Mini-Reviews: Station, Artistic, You, Book

Station ElevenArtistic License

Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven — This novel centers around an apocalyptic event, a virus that wipes out 99.9 percent of the world’s population. There are two major narratives: one involves a famous actor who dies just as the virus begins to spread, and the other is set several years after the virus, focusing on a traveling theater troupe and orchestra whose motto is the Star Trek: Voyager quote “Survival is insufficient.” I was much more interested in the latter story than the former, and I also found the postapocalyptic landscape somewhat implausible (there’s not a single person left alive who can figure out how to keep a power plant running, yet there are multiple cellists?). So my feelings about the book are mixed, but overall I liked more things than I disliked.

Elle Pierson, Artistic License — When I discovered that Elle Pierson was a pseudonym for Lucy Parker, I downloaded this book immediately! The heroine is a painfully shy art student; the hero is a tough-looking security guard who is extremely insecure about his “ugly” looks. Their budding romance is threatened by the baggage they each bring to the relationship. This book really worked for me because I loved the main characters and how they both cherished the most “unlovable” parts of each other. It’s not quite as polished as Act Like It or Pretty Face, but it’s still a very enjoyable contemporary romance.

It's Not Me, It's YouBook Jumper, The

Mhairi McFarlane, It’s Not Me, It’s You — This is a chick lit novel about Delia, a girl whose life is turned upside-down when she proposes to her longtime boyfriend, only to discover that he’s been cheating on her. She promptly moves out of their shared home and relocates to a new town, where she gets a new job with a shady boss. Ultimately, Delia has to uncover the boss’s shenanigans with the help of several friends, including an abrasive-yet-handsome young journalist—all while her ex-boyfriend desperately tries to win her back. On the surface, the book is about a woman choosing between two men, but really, it’s about the choice between two lives—the familiar vs. the unknown, the safe vs. the brave. I liked this book a lot, and Mhairi McFarlane will definitely be one of my go-to authors for this type of read!

Mechthild Gläser, The Book Jumper (trans. Romy Fursland) — When Amy and her mother move from Germany to their ancestral home in Scotland, Amy discovers that her family has a special legacy: they can “jump” into books and spend time in their favorite fictional worlds. As Amy practices her book jumping skills, she learns that someone is stealing important plot elements from her favorite works of literature (the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, the cyclone from The Wizard of Oz). While solving this mystery, Amy also uncovers secrets from her family’s past and embarks on a romance with unforeseen complications. I really liked the premise of this book, and I was impressed by the ending, which is a little darker and more complex than I’d expected. But overall, this was just an okay read for me. A more interesting take on the book jumping premise is Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.

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Mini-reviews: Pretty Face + 3

Real life has been burning me out lately, so instead of getting stressed about the 20-ish reviews I still need to write, I’ve decided to Jack Bauer this situation and just write short ones! Here’s the first batch:

Pretty FaceShadow Bright and Burning, A

Lucy Parker, Pretty Face — I absolutely loved Act Like It, so Pretty Face went on my auto-buy list immediately. And I wasn’t disappointed; I devoured this romance between a beautiful actress who wants to be taken seriously and an older, talented but curmudgeonly director. If you like contemporary romance, you really need to give Lucy Parker a try!

Jessica Cluess, A Shadow Bright and Burning — Historical fantasy set in 19th century England is my jam, and when you add a bright young woman who is accepted into an all-male wizarding school, but she’s not actually the chosen one (or is she?), you can count me 100% in! I liked this book a lot, especially the bits about sorcery versus magic — and, of course, the hints of romance. Looking forward to book #2 in the fall!

Confession of Brother Haluin, TheBear and the Nightingale, The

Ellis Peters, The Confession of Brother Haluin — It’s always a delight to spend some time with Brother Cadfael and company, although this book doesn’t have one of the stronger mysteries in the series. Still, I love these books and am sad that there are only a few more left for me to read!

Katherine Arden, The Bear and the Nightingale — This historical fantasy novel based on Russian folklore is gorgeous and haunting, and I couldn’t put it down! I loved the main character, Vasya (even though she’s one of those not-beautiful-but-still-somehow-beautiful types), and her determination to save her family and land despite everyone else’s fear and skepticism. I was especially fascinated by the character of Father Konstantin, who isn’t exactly evil but is definitely flawed! Also, the setting is vivid and compelling, and I say this as someone who doesn’t usually care too much about setting. This is definitely going to be one of my top books of the year, and I can’t wait to see what Arden will write next!

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!

Mini-Reviews #11: December, part 1

I can’t believe it’s already New Year’s Eve…time to finish up those 2016 (mini) reviews before 2017 arrives!

