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Heidi Hart

By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general. 

Currently reading

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
Cary Elwes, Joe Layden, Rob Reiner
The War Play Dilemma: What Every Parent And Teacher Needs to Know (Early Childhood Education Series (Teachers College Pr)) (Early Childhood Education (Teacher's College Pr))
Diane E. Levin, Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Progress: 3/115 pages
The Slightest Provocation
Pam Rosenthal

Only halfway through, and already I want to give this 5 stars!

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride - Cary Elwes, Joe Layden, Rob Reiner

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.

This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women - Jay Allison, Dan Gediman

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.

Men Explain Things to Me - Rebecca Solnit

All of these essays are well-written, and most are thought provoking, but the collection is too short (particularly given the price).

Who Says You Can't Teach an Old Train New Tricks?

The Little Engine That Could - Loren Long, Watty Piper

My four-year-old son and I love this re-telling of the old classic, The Little Engine That Could. Everyone knows the story of the little engine that used perseverance and positivity to find the strength to pull the train over the mountain--I'm sure I'm not the only one who recites "I think I can, I think I can" while hiking steep trails or running uphill--and Loren Long's new version keeps all that is timeless and magical about the old tale, and dresses it up with more beautiful and vibrant illustrations. 

Ugh. Just Ugh.

Screwdrivered - Alice Clayton

Viv inherits a gorgeous, beach-side Victorian house, complete with horses tended by a real-live cowboy. She immediately assumes that she's somehow landed in one of the romance novels she loves to read, and that she and the cowboy must be meant for each other.

 

The problem? The cowboy is kind of a Neanderthal.

 

There is a hot librarian, who actually (unlike the Neanderthal cowboy) seems to be able to string a sentence together and further (again, unlike the Neanderthal cowboy) seems to actually like Viv. The problem is that Viv spends all but the last few pages of the book Too Stupid To Live Notice. And in her obliviousness, she's often pretty douchey toward Clark the librarian.

 

This story was infuriatingly predictable, the characters flat. Clark was okay--(except for his refusal to call Viv by anything other than Vivian, even after she corrected him a zillion times--that habit grew on Viv, but not on me; it's just disrespectful not to call a person by what she tells you she wants to be called)--but that might be my bias toward beta heroes talking. Viv was a flake and I never warmed up to her. Clark could have done much better.

 

I was seriously annoyed by her dreams/fantasies in which she imagines herself in the most lurid, purple-prosed romance novel ever. These were supposed to be funny, but I'm defensive about the way non-romance readers view the genre, and these scenes bought into all the worst stereotypes in a way that touched a nerve and made my skin crawl.

 

As usual, Alice Clayton offers some snappy, funny dialogue, but on the whole this book could have been so much better than it was.

Really Didn't Rock My Boat

Dirty Rowdy Thing - Christina Lauren

After DNFing Beautiful Bastard, I would have written off Christina Lauren if not for Dear Author's review of Sweet Filthy Boy, which was a pleasant enough surprise to lead me to pick up Dirty Rowdy Thing, which was itself entertaining but not earth shattering.

 

In Sweet Filthy Boy, three female best friends celebrate their college graduation with a drunken weekend in Vegas, which results in the quickie marriages of the three lady friends to three male friends they meet in a bar. Of the three couples, only Mia and Ansel try to give marriage a shot (read all about it in SFB), while Harlow and Finn and Lola and Oliver get quickie annulments.

 

But Harlow can't quite get Finn out of her system. He turns up in her life again at a time when they are both desperately in need of distraction, Harlow because her mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and Finn because his family fishing business is failing. They quickly fall into bed in an effort to avoid facing the more serious stuff going on in their lives, but it's quickly apparent that their relationship is getting pretty serious, too.

 

This was set up as an antagonistic, Slap-slap-kiss-kiss romance, but to be honest, I never felt the antagonism. That didn't bother me, because fight-em-and-fuck-em isn't my favorite trope anyway, but if it is yours, and if you're looking for a real conflict between these two, you may be disappointed.

