willaful

Third Book's a Charm

Hunter's Season - Thea Harrison

This follows two other books in the series which I didn't manage to finish, so I didn't have high hopes for it. I also didn't know the characters at all. But I fell in love with both of them -- steadfast, self-effacing Xanthe, and honorable Aubrey. There isn't really a whole lot of plot here, but the characters are charming, and most of the book is just enjoying them falling in love.

Scariest of Them All

Fairest - Marissa Meyer

This was an absolutely excruciating read (listen); a hellish tragedy all the way through. But I'm very impressed with how the author managed to create a psychopathic character who has some genuine vulnerability and pathos, without ever watering her evil deeds down. (Perhaps that makes her by definition not a psychopath, but she's certainly pathological in some manner.) What Levana does to others is unbearable and utterly hateful, but it's hard not to feel a stab of pity for her; even one of the characters she hurts the most can't help but feel it. She's so pitifully stunted, an ego driven child who was never nurtured enough to grow up. I don't think I could ever bear to reread this, but I admired it.

Sweet Agony - Charlotte Stein

"Beauty and the Beast" meets Matilda meets "Secretary." (And supposedly "Sherlock" and "Jane Eyre" are in there too, though I didn't notice.)

 

I loved the first half of this vaguely gothic story, as a desperate young woman talks her way into a job with a supercilious hermit who turns out to have a deadly fear of physical contact. The relationship grows in a twisted yet strangely satisfying way, and it's very hot.

 

By the second half though, I was starting to feel impatient with the writing style. I'm generally a fan of Stein's stream-of-consciousness first person narratives, but this one started to feel forced... there was so much start/stop reportage of what Cyrian does -- during moments that are supposed to be overwhelming -- that I kept feeling jarred. It was like hearing someone reporting on an earthquake that was supposedly destroying their home while saying, "Yes, you won't believe what's happened now. Yup, my irreplaceable family portraits have all been smashed to dust. Oh, I feel unbelievably terrible about that. And guess what's happening now." I also got tired of Molly describing dialogue instead of simply presenting it. Basically, the whole point of this style is to feel immediate and unself-conscious, so it really doesn't work for me when it feels so very self-conscious.

 

(Thinking about my reaction to other recent Stein books, I think she works best for me when she's not writing solely about the two main characters. I didn't care for Taken either, another cabin fever story but loved Forbidden, in which there were other characters and some signficant backstory. Also, looking back through this book, I see the first half has far more dialogue and less description of dialogue than the second.)

 

So sadly, I didn't love this like I thought I was going to at first. It's still an interesting read and very exciting at times.

Chasing Danger: A Deadly Ops Novella - Katie Reus

A very bare bones rescue fantasy that neatly disposes of the best friend of the heroine of the first book. I don't know why she couldn't have a full length story.

The Not So Wicked

The Wicked - Thea Harrison

I enjoyed this very much while I was reading it, despite a slight disappointment because initially I was shipping Olivia and Phaedra. ;-) It's a smoothly written novella, and can probably stand alone if you haven't read the rest of the series. A nice quick read if you enjoy besotted paranormal heroes. (The heroine is human, but also a witch, so has some powers of her own.)

 

After reading it though, I felt here was a build-up that went unrealized. The title comes from Sebastian thinking he's one of The Wicked and thus unworthy of Olivia. That never made much sense to begin with and doesn't go anywhere.

 

Also, if you're sensitive about disability themes, this might bug the hell out of you. 

Lead Me Not - Ann  Gallagher
I realized far, far too late that I can't imagine God ever creating a man like this, and then making it a sin to love him.
Strawberries for Dessert - Marie Sexton
'I haven't missed you at all,' I managed to say in a hoarse whisper.

'I haven't missed you either,' he said quietly. 'Certainly not every single minute of every single day.'
Harder - Robin York

I started this with some trepidation, because of unpleasant spoilers I'd read. In the end though, I decided it worked about as well as Deeper -- which is to say mostly, but in a slightly lopsided way.

