of the previous book in what I can probably call my favorite urban fantasy series the writers send the main characters Kate and Curran in the new direction. Curran resigned from the position of Beast Lord of Atlanta and they went to live quiet suburban life. If anybody can imagine Kate and Curran’ life ever being quiet that is ?. I think of this book as relative quiet before the push to the last confrontation with the series Big Bad (if he is still the Big Bad, because I am honestly not sure anymore).
6. “Affiliations, Aliens and Other Profitable Pursuits” by Lyn Gala.
I reviewed the first two books here and I loved the conclusion as well, however I hope that this is the last book in the series. I loved it, I just do not feel there is much left to explore in the characters and the plot – in fact plot wise not much really happens in this one already.
Review to come.
Three modern young people commit a crime against an old woman who sends them back through time to the time of King Henry II (known as Fitzempress because he was the son of Empress Matilda) where they must solve serious personal problems by making use of the legal system.
When she was alive and two of her books were reissued, I had hope that more of her OOP titles would become available. So far, no joy. Since you’ll either need to lay out a pretty chunk of change or find a library that does ILLs to read it right now, I had put off reading it. Well, I’m not getting any younger and it’s dawned on me that I really ought to read some of these books I’ve hunted down over the years. With that in mind, I’m reporting on this in case a) it’s ever reissued (please, Lord) or b) devoted fans are doing the mental debate about splurging.
This is – I believe – Diana Norman’s first published book. In ways it shows yet in the bulk of it, I found it hard to believe. Perhaps it’s that “polished until you could see it from space” quality that first books have as authors spit shine them for agents but for the most part, this book doesn’t read as a newbie. Yet, yet …. I must be honest and say that there are some plot holes and things glossed over. It’s a time travel that comes with a bonus witch free of charge so even from the start you’ll need to put your believability hat to the side and just go with it.
Once you do that, it’s wonderful for a number of reasons. Norman always did such a great job, IMO, of putting the reader into historical situations and making them so damn real. This book is superb for that. I can feel the desperate determination of the peasants to get their fields plowed because if they don’t, they know they’ll starve over the coming winter. I’m there with the Cornish miners sapping a castle during a siege and terrified that the castle inhabitants will reverse the situation and kill them. Worried about germs? Try living in a world packed with plague and no decent doctor on the horizon for the next 800 years. Need someone to blame for your problems or trying to get out of a debt? The Jews are handy scapegoats and none will lift a finger to stop you starting a pogrom. Is your family looking to save on a dowry or has your betrothed found a better match? It’s into a convent with you though as a woman you might find you have more power there than anywhere else in this world.
And as always, Norman delights in portraying Henry II and his struggles to bring laws to England to take the place of the superstitious claptrap that masqueraded as justice. There’s something that happens, right at the end of the book, which still puzzles me a bit and which seems a little out of place. It’s almost on the last page, really and took me aback trying to puzzle it out. Still it’s one of those things which I can edit out of any reread.
My verdict on it is I loved reading it even with its flaws and deliberately modern sounding language. But I would hesitate to spend what most online UBSs are asking for it. Maybe one day it’ll be reissued and then I’d suggest scooping up a copy but for now, I’d wait. Unless you can read it for free. B
Maria Finn’s husband was cheating. First she threw him out. Then she cried. Then she signed up for tango lessons. It turns out that tango has a lot to teach about understanding love and loss, about learning how to follow and how to lead, how to live with style and flair, take risks, and sort out what it is you really want. As Maria’s world begins to revolve around the friendships she makes in dance class and the milongas (social dances) she attends regularly in New York City, we discover with her the fascinating culture, history, music, moves, and beauty of the Argentine tango. With each new dance step she learns—the embrace, the walk, the sweep, the exit—she is one step closer to returning to the world of the living. Eventually Maria travels to Buenos Aires, the birthplace of tango, and finds the confidence to try romance again.
As exhilarating as the dance itself, the story whirls us into the center of the ballroom dancing craze. And buoyed by the author’s humor and passion, it imparts surprising insights about how to get on with life after you’ve lost in love.
Sunita listed this as one of our Daily Deals a while ago and something about it caught my attention and got me to buy it. It’s actually a memoir of the author’s recovery from her husband’s infidelity and her choice to boot him out and start divorce proceedings. Looking for a way to take her mind off the implosion of her life, she starts taking Argentinian tango dance lessons in NYC.
The specification of “Argentinian” tango is important (which I didn’t know when I started the book) due to its difference from American tango which is apparently flashier and more “dancing with the stars” in style. Finn mentions watching the show and raging at the misinformation spouted on it about tango. As the book progresses, all the various aspects of traditional tango are presented as the author learns them. We also watch her progress from a heartbroken woman to a more confident one – at least dance wise – and to some degree in her personal life as well. One thing that really stood out to me is how snobbish and nasty more experienced NYC tango dancers are. B-
December, 1943: A badly damaged American bomber struggles to fly over wartime Germany. At the controls is twenty-one-year-old Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown. Half his crew lay wounded or dead on this, their first mission. Suddenly, a Messerschmitt fighter pulls up on the bomber’s tail. The pilot is German ace Franz Stigler—and he can destroy the young American crew with the squeeze of a trigger…
What happened next would defy imagination and later be called “the most incredible encounter between enemies in World War II.”
