Review: 99 Percent Mine

99 Percent MineSally Thorne, 99 Percent Mine

Darcy Barrett has always been more comfortable moving around than staying in one place. For the past 10 years or so, she’s been traveling the world, tending bar to make enough money to support her wanderlust. Now she’s forced to stand still for a while so that she can renovate and sell her dead grandmother’s house. Helping her is contractor Tom Valeska, who just so happens to be Darcy’s perfect man. She’s been in love with him since they were kids, but as her twin brother Jamie’s best friend, he’s always been off limits. Now Tom is around all the time, and Darcy is determined to take their relationship to the next level. But she knows that by pursuing him, she may do even more damage to her strained relationship with Jamie. And then there’s the little issue that Tom may not actually reciprocate her feelings. . . .

After loving The Hating Game, I was so excited for this book to come out. Now, having read it, I’m having trouble deciding how I feel about it. I don’t have that same LOVE feeling that I did about The Hating Game, but I’m not sure why . . . it’s equally well written, and I really like the premise. I had some trouble connecting with Darcy, which may have caused me to detach from the story a little. I don’t always need to like or relate to a protagonist, but I think I do in the romance genre because the plots are so character driven. Also, I couldn’t quite figure out why it took Darcy and Tom so long to get together. While the fear of Jamie’s disapproval certainly explains part of it, I think the real obstacle to their relationship is lack of communication. I got frustrated wishing these characters would just talk to each other! Overall, I did find this to be a fun and absorbing read, but I haven’t decided whether I’m keeping it yet.

Review: Murder, Magic, and What We Wore

murder, magic, and what we woreKelly Jones, Murder, Magic, and What We Wore

Miss Annis Whitworth is down on her luck. She and her Aunt Cassia have just learned that her (Annis’s) father has died, leaving them with nothing to live on and forcing them to seek employment. Cassia insists that Annis become a governess, but Annis is determined to escape from such a horrible fate. Instead, she decides to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a spy; but the War Office wants nothing to do with her, even after they learn that she has a magical talent for sewing glamours (illusions) into her garments. Undeterred, Annis decides to use her talent to open a dress shop in a country village, while still sending the War Office information about the various secrets her father had discovered before his death. Little does she know that this knowledge puts her and Cassia in danger, too.

This is a book I really wanted to like. I adore the “magical Regency” setting, and both Caroline Stevermer and Stephanie Burgis — two authors I really like — blurbed it. But my overall impression is that the book is very scattered and confusing. There’s the story about a young woman trying to make her own way in the world, there’s the espionage plot, there’s a fairly prominent subplot involving Annis’s maid, not to mention the magical element — there’s just too much going on. As a result, nothing is developed in much depth, especially the main character. She comes across as extremely flighty and thoughtless, jumping from one half-baked scheme to another. I have no sense of how magic fits into this world. There is some resolution to the spy plot, but Annis doesn’t actually get hired by the War Office until the end of the book! So clearly there’s supposed to be a sequel, but I’m too frustrated to read it when it comes out.

Review: Crazy for You

crazy for youJennifer Crusie, Crazy for You

Thirty-something Quinn McKenzie is stuck in a rut. She has great friends, she likes her job as a high school art teacher, and she’s dating the football coach, whom everyone in town recognizes as a total catch. But she still wants a change, and change arrives in the form of an adorable stray dog. Quinn wants to adopt the dog, but her boyfriend doesn’t. This small disagreement soon leads to a much bigger fight, and Quinn begins to realize that her seemingly great life is based on her always sacrificing what she wants for the sake of other people. Her friends and family are initially horrified at the change in Quinn, but she eventually inspires them to make changes in their own lives. In the most exciting change of all, Quinn is beginning to look at her longtime friend Nick in a whole new light, but it seems her old life isn’t quite ready to let her go. . . .

I’ve found Jennifer Crusie’s books to be somewhat hit-or-miss, but this one was definitely a hit for me! I don’t think it’s a book for everyone, though, for several reasons. There’s quite a bit of profanity and a few pretty graphic sex scenes, so if those elements would bother you, steer clear. Also, and more importantly, there is stalking and violence against women in this book, which makes it quite a bit darker than I was expecting. However, all that said, I liked this book a lot, and it’s almost entirely due to the relationship between Quinn and Nick. I love a friends-to-lovers romance, especially when one or both of the people involved are very reluctant to act on their feelings for fear of ruining the friendship. In this case, I totally bought into the romantic tension between these characters and was rooting for them all the way. So this book worked really well for me, but I realize not everyone will feel the same!

