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 have a soft spot for Shannon Stacey's contemporaries because they're set in northern New England, where I live, and because they're usually refreshingly free of contrivance and WTFery: they're just about regular people with regular problems living regular lives and falling in love in regular ways. You might think that would be boring, but no, at least not to me: it gives me faith, as I live my own regular life and work through my regular problems with my regular family that we've got just as good a chance at a happily ever after outcome as anyone else, and that's reassuring.
That said, Falling for Max is not nearly as strong as most of the other books in the Kowalski's series. Maybe it's time for Shannon Stacey to move on to a new town and new people, because she's scraping the bottom of the creativity barrel in tiny Whitford, Maine, or maybe this book just didn't work for me because I'm not at all a fan of the I'm-not-right-for-you-but-let-me-help-hook-you-up-with-someone-else trope (think Some Kind of Wonderful, for example). Introverted, endearingly geeky Max doesn't get out much: he spends so much of his time in the basement painting model trains that there's a rumor about town that he's really a serial killer. However, he's tired of being alone and decides to go looking for a wife. Tori, a waitress at the local diner, watches him get shot down on his first attempt to talk to a woman, and she takes pity on him. Tori has no interest in marriage herself, but she's happy to help polish Max's rough edges and prepare him to meet his future wife.
From the moment they meet, it's clear how this story will go, and it does: they develop feelings for each other, such that when Max goes out with someone else he feels guilty and Tori feels jealous, but Tori can't get over her own hangups about commitment. It might have worked if Tori's commitment phobia stemmed from something more substantial than her parents' acrimonious divorce. Not to minimize her angst, but please: with a national divorce rate somewhere between 25 and 45% (depending upon the source of one's statistics), Tori's extreme reaction to her parents' all-too-common marital implosion makes her seem like a speshul snowflake.
Anyway, this whole story felt contrived and predictable to me, and nothing about it challenged my expectations in any way. Oh well.
Thursday morning, my 17-month-old son had a massive seizure. We got an ambulance ride, an MRI, an EEG, a spinal tap, tons and tons and tons of lab work, and two days and one very, very long night in the pediatric ICU. This book kept me company in the wee small hours of that long, sleepless night, and in the interminably tedious moments spent waiting for test results and doctor's consults, stuck in a small, sterile room amid the unfamiliar beeps and buzzes of all that medical equipment, holding my small, sleepy baby in my arms. It didn't demand too much of my concentration, and it was sort of nice to trade my own all too real fear and grief for someone else's fictional troubles.
Ashley Winston leaves her friends and life in Chicago to go home to rural Tennessee for the first time in eight years when her mother misses their nightly phone call twice in a row. She turns out to be terminally ill, and Ashley goes home to help her Momma through the last few weeks of her life. In doing so, Ash reconnects with her six bearded brothers, who are no longer the selfish boys who used to torment the only girl in the family, but instead smart, reasonable men who would love to welcome her back home, if she can only trust them. She also meets her oldest brother's best friend and boss, game warden/park ranger/poet/songwriter Drew Runous. Drew is like a son to Ash's mom and like a brother to her brothers, but his feelings toward Ashley are not at all brotherly.
This story sort of defies the usual romance tropes, although Ash compares herself to the unlikeable heroines in so many romance novels: "It's like they've been hit with a vanilla ninny stick, devoid of personality and blind to the gift before them. They're doomed to wander in ignorance until the last thirty pages of the book." (Loc. 2684 of 7852) Ash isn't unlikeable or devoid of personality, and her failure to wake up to the "gift" of Drew's love and devotion until the last thirty pages of this book has more to do with her grief over the loss of her mother (and Drew's determination to keep a respectful distance as she works through that grief) than it does with any vanilla ninny stick.
This story wasn't perfect--Ashley's six hillbilly brothers (Jethro, Billy, Cletus, Beau, Duane, and Roscoe) are totally over the top, and personally I'd have liked it better if she had maybe two or three brothers and we (the readers) got a chance to know them as fully drawn characters, rather than six brothers who all blend together into a single caricature; and also leaving Chicago means leaving the friends and the knitting group which ties this series together, though Ashley managed to keep in touch with them even from a distance. Also, Drew was a little on the Gary Stu/too-good-to-be-true side.