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Carl Hiaasen, Skink: No Surrender — Teenager Richard teams up with the idiosyncratic Skink (former governor, current homeless eco-warrior) to find Richard’s missing cousin Malley. There’s no particular mystery about what happened to her, but the fun is in the journey, as rule-follower Richard finds his worldview enlarged by Skink’s more reckless lifestyle. Overall, while this isn’t really my kind of book, I did enjoy it and may read more by the author. I believe Skink is a recurring character in Hiaasen’s novels, and I’d like to know more of his backstory.

Kristan Higgins, Somebody to Love — Another light, charming contemporary romance from Kristan Higgins. Although most of her books are not serialized, this one borrows the location (and a few characters) from Catch of the Day, and it also features the couple from The Next Best Thing. Having read those two books, I enjoyed seeing how the various fictional worlds overlapped. That said, I don’t think you’d miss anything important if you haven’t read the other two books. I always enjoy Higgins’ books, but this one isn’t destined to be one of my favorites.

old-dogsenvious-casca

Donna Moore, Old Dogs — If you enjoy heist movies, you should definitely check out this book, which involves two priceless historical artifacts: solid gold dog statues. Main characters Letty and Dora are aging ex-hookers who hope to enjoy a lavish retirement by stealing the dogs from a museum exhibit. The trouble is, they’re not the only ones after the dogs…. While I didn’t find this one laugh-out-loud funny, it does include plenty of entertaining mishaps, mistaken identities, and mad schemes of vengeance. Definitely worth reading if the word “caper” appeals to you!

Georgette Heyer, Envious Casca — So far, I’ve found Heyer’s mysteries to be a bit hit-or-miss, but I think this is her best one yet! It’s an English country house murder set at Christmas. Of course, there’s a big family party, and of course, everyone has a reason to wish the estate’s owner dead. The novel is very well plotted, and the solution to the mystery is (in my opinion) utterly convincing. Even if you’ve tried another Heyer mystery and didn’t particularly like it, I’d urge you to give this one a try!

Mini-Reviews #9: Readathon reviews

With this batch of mini-reviews, I’m once again caught up with my backlog. I read three of the four books during the October 24-hour readathon, hence the title of this post. 🙂

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Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle — Merricat Blackwood, her sister Constance, and her Uncle Julian are the last remnant of a once-prominent family. They live in a decrepit, isolated old house, and they don’t associate with any of the people in the nearby town. The novel’s sinister atmosphere is augmented by the suspicion that seven years ago, Constance deliberately poisoned the rest of her family. I’m no fan of horror, but I found this to be a very well-written, creepy but not too scary book. I may even read some more Shirley Jackson in the future.

Eva Ibbotson, Which Witch? — I’ve been a fan of Ibbotson’s YA/adult novels for years now, but this was my first experience reading one of her books for children. It was just as delightful as I expected it to be, telling the story of a dark wizard who holds a competition to determine which witch will be his bride. Beautiful and kind Belladonna would love to be the winner, but her magic is inescapably good. How will she convince Arriman the Awful that she’s his perfect match?

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Teresa Medeiros, Goodnight Tweetheart — The plot of this romance novel is essentially “Boy meets girl on Twitter.” As such, the book is inescapably dated, but I must admit I enjoyed it anyway! It had some good banter and some sweet moments…overall, a pleasant escapist read. It’s not a new favorite or anything, but it’s definitely a fun way to spend an evening (or, in my case, the middle of the night!).

Leigh Bardugo, Crooked Kingdom — If you loved Six of Crows, which I didCrooked Kingdom will not disappoint! The twists and turns of the plot kept me hooked, and I loved the fact that Kaz was always one step ahead of his enemies. And as with the previous book, I was completely invested in these characters and rooting for them all to achieve their goals. I especially liked that this book gave more attention to Jesper and Wylan, the two characters who were least fleshed out in Six of Crows. There was also a very welcome appearance by Nikolai, my favorite character in the Grisha trilogy, which leads me to believe that Bardugo isn’t done with this world yet!

Mini-Reviews #5: Summer Reading

All right, time to post some mini-reviews of books I read way back in July! Will I ever catch up with all my reviews? Only time will tell, so stay tuned! 🙂

Death of an AirmanSong for Summer, A

Christopher St. John Sprigg, Death of an Airman — In this mystery centered around an English aviation club, one of its best flyers perishes in a tragic plane crash. Most people assume it’s an accident, but the victim was a first-class pilot, and the inquest revealed nothing wrong with the plane. A few of the club members suggest suicide, but a visiting Australian bishop suspects murder. When the police get involved, they realize the victim’s death may be connected to a much larger criminal organization. I liked this mystery well enough, but I think the strength was definitely in the plot rather than in the characters. For example, for the first several chapters, it looks like the Australian bishop is going to be the sleuth, but suddenly everything switches to the police inspector’s point of view. Still, this was a fun variation on the “impossible crime” mystery with a truly ingenious solution.