 

As with SFB, there is lots and lots and lots of sex in this book; this time, it comes spiced with ropes and light BDSM elements. I was honestly kind of bored by the sex in SFB, but the sex in DRT at least fit with the plot a little more seamlessly.

Uneven, but well worth reading even 50 years later....

The Feminine Mystique (Audible Modern Vanguard) - Betty Friedan, Parker Posey

I have such a hard time reviewing audiobooks, for (at least) two reasons: 1) it takes me a lot longer to finish them than it would if I were reading and so my memory of the earlier parts of the book is not as clear when it comes time to write a review, and 2) I listen to audiobooks while driving, so I can't stop to make notes or highlight or bookmark sections I want to remember for later, so when it comes time for a review, I don't have much to say. This review, then, is just a broad sketch of my general impressions.

 

I've been meaning to read this book for twenty years, since my own days as a Smith student (Betty Friedan is also a Smithie), but I never got around to it until Audible made it a Daily Deal sometime this summer. Parts of it were very dated, as you'd expect, but most of it was still extremely relevant.

 

I don't know about the choice of Parker Posey as a narrator. She's a sort of high brow, intellectually superior, privileged white woman, and she speaks with a subtle but unmistakable undertone of Snark. This makes her very like Friedan, actually, but I think the message would be more accessible to a wider audience without the Snark. That's probably true of Friedan's writing, too.

 

I really enjoyed the introductory essays by Anna Quindlen and the 1997 foreword by Friedan. The 1997 reflection was fascinating, both in what it told of Friedan's reflection on her own work over time, but also my own sense--having missed the 1950s and 60s (when the Mystique was at its peak) but having come of age in the late 1990s and lived to the present--that feminism has lost ground since Friedan's 1997 essay. Friedan talks about the GOP's last desperate efforts to strike down abortion, for example, but the intervening years have seen those efforts become more successful and less desperate, alas.

 

I also liked the middle sections where Friedan eviscerated functional anthropology and Freudian theories used to keep women homebound and uneducated, though I found it ironic and unfortunate that, a few chapters later, Friedan bought into those same disqualified Freudian notions without question when she suggested that homosexuality was one of the regrettable side effects of the Mystique, because frustrated mothers can't help but twist and pervert their sons into homos. A product of her time, sure, but interesting that Friedan could be so skeptical of Freudian thought when comes to women and so blind when it comes to another marginalized group she didn't understand.

 

I kind of turned off in the later chapters about the psychological damage that frustrated mothers caused to themselves and to their children, probably because I don't put a whole lot of stock into psychology in general.

 

Still, it's an important book if you're at all interested in feminism or women's studies, and I'm glad to have closed this gap in my education.

 

 

 

Just Phoning it In

Beyond Possession (Beyond, Novella #5.5) - Kit Rocha

I have devoured the Beyond series as the books and novellas have come out, unable to get enough even though dystopian fiction is generally a big fat NO for me. Maybe because it's just a novella and so there wasn't much time or space for character or plot development, but Beyond Possession didn't work for me. For the first time in the series, I felt like the authors (Kit Rocha is a pseudonym for two women friends who write together) were just phoning it in.

 

Plot Summary (mostly for my own benefit, because I know I'll have forgotten everything about this utterly forgettable story by next week): There is a rebellion brewing among the crafters and merchants in Sector 4. Tatiana (the gal who owns the fancy soap shop mentioned in previous books) is caught in the middle, because her sister is shacking up with the jackhole leading the rebellion. She could throw her lot in the with O'Kanes, but she can't because... REASONS, so she's trapped between a rock and a hard place. Zan (the guy who got shot in Beyond Denial, or maybe Beyond Pain, I forget) is supposed to secure Tatiana's loyalties for the O'Kanes, because... REASONS, but he doesn't want to manipulate her, or at least let her know she's being manipulated. And they both have the epic horny pants for each other, which is convenient if not especially compelling. 

