By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
I am a sucker for the friends-to-lovers trope (maybe because I married my best friend from middle school), so when I saw this ARC in the NetGalley catalog, it had "CATNIP" written all over it. Jayne and Nick grew up together in a small town outside of Vancouver. Jayne was raised, reluctantly, by her cold and unloving grandmother after her mother died of a drug overdose, while Nick grew up in a close, warm, secure nuclear family. Jayne left town the day after her high school graduation, after her grandmother made it clear she wasn't welcome any longer. She's been back only rarely since, most recently for Nick's late wife's funeral several years prior to the start of the novel's events. That visit was disastrous, since Abby (the wife) had always been jealous of Jayne and Nick's friendship, and Abby's bereaved mother consequently flipped out when Jayne showed up at the funeral, the result being that Jayne essentially got run out of town on a rail.
When the novel begins, Jayne and Nick are in their early thirties. The grandmother has died and left her bookstore and apartment to Jayne, but in terrible shape: after Jayne left, Gram became a hoarder and the building is packed to the rafters with rats and trash, and the city has threatened to condemn it and tear it down if Jayne can't get it cleaned up and up to code in just a few weeks. Nick offers to help, putting his contracting skills, and even his crew, to work to meet the unreasonable deadline. Since the apartment is uninhabitable, Nick also offers Jayne his spare bedroom, much to the dismay of his girlfriend, Lisa.
If that sets "Infidelity Trope" alarms off in your head, you can relax. I usually hate romantic triangle stories, but my favorite thing about this book was that all of the characters aspired to behave like civil adults, and not hurt each other. Jayne didn't horn in on Lisa and Nick's relationship, and in fact went to pains to reassure Lisa that they were just friends. Lisa was clearly uncomfortable with Nick's and Jayne's close bond, but she trusted Nick and didn't behave like a jealous shrew. -And Nick lived up to that trust, and he did not make a move on Jayne until after he'd realized he had no future with Lisa. He broke things off with Lisa in a scene that was painful but honest and honorable before he even told Jayne that his feelings for her went beyond friendship.
Another thing I liked about this book was how deftly and believably the author crafted Jayne's character, and specifically her deep-seated loneliness and insecurities due to her neglectful childhood. Nick is the only person who has ever made her feel loved, but she knows how fragile that bond is, so she's terrified to risk their friendship. She'd rather be relegated to the friendzone than lose him entirely, and that means holding him at arm's length because in his enthusiasm to help her, Jayne knows Nick puts his relationships with Lisa and with his mother (not Jayne's biggest fan) at risk, but Nick doesn't see it. With her background, Jayne could have been a sad, insecure doormat, but she isn't: she hides her sorrows from everyone (except the reader) and does what needs to be done, looking out for Nick's best interests even when he doesn't know she's doing it.
There were other quirky things I enjoyed about this book, too: Jayne (like me) is a huge fan of 80s music and John Hughes movies, and the book is sprinkled with nostalgic quotes and references to those sources. I also encountered some delightfully colorful Canadian idioms, such as "I could eat the north end of a southbound skunk right about now." Um, yum?
However, there were parts of the narrative that dragged, and there were characters and sideplots included just to give the story that twee "small town feel" (or maybe they're sequel-bait, but either way they felt superfluous), and the author's attempt to explain why Jayne's Gram was the way she was felt too convenient and unsatisfying, which tainted the ending for me. This is Laura Drewry's debut effort, though, and if her writing improves with practice and experience, there may well be great things ahead.
***I received a free ARC from Loveswept and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***
Now that my youngest (and probably last, alas) son is a year old, I feel like I have enough distance to be able to write this review. My wife and I have two boys: she carried and birthed the oldest; I carried and birthed the youngest. My wife went first for several reasons, not least of which was that I had have a real and irrational fear of childbirth. The hope was that Pelly's birth experience would be smooth, and having observed it, I'd feel better when my turn came around. Knowledge is power, right?
