Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Possessions - Sara Flannery Murphy

The PossessionsThe Possessions was my Book of the Month choice for February 2017.  (I also got Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, but this was my "primary" book, if that makes sense.)  The description, about a woman who earns a living by letting the souls of the dead possess her so their loved ones can speak to them again, was intriguing.  The potential added murder-mystery-suspense element added additional promise.

Our heroine, Eurydice, works for the Elysian Society.  By wearing an item that belonged to the deceased and swallowing a pill called a "lotus," Edie (as she's known) can step away from her body, letting the spirit of the deceased person speak once again.  This is a service sought by those who want to reconnect with their lost loved ones--though no one in the Society ever seems to question if the loved ones want to come back, other than by refusing to work with those who seek to "bring back" someone who committed suicide.  She's the longest-running employee of the Elysian Society, and uses the emptiness of the position to hide from a past of her own.  One of her new clients comes to the Society to visit his wife, who drowned under mysterious circumstances two years before, and Edie finds herself strangely drawn to him, to the point that she begins risking her job and her well-being by sneaking lotuses out of the Society and going to him as his deceased wife in other circumstances.

Unfortunately, this book didn't ultimately work for me.  There's a certain spooky atmosphere to it that definitely worked.  The nameless city which almost seems like a ghost itself, the mysterious drowning in the lake, the promise of foul play... It's all very promising.  The "blank slates" that the "bodies" at the Elysian Society worked as was also promising, almost a la Joss Whedon's Dollhouse.  But I don't think the atmosphere was utilized to its fullest or the promise fully explored.

Ultimately, the hints of foul play and imminent danger don't go anywhere, instead just serving to cover up a "Dark Secret" that really isn't one, and is just people trying to avoid looking bad vs. someone actually being bad.  Edie's background didn't prove compelling enough for me to feel it was worth being strung out for the duration of the book over.  And ultimately, I felt like this was a book that preached women finding fulfillment through pregnancy--that seemed to be the case with the predominant women featured on the page.  The whole book revolves around women wanting to be pregnant and not being pregnant, even if it doesn't look like that on the surface.  As a woman who wants to never have children, this was a bit off-putting, because it's presented as pregnancy and motherhood being the only way to not be an empty shell, like the bodies of the Elysian Society.  And murder mystery that pervades the entire book ultimately ends up being nothing really worth mentioning.  There's also a startling lack of logic into how the "possessing" part of the story actually works.  People can do it with drugs as weak as baby aspirin or as strong as heavy-duty sleeping pills.  And it can apparently happen whenever.  But there's not any logic as to why it only happens to certain people, and why it doesn't happen when people just are trying to sleep, etc.

I usually really like my Book of the Month selections, but this one ended up being nothing special for me.  It doesn't live up to any of its promises, and left me wishing that it had just been more.

2 stars out of 5.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus is a story that could perhaps best be described as "ethereal."  It has a wonderful sense of atmosphere to it, and that is truly the real draw here, because I have to say, there's not that much going on story-wise here.  The plot supposedly revolves around an ongoing duel between two magicians, who were placed into conflict by their respective teachers and not really of their own free will.  However, there's not really much dueling going on here, and absolutely zero animosity, and since none of our main characters actually know the rules of the game, the game itself is pretty much moot and the descriptions of the eponymous Night Circus are left to carry the story.

It's slow, with a mild intertwining romance component that develops just a tiny bit at a time but still can't really be called a "slow burn" because it's barely there at all.  There's little plot, little romance, and the second-person sections peppered throughout were, uhm, utterly useless.  And yet I liked this.  How to describe such a thing?

Well, as I mentioned above, it's an ethereal sort of story.  It's all atmosphere, all smoke and mirrors, working to make you think that more is going on than there actually is.  And it works.  Just like with our real-world magic shows, even though you know that it's not what it appears, it still has some sort of appeal.  And the end, when the rules of the game actually come out and the short batch of action and devastation and reparation that follows, is actually truly beautiful and one of my favorite tropes.  And I really enjoyed the setting, too--this time period, around the turn of the nineteenth-to-twentieth-century, works perfectly for this sort of story.  It's a time when the circus was still magical rather than being tawdry and seen as the home of animal abuse and carnival rides of questionable safety.  And the costume porn here is absolutely amazing; what I wouldn't give for something like Celia's color-changing dress!

So, I think that summarizes this book pretty well.  Don't go to it looking for action and duels and steamy romance, even from afar.  Instead, seek this one out if you're looking for a sense of magic and whimsy, and you don't mind letting that sense build slowly and drift around like a sort of mist or the clouds of the Cloud Maze; there doesn't appear to be very many actual rules to magic here, which bothers me a bit, but it still has enough appeal that I really liked it.  I think if that sense of atmosphere had been done just one iota less well, this would have been a very different book completely, and not in a good way.  But luckily for us, Morgenstern did the atmosphere masterfully, and I think we're all better off for it.

4 stars out of 5.

I read this book for my 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge, for the category of "A book you bought on a trip."  I bought my copy of The Night Circus on a trip back to my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, at the used bookstore Books Galore.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Emma - Jane Austen

EmmaEmma is the March book of the month for the digital book club over at The Deliberate Reader.  You read the book the month before so that you're done with it (or almost done with it) by the time the discussion month rolls around.

I've read Pride and Prejudice from Austen before, but none of the other ones.  I have to admit that while many people fawn over the Colin Firth film adaptation, I really do like the Kiera Knightley one.  And I liked P&P as a book, too.  I'd also picked up one of those nice, leather-bound (well, probably faux leather) with gold edges collected Austen books over Thanksgiving, so I was looking forward to reading Emma, which also fulfilled a category for both my Popsugar and romance reading challenges.

Unfortunately, I didn't really like Emma.  Most of this is because I didn't like Emma herself.  Austen's books, to my knowledge, all basically revolve around moderately-well-off people looking to marry other moderately-well-off or even well-off people, and the comedies of manners that ensue.  They're mildly mocking of this polite society.  Emma is no different in this.  The eponymous Emma Woodhouse is a young woman who lives with her widowed father, following the marriage and departure of her older sister.  Emma's former governess and companion has also recently married, a match that Emma fancies she helped along, and she decides to start playing matchmaker for others, namely a young woman living at a nearby boarding school, Harriet Smith.

The problem is that Emma is absolutely insufferable.  She can't see anything beyond what she's built up in her own head, and she's incredibly classist.  "Well, of course," you might say.  "Think of her background, the time period!"  But to that I say, No.  Yes, Emma came from a well-off background.  But Harriet, who is a bastard daughter, has no claims to any class, and yet Emma deems the man who loves Harriet, and who Harriet genuinely loves in return, to be too low-born for her.  She has so many pretensions and prejudices that honestly Pride and Prejudice might have been a better title for this one than for the book about Lizzie Bennett!  Austen is perfectly aware of this, of course, and it's part of the point of the book--it's all part of the way that Austen makes a point about the society she writes about.  The other characters are all very skeptical of Emma and her actions and pretensions, raising eyebrows and sometimes working directly to counter her when she gets a little too crazy about the matchmaking.  But Emma was still too annoying, not taking into the consideration the thoughts or genuine feelings of anyone else, instead thinking that she knows better than everyone and that only what she has decided on knows about.

