Review: Can I See You Again?

can-i-see-you-againAllison Morgan, Can I See You Again?

Bree Caxton owns a successful matchmaking business in California, and her first book is about to be published. So when her boyfriend of four years breaks up with her out of the blue, she panics: not only is she heartbroken on a personal level, but who wants to buy a book about love from someone whose own love life is a mess? Bree needs her book to sell big, both for her own career and for her grandmother, who is about to be evicted from her longtime home. Desperate, Bree asks one of her clients, Nixon Voss, to pose as her boyfriend in public interviews. Surprisingly, Nixon agrees, and the more time they spend together, the more Bree wonders whether they have a real connection. But will Bree’s determination to launch a bestseller — and the sudden reappearance of her ex — end their relationship before it begins?

As I frequently mention on this blog, “fake relationship becomes real” is one of my favorite romance tropes, so I was intrigued by the premise of this book. Sadly, I wasn’t particularly wowed by the execution. The central conflict — Bree needs her book to make the NYT bestseller list so that her grandma won’t lose her house — just seemed too farfetched. In what universe would that plan actually work? I also wasn’t particularly invested in Bree’s relationship with Nixon, for some reason. Maybe they don’t spend enough time together in the book? Or maybe neither character is developed well enough for me to see why they’re so right for each other. I did like that Nixon has some semblance of a personality, but as I said, he’s really not in the book that much; the primary focus is on Bree’s professional life and her relationship wth her grandma. Overall, while this book isn’t terrible, I don’t think it’s particularly interesting or memorable.

Review: Belgravia

belgraviaJulian Fellowes, Belgravia

This novel by the creator of Downton Abbey tells the story of two families, the aristocratic Bellasises and the social-climbing Trenchards, as their paths collide on the eve of Waterloo and again 25 years later. James Trenchard begins the novel as Wellington’s chief supplier, and thus he has some contact with high society despite being a mere tradesman. When his beautiful daughter Sophia catches the eye of Lord Edmund Bellasis, James is certain that a marriage will soon take place, despite the skepticism of Anne, his pragmatic wife. But Edmund tragically dies at Waterloo, and Sophia follows shortly thereafter – but not before giving birth to his child. The Trenchards place the baby with a foster family in an attempt to hush up the scandal, but the secret threatens to emerge when Anne decides to search for Sophia’s child, Charles Pope, now an intelligent young man of 25. When Charles is introduced into society despite his (supposedly) working-class origins, rumors start flying, and several people begin to ask questions about his true identity. What they uncover is a secret that could be dangerous not only to the Trenchards’ social standing, but to the young man’s very life.

I watched Downton Abbey from start to finish, so I was intrigued that its writer, Julian Fellowes, had written a book set during my favorite historical period. However, I was left feeling pretty underwhelmed by this novel. Much as I enjoyed Downton, it often had problems with pacing and with juggling its large ensemble cast, and those same problems are apparent in Belgravia. The “suspense,” such as it is, comes from the question of whether (or when) the scandal of Charles’s birth will be revealed, but since the reader knows the secret from almost the beginning of the novel, it’s not a very compelling question. I also didn’t care at all about most of the secondary characters. The villain of the piece has moments of being interesting, but he’s largely a flat character who only cares about money and social status. And the downstairs characters get very short shrift, in my opinion; while a couple of the servants do play a role in the plot, their characterization is negligible. Overall, I found this book to be very “meh,” although avid Downton Abbey fans may find it worth reading.

Review: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d

thrice-the-brinded-cat-hath-mewdAlan Bradley, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d

Flavia is thrilled to be back in England after her Canadian adventure at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, but she soon discovers that all is not well at Buckshaw. Her oldest sister Feely is in a fight with her fiancé Dieter, and her annoying cousin Undine won’t leave her alone. Most upsetting of all, her father is sick with pneumonia, and she’s not even allowed to visit him in the hospital. Desperate for a distraction, Flavia agrees to run an errand for the vicar’s wife, delivering a message to the woodcarver who is refurbishing the church. But when Flavia arrives at the woodcarver’s residence, she discovers the man hanging upside-down from his bedroom door, quite dead. Of course, she jumps at the chance to solve another murder, which leads her to uncover a decades-old conspiracy involving a famous author. But as always, Flavia’s investigative skills are so sharp that she finds herself in danger.

