Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Thirteen Reasons Why" by Jay Asher

 The Protagonist: Clay Jensen. He's just a regular kid, a nice guy, likes his mom and schoolwork. I guess?
The Rub: He thinks he's a nice guy until he receives a box of tapes made by a girl who recently committed suicide, tapes blaming thirteen people for her ultimate choice of self-destruction. And apparently he's one of those people.

The Secondary Cast:

Hannah Baker: A schoolmate of Clay's who recently committed suicide. As she details in her tapes, the varying petty slights, lies, and insults from others contributed to her depression and eventual death. 

Various Other Creeps It Would Be Fairly Spoilery to Name

Angst Checklist:
  • Someone I had a crush on is blackmailing me from beyond the grave
  • Depression
  • Suicide
  • Small insults that snowball into big consequences
  • Who uses cassette tapes anymore?! 
  • Rape
  • Fateful Car Accidents
 The Word: Oooookay. I had this book on my TBR for a while, and was a little hesitant to pick it up (mainly due to Raych's comments on the matter), but after a coworker said she read it in a single day, I figured I'd read it and then I'd have something more to talk about in the lunchroom.

As it is, I was very conflicted by Thirteen Reasons Why. It's one of those books where it had a very good idea, but ultimately the execution and the characters behind it were lacking.

Hannah Baker is one reason for my conflicted state. She's a character, but she's dead - as we immediately learn getting into the book, she swallowed a handful of pills two weeks prior. Rather, we "hear" her voice as Clay Jensen, a shy classmate of hers, listens to the tapes she made before her death.

Clay finds the tapes on his doorstep and when he listens to them, he's horrified to learn that Hannah blames thirteen people for her suicide and she'll be naming them and their crimes against her on these tapes. One by one, these people will receive the box of tapes, and they're expected to listen to them and then pass them on to the next person on her list. If they don't, she warns, a friend of hers who's been given a copy of the tapes will release them to the public and then everyone will know what they did.

And if Clay received the box of tapes, it means that he's on Hannah's list, and also a contributor to her death.

Now, first of all, I shared Raych's reaction to Hannah's contemptuous little post-mortum: blaming people for your SUICIDE and then BLACKMAILING THEM FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is a shitty thing to do. Especially considering that a lot of the people on the list are only guilty of being selfish petty jackasses. Yes, a couple of people on the list did genuinely awful things, but the vast majority of the people were just being jerks and at least one made a concerted effort to help.

On the one hand, that's the point. Hannah describes it as a snowball effect - how one small prank can have an expanding ripple effect that allows another person to make a cruel gesture that leads to a misunderstanding with another person that causes them to lash out, etc. etc. And as an idea, that's fantastic, and what kept me reading. I sincerely doubt people, particularly teenagers, commit suicide for just One Big Burning Reason. No, it's often a bunch of small problems that just get bigger and bigger. Thirteen Reasons Why shines when it demonstrates how one small action ("just a little joke") can have an increasingly negative impact on someone else's life.

It's fascinating to read how different solutions and resources were closed to Hannah, one by one, by selfish and petty individuals who likely had no idea how much impact their actions really had. In that sense, it's a little satisfying to know they would have to listen to the tapes and understand where their actions had led.

But still - blaming people for your suicide in an elaborately planned tape-passing plot? I found it very difficult to sympathize entirely with Hannah because, to me, the impact of her words and her tapes seemed far more harsh a punishment than many of the people on her list deserved, in my opinion. One or two, I suppose, earned the right to bear that burden, but not all of them (and certainly not the very last person on her list - that scene made my blood boil and destroyed nearly all the empathy I'd built up for her character).

At least the conflicted nature of Hannah's character is a ripe ground for discussion about morality and suicide. But what about the other narrator - Clay? The boy who listens to the tapes throughout the novel?

Let's just say, if I wanted the mains reasons why I didn't like this novel to know what I thought of them, and had a couple of cassette tapes handy, The Suicide-Blaming Plot and Clay would both receive a package from me.

Clay is a lame-ass character. I mean, he's practically a non-entity. We learn almost nothing about him throughout the entire novel. He's just there to spout exposition and cry about how it's not fair and how He and Hannah Almost Had It Allllll. By the end of the novel, I had only the barest sketch of who he was as a person, his interests and motivations, and that's such a disappointment. I mean, he considers himself a nice guy, but Hannah sent him the tapes. So he obviously screwed up somewhere. But where? The mystery of what he did serves as part of the suspense aspect of the novel.


So at the end of the novel, we still have no real, solid characterization for Clay. He's pretty much a cute, inoffensive mouthpiece for the novel's central message and a bland foil for Hannah.

Without Clay, this novel might have received as high as a B grade from me. Sadly, the interesting idea of the novel was ultimately hampered by the ENORMOUS elephant-sized cop-out in terms of storytelling, and the complete lack of the narrator's character development.

You can purchase Thirteen Reasons Why here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Getting Ready for BEA

This year, I decided not return to the Romance Writers of America National Conference. I've gone for three years, had a great time, but genre-wise, I'm moving on. I still love romance, continue to read romance, and my books will definitely have romantic elements, but I'm broadening my reading horizons.

And so I became interested in Book Expo America. For several reasons:
  1. It's about the publishing industry as a whole, and thus all genres of books are represented
  2. It's affiliated with a Book Blogger Convention, which I will also be attending - along with several other talented bloggers of whom I am crazy-jealous.
  3. It's in New York, currently my Favourite City in the World. Which gives me another excuse to explore the museums (like the Morgan Library), Central Park, and Broadway (Nice Work If You Can Get It this year!).
  4. It is substantially, substantially cheaper than RWA Nationals. 
But it's also a very, very big conference, quite easy to get lost in, to get overwhelmed in, and quite honestly the Book Expo website is not always the most helpful or organized of internets. I'm frankly a little terrified. So I did some searching and digging and followed the #BEA12 hashtag on Twitter, and found a real gem of a blogger who handily gathers a host of other bloggers' tips and tricks into one easy post. I've also been asking around the blogo- and Twitterspheres for interesting tips. Given what I've learned, my plan is thus: 

1. The Soles of My Feet Are Reserved for Baby Ducks Only: One of the most unanimous tips is to wear comfortable footwear. The Javits Center is apparently 4 New York blocks long, so you will be frequently walking whilst carrying increasing amount of weight. Plus a lot of sightseeing in New York is more efficiently done on foot. I tried breaking in new sandals a few weeks ago and injured a tendon in my heel, leading to a frenzy of worrying and WebMDing. My $100 sandals were a bust, as were the $300 Beautifeel shoes (which I thankfully already had at the back of my closet), but I unexpectedly found salvation in a $37 pair of backless sandals from Payless.

2. I'm bringing extra luggage. I did a little research - I found out Air Canada's charge for extra luggage up to 50 pounds in weight is $35. I went to Canada Post and found out shipping a 50 pound box of books between New York and My Home Town is around $100 (I think, neither Canada nor US Post is very helpful about the cost of ground shipping). You do the math. In my case, to accommodate my expected loot, I'll be packing lightly, and I'll either bring an extra wheeling suitcase, or a collapsible dufflebag to fill with books and check in as extra baggage on the way back (this also means I won't be charged an extra $35 on the way there).

