Monday, June 30, 2014

The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1) I loved Marie Rutkowski's The Winner's Curse. I have to admit, I was a little hesitant after seeing the cover--I'm a sucker for gorgeous dresses, but my last experience with a book focused on such a dress (The Selection) was a bit disappointing. This one, thankfully, did not disappoint. It's smart, fast-paced, with lovely writing.

Kestrel is a general's daughter, living in a relatively newly acquired part of the empire. She chafes against the expectations for her future: marry young or become a soldier. All she really wants to do is play the piano, but music is generally considered the province of slaves and so it's not considered a possible future. On a whim, she buys a slave, Arin to work as a blacksmith on her father's estate. But Arin is unlike any slave she's ever encountered: bitter, arrogant, independent. And gradually, Kestrel finds herself falling for him--until their world is shattered by betrayal and upheaval that could change their positions forever.

The best thing I can say about this is that it reminded me of Megan Turner's Queen of Attolia: a mis-matched romance that works, despite the cruelty and antagonism at its core. I loved that the romance was a gradual build, not an insta-love, and that the world they inhabit is realistic with actual consequences (Rutkowski said in her author's note that she was inspired by the sparring city-states of ancient Greece). It's true that the reader can anticipate some of the major plot points, but I was consistently surprised (in a good way) by smaller things, and I loved both Kestrel and Arin. I also somehow missed the hype around this book, so I came at it with no expectations--generally a good thing, in my book.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Eighth Day

The Eighth Day I am a big fan of Dianne Salerni's The Caged Graves, so I was thrilled to see she had a new book out. But I very nearly put it back because the back cover made the story sound apocalyptic, and I'm not especially fond of apocalypses or dystopian. Luckily, this book is much more than that.

Jax Aubrey is an orphan, inexplicably in the care of 18-year-old Riley who can hardly take care of himself. Jax only wants to go live with his mother's cousin Naomi--that is, until he turns 13 and discovers the existence of an 8th day that only he and a handful of others experience. More intriguing, there are a group of people, the Kin, who only exist on the Eighth Day, the result of a complex spell conceived by Merlin, the Lady of the Lake, and King Arthur.

Yes, Arthur. Of course, by this point I was hooked, as I'm fascinated by the Arthurian legends. But the story is fast-paced and tense, a Jax discovers a Kin girl sheltering in the house next door, with some kind of tie to his guardian, Riley. When Jax discovers that not all the Transitioners (those who cross from seven days to the eighth day) are well-intentioned and that his dad's death might not have been an accident, he finds himself in the midst of a battle much older and more dangerous than he could have imagined.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Dear Mr. Knightley

Dear Mr. KnightleyDear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay

This novel was a pretty clear adaptation of Dear Daddy Long Legs, and while it lacked the full charm of the original (there's something about 1930s setting that gets lost in translation), it did have its own charm. Samatha Moore has survived a traumatic childhood of abandonment, foster care, and living in an orphanage. And now she has one more chance: a full scholarship to a journalism program. The only catch is that she must write regular letters to her sponsor explaining her progress, without expecting any return missives.

Sam keeps up her end of the bargain, ultimately regarding these letters as a kind of personal therapy. Through the letters, we see her struggle to connect to her emotions and live an authentic life--a challenge that nearly costs her her position in the program. She's learned to protect herself by channeling her beloved historical characters: Edmond Dante, Jane Eyre, Lizzie Bennett. But she has to learn to be herself before she can win the life she wants. Along the way she meets a host of minor characters: a young boy even more guarded than herself, an older couple who provide her a refuge, and a chance encounter with Alex Powell, an author she idolizes, leads to an unexpected friendship.

The ending was not surprising to anyone who's read the original, but it is a sweet story and I connected deeply to Sam's struggles to open up. The beginning was slow and I considered putting it down, but I'm glad I persevered, as the novel was increasingly engrossing.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Only Everything

Only Everything (True Love, #1) Only Everything, by Kieran Scott

Eros, the daughter of Aphrodite, has just been exiled from Mount Olympus--with her mother--for defying Zeus and hiding her boyfriend, Orion. Her task: make three human matches without her powers before her time runs out, or Orion will die. She enrolls in human high school, totally clueless about lots of human conventions (which suggests that she never really paid attention before). She meets Charlie, a charming drummer who's newly enrolled as well and struggling with expectations from his football coach father. With one half of a match in her sights, Eros casts around for a suitable match. Meanwhile, Katrina is struggling to recover from her father's unexpected death and to deal with her unpredictable boyfriend.