I’m a longtime fan of the Flavia de Luce series, so I enjoyed this latest installment. However, I’m starting to feel so sad for Flavia that the books are becoming less fun to read. In the first few books, Flavia and her sisters are constantly fighting, but you get the sense that, deep down, they do care for each other. In this book, the arguments are so mean-spirited and brutal that it’s really no fun to read. Flavia also seems particularly isolated in this book; her father is almost entirely off page, her sisters ignore her when they’re not actively being cruel, and she doesn’t seem to have any friends at all (except the vicar’s wife). The ending of this book seems to indicate an even bleaker future for Flavia, and if that’s the case, the series might actually be too depressing for me to continue. I also didn’t love the mystery in this one, although I was happy to see some interaction between Flavia and her former teacher Mrs. Bannerman. Overall, I found this book somewhat disappointing, and I’m not sure I’ll be continuing with the series (although I may try one more book just to see if things improve).

Review: The Hating Game

hating-game-theSally Thorne, The Hating Game

If Lucy Hutton is certain about anything in her life, it’s that she and Joshua Templeman hate each other. As executive assistants to the co-CEOs of their company, they’ve been professional rivals for years, and each of them knows exactly how to get under the other one’s skin. Now they’re both up for the same promotion, and Lucy is determined to beat out Joshua for the job. If that means spending all her energy in coming up with passive-aggressive ways to annoy him, so be it. But when a particularly vicious argument somehow turns into an explosive kiss, everything changes. As Lucy reevaluates her history with Joshua, she realizes that maybe her intense feelings for him can’t entirely be explained by hatred. And maybe, contrary to her longstanding belief, Joshua doesn’t actually hate her at all. But will Lucy have the courage to change the game?

This book may be a giant predictable cliché, but it’s so well written that I don’t even care! I was so invested in Lucy and Joshua’s relationship, and I loved the pace at which it unfolded. The sexual tension between them is immediately obvious, so the author wisely doesn’t string it out too long; the kiss occurs quite early in the novel. But the heart of the story is the slow, tentative transformation from hate-fueled lust to genuine love and affection. I especially liked seeing Joshua gradually open up to Lucy, revealing the reasons for his former rude behavior. Ultimately, this book exceeded my expectations, which were already pretty high since I’d heard a lot of good things about it. I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to fans of romance, especially those who enjoy the hate-to-love trope. It looks like the author has another book coming out this summer, and I’ll definitely be purchasing it!

Review: Crosstalk

crosstalkConnie Willis, Crosstalk

In a near-future society, people are looking for ever more efficient ways to communicate and connect with each other. A new experimental procedure, the EED, allows couples to feel each other’s emotions and thus (theoretically) strengthen their relationship. Briddey Flannigan is thrilled when her boyfriend Trent asks her to get an EED with him, but her nosy family doesn’t like the idea, nor does her reclusive colleague C.B. Nevertheless, Briddey goes ahead with the procedure, only to discover that something has gone terribly wrong — she’s now connected to C.B., not Trent. Moreover, she doesn’t just sense his emotions; she seems to be able to read his mind. Now, with C.B.’s help, Briddey must figure out why this connection occurred and learn how to break it, before the negative effects of their telepathic connection cause irreversible damage.

I’m huge Connie Willis fan, so I had high expectations for this book, and I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed! This novel has just as much humor and romance as her other light novels, with an added dash of commentary on the negative aspects of incessant communication. I really enjoyed the little asides about past scientific research into telepathy, as well as the speculation that famous historical figures who heard voices (most notably Joan of Arc) might actually have been telepathic. I do think the plot had a few too many twists and turns at the end; the book’s length could have been trimmed somewhat. But I was having such a ball following Briddey and C.B.’s story that I barely noticed at the time! To be fair, the book does have its flaws, which I think the NPR review covers quite well — I can definitely see the reviewer’s point. But I still loved the book, and I would definitely recommend it to Willis fans! Newcomers to her work might want to start with To Say Nothing of the Dog or Doomsday Book (although the latter is much darker) instead.