3. I'm bringing my own eats. I expected to do this anyways - as someone with a nut allergy, it's always good to have a least some food I can trust. And apparently the food at the Javits is crazy-expensive to boot. I'll also pack my water bottle.

4. I'll be checking my greed at the door. Or at least, trying to. Just because something is free, doesn't mean it's good - it's also not actually free. For every book I take, I'll have to haul it around in a heavy tote bag for a good portion of the day, drag it from the Javits Center, and pay extra to have it put on a plane. And then Customs! And then it'll take up valuable space in my teeny-tiny apartment! So I have to make sure it's something I want. As well, if I take a book just because it's free - it means there's one less book for the attendees who would really want it.

One blogger actually wrote (paraphrasing) "Nobody will be offended if you pick up a book, read the back, and then put it back down." I'm one of those people who needed to hear that. At conferences, I used to fear that publishers or authors would be hurt if I "rejected" their novel right in front of them. At BEA, they know it's just not your cup of tea, and that there are 100 readers behind me who are searching for exactly that cup of tea.

5. I've started using an eReader! One of the tips I've read is to bring an eReader instead of books to amuse myself on the plane. The rationale being - more room to bring books back! As it turns out, my mother received a Kobo Vox as a gift but realized she ultimately preferred reading on her iPad, so she lent the Vox to me to try out. I'll admit, there's a part of me that feels I'm betraying the beautiful paper books lining my shelves. But! I'm doing this so that I can bring more paper books back. As it is, I'll be the one reading Where It Began by Ann Stampler and The Famous Heroine/The Plumed Bonnet by Mary Balogh on the plane.

6. I'm putting my phone on Airplane Mode. I looked up a Data Roaming package for my Blackberry, but it's just a discount. So instead of my phone bill being eyeball-hemorrhagingly expensive, it would just be exorbitantly expensive. Yay? According to experts and previous Book Expo attendees - the reception in the Javits is infamously terrible and spotty. So what's the point? My hotel room comes with free internet, so I'll update after hours.

7. I'm going to continue talking to people! Yes, I said continue. I'm great at talking to strangers and exchanging business cards (mine are purple and pink this year), I am less so at continuing correspondence after the conference. So I'm going to talk everyone's faces off, write notes on the back of their business cards, then e-mail them to continue talking their faces off!

8. I'll be packing light, but right. All the tip pages I've seen are telling people to pack light, but a lot of them also emphasize that what you pack must also be nice. The unspoken dress code at BEA is business casual and a couple of bloggers have outright said that although jeans technically can be worn, you'll get treated better and taken more seriously in more professional clothing.

9. I'm bringing small bills. Past attendees have warned that a lot of the books aren't technically free - booths often ask for small donations in return. It's also nice to have ones and twos for tipping cab drivers and buying hot dogs (there's apparently an awesome hot dog cart right outside the Javits). HOWEVER, if you are like me, a native of a reasonable country with multicoloured and easily identifiable money (Canada), be extra careful when handing out bills because American money is ALL GREEN. I know! Stupid, right? One of my Canuck friends accidentally tipped a waitress with a fifty and was too polite to ask for it back.

10. I'm going with the flow. A lot of the tips have people making elaborate multi-highlighted spreadsheets and detailed calendars and ... I can't do that. There's just too much going on. There's apparently a list on Edelweiss of all the books to be found at BEA, but I don't know when or where they'll be given out - and besides, I'm not here (entirely) for the books. I have definitely entered my ultimate BEA experiences and events and autographings into my Blackberry Calendar, but I also don't want the experience to be like a grocery trip - making a detailed list of everything and then going and picking it up.

Me? I've decided I'm going to explore. Again, my ultimate Must Dos are in my calendar, and my fave publishers' booths will be marked out on my BEA floorplan, but I plan to spend most of my time walking around, looking, talking to people and publishers, and reading the backs of what books I find. All these books will be released eventually and the vast majority of them will wind up at my local library.

What about you? Are you going to BEA? Does it sound like I have the right idea, or am I way off my rocker? Any other tips and tricks?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Delicious," by Sherry Thomas

The Chick: "Verity Durant," a.k.a. Lady Vera Drake. A talented chef and former mistress of Mr. Bertie Somerset, until he dies unexpectedly.
The Rub: With Bertie's passing, his half-brother Stuart will inherit his holdings - will Verity be able to maintain her employment without Stuart recognizing her as his one-time paramour?
Dream Casting: Kate Winslet.

The Dude: Stuart Somerset. A high-profile barrister with the Liberal Party, he has a duty to uphold a moral standard while pushing forward the Irish Home Rule Bill.
The Rub: His uncontrollable reaction to his chef's food and her presence threatens everything he's ever striven for - but could giving in and possessing her be worth it, after all?
Dream Casting: Hugh Jackman.

The Plot:

Verity: Oh no! My employer's dead!

Stuart: Looks like I've inherited all my brother's stuff!

Verity: Might as well not dump my employer while he's on an empty stomach!

Stuart: *taste soup* Wow, this tastes like delicious flashbacks!

Ten Years Ago...

Stuart and Verity: *SexyTimes*

Stuart: Let's get married!

Verity: Um, let me sleep on it... *flees*

Stuart: :(

Present Day

Stuart: Even though I've very conveniently never seen your face, I'm in love with you!

Verity: Oh good. I thought you'd be mad.

Lizzy: Why should he be? I'm off to marry/shag his hot secretary!

Verity: I thought he was gay.


Stuart: *recognizes Verity* OMG HOW DARE YOU. GET OUT!

Verity: Really? It took you that long?

Stuart: ... now that I think about it, yeah. Not that mad anymore! Be my mistress!

Ornery Relative: How'd you like some Convenient Backstory first?

Stuart: Even better! Be my wife!

Verity: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist
  • 1 Interclass Romance
  • 1 Amazing One-Night Stand
  • Several Flashbacks
  • 1 Not-So-Secret Baby
  • 1 Nasty Aunt
  • Dozens of Delicious Madeleines
  • 1 Accidentally-Walked-In-On Moment of Self-Pleasure
  • 2 Beloved Galoshes
  • 1 Delightful Secondary Romance
The Word: While perusing my shelves for something to read, I realized it had been more than a year since I last read one of Sherry Thomas' novels, and I realized I had to do something about it.

While I enjoyed the last novel of hers I read (His At Night), particularly the storyline, for some reason I just couldn't click with her characters, primarily because the hero spent the majority of the novel pretending to be two apples short of a fruit salad.

This time around, my experience was the opposite - I loved both characters - hell, all four characters - and the delicious writing so much that I could easily ignore some of the story's repetitive quibbles.

The heroine, Verity Durant, is a notorious chef with a past as spicy and varied as a good paella. When her employer (and former lover) Bertie Somerset dies unexpectedly of a heart attack, she realizes she will have to vacate her position now that Bertie's half-brother Stuart will inherit his holdings and estate. Verity and Stuart share A History but she decides that she owes it to him to cook him a few truly mouthwatering and life-changing meals before she looks for other employment.

