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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Darkest Part of the Forest - Holly Black

The Darkest Part of the ForestHolly Black never fails to please.  After reading Cruel Prince earlier this year, I realized that I was missing a chunk of her faerie stories--I had the Tithe background, as well as its sequels, but there were characters in CP whom I was clearly supposed to recognize, and did not.  Obviously, I had missed The Darkest Part of the Forest.  Or, not missed it, exactly--I knew it existed.  However, I thought it was completely unconnected to the other books and had a story significantly different from what it actually is (I have no idea where I got that sense) and so I hadn't sought it out.  Which is kind of a good thing, because I got to enjoy it now!

The story takes place in the strange Pennsylvania town of Fairfold, where humans live not with the Folk, but alongside them.  Every now and then, a tourist will go missing--tourists who come to the town to get a thrill from interacting with faeries and make mistakes that "locals" would never make, except when they do.  Changeling Jack lives alongside his human "brother," whom he was supposed to replace; a jump-rope line stops one line short of drawing a monster out of the woods; and a boy sleeping in a glass coffin is the centerpiece of many a high school party.

Heroine Hazel grew up in Fairfold, with a short stint in Philadelphia while her older brother, Ben, was in music school.  Ben has music magic, a gift (or curse) from a faerie when he was a baby.  Hazel has no such gifts, but she wishes she did; she supports Ben in his magic and takes on the role of his loyal knight, the two of them hunting bad faeries as pre-teenagers in the woods.  But all that ends with the time in Philadelphia, and upon returning to Fairfold, Hazel makes a stupid mistake that puts her off hunting even longer.  But when the glass coffin is broken and Hazel has reason to suspect that she did it--even if she doesn't know why or even remember doing it--and the boy inside it is gone, a world of trouble is unleashed from the darkest part of the forest.  Hazel has to fight for her family, friends, and Fairfold itself, even though she is woefully unprepared to do so.

This was slow to get going, I will admit, and there's not a lot of real tension or action until fairly late in the book.  I also wasn't a huge fan of Ben as a main character--perhaps because he seemed to enter the role of main character fairly late in the book, where Hazel had occupied that role by herself for much of the early parts.  Ben himself was okay, but I liked him more in a supporting role; while his motivations were clear, I never felt he got the character development that a main character really needs to shine in a starring role.  Hazel, on the other hand, had much more page time; we were in her head much more, saw more of what she did and why she did it.  It just worked better for Hazel.  (Though I liked how things ended up for Ben!)

This is a different setting and a different faerie Court from Black's other books, and that aspect of this wasn't felt out as well.  However, I liked Fairfold itself.  The way that Folk and humans twined together, but with humans walking the razor's edge of danger all the time, really appealed to me.  The humans of Fairfold felt safe, until they weren't, justifying that "only tourists" were in danger, but doing some "tourist"-like things themselves.  And the way they seemed so okay with things, but quickly turned on Jack--the only faerie among them--as soon as things went wrong seemed exactly like what would happen in real life to me.

These faerie tales are Black's definite strength.  I'm so glad that she's returned to them with Cruel Prince, and I can't wait to read the next installment in that series--and luckily, I think reading this in the meantime will help bulk out my understanding of that series, too.

4 stars out of 5.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Shrill - Lindy West

Shrill: Notes from a Loud WomanMy pick for a feminist book for my 2018 Popsugar reading challenge, Shrill is an angry book.  And why shouldn't it be?  Women get the short end of the stick in pretty much every area of life.  West isn't at the very bottom of the social structure--she is straight and white, which are two points in her favor--but she is overweight and loud, which are two things that society does not take kindly to.  Take, for example, the recent internet kerfluffle that was "Describe yourself as if a male author was describing you," in which many older (read: not twenty-three-year-old) and/or overweight women had to point out that either they would automatically be relegated to the role of villain, or they wouldn't be in a book written by a man at all.  West has a career built in comedy, but it's one she fought for tooth and nail against pretty much every odd, and in this book she takes on that, as well as the struggle to just be seen as a person while fat and female.

West is loud.  She is opinionated.  This book has probably made a lot of people angry, because how dare a woman--and a fat one at that--have opinions like that?  How dare a woman not find rape jokes funny?  How dare she not find it flattering that men threaten to rape and kill her for protesting against the very un-funniness of rape jokes?  How dare she put it out that hey, it's hard to be a fat person, so please stop piling on the emotional abuse on top of an already challenged existence?  How dare she suggest that we don't go out of the way to shame and humiliate each other?