However, I thought Penny Reid did a really good job portraying Ashley's emotional journey through the shock of her mother's diagnosis through her death, and beyond, but perhaps because of my own emotional journey with my baby's seizure, I was particularly drawn to that part of the story.
Anyway, this one struck a chord with me.
(P.S.: my son is home now and recovering well. All of the diagnostic tests were normal. We may never know what causes his seizures, but at least we have a plan (anti seizure meds) and will know what to do should this happen again.)
Maybe this makes me shallow, but whether or not I find a main character "likeable" makes a huge difference in my enjoyment level. Love Hacked is a prime example. I have read the two previous books in Penny Reid's Knitting in the City series, and enjoyed Reid's humor and writing style, and liked the stories reasonably well, but rated both books only three stars because I found the main characters so unpleasant. Elizabeth (Friends Without Benefits) I found to be so toxic I couldn't see what the hero saw in her. Janie (Neanderthal Meets Human) was better, but still hard to connect with in that she's very rigid in her world view in a way that I am not. I warmed up to Janie's love, Quinn, but it took awhile, because at first blush he's a typical icy, reserved alpha male.
By contrast, I really, really liked both Sandra and Alex in Love Hacked. Sandra is funny, smart, and relatable, and Alex is one of the best contemporary heroes I've come across in months: he has a heartbreaking backstory, but it hasn't broken him, and he is honest and emotionally forthright (in contrast to alpha men like Quinn, who don't like to talk about their feelings or even acknowledge that they have any). -And the fact that I liked both characters so much made Love Hacked an almost five star read: everything I liked about Penny Reid's writing combined with a couple whose happiness I could invest in (because if I don't like a character, how am I supposed to give a damn about their HEA?).
I found the premise of this story really fascinating, too: more so than plain-jane-meets-billionaire (Neanderthal) or celebrity-pining-for-the-one-that-got-away (Friends). Sandra is a therapist who has spent two years trying to find Mr. Right, but no matter how normal they seem, they can't help but open up to her Magical-Therapist-Vibe and they always wind up crying before the first course. Alex is the waiter who has watched her reduce men to tears every Friday night for two years… but he's so much more than a waiter. Alex has a Tortured Past, but unlike all the other guys Sandra meets, he's not interested in letting her put on her Therapist Hat and poke around in his psyche. This means that Alex is the one guy that Sandra can't figure out, which makes him endlessly fascinating--but also scary.
This is another of our library haul, this week. It was one of the best-selling picture books of 2013, but it didn't do much for me or for my almost-four-year-old son. We much prefer Oliver Jeffer's Stuck.
We got this from the library this week because James Marshall (of George and Martha fame) and Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are, duh) are both old favorites, and we were not at all disappointed. Swine Lake is about a down-on-his luck wolf who stumbles into an unfamiliar part of town, lucks into tickets to the Boarshoi Ballet performance of Swine Lake, and--even as he plans to massacre the dancers to satisfy his own nefarious appetites--winds up falling in love with the ballet instead.
Readers familiar with Marshall's and Sendak's other works will find among the fabulous illustrations several clever references to other favorites: a child in the theatre audience clutches a George-the-hippo stuffed lovey, and another pig is reading a newspaper story about The Stupids.
I picked this up on sale a few months ago when I saw it recommended by Smart Bitches Trashy Books. I'd only ever read one other Garwood romance (Saving Grace, a Scottish medieval). When I opened this on my kindle this weekend and read the prologue (all about a Native American shaman's cryptic dream about a white mountain lion), my first thought was, "Oh, what have I gotten myself into?" I avoid that subcategory of historical romance that prominently feature Native Americans, because I find them... well, racist, honestly. There's no sense in beating around the bush.
However, A Lion's Lady was a pleasant surprise. Although this, like Saving Grace, is very much a wallpaper historical, Garwood at least did enough basic research into the culture and rituals of the Dakota Sioux to avoid being patently offensive. The heroine, Christina, was raised by the Dakota and very much loves her adoptive family, and so her attitude toward them and their customs is positive and respectful rather than sneeringly superior.