Other than that, the book is charming.  Of course it is.  Austen creates a quaint little village that's embroiled in a series of love affairs (though they are, of course, perfectly appropriate love affairs) and the gossip and entanglements that those affairs bring with them.  Mr. Knightley is a wonderful hero, and definitely too good for Emma; it's hard to say what he saw in her, honestly.  Mr. Woodhouse is completely absurd, which is the point, with his hypochondria and concerns that eating an apple that hasn't been baked three times will lead to an untimely death.  And then there's Jane Fairfax, who is a perfectly bland and boring person until she's not.  All of this was basically exactly I was expected; it was just marred by a main character who I couldn't stand.  Maybe if Emma had actually learned a lesson from all of this, it would have been different, but it wasn't--instead, she just proceeded to get whatever she wanted, regardless of how she walked over other people in order to do it.

I've read Pride and Prejudice, so I know how good Austen can be.  Emma definitely hasn't put me off reading her other works, but this was not the best reading experience I've had.

2 stars out of 5.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Chasing Cats - Erin Bedford (The Underground #2)

Chasing Cats (The Underground, #2)Last year, I read Bedford's first book, Chasing Rabbits, as part of an indie-author feature I ran for a short time.  I ultimately ended the feature without really saying anything about it because I was just being disappointed too much.  There is some amazing indie work out there--one of my favorite authors, Intisar Khanani, is indie--but so many times something that's highly rated isn't actually good because it's people supporting an author just for being indie.  Yes, there's a lot of crap in traditional publishing that's highly rated, too--I am well aware.  However, it's normally easier to spot from a distance, as opposed to indie, where my experience has been overwhelmingly to see things that have a neat concept, but aren't actually well-executed.  That said, I had picked up Chasing Cats a while ago while it was on sale (I think this might have involved pre-ordering it) and found myself in the mood for something involving sexy fae over the weekend, so I dug through my dusty Kindle archives and found it.

Let me put it out there right away: I think this was an improvement over Chasing Rabbits.  Much of this has to come from the fact that, apart from a tiny, tiny part of the book, none of it takes place in the Underground/Wonderland.  The main character, Kat, is trying to come to terms with both her newly-revealed identity as a faerie princess reincarnated as a human and with the magical powers that come with that status, as well as with the fae beings who keep popping up in her house without ever bothering to knock.  Included among them?  Dorian, her former fae fiance and the UnSeelie prince, and Chess, aka the Chesire Cat, who, let me remind you, is a fae guy with ears and a grope-prone tail and a love for tight and/or revealing clothing.  While the third book in the series is clearly headed back to Wonderland, I have higher hopes for it after this, because Bedford seems to have edged a bit away from equating every single thing in the traditional Wonderland story something fae.  It's a bit hard to say, because this is mostly set in our human world, but I have hope based on how this one went.

That said, there's second-book syndrome here.  While Kat worries about finding herself, she has a few short magic lessons until she's told to "just do it," essentially, and does (because magic works like that?) and flirts with Chess.  That's about it.  There's a bit going on in the background, the repercussions of things that Kat did in the first book, but they're all happening in the background rather than in Kat's direct line of vision and action.  Aside from her self-discovery bend, she deals with her bitchy boss and her bitchy mother(s) and her bitchy sister.  Seriously, why is every woman other than Kat a bitch here?  It makes me side-eye female authors when all of their female characters other than the heroine are one-dimensional bitches.  Additionally, she continues to use the threat of rape as a motivating trope.  Sigh.  The Big Betrayal also doesn't ring true to me from how it's written here, but maybe it follows through more in the third book?

And, again, this book needs more editing.  There are misused words--conscious instead of conscience immediately springs to memory, though there were more--and missing words and a dearth of proper comma use and just some overall very awkward sentence structure.

But I still enjoyed this more than Chasing Rabbits.  CR felt like it was trying too hard.  This one might have felt a bit like it wasn't trying hard enough, but I think it was an improvement.  Bedford can also write a pretty good makeout scene, though Kat having her tongue down the throat of every fae male she encounters at some point (and vice versa) also got a little old.  I get it.  Pheromones.  And no, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Kat as a woman enjoying getting some--her lectures to Alice on this point were humorous--but I felt there could have been a more productive use of page time here.  And apparently there's going to be a fae/human war?  Where did that come from?  There was no indication of this, it feels like an attempt to escalate the drama but there's no way that it's actually tied in.  Oi, I'm whining again, aren't I?  Sigh.

Okay, so, basically, what I'm trying to say is, this book has its issues.  Definitely.  I think it needs polishing and refining and all sorts of stuff.  But I also think that it was better than its predecessor, and I think that if Bedford actually stays away from the Wonderland tropes (hard, maybe, because of how this got started, but doable) this could be a better series than it started off as.

3 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Goldenhand - Garth Nix (Abhorsen #5)

Goldenhand (Abhorsen, #5)This is a walking book, which was immensely disappointing.  Here's the thing.  This is the fifth book in a series.  The first book could be read as a stand-alone.  The second and third were closely linked and could be read as a duo, but really drew on the first book.  The fourth was a prequel, set far before the first three, and wasn't the same in quality though it did give some fascinating character backstory to villain encountered in another book.  And now there's this one, which feels like Nix just wrote it because people asked him to, rather than because there was a story asking to be told.  Consequently, the pacing was terrible, and the vast majority of the book (about the first 70% of it) are spent with characters travelling somewhere with only the flimsiest of goals.

Our two main characters here are Lirael, the heroine of books two and three, who is now the Abhorsen-In-Waiting under Queen Sabriel, who still holds the title of Abhorsen.  Together, they are working to quell the still-trouble-making spirit of Chlorr of the Mask (previously known as Clariel, the Lost Abhorsen) until she gets away, and then Sabriel and her husband go away on vacation, neatly banishing them for the majority of the story.  Lirael eventually sets off to help and recover Nick Sayres, who seems to have gotten into some trouble on the other side of the Wall that divides the Old Kingdom from Nick's homeland.  Meanwhile, a girl called Ferin, who's from a group of nomadic tribes we've never heard of before in the four books that we've had so far(?) is trying to deliver a message to Lirael, and is being pursued by other tribespeople who want to kill her because she's escaped a death dictated by the Witch with No Face--three guesses who that is.  Consequently, Lirael spends a lot of time going to the Wall, and then to the glacier where the Clayr live with Nick in tow.  Ferin spends a lot of time on a boat and then running down a road and over some ridges with a messed-up foot.  There are a few interesting encounters along the way, but they are few and far between and are over far too quickly.  Sabriel and King Touchstone's people show up to magically save Ferin and her companions.  Lirael doesn't have much to do.

And there's a distinct problem with Ferin as a character, which is that she is only mildly interesting at best.  Sabriel and Lirael both came across as fully-developed characters from the beginnings of their books.  Sabriel always had a sense of duty, a calling to the position as Abhorsen, that drove her actions to save her father and the Old Kingdom.  Lirael didn't know what her purpose was, not possessing the future sight of most of the Clayr, but longed to find a purpose, and made that her goal in her first book and then set out to fulfill her destiny as Remembrancer and Abhorsen in her second book.  While Clariel's book didn't have the same breathtaking, epic scope, there was a sad poetry about it as we saw her struggle for her own place and then slowly spiral down into the dark lure of Free Magic.  But Ferin?  Ferin's just a messenger.  Toward the end of the book, she gains a bit of a humorous element (a bit discordant with her character for the rest of the book) and her backstory is interesting, but I never felt like it pulled into her character and made her an interesting, compelling character like our other heroines.  In fact, I couldn't bring myself to really care about Ferin at all.  Skipping her chapters entirely was a very tempting prospect.