Well, it didn't work out that way. Due to complications, Pelly delivered our older son by emergency c-section four weeks early, without experiencing a single contraction. When my turn came around, I still felt woefully unprepared and not a little bit terrified of childbirth. We took the classes, I talked to other moms, I read everything I could get my hands on (including this book), I read a billion birth stories on birthwithoutfear, but in this case, Knowledge was NOT Power. So much of what I read just made me more scared (even though I tried to avoid the triggering stuff, the loss stories, the bad outcomes).
Eventually, my wife and my doctor staged an intervention. They told me to throw out my birth plan and put away the books and websites and just let it go. "You want a birth plan? Here's the birth plan: We go to the hospital, and we come out with a healthy baby, and two healthy moms. That's the goal. That's all that matters."
But that's crazy! It's too simple! My brain doesn't work that way! What about all the what-ifs and contingencies? I'm a girl who likes to be prepared for any eventuality.
"You can't," my doctor said bluntly. "You can be prepared, but you can't be in charge."
Long story short (seriously, I just wrote my whole birth saga in 10 long paragraphs and deleted them because this is a BOOK REVIEW), my birth did not go according to plan either. I was put on bed rest at 33 weeks and then delivered by emergency caesarian at 38 weeks. It was not what I wanted. I felt like my body had betrayed me by failing at this most basic task of womanhood, which my female relatives have done countless times without issue. Maybe I was too old. Maybe I'm just a wimp when it comes to pain. Maybe I should have resisted medical interventions for longer. Maybe I should've hired a doula.
But when I tried to tell my wife all this, she shook her head. "You followed the birth plan. Healthy baby; two healthy mamas. You're a rock star."
It took me a long time to come around to my wife's way of thinking, and to be honest, I have moments when I'm not totally there yet. Here's the thing (and I'm finally getting to the book review part of this review, I promise): Motherhood has become a competitive sport in our culture. We are under enormous pressure to be the Right kind of parents, get our kids into the Right schools and the Right activities, use the Right methods of feeding, weaning, sleep training, discipline, et cetera. The media and social pressure often make it seem like the fate of the world (or at least the future well-being and societal value of our kids) rests on basic parenting decisions like whether or not to use cloth diapers or BPA-free sippy cups. And this insane social pressure on moms begins even before kids are born, in the Natural Childbirth movement that this book represents.
Let me be clear. I have nothing against natural childbirth. If it had worked for me, it would have been ideal. I think this book really does aim to give women information and strategies for a positive natural childbirth experience, and it is an unintended consequence (perhaps not even stemming from the book itself, but from other media sources and the natural childbirth movement at large) that women like me end up feeling like our non-natural birth experiences are tainted or less-than, or that we have failed as women and mothers, because we needed a little extra help. The days and weeks following my son's birth should have been the happiest of my life (well, barring the hormones rocking my boat, of course), but instead I had to spend the first year of my baby's life wrestling with guilt and shame and a sense of inadequacy, and that's just stupid.
Healthy Babies, Healthy Mamas. That's the bottom line. As long as readers don't lose sight of that, and start viewing doctors as the enemy and medical intervention as failures, this book contains a lot of useful information.
I am looking for recommendations for an app or system to keep my ever-growing TBR under control. By "under control" I don't mean that the wishlist should stop expanding, because yeah right, but I'd like to develop a better system for TBR Management: prioritizing my "planning to read" books so that I stop buying/downloading books and then forgetting why I was interested, or falling behind in my ARC obligations and missing publication dates. There are probably apps out there that would help, but there are so many book and reading apps out there that I get overwhelmed in my search. I use Goodreads/Booklikes/Leafmarks already, but those don't help with prioritizing.
Does anyone else have this issue? What works for you?
I majored in American History in college, but all through my education, I lamented that survey classes spent soooooooooooooooo much time slogging through the early years of the Republic such that more recent events of the 20th century got short shrift. I thought that I knew all I needed or cared to know about Alexander Hamilton and the rest of the stodgy old Founding Fathers, and then some.
