Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Replacement - Rachael Wade (Replacement #1)

The ReplacementHmmm....  This one was a weird one for me.  I ended up liking it much more than I thought I would for a while, but I still have some reservations about it.  The Replacement is about Elise Duchamp, a 23-year-old waitress in Gig Harbor, Washington, who is also known as the town whore.  She sleeps with pretty much every guy in town, available or not, and she doesn't regret it.  She thrives off of it.  Until, of course, that one special someone comes along.  She doesn't want to change her ways, particularly, and she tries to drive him away because she doesn't think she's good enough for him and blah blah blah.

It's complicated.

I liked Elise and I hated her in turns.  And, the more I think about it, the more that I don't think she should have gotten the guy in the end.  Let me tell you, Ryder was hot.  He was awesome.  I loved Ryder.  But Elise shouldn't have gotten him.  Mainly because she didn't deserve him.  She was cruel to him, purposefully and ruthlessly cruel, and while she went out and had a whole big epiphany/self discovery period and then came back to him, I don't thinks he should have ended up with him.  I think Ryder deserved better than Elise, and that Elise should have had her big self discovery and then moved on and maybe ended up with someone else who isn't in the book at all.  Maybe someone else in another town, because I have a hard time thinking she'd ever be able to really live in Gig Harbor after everything she did.

I really liked the writing.  I thought it had a great flow, and Wade made Elise, a girl who is not really all...a likeable narrator.  I thought I'd hate her for the duration of the book, but I didn't.  There were times I hated her, but it wasn't a constant stream of hate.  And there were parts of her that I could definitely empathize with, too.  Not the sleeping with other people's husbands/boyfriends and getting off on that, but things like her dream of going to Paris, and her complete awareness of what an awful person she is, because the first step to changing is acknowledging that there's a problem.  There were sweet aspects to her that went a long way towards mellowing out her other, less savory qualities.  There was, I will admit, a lot of sex in this book, which I guess is to be expected from a book about a self-proclaimed whore.  It varied in quality, but overall it was good.

One complaint I do have is that Wade made almost every man in the universe look like a cheating bastard in this book.  There were a total of two who weren't.  Now, are there cheating bastards in the world?  Yes.  But I refuse to believe they are as plentiful as they apparently are in Gig Harbor.  Geeze, ladies of Gig Harbor, y'all need to move somewhere else, because apparently there is something in the water there that makes guys insensitive, cheating bastards.  I really would have rather seen Elise engage in a handful of more noteworthy affairs than a whole slew of non-noteworthy ones, because I would have found it more believable.  Also...I'm not really sure where her issues came from?  Because she says she has "daddy issues," and she clearly does, but from the way her father treats her in the book it seems like they would have manifested very differently from what they were, like maybe always trying to please men instead of herself?  I don't know.  It was kind of off, but not book-ruining for me, and overall I still liked this one.

A solid 3 stars out of 5.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Gentleman's Honor - Stephanie Laurens (Bastion Club #2)

A Gentleman's Honor (Bastion Club, #2)A Gentleman's Honor is the second book in Laurens' "Bastion Club" series, about a group of noblemen during the Regency period who are prime targets on the ton marriage mart and yet are determined to pick their own wives instead of having young women foisted upon them by interfering mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, etc.  I read the first book in the series, too, and after finishing this one, I've come to a realization: Laurens doesn't have much variation in her characters.  It's a lot of hot, possessive guys and a lot of girls who like to think they're independent but becoming melting messes the second they lay eyes on their love interests.

That said, the book wasn't bad.  Actually, I found it more interesting than the first one in the series, and I got through it a good deal quicker, too, but that was mostly because it had a more interesting plot than the first book.  That's another thing about these books.  They have plots.  I would like to call them subplots, because the main plot should be the romance,'s kind of not?  I mean, there's lots of kissing and sex and all of that good stuff (so much, in this book, that I actually kind of got bored of it...apparently there's a delicate balance for these things in my mind) but there's a plot that goes through it all of Anthony, the main male character, trying to catch someone who has committed treason, and Alicia really ends up on his radar because the traitor is trying to use her as a scapegoat.  And meanwhile, Alicia is hiding her own background in the hopes that she'll be able to successfully marry off her younger sister, Adriana.  The "catch the traitor" plot in this one was more interesting than the "catch the creepy guy" plot in the first one, but given the repetitiveness of the characters between the first book and this, I doubt the others in the series will be much different, and I probably won't be reading onward.