The U.S. 8th Air Force would later classify what happened between them as “top secret.” It was an act that Franz could never mention for fear of facing a firing squad. It was the encounter that would haunt both Charlie and Franz for forty years until, as old men, they would search the world for each other, a last mission that could change their lives forever.
I had read about this book a while ago but it took a sale for me to buy it and then it got lost in my endless TBR files. Something made me put it on my ereader a few weeks ago and then when I’d finished a book for a regular review and was looking for a breather book, I saw it and thought, “Let’s check this out.”
It turns out it is fascinating and a pager turner. The opening remarks from the author are enough to choke you up if you remember TWA 800. Then comes the story of how the author came to start recording the stories of Allied WWII vets and how he stumbled on a story he wasn’t initially thrilled to learn more about. However, as he got the full story, he got involved in what turned out to be a years long effort to see it got the acclaim and attention it deserves.
The book title says it all. A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II. The good and noble can be found in that war but must be searched for but here is a real example. It’s the story of how one German Air Force pilot and the crew of one shot-to-hell B-17 bomber (imagine the Hollywood movie “Memphis Belle,” only this was real) met in the skies over Germany for a few fateful moments. But it’s much more.
Told alternately, we learn the early lives and then wartime careers of pilots Franz Stigler and Charlie Brown. How Franz fought in Africa before being pulled back to Italy – a point where he knew the war was lost – and then Germany before he lived through the slow death of the Third Reich which took Germany down with it. How Charlie lied about his age before taking his bomber crew to England for their first – and fateful – flight to Bremen before they struggled to regain their flying mojo and complete their 25 missions and go home.
The second amazing thing is that both survived the war and never quite put the incident out of their memories though both – for different reasons – never talked about it during or after the war. This is followed by fateful thing number three when both begin searching for what happened to the other with absolutely no information to go on yet somehow the fates intervened.
It’s a fabulous story, well told and hard to put down. Yes, it does have an honorable German military man but from what is told about the professional pilots Franz flew with and other actions they took to save the lives of Allied POW flyers, I can believe it and was pulling for them all to survive the final implosion of the Axis. Once the story was revealed, Franz wasn’t universally hailed for what he did – even forty years later – but to the end, he felt he’d done the honorable thing and only thing his conscience would allow.
I can easily see why this book has got such high marks and positive reviews. B+
As You Wish by Cary Elwes
From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.
The Princess Bride has been a family favorite for close to three decades. Ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories and by the Writers Guild of America as one of the top 100 screenplays of all time, The Princess Bride will continue to resonate with audiences for years to come.
Cary Elwes was inspired to share his memories and give fans an unprecedented look into the creation of the film while participating in the twenty-fifth anniversary cast reunion. In As You Wish he has created an enchanting experience; in addition to never-before seen photos and interviews with his fellow cast mates, there are plenty of set secrets and backstage stories.
With a foreword by Rob Reiner and a limited edition original poster by acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey, As You Wish is a must-have for all fans of this beloved film.
I had been interested in reading this book since its release but frankly wasn’t thrilled about the price tag. After waiting for any potential drop for months, I got a chance to listen to the audiobook. Since I’d also wanted to try doing that again, it seemed like a good sign. The book is very enjoyable and well read by Elwes himself along with a few of the other actors and Rob Reiner. A few of the others involved were read by someone else. Overall, it held my interest for its 7+ hour length and it was great fun hearing them reminisce about being hired, their impressions of the other actors, Goldman and Reiner, the famous scenes, the behind the scenes stuff, the film’s release and its amazing life in the 25 years since then. If you’re looking for any dirt or badmouthing, you’ll have to look elsewhere as this is a loving tribute to an experience many still regard as one of the best experiences in their careers. B
Okay, now some of what I’ve been watching lately.
Paris, 1761. Brilliant young Parisian police commissioner Nicolas Le Floch works under Monsieur de Sartine, the Royal Lieutenant General of Police. Louis XV’s kingdom is plagued by conspiracies and murders. With the help of his faithful subordinate Bourdeau, Nicolas solves mysterious disappearances and sorts out awkward scandals. From seedy taverns to the muffled hallways of Versailles, from brothels to the Chatelet prisons, he tracks and stakes out suspects, questions witnesses, gathers evidence, foils traps, and unveils plotters.