In Deeper, I thought Caroline's journey was very well done, but West didn't make a lot of sense to me. Here it was the other way around. West's portrayal as someone who hasn't been able to hope for anything for himself since he was ten years old, who's been used and abused by everyone with power over him, was very strong. And I was really happy with how he started to find what was important to him and work for it.

Caroline was more oblique to me, perhaps because I didn't really agree with her justifications for her decisions about West -- her decisions about how she wants to deal with her past and the rest of her life are much clearer -- and because I found her behavior towards West invasive and even violent. I was surprised at how much West let her get away with and wondered if he just didn't really notice because he's so used to being treated badly.

I found the end something of a letdown because although both are taken in a very good direction, there seems to be a lot from West's past that hasn't really been addressed. I dislike the idea of a third book so I'd just as soon let it go, but it felt incomplete.

 

On balance, I don't think it was as good as Deeper, but still very worth reading, and with a notably different happy ending.

Until You (Fall Away, #1.5) - Penelope Douglas

I found Bully perturbing in many ways -- the seemingly inevitable slut-shaming, the horrific double standard (which is apparently a theme in Douglas's work -- every single plot is Man-Whore vs. Good Girl), and the cruelty and violence. Still, the story was damn interesting, and I was eager to continue the series. After this book though, and skimming parts of the next, I may be done.

Not only did I hate Until You, but its blatant, convoluted attempts to address every complaint made about Bully just made me more conscious of everything I had disliked; instead of making me more sympathetic to the main character through showing his point of view, I wound up loathing him and every single character in the book. (It's appropriate that this included the heroine's best friend, who had seemed misguided but genuinely caring in Bully -- she's going to be the heroine of a future book, and thus apparently simply must be utterly loathsome.) The number of lampshades hung is ludicrous -- no, no, Jared doesn't think of women as disposable, though he clearly does. No, no, he isn't slut-shaming, though he clearly is. No, no, he didn't actually have sex with all those other girls he was pawing while Tate was around, because he just loves her SO MUCH he can't even bear the thought.

The terrible narration of the audiobook didn't help: Jared sounds like a whiny little boy, making it impossible to believe everyone obeys him and all girls are dying to have sex with him. I don't think it was just the crappy narrator, though. Tate's voice in Bully made the two of them interesting people, despite how fucked up they are. Jared's voice shows him to not think of anything other than his wrongs and how much he loves and hates Tate. He's a fantasy, not a person, and a nasty fantasy to boot.

Like By The Morning Star

Love by the Morning Star - Laura L. Sullivan

This comedy of manners read like the author was channeling Eva Ibbotson, and Shakespeare frequently popped by to give plotting advice.  The style is slightly more modern in tone than Ibbotson -- not because this is set before World War II, rather than World War I, but because the mild-mannered hero doesn't indulge in old skool jealous rages, as virtually all Ibbotson heroes do. Other than that, the characters bear a striking similarity to those of A Countess Below Stairs (reprinted as The Secret Countess) and Magic Flutes.

 

It's often funny and charming, in a deliberately mannered and utterly ridiculous way, but the mistaken identities and tangled plots lead me to an expectation of romantic angst that wasn't fulfilled. Consequently the ending fell flat and the romance seemed ultimately disappointing. I also thought the author came across as a little self-conscious about the many silly misunderstandings, by explaining them too much. But it's definitely worth a read if you enjoy this sort of thing.

The Game and the Governess - Kate Noble

loved Revealed so much, and every other Noble book I’ve tried has been a sad disappointment to me. Until now.

 

It’s not that I think this is a great book. I’d have to read it in print to feel like I could properly evaluate it, but it definitely had its fair share of historical cliches and commonplace writing. Still, what an interesting concept and characters!  The hero Ned is challenging in an unusual way, yet one extremely suited to a Regency-set historical: he’s privileged, and selfish, and has no idea of how much of his much vaunted “luck” is due to his circumstances. That’s the premise: his former friend, now turned highly resentful secretary, bets him that Ned won’t be able to attract a woman without his rank and wealth. To test it, they switch places on a visit to relative strangers. Ned, of course, gets a thorough comeuppance as he learns how invisible (and even offensive) he is without his trappings of wealth and rank.