And then there's the last part of the book, where Lirael and Nick set out to find Chlorr's "anchor" and finally banish her beyond Death into the final resting place, or however it's called.  While the first part of the book was far too long, this part, this interesting part where Lirael and Nick actually start to talk to each other and build some sort of relationship, and voyage beyond where the Charter lives and into the Great Rift and then into Death itself (on Lirael's part), was far too short.  Everything is just kind of thrown together, and at the same time that the nomads are trying to invade the Old Kingdom lands.  Sigh.

I also felt like Nix wasn't entirely playing by his own rules here.  The bell that's supposed to banish people to the final gate of Death apparently doesn't actually do so if you only ring it quickly and then make it shut up.  Looking at that final gate of Death is supposed to take you beyond it, permanently, and yet Lirael just looks away and escapes from it.  The Disreputable Dog told Lirael that they wouldn't see each other again, and yet here she is.  It felt very much like Nix knew people wanted certain things, and so he wrote them in, rather than writing them in because they worked, fit, or built the world further.  Which...basically means that it reads like fanfiction, rather than as another "real" installment.  It is another real installment, of course, but it doesn't feel anything like the original books, or even the slow, tragic spiral of Clariel.

Overall, I really wanted to like this book, but it was just okay at best.

2 stars out of 5.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Selkie Bride - Melanie Jackson (Sea Fey #1)

The Selkie Bride (Sea Fey Prequel)I read this book for the Unapologetic Romance Readers 2017 Reading Challenge.  Specifically, I read it for the Shapeshifter/Werewolf Romance category.  While werewolf romances are easy, I'd already read a romance involving werewolves for the Paranormal Romance category, and I wanted to do something a little different for this.  So I went for The Selkie Bride, in which the hero, Lachlan, is a selkie.  For those not familiar with selkies, they're a type of fantasy creature that can wear a sealskin to transform into the shape of a seal, and they hide the skins when they go ashore in their human shapes.

Our heroine is Megan Culbin, recently widowed and broke due to the debts her husband left behind.  With very little to her name, Megan moves to Scotland to the cabin of her former husband's uncle, who is also deceased.  The cottage is located in the town of Findloss, which was buried by the sands some years ago in a freak storm that didn't touch any other town along the coast, and then was un-buried about fifty years in the past.  The book itself is set in the 1920s as a record Megan leaves behind her upon her departure.  As such, it has a definite period feel to it, much more so than stories that are written in the third person but set in the past.  It was something I actually really liked here, because I think it did help to establish the time and place.  Megan is an American living in Scotland, and there is a lot of phonetic Scottish accent use here, but I managed to muddle through.  I think the writing style actually helped it be not as obnoxious as it typically can be to me.

The hero here is Lachlan, a selkie warrior who shows up on Megan's doorstop one stormy night in pursuit of a wicked finman (another creature) who is terrorizing Findloss.  He also reveals that Megan seems to be tied up in the drama to a greater degree than she initially imagined.  Lachlan is, of course extremely attractive, and while Megan isn't a virgin widow (which was nice, as it's kind of a tired trope) her relationship with her former husband was rocky at best and downright disastrous at worst, so despite having decided to forsake relationships, she's still intrigued by him to a great degree.  There's also something of a growing level of affection between them, though I never felt that it had as much chemistry and "sizzle" as a lot of other books.  I think this was, in part, due to the writing style.  Megan is somewhat of a reserved character, and I think that the book being from her perspective (and written as a record she left behind for others, rather than just an ongoing internal monologue) lent a level of restraint to it that, accompanied with time and place, means the romance here doesn't "pop" like you'd find in Eloisa James, Lisa Kleypas, Julia Quinn, or Courtney Milan books.

Still, I found this an enjoyable story.  I think selkies are a somewhat under-utilized mystical creature class, and I'm glad that I used this for the category.  The setting here is done very well, with great images that really evoke the town of Findloss.  There's also just enough dark creepiness in it to have me looking a bit nervously out into my dark living room while reading in my bedroom, even though I knew I was being silly.  So, yes, enjoyable.  Did I devour it?  No.  But I liked it, enough that I might look into the second book, The Selkie (more of a companion than a direct sequel from the sound of it) sometime in the relatively near future.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Forbidden - Beverly Jenkins (Old West #1)

Forbidden (Old West, #1)In the Unapologetic Romance Readers' group, we're doing a reading challenge where one of the categories is "An African American romance."  And since February is Black History Month, we decided that it would be a great time to tackle the category as a group!  One member put forth Temptation as the nomination for the category, and it was pretty unanimously agreed upon, and so on we went.

In the years after the Civil War, former slave Rhine moves west to Virginia City, Nevada, where he starts up a new life passing for white.  Meanwhile, Eddy Carmichael dreams of leaving Denver, Colorado for California, where she wants to set up her own restaurant.  Unfortunately, Eddy's plans fall apart when she's robbed and left for dead in the desert in the midst of her journey.  Rhine finds her and rescues her, taking her back to Virginia City and helping get her healthy again.  After a few days, Eddy is transplanted to a boarding house owned by Sylvia Stewart, another woman of color, where she signs on as a cook to rebuild the money she needs to go to California and start her restaurant.  But there lingers an attraction between Rhine and Eddy, one that's problematic for two reasons.  One, Rhine is passing for white, while Eddy is very obviously a woman of color, and while some people in Virginia City are accepting, others remain entrenched in the racism of the antebellum era.  And two, Rhine is already engaged.  To a white woman.  Whoops.

There are a few strengths to this book.  The time, place, and premise are all strong--the tug of attraction across (presumed) racial lines, Rhine's desire to both be with Eddy and help "his" people in ways he couldn't if he wasn't passing as white, and the setting of the antebellum period in the West, rather than in the South (where even this premise probably would have resulted in someone being killed) all lend this a great degree of depth.  The side characters are also well-done, with all of them having backgrounds and places in the story that serve as more than just window dressings for the main characters to flit between.

The book's great weakness, though, is the writing.  It is very "tell" and hardly any "show," and consequently I didn't find it engaging at all.  I understand that Jenkins is trying to convey an immense amount of information about time, place, and background, but the result is that it doesn't come across as an immersive experience.  The writing was just too jerky to keep me fully engaged in the story and what was happening between the characters.  The other, great elements of the book were enough to persuade me to keep reading and finish the book, but the overall flow just wasn't there.  There was inconsistency on some details, too--for example, Eddy's last name appears to change from Carmichael to Cunningham and back again.  It's not enough to turn me off Jenkins entirely--I have another of her books, Through the Storm, that I was supposed to read in 2016 but never got around to--but I wasn't terribly impressed with this as a first offering in the writing department, especially not for a book that was named the American Library Association's Romance of the Year.