3 out of 5 stars, but not a memorable 3, if that makes any sense.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The American Bride - Karla Darcy (Sweet Deception Regency #6)

The American Bride (Sweet Deception Regency #6)I have been struggling to find a historical romance author who can compete with Lisa Kleypas and Julia Quinn for my affections.  So far, the search hasn't yielded fruit, and Karia Darcy's The American Bride gets to join the pile of discarded hopes and dreams.  As far as historical romances go, this one was just bland.  The writing was stiff, very tell-y, and the witty banter that usually makes historical romance novels a fun read was pretty much entirely lacking.  The love interest, Julian, was stiff, cold, and uncaring, and honestly I can't see how Cara fell in love with a total asshole like him.  He does soften up--but only after Cara is in love with him, and he returns to being a complete ass to her not too long after.  Also, I'm not sure how Cara and her grandmother decided on such a hare-brained scheme to get Cara acquainted with Julian, anyway.  This probably would have been a more interesting story if Cara had just showed up as Julian's arranged bride and the two had been forced to work things out.

Additionally, there was some...weird stuff going on in this one.  It's repeatedly stated that Julian's father arranged the marriage, and yet his father appears to have been dead for some time, so I can only assume the marriage was arranged from beyond the grave.  And as for the relationship...well, on Cara's end, it doesn't make sense, as mentioned above.  On Julian's end, it's just creepy.  He apparently views Cara as a child with boobs, given the numerous times he refers to her as a child, girl, etc. both in and out of dialogue.  However, he apparently has no qualms about entering a physical relationship with her and perhaps even keeping her as a mistress.  All together, that's just creepy.  Cara's interactions with her charges, Richard and Belin, were amusing, but I'm forced to think that she was a completely awful governess.  I mean, yeah, she helped the kids come out of their shells, but it's not a governess' job to play Indians in the woods or give swimming lessons.  Lessons of the type a governess should have been giving (and ones Cara insisted she was more than qualified to give) were completely lacking.  And with the way she acted, Julian should have booted her off the estate within a matter of days.

Overall, this one just didn't make any sense to me, and with the awkward, stiff writing (filled with an abundance of misplaced commas) it was just dull and finishing it felt more like a chore than a treat.

2 stars out of 5.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Septembers of Shiraz - Dalia Sofer

The Septembers of ShirazThe Septembers of Shiraz actually has nothing to do with Septembers in Shiraz, so don't pick it up if you're hoping Shiraz will be a prominent feature.  It's not.  In fact, the book is split pretty much entirely between Tehran in the early 1980s and New York City at the same time.  The title comes from one little passage of reflection at the very end, and while it does have a ring to it and some lovely alliteration, it's not exactly relevant to the plot.  The plot revolves around Isaac Amin, a gem dealer who is arrested for mysterious reasons, and his family as they go through the ordeal of his imprisonment while trying to keep up appearances.  While Isaac struggles with life in prison, never knowing if each night will be his last, his wife and daughter face harassment from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at their home.  Farnaz, Isaac's wife, tries to keep life moving on, and his daughter Shirin steals files from the house of one of her friends in the hope that the files' subjects will escape her father's fate.  Meanwhile, Isaac's son Parviz attends university in New York City and only has spotty communication with his family, and lives an impoverished life when they are not able to send money, at the same time becoming involved in the lives of the Mendelsons, a family of Hasidic Jews from whom he rents his living space.

It took me a while to get into this book, mainly because not much was happening.  Sofer's writing style just didn't grab me and pull me in, and after Isaac's arrest--which happens almost immediately--there's a lot of day-to-day stuff going on before the next "big thing" come along.  It ended at a sort of strange place, and overall felt rather anti-climatic.  That said, I did get into the book about halfway through and enjoyed it, though it's probably not one that I'll grab for the next time I want to read something about the Middle East.  It was good, but not really remarkable; that's pretty much all there is to it.  It did, however, leave me wanting a Turkish-style tea set, for some strange reason.