A friend of mine clued me in on this French police procedural series set in Paris during the mid 18th century. Based on a series of books by Jean-François Parot (which have been translated into English, though the Amazon reviews are lukewarm on the translation) we see Nicolas solving intricate cases and repeatedly running into the scandals of the high and mighty (including Louis XV) while doing so. Each episode is about 90 minutes and they are gorgeously filmed. The DVDs (with English subtitles) can be purchased or streamed at Amazon if you are a Prime member. They can also be viewed at youtube (note there is a black bar at the bottom of the screen but I can see enough of the text to follow along) though since I’ve started watching, these have been removed and returned there at least once. Warning – there is brief nudity every now and then but it does seem to be germane to the plot.
In this groundbreaking series, presenter Michael Wood tells the story of one place, the village of Kibworth, Leicestershire, throughout English history. Using archaeology, landscape, language and DNA, Wood uncovers the lost story of this community.
I got turned onto Michael Wood’s (Oxford educated historian and broadcaster) documentaries (the one on India is so-so, the Shakespeare one is good, and the Trojan War one is pretty good though a little repetitious but wow, were his jeans tight) and this is the latest one I’ve seen. In it, he investigates English history through an English village (even turning the villagers themselves into archeologists) from its days during the Roman occupation up until now. Even given his sometimes OTT extravagant enthusiasm, it’s fascinating stuff.
Filmed in six countries over a two-year period, this documentary follows four sommeliers as they embark on an all-consuming course of study for the prestigious (and nearly impossible to pass) Master Sommelier exam.
My knowledge of wine basically boils down to, “do I like this sip I’ve just taken enough to swallow it and finish the glass or am I going to spit it out?” But these students studying for the Master Sommelier exam know everything. Every country, every type of grape, every vintage, well … basically everything about wine and have to be able to show their expertise on the spot. Some study for years before attempting it while others take the exam multiple times before finally passing. But when they finally do they’re almost instantly snapped up for prestigious jobs. I do feel sorry for their “wine widows” though.
Antarctica: A Year on Ice
Spending long stretches in Antarctica for more than a decade, documentarian Anthony Powell uses his camera to capture the extremes of human and animal existence, as well as the polar landscape’s icy beauty.
Not to be confused with Werner Hertzog’s excellent documentary “Encounters at the End of the World” Filmmaker Werner Herzog takes you on a wild and woolly journey to the South Pole in this Oscar contender — from the National Science Foundation’s headquarters on Ross Island to some of Antarctica’s most remote and dangerous terrain. (which I also recommend) this is told by the scientists and workers who spend months at a time in Antarctica including the uber-hardy ones who stay the whole winter. Wow, just wow. The true love and fascination they have for Antarctica shines through.
Four ordinary women with an extraordinary flair for code-breaking and razor-sharp intelligence skills are the focus of this murder-mystery drama. Having served as code breakers in World War II, the four now focus their talents on catching killers.
I totally misread the blurb for this one and thought it would be a fictional account of the young women who worked there during the war. Nope, it’s actually about four friends who met there but who are now living in post war London who begin to solve crimes using their super smarts and skills honed during the war. I’ve just seen one series so far and was very impressed with the costumes and scenery. The mystery is actually pretty good though the very end, when one woman does something incredibly silly, was annoying. But still, a series focused on smart women! I do plan to watch more.
This nonfiction book recounts the stories of four different Englishwomen who met American G.I.s in Britain in World War II, married them, and emigrated to the United States. The authors apparently interviewed over 50 war brides but chose to settle on portraits of these four, which seems odd given that they ended up being stories of three unhappy marriages and one relatively happy one (though that couple faced a lot of adversity, as well). The narrative is told in a linear style that bounces back and forth between the various women, which was a bit confusing early on as I had trouble keeping the women and their histories straight. Once they arrive in America all of the stories turn almost bitter, as each woman seems to focus much more on the challenges and negatives of her new life rather than the (apparently scant) positives. Consequently GI Brides ended up being a kind of downbeat read about people I didn’t like that much. My grade was a C+ (maybe slightly high but it was an easy read, which probably accounts for the “+”).
I got this from the Daily Deals and it was a weird one. The story is about a 17-year-old girl, Emily, who discovers she’s dying of a mysterious illness and makes a deal to marry 23-year-old Paul in exchange for testifying against his crime-boss father. In one of the story’s many improbabilities, Emily just happened to overhear the crime boss plotting crime things while visiting her aunt at work one day (her aunt has since died of the same mysterious illness). Emily has a bucket list and being married is on it; Paul also helps her cross off the other items on her list (visiting the pyramids, etc.). Listed was strangely compelling in spite of the fact that it was ridiculous. The plot was absurd, with a hero who’s the son of a Philly mobster and an upper-class Main Line debutante. Both the medical information regarding Emily’s illness and the legal stuff seemed *extremely* suspect to me (I’m not a doctor or a lawyer but it all seemed way out of left field). The hero and heroine’s thoughts as they fall in love are really, really repetitive. A lot of the action is repetitive as well, with Emily falling ill, then getting better, then falling ill again (this is supposed to be the pattern with her illness but it still got old reading about it). Yet I found myself engaged in the book anyway. It almost read like a teenager’s fantasy – a young girl swept off her feet by a rich and handsome guy, tragically (almost) dying, etc. I gave it a B.