And then my wife, a middle school teacher, introduced me to Lin-Manuel Miranda's "The Hamilton Mixtape," a spoken-word/rap/hiphop/musical creation inspired by this book, and it was revelatory. Miranda's earworm got stuck in my head for days, and I picked up Chernow's biography to see if the book was really as inspiring as Miranda seemed to find it... and yes, it is. I mean, I'm probably not going to go out and write a musical or anything, but I loved this book and I developed a bit of a crush on Alexander Hamilton, which is saying something considering that I'd been so terminally bored by my high school and college studies of his banking and taxation schemes, the Whiskey Rebellion, and the party wrangling between the Federalists and the Republicans.
Chernow's biography manages to make all of these previously-tiresome subjects relevant and compelling by weaving excerpts from letters and other primary source materials such that it almost feels as if the story is told by the people who were there. Reading this, I felt like I came to know Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, John and Abigail Adams, and others, and their humanity, their motivations, their struggles and foibles, were more real to me than ever before in my studies of the period. Chernow's narrative has a gossipy, titillating energy as he explores the seamy sex scandals and back-door political dealings of the era, all while maintaining an objectivity that Hamilton's contemporaries sorely lacked. Hamilton's accomplishments and integrity are trumpeted, but Chernow gives equal attention to his faults: his extramarital affair(s), his vanity and easily-bruised ego, his pathological need to have the last word (when a wiser politician would shut the hell up), the irony of his death in massive personal debt when he'd done such an impressive job managing the country's finances.
I could go on and on. I highlighted hundreds of passages of text and have been peppering Hamiltonian trivia into conversation at every opportunity for months. Every time I sat down to read, I'd tell my wife, "Listen to this..." until she asked me to stop because she hopes to read the book herself now that I've finished. Anyway, if you're interested in American history, law, or politics at all, read this: it's awesome.
I am almost finished, after plugging away at this for a long, looooong time. Even 220-some years late, and even knowing how it ends (SPOILER=Aaron Burr), I have developed a bit of a crush on Alexander Hamilton. Seriously, grab a $10.00 bill and check him out: the man was a hottie!
I loved this book. I was afraid it would start strong and then go south on me, since that's the luck I've been having lately, but no: I loved the end as much as the beginning, and every moment in between. The story is unique, the writing is wonderful, and oh, my lord, this one has All. The. Feels!
Des Burnside is in the middle of terrible spate of loss. Her mother died when she was eight. Her father died six months ago. Very shortly thereafter, Des lost her job, and her older sister Sarah nearly died in a bike-versus-car accident (Sarah was on the bike). Des had to sell her car, and she drives her father's old limo to the library every day, where she searches diligently for a new job. She's been on countless interviews and received countless rejections, and one day, upon receiving yet another rejection letter, she falls apart and starts to bawl, right there in the library.
Hefin Thomas is a woodcarver working to restore the panels in the library's atrium. He's a Welshman stranded in Ohio after the end of his marriage to an American lawyer. Their marriage crumbled when he came to resent her after being unable to find work and fulfillment in the US, and now that the marriage is over, he plans to return to Wales as soon as the library project is finished.
Des and Hefin had both noticed each other, but it took Des's breakdown to bring them together. Even though their attraction is strong and fast, Hefin's planned departure puts a damper on their passion because they both know their time together is so short. Having followed his ex-wife to America and had the marriage fail, Hefin knows better than to ask Des to come with him, and Des can't just leave: she cares too much for her sister, her two brothers, and the community where she's lived all her life. Similarly, Des would never ask Hefin to stay: she knows how unhappy he has been in Ohio, and having lost her own parents, she won't keep Hefin from his folks, alive but far away in Wales.
Because the reader knows early on that Hefin will be leaving, the pacing of this love story is different from a standard romance. It's not about the Happy Ever After, but about two sensitive, sensible people trying to figure out how to enjoy each other in the time that they have, all while guarding their hearts against inevitable loss. It's bittersweet, but also beautiful, and it works because rather than holding themselves back, and resisting love because they don't have a future, both Hefin and Des set out to experience the whole affair and all of the whirlwind emotions that come with it, even though time is short. I'd never read a romance like this before, and I loved it!