Nothing is off limits here, and that's probably one of the things that will make people mad.  West is a modern woman.  She has had an abortion, one she does not regret, though the emotions surrounding it were hard for her.  She is in a relationship with someone of another race.  She has struck out alone, written scathing articles directed at her own editor and climbed a professional ladder.  She has dealt with death and grieving and rejection and basically every sort of humiliation that she could possibly face.  In Shrill, she tears into all of it.  She mourns the loss of her "funny" card, from when the comedy community turned on her for speaking out about rape jokes.  She talks about online harassment, about being absolutely terrified at some of the things anonymous commenters threaten and the personal details they reveal they know, the fear that stalks her at the things they say--Are they watching me?  How do they know that?  She swears, she mocks herself and others, and she is angry, and justified in being so.  The title of the book, cooked up during the 2016 presidential campaigns, is deliberate, because West's anger, like so many other women's, comes to the surface in a time when a populace--including a majority of white women--would elect a sexual predator rather than a woman.

Her writing is good.  It is raw in some instances, but it reads like it seems West would speak, and that makes the book seem like a conversation, and a deeply personal one at that.  Is it the most polished thing in the entire world?  Probably not, because it's hard to be completely polished while being so forthright.  However, West has an extensive journalistic background, and that expertise shows here.  Among her new writing are excerpts of some of her former works, and in reviewing them she adds a few points of polish and remarks on things that she wished she had done, reflecting that not only is she not writing a 260-page rant--this is much more than that, more structured, more thought-out, more everything--but that it's largely her professional growth that has attributed to this.  That said, there are points where her writing is shocking, particularly at the beginning, and I found myself reeling back somewhat.  Maybe a bit more of easing in would have been good for the reader who wasn't quite prepared, but wanted to know--but then again, maybe that would defeat the point.

Overall, a harsh read, but a good and important one nonetheless.

4.5 stars out of 5.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Hello Stranger - Lisa Kleypas (Ravenels #4)

Hello Stranger (The Ravenels, #4)For some reason I keep going back to Lisa Kleypas, even though none of her recent works have really intrigued me.  The Ravenels series hasn't been strong, and I've found myself let down time and time again.  That was also the case here, with the fourth book Hello Stranger.  However, I do think this was stronger than the preceding three books.

Our heroine here is Garrett Gibson, the female doctor who has been a side character in the previous Ravenel books.  The hero is Ethan Ransom, who we've also seen briefly in passing.  How is this a Ravenel book, you might ask, when neither character is a Ravenel?  Ah.  Well, there's a clear answer there, but if you haven't figured it out yet, I'll let it come out in the reading.

Garrett is wrapped up in her career doctoring those less fortunate than she when she finds herself in a spot of trouble with some sailors while returning home one night.  Armed with a trusty cane, she's pretty confident that she can handle things--but Ethan, who's been following her (creepy much?) steps in and helps out.  He offers to teach her some self defense, after which he says he'll never see her again, but he just keeps coming back, and the pair's attraction only grows.

My big issue with this book is the pacing.  What seems like it really should have been the climactic event happens about halfway through the book, and then the part where they bop around in the country really seems to drag on and on and on.  Garrett is of course a woman ahead of her time--working with sterilization of medical supplies and practitioners and early blood transfusions--but even watching her wield her abilities can't help the struggling pace.  And as the romance is kind of on hold at that point, too, due to Ethan's condition...well.  It's slow.  Very slow.  There's a slight uptake in pace when they return to London, but it's not enough to save the long and dragging part.

Garrett and Ethan's attraction is definitely of the instant, or at least close to instant, variety.  And yet their relationship takes time progress, indicating some issues with pacing consistency here, as well.  That said, I liked Garrett and Ransom, individually and together, more than I liked the main characters of previous books.  Garrett has all the ambition of Pandora but none of the flightiness.  She is smart and steadying but doesn't decry love in favor of her career, and instead embraces that she can have both--after all, she's already broken barriers professionally, so why not personally?  And then there's Ethan.  I kind of feel like I shouldn't like Ethan, and yet I did.  He has a shady background, to be sure, but there's never even the slightest indication that he would hurt Garrett, even through attempting to shield her, which is important.  Additionally, Ethan's profession means that, for once, Kleypas' subplot makes sense.  She continues to have a spy/murder plot shoved into a romance book, something that very rarely works and hasn't worked in her past books, but at least with Ethan being so involved in it, it fits and builds throughout the book without being shoehorned in at the last minute as a way to reconcile the lovers.