I ended up giving this a B-, but it stayed with me for while after reading it, so maybe it deserves a B? I found it hard to connect to the story at first; it’s a series of episodic but not linear tales (they’re actually reverse chronological order but that wasn’t clear to me at first because it wasn’t always clear what period each story is set in). There were different narrative voices as well, and I sometimes had trouble distinguishing them. The protagonists are the four Garcia girls: Carla, Yolanda, Sandra and Sofia, who are born into a wealthy and prominent family in the Dominican Republic but have to emigrate to the United States as children when their father comes under the scrutiny of the Trujillo dictatorship. The stories cover themes of acculturation, memory and the ties of family (especially sisterhood, obviously). Even though I had trouble with the structure at first, I’m glad it read this.
I’ve long been familiar with this story but never actually read it. Last year I started Dracula in October, wanting a classic horror story, but ended up finishing long after Halloween. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is actually a novella, so I finished it before the holiday. It has kind of an odd structure – it’s told from the point of view of a friend of Dr. Jekyll, a lawyer named Utterson, and the incidents are all related through him or to him until nearly the end of the book. It ends with an epistolary explanation from the doctor himself. The structure had a distancing effect for me. Hyde’s first two major crimes – the shocking trampling of a young girl and the vicious murder of a prominent citizen – are both related to Utterson rather than witnessed by him. That, and the fact that I already knew of the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde (I’m guessing most people do, via pop culture osmosis) meant that the story was really not remotely scary to me. Still, it was well-written (I’ve never read Stevenson before) and the premise is, of course, an intriguing one. I gave it a B.
I’ve enjoyed Bowen’s Ivy Years series (at least the books I’ve read), so I was interested in this, the first book in her Gravity series. Willow and Dane meet and are stranded together in his Jeep during a Vermont blizzard, and one thing leads to another. But Dane, an Olympic skier, doesn’t do relationships. Willow, who is more or less stranded in Vermont in general (she bought an old farmhouse with a boyfriend who then left her for another woman) doesn’t have great self-esteem or high expectations of others. She’s willing to let Dane go his own way (even though they clearly have a strong connection). But when a skiing accident lays him up in the other house on her property (which she just so happens to be renting to his coach), they are put in each other’s way again. Then she finds out that there are unexpected consequences of their night of passion. Willow was a bit of a doormat, but Dane was my real problem with Coming in from the Cold – he has a deep, dark secret that’s the reason for his fear of relationships. He fears he’s going to get a fatal hereditary disease. The thing is, there’s a test for the disease. Dane doesn’t want to get the test. Okay, fine; valid choice. BUT he lives his life with the absolute certainty that he is going to get the disease. This made no sense to me. If you’re so sure that you’re arranging your life around a disease you may or may not get – shunning relationships and skiing in a dangerous and death-defying way – then just have the damn test, maybe? Also, I was wary of the 180 degree turn-around he makes towards the end of the book – his personality issues seemed too deep-seated for such an abrupt change to be remotely realistic. Anyway, I ended up not really liking or caring about either character that much, and as a result gave Coming in from the Cold a C.
I think I may have got this in Daily Deals a million years ago, on the strength of vaguely remembering that a friend liked it. I have read one Follett book, Pillars of the Earth, which I kind of remember liking fairly well (how’s that for an endorsement?). But that was a medieval historical novel, and Eye of the Needle is a World War II thriller, which is not really my normal genre. Honestly, it started out rather slow for me, as the various characters who are fated to come together in the climax are introduced. There’s a German spy who has been deep undercover in England for years – code name, Die Nadel (the Needle). There’s a young couple, Lucy and David, whose car accident hours after their wedding changes their lives drastically, and results in them rusticating on a deserted island off of Scotland for the length of the war. Then there’s a middle-aged professor drawn back into the spy game after years away from it, and the younger colleague who works closely with him as he chases Die Nadel. Most of the story is told from these characters’ POV, but there are short passages from the perspectives of other characters, some of them real historical figures like Erwin Rommel and Hitler himself. The latter felt kind of silly and superfluous – there’s something I find both distasteful and cheesy about authors putting words in the mouth of someone as notorious as Hitler. The story got more interesting in the second half and ultimately it was a well-done spy thriller. Still not my genre, really, but I thought the characterization was good (I really liked Lucy in particular). Igave Eye of the Needle a B; it’s probably almost a B+.