Stuart is an upstanding barrister and Chief Whip for the Liberal Party. He's devoted to his calling, but he also knows that society is always waiting to hold his illegitimate birth against him (even though he was later legitimized by his father), so he strives to be rigidly practical, proper, and moral in all things, including his engagement to the well-heeled Elizabeth Bessler. One sip from Madame Durant's soup suddenly floods him with a passion, a hunger, a sensuous craving that terrifies him so much he can barely tolerate a few bites before he sends the meal back. The fact that Madame Durant is infamous for being his hated half-brother's mistress is an even bigger reason to sack her.

But he doesn't. He hasn't felt such longing in ten years, ever since he spent one life-altering night with a nameless Cinderella who ran out on his impulsive but truly-meant offer of marriage. And Verity doesn't quit - even though she was that Cinderella and she knows that nothing can ever come of it. Her own relationship with Bertie dissolved when it became clear he considered her too far beneath him to marry.

Meanwhile, Stuart's fiancee Lizzy Bessler, who sees marriage to Stuart as the way out of all her past vanities and mistakes, must fight her growing attraction to his secretary, disinherited aristocrat William Marsden.

First of all, this is a terrible book to read on a diet. The descriptions of the food are simply gut-clenching. This is an incredibly sensuous book and Sherry Thomas's magnificent gift with words is put to very good use here. She's so talented at describing sensations (both mental and physical), that it's impossible not to be swept up in the drama.

And there is a lot of drama. Very unconventional, complicated, multifaceted drama - it's a pure pleasure to read and uncover it all. It's become quite a bore to read an historical romance with an angsty hero only to learn his only major problem was one woman who did him wrong by running off with someone else. That's it? You won't find that in Delicious. It's very condensed that way - there is a lot to experience and take in, and it's wonderful, even if there are a few gaps (to this day I still can't understand how the situation where William mistakes Lizzy for a lesbian came about).

Was this story absolutely perfect, however? No - again, there are some quibbles. My main annoyance with this novel is how long it's forced to hide Verity's face from Stuart as they develop their romance. I realize it's integral to the plot that Stuart not recognize Verity as his One Night Stand until the end, but that didn't make the scenes where they're face to face less contrived or annoying.

Either Verity will insist Stuart turn off the lights (which he obeys, for no reason), or he comes across her by accident while she conveniently has a handkerchief over her face, or they meet in a fog, or he buys her a mask even though he has no possible reason I can think of for doing so. I couldn't really understand why Stuart feels no qualms about being in love with a woman whom he's never seen above the neck.

It's one of those things that made sense at first, but was stretched out far too long until Verity became an erotic version of Mr. Wilson from Home Improvement (Touchstone Television).

"I'm not wearing anything underneath this hat!"

My other quibble involves a sudden and all-encompassing revelation at the end by an Ornery Relation that made very little sense to me and tied up everything with all-too-neat bow.

But this is the kind of novel where the gorgeous writing and the lovelorn characters and the entertaining secondary romance clearly make up for it. This became an immediate favourite of mine and I highly recommend it.

You can purchase Delicious here.

The Weekly Wanting (8)

Happy Sunday, folks! Some cool things are happening this week!

Firstly, today is my Third Twitterversary! Yup, I've been on Twitter for three years, had some great 140-character conversations, learned a lot of new things and overheard a lot of scandals. But I still can't explain how it works to my parents!

As well, I have a winner for the Catch And Release giveaway! HANNALILY come on down! And by down I mean, e-mail me your deets!

Tomorrow I'll be having my second Forever Young Adult Bookclub meeting! We'll be meeting at a pub and discussing The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks over drinks and fried foods.

Writing-wise, especially given what I wrote last week, it's actually picked up. I just made myself sit down in a place with very few distractions (in this case, Steep's Tea House with several pots and eventually a tea latte of their Choco-Chili-Chai blend) and wrote whatever I wanted. And it started to get good! I actually tried to be funny - and y'all know I can be extremely funny in my reviews, and I like being funny, so I tried to make it funny. Have I typed the word "funny" enough? I think so.

In this case, writing in a contemporary setting, I found the humour was easier. A lot of my previous works were historical or set in a fantasy world, and the humour in those types of books can be very difficult to pull off since they often rely on modern humour filtered through an historically-appropriate lens, so it often comes off as stilted or obvious.

And, as I've always found, writing requires a lot of momentum. The more I write, the easier it is to write. The more I write in one book, the easier it is to pick it up again. For instance, I've been focusing a lot on my Fantasy YA (More Than Normal) more than my Fantasy Fairy-Tale Retelling (Mouseheart), so it's easier to pick up the first novel and keep at it then my second (although it still has potential so I may return to it later).

In sad news - I've spent the last two weeks breaking in a new pair of sandals for BEA - and they broke me in instead, and by me, I mean my poor right heel. I spent most of yesterday on the internet terrifying myself with websites about Heel Spurs and Haglund's Deformity and Achilles Tendonitis and retrocalcaneal bursitis and plantar fascilitis. I'm under thirty, I'm not overweight, I walk a lot but I don't jog or run. All I did was wear new sandals for two weeks! So I'm just going to keep my feet up, ice it, take Motrin, and hope I can still walk for BEA!

I also went out and bought BOOKS this week! Gasp! With BEA almost upon me and everything! I comfort myself with the fact that neither of these authors are going to be at BEA, so I'm not doubling up - I found a 2002 edition of Alice Hoffman's Illumination Night (whoohoo!) and Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin so that I can finish her trilogy on the plane!

Speaking of planes, and BEA - I'M GOING TO BEA this year! But I'll be making a whole separate post about that so that this one doesn't go on too long!

As for the whole Wanting part - not so much this week. Sometimes there are weeks where every blog I read is talking about the same two or three books and they're just NOT what I'm interested in at all. But I did find one:

Genre: Science Fiction, Possibly Science Fantasy
Cover Snark: I really like the vest!
The Story: Our hero is a Prince - but in a science-fictional world where there are 10,000 Princes fighting for supremacy! Awwwwkard.
Why I Want It? There are few storylines I like more than Arrogant Douchebags who are Brought Low and Redeemed Through Toil (see: my love for the protagonist of District Nine), which is what the Booksmugglers' review made it look like. Excellent!

So that's my week! How's yours going?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Daughter of Smoke and Bone," by Laini Taylor

I used to write for The Green Man Review (since 2004, actually) but I kind of lost touch with them after they switched to blog format. I'm much more comfortable writing on my blog nowadays, but I decided to do one last review - since I discovered Laini Taylor's marvellous Faeries of Dreamdark series thanks to Green Man, it makes sense I would review Daughter of Smoke and Bone for them as well. Check out the review here. Let's just say it's one of the best books I've ever read, ever, in the history of ever, and leave it at that.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Catch and Release," by Blythe Woolston - Review and Giveaway

The Protagonist: Polly Furnas. When seven people in her hometown, including her, contract a devastating illness, only she and her classmate Odd remain living.
Her Angst: Defining the word "living" becomes more complicated for Polly as her illness leaves her horrifically scarred. To escape her depression and apathy, she and Odd embark on a two-day fishing trip that takes a series of random detours.

