By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
Sarah Wendell, of Smart Bitches Trashy Books, has a philosophy I really admire: any time she complains about something more than twice, she feels the need to personally do something to fix the problem. In this case, the third time she found herself lamenting the lack of Hanukkah-themed romance, she sat down and wrote this novella.
I'm not Jewish, and the idea of a religious camp for families sort of went over my head, so I think there are a lot of readers who will get a lot more out of this story than I did. That said, I still enjoyed the read. Genevieve and Jeremy have been friends forever, first as campers at Meira, then as counselors, but both the camp and their friendship are threatened. The camp is in financial straits, and in an attempt to earn money and drum up summer business, Meira has a special winter session during Hanukkah. Genevieve and Jeremy are counselors together, but this will be the last time: even if the camp manages to stay open, they are adults now, and Jeremy especially can't get the time off from his real job (in his family's Jewish mortuary) to work summers any more.
That's right: the hero of this novella is a mortician. A daring choice, no?
There are some dark and twisty themes in this story -- Jeremy's career, Genevieve's grief over the recent death of her parents, the loss of childhood innocence and the onset of adult responsibility -- but as Smart Bitches readers will expect, the story zips along, propelled by Wendell's snarky dialogue, and there were a few points where I laughed out loud.
Bonus: I'm pretty sure this is FREE right now at most e-booksellers.
I am almost pathologically unable to leave a series unfinished. If I hate the first book, I can walk away, but once I've read two or more, I feel compelled to close out the series even when I'm just not that in to it. That's why I read Sarah Morgan's Suddenly Last Summer, a summertime contemporary sandwiched between the Christmas-themed Sleigh Bells in the Snow, which I read last December and rated 2.5 stars, and Maybe This Christmas, which I read last week and rated 3.5 stars. In reading Maybe This Christmas, I discovered that I'd missed this book, and had to go back and close out the trilogy even though none of the three books really stood out from the crowd.
Suddenly Last Summer is the story of Sean O'Neil, an orthopedic surgeon whose love of career leaves no time for relationships, and Elise Somebody, the chef at the O'Neil family resort. Elise is also a workaholic, but her resistance to relationships has more to do with her abusive ex-husband than with her work schedule. Sean and Elise have steamy chemistry, but neither wants anything more than sex. When each starts to develop Feelings, they both get uncomfortable and things get messy.
I'm not a fan of I-don't-want-to-love-you-because-REASONS stories. You know what I mean: where the conflict between the lovers is entirely in the characters' heads and not based on any real obstacle. This is such a story. I didn't love it. I didn't hate it. I finished the series.
That is all.
This is my favorite of the holiday-themed romances I've read this year so far. I'm a big fan of the blue-collar realism of Shannon Stacey's contemporary romances: she writes about ordinary people with ordinary jobs living in an ordinary town and searching for (and finding) ordinary solutions to ordinary problems. In a genre glutted with sexually-traumatized heroines falling in love with ex-Navy Seals struggling with PTSD as they work together to track down serial killers, child-molesters, or evil shape-shifting were-beasties, Shannon Stacey's writing is refreshingly free of angst, melodrama, and violence.
That said, the main characters in Her Holiday Man are less "ordinary" than Stacey's usual fare. Sure, they're solidly blue collar -- Will is a car mechanic and Christina clerks at a gas station -- but their backstories are more over-the-top than is typical for Stacey. Will's wife and unborn baby were killed by a drunk driver a few weeks before Christmas, five years prior to the start of the story. He's spent the intervening time wandering, avoiding home and the life they'd shared, but the recent death of his father has brought him home to care for his widowed mom. Christina is the new neighbor across the street, a single mom raising her young son alone after her ex-husband was imprisoned for a massive financial fraud that bankrupted Christina and lost her the wealthy, privileged lifestyle she'd always known.
Another writer might have put the focus on all that these characters have lost, maximizing the angst and tragedy of their situation. Not Stacey. Even with their unusually-wretched histories, Will and Christina are both really genuine, down-to-earth people. Some little examples of what I mean:
When Will arrives in town, upon learning his mother has been doing so much to help out this new neighbor lady -- watching her son, inviting them for meals, etc -- he initially worries that Christina might be some scammer trying to take advantage of his lonely, widowed mom. A lot of writers would have milked that mistrust for conflict, and had the hero just assume (based on the innate mistrust born of his tragic past) that the heroine was up to no good. Instead, Will keeps an open mind, gives Christina the benefit of the doubt, and quickly notices all the things she does to keep her relationship with Gail (Will's mom) reciprocal: Gail watches Christina's son, but Christina helps Gail with the housework, and so on.