The Deal by Elle Kennedy
I read this first book in Kennedy’s Off-Campus series (reviewed for us by Kaetrin, who gave it an A) back in April. It’s a New Adult romance set on a college campus. Garrett Graham is a hockey player and hot commodity on campus. Hannah Wells is a music major who doesn’t care about sports.
But Hannah has a crush on an athlete nonetheless, another guy, a football player. After Hannah aces a test the Garrett fails, Garrett tries to get her to tutor him. At first she’s not interested but after a lot of persistence from him, they strike a deal– he’ll help her win the guy she has a crush on if she tutors him.
Hannah has an interesting background. At age fifteen she was drugged and raped while at a party. Although heroines who have been raped are not uncommon in romance, Hannah may be the first I’ve come across who actually took her case to court.
Sadly, as happens all too often in reality, she was painted as a liar and she and her family lost the case. Her parents were left in debt thanks to the legal fees and couldn’t afford to sell their home and leave the town where everybody hates her and her family. Hannah got away from there by going to college, but the has experience made her wary of drinking at college parties.
This was heartbreaking but I appreciated how true to life it was. A second thing I appreciated was that Hannah and Garrett become friends first, before they start to see each other in a sexual way. And as Hannah’s friend, Garrett watches her drink when she goes to the bathroom at a bar, and looks out for her in other ways.
Garrett background was also affecting but less interesting to me. His father was physically abusive. I thought this was less developed than it could have been. Garrett’s dad was a villain with no good qualities except for having been a hockey star. There was no love or even a glimmer of understanding between Garrett and his dad which made their relationship feel shallow.
But the chemistry between Garrett and Hannah leapt off the pages. While I’ve seen heroes help heroines recover from sexual trauma many times in the past, the sex scenes here had a welcome earthiness. The book was also highly readable; I almost couldn’t put it down. Because it was so much fun, I’m giving it a B/B+.
The Mistake by Elle Kennedy
After reading The Deal, I was eager for Kennedy’s next book, The Mistake, which Kati reviewed in May (it was an A read for her). This one is about John Logan, a friend and housemate of Garrett’s who was in love with Hannah in The Deal. In The Mistake, Logan meets Grace Ivers, a bookish virgin to whom he is attracted. Logan and Grace hook up, and she almost loses her virginity to him, but things go awry at the last moment.
By the time Logan figures out that he was never in love with Hannah but only envied what she and Garrett have together, Grace has written him off. She also thinks she gave too much of herself too easily. Logan has to work extra hard to win himself a place in her heart.
I was much more ambivalent about this book than about The Deal. On the positive side, it had many of the same strengths The Deal had, including a lot of pursuit and courtship on the hero’s part, appealing characters, and hot chemistry between the hero and the heroine. Still, I ended up feeling that it was a little empty.
I didn’t really buy the explanation that Logan wasn’t ever in love with Hannah, but had only envied the relationship Garrett had with her and wanted one like it. That didn’t fit with Logan’s behavior in the earlier book.
I also didn’t buy the premise that Logan had to keep a promise he’d made to his brother to take over their alcoholic dad’s car shop after college, even at a cost of being unable to join the NHL. It made no sense because an NHL player could have afforded to hire someone to run his father’s business and freed his brother that way.
I’m also getting tired of the “puck bunny” portrayals in this and other college romances. I’m not keen on the way they are used to draw a contrast to the virginal heroines. Why can’t a heroine who enjoys sleeping with athletes (like Susan Sarandon’s character in Bull Durham) win the hero’s heart without being shamed?
I digress. The greatest source of frustration for me was something else — that Logan, like his brother, was a classic enabler and rather than realizing his behavior needed changing, he was bailed out by the coach in a deus ex machina resolution. It felt like a copout from tackling the thorny issues at the center of his life, enabling and martyrdom. C/C+.
The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne
I got this book from the library seeing a recommendation on Twitter, and because I have a love for stories that center around election campaigns and political families. I only read 22 pages before it was time to return it to the library, but it wasn’t anywhere close to as bad as this makes it sound.
Kate’s mother is conveniently not in the picture (dead), and her father acknowledges her and says he only just learned of her existence. He and his wife invite her to visit with them and their twin nine year olds, her brother and sister.
Kate goes along with what the campaign staff members want of her, and doesn’t know if her father truly wants a relationship with her, or if he’s just faking for the sake of his campaign.
From what I’ve heard (rather than read) Kate goes on to become romantically involved with the son of the President whom her father is competing against. This is one of the things that drew me to the book, but I didn’t get far enough to see that character on the page.
This novel didn’t grab me fast enough. Kate seemed a little too ignorant of politics for her age, and her father seemed to lack depth. I would have been more interested in their relationship had he been charismatic in person, but he was only that way in front of cameras.
His wife was the most interesting character in the section I read; I like that she was portrayed as both intelligent and sympathetic, neither a villain nor a victim. She’d learned about her husband’s affair with Kate’s mother years earlier, and she didn’t blame Kate for it, but she also didn’t like the way her life, and that of her two children, was up-ended by the revelation that her husband has another child.