3 stars out of 5.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow was one of my Book of the Month selections back in September 2016, but I hadn't gotten around to reading it yet.  This made it the perfect choice for my 2017 reading challenge category, "A book that takes place in a hotel."  This is because almost the entirety of the book takes place in the Hotel Metropol in Russia.  The main character, Count Alexander Rostov, lives in the hotel when he is arrested by Stalin's administration because of his background.  But instead of being executed, he's sentenced to house arrest in the hotel because of a poem he wrote years ago.  His rooms are downgraded--from a luxurious suite to a tiny attic garret--but he got off easy, and the story follows his life in the hotel as he bonds with staff and visitors, develops a long-lasting rivalry, and makes his life into something of meaning despite the narrow confines of its physical space.

This was an absolutely lovely book.  When Rostov begins to waste away in the hotel, settling into listlessness in the time after his initial sentencing, a nine-year-old girl with a penchant for yellow named Nina pulls him out of his funk and shows him all that the hotel really has to offer.  And as the years go on he transitions from a guest--even under house arrest, he has quite a bit of money stashed away that he can draw on--to a staff member, helping the Boyarsky dining room work as he has always imagined it should.  And he ultimately ends up caring for a young girl left in his hands when her mother goes off to Siberia in search of her husband.  All the while, he tracks the changes in the world through the guests who come and go and the things that happen around him, only venturing outside the hotel's confines once in the several decades he spends there.

The characters here were wonderful.  I could perfectly picture the chef Emile, ruling the kitchens with his giant chopping knife, and Nina in her yellow dress and her passkey on a ribbon around her neck, and little Sofia with her big eyes and solemn face, and Marina the seamstress with her wandering eye and talented hands, and even the characters who come and go, like Mishka and Osip.  And then, of course, there's the Bishop, coming up from being a lowly waiter to the manager of the hotel and wreaking havoc on the hotel and its inhabitants in the process.  The antics that Rostov and his compatriots get up to, from exploring dusty basements for treasure to making illicit French fish stews, are a sort of grown-up, Soviet-era version of that Disney Channel show The Suite Life of Zach and Cody.  But because this is the Soviet era, there's also an underlying sense of danger.  The hostesses are reporting on guests to the Secret Police.  Characters receive the Minus Six, an exile from the six largest cities in Russia.  And there's always the sense that, if Rostov does something wrong, his house arrest might end and he might end up against a wall with a firing squad pointed at him--a fate he just avoided to begin with.

One thing I was disappointed with was the ending.  I do suppose that it fits, in a way, but I was definitely hoping for something else.  I love that Rostov did what he thought was best for everyone else, and then took care of himself, but I was hoping he would take a slightly different path.  And Anna, too.  And that maybe everything could have worked out for Sofia...

Anyway, despite the ending, this was a lovely book, and I tore through it.  It's not packed with action and it's not heavy on plot; it's definitely driven by character and place more than anything else.  If you're looking for a lot of drama and a lot of action, this isn't the book for you.  But for something that has just a touch of grit and a touch of whimsy, all at the same time, I think this is a great choice.

4.5 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Enchanted - Alethea Kontis (Woodcutter Sisters #1)

Enchanted (Woodcutter Sisters #1; Books of Arilland #1)Enchanted was one of the first books that I added to my to-read list on Goodreads, all the way back in 2011.  And guess what?  I apparently owned it for a significant amount of time but never realized it.  I must have bought it when it was on sale for Kindle one day and then promptly forgotten.  But it works out, because it means I had it on hand to finally read for my 2017 reading challenge, for the category of "A book that's been on your to-read list way too long."

Honestly, this had been on my list for so long, but I never really made any serious moves towards reading it.  It was something about the cover.  While the premise sounded interesting--it's a fairy tale adaptation, which is basically my favorite trope--something about it just seemed like it was going to come across as very juvenile.  So I braced myself for that when I finally started reading.  And guess what?

I loved it.

This starts off like it's going to be an adaptation of "The Frog Prince."  But it's really pretty much every fairy tale rolled into one.  "The Frog Prince" is the beginning and base, but much of it is quickly resolved.  Elements of "Cinderella," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Sleeping Beauty," "Rapunzel," and others are all woven into the central story.  The main character is Sunday Woodcutter, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, who befriends a talking frog in the magical Wood one day when she's writing in her journal.  Sunday only ever writes about her family and things that have already happened, because if she writes about things that haven't yet happened, they have an uncanny way of coming true, but not in the way she wanted.  She starts sharing her stories with the frog, who introduces himself as Grumble, and every day she leaves him with a kiss in hopes that it will break the curse that binds him to frog form--Grumble can't remember who he was as a man.

And one day, the kiss works.  But Sunday doesn't know it, because she's already gone, and when Grumble wakes up as Prince Rumbold, he comes to the realization that Sunday will probably want nothing to do with him, because her family blames him for the breath of Sunday's oldest brother, who was turned into a dog after he accidentally killed Rumbold's puppy years ago, and then vanished and presumably died.  So he sets up an elaborate scheme to win her back, involving a series of balls to which every eligible maiden in the kingdom is invited.  Meanwhile, he's plagued by voices and the ghost of his mother, and something sinister is going on with his father, and it seems to involve Sorrow, his fairy godmother...

...who is the sister of Sunday's fairy godmother, Joy.  And also her aunt.  It's all wonderfully woven together, why Sunday's family is the way it is, what has been going on in the castle, the menace that's lurking over the entire kingdom.  I loved pretty much all of it.  The world is exquisite, with so many background strands going throughout it.  I want to know everything--what happened to Monday, about Thursday's adventures as a captain and the wife of the Pirate King, what happened to Jack Jr. All of it.  But I did have a few reservations.

For example, after Rumbold's curse is broken, what's up with all of the people suddenly trying to kill Sunday?  And why do they just up and give up after a few attempts?  People with fey-purple eyes offering her combs, apples, ribbons--these are all classic fairy tale death traps, as Joy neatly illustrates.  But exactly why it's happening is never made clear.  And I also found myself disappointed in how little impact Sunday had on the climax and end of the story.  Despite her seemingly amazing power, despite the fact that she's the main character, despite that she's the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and so supposedly has a great destiny...she doesn't do anything at the climax.  Instead, she stands by and watches as others take care of the mess.  Rumbold, Joy, Friday, Saturday, her father--all of them play bigger roles in the end than Sunday does, which was strange and a bit sad to me.

However, I still really enjoyed this book.  There's so much promise in this world and in the characters therein.  The way that Kontis wove together so many different story tropes into a coherent whole was every bit as magical as I had hoped it would be, and so much more than I thought it would be.  I definitely look forward to reading the others in this series.

4 stars out of 5.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Magician's Lie - Greer MacAllister

The Magician's LieI got this through my Book of the Month subscription. (I totally recommend this as a subscription service, by the way.)  It's been on my shelf for months and I hadn't gotten to it yet, so it seemed like an excellent time to pick it up for my reading challenge, and particularly for the category of "A book with a red spine."  As you can see, this book has a lovely deep red cover, and the spine matches.

The story here follows Ada Bates, later known as the Amazing Arden.  As a girl, Ada dreams of being a dancer, but those dreams are shattered when she misses an audition with a famous dance instructor because her abusive step-cousin--who believes he has healing powers and is sickly fascinated with Arden--throws her out of a barn loft and breaks her leg.  She eventually flees his abuse, working as a servant for a while and then travelling north to New York City where she eventually becomes a dancer and assistant in the show of the only female illusionist at the time.  The rest of the story follows Ada (Also known as Vivi!  So many names!) as she climbs the ladder within the company, comes to renown of her own, and desperately tries to avoid the twisted cousin into the bargain.