The Secondary Cast:

Odd: A football player a few years younger than Polly who also survived the outbreak. Suffers from an overabundance of angst and severely impaired impulse control.

Polly's Mom: Used to be incredibly close and supportive of Polly - until Polly's illness made her incredibly overprotective and smothering.

Bridger: Polly's boyfriend, who promptly ditched her after she recovered.

Angst Checklist:
  • Germs Ate My Face
  • Germs Ate My Leg
  • Douchebag Boyfriends
  • Adapting to Changes in Circumstance
  • The Importance and Definition of Family
  • Pie
  • Where Should I Hide This Gun From My Emotionally Unstable Fishing Buddy?
  • Fishing as Pastime and Metaphor
The Word: First things first, I would love to thank the wonderful Blythe Woolston - I remember reading an amazing excerpt of her novel Catch and Release over at Forever Young Adult and I made a comment on Twitter on how good it sounded. Nothing surprised me more than when she contacted me on Twitter and asked if I would like a copy to review. I happily accepted.

Second things second - I realize that the novel's title includes an ampersand, but Blogger formatting is being a fussy bitch, so for the purposes of a clean review I'm spelling it with an "and." Just in case you are fussy about that sort of thing as well. 

Polly's life and identity are divided in two - the Polly-That-Was of the past who was a cheerful overachiever and beloved girlfriend, and the "monster" she became after surviving an outbreak of MRSA (resistant flesh-eating bacteria) that killed five other people. Polly survived, but at the cost of her right eye and cheekbone. Her spineless boyfriend broke up with her before fleeing to college, her dream of working with children is now impossible, and now she's stuck at home in a kind of numb, emotional stasis with her overprotective mother.

The only person she can stand to be around is Odd, a football player a couple of years younger than her who lost a leg to the MRSA outbreak. When Odd asks her to come with him on a fishing trip, Polly decides action is better than inaction and agrees. However, Odd is not in the most stable, rational, or healthy frame of mind and their two-day fishing trip takes a lot longer and ostensibly leads them on a journey of self-discovery.

I say "ostensibly" because, while Woolston's writing style is stellar, I had a hard time connecting to this book or the characters.

My dissatisfaction with this novel comes from the fact that I'm a big-picture girl. I like knowing the backstory and getting a glimpse into the future. However, Catch and Release is very much a book that lives entirely in the present. What little we do come to learn about the characters' backstories and what kind of people they were before MRSA, come to us in flashes and glimpses - and the future itself remains frustratingly blank.

Catch and Release is also a deeply introspective book. Polly is forced back into the world of the living and has to confront in practice what she's only been learning in theory: that life will never be the same for her thanks to her deformity, but that it still goes on. In that sense, I appreciated the random, meandering pace of both the narrative and the roadtrip itself - from what we know of Polly-That-Was, she planned everything out in advance, from her school projects, to her career, to her "perfect" relationship with Bridger. Having all of her plans pulled out from under her by the horrifying results of her illness left her almost immobile with apathy - so her recovery comes from following Odd's seemingly directionless, last-minute, impulsive itinerary.

While Polly is a realized, immediate character, Odd was ... not. He's like the Dude Version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope, and while this may be a double standard, having the unstable, unpredictable, crazy-troubled free-spirit be a guy ended up being kind of terrifying, particularly in the claustrophobic nature of the narrative (Odd and Polly are the only real characters with dialogue in this story). And when he's not terrifying, he's gross and a jerk. Odd has serious problems and there were several points in this story where I felt Polly should have gotten out of the car and walked away - preferably to the nearest gas station with a ladies' bathroom and a phone.

Ultimately, the story felt a little unfinished - again, I'm a big-picture girl. I like to have an idea of where the characters are going to end up, or how they're going to live their lives now that they've resolved their issues, and I didn't feel like I got that with Catch and Release. The story definitely indicates that Polly learns life is still worth living - but doing what? I wanted to know what Polly felt about doing with her future - what did she want to do now? What had she learned? What were her new dreams and motivations? The novel lacks this, and thus the ending felt abrupt.

That being said, the writing style is sleek and evocative - the style of writing is actually what attracted me to the novel in the first place. Woolston creates a wonderful sense of setting and environment as Odd and Polly explore new fishing grounds.

As it is - Catch and Release is a pretty good example of a book that is by no means terrible, but simply isn't to my taste. The writing is excellent, and the character-building (at least on Polly's part) is subtle and clever. That being said - focused, introspective character pieces aren't my particular cup of tea. But that doesn't mean it can't be yours - read below.

Blythe Woolston very generously provided me with an extra copy of Catch and Release to give away to a lucky reader! To enter, simply comment below on where you'd like to take a roadtrip - or if you've already had a bitchin' roadtrip, what was the most interesting part? Contest is international and open until Sunday, May 27th, so go crazy!

Or, if you're weird and you'd rather pay to read Catch and Release, you can purchase it here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"A Gentleman Undone," by Cecilia Grant

The Chick: Lydia Slaughter. A former brothel worker who is now the kept woman of a wealthy gentleman.
The Rub: Lydia knows the shelf-life of a mistress isn't particularly long - so she hopes to earn her independence using her card counting skills on careless, privileged gentlemen.
Dream Casting: Laura Carmichael.

The Dude: William Blackshear. Having returned alive from the war, despite paying a high price, he feels responsible for providing for the widow of a man who died under his command.
The Rub: The only way he can earn the money he needs in enough time is by gambling - until a cunning little cardsharp fleeces him of 180 pounds.
Dream Casting: Rob James-Collier.

The Plot:
Lydia: I need to win money at cards!

Will: What a coincidence! So do I!

Lydia: Too bad, so sad. *fleeces*


Lydia: I didn't cheat, I'm just smarter than you!

Will: I FIND THAT INSANELY ATTRACTIVE. And yet I must be honourable!

Lydia: Wow, yeah, I'm totally smarter than you.


Lydia: This isn't even a contest anymore.

Will: ...I'm sorry. I just think your brain is such a big, sexy organ!

Lydia: It's just too bad that you ... *takes off Will's pants* Never mind. It's clear we both have very big sexy organs.

Will and Lydia: *SexyTimes*


Lydia: Seriously?! It's a good thing I can't have kids because that kind of thinking shouldn't be passed down.

Will: Fine! I'll delope!

Lydia: Look at you and your smart decisions!


Romance Convention Checklist:
2 Dark Pasts
1 Ho Fo' No Show
2,700 Pounds
Several Packs of Cards
1 Dependent Widow
1 Not-Altogether-An-Evil-Fellow Protector
1 Duel
1 Staunch BFF
1 Mistress-Winning Game of Billiards
2 Ho Besties
1 Erotic Swath of Purple Sarcenet
NO Barren Baby Epilogues! (YES!)