Oh, and it was nice to see a historical romance in which neither of the two main characters is wielding a title as part of their attraction.  (No, that does not count.)

Is this Kleypas' most dazzling work?  No.  And honestly, at this point I don't have super high hopes for the last two books in this series.  However, this was stronger than the previous books in the series, having better main characters, a decent romance, and a subplot that, while not the strongest, at least made sense.  It did suffer from pacing issues on both the relationship and subplot sides, however, and so it's not escalating up into favorite romances of the year any time soon.

3 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Vision of Light - Judith Merkle Riley (Margaret of Ashbury #1)

A Vision of Light (Margaret of Ashbury, #1)I am a bad book club member.  I was so busy waiting to catch up on Ivan Ilych that I completely forgot I was supposed to read A Vision of Light for the beginning of March.  Oops.  And Vision, while not a doorstop, also isn't short, and it's not the fly-through-it type of book, either.

Set during the middle ages, the story follows Margaret of Ashbury, a young woman who hears a Voice telling her to write a book about her experiences.  She recruits Brother Gregory, a rather pretentious wanna-be monk, to do the actual writing for her as she is illiterate.  As Margaret's story unfurls through her telling to Brother Gregory, their relationship slowly evolves from contentious almost-enemies to something more closely resembling friendship with an air of debate about it.

This is a time period that we don't see a lot of historical fiction from, and particularly not a lot of stories featuring a female main character.  Fantasy in a medieval-inspired setting is fairly common, but not straight-up medieval fiction.

Overall, I liked this story.  It's somewhat slow and doesn't always seem to have a point.  It gets off to a particularly slow beginning, with Margaret's childhood in the village of Ashbury.  Some period remain more intriguing than others--while her time at the castle is good, her ramblings with the performers can get to be a little long-winded, for example.

Brother Gregory is an interesting character.  He wants to be a monk, despite coming from a noble house and having a fighting background.  He pursues enlightenment and spends his time reveling in qualities he doesn't actually possess, like humility.  Initially, it comes across as him being extremely pretentious and unlikable, particularly as he's very opposed to Margaret writing a book and only takes the job on because he's literally starving from poverty.  However, as the book goes on, we can see him exactly as Margaret does: as well-intentioned but slightly blind to his own character, and as a character of comedy rather than opposition or frustration.  It's this shifting of view that allows Gregory to come to be a friend and sparring partner rather than an outright antagonist.  Additionally, while Gregory can be stubborn and full of himself, he also starts to accede points to Margaret as the story progresses, even if he doesn't always acknowledge them aloud, and this allowance of understanding helps him develop as a sympathetic character as well.

There are a bevy of personable (and not so personable) supporting characters in this book.  Margaret's eventual mentor is one, her first husband another.  Most of them are Margaret's "supporters," who believe in her unusual abilities and help her through hard times, and her "opponents," who decry her as a witch and try to have her tried and executed for various reasons.

I was initially very skeptical about this book.  From the cover and the premise--woman hears the voice of God, really?--I did not think that I was going to like it.  However, I found myself pleasantly surprised.  While there are some problems with pacing, I found the characters well-composed and seeing them evolve was one of the charms of this book.  Its unusual setting and featuring of a female main character, and a midwife no less (one of the earliest forms of women in STEM) made for a strong story, and I'm interested in seeing where the next one picks up.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Reading Challenge Updates

So, apparently I only thought I had put this post out, when in fact it was just saved as a draft!  Oops.  Anyway, the work on the reading challenge continues, with two combined updates since I forgot to publish the first one.

As I've exhausted books I already own for categories, I started scouring lists and appending titles available through the library.  With that in mind, I think I have a solid selection of titles put in below, with just a few categories that will need to be filled in as I go.  I don't anticipate much change on these, since pretty much all of them are ones I'm very interested in and have been on my list for quite some time!  Many of the ones that I want from the library have lengthy waitlists, so I've already started putting on holds so I can read them as they become available.  I don't want to be scrambling at the end of the year for a book that has a billion holds on it.


Completed
-A bestseller from the year you graduated high school.  I continued reading the Mercy Thompson series for this one, going with Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs.  This is a good paranormal fantasy, but I feel like this series has lost some of its early sparkle to me.  Still, it was stronger than the book that preceded it, which probably bodes well for the following books.