All of this story is told as a sort of flashback, by Arden herself--while she's handcuffed to a chair in the police station of a town in Nowhere, Iowa.  See, the book starts with a magic show...and a murder.  And Arden is the prime suspect.  But the cop who catches her is intrigued by her insistence that she didn't kill anyone and agrees to listen to her story...partially because he starts to notice her strange healing abilities, which he hopes to benefit from himself.

I really enjoyed this book.  With a title like that, you know there's a lie somewhere in it, and I spent a lot of the book trying to figure out if Arden was an unreliable narrator and, if so, exactly what she was being unreliable about.  At the end, the lie itself is so simple, and yet so devastating at the same time because it highlights exactly how much of a victim Arden really was, in both body and mind.  That's the read beauty of this: it shows how someone can be strong and independent, but still a victim.  One is not exclusive of the other and neither one has to define you.  It's a lovely message and one that I think a lot of people will be able to empathize with.

MacAllister also does a wonderful job of building this period.  From Biltmore to New York to Chicago, all around the turn of the century (nineteenth to twentieth), she captures the sense of wonder of a building nation just as magically as she does the illusions on the stage and Arden's powers themselves.  She also leaves a bit of mystery lingering--is Arden the only one with abilities, or are there more?  And if there are more, what sort of abilities are they?  Healing in a more...menacing way?  Second sight?  Is there any chance that the end here isn't really the end, that the story will consider?  It's something to think about and I think it allows the reader to determine the ultimate end of Arden's tale.  Happily ever after...or not so much?

A wonderful story and I really enjoyed it.  Did it blow my mind and call me back to it as soon as I was done?  No.  But it was lovely and elegant and I think it's definitely worth a read.

4 stars out of 5.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Undomestic Goddess - Sophie Kinsella

The Undomestic GoddessOkay, so, Sophie Kinsella is pretty much the epitome of the "chick lit" genre.  According to Goodreads, chick lit is "genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly."  But that's a very generous definition and is more like generic women's fiction.  Chick lit more specifically tends to focus heroines without a brain in their heads, who get into all sorts of trouble because they can't communicate adequately, proceed to blame all those problems on other people instead of themselves, and then frequently turn to drinking to "solve" said problems, until they stumble across a hunky guy who sweeps them off their feet and inspires them to fix themselves.  It's often incredibly painful to read.

It's also one of the featured genres in the Unapologetic Romance Readers' 2017 reading challenge (info here).  So, when it came time to put forth nominations for our February book of the month, I tossed Kinsella into the ring.  If I was going to read chick lit, I was going to bring fellow sufferers along for the ride.  And it won!  Apparently others felt the same way, and someone also mentioned that, as far as chick lit goes, Undomestic Goddess isn't that bad--probably aided by the fact that it's a standalone novel and not part of a series, which would just draw out the suffering.

So off I went, along with heroine Samantha Sweeting, a high-powered lawyer at one of London's top law firms.  She's on track to become a partner, the thing she's always dreamed of and has dedicated the last seven years of her life to.  And then, following a terrible birthday, she discovers that she's made a terrible mistake, one that could cost her firm fifty million pounds...and before she can fix it, everyone else has found out, too.  In shock, Samantha flees London and ends up in a little village where, looking for a drink of water and some headache medicine, she's mistaken as an applicant for a housekeeper position for the Geigers.  Trish and Eddy Geiger have a ton of money and not an ounce of sense in their heads.  They're a perfect match for Samantha, who has a ton of money and law sense but not an ounce of common sense.  Seriously.  The woman can't make anything more complicated than toast.  She doesn't know the difference between flour and baking soda.  She can't iron a shirt, or even turn on a washing machine.  I have no idea how she survived to adulthood, honestly.  And yet she, of course, does not enlighten the Geigers to their mistake, and decides she's just going to go along with the whole thing.  Even though she has no idea what she's doing.

Luckily, this entire "completely useless" phase doesn't last too long.  Nathaniel, the Geiger's gardener, quickly figures out that Samantha is faking, and out of the goodness of his heart offers to get his mother to help Samantha figure out what she's doing.  Samantha is evidently actually gifted when it comes to cooking, because she of course learns to cook gourmet meals in the space of two days, in addition to learning to do everything else that she never learned to do as a child or adolescent or even adult.  And of course she gets close to Nathaniel to boot.  But despite Samantha doing her best to let go of her huge mistake and the disaster it left in its wake, she can't help but picking at it, and picking at it, until she finds something that might put an end to her little idyll in the country... But is that a good thing or a bad thing?

So, after Samantha learned to be a functional human being, the book got a lot bigger.  She definitely still made some bad decisions, like not telling anyone the truth about how she got there (instead she lets everyone think she's fleeing an abusive relationship) but, to some degree, I can empathize with her decisions.  I definitely still think they're stupid, but I can totally understand her feeling like the events in London are seen through a fog or feel like a bad dream, and wanting to just not think about it as much as possible.  I think that empathy really helped carry me through the book.  Also, Nathaniel was pretty great.  He's a gardener, but he also has strong ties to a family business, and I think his reactions to Samantha's revelations and decisions later in the book were what they should have been for this book, without being totally unrealistic.  Also, I think Kinsella does a good job of creating the little town that Samantha ends up in (I can't remember the name of it) and making it into an escape...while still showing that it's not all sunshine and daisies.

So, yes.  This book got off to a very rough start.  It had some very over-the-top moments.  But I think its core was a strong story, and it was enjoyable.  Would I read it again?  Hm... Maybe, actually.  But it'd be like a fluffy summer beach read, and I'm not sure it's turned me back onto Kinsella's other works.

3 stars out of 5.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Chasing Ghosts - E. A. Copen (Judah Black #3)

Chasing Ghosts (Judah Black Novels Book 3)These Judah Black novels are some of my favorite paranormal fantasy ones right now.  They follow the eponymous Judah Black, a federal paranormal enforcement/regulatory/investigative agent who lives and works on the paranormal reservation of Paint Rock in Concho County, Texas.  She has a "real" job and a son, and now she even has a boyfriend--the werewolf Sal, who lives next door and is part of the local pack, and who Judah kissed in the last book, which I guess makes him her boyfriend even though they never actually discussed anything or went out and just kissed once during a fight?  I dunno, that seemed kind of strange--I love some romance in a book, but there seemed to be a leap here that didn't really connect properly.

Anyway.  this book picks up immediately after the last one.  Judah is told by local vampire higher-up Marcus Kelley to investigate a paranormal illness plaguing a toddler--said toddler being the daughter of wendigo Zoe, featured in the first book.  And it turns out that the little girl's father isn't another wendigo, as Judah had thought, but Sal--because Zoe is Sal's ex-wife.  Oh boy... She wants to tell Sal, but also doesn't, because it's kind of Judah's fault (a little) that this situation happened, and she's afraid that it'll drive him away.  Meanwhile, she also tries to balance her new relationship with Sal with his involvement in a biker club of questionable legality and with her son Hunter.