NA and M/M are both subgenres I tend to pass on. This book is the very rare exception.

The Understatement of the Year - Sarina Bowen

I don't generally read New Adult, and what I've read, I rarely like. I almost never read M/M: in fact, as a bisexual woman in a long-term lesbian relationship, I usually find the whole M/M subgenre of erotic books about gay men written by and for straight women to be baffling at best and uncomfortably exploitative at worst. I never, ever, ever would have picked this up if I hadn't already read and enjoyed the first two books (not M/M) in the Ivy Years series. Yet having read the first two books, I had to finish the series, and I'm really glad I read Understatement of the Year.

 

John Rikker and Michael Graham grew up together in a conservative part of the midwest, attending a Christian middle-and-high-school that taught Fire and Brimstone alongside English and Algebra I. Despite the disapproval of their teachers and families, Rikker and Graham explored their budding attraction through grope sessions on Graham's basement couch in between video games. When they were fifteen, though, they got caught kissing in Rikker's car and were chased by homophobes. Graham ran and hid, but Rikker tripped and got badly beaten. Rikker recovered and, though he was disowned by his Jesus-freak parents, he got sent to live with his grandmother in Vermont where he could be out and proud and reasonably well-adjusted. Meanwhile, Graham was scared so deeply into the closet he's never again dared to act on his gay attractions, and he's been plagued by guilt and self-loathing ever since.

 

When Rikker's Catholic college cuts him from the team for being gay, in violation of NCAA rules, he transfers to Harkness College and gets a spot on their Division I hockey team... which happens to be Graham's team. Because of this unusual transfer and the fact that he's the first openly-gay Division I athlete, Rikker gets a lot of unwanted media attention. Rikker's presence on the team, and especially the media circus that follows him, ratchet up Graham's torment to an unsustainable level. Graham's always had to be a little bit drunk in order to get it on with girls, but now he finds he has to be very, very, very drunk just to get through the day, and his alcoholism starts to take a toll on his game both on and off the ice.

 

Graham's angst sets the emotional tone for this book, and that level of angst may not be to everyone's taste. I would not have had any patience with it if not for the backstory of Rikker's assault and their Christian upbringing to provide a plausible explanation (if not excuse) for Graham's sometimes-terrible behavior toward Rikker. Graham runs hot and cold on Rikker for most of the book, and as understandable as his fear is, it's still infuriating, both to the reader and to Rikker.

 

The ultimate conclusion to all this angst, in what I'm coming to discover may be Sarina Bowen's style, involves a last-minute, out-of-the-blue plot twist that ends up wrapping the thorniest plot thickets up in a too-tidy-for-my-tastes little bow.

Rikker's grandmother has a stroke, and when Rikker gets word of it while the team is in the locker room, Graham's concern for his lover overshadows all thought and self-preservation of his secret, and Graham behaves like lover instead of a hockey player. In the pages that follow, Bowen opens the door to a rapprochement between Rikker and his estranged parents, and Graham decides he doesn't care that much about Rikker's publicity because he doesn't actually want to be a hockey player after all.

(show spoiler)

I don't believe that a soul as tortured as Graham would get over his issues quite so quickly and easily, but all in all this was a satisfying read.

Public Service Announcement

Apparently, it's okay to use the word "douchenozzle" in an Amazon review, but not "asshat." Never "asshat."

 

So noted.

More Vignette than Novella (PS FREE AT AMAZON NOW)

Blonde Date: An Ivy Years Novella (The Ivy Years 2.5) - Sarina Bowen

I devoured the whole Ivy Years series in a long weekend, including this novella, which involves some minor characters introduced in The Year We Hid Away, and which takes place at the same time as that longer novel. Katie is a sleek, blonde, polished freshman who must have been reasonably intelligent to get into an ivy league school like Harkness College (think Yale), but who has so far used her energies to rush a sorority and date athletes. Unfortunately, the douchenozzley antics of her last boyfriend have left her publicly humiliated, and she realizes it's time to change her strategy.