-A book by two authors.  Something I learned last year: Ilona Andrews is actually two people, a husband and wife writing team composed of Andrew and Ilona Gordon.  Their book Burn for Me got a lot of good buzz on my radar last year, so I went with that one.  Oh, my.  It was wonderful.  I devoured it and its sequel, but I haven't quite made it to the third book yet.  If you like paranormal fantasy with a strong romantic element, this is it.

-A book about death or grief.  On a more somber note, I wanted to get this category out of the way early in the year so that, in case it was extremely depressing, it wouldn't bog down the end of my year.  I chose When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon whose life came to an early end from cancer.  The book was published posthumously, and while it is about dying and we go into it knowing that the author did succumb to his disease, it's a strangely uplifting book.  As his wife notes in the afterward, what happened to him was sad, but he was not a tragedy.  Was it a groundbreaking book?  Not really.  But I enjoyed it nonetheless.

-A book about feminism.  Contrary to what some people think, feminism is not about hating men or thinking women are better, but about wanting equality.  Of course, if you're reading this, you're probably aware of that.  A book that encapsulates that well is Shrill by Lindy West.  She talks about the struggles of being a woman in comedy, which is a notorious boys' club and rife with rape jokes, about struggling to be seen as both an overweight woman and a real human at the same time (can you imagine??? /sarcasm) and other such things.  It was poignant and irreverent, but not in a way that I think will scare off all her readers (and it clearly hasn't).  It's not for everyone, for sure, but once I got over a little initial shock, I liked it quite a bit.

-A book by a local author.  There are some big local authors from the Washington, DC area; however, I'd already read both of Laura Hillenbrand's works and I wasn't interested by any of the other ones that came up.  Then I found a list of lesser-known local authors, including Carolyn Parkhurst and her book Harmony.  Bonus points, Parkhurst got her MA from my alma mater, American University!  Harmony is about a family desperately looking for stability, and ending up in something that might be a cult in the process.  It's interesting to see the slide of how things were normal, and then they were a little off, and then they were very off, and then they were disastrous.  The alternating perspectives were a bit off-putting, but overall I liked this much more than I thought I would.

-A book about or set on Halloween.  Books set on a single day are hard to find, and I wasn't particularly interested in reading a nonfiction book about Halloween, so I went for a book with a climax set on Halloween.  A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness had been on my to-read list for some time, because it seemed interesting, but other than some wonderful senses of place, this book didn't have a ton to offer.  It was very generic, with a Special Snowflake heroine and a pace that absolutely dragged, and I am not at all encouraged to pick up the next book.

-A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you.  I've had The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev on my Kindle for a while now, so it was an easy choice for me.  I read a lot of books by authors of different ethnicities than myself, so I wasn't worried about filling this category--but it seemed like a good chance to get to a book I hadn't otherwise gotten to.  This wasn't quite what I was expecting.  I thought it would be more of a romance, and while it had strong romantic elements, it was more of a story about family.  Nevertheless, I liked it quite a bit and am interested in the other books...though the one after this one might be a bit too heartbreaking, given what we learn about the characters in this book.

 -An allegory.  Watership Down by Richard Adams was the April book selection for the Deliberate Reader book club on Facebook, and so an easy choice for this.  Here's the thing: Adams has evidently said that he did not intend the book as an allegory in any way, and that it was just a story.  However, it seems to be frequently read as one, and since I'm not even really sure what an allegory is (well, I am, but I'm not sure I could list one that isn't religious, and I didn't have any interest in a religious allegory) it was good enough for me, being seen as a story about the tyranny and freedom, logic and emotion, and the struggles between them.  It was much better than I actually thought it would be, and now it's a classic I can cross off my list!



Still to Come
-A book made into a movie you've already seen.  Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

-A book involving a heist.  The Palace Job, Patrick Weekes

-Nordic noir.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Steig Larsson

-A novel based on a real person.  Circling the Sun, Paula McLain

-A book set in a country that fascinates you.  Sky Burial, Xinran--this is one that I'll be reading for a book club and so will need to obtain somehow.

-A book with a time of day in the title.  Light in the Gloaming, J. B. Simmons

-A book about a villain or antihero.  Vicious, V. E. Schwab

-A book by a female author who uses a male pseudonym.  Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen

-A book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist.  Wanted, a Gentleman, K. J. Charles--this one isn't actually one I own or is lined up for a book club, but it was reportedly one of the best romance novels of the year and historical romances with LGBTQ+ bends are fairly rare, so I'm going to go for it.