Eva Ibbotson, A Song for Summer — Ibbotson’s novels are the ultimate comfort reads! I’d never reread this one before, and I think it’s because the plot moves a bit more slowly than in Ibbotson’s other novels, and the atmosphere is bleaker. It’s still a lovely book, but I definitely find myself returning to A Countess Below Stairs and The Morning Gift much more often.

It Happened One WeddingSpear of Summer Grass, ACrown's Game, The

Julie James, It Happened One Wedding — Julie James was my first contemporary romance author, and she pretty much single-handedly convinced me that not all romance novels are poorly written trash. This is another fun, banter-filled romance between hedge fund manager (?) Sidney and FBI agent Vaughn. They initially dislike each other but are forced to play nice when her sister and his brother get engaged. I think we all know where this is going.

Deanna Raybourn, A Spear of Summer Grass — After scandalizing English society with her outrageous behavior, Delilah Drummond is packed off to British East Africa so she won’t further damage her family’s reputation. Although Delilah is the consummate city girl, with her fashionable dresses and daring bob, she soon falls in love with the African landscape. She also encounters various dangers, from marauding lions to outright murder — and possibly finds love as well. I didn’t particularly like this book, and I’m not sure why. I didn’t dislike it either…I just felt indifferent to it. Delilah reminded me a lot of Phryne Fisher, but while I love Phryne, I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for Delilah. Maybe she was too similar (since I encountered Phryne first)? The romance also made me roll my eyes a bit; the hero is very much an alpha-male caveman type, and he just seemed like a stereotype to me. Overall, a “meh” read.

Evelyn Skye, The Crown’s Game — In an alternate Imperial Russia where magic exists but only a few have the power to wield it, Vika knows she is destined to become the Imperial Enchanter and take her place at the emperor’s side. But then she learns that there is another powerful enchanter in Russia — and that she must defeat him in the Crown’s Game, a magical duel in which the winner becomes Imperial Enchanter and the loser is condemned to death. Little does she know that the other enchanter is Nikolai, whose magic (and handsome face) intrigues her. As Vika and Nikolai get to know each other, they realize they don’t want the Crown’s Game to end in death. But will they be able to find a better solution? I have to admit, this book sort of lost me early on, when Vika is described as having wild red hair with a black streak down the middle. I immediately had a knee-jerk Mary Sue reaction, and I never quite warmed to Vika after that. I did end up somewhat liking the book, particularly for the Russian setting and the lovely descriptions of the magic. I also liked the fact that the stakes are real, and not everybody gets a happy ending. I’ll probably look for the sequel when it comes out. Nevertheless, I was definitely underwhelmed by this one, especially given the amount of hype I’d seen about it.

Review: Act Like It

Act Like ItLucy Parker, Act Like It

Actress Lainie Graham is the sweetheart of the London stage, and her wholesome public persona is now especially sympathetic because she’s recently been dumped. In contrast, her co-star Richard Troy is the quintessential bad boy. His Byronic good looks and considerable talent have counterbalanced some of his negative behavior, but the public is no longer willing to overlook his violent temper. Desperate to get public opinion back on their side, the theater manager and Richard’s agent concoct a plan: Richard and Lainie will pretend to be in a relationship so that her positive image will rehabilitate Richard’s negative one. At first, Lainie objects to the plan — she can’t stand Richard’s obnoxious behavior and inflated ego — but she is eventually convinced to play along. As she spends more time with Richard, however, she learns that there’s much more to him than meets the eye. Meanwhile, Richard is surprised to discover that Lainie is intelligent, kind, and more than willing to match him quip for quip. But how can these two actors be confident that their so-called fake relationship has evolved into something real?

After a streak of books that weren’t grabbing my attention, I was delighted to discover this sweet romance! I always enjoy the “fake relationship becomes real” trope, so I was predisposed to like the book anyway. But the adorable banter between Lainie and Richard is what really sealed the deal for me. Their sarcastic jabs at one another soon become playful teasing, and these interactions really made their chemistry believable. I appreciated how their careers as actors added another layer of complexity to the relationship; I especially enjoyed watching Richard seethe as Lainie had to pretend to be in love with her ex, another actor in the same play. The book does contain some of the romance genre’s more annoying clichés, such as a physically perfect hero with piercing blue eyes and a Big Misunderstanding that needlessly threatens the relationship. But overall, this book was a lovely surprise that came along at just the right time for me. Definitely recommended for fans of romantic comedies!