I liked both Charlie and Katrina a great deal, but I struggled to connect with Eros, who did not seem very divine (more immature and angsty). But I did come to admire her as she struggled through the task she'd been set. I never did really get the vision of her great love with Orion, and the flashbacks were my least favorite parts of the book. Overall, a cute, fast read, but not a lot of depth.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In the Shadows

In the Shadows In the Shadows, Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo

I loved this little gem of a book. In an unusual combination of text and gorgeous illustrations by Di Bartolo (husband of the fabulous Laini Taylor), this story follows a handful of teenagers in turn of the century Maine. Sisters Cora and Minnie have had an idyllic childhood, but a chance encounter with the local witch and the death of their father have changed all that. When Arthur shows up at their mother's boarding house, their mother claims him as a long-lost relative. But Arthur hides dangerous secrets about his past. Brothers Charlie and Thomas are sent to Maine for Charlie's health, and fall quickly for the sisters. But Charlie is dying and Thomas overheard a strange conversation of his father's that suggests a darker purpose for their visit. When strangers start converging on the town, dangerous secrets begin emerging.

I'll admit I didn't understand the art at the beginning, though I was intrigued. As  I read, the graphic novel added a layer of depth and intensity to the story, because it made it clear that something big, something supernatural was happening. And White's prose was  lovely edition. Romantic, gothic, eerily beautiful--I read most of this in one sitting.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman #1)Graeme Simsion's Rosie Project was a fun read. Told in first person by Don Tillman, a genetics professor in search of wife. The catch? It's clear early on that Don Tillman has some degree of Asperger's (in fact, he reminded me a lot of Sheldon from Big Bang Theory). He wants a wife because studies have shown benefits for men, but his hyper-logical approach is to create a detailed questionnaire for prospective dates to fill out. Not surprisingly, he has few takers. So when Rosie--a smoking, chronically late bar-tender who's clearly not a wife prospect--shows up with questions about her paternity, he allows himself to be side-tracked. But his carefully laid plans don't account for Rosie at all, and before long, she's unsettled his entire life.

I was initially put off by Don's voice, but I have to admit he grew on me. There is some language (esp. when Rosie shows up), but it was a cute romance.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Summer Wedding Anthology

A Timeless Romance Anthology: Summer Wedding Collection I picked this up because I love Melanie Jacobson's books--and it didn't disappoint. The stories here are clean, romantic--and united by some kind of wedding theme. My favorites were Jacobson's story about a best man and maid of honor united by wedding hijinks, Julie Wright's story about  jilted bride's revenge, and Sarah Eden's, which features a charming Englishman.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Inside Job

Inside Job Connie Willis is one of my favorite sci-fi authors: her To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of my favorite books. So I was thrilled to see a book I hadn't read of hers. And while I would agree with other reviewers that this isn't her best, it was still a fun, enjoyable read.

Rob owns and writes for the Jaundiced Eye, a professional debunking magazine. When his lovely assistant (and sole employee) Kildy brings him reports of a new psychic, he's not exactly interested--the psychics are all the same. But when Kildy drags him to a session, he's intrigued despite himself: the psychic, Ariaura, appears to be channeling one of Rob's literary icons--H.L. Mencken. And Ariaura doesn't appear to know she's doing it. Soon, Rob is convinced that Ariaura isn't clever enough to pull this off on her own--it has to have been an inside job. But who is helping her?

This was a clever combination, part mystery, part romance. And if I saw the ending coming, I still enjoyed the ride.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Date Shark

Date Shark (Date Shark, #1)Date Shark, DelSheree Gladden's first adult novel, has a cute premise: Eli is a date shark, a psychologist who gives date advice to struggling women. But when he meets Leila, he's perplexed. Not only is there no obvious reason for Leila's dating struggles, Eli is strongly drawn to her--to the point where he gives her his phone number, something he never does with clients.