Kate herself was less interesting. Based on the blurb it appears her story arc involves learning to be more authentic instead of telling people what they want to hear. But in the 22 pages I read, she was so unformed that I didn’t feel invested in her. I wanted her to have more personality.
Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya Clark
I’ve saved the best for last. I really needed a comforting read after reading a portion of Kate Breslin’s For Such a Time, and this book provided that. Sunita reviewed it here and gave it an A-. Her review and comments gave me the feeling that it authentically depicted a small town without demonizing city dwellers and that sounded good, so I downloaded a sample. At the end of the sample I wanted more and hit the purchase button.
This novel was really lovely, with characters that felt real and nuanced. The main storyline was a May-December romance between Wade Sheppard, a washed up country singer from a middle class background, and Daisy McNeil, a hardworking waitress from the other side of the tracks who is also a part-time college student.
Wade and Daisy both carry some baggage. Wade’s marriage broke up after his ex-wife’s miscarriage. Neither he nor his ex-wife knew how to talk about this loss, and now his ex-wife has moved on while Wade is still punishing himself for the past. After getting drunk on stage to forget the heartache behind one of his songs, Wade has to face his manager’s disappointment. She tells him to take the summer off and get his head straight.
Daisy gave up her daughter for adoption when she was only eighteen, and while she knows it was the right thing to do, her emotionally abusive mother keeps telling her that she threw her daughter away. Daisy is also the survivor of a later relationship that turned violent, and that experience has made her gun shy.
Wade and Daisy meet when he shows up at his small Kentucky hometown’s honky-tonk — the one where she works and where he originally got his start in singing. A drunken Wade makes an unwelcome pass at Daisy and slaps her butt; she sets him straight and gives him what for, but loses her job because of it. Wade then works out a deal with her boss– he’ll perform for free all summer long if the bar’s owner gives Daisy her job back.
With both of them working in the same place, Wade and Daisy get to know each other slowly, and very gradually begin to fall in love. But Wade is only in town for the summer, and Daisy has no desire to live on the road.
This book was romantic and sweet, with (as Sunita indicated) both the characters and the small town setting portrayed with authenticity. The author creates a community of secondary characters around Daisy and Wade, and tracks Daisy and Wade’s development as individuals and as a couple beautifully. I loved the resolution to the career conflict because it didn’t diminish either character.
I was reminded of a few of LaVyrle Spencer and Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s contemporaries (partly, but not only, because these authors have both written about country singers). I’m so glad I read this book, which I never would have come across if not for Sunita’s review.
There are some annoying copyediting errors, but otherwise the book is terrific. I didn’t even mind the characters’ fifteen year age difference, something that often bugs me, because it was acknowledged as a potential obstacle to the relationship and Wade and Daisy clearly gave it thought. For the longest time I thought I’d give this a B+/A-, but it has really stuck with me, so it gets a full on A-.
Nora Roberts used to be my all time favorite author. I still enjoy reading her books, but they no longer work for me the way they used to. That being said, for whatever reason, I find that Nora’s books translate fabulously well for me in audio format. I think part of it is because I’ve read so many of her books, I find it easy to get back in the car and pick up the story where I left off without trying to recall what happened before. Not to say that they are necessarily predictable, but they are…comforting for me. I know that the heroine will be endlessly competent, and the hero will either be cranky, easy going or dominant and bossy. It’s easy.
Whiskey Beach is no exception. The hero, Eli Landon, has returned to his ancestral family home after being suspected of killing his wife, who was cheating on him. Eli was an accomplished attorney, but has turned his attention to writing, as his brush with the law has curbed his interest in it. He’s stressed to the point of breaking and neither sleeping nor eating well. When his grandmother has a fall and needs to be away from Landon House for an extended period of time, he offers to go and stay in the house. It is there that he meets Abra, the housekeeper/yoga instructor/waitress who starts off taking care of him, and ends up being the love of his life. There are mysteries to be solved and love to be found at Whiskey Beach.
This is definitely not one of Nora’s finest efforts. Abra might as well wear a cape, she’s so ridiculously competent and serene and together. It’s actually somewhat irritating because she can do everything. Eli, on the other hand, makes a nice evolution from grumpy, stressed and out of sorts, to someone who becomes grounded in his vocation and in his personal life. It’s definitely not my favorite by Nora, but the confident narration and the tiny mystery was enough to entertain me during my rides to and from work. Final grade: B-
I use Audible to listen to books, and since I’d already reviewed this one, I got a great deal on the audio version of it. It had been long enough since I read it, that I thought why not give it a try. The story is that of Rebecca “Bex” Porter, who decides to take a study abroad year in Oxford, and there meets Nicholas, Prince of Wales. Bex and Nick slowly build a friendship that turns into love. But there are many, many obstacles in their way.