Christina was a pampered only child raised by extremely wealthy parents, and then she married an even wealthier man. Her whole life, she has had a household staff to cater to her every whim, but now she's lost everything. She is extremely, painfully sheltered -- she's never even put up her own Christmas decorations; her servants always did the decorating the Monday after Thanksgiving -- but rather than knuckling under and breaking under the sudden pressure of financial and personal ruin, Christina just does what needs doing. Her smoke detectors start to beep and she doesn't know why -- so she googles it, and watches online videos about how to change the batteries. She's independent and resourceful, but not so pigheaded that she won't accept a helping hand when it's offered by Gail or Will.
The conflict between them is real -- having loved and lost (in Will's case) and trusted and been betrayed (in Christina's), neither is eager for a new relationship. There's also the issue of collateral damage to loved ones if the relationship goes badly -- Will's mother is eager to see her son settled and happy, and Christina's young son looks up to Will like the father he's lost. None of these problems have easy solutions, and Stacey doesn't offer a grand gesture or deus ex machina to deliver her happy ending: Will and Christina just talk through their fears and hopes like rational adults, and eventually decide to brave the future together, risks and rewards and all.
This a slow-burning, secret-crush, friends-to-lovers, contemporary romance with a holiday theme. I read the first in the series, Sleigh Bells in the Snow, last Christmas, and I didn't love it because I really didn't like the heroine. This book is better, and certainly works as a stand alone if you haven't read the previous books in the series (there's a second book that I haven't read).
Brenna and Tyler have been best friends since childhood, but Brenna has always been in love with him, but kept her feelings to herself, believing Tyler would never love her back. Tyler is a commitment-phobe who keeps all of his relationships superficial after accidentally getting a high school classmate pregnant. He's attracted to Brenna, but would never act on it out of fear of jeopardizing their friendship. Both live and work at Snow Crystal Spa and Resort, a ski area in Vermont, but when the resort gets overbooked at the holidays, Brenna has to move in with Tyler, and their mutual attraction suddenly threatens their friendship the way they both always feared it would.
I found the first half of this book kind of slow, but I know there are people who really enjoy slow-burning, tension-building romances, and this definitely fits that bill: the couple don't share their first kiss until page 269. The last third of the book moved a lot faster and I found it emotionally cathartic (it made me cry twice) without being too angsty.
I had a few quibbles with some of the subplots -- Brenna's tense relationship with her parents resolves just too easily, for example, and Tyler's ex is just too shrewish to be believed -- but nothing that ruined the story for me.
I'm totally swooning over A Likely Story's charm bracelets. I bought four as gifts (one is a gift to me!).
I have completed Sock Poppet's A-Z 2014 Reading Challenge, and at 182 books so far, I'm on track to meet my 2014 goal of 190 books.
Here's my A-Z list (the date is the date I finished the book, and the number in parentheses is how many stars I rated it):
A is for April (the month in which you read the book) – Live, Mary Ann Rivers, 4/13/14 (5)
B is for Bathing Suit (this book takes place at least partly in hot weather months) – Sweet Filthy Boy, Christina Lauren, 9/29/14 (takes place in Paris in the summer) (3.5)
C is for Children's book – Legend of the Golden Snail, Graeme Base, 3/27/14 (4.5)
D is for Doctor (one of the characters) –The Last Wicked Scoundrel, Lorraine Heath, 1/10/14 (3)
E is for Ever (in the title) – (N)ever Judge a Lady by her Cover, Sarah MacLean, 12/5/14 (2.5) (It's possible I cheated just a tiny bit with this one.)
F is for Family (book is about a family or family relationships) – Firefly Hollow, T.L. Haddix, 5/18/14 (3.5)
G is for Geography (the story takes place in at least two different countries) – The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion, 1/5/14 (5)
H is for Heart (it's a love story) – Truly, Ruthie Knox, 8/2/14 (5) (I read a lot of love stories. This is my favorite in a long, long time.)
I is for Ice (the setting is cold - snow, ice, rain) – The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky, 6/14/14 (3.5)
J is for Jokes (the book is humorous) – Yes Please, Amy Poehler, 11/29/14 (4) AND As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of 'The Princess Bride', Cary Elwes, 11/21/14 (4.5) (November was a funny month.)