The Word: There have often been times where I've picked up a book and it's wowed me - with its original story, or the beauty of its prose, or the passion and romance of its characters - but when I go to pick up the author's second book, the excitement and discovery are gone. The writing is stilted. In some cases, the first book did one or two things so incredibly well, that I ignored what the author did poorly, so that when I read the second book, all I notice are the things that I don't like.

But, to cut short this Ryan-Seacrest-esque suspense, it did not happen with Cecilia Grant.

Cecilia Grant floored with me with her debut novel, A Lady Awakened, a stunningly-written and deeply romantic tale about a rigidly controlled widow and a feckless charmer who find love and self-improvement with each other. I adored this book, so when Grant offered to send me a copy of A Gentleman Undone, I replied very positively in writing - but in reality I was probably performing a very immature display of "gimme gimme" grabby hands.

Our heroine, Lydia Slaughter, is the well-kept mistress of a wealthy gentleman who rescued her from a brothel. However, as a staunch realist, she knows her life of privilege is extremely limited - especially since Roanoke, her protector, failed (or intentionally declined) to bind their arrangement with a contractual promise of a settlement once they part ways. Her solution, so far, has been to accompany her protector to his genteel gaming clubs and play his cards after he dozes off, skimming the winnings. 2,000 pounds is her goal - a hefty sum that, once invested, will provide her with a modest annual independence for life.

Will Blackshear (the brother of A Lady Awakened's Martha) is employing a similar scheme - deeply scarred by his experiences and actions in the war, he hopes to acquire enough capital through gambling to settle a moral debt with the widow of one of his men. He's doing fairly well for himself until he goes up against Lydia and loses a hundred and eighty pounds. Thinking she cheated, he confronts her, only to discover something else entirely: Lydia is a mathematical genius with a photographic memory and a deft hand shuffling and dealing cards.

When Roanoke's clubmates start objecting to the impropriety of letting his mistress gamble, Lydia has to find an alternate plan. Will and Lydia decide to secretly team up and satisfy their mutual goals by taking on the seedier gaming hells together.

Following in the exalted footsteps of Loretta Chase and Rose Lerner, Cecilia Grant creates a marvellous, damaged, unconventional and sympathetic courtesan heroine with Lydia Slaughter. She enjoys sex - a lot (moreover, she enjoys sex with Roanoke, the romantic rival! Gasp!), but she's more proud of her prodigious talent with numbers and probabilities, a talent she's kept hidden until Will arrives.

Initially, Will is entranced by Lydia's mathematical skill, and Lydia is attracted to the novelty of a man admiring her head more than what's below it. Despite believing that his actions in the war have ultimately cost him his soul, Will is a deeply honourable man who tries very hard to live by his principles - while he desires Lydia, he doesn't want to join the throng of men who've misused her.

Lydia, meanwhile, has a boatload of reasons to distrust the flimsy hypocritical idea of a man's honour, and this causes a delightful and sexy cat-and-mouse game between the protagonists as each one schemes to reveal the other's vulnerabilities first. Because of this, the physical relationship between the protagonists takes a back seat to their mental and emotional development together, much like in A Lady Awakened. Although, I will tell you - it is totally worth it when they do get together.

There is, honestly, so much to love about this novel. The writing is gorgeous, evocative and lush. The characters and their actions and reactions are well-realized and genuine. This novel is unabashedly romantic while still maintaining the rough edges and small disappointments of realism, instead of tidily tying everything up with a pretty fantasy bow, the way some romances do. This isn't a novel where everyone except the Bad Guys loves and accepts the heroine unconditionally. This isn't a novel where the hero has a dark past that turns out to be an Angsty Misunderstanding. This isn't a novel where one of the protagonists turns out to be the long-lost progeny of a Duke and inherits a million pounds.

A Gentleman Undone is romance in its purest form - two interesting, intelligent, damaged, human characters who lead the reader on a beautiful journey to discover just how well their broken edges match. The world doesn't change to fit them, but their love gives them the strength to fit into the world. And I loved every page of it.

You can purchase A Gentleman Undone here!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Weekly Wanting (7)

Hey readers! Sorry about the lack of a Wanting last week. To be perfectly honest, I hadn't come across any books that particularly interested me that week, so I did without a post.

This has been an exciting week. I've been preparing for Book Expo America. Commissioned gorgeous business cards, scheduled hair and um, eyebrow appointments, shopped for new clothes, printed my Broadway tickets and hotel and flight confirmations, bought some new clothes and with the help of band-aids, I've been breaking in my newest pair of pretty sandals.

But this is definitely an event I'm going to as a reader and a blogger instead of an author. On the author front, I'm kind of at a crossroads. When it comes to writing non-fiction, like commentaries and reviews, I love it. I look forward to it. It makes me happy. However, when it comes to actual fiction - I've always wanted to write a novel. And I have good story ideas. But whenever I think about writing fiction, I stop. I'll do anything to hold off having to do it. I'd rather read some books. I'd rather surf through Tumblr. I'd rather clean my house. And aren't writers supposed to want to write? To be excited?

Like, I even reorganized my bookshelves - although, let's be honest, I love organizing my bookshelves:
I used to just stack all my books vertically, thinking it saved space, but really, horizontally is the way to go - they're easier to access and it just looks better.

But back on topic: writing fiction. I've started and stopped a lot of novels. To date, I've only finished two - and only one of those got through more than a first draft (The Duke of Snow and Apples). But when I actually decide to stop writing fiction and just focus on reading and my blog, I get another good idea. Life is hard. NaNoWriMo helped a lot, actually, so even though it's the end of May, I'll try to get back in that groove. In the words of Chris Baty: "The first step in writing a good book: giving yourself permission to write a bad book."

It's weird. I talk to a lot of authors on Twitter and I keep wondering how can they do it? How can they write so much in one day, actual coherent stuff that regularly gets published, and still have jobs and lives? I mean, when I was younger (and still to some extent today), I think of the incredibly magical and talented works of authors like Cathrynne Valente and Elizabeth Bear and just assume they live very odd and unconventional lives - like they live in elaborate eco-friendly treehouses and write with owl-feather pens and own retired racehorses and whatnot. So of course it's very jarring to see them Tweeting about how their fridge broke down or the latest episode of The Bachelor

The best I can do is keep writing, I suppose, although at this point it's more like digging through a giant mountain of poop hoping to find gold somewhere. But enough of my weekly ramblings! What books am I excited for this week?

The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones
Genre: Historical, Paranormal, Comedy of Manners
Cover Snark: I really wouldn't invite anyone before I'd had a chance to decorate, either.
The Story: While a landed gentry family is throwing a classy dinner party, a train derails nearby and they're forced to accommodate the (gasp!) lower-class survivors. Also, ghosts.
Why I Want It: I loves me some period pieces. Comedies of manners even more so. And with a recommendation from The Booksmugglers? Sold! On that note:

The Outcast, by Sadie Jones
Genre: Historical fiction
Cover Snark: Everyone loves hugs!
 The Story: A boy returns to his home after a prison sentence, unravelling a number of dark secrets about his community, his family, and his mother's disappearance.
Why I Want It? Just reading the description from The Booksmuggler's review of Uninvited Guests sounded like something I'd definitely like. Historical period, dark family secrets, in England? Yes please!