Obviously, The Royal We is inspired by the love story of the real-life Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate. As I’m a huge fan of the Royals, reading this book was a no brainer. Getting a great deal on it made listening to is a no brainer too. The story itself is funny, sad, and romantic. Box and Nick are young, and act that way in the beginning, but as Nick grows into his great responsibility as the next King of England, the implications for Bex as his love are great and involved, and require tremendous sacrifice on her part. The book captures all of this brilliantly. The narration is decent. The narrator, Christine Lakin, does a fair British accent, but it lapses in and out, and at times I found it distracting. But the story itself is really entertaining. FInal grade for the audiobook: C+
This is another audiobook I got on Audible for a song. It’s narrated by Tanya Eby, and frankly, it’s wonderful. Generally speaking, Kleypas’s straight contemporaries work beautifully for me. This one is no exception. After Mark Nolan’s sister dies, he unexpectedly ends up with custody of his six-year old niece, Holly. When Holly comes to Mark, she’s so traumatized, she won’t speak. But when she visits the Magic Box, and meets Maggie Collins, who engages Holly’s imagination, Holly finally talks. Mark is both wary and attracted to the beautiful Maggie, who is carrying her own past wounds. But as the two begin to get to know each other, they are drawn into love. The story is beautifully narrated, and the love story is incredibly sweet. Final grade: B+
I scooped this up in a Kindle sale in spite of Janine’s less than glowing review (Janine and I often have similar tastes, especially in historical romance) and my general dislike for most historicals these days. I figured, I’m 287 books into the Pennyroyal Green series (give or take), and it’s a deal, so why stop now? Surprisingly, I didn’t think this one was so bad. It sparked for me somewhat more than most historical romances do these days. I can’t disagree with Janine’s criticisms; my response to them is sort of like: ¯\_(?)_/¯. Meaning I have trouble even knowing why It Started with a Scandal worked for me, why it didn’t bore me quite as much as historicals do now, why the anachronisms and improbabilities didn’t irritate me. I liked Elise. Lavay was a little bit more impenetrable, but I was still sympathetic to him. When I initially read this about a month ago I recorded a B+ grade in my log, but in hindsight that seems a wee bit high; it’s not a book that I’ve thought of once before starting this write-up. So I’ll settle on a B. I can’t say that I’m awaiting the Lyon/Violet book with bated breath, but I’m cautiously optimistic about it.
I’ve read several biographies of Mary Shelley but none of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, so I eagerly grabbed this dual biography of the two women, told in alternating chapters. Both Marys lived fascinating lives, which paralleled and diverged in interesting ways. Each definitely paid the price for being unconventional in a time and place where conventionality was prized above all other traits for women. Gordon does a good job of showing the often-harsh reality behind the free-spirited “Romantic” lives each led – struggle, loss and being let down by the men they loved. Still, Wollstonecraft and Shelley shared an uncompromising will that dictated the paths they took, and neither seemed to have many regrets in the end. I think that’s one mark of a life well-lived. I gave this a B+.
I had been wanting to try this author/series again after enjoying The Shameless Hour, book 4 in the Ivy Years series. I was less interested in books 1 and 3 because the subject matters, disability and m/m, respectively, don’t necessarily appeal to me. But this one sounded kind of interesting from the blurb, so I thought I’d give it a try. Like The Shameless Hour, TYWHA it was very readable, with smooth prose and likable protagonists (I could’ve done without the hero’s previous slutty proclivities, but whatever). My criticism would be that considering the heaviness of the subject matter, the treatment felt kind of superficial; given what both the h/h had gone through I would have expected there to be a little bit more of a focus on their emotional scars. Also, I really thought a twist late in the book regarding the heroine was a cop-out. Still, I gave this a B+ based on readability/enjoyability.
This novella is also part of the Ivy Years series and loosely related to The Year We Hid Away. The hero is a high-school classmate of Scarlett’s from TYWHA, who also happens to have a dorm room adjacent to the hero of that book, Bridger. The heroine is one of the two Katies who are Scarlett’s roommates. We briefly saw the set up for Blonde Date in the earlier book – Scarlett helps arrange a blind date between Katie and Andy because Katie needs someone to go to a sorority event with. Her date *has* to be an athlete, and even though Andy’s just a basketball player (and basketball definitely isn’t king at Harkness; furthermore, their team kind of sucks), any athlete will do in a crisis. Andy is a junior who is tall and shy and really adorably sweet. He actually “knows” Katie from art history class, though she’s a Queen Bee blonde freshman hottie who has never noticed him.