K is for Keyboard (at least one character plays a musical instrument) – Her Favorite Temptation, Sarah Mayberry, 1/6/14 (4)
L is for Lamp (the book takes place before electricity was discovered) -- Saving Grace, Julie Garwood, 1/26/14 (3)
M is for Mom (one of the characters) – Raising Boys, Third Edition: Why Boys are Different and How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men, Steve Biddulph, 2/27/14 (3.5) (In case it's not clear, I am the Mom in question -- not a character in the book, but certainly drawn to read it as a mother raising two small boys without a father.)
N is for New-to-you author – I discovered lots of new authors this year. Three whose entire series I totally glommed on to include Sarina Bowen, Ivy Years series, Penny Reid, Knitting in the City series, and Delphine Dryden, Science of Temptation series.
O is for Out of This World (where the story takes place) – Owned and Owner, Anneke Jakob, 10/9/14 (1.5)
P is for Pilgrims (the story involves moving someplace new) – Into the Winderness, Sara Donati, 3/25/14 (2.5)
Q is for Question Mark in the title – Are you Ready to Play Outside?, Mo Willems, 6/28/14 (4)
R is for Run (the main character is running from something) – Beauty and the Bounty Hunter, Lori Austin, 6/2/14 (4) (This book is more like an action movie than a romance novel.)
S is for Sequel to a book you've already read – Book of Life, Deborah Harkness, 7/28/14 (3) (In truth, this is not a sequel but the conclusion of a trilogy.)
T is for Time (the book travels time, moves through time quickly or flashes back) – Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, J.K. Rowling, 1/10/14 (4.5)
U is for Useful (which you found the book to be) -- Brain Rules for Baby, John Medina, 4/23/14 (5) (If you only ever read one parenting book, let it be this one.)
V is for Veteran (at least one character is/was a member of a military force) – Rumor Has it, Jill Shalvis, 2/25/14 (4)
W is for Wind (the book blew you away) – Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow, 4 April 2014 (4.5) (It took me more than a year to get through this, but so, so worth it.)
X is for XXIV (it's the 24th book you read this year) – Alone with You, Shannon Stacey, 2/25/14 (2.5)
Y is for Yo-Yo (your emotions were up and down as you read the book) - Outlander, Diana Gabaldon, 1/15/14 (4.5) (I glommed the first four books of the Outlander series this year, but I think I've reached my ridiculousness threshold.)
Z is for Zoo (there is an animal on the cover) – Christian the Hugging Lion, 3/20/14 (4)
This was a lot of fun, and I'm already looking forward to next year's challenge!
This holiday novella revisits the Lucky Harbor couple Chloe and Sawyer five years into their Happy Ever After, when Chloe is about 12 months pregnant with their first child, and she is just a bundle of hormone-induced crazy.
I read Head Over Heels, the full-length novel starring Chloe and Sawyer shortly after it came out in 2011, and all I remembered of it is that Sawyer was the town cop and Chloe was the harebrained youngest sister of the trio that started the Lucky Harbor series. While reading this, I remembered she suffers from debilitating asthma. This novella says both Chloe and Sawyer had rough childhoods which make them doubtful about parenthood, but I don't remember the details (but really, how many romance novel main characters haven't had traumatic childhoods?).
Anyway, Chloe is extremely pregnant and all freaked out that Sawyer doesn't want the baby and doesn't love her and blah blah blah, and for most of the novella, Sawyer is out of town working for the DEA. Everyone wants Chloe to stay home and take it easy, but she wants to go to the town's big Christmas party, even though she can't find a dress that fits over her massive bump, and even though it's snowing buckets.
Late term pregnancy + snowstorm = ... well, you can probably guess what happens at the party, and if you can't, I won't spoil it for you.
I didn't love this novella, mostly because I'm not a fan of the crazy-hormone-driven-pregnant-lady trope. I've been pregnant, and I won't say it doesn't do a number on you--I couldn't listen to country music or read sappy books without bawling during my own pregnancy--but I'd still like to think that most women in Chloe's shoes would have been more rational and made better choices.
BEWARE: It is impossible to talk about the heroine of this book without revealing a fairly major spoiler from the previous books in the Rule of Scoundrels series. You have been warned.
