Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas (The Ravenels #3)

30179647Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger.

After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught-by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain.

Review:

This book got a lot of buzz when it was announced because Gabriel is the son of Evie and Sebastian, the couple from Kleypas’ amazing Devil in Winter.  Is this one on the same level?  Not quite, but I still think it’s the best Ravenel book so far.

The good:

  • The first half of the story, our couple’s meet cute and courtship, is awesome.  I was getting ready to give the book four stars, I love it so much.
  • The whole ‘thou shalt have kids because we need an heir/it’s the thing to do/you’re a woman’ thing doesn’t even come up. Heck, Pandora doesn’t even want to get married, to start.

    She didn’t want to belong to anyone, and she especially didn’t want anyone to belong to her… she knew she would never be happy in a conventional life.

    Unconventional women for the win.

  • Prior characters are woven into the story in a way that doesn’t distract or detract from the main storyline.  Evie and Sebastian are as wonderful as I remembered, and having a department story magnate in the family proves as helpful as one would imagine.
  • Related – some minor characters reappeared, and it looks like one may get her happily ever after in the next book.  Oo.
  • Overall the book is a fast, fun read, busting me out of a reading slump.  Woot.

The neither-here-nor-there:

  • Pandora is an ‘artsy’ imaginative type, not well suited to strict rules or remembering where she left things.  She strikes me as a (loose) Anne of Green Gables type – prone to flights of fancy with strong underpinnings of smarts.  It doesn’t bother me but if you don’t like that sort of thing you’re warned.
  • Hmmm, now to think of it Gabriel is kind of a Gilbert type in a roundabout way… time to reread Anne of Green Gables!

The not-so-good:

  • Kleypas does this thing in a lot of her books where the couple gets married or is otherwise together before the 70% mark of the book, so she puts one or the other in mortal danger.  Railway accidents, attacks, it could be anything, but someone is going to have a brush with death before the end.  I have to admit, after half a dozen books I’m sick of it.  Sometimes it’s worked into the story well but here it’s more random and annoying.  Gah.
  • The cameos and throwbacks mean that characterization is a bit thin for minor characters, and I’m not sure how the book would read as a stand-alone.
  • Drago(n), who I think is a new character for this book?, is grossly underdeveloped.  His relationship with Pandora could be amazingly nuanced and deep, but instead we watch his opinion of her change after a conversation and a half.  I wanted more.

After being somewhat disappointed with the first two books in this series Devil in Spring is a nice pick me up, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn

7084361Celebrity werewolf and late-night radio host Kitty Norville prefers to be heard and not seen. So when she’s invited to testify at a Senate hearing on behalf of supernaturals, and her face gets plastered on national TV, she inherits a new set of friends, and enemies, including the vampire mistress of the city; an über-hot Brazilian were-jaguar; and a Bible-thumping senator who wants to expose Kitty as a monster. Kitty quickly learns that in this city of dirty politicians and backstabbing pundits, everyone’s itching for a fight.

Review:

A nice continuation of the unconventional urban fantasy started in Kitty and the Midnight Hour. A non-dominant werewolf without a pack, Kitty gets called to testify in Congressional hearings regarding the recently outed supernatural community.

The good:

  • Kitty’s one-on-one conversations with anyone. Vaughn does an amazing job writing exchanges that are believable and thought provoking and oh-so-real. From weirdos that call into to her radio show to Congressional testimony, I loved every dialog.
  • Sex-positivity. Kitty has a lover in this book, someone who she’ll keep as a fond memory but won’t become a regular in the series. There’s no angst about having sex with an incredibly hot guy, no hard feelings about the fling, and most importantly zero guilt about the entire situation. This is normal for guys in urban fantasy but far few women get the same chance. You go, girl!
  • Everyone is well characterized and interesting. I look forward to meeting even the most minor characters in future books.
  • I’ve watched more Congressional hearings than I would care to recently, so it’s obvious to see that Vaughn has done her research. She even touched on a nitpicky point I thought would get trampled. Nice.

The not-so-good:

  • As good as Vaughn is at characterization and dialog, “big bad” fight scenes are thin and short.

A solid series that I’m looking forward to continuing… but my library doesn’t have book three! Noooooo……

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy

24399756On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man is shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of the thousands of black Americans murdered that year. His assailant runs down the street, jumps into an SUV, and vanishes, hoping to join the scores of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes.

But as soon as the case is assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shift.

Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential, but mostly ignored, American murder—a “ghettoside” killing, one young black man slaying another—and a brilliant and driven cadre of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of why murder happens in our cities—and how the epidemic of killings might yet be stopped.

Review:

I’ve made the mistake of not writing this review right away so particulars have flown out of my brain, gah. Check out Doing Dewey’s review for a more proper look but let me give you my overall impression – wow.

Leovy’s writing is outstanding and is just as amazing on audiobook as I imagine it is on the page. She weaves background and context into the story of a single murder so that we understand not just what happened in one case, but in South Central LA over the course of decades.