I mostly really liked this story, though it was rather slight, even by novella standards (neither character seems to have any heavy baggage, which, come to think of it, is rather refreshing for a New Adult romance). I didn’t love that the story covered some of the same ground that I already didn’t love in The Shameless Hour: a heroine who unabashedly enjoys sex ends up being sexually humiliated. Maybe there could have been some other way to depict Katie coming to realize that she’s turning into someone she doesn’t like? (Not just in her sexual behavior, which she questions but doesn’t renounce, but more in terms of being shallow, catty, and too worried about what other people think.) It wasn’t a bad lesson for an 18-year-old to learn; I just wish that it had come about another way. Still, I liked this enough to give it a B+.
I got this through the Amazon First program, and I picked it because, much like dystopian stories, I’m drawn to “people marooned on deserted islands” stories. Lost, The Blue Lagoon, On the Island by Tracy Garvis Graves – I am interested in seeing how people survive in primitive, alien environments (and yes, I realize that such accounts, at least those I’ve mentioned, are almost always very unrealistic). Anyway, Wreckage is told alternately by Lily and Dave, in both past and present tense (and in first- and third-person depending on whether the past events or the present events are being detailed, which I thought was an unnecessary, at times jarring choice).
Dave and Lily meet on a small plane headed for a remote island; Lily is on a trip with her mother-in-law that the older women won from a yogurt company; Dave is a rep for the company there to see to it that the ladies have their dream trip. The plane crashes and only Dave, Lily and the pilot Kent survive; they float on the plane’s emergency raft to a deserted island. In the “present” part of the story, Dave and Lily are both being interviewed, months after their rescue, by a unrealistically bitchy and accusatory (think Nancy Grace) television host, who thinks she’s figured out their secrets. Dave and Lily do have secrets, and finding out the secrets were what kept me reading Wreckage, even though I thought about putting it down any number of times. It’s very, very rare for me to read something for the plot when the prose and characterization aren’t working for me. Wreckage is just really badly written, with characters who speak and act in ways that are not remotely realistic. Kent is a cartoon villain, and Dave and Lily are blah characters with little personality. They constantly said and did things that had me figuratively scratching my head, thinking, “This is not how real people behave.” The “secrets” that come out turn out not to be that interesting or surprising, and the ending was extremely saccharine; an unrealistic cherry on an unbelievable sundae. I gave this book a D.
I’m pretty sure I got this as part of the Daily Deals. I thought I’d read one Julie James book before, but in this one I realized that I recognized two secondary characters whose books I’ve read. So I guess this is the third James book I’ve read, all from this same series, set in Chicago and featuring FBI agents. A Lot Like Love felt like a pretty paint-by-numbers contemporary, with an FBI agent hero who gets entangled with a rich girl after she’s asked to help in an investigation in exchange for her brother getting out of prison early. It was certainly readable enough (for better or for worse, “readable” seems to be the watchword for me in fiction lately), but it felt very predictable and, as I said, paint by numbers. I thought it would’ve been more interesting if the hero hadn’t been such a stereotypical “Brooklyn guy who wears jeans and likes bourbon and doesn’t understand fancy things like wine and nice clothes.” (The heroine is a wine merchant.) I thought the ending dodged what seemed to be one of the issues of the book, which was that the heroine is an heiress set to inherit half a billion dollars when her father dies. Still, with the “readability” factor, I gave this a B, though probably a low B, edging on a B-.
I think I got this one from the Daily Deals as well? I’m not sure, but I’ve been wanting to try Susan Orlean for a while. The Orchid Thief is not to be confused with the film Adaptation, which I understand is based on it but features Orleans as a character and takes many liberties with the plot. The Orchid Thief starts with the arrest of an eccentric Floridian named John Laroche, who is charged with taking a number of rare orchids out of a Florida swamp illegally. Laroche may be the first orchid-obsessed oddball Orlean encounters in the course of the story, but he’s far from the last. The Orchid Thief is about a few things: orchids, obviously, which we learn a lot about in the course of the book (maybe a tad too much, though most of it was quite interesting); people and the obsessions that haunt them; and Florida, both as a place and a state of mind. Orleans jumps around in time, relating Florida’s history as well as the history of orchid collecting, meeting various people and getting their stories, and musing about what drives people to collect or obsess over a specific thing.
I wanted to like The Orchid Thief more than I did. Orlean is an engaging writer, and I learned a lot. I certainly didn’t *dislike* the book, but there were a couple of things holding me back from really enjoying it: Florida as a subject doesn’t appeal to me much, and obsessive people tend to really irritate me. Even John Laroche, who is at the center of the story – and who seems to fascinate Orlean – is just the sort of person calculated to get on my last nerve. Smart, but not as smart as he thinks he is, fairly delusional, and convinced that his every get-rich-quick scheme would come to fruition if only idiots would stop thwarting him at every turn. He’s essentially an arrogant loser. I know that’s a harsh judgment, but that’s how he came off to me, and so I was never going to be able to appreciate him the way Orlean clearly did. (To be fair, I think she saw him pretty clearly; I think she just had more patience with his foibles than I do.) My final grade for The Orchid Thief is a straight B.