 

Her roommate Scarlet (heroine of The Year We Hid Away) sets Katie up with Andy, who is a nice guy and and athlete (a basketball player), but too tall and gawky and introverted to be on Katie's radar. Over the course of their date, Katie finds that Andy is everything she didn't know she was looking for: smart and decent and funny and, yes, sexy.

 

This is an entertaining geek-gets-the-girl story, but by virtue of the novella format, it's not long enough for the character development and arc that I crave in this type of story. Andy is delicious, and it's easy to see his appeal, but Katie seems shallow and flaky at the start of the story, and though we get glimpses of the better person she could become, this novella doesn't really take us there. (Not that that kind of personal development would have been believable in the course of a single date anyway.)

Ripped From the Headlines

The Year We Hid Away - Sarina Bowen

I devoured the whole Ivy Years series in a long weekend, and I'm not usually a fan of New Adult. These books were refreshingly original and very entertaining, though this second entry, The Year We Hid Away, was my least favorite of the series.

 

I loved the premise. Scarlet goes off to Harkness College (think Yale) desperate to reinvent herself. Her father is a college hockey coach at the center of a huge child sex abuse scandal (think Jerry Sandusky), and in the year since news of the scandal broke, Scarlet has been shunned and abandoned by even her closest friends. Scarlet wants to make a clean start, but her family is leaning on her to be publicly support her father during his upcoming trial, and the prosecution's efforts to talk to her test her family loyalties. Scarlet's relationship with her family seems like it was strained even before the scandal broke, but she still struggles with the prospect of throwing her father under the bus. I was intrigued with the notion of taking a "ripped from the headlines" type of story and examining how a scandal like that could impact and devastate innocent bystanders.

 

Meanwhile, Bridger McCaulley also has a secret. His drug addicted mother has started cooking meth in the house, so he took his seven-year-old sister and is hiding her in his dorm room, in violation of about a bazillion college regulations. If he gets caught, he might get booted out of school, and his sister would likely be sent to foster care. Between school and work and looking after Lucy, Bridger doesn't have time for a social life, but he steals every free moment he can find with Scarlet, who is the brightest thing in his dismal life.

 

I don't usually like stories where the main characters aren't honest with each other, but Bridger and Scarlet discovered each other's secrets quickly enough that the initial dishonesty didn't poison their intimacy. Once they share their secrets, they help each other hide from the rest of the world, and when the house of cards comes down, they help one another to clean up the mess.

 

This was an entertaining read, but all three of the books in the series end with a plot twist that ties things up a little too tidily to be believed. This book was the most egregious example of that, which is too bad.

Scarlet spends the whole book tortured because she didn't know anything about the allegations against her dad. At the very end of the book, her torment is resolved because it turns out a) her dad isn't really her dad, and b) she secretly did know something crucial, but had buried the memory in her subconscious.

(show spoiler)

 

In addition to the too-tidy ending, I wish that Scarlet's family had been more multifaceted. Her dad, in addition to being a likely pedophile, is an abusive and arrogant asshat. Her mom is an unfeeling automaton, caring more about appearances than the well-being of her daughter. This would have been a much, much more interesting story if they had been more complex and likeable people, such that the reader might feel some actual doubt as to the father's guilt, or have a sense that the mom, like Scarlet, thinks not only about the upcoming trial but also has some concern for the victims of the alleged assaults.

 

Oh well; it was still an entertaining read.

Refreshingly Original Contemporary. If you hate New Adult, try this anyway.