Breaking Beautiful, by Jennifer Shaw Wolf
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Cover Snark: Ooh! Nice shoes!
The Story: After surviving a car accident that killed her popular boyfriend, our protagonist is forced to remember and confront the fact that their relationship was abusive, as well as rebuild her life with the friends she left behind.
Why I Want It? It sounds like an interesting story, particularly about a girl dating the town's most popular and well-liked guy, only to come to terms with the fact that he was a monster while the town is mourning his death. I honestly forgot where I read the great review for this. I think I'll have to take better notes in the future.

And that's it! What are you looking forward to reading? Also, any writing advice for burnout?

Monday, May 14, 2012

"The River King," by Alice Hoffman

The Protagonists:

Carlin Leander: A scholarship student at Hadden school. Dirt poor. Befriends August Pierce, but also catches the attention of Harry McKenna, the school's golden boy.

Betsy Chase: Hadden's newest instructor who is also housemother over the house where Carlin lives. Engaged to history professor Eric Herman. Longs for security and safety.

Abel Grey: A town detective who sees a chance to move past his brother's suicide by proving a local drowning victim didn't take his own life.

The Secondary Cast: 

August Pierce: A bullied outcast who refuses to kowtow to Hadden School's student hierarchy - with tragic results.

Helen Davis: An elderly, dying professor whose youthful mistakes created consequences that last to this day, but perhaps there's still time to earn forgiveness.

Joey Tosh: Abel's best friend from childhood - although both are detectives, Abel soon learns that Joey's priorities are vastly different.

Eric Herman: A professor of history and a DISGUSTINGLY SELF-ABSORBED TROLL. Betsy's fiance. Also a total jerkwad.

Harry McKenna: Hadden School's most popular boy - and also an entitled, sadistic sociopath.

The Word: I love Alice Hoffman.

So you already know this is going to be a more or less positive review. If anything, it's probably going to end up as an analysis. This is a definitely a book that took some time to figure out, which is why I love reviewing. The process of writing the review helped me understand the themes and why this book needed to hurt this much to read.

The town of Hadden, Massachusetts, has always been divided between the town and the School - specifically, the Hadden School, a prestigious and exclusive boarding academy. A century's worth of resentment has stewed between the moneyed privilege of the school and its faculty and the lower-class residents of the town who serve its students. Despite the animosity, Town and School have existed in a twisted symbiotic relationship with dark roots that have remained mostly hidden.

That is, until a rebellious, tormented Hadden student is found drowned in the river. The school is all too eager to label the death a suicide and move on - the boy wasn't wealthy, important, or particularly well-liked by either students or faculty. However, town detective Abel Grey, haunted by the memories of his brother's suicide as a teen, is unwilling to leave the case alone. And as it turns out, he's not the only one unwilling to forget: Carlin Leander, a scholarship student who befriended the victim, is riddled with guilt for choosing the popular crowd over him. Betsy Chase, the school's newest photography instructor, learns that the security that comes with the prestige of the Hadden School comes with a moral price. Helen Davis, a bitter, proud old Hadden prof, is reminded of her own moral failings.

However, this isn't a mystery novel. In fact, this novel both frustrated and fascinated me in terms of its narrative payoff. I'll help you out of your expectations right now - the story isn't about how a murderer is brought to justice or how a corrupt system is exposed. Rather, it's about how justice isn't served, about how a person - in fact, a whole bunch of people - directly and indirectly responsible for a person's death aren't caught out. In truth, the story is about how the few people who did care about that poor drowned boy come to terms with their own moralities and beliefs in the face of a system that doesn't care.

While this all sounds so deep and literary, at the same time, I wanted the bad guys to suffer. I wanted them to be punished. I wanted the truth to be revealed to everybody. And that doesn't happen. A form of retribution is enacted on the ultimate ringleader, but it seems paltry in comparison to what he did.

While that's not pleasant, it's sadly realistic. While there were many small, personal moments of victory and joy for our protagonists, ultimately, The River King is not a happy story. Sometimes the truth will not out. Sometimes a boy drowns and both a town and a school, both of which think they are superior to the other, are willing to turn their backs on him for their own personal gain.

However, while this was a thoughtful, engrossing read, it wasn't a perfect one. I thought the plot itself was unfocused and meandering, and at times was stretched too thin between too many different people. While Hoffman is normally a pro at creating rich, full characters out of brief asides and anecdotes, Betsy Chase remained a peculiarly underdeveloped character. I never really understood her motivations or her role in the story other than as someone who continually refuses Abel's advances because she's scared of love, and even that subplot seemed to resolve itself too suddenly.

But that's the thing about Alice Hoffman's writing - it's full of sudden character turns and miraculous occurrences and magical realism. Sometimes it works as all the best fairy-tale stories do, and sometimes it just seems too good to be true. Still, even in The River King it works more often than not.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks," by E. Lockhart

The Protagonist: Frankie Landau-Banks. A sophomore at the prestigious and expensive Alabaster Academy who gains the attention of a popular high school senior and his friends.
Her Angst: She loves her senior boyfriend - but she loves his circle of manfriends and their super-secret manclub just as much. Can she somehow prove she is worthy of their Old Boy respect?

 The Secondary Cast:

Matthew Livingston: The heir to a massive newspaper fortune and Alabaster's arguably most popular senior, he asks Frankie out at the start of the year and is soon her boyfriend. However, are still parts of his life he won't share with her - like his super-secret no-girls-allowed club - the Loyal Order of Basset Hounds.

Alessandro Tesorieri, a.k.a. "Alpha": The social top-dog of Alabaster until his mother's financial problems forced him into public school for a year. Now back on a scholarship, he and Matthew uneasily share the leadership of the Loyal Order of Basset Hounds.

Trish: Frankie's chill roommate. Her boyfriend in the AV club has the keys to the school, so she's well connected. Would rather bake with her mom than hang out with the guys.

Porter: A junior member of the Basset Hounds, and Frankie's cheating ex-boyfriend. Not altogether a wholly terrible guy, though.

Zada: Frankie's older sister. Attends Berkeley. Gives good advice over the phone.

Angst Checklist:
  • Gender Roles
  • White Male Privilege
  • Socially-Relevant Pranks
  • My Boyfriend Won't Take Me Seriously
  • E-Mail Hacking
  • Ambition
  • The Glass Ceiling
  • Self-Worth
  • The Irritating Tendency to a Meet Ridiculously Hot Guy Right After Committing To A Slightly Less-Hot Guy
The Word: The story really starts with a pair of boobs.

Or rather, what happens when socially-invisible Frankie Landau-Banks grows a Pair of Boobs before returning to her exclusive boarding school, Alabaster Academy, for her sophomore year. She quickly catches the eye of campus golden boy Matthew Livingston, a senior, and the two start dating. She comes to appreciate the status and the camaraderie that comes from hanging with Matthew and his privileged friends - particularly Alpha, a boy who continues to dominate Alabaster's social scene despite having to return for his senior year as a scholarship student.

