Reading List by Jennie for July Through September, Part 1
Also read and reviewed Daddy Long-Legs
Note: I haven’t reviewed anything in a while, so I did longer-than-average mini-reviews below. Since I didn’t think anyone wanted to read a 4,000 word post, I decided to break this list up into Parts 1 and 2,
Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda
I got this from NetGalley early and read it in July. I was hooked by my recent fitful interest in psychological thrillers – Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, Luckiest Girl Alive. The last one doesn’t quite fit the thriller mode, but it has some of the psychological elements and twists of a thriller. Even though Best Day Ever didn’t have the ubiquitous “Girl” in the title, I was willing to give it a chance. It did end being twisty, unfortunately, not just in the plot itself but my reaction to it .
Best Day Ever is narrated by Paul Strom, who is traveling up to his summer house on the lake near Columbus, OH with his wife Mia, determined to make up for their strained marriage with the “best day ever.” At first Paul comes off as a rather irritating narrator; he’s relentlessly, bizarrely jaunty in the face of many annoyances and challenges he encounters, large and small. The pacing of the book struck me as weird, as well; we were already 25% in when I realized that they hadn’t even gotten to the lake yet.
Halfway through, though, there were some revelations that explained Paul’s demeanor better and I started to think the book was smarter than I’d previously judged it. Then the last quarter absolutely ruined it for me. I’ll spoiler tag this since I really can’t talk about it without giving the entire plot away.
Spoiler (Spoiler): Show
Grade, due to spoilery stuff and only leavened by the readibility of the story: D.
A Dangerous Madness by Michelle Diener
I picked this up in the Daily Deals – it was FREE! – and put off reading it for a while because historical malaise, blah blah blah. I actually ended up liking it fairly well.
The heroine is abruptly dumped by her doltish fiance (it’s an arranged marriage) one evening at a soiree. He says some odd and confusing things in the course of breaking up with her that lead her to believe that he’s in some sort of trouble. Shortly after this the hero, a duke who has been undercover for crown and country and using the guise of a dissolute nobleman (a pretense he’s long tired of), gets news that the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, has been assassinated. The event, and the hero’s investigation into same, bring the two together.
What I liked: though this wasn’t marketed (I don’t think?) as a “sweet” romance, there was no sex and virtually no mental lusting! I’ve evolved into a reader who really can take or leave sex scenes, most of the time. I appreciate a well-done one where I can feel the emotional connection of the characters. But I find it incredibly tiresome when the h/h’s thoughts are relentlessly focused on the physical. It’s boring to me and I find it a cheap way to sex up a book. Physical intimacy is often problematic in a historical romance, where sex between the h/h has to be awkwardly shoehorned in, most of the time, unless they get married in the course of the story. So while I really appreciated that the hero and heroine of A Dangerous Madness were attracted to one another, I didn’t need it demonstrated by either of them musing on the feelings in their nether parts or them groping each other in alcoves at balls.
I liked both characters and I thought that even in a very shortened timeline, the author convinced me that they fell for each other (the story takes place over the course of a week, IIRC). I really liked the hero’s respect for the heroine, and the author’s too – at one point the heroine runs off to investigate a witness (a dangerous choice but one made with good reason) and she doesn’t end up needing to be rescued or taught a lesson. It was so refreshing! What I didn’t like was the entire story of the assassination of Perceval and the background conspiracy that the author posits as being partly responsible for the killing. Diener explains her rationale in the Author’s Note, and offers up evidence that it *could* have happened that way. But what it amounts to is real-life people being portrayed as conspirators to murder. Something about that is just fundamentally distasteful to me. This brought A Dangerous Madness down from a B+ to a straight B, but I do think I’ll seek out some of the author’s other books.
Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris
I love Sedaris and generally find his writing hilarous – his story “Six to Eight Black Men” is one of my favorite things ever. When I picked up Theft by Finding, I’ll admit that I didn’t give a lot of thought to a few things, things which ended up being significant in my reading: 1) generally speaking, people’s diaries aren’t necessarily that interesting to others and 2) the David Sedaris of 1977 (when the diaries begin) wasn’t the David Sedaris of today, or even the David Sedaris of, say, 1997, when he was 40 years old and his career was established to some degree. A lot of Theft by Finding is Sedaris in his 20s, drifting, poor, unhappy and living a life that I found depressing to read about. This is a long way of saying that more than half of these diaries are filled with Sedaris’ penchant for pathos with virtually none of his gift for humor. His observations early on are usually banal, grotesque, or both.