I also loved that the supporting characters and the community (the fictional town of Lakeside, Ohio, modeled after Columbus) were so well-developed. Des's neighborhood was so well-described and so present in the background of every scene, it is as if the setting is a character in the story. Supporting characters (such as the Burnside siblings, Des' landlady, and Des' friend Lacey) are not simply cardboard cutouts, appearing in the story only for advance the main plot between the lovers, but they are fully-drawn individuals with their own backstories, their own motivations, and their own subplots that only casually relate to Des and Hefin's love story.
I've read a few other reviews that suggest that the writing is pretentious and overdone, but I didn't find it so. Sure, there was the occasional sex metaphor that didn't work for me (but that happens all the time), and there were a couple of sentences that ran on a little bit, but those were rare. For the most part, I found the prose really delicious and beautiful, and I will definitely read more in the series!
***ARC provided by NetGalley in return for an honest review.***
This was on sale a little while ago, so I picked it up because I've liked Julie James' more recent stuff (this is her debut), but this was a disappointment. Partly I think that's my fault: as a lawyer/litigator myself, I have little tolerance for the overdramatized, oversimplified simulacrum of legal practice that appears in fiction. Because I know what happens in real life courtrooms, the heroine, Taylor, seems cartoonishly unrealistic: a hotshot lawyer who snarks at judges, disrespects opposing counsel, doesn't trust a junior associate to handle the simplest motion hearings, has never lost a case, is the darling of partners and juries alike, yet appears (by my lights) to have no grasp of nuance, ethics, or evidence. This has bothered me about other James novels, so there is a degree of should-have-known-better in my disappointment with this book, but it's worse here because Taylor's case is more central to the plot than the trial work of the Assistant U.S. Attorneys featured in James's more recent books.
Leaving the Ally McBeal-esque courtroom shenanigans aside, I just didn't feel the romance between Taylor and Jason. Jason is a movie star, voted People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" (hence the title), and he has all the trappings of celebrity: buckets of money, women, a 12,000 square-foot mansion, women, a private jet, women, an Aston Martin Vanquish, and all the women he wants, and any woman he wants. (Again, there's probably an element of should-have-known-better here for me, because I've never been a fan of the current trend of "billionaire" heroes: if a romance is going to work for me, I need a lot more verisimilitude.) Jason is prepping for a role as a lawyer and needs to work with Taylor to see how it's done.
They get off on the wrong foot when the entitled Jason stands Taylor up twice. She'd have blown him off then and there, but because he's a big, important guy who could become a big, important client of the law firm, Taylor's boss won't let her. The story follows a pretty formulaic enemies-to-lovers plot arc, with both of them secretly attracted to the other even as they needle and annoy one another.
Jason's attraction to Taylor makes sense. I imagine it's refreshing, after years in the Hollywood bubble, to meet someone who isn't looking for attention, who isn't with him just for the reflected glory of being seen with the It-guy. Taylor's attraction to Jason was, in my opinion, far less believable. At the start of the story, Taylor is still reeling from a broken engagement to a man she caught banging his secretary, and her resistance to Jason's womanizing ways is not just self-protective, it's rational and entirely reasonable. The way she overcomes that resistance is just too hasty and too convenient for my satisfaction, and I just don't believe a woman who cares as much about her career and her independence as we're told Taylor does would blow everything she's worked toward just for the opportunity to be with a pretty face, especially when Jason has done so little, over the course of the book, to prove himself worthy of such sacrifice.
The only thing I enjoyed about this book was Jason's friendship with his much more down-to-earth wingman, Jeremy. Despite his comparatively minor role, he has a depth that the other characters in this story lacked. Jeremy holds this book together. He deserves a story of his own.
As I'm in the middle of reading Julie James' Just the Sexiest Man Alive, and seriously not enjoying it so far, it occurs to me that I'm in the middle of a streak of disappointing let downs by favorite authors. The books attached to this post are just a few of the books and novellas I've read recently, all by authors I love enough to consider auto-buys, and all of whose most recent efforts have been (in my not-so-humble opinion) well below their usual standards. I feel like my best girls are phoning it in! Is it just me?
All of this disappointment is contributing to the reading slump I've been suffering. Maybe I need to start over with some new people. What are you reading that excites you? Bonus points for authors I've never tried.