 

The audiobook was also “challenging.” Accents are very well done, always a plus, but Ned’s voice is so high-pitched and foolish sounding that I was considerably bemused as it started to become clear he was the book’s hero! After a while though, I sort of approved — it seemed like just the sort of voice a hearty, amiable, unenlightened lord would have, and the fact that it wasn’t at all attractive made it kind of cooler when Phoebe (a governess who’s not supposed to be outwardly attractive herself) fell in love with him. So the audiobook narrative stopped me from finding the book sexy, but in some ways made it more interesting.

 

And the romance did work. In Revealed, there’s a phrase — “it’s just me” — that became integral to the blossoming relationship. Here the special phrase was “your Mr. Turner.” Phoebe is flabbergasted when the servants start referring to Ned as “your Mr. Turner” as if there’s something between them, yet it starts to seem more and more appropriate. Eventually she starts to hug the phrase to herself; “my Mr. Turner.” It’s very sweet and resonant.

Source: http://willaful.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/the-game-and-the-governess-by-kate-noble

Shipping Out

Fan Art - Sarah Tregay

This really should have been called "I Love You,  Man," which is its running phrase. The boys at Jamie's high school throw the phrase around all the time. But Jamie really wants to say it to one particular boy -- his best friend, Mason. Jamie's out at home, but still closeted at school, and he can never seem to nerve himself up to tell Mason the truth. When a manga-style comic about two boys kissing is rejected from the school literary magazine, Jamie is upset enough to take action, in an underhanded way. But he fears that doing so will expose him and change everything forever.

I found this a pleasant read,  but somewhat baffling. It's very similar, thematically,  to to How to Repair a Mechanical Heart, a book I adored, but what worked there never quite came off here -- specifically, teenage girls doing real life "shipping" of boys. The treatment here felt stereotyped and kind of icky, without the sense of genuine insight into slash and fan culture, and I never entirely got what was going on. The book is narrated by Jamie (first person, present tense) and he's kind of bewildered by the whole experience, but I didn't want to be bewildered as a reader.

My favorite part of the book was Jamie's loving interactions with his little twin sisters. His ambivalent feelings about his over-enthusiastically supportive parents also seemed very realistic -- I couldn't help but envision the "coming out party" his stepfather threw for him as a youtube link that would make everyone go "awwwww," while Jamie himself was writhing in embarrassment.

SPOILER ALERT!
The Alibi - Sandra Brown

I listened to this as an audiobook. The male narrator was pretty good, though with a tendency to rush dialogue. He also didn't distinguish between the characters very well. But I guess Victor Slezak can't narrate everything.

 

I'm surprised by how popular this book is, because I thought it was pretty aggravating. Everything about it is TSTL. It's supposed to be romantic that the upstanding hero gives up all his principles because he falls for the heroine, but actually he gave them up before she was even in the picture, so I never believed in him as a good guy. The heroine insists on having a lawyer before she speaks to the police, and then proceeds to ignore everything he advises her to do. Her life is in danger but she never bothers to fix her broken door. And the alibi situation is just ludicrous. Who would deliberately pick someone who has everything to lose and would be highly motivated to lie as their alibi? The killer is pretty obvious, too.

 

The love scenes were good, and it did keep my interest, so I'll give it a generous -- to my mind -- three stars.

Hey, Sherri!

Check this out!

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: A Novel - Karen Joy Fowler
When I run the world, librarians will be exempt from tragedy. Even their smaller sorrows will last only for as long as you can take out a book.
The Monk Upstairs: A Novel - Tim Farrington
Rebecca closed her eyes and relaxed into the sensuous glide of his touch. Her cumulative SPF by now was probably in the thousands; Mike rubbed her body at every opportunity. She felt like a beloved car, a ridiculously pampered treasure with thirty-seven coats of paint: waxed, polished, and incessantly buffed. It was wonderful, actually, She'd never felt like an object of such devotion before.