For her part, Leila is also interested in Eli, but she's convinced his interest is professional/friendly. As she begins to date Luke, she finds her friendship with Eli flourishing on the side. Ultimately, she has to make a choice about what she really wants.

The story took a little for me to get into it--I couldn't understand why Leila had such a low self-esteem, when to all appearances she is lovely, intelligent, and likeable. In fact, if I had an issue with the book, it's that the characters all seem a little too good to be true. But for a clean, escapist romance, that might not be  a bad thing.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Do Not Attempt in Heels


I really loved this book. I thought it was smart, informative, honest, and useful to any LDS woman thinking of serving a mission, currently serving one, or even just curious about mission life.

However, I'm going to cheat on my review and just forward readers to the review I wrote for Segullah.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

ISWG: Feeling Fraudulent

For months I've stalked other bloggers' ISWG posts, feeling both validated and a little envious--envious mostly because I wanted to join what appeared to be an amazingly interesting and empathetic group of writers, but afraid I wouldn't quite fit in. (Some social habits acquired in high school die hard, apparently).

It took me years to get back into writing because I kept thinking, "someday I'll write my novel." I finally realized "someday" wasn't going to happen unless I started. So I did. I suppose the same is true here. If I really want to join (and I do), today is as good a day as any. Better, probably, because I've finally stopped procrastinating.

There are lots of things that I'm insecure about as a writer--but I suppose the biggest one is the feeling of fraudulence. Like I'm not actually a writer, just someone pretending (usually badly) to be one. This despite years of writing and teaching writing.

Unfortunately, it's not a new feeling either. I remember feeling the same way in graduate school, like everyone else was clearly smarter than I was. (Apparently this isn't unique, either--imposter syndrome is common among high achievers, esp. women). It was a huge relief to discover that many of the other students felt the same way. I'll never forget the day that a student I looked up to admitted that he often tended to talk more to cover up his ignorance on a topic. I thought he just knew everything!

And yet, when it comes to writing, I'm somehow secretly convinced that everyone else has figured it out--except, maybe, for my critique group, since I see them struggle with the same things I do.

I worry that someone will find out that I don't actually know what I'm doing with this character arc, that the words on the page aren't fully under my control, and revoke my author card before I've even had one issued.

And I suppose that's the real reason I admire groups like this--they remind me that these delusions are mostly in my head. We *all* struggle with writing to one degree or another (and those who don't, as Anne Lamott reminds us, are generally universally disliked).

Sometimes all I need is the reminder that I'm in good company. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy

I'm sure I've said it before: I'm a sucker for things Austen. And yet, so many of the adaptations, spin-offs, etc. fail to live up to my expectations. Sadly, I think I have to put Definitely Not Mr. Darcy in that camp.

Definitely Not Mr. DarcyThe opening was promising. 39-year-old single mother Chloe heads to England to be (she thinks) part of an Austen-inspired quiz show. Using her extensive knowledge of all things Austen, she hopes to win the prize money and save her faltering business. When she arrives, imagine her dismay to find that it's not, in fact, a quiz show, but a Regency-inspired Bachelor show, with the prize being marriage to the eligible Mr. Wrightman. Desperate for the money, she agrees--and hijinks ensue.

There were things I liked about this novel--mostly the fascinating detail about Regency life (the difficulties of using the toilet, the lack of adequate bathing facilities--she's limited to once a week--no deodorant or adequate toothpaste, etc.). But so many of the characters seemed inconsistent: servants that were her friends one moment and then chastising her the next, the on-again-off-again hero(es). Even Chloe herself was hard to make out. Sometimes she seemed sensible, funny, interesting--and then she'd do something inexplicably crazy. I also had a hard time with all her rule-breaking. For someone "desperate" to win, she sure seemed to ignore the rules (esp. the chaperone rules) whenever it seemed convenient for her, and then despaired when she was sure she would be cut from the competition for rule infraction.

So, overall mixed reaction. Fun concept, fascinating trivia, but I ultimately didn't care as much about Chloe's fate as I would have liked to.