"Been there. Done that." Then he grinned slyly, unable to resist, and proudly pointed out several other Lakers girls. "And that. Oh, and that and that, too." He winked deviously. "Together."
"And amazingly, combined they total one brain." Jeremy replied dryly.
Jason shook his head regretfully at this.
"Unfortunately, not quite."
Yes, let's portray all cheerleaders as easy and stupid... because that's never been done before.
My Uncle Rob sent this to my boys as a gift. This is the same uncle whose favorite joke revolves around the phrase "Pull my finger." A bit to my dismay, Uncle Rob's brand of humor, including this book, is right up the average preschooler's alley.
Betty and Billy bring Walter home from the pound. At first they think he just needs a bath. Then they think he's just nervous. But no, it turns out he's just a farting dog. They take him to the vet. They change his diet. Nothing helps. Dad says Walter will have to go back to the pound, but then, amazingly, Walter's flatulence saves the day!
My three-year-old adores this book. He thinks it's uproariously funny. He would rate it a full five stars. He thinks about it long after we've finished reading, and always spends the next several days asking countless questions about Walter the farting dog, often at the most inopportune places and times... and that's why my rating is only three stars.
James Marshall's George and Martha stories were some of my favorite read-aloud books when I was a kid (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth). I thought the idea of pouring split pea soup into one's loafers was hilarious, and I loved the way Martha got revenge on George for violating her privacy in the bathtub. Now, I am delighted to find that these stories are truly timeless, and my little boys (1 and 3) love them as much as I did.
It is that time again! Time for a chance to PIMP your booklikes blog. You know you want it!!!
Check out the last winner - what do you think? Pimped?
Just enter the giveaway using the hand-dandy rafflecopter widget. Check below for all the deets.
Extra bit of awesome. If this giveaway reaches 1K entries - another winner will be added. That means two people will have their booklikes blog pimped. Here is hoping, right? If I only get 100 entries, I will form a support group for rejected designers. Anyone can join...
Design Giveaway Deets:
I have enjoyed what I've read so far of Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green series, but Between the Devil and Ian Eversea really didn't work for me. I formed a visceral dislike of the heroine--well, both main characters, really, but mostly the heroine--very early on, and it took most of the book for me to overcome that animus enough to root for her happy ever after.
Titania "Tansy" Danforth is an orphaned American heiress who has to marry well in order to secure her inheritance (which, of course, will then not be hers at all, but rather her husband's--but that's a legal reality which the story entirely glosses over). In order to meet suitably eligible bachelors, she's come to stay with her late father's friend, the Duke of Falconbridge, whom Long's readers will recognize as the new husband of the youngest Eversea sister, Genevieve. (Falconbridge and Genevieve's story was told in Long's What I Did For a Duke.)
Tansy is seriously annoying. She is Mary Sue beautiful on the outside--blonde, blue-eyed, statuesque (snore)--and vapid and shallow on the inside. In her first scene, the newly-arrived Tansy's introduction to Falconbridge and Genevieve is interrupted by a lovesick swain crooning to Tansy outside the window. This Italian stud fell in love with her on the crossing from America and followed her to the Eversea estate, and Tansy tells Falconbridge, with wide-eyed innocence, that she has no idea why the fellow would do such a thing. Except that it turns out that she absolutely does know why: she invited Giancarlo's attentions, enjoyed his flirtations, and completely led him on, because the sea voyage was boring and Tansy likes to be the center of attention.
Once installed in Sussex, Tansy's self-absorbed coquettishness continues. She isn't happy unless everyone acknowledges that she's the prettiest girl in the room. She flirts and flatters incessantly, determined to turn the heads of every bachelor around, even if some of those bachelors aren't "eligible" (including at least two men who are already engaged to other women). Don't get me wrong: I like a confident heroine who knows how to handle herself around men, and I know it's the men, not Tansy, who are breaking their commitments, and that they don't have to return her flirtations. Yet there is a competitiveness to Tansy's behavior. She is jealous of other women, and she collects suitors in order to build herself up and "win" a competition that no one else is playing. Worse, she doesn't appear to notice or care that she's hurting people and wrecking relationships in the process.