Review: The Sky Is Everywhere

sky-is-everywhere-theJandy Nelson, The Sky Is Everywhere

Ever since the sudden, tragic death of her sister Bailey, Lennie has basically shut down. She doesn’t talk to anyone, not even her best friend or her grandmother. Her only consolations are reading Wuthering Heights for the umpteenth time and writing poetry about her sister, which she leaves in bits and pieces all over town. A month after Bailey’s death, Lennie returns to school and band practice on autopilot — that is, until she meets the new kid, Joe, who is both an amazing musician and an impossibly handsome boy. Joe is a shock to her system, and her instant crush on him actually seems to be requited. But Lennie is struggling with several conflicting emotions, including fear and guilt that she is betraying Bailey by continuing to live her life. Then there’s Bailey’s boyfriend Toby, who is turning to Lennie to ease his grief because she’s the only one who understands. As Lennie sorts out her complicated personal life, she also slowly begins to work through her grief.

I really loved Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, so I had high expectations for this book. Unfortunately, I didn’t love this one quite as much, although I still thought it was a good read. Much as Lennie annoyed me sometimes — she spends a lot of the novel preoccupied by Joe and/or Toby — her actions did seem realistic to me. The romance was ultimately very sweet, but my favorite part of the book was the portrayal of Lennie and Bailey’s relationship. They’re only a year apart, and they’ve always been very close, with Lennie looking up to Bailey as the older and more extroverted sister. But in the aftermath of Bailey’s death, Lennie realizes that Bailey kept some secrets from her. She also learns that her admiration of Bailey has actually prevented her from following her own dreams, because she always felt that Bailey was the one who deserved the spotlight. I thought this relationship was very complex and interesting, and I’m glad Nelson spent so much time on it, although the romantic story was a little thinner as a result. Overall, I would still recommend this book, even though it didn’t quite grab me in the same way that I’ll Give You the Sun did.

Review: The Invisible Library

invisible-library-theGenevieve Cogman, The Invisible Library

Irene works for the Library, a vast repository of writings from all over the multiverse. As far as she knows, the Library’s sole purpose is to collect these writings, with an emphasis on works that are particularly rare or influential. In general, Irene’s job is to locate a work requested by one of the Library’s higher-ups and retrieve that work from a particular world. Missions vary in difficulty based on whether the world is more orderly or more chaotic. When Irene is saddled with a brand-new assistant, Kai, and sent to a world whose balance is tipping toward chaos, she knows her latest job won’t be easy. And when Irene and Kai land in an alternate version of Victorian London, they soon learn that the general tendency toward chaos is the least of their problems. Murder, mayhem, and magic abound — but will Irene survive long enough to differentiate friend from foe?

This book is a really fun and unique fantasy novel. I loved the concept of the Library and was intrigued by the hints that something shady might be going on. At the beginning, Irene is blindly devoted to the Library and sees the preservation of literature as the highest goal. She has no interest in saving the world — or, more correctly, one of the infinite worlds that comprise the multiverse. But as she spends more time in one particular world for this mission, she starts to wonder whether there are additional moral and ethical factors to consider. I also really enjoyed the various fantasy and mystery elements in the novel. For example, Irene and Kai team up with a private investigator, and Irene is excited to fulfill her childhood dream of working with a Holmes-esque “great detective.” I was a little disappointed in the main antagonist, who is introduced as a Big Bad and remains a Big Bad throughout. But other character relationships were more fleshed out and less predictable. All in all, I think this is a very promising start to the (planned) trilogy, and I look forward to reading book two!

Review: The Darkness Knows

Darkness Knows, TheCheryl Honigford, The Darkness Knows

It’s 1938, and actress Vivian Witchell has just landed her first big role on a popular radio show called “The Darkness Knows.” Although she has a privileged background and still lives with her mother, a leading light of Chicago society, Viv is determined to succeed in her chosen career. She knows showbiz can be cutthroat, and she doesn’t shy away from competing with her fellow actresses, both for roles and for her handsome costar Graham Yarborough’s attentions. But when a famous actress at the radio station is murdered, Viv learns that the business is even more dangerous than she knew — especially when an anonymous letter hints that she might be the next victim. The police are immediately called to investigate the murder, but the station also calls private detective Charlie Haverman to protect Viv in case the murderer decides to strike again. Charlie wants Viv to stay away from the station and stay out of trouble, but of course Viv has other ideas. Can they unmask the murderer together before Viv or anyone else becomes the next victim?