3 stars out of 5.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Officer and the Bostoner - Rose Gordon (Fort Gibson Officers #1)

18104279Oh, historic romances.  How you pull my heartstrings--and not always in the ways the authors intended.  I was hoping when I dove into Gordon's book that I'd be finding a new Julia Quinn or Lisa Kleypas to devour, albeit one whose book was set in the early American West instead of in London society.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.  The book wasn't bad, but it just wasn't what I look for in a historical romance novel.
So, The Officer and the Bostoner (the use of Bostoner rather than Bostonian is completely deliberate, by the way) follows Allison Piers, who gets off a stagecoach to get a bite to eat and ends up left behind in a military fort on the edge of Indian lands.  She was on her way to meet her fiance--now she's stranded with no way of getting out for at least a few weeks.  In swoops Captain Wes Tucker, who offers to marry her, keep his hands to himself, and annul the marriage when Allison's fiance arrives to rescue her so that she won't be harassed by the fort's other soldiers in the meantime.  Allison doesn't see any other real options for herself, and so she agrees, and the prim Bostoner/Bostonian has to get used to rough living on the frontier.
While the story isn't the most original, I can't really fault that, because most historical romances revolve around tropes to fuel them.  That didn't bother me.  What bothered me was that Gordon apparently couldn't decide whether this was going to be a sweet or sultry romance, and so almost three-quarters of the way through it flops from one to the other.  The first, larger part of the book has glances and blushes and occasional, mostly accidental touches and all kinds of modesty and so on, and while Allison and Wes had their moments, they definitely weren't getting steamy and ripping each others' clothes off, or even sticking their tongues in each others' mouths.  And then, in the span of about two pages, it suddenly turns into all kinds of trailing tongues and vanishing clothes and...well, you get the picture.  I really wish that either Wes and Allison had...not necessarily become physically involved earlier, but maybe had a stronger attraction to each other earlier.  Maybe more steamy kissing or something?  Nothing too much, just enough so that I'd know which way the book was going to go!  The sudden emergence of steam in the last part combined with the outpouring of sudden drama (FAR more drama than in the rest of the book, really just dumped in at once) made the whole thing seem a bit unbalanced, and it flopped from sweet-but-slightly-boring into too-much-at-once territory very quickly.

So, I guess The Officer and the Bostoner wasn't quite my cup of tea.  Or coffee, right, Wes?  That said, Gordon seems like a pretty prolific writer in the historical romance genre, so maybe I just need to find a setting/characters that suit my fancy a bit more and we'll be a better match.  But as for this one...?

2.5 stars out of 5.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Servants of the Storm - Delilah S. Dawson

Servants of the StormI wish I hadn't read this book.  I really do.  Because dear lord, I loved it so, so much, and then I got to the end and was consumed by a fiery rage.  For the vast majority of the book, I was enthralled.  I loved Dovey, and Isaac, and kind of hated Baker because he was annoying, but overall the story reminded me of nothing more than Holly Black's Tithe and Valiant and Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely, except it doesn't deal with faeries and it was set in the south, specifically Savannah.  It has the same deal of someone seeing what other people can't and getting pulled into a mess bigger than themselves and oh dear lord, I was loving it so, so much.It had a sort of post-apocalyptic feel to it, too, though it was actually a post-natural disaster setting, and that mixed with the supernatural aspect also had me thinking of Kresley Cole's Poison Princess, which I found annoying to begin with but was completely enthralled by when I got to the end.  It was set up to be a five-star book, to be read again and again, all the way.  This was going to be a book I was talking about for days, recommending to everyone I came across.  It was on its way to being a star.

And then the end.  This is a book that, if I had not been reading it on my laptop (it was Simon and Schuster's book of the week on their PulseIt website), I would have thrown it across the room in a fit of rage.  Is Dovey an unreliable narrator?  Is she not?  I don't know.  I HATE IT SO MUCH.  Is there a sequel?  Don't know.  It's set up like there should be, but since this book technically hasn't even been released for about a half hour after I'm writing this (11:30PM on August 4th, though this will likely be posted later) it's hard to say.  It's not listed as being in a series on either Goodreads or Amazon, though.  But then, I don't think Tithe was supposed to have sequel/companion books when it was first published, either, though I could be wrong about that.  But STILL.  I am so angry at Dawson right now that I can barely type.  I want some type of closure in my books, you know?  It doesn't even have to be closure that I like, though I obviously prefer closure that I like!  BUT THIS.  NO.  NOT EVEN A LITTLE.  In fact, this book has led me to create a new "rage-inducing" shelf on Goodreads, of which it is currently the only occupant.

