Mini-Reviews #12: December, part 2

This is officially my LAST BATCH of reviews for 2016! I’m looking forward to starting next year (aka tomorrow) with a clean slate. These last books are all rereads, and it was lovely to revisit some books I’ve enjoyed in the past!

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Rainbow Rowell, Attachments — I’ve loved all of Rainbow Rowell’s books, but this one (her first novel) remains my favorite. It’s the story of Lincoln, an Internet security specialist whose job is to monitor all emails sent from company accounts. When the emails of Jennifer and Beth get flagged for “inappropriate” usage, Lincoln has to read them; it’s his job. But before long, he gets caught up in the women’s stories and becomes genuinely interested in learning more about them. Then he begins to fall for Beth…but how can he transform his one-sided crush into an actual relationship?

Sharon Shinn, Summers at Castle Auburn — The first time I read this romantic fantasy novel, I didn’t quite pick up on the romance and felt it was a little abrupt. I don’t know what I was thinking, because this time I was all about the romance! It’s subtle and builds slowly, which is just the way I like it. 🙂 I also really enjoyed the vivid fantasy world, and I liked the fact that the heroine truly grows and changes throughout the novel. Definitely recommended for fans of this genre!

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Georgette Heyer, The Corinthian — One of Heyer’s excellent Regency romances, featuring a jaded young man and a scrappy girl (dressed as a boy) who’s running away from home. The plot gets a bit convoluted, comprising highwaymen, elopements, and even a murder. But of course, everything turns out right in the end!

Patricia Wynn, The Birth of Blue Satan — I read this book, the first in a series, a few years ago, but for some reason I didn’t continue with the series. Recently I decided I’d like to read book two, but I had to refresh my memory by rereading this one first. As a mystery novel, it’s not particularly strong — the solution basically comes out of nowhere — but I loved the period setting (1715! More novels about Jacobites, please!) and the main characters. I’m definitely looking forward to reading book two and seeing what happens next!

Mini-Reviews #7: Home stretch

You guys, I did it–I finally caught up with my review backlog! 🙂 I’m hoping to do a better job of keeping up with reviews in the future, and hopefully I can be better about visiting other people’s blogs, too! In the meantime, here’s my last batch of mini-reviews, at least for now:

This Savage SongBoy Is Back, The

Victoria Schwab, This Savage Song — Set in a future where the United States has disintegrated into tiny, isolated city-states, humans and monsters live under an uneasy truce that could snap at any moment. Kate Harker is a human teenager whose father ensures the safety of humans who are willing to pay for his protection. August Flynn is a monster capable of stealing a person’s soul through song, but he’s trying desperately not to give in to his frightening hunger. When August and Kate meet and become friends, they search for a way to keep the peace between monsters and humans. I liked this book a lot; the world-building is excellent, and both Kate and August are intriguing characters. Much of the novel is a setup for the planned sequels, so there’s not a lot of closure in the end (although there’s no cliffhanger per se). But I definitely liked this one enough to continue with the series–looking forward to book #2!

Meg Cabot, The Boy Is Back — I’m pretty sure it was Meg Cabot’s The Boy Next Door that originally got me into chick lit, so I jumped at the chance to read this latest installment in the series. Becky Flowers has made it big in her small town, but she’s never forgotten her high school sweetheart, the one who got away. Reed Stewart is said sweetheart, a professional golfer who left town after graduation and never came back. When he returns to help care for his ailing parents, he and Becky reconnect…and of course, we all know where this is going. I didn’t actually care too much about the central romance–“old flame” isn’t one of my favorite tropes–but I loved the humor and the colorful characters that surrounded Becky and Reed’s story. I also enjoyed the fact that it’s a modern epistolary novel, told entirely through texts, emails, and even online reviews. Definitely recommended for fans of light, fluffy chick lit.

Arabella of MarsEdenbrookeEveryone Brave Is Forgiven

David D. Levine, Arabella of Mars — Three words, y’all: Regency space opera! I loved the idea of combining 19th-century British society with space travel (they use sailing ships!). Ultimately, this is a really fun adventure story wherein Arabella, dressed as a boy, joins the crew of a ship bound for Mars. There’s a handsome captain, a possibly sentient automaton, a mutiny, and a Martian uprising, and it’s all good fun. If you like the premise, you’ll really enjoy this one!

Julianne Donaldson, Edenbrooke — As with Donaldson’s other novel, Blackmoore, I enjoyed this “proper” Regency romance. Marianne Daventry is invited to Edenbrooke along with her sister Cecily, who hopes to marry the heir to the estate. When Cecily is detained in London, Marianne goes to Edenbrooke alone, and she soon finds herself attracted to the handsome and charming Philip–not realizing that he is the very heir her sister is pursuing. This was an entertaining read, but I couldn’t help being impatient with Marianne; it takes her forever to realize that Philip is the heir, and even longer to accept the fact that she’s in love with him. The book is still a pleasant read, but Donaldson isn’t destined to become a favorite author.