While Hunter was an integral part of the first book, he continues to be shoved aside in this one, constantly left with minor side characters or even stuck in a hospital room, unconscious.  Though Judah is a busy woman, it does rather feel like Copen didn't know what to do with a kid in this situation, so she just sidelined him.  How Hunter was actually a character in the first book was one of its big draws to me, so I'm extra disappointed to see the sidelining of the second book continued here.

The plot itself also wasn't as compelling to me.  Copen used this as a "relationship" book, and it felt like that came at the expense of a strong central plot, which doesn't have to be the case--you really can have both!  But the main plot and the "big bad" here seemed, for the most part, pretty apparent from the beginning.  There were a few minor surprises that popped up, but nothing that really made my jaw drop or made me re-examine other parts of the book.  It was more like, "Ah, yes," moments, than "Aha!" moments, if that makes any sense.  I did, however, like the integration of the spirit world and how Marcus and his family played into the plot here.  It made him much more "human," for a vampire, and also gave me a much better understanding of how vampires work in Copen's world.  So that was very well done.

Overall, I liked this, but not as much as the previous books.  I do think that, now that Copen's got some of the relationship stuff out of the way (I say relationship and not romance, because it's not really a romance at all) she might come back with a stronger focus and better balance in the next book.

3 stars out of 5.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Thousandth Floor - Katharine McGee (The Thousandth Floor #1)

The Thousandth Floor (The Thousandth Floor, #1)I read a snip of The Thousandth Floor sometime before it actually came out, so when it hit my library I put myself on the waitlist.  The snip featured the prologue of the book, in which a beautiful young woman falls from the eponymous thousandth floor of the Tower, which is I guess like the NYC of the future (and takes up most of Manhattan).  There's something tantalizing about that beginning.  Something that hints at glitter and glam but with a dark underside.  I was excited to see more.

Unfortunately, this book fell flat.  The Tower, which could have been an amazing setting, is really no different than our current New York, except with things like touchscreens and holograms everywhere.  There's a large ensemble cast of characters, all of them in their teens, who spend all of their time partying and doing drugs.  Indeed, there are two main plots here that intertwine, and they can most easily be described as "love and drugs."  Two characters like the same guy (who happens to be the adoptive brother of one of the two) and the rest of them spend their time doing and selling drugs.  Oh, and there's one character who suddenly loses all of her wealth and another who is a hacker.  While there was glitter and glam and polish, I really wish we could have seen something other than how the people on the 900-something floors lived.  Eris and Watt offered a glimpse into lower-floor life but even then they spent most of their time pretending to belong to the upper floors, so that real sense of what life was like down below didn't come through.

The writing here isn't bad; McGee can very easily convey has glamorous it is to be Avery, who lives in the thousandth floor penthouse, and she does handily weave together all of the characters' stories to lead up to the climax--the girl falling off the top.  All throughout the book there's a lingering question: Which girl will it be?  Eris?  Leda?  Avery?  That is the question.  However, I do still think there were too many characters and the same could have been accomplished with a slightly smaller cast.

And then there's this.  The end.  That the entire book leads up to the end, and then it's set up so that the real plot, dealing with the consequences of that fateful fall, will be done in two other, future books.  But I don't buy the ending.  I don't buy that all of the witnesses to the fall choose to say nothing for fear that their own petty little secrets will be revealed.  All of them could easily conceal what they've done if the person who threatens them with their secrets actually said something.  As one character says in the course of the story...who would the police believe?  Certainly not the blackmailer, in this case.  And honestly, is a murder really something you should keep secret so your own little dramas can continue to play out?  I can't believe that even a group of spoiled teenagers would have such an ambiguous moral compass that they would letter a murder go as an accident, when they liked the victim, for such small reasons.  I didn't mind the characters, though I did honestly find their lives vapid, but I just can't go along with such a ridiculous premise for another two books.

Oh, and there's also a drugging and rape (female perpetrator) that McGee just kind of brushes off as a seduction, which it most definitely was NOT.  Not good.

2 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Palace of Treason - Jason Matthews (Red Sparrow #2)

Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash, #2)I read the first book in this trilogy, Red Sparrow, a few years ago while in school.  I was taking a class called "Cold War and the Spy Novel" and RS was a recent spy novel that had come out, and Barack Obama had put it on his to-read list, so it ended up on the syllabus.  I remember liking RS overall, but now reading Palace of Treason (which was, by the way, my pick for an espionage thriller for my reading challenge) I remember some of the issues I had with the first book.

POT takes place about nine months after RS, with Dominika working in counterintelligence in Russia and Nate being positioned in Athens.  There are two main storylines that start to draw closer as the book progresses.  First, Nate gets a new recruit: a Russian who feels he has lost everything and wants to make Russia pay for it.  Meanwhile Dominika recruits an Iranian nuclear scientist, which in a roundabout way brings her back into contact with Nate.  But the main plotline here is that a spurned CIA employee decides he's going to betray the agency by selling secrets to the Russians and making lots of money off them, and reveals that there are not one but two Russians working for the agency, putting both Dominika and the new recruit at risk.

As far as the spy elements go, this was fine.  The plots intertwine in sensible ways and Matthews of course has the US being the "good guys," (ha, Good Guys) who want information but not at any sort of risk to their agents.  Dominika continues to be the stubborn Russian who is willing to do whatever it takes to bring down the corruption she sees as poisoning her mother country, even if means she might be discovered, tortured, and killed.  And really, that's one of my big complaints here.  The characters are all completely one-dimensional.  Nate is sort of a sweeter version of James Bond, who seems to feel the need to sleep with every woman who comes his way (they are all, of course, attractive) and puts them in serious danger in the course of their relationships and keeps fucking up because of it.  Newcomer to the scene Hannah is constantly referred to as a "nature girl," which clearly defines her entire character and being.  Dominika is...well, I've already said, but she's a woman, which means that, when he's not talking about the "colors" she can see around people describing all of their thoughts and motivations (which removes any real sense of mystery here) the main things Matthews is concerned about are her breasts.

Yes, you read that right.  For some reason, Matthews seems absolutely incapable of writing about women without speculating on how their nipples look at any given point in time, even when they're in the process of trying to garrotte each other.  I feel like I couldn't get more than a few paragraphs in this book without reading about some woman's boobs.  Even when a character is in the process of trying to evade capture, and is having a heart attack at the same time, Matthews feels it's necessary to talk about how her dress is wet and is clinging to her "ample bosom."  And of course Dominika, despite being one of the best spies ever, as we are repeatedly told, can't ever actually seem to accomplish anything without using sex to get it.  Hmmm.... The male spies in this book don't ever seem to be sleeping with people to get information.  I had so much side-eying going on here with this.

Another thing here that irked me was Matthews' details.  I live and work in Washington, DC, and so many of the small details he throws in, trying to make everything more "realistic" are just so blatantly wrong.  From the façade of the Good Guys strip club (which is in my neighborhood, right next to a Whole Foods, and which sponsors things like recreational baseball teams--they have a very good neighborhood relations team, evidently) which doesn't have a brick front and neon sign at all but rather a wood façade, to the directions the streets run, to how much rent for a one-bedroom apartment in a certain neighborhood is... All of this is so easily available, and yet Matthews got it wrong again and again, managing to completely yank me out of the story every time.  Sometimes less is more when it comes to details.  If you must include them, get it right.  Otherwise, you risk looking silly.