The premise of this story is really quite ridiculous, but that's actually a good thing if one is willing to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. Christina's mother, Jessica, married the ruler of an obscure European nation (so obscure Garwood doesn't even bother to name it). Upon discovering that her prince was actually a cruel dictator and a cheating philanderer, she stole the crown jewels (intending to return the riches to the mistreated people of this unnamed country). Presumably unable to find a bank that could handle the jewels-for-cash transaction, Jessica buried the gems in her father's garden instead, then fled to America to get as far away from her husband before giving birth to their child. She eventually joined a wagon train heading west, but fled into the woods with baby Christina when the Dastardly Hubby murdered her traveling companions. There, she came upon a Sioux woman being raped by a Crow warrior, and she kills the Crow and she and Merry (the Sioux) (and their children, as Merry is also accompanied by her six-year-old son) winter together in an abandoned cabin in the woods until Jessica is either mauled to death by a bear or by her crazed ex (the story leaves some ambiguity on that point). Merry brings both children back to her people and raises Christina as her own child.
Fast-forward sixteen years: Christina has learned English (and French!) and gone to England with her evil aunt to fulfill some vague promise to her long-dead mother. She's armed with her mother's journal, so she knows Daddy is a Bad Guy, and we quickly learn that Christina has been left a fortune by her grandfather which will go to Daddy-Baddy unless Christina marries by her 19th birthday. Enter Lyon, who is a retired hitman for the Crown. He's the perfect protector for Christina, since he kills people for a living (but only if they deserve it!). They exchange humorous banter (made all the more entertaining by the fact that Christina has learned English but has no sense of idioms, so she takes everything literally in an Amelia Bedelia-esque way), noisy arguments that culminate with Christina cutting her hair in a mourning ritual, have lots of fairly vanilla sex, and then there's a big confrontation with Daddy-Baddy involving, of course, the stolen jewels.
Don't overthink it. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
I love Courtney Milan, but this novella that finishes off her Brothers Sinister series just felt kind of "meh." The premise was interesting--an Irish Catholic writer in Victorian London falls in love with his black, middle class, mathematician neighbor--but a premise like that requires much more STORY than can be explored in a 100-page novella. I think my biggest disappointment was that Stephen and Rose were already in love when the story began, and so the plot wasn't so much a romance but about overcoming Rose's (eminently reasonable) objections to their relationship. As a result, I couldn't really buy into their happily ever after because I didn't have a good sense of what their relationship was based upon, other than mutual attraction.
If you like Math and Astronomy, though, this novella is totally your catnip. I do not like math, and there is a lot of math humor. I understood it (yay, me!), but it didn't do much for me.
This is awesome. See how far you get before you recognize the story...
My wife bought herself this book back in college, having fallen in love with the illustrations and the story, and then she waited twenty years until she had a kid who could appreciate the book as much as she did. Well, that's finally happened: our about-to-be-4-year-old son, Henry, has picked this as his bedtime story four nights running.
Who's in Rabbit's House is a story within a story, or rather, a play within a story. Masai actors wear whimsical, colorful animal masks and act out the story of what happens when Rabbit comes home to find a monster in her house. "I am the Long One! I eat trees and trample on elephants!" says the monster. Pretty fierce, right? Rabbit enlists Leopard, Elephant, and Rhino to help get rid of The Long One, but it is the little green Frog that saves the day, with the obvious moral that intelligence is often more important than size or brute strength (and also, when the monster's identity is revealed, the folly of making assumptions based on too little information).
Dare I hope that I have finally gotten the Outlander series out of my system? Don't get me wrong, I loved Outlander, but in hindsight I wish I'd quit the series after that first book. Dragonfly in Amber was too wretchedly grim to be an enjoyable read, what with Culloden and(show spoiler)
. Voyager was just chockful of over-the-top plot WTFery such that by about two thirds of the way through, I simply could not willingly suspend my disbelief any longer. Drums of Autumn was more promising, in that it was neither crushingly sad nor insanely ridiculous, but Gabaldon's plot organization did not work for me at all.