So, who is the perfect match for this princess? Why, jaded rake Captain Ian Eversea, of course! Long's readers will know Ian from previous books in the series as an inveterate manwhore whose most notable prior accomplishment involved getting caught in bed with Falconbridge's fiancee (prior to Genevieve) and being forced to climb out of her chamber, naked, and do the ultimate walk of shame back to his lodgings. Even within the pages of this book, he sleeps with two other women before his attentions become snared by Toxic Tansy. Like Tansy's flirtations, his sexual adventures are conquests without affection or deeper emotion, so in a way, maybe these two are perfect for each other.
To be fair, neither Tansy nor Ian are as one-dimensional as this review makes them out to be, and that's why I kept reading despite my dislike of both characters. Tansy is an orphan who was never secure in her parents' love, and I suppose her flirtatious behavior can be more charitably characterized as a damaged, lonely girl's misguided attempts to secure the affection she so desperately craves. Ian is a veteran tormented by memories of war, determined to hold himself aloof because he's already suffered too much loss in life. When they finally come together, their courtship is believable, though it fell flat for me because I disliked them both too much to care very much if they found happiness together.
One quote I have to point out from this book, in the vein of WT-everlasting-F: Tansy wins a marksmanship contest and explains, "Americans. We're born knowing how to shoot things, I suppose. All those bears and wolves and Indians from which we need to defend ourselves." (page 160). Yup, she did just list "Indians," along with wild animals, in the category of "things Americans like to shoot." I'm sure Long, through Tansy, meant this as a joke, but hoo-boy, did I not find it funny.
It's been about a week, and for reasons unknown, I suddenly have no attention span for reading. It's not that I got discouraged reading boring stuff: I have new books on my TBR from writers I'm excited about: Rainbow Rowell, Meredith Duran, Julie Anne Long, Julie James, Kit Rocha. All favorites, but every time I have a few minutes to read, I can't seem to concentrate, and I go off and do something else.
I hate when this happens. Sometimes my brain just turns off to reading, as if a switch got flipped, and it can take forever to turn it back on. Law school sucked away any desire I had for pleasure-reading for years. I so hope this slump is temporary!
Help pull me out of this slump. What are you reading? Tell me all about it, as enthusiastically as you can!
This is an important, sweeping history and condemnation of the War on Drugs, full of real-world anecdotes and statistics to back up the premise that every time the government or prohibition movements manage to crack down on one substance, Americans shift to using another, making "progress" in prohibition impossible. The chapters on the hypocrisy of U.S. global policy vis-à-vis U.S. drug policy to be especially thought provoking--(e.g., evidence the CIA aided and abetted opium/heroin traffickers in Laos in the 60s-70s, aided and abetted cocaine traffickers in Latin America in the 80s by working with the Contras, and the U.S. military turning an intentional blind eye to opium use and trafficking in Afghanistan today--even though the narcotics trade funds the Taliban). As entertaining as it was informative, I found myself laughing out loud page after page.
My one fairly significant complaint (and it's a doozy) is Mr. Grim's laissez-faire approach to source attribution. Although this book is brim-full of statistics, there are no footnotes, endnotes, or even a bibliography. The 250-page book is followed by a 3-page "Notes" section that provides references to major sources in only glancing detail, but without anything approaching the specificity a reader would need to go look up the source on one's own. I suspect this stems from Grim's background as a journalist: no one wants their newspaper all cluttered up with footnotes and parentheticals, of course. However, a serious academic endeavor such as a full-length book requires far more detailed source attribution. In the "Notes" section and at several points in the text, Grim writes that he will post links to sources--particularly the numerous studies from which he gleans his many statistics--on his website,YourCountryOnDrugs.com, but as of this posting, that website appears not to exist. My own experience and world view make me predisposed to agree with most of Grim's theories, but the lack of attribution leaves me skeptical: I fear that those who support the country's current drug policies will point to the lack of citation (as well as Grim's unapologetic narratives of his own drug experiences) to undercut the legitimacy of his argument, and that would be a shame.