I don't remember having this with RS.  I remember we talked in class about how it's kind of a ridiculous premise, the whole "sexpionage" thing, but I don't remember it being that bad.  Here, Matthews comes back and hits with a hammer until it's absolutely dead.  I'm interested in seeing how this ends but honestly I don't think I can stand another book of hearing about what color every woman's nipples are.  I'm a woman, and take it from me: boobs are not actually that interesting and bear absolutely zero being on 99% of the things I do in everyday life.

2 stars out of 5.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever - Julia Quinn (Bevelstoke #1)

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever (Bevelstoke, #1)As I've mentioned a few times already, I'm doing a reading challenge for the Unapologetic Romance Readers in 2017 (info here).  One of the categories for it is a "Friends to lovers" romance.  After perusing some lists, I shifted around my planned books to fit this one in.  (I like to only use an author once for a challenge, and it meant shifting out another Quinn book due out this year, but I swapped that with a Courtney Milan title, so.)  This does fit the "friends to lovers" trope, I suppose, but it's short, so it still moves relatively fast.

When Miranda Cheever is ten, she's escorted home from her best friend's birthday partner by said friend's older brother, Nigel, who goes by his title, Turner.  Having been called ugly at the party, Miranda's feeling a bit down, and Turner cheers her up, and suggests that she just needs to grow into herself--and maybe that she should start a journal, so that when she's grown she can look back on it all and laugh.  So she does.  Nine years later, Miranda's debut season is being sponsored by the friend's (whose name is Olivia) mother, and Turner is a recent widower following the death of his wife, who was by all accounts a terrible person.  Turner is in no mood to marry again, or really have a relationship of any variety, and although Miranda has been in love with him since she was ten, she does try to keep a friendly distance between them.  For the most part, she succeeds.

This is a book that could have benefited greatly from being longer.  Quinn's books follow somewhat for a formula: the characters tend to hook up by the 50% mark, and then the rest of the book is spent with the big conflict that might keep them apart.  There's obviously a building tension between Miranda and Turner in the first half of the book, where they cautiously dance around each other and try to keep distance even though Miranda desperately wants Turner and he finds himself attracted to her, as well.  But honestly, I would have loved to see this strung out for a bit longer.  I know that's not the way that Quinn's books go, but I really would have liked to see that formula shifted a bit here in order to accommodate the slower build of the relationship rather than the insta-love that's typically prevalent in her books.  (Though she manages to do even that well, for the most part.)

Other than that, this was a very enjoyable book.  Quinn does banter in a fabulous manner, as she always does, and after the characters get together, there are consequences.  And while normally I think that most of Quinn's plots could be resolved by shaking the characters violently while screaming, "JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER," in this particular instance I found the conflict reasonable.  Turner wants to do right by Miranda but he also completely does not feel ready for a new relationship, let alone a marriage.  And I totally understand his desire to just avoid the problem on both Miranda and Turner's sides, because that's probably exactly what I would want to do.

Aside from the length, the other issue I had with this was the end and how Turner comes to finally acknowledge his feelings for Miranda.  It was very overdone, and Quinn is such an experienced writer that I know she could have done better than this.  I think going this particular route was a real cop-out for her, and it was a somewhat disappointing way to see the book end.  Still, I'm glad I finally picked up this series, which I somehow missed until this point.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Reading Challenge Updates

It's February and I am trucking along on my 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge!  I'm making very good progress, being ahead of where I need to be on track at this point in the year.  I have six completed books this time around, and hope to be getting through some more soon.  I think that picking books I already have, for the most part, has really helped me stay on track.

-A book that's been on your TBR list for way too long.  As planned, I read Enchanted for this.  It turned out that I actually owned this book for heavens only knows how long, and never knew it.  While I actually wasn't expecting a ton out of this (I thought it would probably end up being rather juvenile), it ended up being absolutely charming, and I really enjoyed it.

-A book with a subtitle.  I took on a book I've had for a while here, Frozen in Time, which has a subtitle of "An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II".  I thought the book was enjoyable for the historical parts, but the contemporary sections were misleading and tried to skew how the author made some not-great decisions regarding that part of the book and trying to get it written.

-A book set in a hotel.  For me, the obvious choice here was A Gentleman in Moscow, which is about a Russian noble confined to the Hotel Metropol during the Soviet Republic.  It's definitely a character-driven novel more than a plot-driven one, but watching how the people of the hotel, the hotel itself, and the USSR as a whole change, without ever leaving the hotel's confines.

-A book with an eccentric character.  On a hung that it would fit this category, I picked Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.  I was right; basically every character in this book is eccentric in some way or another.  It was such a charming read, a modern mystery but not a menacing one (like, no murders), and a love letter to both books and technology.  Wonderful.

-A book you bought on a trip.  I had a copy of The Night Circus on my shelf that I'd bought over the summer while visiting my hometown, so this seemed like a good opportunity to get to it.  I know many people who absolutely loved The Night Circus, and I can see the appeal.  There's a sense of wonder and whimsy in it that's truly, well, magical.  That said, the plot that it professed to have isn't really prevalent, and the magic seems to have few if any rules.  Still, I liked this, and can see why so many people have loved it even if it's not as action-packed as I might have expected.

-A book about an interesting woman.  The clear choice here was Notorious RBG, about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  The book was very surface-level and the structuring wasn't great, but it had some insights that really bring RBG down to a human level and also offer some surprising insights into her legal thought, like how she supports a woman's right to bodily autonomy but doesn't like Roe v. Wade because she feels it doesn't handle the matter in the right way and is too easy to chip away at.  Please oh please let her live through this presidency... We need her so badly.

Still to Come
-A book of letters.  The Color Purple, Alice Walker

-An audiobook.  The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah

-A book by a person of color.  The Stone Sky, N. K. Jemisin

-A book with one of the four seasons in the titleDevil in Spring, Lisa Kleypas

-A book that is a story within a story.  Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld

-A book with multiple authors.  Mutiny on the Bounty, Charles Nordhoff and James Hall

-A book by an author who uses a pseudonym.  Seven Minutes in Heaven, Eloisa James (Mary Bly)

-A bestseller from a genre you don't normally read.  Carrie, Steven King

-A book by or about a person who has a disability.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeT, Mark Haddon

-A book involving travel.  SEAsoned, Victoria Allman

-A book that's published in 2017.  Given to the Sea, Mindy McGinnis

-A book involving a mythical creature.  Nice Dragons Finish Last, Rachel Aaron

-A book you've read before that never fails to make you smile.  Cress, Marissa Meyer

-A book about food.  In the Devil's Garden, Stewart Lee Allen

-A book with career advice.  Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl

-A book from a nonhuman perspective.

-A steampunk novel.  Boneshaker, Cherie Priest

-A book set in the wilderness.

-A book you loved as a child.  Squire, Tamora Pierce

-A book by an author from a country you've never visited.  Mornings in Jenin, Susan Abulhawa (Palestine)

-A novel set during wartime.  Atonement, Ian McEwan

-A book with an unreliable narrator.