Chris Cleave, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven — This novel is a tale of love and loss set during  the early years of World War II. Mary North is an idealistic, privileged young woman who thinks the war is a great adventure, until the Blitz forces her to confront its ugly realities firsthand. Tom Shaw is an educator who isn’t seduced by the glamor of war; he just wants to keep doing his job. And Alistair Heath is Tom’s best friend, who enlists right away but soon realizes that the war might take more than he is willing to give. I wasn’t sure I would like this book at first–the prose definitely has A Style, and I was worried it might get in the way–but I ultimately found it very compelling. There are a lot of heartbreaking moments, but there’s also some great banter and great friendships. Overall, I’d definitely recommend this one to fans of World War II novels.

Review: Read Bottom Up

Read Bottom UpNeel Shah and Skye Chatham, Read Bottom Up

This epistolary novel tells the story of a 21st-century romance solely through emails and texts. Elliot and Madeline meet at a restaurant opening in New York City and slowly begin to communicate through emails, texting, and finally in-person interactions. But they’re not only communicating with each other; they’re also in simultaneous conversations with their best friends, David and Emily respectively, as they frantically over-analyze each interaction down to the very last comma. Elliot and Madeline tentatively embark upon a relationship while navigating modern dating pitfalls such as how to wait the appropriate amount of time before responding to a text, or how to tell the difference between a date and a group hang. But beyond all the angst and analysis, are they actually right for each other?

I picked up this book from the library on a whim and found it a quick, pleasant read. I love a good epistolary novel, and I’m especially interested in modern-day versions that utilize technology like emails and texting. Moreover, the epistolary format emphasizes the paradox that despite all the modes of communication available to Elliot and Madeline, they are actually pretty bad at communicating honestly with each other. This drives the conflict in the book, as well as most of its humor. I have to say, I wasn’t particularly enamored of Elliot or Madeline, especially the former; I’m not quite sure why Madeline is so interested in such a bland guy. The best friends, David and Emily, are actually more interesting characters, but that’s probably because they’re offering genuine opinions, not censoring themselves to please a potential love interest. Overall, I think this novel is a pretty accurate representation of modern dating, and it’s a pleasant way to spend an evening, but there’s nothing particularly deep or emotionally resonant about it.

Review: Dear Enemy

Dear EnemyJean Webster, Dear Enemy

This sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs centers around Judy’s college friend Sallie McBride, a cheerful but frivolous young woman whose wealth has prevented her from ever having to work for a living. So when Judy and her husband encourage Sallie to take over the administration of the orphanage where Judy grew up, Sallie is flabbergasted. At first she outright refuses their proposal, but eventually they convince her to give it a try. Sallie is shocked to discover that she has an aptitude for the work; and what’s more, she enjoys it! Slowly but surely, she begins to reform the orphanage and give a little joy to the orphans in her care. She also clashes immediately with the local doctor, Robin MacRae, whom she frequently addresses as “Dear Enemy.” But the more they are forced to work together, the more they come to recognize each other’s good qualities, until an unexpected tragedy finally forces Sallie to confront her true feelings.

Like Daddy-Long-Legs before it, this book is a charmingly old-fashioned epistolary novel that I absolutely adored! Sallie is an entertaining correspondent, and her letters (mostly to Judy) are light and chatty and lots of fun to read. I enjoyed the romance a lot as well — maybe even more so than in DLL (and those who’ve read DLL will understand why!). The book is also interesting for its exploration of the role of women in the workforce. Sallie encounters a lot of skepticism from the local community about whether she’s capable of being a good administrator, but she joyfully and determinedly proves them all wrong. The book is less progressive in its depiction of mental illness: both Sallie and the doctor make a few comments about “feeble-mindedness” and how people with subnormal mental functioning shouldn’t reproduce. But aside from that jarring reminder of the book’s age (pub date 1915), I really loved this book and would definitely recommend it to fans of older fiction, although I do suggest reading Daddy-Long-Legs first!

Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, BernadetteMaria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Bernadette Fox is a middle-aged wife and mother who is having so much trouble coping with daily life that she outsources all her errands to a virtual Indian assistant. Her loving husband, Elgin, has made a fortune working for Microsoft but is never home as a result. Her 15-year-old daughter, Bee, is always a source of joy, but the other parents at Bee’s school for gifted children drive Bernadette crazy. As Bernadette struggles with social anxiety, hostile neighbors, a house that’s falling apart, and an unexpected visit from the FBI, things slowly begin to slip through the cracks — until one day she vanishes. Devastated, Bee sets out on a quest to find her mother, compiling all the documentary evidence she can find that might give her a clue to Bernadette’s whereabouts. Bee’s search for her mom eventually takes her as far as Antarctica, and it also gives her a greater understanding of Bernadette’s personality by unearthing secrets from her past.