The Year We Fell Down - Sarina Bowen

I devoured the whole Ivy Years series during a 5 day long-weekend (one thing transcontinental flights are good for is reading), and I'm not usually a fan of the New Adult genre. These books were a pleasant surprise. The Year We Fell Down is the first in the series, and it tells the story of Corey Callahan and Adam Hartley, two students who meet when they are neighbors in Harkness College's (modeled after Yale) handicapped student dorm. Hartley's injury is temporary: he has badly broken his leg, which lands him in a cast for twelve weeks and costs him a season playing hockey. Callahan's disability is more significant and more permanent: also a hockey player, a bad fall left her with a spinal cord injury that has left her unable to feel her lower extremities. Though she can walk (with great effort and the assistance of cumbersome braces and crutches), she is most often in a wheelchair.

 

There were a lot of things I loved about this story. First, it felt like nothing I'd ever read before. The "disability" trope isn't uncommon, but usually a main character is stricken with a scar or something disfiguring but which doesn't impact his/her physical abilities, or something like blindness or deafness, which doesn't impact his/her attractiveness. Corey is recovering from an injury that has changed, permanently, both her physical ability and the way she and others see her, and there's no miracle cure. She can walk (with great effort and perseverance), but she's never going to skate again.

 

I loved Corey's attitude, and the thought-provoking way the author addressed her disability. Nothing is sugar-coated. Corey is honest and sometimes angry about her condition. She gets annoyed when she goes to the dining hall and can't see over the counters to see what's being served, and how, in her chair, her line of sight is exactly at everyone else's butt level. She gets frustrated when she goes to a party and can't move around to mingle, and when she gets separated from her chair, she has to do an embarrassing butt-skoot down several flights of stairs to get back to it. And yet she goes to the dining hall and to the parties anyway. Her parents would rather have kept her home, or at least at a closer, more modern school with better handicap access, but Corey has dreamed of going to Harkness forever, and she's determined to live her dreams. 

 

I also love that Corey doesn't let romance or heartbreak stand in the way of her studies. She is a serious student without being a geek, and when Hartley blows her off when his long-time girlfriend comes home from a semester abroad, Corey doesn't slink off somewhere to sulk: she studies her ass off. Neither does she wait around for Hartley to discover the error of his ways and come crawling back to her: Corey realizes it was a mistake to rely so heavily on Hartley for social interaction, and she joins an intermural water polo team in an effort to get out more. In short, Corey is brave, and smart, and frankly pretty awesome, without being an angsty Mary Sue.

 

I didn't love Hartley so much. For much of the first part of the book, he moves in on Corey despite the fact that he's got an absentee girlfriend. (And the girlfriend is annoyingly one-dimensional, such that Hartley's attraction, even when he explains that it's more than just her looks, does not reflect well on him at all.) However, he eventually owns his sins in a way that is satisfying even as it did not entirely win me over.

 

The sex scenes are few but they're great: funny and sexy and frank.

 

SPOILER ALERT:

 

One thing I didn't love about this book is the tidy conclusion to Hartley's family dilemma. He's never met his father, a wealthy society scion who got Hartley's mom (a waitress at the country club) knocked up and then didn't pay his child support. Hartley dates Stacia, the one-dimensional rich girlfriend, because she lives in his dad's neighborhood. At the end of the story, Hartley's dad shows up writing huge checks for back child support and full of promises to make things right, and it was all just a little too neat and Pollyanna-ish for the rest of the story. Reading on in the series, it seems like these late-entering characters who show up to tie up the thorniest plots with a neat and tidy little bow seem to be a recurring theme in the Ivy Years series, and it's a theme I could have done without.

(show spoiler)

 

Bottom line: This is easily the best New Adult book I've ever read--(Caveat: Most of the other NA books I've tried, I've hated)--and it's also one of the most refreshingly original contemporary romances I've ever read, so I highly recommend it. 

 

 

Good book, even though I wanted to kick the heroine in the teeth.