-A book with pictures.  No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain

-A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you.  A Disobedient Girl, Ru Freeman

-A book with a month or day of the week in the title.  A June of Ordinary Murders, Conor Brady

-A book written by someone you admire.  A Court of Wings and Ruin, S. J. Maas

-A book that's becoming a movie in 2017Beauty and the Beast, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont

-A book set around a holiday other than Christmas.

-The first book in a series you haven't read before.  Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo

-A book recommended by an author you love.  The Lace Reader, Brunonia Barry (rec'd by Tamora Pierce)

-A bestseller from 2016.  Magic, Danielle Steel

-A book with a family-member term in the title.  Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor

-A book that takes place over a character's life span.  The Kitchen God's Wife, Amy Tan

-A book about an immigrant or refugee.  Stealing Buddha's Dinner, Bich Minh Nguyen

-A book from a genre/subgenre you've never heard of.  The Six-Gun Tarot, R. S. Belcher (Weird West)

-A book that's more than 800 pages.  Voyager, Diana Galbadon

-A book you got from a used book sale.  Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen

-A book that's been mentioned in another book.  Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift (mentioned as Gullible's Travels in Marissa Meyer's Heartless)

-A book about a difficult topic.  Rape is Rape, Jody Raphael

-A book based on mythology.  Olympos, Dan Simmons

Friday, February 3, 2017

Devil's Bride - Stephanie Laurens (Cynster #1)

Devil's Bride (Cynster, #1)So, I originally intended to do a bodice ripper reading challenge through Unapologetic Romance Readers this year...only I realized that 1) I was having difficulty finding ACTUAL bodice rippers, and 2) the challenge had actually started in October 2016 so I was already three months behind.  So I ditched that, but still planned to read this book, which I found on a list of bodice rippers, to fulfill a category on my general romance reading challenge for the year.  Well, um, this isn't a bodice ripper.  Like, not at all.  Bodice rippers typically feature dubious heroes who are actually pretty bad guys, foot-stamping, hair-tossing heroines, and usually some very dubiously consensual sex (lots of "traitorous body"s) if not outright rape.  Devil's Bride doesn't feature any of that.  While that's actually probably a good thing, it meant it didn't fit for the bodice ripper challenge category.  Luckily, I'd recently done some shifting that had left my Regency romance category empty, so this will fit there, instead.

Honoria, our heroine, is a young woman of noble birth who spends her time as a finishing governess, preparing young women for their society debuts, in order to while away the years before she considers herself old enough to travel on her own.  Her greatest dream is to visit Egypt and ride a camel in the shadow of the sphinx.  The logistics of this are a bit hazy, as the Great Spinx of Giza wasn't entirely excavated until 1936 and in the time period the book takes place in, only its head and chest would have been visible, but I'll let that go.  Her plans are thrown off when she discovers a young man dying in the road on her way back to her new employers' home, ends up spending a stormy night in a cabin with said dying young man and a mysterious other man who showed up and helped, and is subsequently discovered, finds out that the mystery man is the Duke of St. Ives, known as Devil (seriously), and he declares that she's going to marry him.  Which Honoria does not want to do.

Devil mainly persuades Honoria to marry him through kissing her, proving he is a True Gentleman by refusing to have sex with her until she declares that she will, in fact, marry him.  Then they have sex about every two pages.  There's also the plot here that involves trying to discover the murderer of Tolly, who is the young man who died in the first chapter.  I didn't really feel any chemistry between Devil and Honoria, despite all their making out, so this was all incredibly boring to me.

But mostly, I found this book sad.  Why?  Because I feel like Honoria totally lost herself to Devil.  She wanted to travel.  She wanted to see the sphinx.  I don't think she wanted these things just because she was afraid of losing someone; that's not exactly the sort of thing someone usually compensates for by riding a camel in the shadow of the sphinx.  But of course, as soon as Devil says no, Honoria completely gives up on it.  She starts submitting to Devil in so many other ways, too, that I just felt like she lost so much of what made her Honoria.  It was very sad, to me.  Does this happen in other historical romance books?  Maybe.  Probably.  But I feel like it's never as obvious or pronounced as it is here, so it hit me particularly hard.  I just feel so bad for her.  It really soured the entire book for me, how instead of, I don't know, going on a trip with her, Devil just said no, and that was that.  I was so hoping this would end with a joint trip to Egypt, but no...nothing.

Overall this was disappointing.  I've read Laurens before and have a few more of hers, but I haven't been dazzled with them, and this was no different.

2 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Pucked Over - Helena Hunting (Pucked #3)

Pucked Over (Pucked, #3)So, I haven't actually read the first two books in this series, but another member of the Unapologetic Romance Readers group mentioned she was enjoying it, so when this particular one went on sale I got it.  And then I needed a sports romance for my romance reading challenge (more information here) so I dug it out of the dusty depths of my Kindle.  The series basically follows a bunch of NHL players as they fall in love.  The player in this volume is Randy Ballistic, recently traded to Chicago (which is the team that the main characters of the first two books play for) from New York.  Our heroine is Lily LeBlanc, a Canadian figure skating coach who lost her Olympic dream when the money necessary to go for the trials dried up.  Lily is friends with the heroines from the first two books, which should tie everything together nicely for those who read them.  As someone who didn't read them, there were a lot of characters and relationships to keep track of early on in the book, but I eventually straightened them out.

Anyway, while Lily is staying at her friend Sunny's boyfriend's cabin (with Sunny) after an awful camping trip in which Lily breaks up with her boyfriend, Randy is also there (being teammates with Sunny's boyfriend) and defends Lily against some asshole comment Benji (the ex) makes.  So she kisses him.  And then he walks in on her naked, and they make out and he gives her tons of orgasms.  (This "Lily gets tons of orgasms" thing is ongoing in the book.  All he basically has to do is look at her and she's on the edge; a touch and it's over.)  But then Lily sees him with pictures of other girls (puck bunnies) so she defaces all of his underwear and then avoids him for like two months, until they run into each other AGAIN and start a sort of "friends with benefits" relationship except they're not really friends so it's more like "acquaintances with benefits" or probably even more like just plain old "fuck buddies."  Randy doesn't want a relationship and figures that Lily just got out of one so he tells her to tell him if it stops being fun and starts getting serious.  He doesn't want to catch feelings, after all.  Though of course they both eventually do.

This book grew on me but mostly in the last 30%.  For the first 70% of the book, it's mostly just the two of them making out, screwing, or masturbating to thoughts of each other.  Let me tell you, I am so sick of the words "dick" and "magic marble" after reading this book.  It just seem so...crass.  And though I haven't read the other books, I find myself concerned for Violet, another of Lily's friend group, because the few instances that didn't feature Randy and Lily having sex normally featured Violet getting plastered.  And even after the two of them start to realize they have feelings, there's very little building of what could be a relationship.  It's all based on just sex.  Hunting also tries very hard to be over the top in her humor, especially with references to Lily's "beaver" and having the girls talk extensively about blow jobs and such, but it wasn't funny at all.  I'm sure this type of group of girls exists, somewhere, but I've never encountered a single one of their species, so I was left eyeing them with a bit of distaste.  Good for them that they enjoy their sexual relationships and are open with each other, but that is literally all they ever talk about.

So, overall the book didn't work for me.  It gets a bit sweeter in the end, but a good dose of sugar is what this book really needed overall, and I found myself really rolling my eyes at the endless sex and wishing that the end would just take me.

2 stars out of 5.