As the daughter of an Alabaster alum, Frankie's aware of the school's uber-secret society known as the Loyal Order of Basset Hounds, a cloak-and-dagger Old Boys club dedicated to pranking the student body while in school and providing a Rich White Male Support Network to its members after graduation. Even after Frankie finds out that both Matthew and Alpha are members (and that Alpha is, in fact, their de facto leader), they continue to leave her out of the loop - for unlike the rest of the school, the Basset Club has remained strictly boys-only.

That is, until Frankie winds up finding the Basset Club's long-lost chronicle/Bible/strategy guide, The Disreputable History. Worried that Matthew might be underestimating her true worth (and fearful of being cut off from his social circle as a result), Frankie sets out to impress him by secretly infiltrating the club (through truly brilliant means!), using the tips set out in the History to return the Loyal Order of Basset Hounds to its former glory.

What (pleasantly) surprised me the most about this book was, well, the complete lack of a romance. A love triangle seems inevitable in the earlier chapters since Matthew and Alpha easily fit into the romantic triangle tropes - the "Normal" One who is Too Good To Be True, and Is Thus Doomed (Matthew); and the "Bad Boy" Underdog With A Dark, Sexy Past (Alpha).

But this book isn't about romance - despite how the plot emerges through the heroine's desire to impress her boyfriend, it's not about getting the guy. It's not even about being One of the Guys - it's about Frankie's growing ambition to Be A Girl Who Can Be Taken Seriously While Hanging With Guys. This book will crawl into your brain and make you rethink male-female interactions, and how frustrating it can be to be a Girl who likes "Girl Stuff" when "Girl Stuff" is continually viewed as less important by the opposite sex.

And Frankie's a great character. She's smart and ambitious and not entirely likable and still very young - just 15, and hanging out with 17- and 18-year-old guys. While she genuinely likes Matthew, her proximity to his lifestyle only hammers it home how little she truly fits in with his Old Boy group, and how little she's expected to fit in, because she's only a girl, a girlfriend, a detachable accessory who can be easily cast aside, forgotten and replaced. Through her relationship with Matthew, Frankie's motivations evolve from wanting to please and impress him to wanting to outwit him, to surprise him, to prove that she cannot and will not be forgotten. Frankie even starts to develop these feelings for Alpha, since, as a slightly smarter knife in the drawer than Matthew, he represents more of a challenge.

As for the writing style, it's highly entertaining, if a little over-stylistic. We have a very chatty omniscient narrator who generally follows Frankie's POV but will happily scurry all over the place, breaking the fourth wall every now and again. The narrative tends to jump forward and backward in time a lot and change focus on a dime, which can take some getting used to.

Most importantly, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks made me think, both during and after I read it. It made me think about gender politics, about women, about "girl stuff," about whether girls should try and adapt to fit the "man's world," try to beat guys at their own "man's world," or actually take a chance and try to show people there's a bigger world out there with more than one worthy gender in it. A thoughtful, intelligent and entertaining read with a stellar heroine.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Never Love a Lawman," by Jo Goodman

The Chick: Rachel Bailey. A seamstress living in Reidsville, Colorado, who's perfectly content to hide from her past and live an unconnected, private existence.
The Rub: Her quiet existence screeches to a halt when she learns a recently deceased man from her past has bequeathed the town's livelihood to her - but only if she marries the Sheriff.
Dream Casting: Maggie Gyllenhaal.

The Dude: Sheriff Wyatt Cooper. The quiet and exceedingly observant bachelor lawman of Reidsville, who was hired by Clinton Maddox to protect Reidsville's newest inhabitant, Rachel Bailey.
The Rub: When that protection calls for marriage, Wyatt's all in - but can he convince Rachel his reasons for marrying her are more than mere duty?
Dream Casting: Timothy Olyphant.

The Plot:

Rachel: OMG why is everyone in this town just so helpful and considerate? How's a girl supposed to hold on to her Dark Angsty Secrets?

Wyatt: Did somebody say secretssssss?

Rachel: I did not. And now I will engage you in a 3-page conversation in which I reveal nothing about my secret pain - except with my eyes. *angsty eyes*

Wyatt: I will have a similar conversation with you in which I secretly learn everything about you because I have super-smart detective eyes. *detective eyes* BTW, your old sugar daddy says you have to marry me or the town will die out.

Rachel: Wait, what?

Wyatt: Only he's not your sugar daddy! He's your dad's friend and you're on the run from his slimy grandson who had inappropriate designs on you!

Rachel: WTF?!

Wyatt: You think I wouldn't notice? You were throwing me those purdy on-the-run-from-slimy-grandson-and-his-inappropriate-designs-eyes at me all damn day!

Rachel: CURSES!

Wyatt: Watch me brilliantly solve a bank robbery because I'm a genius!

Bank Robbers: Watch me shoot you because you're an idiot!

Wyatt: *shot* Crap.

Rachel: Guess I'll nurse you back to health.

Random Townies: By the way, the Creepy Grandson found out you were here and is on his way!

Wyatt: Sweetie, I got this.

Rachel: No, I got this.

Random Psychotic Accountant: No, I GOT THIS. *kills Evil Grandson*

Wyatt and Rachel: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist
1 Heroine on the Run
Several Batches of Biscuits
1 Sexy Deputy
1 Unpleasant Stalker
1 Very Specific Will
1 73-Mile-Long Railroad Spur
2 Bank Robbers
1 Dose of Opium
2 Cattle Rustlers
1 Sassy Ho
1 Nice But Incredibly Vulnerable Ho
1 Crazy Repressed Accountant

The Word: Yup, another skimmer. I did make it all the way to the end of this book out of respect for Jo Goodman (whose books I love), but by page 290 I decided to focus on dialogue and not much else.

I'm beginning to think that TBR Impatience is behind the sudden ease with which I can do away with books that don't hold my interest tightly enough - I just have so many other books to read that there's simply no time to waste on books that aren't interesting.

And, sorry to say, but Never Love a Lawman didn't measure up. Don't get me wrong, this novel had a lot of good parts, but all in all, they never really added up to good enough.

Rachel Bailey has been working as a seamstress in the small Colorado mining town of Reidsville for about fifteen months after Very Bad Things forced her to leave her hometown of Sacramento, California. She's intensely private and defensive, and thus unsurprisingly has few real friends, although half the men in town are mad for her, including but not limited to the town's Sheriff of Many Talents, Wyatt Cooper.

Our Sheriff of Many Talents approaches Rachel to let her know that her Mysterious Wealthy Benefactor, railroad baron Clinton Maddox, has died. He then reveals that Maddox hired him to protect Rachel from More Very Bad Things, and now that he's dead, his last testament will do it for him. Clinton Maddox bequeathed to Rachel half of all the shares in the town's mine and the "Spur" (a 73-mile-long stretch of railroad that connects Denver to Reidsville) - if she marries Wyatt Cooper, Sheriff of Many Talents, One of Which is Protecting Ladies. If she doesn't say "I do," all that swag goes to Maddox's dastardly grandson Foster, the same man who forced Rachel to flee Sacramento.