It isn’t until he moves to New York, meets his partner Hugh, and begins to have some writing success that the voice I’m familiar with begins to emerge. I feel a bit shallow for only wanting the “funny Sedaris”, but I go back to point 1): most peoples’ diaries aren’t that interesting. A 20-year-old (or even a 30-year-old) living a somewhat rootless and downbeat existence may be worth reading about, but *I* don’t necessarily want to read about him. (And I’d argue that in this format he isn’t really worth reading about; I’m sure today Sedaris could spin something interesting and entertaining out of those days, but I think these are just his actual, at-the-time diary entries, lightly edited.)
Still, it is interesting to see Sedaris start to hone his style in his diaries and how incidents recounted in the diaries took shape in his books. For instance; he writes extensively about his early French classes in Paris, and his terrorizing instructor; this of course becomes the basis for Me Talk Pretty One Day. Late in the book his diaries detail his rather obsessive (and honestly, gross) habit of catching flies and moths and feeding them to the spiders inhabiting his old house in Normandy. I knew I’d read about that somewhere; it turns out it was in his essay “April in Paris” from When You are Engulfed in Flames.
My grade for Theft by Finding is a B-; really it’s an amalgamation of a C- for the first half and a B+ for the second.
Midnight Target by Elle Kennedy
I got this from…somewhere, either free or discounted. I figured it was worth the risk, even if it was the eighth (and final, I believe) book in a series, since I like Kennedy’s college-set hockey series very well. This is a mercenary series, something which ended up being a much bigger problem for me than I had anticipated.
Cate is 21 and an award-winning photojournalist (!) working on a story in a fictional Central American country. She happens to snap a photo that contains a glimpse of a notorious drug lord who is supposed to be dead. Shortly after, the hotel she and her colleague are staying at is subject to an attack by assassins; Cate’s colleague is killed and she barely escapes with her life. She’s not without resources; she has some training from her mercenary father, and she’s able to call him at his compound in Costa Rica. He immediately sets out with a team to extract Cate.
Included on the team is Ash, a mercenary whom Cate has been in love with since she was 17 (and he was 25; yuck). The love/lust (they’re presented as interchangeable in the story) is mutual, but even more than the age difference, Ash feels that touching the precious, virginal Cate would be a betrayal of her father, Jim, who gave Ash a home when he was lost. He rejects her when she throws herself at him one night, and so they haven’t seen each other in the year leading up to the opening of Midnight Target.
What to say about this book? I had a lot of problems with it, some of which were I guess my own fault. I didn’t realize how hard-core the mercenary business would be; anything I’ve read before in that line – which is not much – has tended to soft-pedal the violence and lack of morality within the profession. I kind of feel like even in Midnight Target, we’re *supposed* to see the mercenaries as heroic, but in my view they were morally vile. They show little to no regard for human life; at one point they torture a married couple and then leave them tied up to be found and murdered by the “bad guys.”
The romance was okay; it just wasn’t very romantic to me because it was so focused on the h/h’s sexual attraction, rather than deeper development of feelings. There’s a secondary romance, apparently the resolution of a long-simmering plotline, between two of the mercenaries. Those two at least seemed to have more of an emotional connection, though there was a lot of focus on sex there too.
Besides my issue with the sliminess of the hero, heroine (well, okay, she didn’t torture anyone, but she was apparently onboard with the “killing people for fun and profit” lifestyle), and pretty much all of the secondary characters, the portrayal of the fictional country and its people made me uncomfortable. The country was repeatedly referred to as a “shithole” and its citizens almostly universally as “slimeballs” (given that the mercenaries killed people for money, I thought that the moral judgment was a bit harsh). That view bordered on racist for me and ultimately led to my decision to give Midnight Target a big, fat F. I will be avoiding mercenary romances in the future.