I'd been looking forward to this final book in Sarah MacLean's Rule of Scoundrels series all year, since I loved the previous book, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, including the shocker epilogue which reveals a HUGE surprise and sets the stage for this book. Unfortunately, Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover did not live up to my hopes. It started strong, but in the end, I just couldn't get over my prejudice against the Big Misunderstanding trope.
Any month where I read more than Booklikes 10-book-covers-per-post limit is a good month (except possibly November, where all the reading I did took time away from the NaNoWriMo writing I should have been doing, alas). Not counting all of the picture books I read with my boys, I finished fifteen books in November. (I only wrote ~12,000 words.)
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales of the Making of The Princess Bride, Cary Elwes -- This is a must for anyone who loves The Princess Bride. I recommend the audiobook, as most of the cast and crew contribute, so it's like listening to a radio show documentary.
The Year We Fell Down, Sarina Bowen -- I don't usually read New Adult, but I glommed onto the Ivy Years series hard. I read the whole series in a long weekend. This first book, with a paraplegic heroine, was my favorite.
Yes Please, Amy Poehler -- Considering I have nothing in common with Amy except that we both have two young sons, I related to this memoir a lot more than I thought I would. Plus, it was super funny.
Understatement of the Year -- See my above comment about glomming the Ivy Years series. This third book was my second favorite, a second-chance romance involving two hockey players (yes, it's M/M. Read it even if you don't think that's your thing.).
Scenes From the City, Penny Reid -- This won't appeal much to anyone who isn't already into the Knitting in the City series, but if you're already a fan, the fifth story in this collection will have you salivating for the 2015 release of Happily Ever Ninja. Act fast, this is only on sale through December 15!
Blonde Date -- A short story, really more of a vignette, in the Ivy Years series. The hero is wonderfully beta.
Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit -- a thought-provoking set of essays on feminist topics, but a little too spendy, considering how short it is, IMO.
The Year We Hid Away, Sarina Bowen -- My least favorite book in the Ivy Years series, this was still a very entertaining read. It just had an awesome premise which didn't quite live up to my hopes.
The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan -- This has been on my TBR for 20 years. I'm glad to have finally made time for it. It was a more timely read than I expected, but my interest waned in the last third of the book.
This I Believe, various -- I've been plugging away at this collection of short essays in my spare time since the summer. A few of them were real gems.
Landline, Rainbow Rowell -- My least favorite Rainbow Rowell book so far. I just couldn't connect with the heroine at all, but the book still had the sharp prose and poignant emotion that I love about Rowell's work.
Dirty Rowdy Thing, Christina Lauren -- Entertaining, but not especially memorable.
Screwdrivered, Alice Clayton -- The snappy dialogue did not make up for the cliched plot and the too stupid to live heroine.
Beyond Possession, Kit Rocha -- my first disappointment in the Beyond series. This novella just felt flat to me.
The Temp, Part I, Lacey Wolfe -- I won this in a giveaway. Since I don't have anything nice to say, ....
As for what's on tap in December, I just started Sarah MacLean's Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, and it's off to a strong start.
When The Polar Express first came out in 1985, I was already nine years old. I no longer believed in Santa, though I kept up the pretense for the benefit of my younger siblings. I remember reading this book to my little brother, who was then about two. He enjoyed it, but back then it didn't do much for me.
Now, my own sons are four and almost-two, and they are obsessed with trains and adventure and they still very much believe in Santa and the magic of Christmas, and this book has become an overnight favorite. My four-year-old asks me to read it over and over, and wants to talk about it several times a day. He is so obsessed, in fact, that I'm a little afraid he might wander outside alone in the middle of the night in search of his own imaginary Polar Express ride.
The illustrations are beautiful, and the story definitely captures my boys' imagination. I'm not sure if it would hold the same appeal for girls. I'm not sure why the protagonist's little sister wasn't included on the trip (and it bothers me that she wasn't), and I'm not sure what makes the protagonist so special that he was chosen among all the children on the train to receive the first gift of Christmas (white male privilege?). But that's me bringing my own feminist baggage to what is otherwise a lovely holiday story, and I try not to lay all that on my little boys--at least not at this stage of their lives.
I don't own a TV. I saw a few of Amy Poehler's Hilary Clinton impersonations online during the 2008 election season, but I never saw a full episode of Saturday Night Live during her tenure. I've never seen Parks and Recreation. I saw Baby Mama but didn't love it. The reason I like Amy Poehler -- the reason I picked up this book -- is because of her Smart Girls at the Party website, which encourages young people (especially girls) to "change the world by being yourself."