I adored SO SO MUCH OF THIS BOOK and then absolutely HATED the ending, and not in the same way I hated the endings to other books, like Gods in Alabama.  With that, I felt disappointed that so much excellent storytelling had come to such a lackluster conclusion.  With this, I just feel cheated.  Cheated isn't a good way to leave your readers--or at least it's not a good way to leave me.  It makes me hold a grudge against you, dear Delilah S. Dawson.  How I wish you had chosen to do something else.  If a sequel to Servants of the Storm appears, I'll probably pick it up seeking the closure that I didn't get here--but I won't be reading any of Dawson's other books, because I'm not going to set myself up for that sort of disappointment again.

Seriously, guys.  Just go read Tithe instead.  It'll give you the same feeling of beauty and decay and creepiness and fantasy and romance--all of the good parts of this book--and in the end, you'll still have closure.

2.5 out of 5 stars, right in the middle, for both the beauty and rage.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

AmericanahFirst off, can I say that Adichie is actually featured on a BeyoncĂ© track?  How cool is that?  I mean, Adichie is a fantastic writer on her own merits and definitely didn't need BeyoncĂ© to be taken seriously as a writer, but still.  Pretty cool.  (The feature, if anyone is interested, is an excerpt of a speech Adichie gave about why everyone should be feminists.)

I've read all of Adichie's other works and really loved them, and was thrilled to finally get my hands on Americanah, which was checked out at the library pretty much since it came out.  Let me tell you, it didn't disappoint.  It spans oceans and years, following the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze, two Nigerians who fell in love in secondary school, and where their lives take them.  When the book opens, Ifemelu is living in Princeton, and is preparing to move back to Lagos in Nigeria.  Obinze is married and living in Lagos.  The bulk of the book is the story of how these two got to where they are, being a series of flashbacks that aren't necessarily in sequential order.  The book was ever so slightly out of balance in that the beginning and middle kind of outweighed the end, length-wise, but of course that's not a deal breaker.  Adichie can write an absolutely stunning drama, and Americanah was no exception.  Her characters are terribly, tragically real.  They do things that they regret and they have very real, very human flaws that make them unlikeable at points, but you can never really stop rooting for them because you know them so well and want them to succeed.  Their transformations across the years as they age and mature are also startling, something which becomes very apparent when Ifemelu eventually returns to Nigeria as an "Americanah," someone who's spent time in America an has been changed by it.  Also, her handling of setting is phenomenal.  I've never been most of the places Adichie writes about (the only one I've seen myself is Baltimore) and yet I can really picture them through her magnificent prose.

One feature I found very interesting was Ifemelu's profession as a blogger--though I did find it a bit unrealistic how quickly she gained followers.  While she has several other jobs throughout the book, her ultimate calling is apparently blogging, and she runs a blog full of her own observation on black Americans through the eyes of a non-American black.  Let me tell you, there are some real stingers about how Americans view race and how deeply ingrained it is in our society, but they were well-thought out and succinct rather than offensive--though I find it easy to believe that some people would find them offensive.  She's blunt, but honest, and that's marvelously refreshing.  I do know that novels are hardly ever biographical, but at the same time I'm forced to wonder how much came from Adichie's own experiences, just because of how poignant some of the happenings here are.  Overall, it's a truly stunning book, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves good literature and good drama.

Also, kudos to her publisher for having such a lovely cover and not just plastering on a picture of a sunset and an acacia tree.

5 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream Orchid - Tim Ecott

Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream OrchidSo, I have a thing about food.  It's no secret.  I have a fabulous metabolism now, but let me tell you, when I get older, I am going to be so fat because I love to eat.  A lot.  Vanilla was just my latest foray into the world of books about food.  And let me tell you, if you're looking for a book about food to read on vacation, this is a great one.  I took it with me to Maine, which was lovely but was nonetheless a far cry from the tropical areas where vanilla is grown, and I spent the entire time pining after after the perfect scoop of vanilla ice cream.

