Reading List by Jennie for July and August
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.