Given that somewhat tenuous connection, and the fact that Amy is a famous comedienne and extrovert and I am a bookworm lawyer introvert, I was not expecting Yes Please to resonate with me as strongly as it did. In addition to being really very funny, this book is just full of nuggets of wisdom and advice to provoke thought and inspire action.
On Grasping Opportunity (This is sort of the book's thesis):
Say no to an opportunity that may be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice because we are worried it is not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready. (Foreword)
On Choosing a Career (or life) Path:
In three short years [doing Improv in] Chicago had taught me that I could decide who I was. My only job was to surround myself with people who respected and supported that choice. (Page 117)
On Work-Life Balance:
I am introducing a new idea. Try to care less. Practice ambivalence. Learn to let go of wanting it. Treat your career like a bad boyfriend. (Page 222)
You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look. (Page 224)
These little sound-bite quotes don't do Amy justice, but trust me, they're backed up with vignettes and examples that illustrate her point in a way that is both very funny and very relatable.
I won this in a Booklikes Giveaway last month, and so panning it feels like looking a gift horse in the mouth, but oh, boy, did this book not work for me. It's a boss/secretary trope, which is usually bad news*--I have real issues with the skewed power dynamic (not to mention the sheer unoriginality) of the notion of a male boss screwing his secretary. Here, the trope is even more cliched because the boss is some kind of billionaire and the secretary is a much younger, penniless, just-out-of-school-and-too-green-to-be-interesting neophyte.
As if that weren't bad enough, the writing itself is just ... not for me. So much passive voice! Run on sentences, some of which had more than one cliche! Purple prose!
If this were a spoof or satire that aimed to poke fun at some of the tired and overdone conventions of this subgenre of erotic romance, that might have been different, but alas, I'm pretty sure Lacey Wolfe intended this in all seriousness. Oh, dear.
This is the first entry in a three part series. Needless to say, I will not be continuing on.
*The only books I can think of that rose above my dislike of the boss-secretary trope are Charlotte Stein's Power Play (where 1. the boss is a woman and the secretary is male, and 2. it's Charlotte Stein, bitches!) and Jennifer Crusie's Fast Women (where 1. the secretary is in her 40s and isn't anyone's pushover, 2. she quits when her boss takes her for granted, and 3. I mentioned this is Jennifer Crusie, right?).
I really, really enjoyed Cary Elwes' memoir of the making of The Princess Bride, and I'm so glad I got the audiobook rather than a print version, because so many of the cast and crew contributed to the memoir and came back to read their own contributions, so listening to the book was a richer experience than I imagine reading it would be. I have been a huge fan of The Princess Bride since my childhood, but this book was full of fascinating stories I did not know--such as in the scene above the ravine, just before Buttercup pushes the Man in Black down the hill, Westley is walking funny because he has a broken toe, and the scene where Count Rugen hits Westley over the head with his sword after they leave the Fire Swamp, he really did accidentally knock him out. After I finished the book, I watched the movie again with my young son, and knowing the backstory almost made the movie new again (after probably some 40 viewings over the past 27 years).
Highly recommended for all fans of this classic film!
I used my monthly Audible.com credit on the audiobook version of Cary Elwes' memoir of the making of The Princess Bride. I'm about halfway through, and I'm loving this so far. I have only recently started listening to audiobooks, and I'm not really a convert yet, because I get annoyed at the pace (since I read faster than I listen) and at the fact that I can't highlight and make notes (especially since I usually listen while driving), but this is the rare exception where I'm so much happier with the audiobook than the print alternative. That's because not only is the bulk of the book written and narrated by Cary Elwes (so it's as if Farm Boy Westley is reading to me, swoon), but director Rob Reiner, writer William Goldman, and most of the cast (Billy Crystal, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Carol Kane, etc) all contributed to the memoir and read their own "parts" in the audiobook, so it's more like listening to a cast reunion special than it is like listening to just Elwes' reading his own memoir.
There are some lovely and thought-provoking essays here, and I love that they're all short enough to read in just a few minutes, and that you can read just one or two essays at a time and then put the book down for weeks without losing your place or sense of continuity. It took me six months to read this, and I used the essays a "palette cleanser" between other, longer reads.