Review: Death of Anton

death of antonAlan Melville, Death of Anton

Joseph Carey’s World-Famous Circus and Menagerie has just arrived in town, complete with clowns, trapeze artists, an intelligent sea lion, and seven Bengal tigers. Detective-Inspector Minto has also just arrived in town for his sister’s wedding, and he becomes friendly with several members of the circus during his stay. After one performance, he’s invited to a party that ends in tragedy: Anton, the man who does the tiger act, has been found apparently mauled to death. Luckily, Minto is on the case, and he soon realizes that Anton was murdered. But who did it — the circus owner, who seems to be hiding something? The jealous trapeze artist, whose wife was allegedly having an affair with Anton? The clown whose costume was ripped as though by a tiger’s claws? Minto’s investigation eventually encompasses not just the murder but a larger mystery surrounding the circus as a whole.

This is a fairly typical Golden Age mystery, albeit with an interesting setting and a fun, breezy writing style. The shady goings-on at the circus aren’t hard to uncover, and while I didn’t actually guess the murderer, there are no big surprises in the denouement of the mystery. But this is a clever book with a lot of interesting little details. My favorite scene is when one character is almost killed because a trapeze has been shortened by just a few inches — what a creative way to murder someone! My big quibble with the book is that the detective’s brother is a Catholic priest to whom someone confesses the crime, and he reveals way too much about that conversation to the detective! I think the author didn’t understand how confession works…but as a Catholic myself, I’m probably more sensitive to that than many other readers. Overall, I like Melville’s writing — I also enjoyed Quick Curtain — and I look forward to reading the rest of his novels.

Review: Viscount Vagabond

viscount vagabondLoretta Chase, Viscount Vagabond

Max Demowery has always felt stifled by his aristocratic upbringing and done everything in his power to rebel. But now that he has succeeded to his brother’s title, he knows it’s his duty to marry and start producing heirs. He celebrates his last night of freedom in a brothel, where he is confronted by the last thing he’d ever expect: an innocent girl who needs his help. Catherine Pelliston is desperate to escape from her alcoholic father and loutish fiancé, but she now finds herself in even more dire circumstances, kidnapped and forced into prostitution. She appeals to Max for help, but even after he saves her from the brothel, she has nowhere to go. Against his better judgment, Max finds himself getting involved in Catherine’s future — and finding love in the process.

The premise of this book seems very implausible, but I found it so charming I didn’t care at all! I loved Max right away; he’s funny and likable from the very first scene. Catherine is a bit pricklier — understandably, given her backstory — but it’s not hard to warm up to her. She tries to approach everything logically and precisely, which makes for a humorous contrast to the impulsive Max. The plot is a bit contrived, involving multiple kidnappings and an over-the-top villain, and there’s an obligatory adorable urchin whom Catherine inevitably befriends. But for me, the book’s light and witty style, plus the utterly adorable main characters, more than make up for those shortcomings. Loretta Chase has written a few more of these “traditional Regencies” (so called because they don’t have explicit sex scenes), and I’m definitely going to seek them out!

Review: Red Queen

red queenVictoria Aveyard, Red Queen

In the world of this fantasy novel, people are divided into two classes based on the color of their blood. The Reds are commoners, forced to serve the Silvers or, if they can’t find work, be conscripted into the army to die in a never-ending war. The Silvers, by contrast, are nobles whose special blood gives them various supernatural abilities. Mare Barrow is a Red who hates Silvers more than anything, but in a twist of fate she discovers that she has a supernatural ability despite her red blood. Immediately she is thrust into the world of the Silvers, where she must constantly hide the truth of who she is. She ultimately becomes involved in a plot to overthrow the government and develops relationships with both of the royal princes.

It’s funny that I read Lyra Selene’s Amber & Dusk so recently, because this book has almost exactly the same plot: poor girl discovers magical ability, enters court full of intrigue and treachery, finds romance, and plots a royal coup. But I much preferred this book’s execution of that premise. The plot moves along at a good clip, and I was genuinely surprised by some of the twists. I also found Mare an interesting character to follow, although like many YA fantasy heroines, she’s too quick to jump to conclusions and too black-and-white in her thinking. But I appreciated that she’s always trying to do the right thing, despite her dark and morally ambiguous environment. Annoyingly, the book doesn’t really work as a stand-alone (the main plot is sort of resolved, but there are a ton of loose ends), but I liked it enough to read the sequels at some point.

Review: Worth the Fall

worth the fallBria Quinlan, Worth the Fall

This romantic comedy follows the misadventures of Kasey Lane, who loses her job, her boyfriend, and her apartment all in the same week. Luckily, she stumbles upon the Brew Ha Ha café, where she meets a bubbly writer named Jenna and her boyfriend Ben, who take Kasey under their wing and help her find a new place to live. They also introduce her to their friend group, including attractive policeman Max Darby, who just so happens to have seen Kasey at some of her lowest moments. As Kasey starts to put her life back together, she’s adamant that she wants to be single and figure things out for herself, yet she finds herself drawn to Max. But if she pursues a relationship, will she just be repeating her past mistakes?