Drums of Autumn jumps around in time and space between Claire and Jamie Fraser (in colonial North Carolina in the late 1760s-early 1770s) and their daughter Brianna and her sweetheart, Roger, in the 20th century. Brianna discovers that her parents are in danger in the past, so she goes back in time to warn them. Roger, discovering what she's done, follows her and tries to find her. Many, many adventures and misadventures ensue before the two couples finally settle together on Fraser's Ridge.
This hopping around among various times, people, points of view, and plots drove me absolutely batty. It felt like I spent the whole book being pulled from one storyline I cared about to a new scene, having to take time to set aside my resentment at the interruption and force myself to take an interest in the new scene and storyline(s), and just when I began to care about that, getting pulled on to something else entirely. Consequently, my overall reading experience was one of frustration rather than enjoyment. Moreover, at several points Gabaldon brought us right to the edge of a critical plot twist, and then jumped ahead, and only went back and told of the crisis in hindsight. I can think of three examples:(show spoiler)
In my opinion, not only is this extremely frustrating as a reader, it takes away much of the emotional punch of these scenes, because telling something in hindsight when some (if not all) of the aftermath is already assured takes away the suspense of the event. The fact that Gabaldon repeatedly did this with the most critical plot twists of the story made the whole book feel anticlimactic.
There were other narrative choices that reduced the emotional impact, and thus my enjoyment, of the book as well. For most of the book, Roger and Brianna are separated, and both go through hell in the interim. Their reunion at the end should have been the joyful, emotionally cathartic capstone to which the whole plot was building, but because it is told neither from Roger's nor Brianna's point of view, but from Claire's, it totally falls flat. In fact, their reunion is entirely spoiled by a scene involving maggots and rotting flesh that came very close to making me toss my cookies... and people wonder why readers don't find Brianna and Roger as romantic as Claire and Jamie!
Mint (my money-management app) says I have spent $3,200 on books in the last 4 years. But, since I'm saving approximately $1,500/year since I quit smoking 7 years ago, I'm still totally ahead, right?
So several times in the last few weeks, people I follow have posted reviews about books I know I've read, and I've gone looking for my own reviews and not been able to find them. Looking on the book page turns up nothing, except sometimes (not always) I can find my review under a different edition. Looking on my own shelves turns up nothing, even when I use the search box. Yet I know I shelved the book and posted the reviews here, because I can find my reviews on Goodreads or Leafmarks, and I always write reviews here and only sometimes copy them to those other sites. I don't remember having this problem before Booklikes launched their new Book Pages. Don't get me wrong, I love the book pages and think it's totally great (and necessary) to have a single place to look at all reviews for all editions of a single book... but I'm finding the Booklikes system annoyingly buggy and glitchy. Anyone else?
I read this board book (and several others in the series, such as Sense and Sensibility, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Dracula) while browsing the kids' section of the bookstore with my boys, the oldest of whom had earned a treat (i.e., a new book). I suspect these fall into that broad category of kids' books that appeal much more to parents than to the kids: I thought the concept of a counting book based on P & P was wonderful, but I'm sure my kids could not care less.
Originally posted [I think] in mid-November 2013.
For the second time in as many months, Rainbow Rowell has kept me up way too late, totally sucked into and thoroughy transported by one of her books (the last one was Eleanor & Park). And for the second time, I have been totally in love with the story ... until I got to the end, at which point I thought, " Really? I stayed up until 3:00 AM for this?" With Eleanor & Park, I dismissed my disappointment as shallowness and decided I'd conditioned myself to expect a Happy Ever After in everything, even though some stories don't end happily. Eleanor & Park's ending wasn't happy, but it fit the story, and though I can't say I liked it, I respected what I think Ms. Rowell was trying to do. This time, I'm not as sanguine. This time, I feel a little cheated.