-A book that is also a stage play or musical.  Anna and the King of Siam, Margaret London

-A book about mental illness.  The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

-A book you borrowed or that was given to you as a gift.  Clockwork Prince, Cassandra Clare

-A book about for involving a sport.  Riding Lessons, Sara Gruen

-A book with your favorite color in the title.  Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote--yes, Tiffany blue is my favorite color.  It's just such a gorgeous shade of blue-green that no other color quite captures.

-A book with alliteration in the title.  Salt & Storm, Kendall Kulper

-A book about time travel.  Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon

-A book with a weather element in the title.  Tempests and Slaughter, Tamora Pierce

-A book set at sea.  The Unimaginable, Dina Silver

-A book with an animal in the title.  Big Fish, Daniel Wallace

-A book set on a different planet.  The Sparrow, Mary Dorica Russell--this is the sci-fi book for discussion this year in the Deliberate Reader book club that I'll need to get.

-A book with song lyrics in the title.  Catch Me If You Can, Rank W. Abagnale--this is like a million songs, apparently, though I'm not familiar with any of them.

-A book mentioned in another book.

-A book from a celebrity book club.  The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy--from Emma Roberts' book club.  I wanted to do an Emma Watson "Our Shared Shelf" pick, but she hasn't picked anything I was really interested in recently, so I'm going this way instead.

-A childhood classic you've never read.  The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett--I don't own this one but I don't have a lot of "childhood classics" lying about, so I'll have to get one no matter what.

-A book that's published in 2018.  A Reaper at the Gates, Sabaa Tahir

-A book set in the decade you were born.  Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

-A book you meant to read in 2017 but didn't get to.  Arcana Rising, Kresley Cole

-A book with an ugly cover.  Brave New World, Aldous Huxley--I know there are tons of editions of this book, but mine has these weird blood cell-like things on the cover and it is weird and gross.

-A book that involves a bookstore or library.  Smoke and Iron, Rachel Caine

-Your favorite prompt from the 2015, 2016, or 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenges.  Beauty, Robin McKinley, from the 2016 category "A book based on a fairy tale."

-A cyberpunk book.  Neuromancer, William Gibson

-A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place.

-A book tied to your ancestry.  In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson--I'm half German so I picked a book that takes place in Germany, since I don't think there's anything both more specific and particularly interesting in my ancestry that there'd be a good book about.

-A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title.  The Garlic Ballads, Mo Yan--yes, garlic is a vegetable!  It is actually a type of onion.  #themoreyouknow

-A book by an author with the same first or last name as you.  As You Wish, Chelsea Sedoti

-A microhistory.  The Radium Girls, Kate Moore

-A book about a problem facing society today.  Sex Object, Jessica Valenti

-A book recommended by someone else taking the Popsugar Reading Challenge.  The Magicians, Lev Grossman, courtesy of "Chrissy" on the recommendations thread in the Popsugar Reading Challenge Goodreads group.

Monday, April 9, 2018

A Hope Divided - Alyssa Cole (Loyal League #2)

A Hope Divided (The Loyal League #2)Alyssa Cole is a relatively recent discovery for me, as I've only read the first Loyal League book prior to this, but she's got some good stuff coming out.  A Hope Divided intrigued me as soon as I finished reading An Extraordinary Union, and she also recently put out a modern romance, A Princess in Theory, that looks wonderful as well.  She has heroines who are in interesting fields--spying, medicine, science--and who are women of color, which are rare in mainstream romance and rarer still in historical romance.  And while I had liked An Extraordinary Union, something about A Hope Divided just seemed like it would strike me better.

And it did.

An Extraordinary Union was definitely a historical romance.  A Hope Divided I would classify as a historical fiction with a strong romantic thread.  The relationship between Marlie and Ewan is important to the story, yes--but equally so is the emphasis that Cole places on the non-combatant participants in the Civil War, those who didn't join up with the Confederate or Union armies, but fought in their own ways.  This might have been running slaves, escaped Union prisoners, or others trying to get away through the Underground Railroad, it might have been Quakers refusing to fight, it might have been spies, it might have been farmers sending food to Union prisoners.  Marlie, our heroine, is a biracial woman.  Growing up with her mother in a rural area, she's not very aware of her background, until a white woman, Sarah Lynch, shows up offering to take Marlie and give her the life that she, as a Lynch, deserves.  Marlie's mother agrees that's best, and off Marlie goes, against her will.  Though she finds herself living a mostly-respectable life--even as a Lynch, the color of her skin and her strange heterochromatic eyes keep people aware of who she is--she also holds onto her roots, brewing medicines for those in need, though she maintains that she relies on medicine and science rather than magic, folklore, or witchcraft like people said about her mother.