This is a book that definitely requires some serious suspension of disbelief. Kasey is some kind of marketing professional who is great at her job (we are told), is fired through no fault of her own, yet somehow can’t find another job. Despite having no money (we are told), she secures a great apartment in an expensive part of town. She instantly becomes BFFs with a woman she randomly meets in a coffee shop. But despite all that, I actually enjoyed this book a lot! Kasey is a likable character who comes to greater self-knowledge in the course of the book. And I loved the development of her relationship with Max! They start out a bit hostile to each other but soon embark on a friendship (complete with banter) that is off-the-charts adorable. Overall, I liked this book and will look for the rest in the Brew Ha Ha series (this is book 2 but can definitely be read as a stand-alone!).

Review: Crooked Heart

Crooked Heart.jpgLissa Evans, Crooked Heart

In this novel set during World War II, Noel Bostock is a precocious 10-year-old boy who lives with his strong, intelligent godmother, Mattie. But his life changes dramatically when Mattie begins to exhibit signs of dementia, just as children are being evacuated from London under the threat of bombing. Noel is sent to the country to live with Vera Sedge, a middle-aged woman desperately trying to make ends meet, who only takes him in for the sake of the small government stipend she’ll receive. Vera plans to make some money by pretending to collect donations for the war effort, but her high-strung, panicky nature makes her fairly unsuccessful — until Noel shocks her by offering to help.

I love a good World War II novel, and this is one of the most unique ones I’ve read so far. What makes it different is that the main characters are not heroes. In fact, what Vera and Noel do in this book is pretty despicable: they lie to people, playing on their feelings of patriotism and compassion, and steal their money. Even without their illegal scheme, neither character is particularly likable at first. But somehow this book peels back their layers and makes them understandable, even sympathetic. Both Vera and Noel are completely alone and very guarded as a result, but this novel shows them slowly coming closer together. I enjoy “found family” narratives, and this one definitely qualifies! So I would recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the period or the premise.

Also, this book has no epigraph, but I’m fairly certain the title is from the W.H. Auden poem “As I Walked Out One Evening”: “You shall love your crooked neighbour / With your crooked heart.” Which perfectly sums up the theme of the book, in my opinion!

Review: Hotshot Doc

hotshot docR.S. Grey, Hotshot Doc

Bailey Jennings is perfectly content with her life. Maybe she hasn’t had a date in years, but she loves working as a surgical assistant (specializing in spinal surgery) and taking care of her younger sister, Josie. But when her wonderful boss announces he’s retiring, Bailey panics: she’ll either have to retrain in a new speciality or work for the cold, arrogant — and extremely handsome — Doctor Matthew Russell. Bailey and Matt’s professional relationship gets off to a rocky start, but they are surprised (and dismayed) to discover a mutual attraction. Can they find a way to pursue a relationship without jeopardizing either of their careers?

This contemporary romance novel is a fun read, with some good banter and likable main characters. Bailey is scrappy and strong, and her relationship with Josie is very sweet. Matt is a bit of a jerk at first, but his rudeness arises from his passion for his work and his high standards for himself as well as others. So I really liked each character individually, but the romance itself didn’t quite work for me. It just felt very generic, especially once Bailey and Matt got together. I thought their workplace romance would generate some interesting conflict, but it’s honestly pretty smooth sailing once they act on their feelings. All in all, a pleasant read that I’d recommend to fans of workplace romances, but it didn’t blow me away.

Review: Amber & Dusk

amber & duskLyra Selene, Amber & Dusk

Although she was abandoned by her parents and raised by strict nuns at the very edge of the Dusklands, Sylvie has always known she’s been destined for great things. She has a legacy — a magical power that marks her as someone of noble birth. Determined to claim the benefits of her legacy, she travels to the heart of the Amber Empire and demands a place at the empress’s court. But despite the court’s aura of magic and luxury, Sylvie soon learns that dark secrets lurk beneath its facade, and she’s not sure whom, if anyone, she can trust. But eventually she decides to take action, and the fate of the entire empire may rest in her hands.

I received this book as a Christmas gift; it’s not something I would necessarily have picked up on my own, but I do enjoy fantasy and political intrigue, so I was happy to give it a try. Unfortunately, I really disliked this book. The plot is fine, though not particularly original, and I liked the detail that every noble’s legacy manifests in a different way. But Sylvie drove me nuts as a protagonist! She’s rude and entitled, she never thinks before she acts, and she does some incredibly dumb things that have horrible consequences for others. I also hated the overly flowery writing style, which set my teeth on edge; you’ll know whether or not it’s for you within the first couple of pages. I should also note that, while there’s not technically a cliffhanger, the book leaves a lot of things open for a sequel . . . but I definitely won’t be reading it!