But more on the ending later. I don't want to give the impression that I didn't like Fangirl, because I did. Up until the last 40 pages, I really, really did. It started a little slowly for me. For the first 70 pages or so, I felt like an outsider looking in, not really hooked yet -- probably because I'm almost twenty years past my own college freshman experience, and because the fanfic phenomenon didn't really exist when I came of age, or at least not on the scale it exists now. (Fangirl's protagonist, Cather Avery, is a painfully shy young woman who writes a tremendously popular Harry Potter-esque fan fiction.) I know that that fan fiction is a big thing, but I've always been very skeptical of it, probably because my experience has been limited to Fifty Shades of Grey, which everyone knows started as fan fic of Twilight (and which, in my opinion, took something that was bad to begin with and made it about a zillion times more horrifying). At any rate, I approached Cath's hobby (and thus, this book) with trepidation, because my first instinct was (and is) that writing fan fic is kinda weird. -And you know what? It's totally okay that I think that. Cath knows it's kinda weird. Almost everyone in the story--from her snarky roommate, to her judgey creative writing professor, to her seeking-individuality-at-the-bottom-of-a-tequila-bottle identical twin sister--also thinks it's kinda weird.
The narrative is scattered with excerpts from Cath's fan fic, as well as excerpts from Simon Snow, the Harry Potter-like series upon which it is based, and to be honest, even as I got over my skepticism about Cath's writing I still found myself skimming these sections. They are critical to the structure of the story, so it's not as if Rowell could have left them out, but I found them distracting because we only know enough about Simon Snow to know it's like Harry Potter (boy wizard at magic school fighting epic evil), but different, and not enough to actually follow the Simon Snow mythology or care much about the characters (who the hell is Penelope?).
Once again, I have veered off into what I didn't like about this book, and I really don't mean to keep doing that. (I blame the 2.5 hours of sleep I got after staying up most of the night reading.) Here's what I love: all of the characters are so real and so perfectly... imperfect. I am so tired of the special snowflake female protagonists that populate New Adult fiction, these falsely-modest beautiful girls who effortlessly win over these equally one-dimensional, paragon-of-perfection type guys, and every single other character is just wallpaper as the couple fall in love and go about their business.
Cath isn't like that: she's skirting the fine line between social anxiety and mental illness. She is introverted and painfully shy, and she knows (because her father is bipolar) that it wouldn't take much to push her over the line into crazytown. I love that she is both terrified of becoming crazy and sometimes unwilling or unable to make choices to move herself off that path, at least not without help from others (her sister, her dad, her roommate, her writing professor, her boyfriend). I love that she gets help from others, and not just from her boyfriend.
Levi, the boyfriend, isn't a paragon of perfection either. He has a receding hairline and a soft chin. He doesn't wash his hair as often as he ought. He can't read. He very nearly dooms their relationship right out of the starting gate by making a boneheaded, but totally normal, boy mistake. He is such a nice guy, a really lovely human being, but he isn't a Gary Stu because his good manners and sunny disposition are balanced out by real, human, imperfections.
I love Cath and Levi together. As an introvert myself, I totally understood Cath's befuddlement at the way Levi goes around smiling and being nice to people "as if it doesn't cost him anything," and his corresponding bafflement that of course it doesn't cost him anything. At one point, Cath describes Levi as a golden retriever, and I laughed out loud, because one of my best friends is an extrovert and describes herself the same way. In addition to this good friend, my mother and my sister are both extroverts, and when I am in social situations with them, I totally feel as if we are from alternate universes, as if we have nothing in common, as if it makes no sense that we could be friends or share the same DNA. Cath's sense of otherness, of incompatibility, totally resonates with me.
I love that the supporting characters are not just background. Cath's relationships with her family -- her twin sister, her mentally-ill father, her mostly-absent mother -- are fully developed and full of dramatic conflict and resolution even as they are secondary to the developing romance between Cath and Levi. Cath's roommate is snarky and sharp tongued, and a lesser writer could easily have turned her into a stock character whose sole purpose is comic relief, but Reagan, too, is a fully drawn person with her own history and feelings and motivations. She's not solely there to draw Cath out of her introverted shell (though she does an admirable job of it).
Rowell has an amazing gift for dialogue. Her characters are funny and sharp and snarky and poignant and honest, and their conversations move the story along and make the reader feel All The Feelz, and yet the dialogue is always believable, sounding like things real people would actually say in similar situations.