I really enjoyed this book! The mystery, while not particularly innovative, was solid, and I loved the period setting. Viv is a clever, spunky heroine whose lively narrative voice is lots of fun to follow. I did find her somewhat annoying at times; like many amateur sleuths, she takes far too many risks and races into danger without thinking about the consequences. I also found her attitude toward wealth and privilege to be a bit confusing — she insists she wants to make it on her own, but she doesn’t mind enjoying the benefits that come from living with her rich mother. I hope the issue of social class will be explored a lot more in the sequel(s) that will hopefully follow this book. I also really liked Charlie, although his characterization as a tough, streetwise detective veers toward the stereotypical at times. The banter and chemistry between Viv and Charlie is a highlight of the novel, and I enjoyed their interactions more than the slow unraveling of the whodunit. Overall, if you like the premise of this novel, it’s a very enjoyable debut, and I definitely look forward to continuing with the series.

Review: The Storyteller and Her Sisters

Storyteller and Her Sisters, TheCheryl Mahoney, The Storyteller and Her Sisters

This companion novel to The Wanderers centers around storytelling princess Lyra and her eleven sisters. All their lives, the twelve princesses have known about the enchanted forest beneath their father’s castle. The forest’s trees have silver, gold, and diamond branches, enough wealth to buy their kingdom many times over. But the enchantment is an evil one, corrupting anyone not strong enough to resist its whispers of wealth at any cost — including their father. The king insists that his daughters have the power to access the forest, but Lyra and her sisters steadily resist. Eventually, however, they do enter the forest and find something unexpected: twelve princes who need the girls’ help to break a curse on their faraway kingdom. But when the king suspects that his daughters have entered the forest without him, he claims the girls themselves are cursed and offers a reward to any champion who can break the “curse.” Will Lyra and her sisters be able to save the princes before the king discovers what they’re up to and puts a stop to it for good?

I liked this book, which is a well-told but not particularly original retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Not every character is well developed — several princesses and their corresponding princes aren’t in the story at all, apart from a brief mention of their names — but Lyra and her prince, Dastan, are pretty three-dimensional. Lyra at first defines herself solely as “the sister who like stories,” but she eventually comes to realize that she is unique in other ways, too. The romance was cute, and I liked that Lyra is torn between her love for Dastan and her desire to be independent. As I mentioned above, this novel is a companion to The Wanderers; if you’ve read that book, you’ll remember Jasper and Julie’s involvement with this story, but you won’t be missing anything if you haven’t read it. I found the writing style of this book a little clumsy and choppy at first, but as I got further into the story, I didn’t notice the prose as much. I would recommend this book to fairytale lovers, especially those who don’t mind reading books geared toward the younger end of the YA spectrum.

Review: Kindred Spirits

Kindred SpiritsRainbow Rowell, Kindred Spirits

Elena is a “Star Wars” superfan. She grew up watching the original trilogy with her dad and is absolutely thrilled when “The Force Awakens” comes out. In fact, she’s so excited that she decides to camp out in front of the movie theater before opening night. She imagines a huge group of people who love “Star Wars” just as much as she does, and she can’t wait to share her excitement with like-minded fans. Unfortunately, she never imagined that (1) there would only be two other people in line, (2) one of them would be a silent boy named Gabe who doesn’t seem particularly interested in sharing the “Star Wars” love, or (3) she’d have nowhere to pee except in a cup behind a dumpster. Still, Elena is determined to persevere, and her eventual experience is as wonderful as it is unexpected.

At a succinct 62 pages, this tale is either a very short novella or a very long short story. Either way, I really enjoyed it, as I’ve enjoyed all of Rainbow Rowell’s books. Rowell is obviously very interested in fandom and its role in the creative arts, and this story explores one small facet of that. Elena is a fan of “Star Wars,” and she has certain expectations about how fans should behave. But her fellow line mates, Troy and Gabe, don’t exactly match up with her preconceived ideas. And as she discovers, Gabe has doubts about the authenticity of her fandom because she’s a “cool” girl and not a “nerd.” I thought the story explored the idea of what constitutes a “real fan” very well, albeit in a narrowly focused way. There’s also a bit of romance in the story (which, duh, it’s Rainbow Rowell), but I would have loved a bit more! Still, fans of Rowell’s other work will definitely want to read this as well, whether or not they’re into “Star Wars.”