Enter Ewan, the brother of An Extraordinary Union's hero.  He's a Union prisoner hiding his identity, because his specialty was torturing information out of Confederate soldiers, and one of the men roaming in the area in charge of the nefarious Home Guard is one of the last men he encountered before being taken prisoner and he...somewhat lost his composure during the "interrogation."  Ewan has anger problems, stemming from his childhood with a drunk and abusive father, but he's worked hard to suppress them.  Torturing people, however, doesn't exactly lend itself to that.  In Marlie, who he encounters when she brings food and books to the prison, he finds peace, and also attraction--not just to her body, but to her mind.  But of course they can never be together...until he's holed up in a hidden room in Marlie's suite at Lynchwood, having escaped from prison.

There are some really nefarious people here, far so more than in the first book, and it's Marlie's interactions with them as well as the people in her community and those she meets when she leaves that make this a work of historical fiction with a romance bend rather than the other way around.  In traditional historical romance novels, the setting is kind of wallpaper, just designed to make the characters look good.  In A Hope Divided, the setting thrums with life.  It lives and breathes and is a character in its own right.  This sense of place contributes so much to the story and really grounds it in a strong historical fiction background instead of only romance.

Overall, I liked this more than the first book.  It's less of a spy story or a romance, but I think the other aspects added in balance well and make it a stronger story overall.

4.5 stars out of 5.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Pairing Off - Elizabeth Harmon (Red Hot Russians #1)

Pairing Off (Red Hot Russians, #1)Once again, can I just state that figure skating romances are da bomb?  Okay, now that that's out of the way, let me get to the actual book...

This came to me as I was perusing lists of figure skating books in the wake of absolutely loving From Lukov with Love.  I picked up Pairing Off and a couple of other titles off the list hoping for good things, and overall I feel that Pairing Off delivered.

Our main characters are Anton and Carrie, Russian and American pairs figure skaters, respectively.  The two met and had a, erm, romantic encounter when they were teenagers competing in junior games, and then completely lost touch.  Years later, Carrie has been banned from US figure skating after her partner initiates a sex scandal by sleeping with a judge in exchange for high scores.  Hoping for a new start in Russia--not in high competition, but at least in something that can keep skating in her life--she finds herself paired up with Anton, who doesn't recognize her from their encounter years before, and whose partner ditched him for another skater, though the two of them remain romantically involved.  But while Anton doesn't remember Carrie, Carrie certainly remembers Anton, and the two find themselves drawing closer both to each other and to Olympic dreams.

This was a solid sports romance novel.  The setting--modern Moscow--is unusual for an American romance novel, and I quite liked it.  The figure skating aspect is wonderful.  Carrie and Anton are a pair that don't immediately click, and they have to work to get to know each other.  It's not a hate-to-love relationship, but it's certainly one that has a rocky start, partially due to their past and partially because of Anton's more reserved character.  There are some good side characters here, too.  Initially Carrie seems to be hated by the entire figure skating community, American, Russian, and otherwise, but she slowly finds friends in Russia, though not everyone falls over themselves to get to know her--which is good, because I didn't want this to turn into Everyone Loves Carrie.  Olga, of course, is a Class A bitch and you have to wonder about why Anton stays with her for so much of the book despite their long connection, but she's not the only one who doesn't fawn over Carrie (though no one else is perhaps quite so venomous).

What I didn't like was Carrie's Tortured Past and her dynamics with her father.  I think one or the other would have been more than adequate here.  But Carrie blames herself for the suicide of her mother, and takes responsibility for her father's political career almost entirely on her own shoulders, which was ridiculous.  I know that people get survivor's guilt, or blame themselves for things they can't control, but the length of time that this was drawn out for and the melodrama that surrounded it was completely out of proportion and took away from some of the better aspects of the book.  And what was up with the sudden paparazzi storm?  That seemed larger than life, as well...

Overall, I liked this one.  It was a solid start to a series.  The second book (Turning It On) involves reality TV and I'm not sure that's really up my alley, so I might skip to the third book (Getting It Back) since there's not an overarching plot, but I'm definitely interested in more books in this vein!

4 stars out of 5.