But the ending! *Mournful sigh.* I'm not even sure I can articulate what I found so disappointing. It's not that it leaves loose ends hanging: it doesn't. It's not that it isn't "happy": it is, at least happy for now, which is totally appropriate in a YA/NA romance -- how many of us settle down with our first loves, after all? It just felt really abrupt, and out of sync with the pace of the rest of the book. Fangirl is 436 "pages" long on my Kindle (not including Acknowledgments, etc.). The dramatic conflict is still building up until page 422, which leaves approximately 14 pages to wrap everything up. Roughly half of those fourteen pages are excerpts which, as I mentioned above, I found distracting even as I recognize the point of including them in the story. So, yes, the ending felt sudden, underdeveloped, and too neat and orderly. I subtracted a whole star from my rating just because of that let down. Harsh? Maybe, but is there anything worse than an extremely disappointing ending to a book you love as much as I loved this one?
This is the third Rainbow Rowell book I've read. I loved Eleanor and Park, but the ending was such a disappointment. I liked Fangirl quite a bit, but I found it kind of uneven, and again the ending let me down (though not as epically as E&P). Given that track record, I read Attachments with a certain degree of detachment, not wanting to fall in love with the story only to get burned again in the last chapters. As it turns out, I needn't have worried. Attachments is delightful from the first chapter to the last.
That this book is as enjoyable as it is kind of amazing, given the premise. The protagonist, Lincoln, is about as beta as they come, and he could easily have come across as a Creeper rather than a Keeper. He's a 28 year old computer geek who lives with his mother and doesn't get out much, except for his weekly Dungeons and Dragons game. He's still mooning over the only serious relationship he ever had, a youthful infatuation that ended nine years ago. He works the graveyard shift at a local newspaper, monitoring employees' email and internet use for violations of company policy, and preparing for Y2K. (Oh, yeah, this book is set in the fall of 1999, on the cusp of the predicted apocalypse of technology which, of course, turned out to be a lot of sound and fury.)
As part of his job, Lincoln reads the email conversations of two reporters, Beth and Jennifer, whose emails get flagged a lot because of their profanity and their frequency. (Employees are not supposed to use email for personal conversations.) LIncoln is charmed (as is the reader) by the women: the way they tease and support each other, the way they lift each other up in tough times, the way they are sometimes brutally honest with each other. He begins to develop feelings for one of the women, Beth, before he ever sees her. -And almost as soon as he realizes he's in love, he understands how hopeless it is, because reading her email without her knowing it is so very wrong, even if it is his job.
The fact that Lincoln understands and is troubled by the creepy stalkerish aspects of his job is what saves him from coming across as creepy and stalkerish. (Also, the reader is as charmed by Beth's and Jennifer's emails as Lincoln is, and you don't want him to cut off access by revealing himself.)
Interspersed with chapters devoted to Beth's and Jennifer's emails are chapters devoted to Lincoln. Over the course of the novel, he makes a number of small changes, not really realizing the import of each, until he ultimately overcomes the inertia that has bogged down his life since college: he eats dinner in the break room instead of alone at his desk, he reconnects with old friends, he connects with new friends, he joins a gym, he finds an apartment, he gets a haircut. Individually, each of these changes is insignificant, but by the end of the book, Lincoln has made enormous personal growth. The beauty of it, though, is that his self-improvement doesn't come at the cost of anything or anyone else. He doesn't kick his Dungeons and Dragons friends to the curb in the pursuit of a cooler crowd. He leaves his mother's house, but does so in such a way that she still feels needed and loved. Lincoln becomes a better guy, but he remains true to himself and his roots.
He and Beth don't actually connect until 95% of the way through the book. The wait is excruciating, but it's the anticipation of something wonderful, like Christmas morning or a long-planned vacation, and when it comes, it's almost indescribably satisfying. (And yet, Rainbow Rowell does a pretty good job describing it:)
There are moments when you can't believe something wonderful is happening. And there are moments when your entire consciousness is filled with knowing absolutely that something wonderful is happening. Lincoln felt like he'd dunked his head into a sink full of Pop Rocks and turned on the water.
(p. 311 of 327)
It's really bothering me to hear (I'm listening to the audiobook) Native Americans repeatedly referred to as "savages." Yes, that term might have been appropriate for the setting (Colonial North Carolina in the 1770s), but the book was written in 1997. Every time I hear it, it is jarring and offensive.