Review: Anything for You

Anything for YouKristan Higgins, Anything for You

Connor O’Rourke thinks it’s the perfect time to propose to his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Jessica Dunn. His restaurant is thriving, his new house is big enough for a family, and he’s even thinking of opening his own brewery. But when he gets down on one knee, Jessica gives him a kind but firm “no.” Her life has always been complicated: unlike Connor, she grew up in poverty with alcoholic parents and an intellectually disabled younger brother. She finally has a good job and a stable living situation, and she doesn’t want anything to change. But Connor is left reeling by her refusal and says that he can’t be with Jessica anymore if she’s not willing to move forward with him. The problem is, no matter how many women his well-meaning sister sets him up with, he can’t get Jessica out of his mind. And Jessica, despite her independent facade, begins to realize that she misses Connor a lot more than she thought she would.

When I need a light, quick, palate-cleansing read, I almost always pick up a Kristan Higgins novel. This one was enjoyable, as always…I liked that the conflict between Connor and Jessica feels realistic, given Jessica’s difficult past. It was also fun to spend more time in the world of the Blue Heron series, of which I think this is the last installment. All the characters and couples from earlier books make an appearance, and they’ve all pretty much achieved their happily-ever-afters. In fact, if I had one complaint, the sheer amount of happiness in this book — literally everyone is getting together, getting married, and/or having babies — is pretty saccharine and unrealistic. But then again, I’m not reading fluffy romance novels for the realism. 🙂 If you’re looking for a sweet, fun romance you can read in a day, I’d definitely recommend this book, although you might be a little confused about the secondary characters if you haven’t read the rest of the series.

Review: Neanderthal Seeks Human

Neanderthal Seeks HumanPenny Reid, Neanderthal Seeks Human

There are three things you need to know about Janie Morris: 1) She is incapable of engaging in a conversation without volunteering TMTI (Too Much Trivial Information), especially when she is unnerved, 2) No one unnerves her more than Quinn Sullivan, and 3) She doesn’t know how to knit.

After losing her boyfriend, apartment, and job in the same day, Janie Morris can’t help wondering what new torment fate has in store. To her utter mortification, Quinn Sullivan- aka Sir McHotpants- witnesses it all then keeps turning up like a pair of shoes you lust after but can’t afford. The last thing she expects is for Quinn- the focus of her slightly, albeit harmless, stalkerish tendencies- to make her an offer she can’t refuse. (Summary from Amazon.com.)

I downloaded this e-book for free, and honestly, that’s the only good thing I can say about it. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a heroine whom I’ve despised more than Janie Morris. The novel would have you believe that Janie is very book-smart, although her nerves get the best of her in social situations. In fact, however, there is absolutely no evidence of her alleged intelligence, and her “nervousness” is so over-the-top as to be completely ridiculous. She literally cannot form complete sentences when speaking to a man she finds attractive. She also somehow fails to notice that her crush Quinn, whom she believes is a lowly security guard, is actually the owner of the company where she works. The reader, of course, has noticed it by approximately chapter two. The book’s writing style is fairly awful as well, complete with one of the most cringe-inducing sex scenes I’ve ever encountered. I can’t even remember the main conflict of the book, to be honest…all my attention was given to my utter hatred of Janie. Like I said, the book was free, but I still wish I could get those hours of my life back.

Review: A Proper Companion

Proper Companion, ACandice Hern, A Proper Companion

Robert, Lord Bradleigh, is a rakish earl with a recently arranged betrothal to a lovely young girl he barely knows. Emily Townsend is an impoverished spinster employed as a companion to his grandmother, the formidable dowager countess. Robert agrees to help his grandmother find a husband for the beautiful Emily. But once he comes to know the charms of his grandmother’s companion, he begins to regret his hasty engagement.

This sparkling tale will take you from the Pump Room at Bath to the ballrooms of London as the unexpected and undeniable attraction between Robert and Emily blossoms into something more … something that could put one of them in danger. (Summary from Amazon.com.)

I’m going to be honest: I read this book about two months ago, and I truly don’t remember a thing about the plot. I think maybe Emily had another suitor who turned out to be evil in some way, but I’m not sure. And maybe Robert’s fiancée ended up falling in love with someone else? Like I said, the details have completely gone out of my head. So, obviously, this was not a particularly great read for me…but it wasn’t particularly awful either, or I would have remembered it! From what little I recall, the writing style was fine but not great; but after all, only a few authors can flawlessly imitate that Regency voice. I’m sure I did enjoy the book while I was reading it, because I remember looking up the sequels on Amazon (although I didn’t actually purchase them). I suppose lovers of non-bodice-ripping Regency romances would enjoy this book, but I can’t really recommend something that I can’t remember!