Foster Maddox is a Villain with a capital V, and Rachel knows he'd be too busy Stalking and Harassing Innocent Ladies to keep the Spur open - and if the Spur goes, so will the town's  connection to the outside commercial world of Denver, turning Reidsville into a ghost town. Very reluctantly, she agrees to marry Wyatt, but it will be a legal marriage only and must be kept secret.

And we all know how well that works in romance novels.

The main reason I didn't engage with this story as much as other Goodman novels is that for whatever reason, I couldn't get invested in the struggles of Lawman's wordy-yet-opaque protagonists, Wyatt and Rachel. Jo Goodman's romances are traditionally very slow-paced, with lots of dialogue and normally, these elements make her novels slow, sumptuous treats. When her characters are unrealistic or unapproachable, Goodman's book becomes a slog.

Such is the case here. We have two intensely private characters who guard their secrets like pirate treasure - including from the reader. Rachel does it because she's on the run (although, for a Jo Goodman heroine, her backstory is surprisingly light), and Wyatt keeps all his cards close to the vest because it allows him to better observe people. The thing is, they spend so much time hiding and obscuring who they are and exchanging endlessly evasive banter that doesn't reveal anything about themselves, that I never really felt like I was getting to know them. Even their trademark Goodman dialogue (oh WOW so much dialogue) seemed coy and gimmicky - these are definitely people who prefer to talk around, rather than about, their problems. Because of that, I felt distant from them and from their romance.

There are some good points. Jo Goodman has a deft hand with the well-developed settings - in this case, perhaps too developed. Did I need to learn that much about gold mining and railroad politics? I did not. The scenes where Wyatt solves crimes and performs his duties as sheriff are electric (including the best scene in the novel, were Wyatt unwittingly walks into a crime in progress and discreetly backs out and arranges for backup and firepower before the criminals realize they've been made).

As it is, that's all lovely frosting on a cake that's nothing special. Never Love a Lawman has a great setting, some good action scenes, and lots of dialogue, but without extraordinary characters to empathize with, what's the point?

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Weekly Wanting (6)

It's that time again! Sorry for the lateness - I went to see The Avengers (pretty good) and then spent the rest of the day with the fams.

I finished reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and I reviewed it for The Green Man Review - I'll be sure to link it once it's live!

As for the Wanting, I only have one book this week:

Genre: Fantasy
Story: In a fantasy world based on ancient Egypt, a group of people can harvest the magical power of people's dreams and use them to heal - and also to take out potential threast.
Why I Want It: Lots of reasons - the fact that I've loved her first two books to death (and can't wait to read the third). Also good reviews across the board.

Short and sweet, folks. Did you guys like The Avengers? What are you looking forward to reading?

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Rock It Like a Booksale

I love booksales.

I really, really do. My public library holds the about once every quarter, and they're usually a fantastic grab bag of awesome. Paperbacks (including trades!) are a dollar. Hardcovers are two dollars. The fun is free.

Of course, it being a library booksale, it is kind of a mixed bag. How many books one may take away from it depends on what's out there. The last time I was there, I only picked up one book (David Levithan's Wide Awake).

Today I picked up thirteen. Honestly, both the romance and the YA sections were amazing. The general fiction was, eh, kinda small this year but otherwise no complaints. I managed to drag these babies home with me, having only spent $14.00 total. Now I have a giant stack on my floor that I am simultaneously proud and terrified of. Terrified in the sense of - holy shit where am I going to find the time to read all these?

Anyhoo, my haul this time around:

  • Going Bovine, by Libba Bray
  • Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks, by Lauren Myracle (the second Myracle book I've acquired - I found Bliss at the second hand book store!)
  • Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George
  • Peaches, by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  • Leviathan, by Scott Westerfield
  • Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta
  • Last Night's Scandal, by Loretta Chase
  • The Lady Most Likely, by Eloisa James, Julia Quinn, and Connie Brockway
  • This Perfect Kiss, by Christie Ridgway
  • Scandal of the Year, by Laura Lee Guhrke
  • Red Heart of Jade, by Marjorie M. Liu
  • Flawless, by Carrie Lofty
General Fiction
  •  The Girl With No Shadow, Joanne Harris
So, uh, I guess if you need me ... I'll be madly reading.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The April Round-Up

Whoo-hoo! I actually made it to 700 posts!

Yes, I think I can safely say that I've regained my reading and blogging groove. I'll admit I hit kind of a slow patch for, oh, pretty much all of 2011, but now that I've (almost) weaned myself off of Tumblr, carved a regular reading time back into my day, and reorganized my blog, I'm hitting my stride.

So I'm back to doing my Monthly Round-Ups! Albeit with a more streamlined format than before. No Picks or Duds this month, either - too many books with a similar grade.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth. YA, Dystopian. B+
Pros: Interesting worldbuilding. Tough heroine. Human drama in a futuristic setting. Cons: Slow pacing. Sudden "Mwahahaha!" Evil Villain Master Plan. 

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, by Erin McCahan. YA, Contemporary. B+
Pros: Increasingly layered storytelling. Bright, bubbly heroine. Great voice. Cons: Worst Mom Ever. A little cutesy.

Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta. YA, Contemporary. B+
Pros: Fascinating mystery. Yummy hero. Fantastic supporting characters. Weepy ending. Cons: First fifty pages are remarkably frustrating. Most of the adults in the story are STONE COLD JERKS, y'all.

Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear. Fantasy. B+
Pros: Unique worldbuilding. Great characters. Even greater lady characters. Cons: Some contrived plot points. Unclear goals. Romance seemed a little tacked on.

Not That Kind of Girl, by Siobhan Vivian. YA, Contemporary. B
Pros: Multifaceted female characters, excellent message and theme. Cons: Heroine is a bit of a bitchface - that's the point. But still. Bitchface.

Storm Glass, by Maria V. Snyder. YA, Fantasy. C, but really a DNF.
Pros: Layered heroine, solid worldbuilding. Cons: Useless love interests. Too many stories at once. Really boring after about halfway through.

Accessible Love Stories, Anthology Review. Romance, Contemporary. C-
Pros: Three okay stories, one good one. Cons: One seriously wanky pretentious story, and one ABSOLUTE SINGULARITY OF LITERARY FAIL.

Undressed, by Kristina Cook. Romance, Historical. C-
Pros: Surprisingly nuanced depiction of alcoholism. Cons: Everything else. "Scotland rules, England drools" mentality. Dumbass heroine. Cartoonish use of child abduction plot.  

Dark Lover, by J.R. Ward. Romance, Paranormal. C-
Pros: Well, it's certainly entertaining. Cons: The way watching a dude run into a glass door is entertaining.

Scoundrel's Kiss, by Carrie Lofty. Romance, Historical. DNF
Pros: Good description and use of setting.  Cons: Boring! Inconsistent themes. Annoying heroine. Super boring. Lifeless action scenes. Did I mention boring?

Tempted by His Kiss, by Tracy Anne Warren. Romance, Historical. DNF.
Pros: Um, competent English? Cons: Completely unoriginal characters and plot. Heroine with no sense of boundaries. Weird almost date-rape scene. Cutesy prepackaged sequel bait family members.