I was a little nervous to read this book, fearing that it wouldn’t live up to the hype, but luckily there was no need to worry! Normally I would have little patience for someone like Bernadette, who doesn’t seem to realize how priveleged she is, with a loving family and plenty of money. But Bernadette is just self-aware enough to realize the ridiculousness of her behavior, so I was able to look past the more obnoxious aspects of her personality. Also, this book is really funny; I especially enjoyed the e-mail conversations between Audrey and Soo-Lin, two of the other parents at Bee’s school, who both hate Bernadette. I loved the book’s quasi-epistolary format — it’s basically a collection of the documentes Bee finds while searching for her mom, with some narration by Bee — and I loved that there was a plausible reason for how Bee obtained all these documents. All in all, this book went much more quickly than I thought it would, and I’d definitely recommend it as a fun vacation read!

Review: Letters from Skye

Letters from SkyeJessica Brockmole, Letters from Skye

This epistolary novel tells two parallel love stories, each set against the backdrop of a world war. In 1912, Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn receives a fan letter from David Graham, an exuberant young American. Elspeth replies to the letter, and she and Davey soon strike up a regular correspondence. At first they discuss literature and their favorite books, but soon they’re exchanging ideas about everything under the sun, including their most secret dreams. Unsurprisingly, Elspeth and Davey fall in love, but their romance is fraught with complications. When America enters World War I, Davey enlists immediately as an ambulance driver on the battlefields of France. Additionally, Elspeth is already married, so her stolen moments with Davey are as fleeting as they are precious. Meanwhile, in 1940, Elspeth’s daughter Margaret — also involved in a wartime romance — stumbles upon one of Davey’s letters and decides to search for the secrets in her mother’s past.

In theory, I should love this book, since it combines a lot of my favorite things: epistolary novel, WWI and WWII setting, love stories, family secrets. But while I found it an entertaining read, my overall experience was somewhat disappointing. First of all, the story is really about Elspeth and Davey, so the parts about Margaret felt very cursory and not fleshed out at all. I would have liked to know a lot more about her reactions to her mother’s secret, as well as the details of her own romance. Also, the story itself seems very superficial, given the gravity of the WWI backdrop. Even though I enjoy light romances with happy endings, I felt like this book lacked emotional stakes. Elspeth and Davey are likeable characters, and their letters are often very charming, but I was never in any real doubt about the end result of their story. Maybe part of my problem is that this book seems like a copycat of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, only not nearly as good! Overall, this book is a nice, quick read, but it won’t stay with me the way Guernsey has.

Review: Dear Mr. Knightley

Dear Mr. KnightleyKatherine Reay, Dear Mr. Knightley

Samantha Moore has been in and out of foster homes her whole life. Now, at age 23, she’s living at a group home called Grace House, but she’ll soon have to leave unless she can find a way to go back to school. One day she gets a surprising offer: if she can get into the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, an anonymous donor will pay her tuition and living expenses. The only condition is that she must write regular letters detailing her educational progress to the donor under the name Mr. Knightley. Samantha is reluctant at first, particularly because she feels much more connected to fiction than journalism. Indeed, her closest friends growing up were the classic novels that kept her company through dark times, and she frequently hides in the world of books when real life is confusing or difficult. Still, Sam agrees to the deal, and through her letters to “Mr. Knightley,” she is finally able to face her past — and her future.

Despite what the title might suggest, this book is not a Jane Austen spinoff; rather, it’s a contemporary reimagining of Jean Webster’s novel Daddy-Long-Legs. My overall opinion is that the original is far better, but I can’t get into more depth without SPOILERS for both books, so skip the rest of this review if you don’t want to know how they end! … OK, so if you’re still with me, what happens is that Samantha eventually falls in love with “Mr. Knightley,” who turns out to be the handsome mystery novelist who’s been keeping Sam company throughout the book. He knows everything about Samantha, whose letters to him have been more like a diary, yet he doesn’t confess his true identity until the very end of the book. There’s this huge power imbalance between him and Sam, and the book never really addresses it, and I just couldn’t buy it as a romantic or satisfying ending at all. For some reason I didn’t mind it as much in the original – maybe because of the time period in which it was written? So I had a huge issue with the core of the story, and I also didn’t like the author’s writing style. It’s a very readable book, and if you like Daddy-Long-Legs you may enjoy this one too, but I was disappointed.