Landline - Rainbow Rowell

I really, really love Rainbow Rowell's writing, even as I don't always love her stories. Landline is the fourth Rowell book I've read, and my least favorite story, but the things I love about Rowell's work -- her heartbreakingly relatable characters, her wry humor, the subtle way she shows relationships develop in a series of gestures and events, so that the reader almost falls in love along with the characters -- all of those things are very much present here.

 

I didn't like this story as well as previous efforts because, although the main character, Georgie, is as real and as relatable as Rowell's other protagonists, I spent the entire book wanting to smack some sense into her.

 

Georgie's marriage is failing because she doesn't make time for her family amid her work as a comedy writer. Now, as a working mom who is always juggling to find my own "work-life balance," I should have been more sympathetic to Georgie's plight, but no... I just wanted to smack her.

 

Georgie gets an incredible opportunity to write her own sitcom (along with her long-time writing partner, Seth). The only hitch is that it requires her to work through Christmas. Her husband, Neal, crankily (and a tad passive-aggressively) tells her to stay while he and their girls keep planned travel arrangements to visit his family in Omaha, except he leaves on such bad terms that Georgie can't concentrate on work anyway.

 

The whole first 260 pages of the book, while Georgie is losing her grip over losing her family, I just wanted to shake her because the solution was so very obvious (and had nothing to do with the magical yellow phone that lets her call and talk to Neal in 1998, before they married): Get your ass to Omaha, Lady! Even as I enjoyed the flashbacks to earlier points in Neal and Georgie's relationship, even as I enjoyed Rowell's exploration of why Neal and Georgie got together and should stay together, I couldn't really relax into the story because Georgie's failure to take the obvious steps necessary to do anything about her present situation made me crazy.

 

Georgie is and always has been torn between Seth (the writing partner) and Neal, and I didn't really like either man. Don't get me wrong, Neal is hugely romantic and swoony in a Beta-Hero way that works well on the printed page, but I think if I knew him in real life, I'd think he was annoyingly moody and passive-aggressive, and he wouldn't hold nearly the same appeal. Seth is witty and handsome, but totally self-absorbed, and Georgie's tolerance for that far exceeds mine.

 

Rowell tends to leave a lot of open questions at the conclusion of the book. Some of her endings (Eleanor & Park especially, Fangirl nearly so much) I find unsatisfying in the extreme, because they leave the reader without necessary closure. Luckily, Landline ended in a way that left a lot of things unsettled, but not frustratingly so: I felt like enough had been resolved that the conclusion felt natural and believable.

Reading progress update: I've listened 681 out of 926 minutes.

The Feminine Mystique (Audible Modern Vanguard) - Betty Friedan, Parker Posey

I was totally on board with Ms. Friedan right up until she got to the chapter about how one of the tragic side effects of the Feminine Mystique is that all of these infantile, frustrated, overbearing housewife mothers can't help but turn their sons into twisted, immature, promiscuous, self-loathing, neurotic homosexuals. Wow! Amazing that Friedan could so clearly skewer Freud's theories about women as a product of his time, culture, and personal biases, and yet she swallows those same flawed Freudian theories about homosexuality wholeheartedly without question.

Reading progress update: I've read 3 out of 115 pages.

The War Play Dilemma: What Every Parent And Teacher Needs to Know (Early Childhood Education Series (Teachers College Pr)) (Early Childhood Education (Teacher's College Pr)) - Diane E. Levin, Nancy Carlsson-Paige

When my four-year-old gets frustrated with someone else (his little brother, his babysitter, the mama who is urging him to get dressed when he'd rather play with his firetruck), he's started to say, "Stop, or I'll shoot you!" We're not gun owners, we don't even have a TV, so I can only guess that this is something he picked up at preschool. It makes me deeply uncomfortable, but I also know that every little boy I've ever known will pick up a stick and imagine it's a sword or bazooka, so there's something deeply ingrained with boys and violent play, and I'm hoping this will help me better understand.