That said...this isn't much of a history of vanilla.  I mean, there's a history of vanilla there, but it's interspersed with all kinds of other stuff.  There's an entire chapter about life on the island of Bourbon/Reunion that doesn't touch on vanilla at all.  Really, it does come across as Ecott traveling a lot and writing a book about vanilla to justify it.  Not that it's a bad thing--I loved reading his descriptions of Mexico, Tahiti, Madagascar, and all the other stops along the way, and his interactions with the people who make up the vanilla industry.  My biggest complaint was that the narrative had a weird sort of organization.  While I would have liked to see vanilla go from the vine to the processing and then onwards, in order, it bounced around a lot, going from vine to processing back to vine to the food it goes into and all around in a manner that wasn't confusing, per se, but certainly seemed a bit discordant.

This book wasn't a really "dense" history, if that makes sense; the history is really just glazed over, for the most part, with a few more in-depth pieces about individuals who made a real impact.  But, like I said before, that made it a great, easy vacation read.  and it made me want to travel, too, and eat vanilla ice cream all the while.  The book barely went into the modern industry at all--apparently the modern vanilla industry is full of deep, dark secrets that no one is willing to disclose--but I still found it thoroughly enjoyable.  Overall, it reminded me a great deal of Rachel Louise Snyder's Fugitive Denim, which deals with the modern denim industry and travels about in a manner similar to Ecott's.  I really enjoyed Fugitive Denim, so it's not really a surprise that I liked Vanilla, too.  This isn't a book for someone looking for a detailed, scientific look at vanilla, but it is a book for someone like me who likes food and travel and good writing, and I would definitely recommend it on those aspects.

4 stars out 5.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Tea Cups & Tiger Claws - Timothy Patrick

Tea Cups & Tiger ClawsI am probably one of very few people in my demographic in the US who has not watched Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones and has not read the Song of Ice and Fire books.  Still, much of it has somehow been absorbed into my pop culture subconscious, such as the fact that George R. R. Martin called Walter White a monster worse than anyone in Westeros.  And while I know that there are some real doozies of monsters out there in fiction-land, I think Timothy Patrick's character Dorthea Railer could play ball with the worst of them.

Tea Cups & Tiger Claws follows three generations of women, starting with Elma Railer during World War I.  Elma gives birth to identical triplets and allows two of them, Abigail and Judith, to be adopted by a duchess, but she keeps the third baby, Dorthea, for herself--presumably out of spite for the people trying to manipulate her into giving up all three of her children.  The Railer family is, put simply, white trash, and everyone figures that Dorthea will end up just as bad as the rest of them.  She doesn't.  She ends up much, much worse.  As Dorthea tries to claw her way to the top of Prospect Park society and find her place in the mansion on the hill, she creates her own little underworld, complete with drugs, secret dungeons, kidnapping, and a hefty dose of murder.  Sucked into this mess are Abigail and Judith's daughters, good girl Sarah and party girl Veronic, and when Dorthea finally makes her grab for the high life, it's Sarah and Veronica who get caught in the flames.

This is very much a character-driven story, and really all of the characters are reflections of each other, showing what each could have become if things were just a little different.  It's written in a mostly-linear fashion, broken up by great chunks of background info on places and people.  Still, this exposition is written in such a flowing, fluid style that I didn't feel it bogged down the narrative at all, but instead made it even fuller and richer.  The level of detail could have easily strayed into the territory of dull and lifeless, but instead left just enough to the imagination to keep me interested.

There were a few issues--some misplaced or misused words, some typos and rough grammar in a few areas, though not enough to be ruinous to the whole.  The thing that bothered me most was part of the mystery I never felt was truly resolved.  One of the characters leaves clues tot eh others that are meant to help stop Dorthea.  While I am pretty sure I know who the helper is, it was never said outright, and the "how"s and "why"s of the aid are left somewhat in the dark.  I really would have liked to see that fleshed out a bit more to add some more completeness to the story.  Still, I could gather enough on my own, I guess, and the engaging characters and prose kept me going long after I should have been asleep on more than one night.

4.5 stars out of 5.