The only thing that gives me pause is there is a whiff of white savior narrative going on, though Leovy does her best to squash the impression. And looking at Goodreads there isn’t a single person of color (as gleaned from avatars) in the top page of reviews, which makes me wonder what I’m missing. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is going on my TBR to make sure I get another perspective.

Even so, this book – part police procedural, part court drama, part whodunit – is narrative nonfiction at its best.

Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards and Bondage #1)

34745311City girl Claudia Cade’s carefree life is plunged into chaos when a camping trip with her brother in the national forests of Northern California turns into a deadly dash for her survival. Nature photographer Shepard Olsen has resigned himself to a quiet existence, with only his dog by his side, until a woman in need of his protection shows up on his doorstep and throws his universe into disarray.

Claudia is desperate to heal from her traumatic loss, but can’t stop thinking about her run-in with evil….or the grizzled mountain man whose quick thinking and good aim saved her life. When she shows up on Shep’s doorstep again, she finds she isn’t the only one who can’t move on.

The two begin an intense, passionate relationship of Dominance and submission, pleasure and pain, but with dark memories haunting them and decisions about the future rapidly approaching, Claudia can’t help but wonder…how long can they be each other’s haven?

Review:

There is so much to love here.

  • Representation and diversity done well, written by a woman of color. I am and will forever be here for this.
  • Also – interracial romance! Huzzah!
  • While having a dominant man employing blindfolds and floggers may be a fantasy the characters are wholly based in reality. Check out our hero:

My dick isn’t a magic wand. I wasn’t going to save her. I wasn’t going to heal her with my kisses… and I sure as fuck wasn’t going to fix myself.

And some girl talk:

“I know you probably had a carrot and some champagne today and I know there’s an image [to maintain], but we are both thick women and we are beautiful that way.”

“Amen,” I say. “Extra pepperoni, please.”

  • The hero and heroine have their head on their shoulders and know what they want, even if they’re not sure how to go about getting it. Misunderstandings are one of my biggest romance pet peeves and there’s not even a whiff of a Big Mis here.
  • People have problems – you could probably say they’re “damaged” – but there’s no wallowing. It’s refreshing.
  • The story itself moves along nicely and kept my interest.

This was my first book by Weatherspoon and I’m thoroughly impressed. A recommend for erotic romance fans, even if a side of bondage isn’t usually your thing.

How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks (Love at Stake #1)

Synopsis:

263179Roman Draganesti is charming, handsome, rich…he’s also a vampire. But this vampire just lost one of his fangs sinking his teeth into something he shouldn’t have. Now he has one night to find a dentist before his natural healing abilities close the wound, leaving him a lop-sided eater for all eternity.

Things aren’t going well for Shanna Whelan, either. After witnessing a gruesome murder, she’s next on the mob’s hit list. And her career as a dentist appears to be on a downward spiral, because she’s afraid of blood. When Roman rescues her from an assassination attempt, she wonders if she’s found the one man who can keep her alive. Though the attraction between them is immediate and hot, can Shanna conquer her fear of blood to fix Roman’s fang? And if she does, what will prevent Roman from using his fangs on her?

Review:

I picked up this book on the recommendation of a friend who said it was better than the synopsis. Said synopsis: vampire loses a fang and rings up an all night dentist to have it fixed asap. When he arrives at the office the lady dentist is being shot at. He saves her, of course, and vows to protect her as the Russian vampire mafia closes in.

It was just as bad as it sounds. Continue reading “How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks (Love at Stake #1)”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Synopsis:

14891The beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

Review:

Oh man, I loved this book. It is quiet and wonderful, following the life of Francie, a poor girl in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her story is both individual and universal, as all good stories should be.

Continue reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith”

The Night Mark by Tiffany Reisz

30698729Faye Barlow is drowning. After the death of her beloved husband, Will, she cannot escape her grief and most days can barely get out of bed. But when she’s offered a job photographing South Carolina’s storied coast, she accepts. Photography, after all, is the only passion she has left.

In the quaint beach town, Faye falls in love again when she sees the crumbling yet beautiful Bride Island lighthouse and becomes obsessed with the legend surrounding The Lady of the Light—the keeper’s daughter who died in a mysterious drowning in 1921. Like a moth to a flame, Faye is drawn to the lighthouse for reasons she can’t explain. While visiting it one night, she is struck by a rogue wave and a force impossible to resist drags Faye into the past—and into a love story that is not her own.

Review:

If you like time slip romances The Night Mark is a good entry point into Reisz’s work.  The historical elements are well researched and, barring a couple of short info dumps, well presented.  The writing is good and the characters are fully developed, from top to bottom.  Props for all kinds of presentation (POC, deaf, gay) with nods to what that means in different points in time.  Reisz doesn’t ignore inconvenient parts of history, and I wish more authors did the same.

That being said this standalone lacks the extra oomph I love in the rest of her books.  While the characters feel real the relationships between them are a bit lacking.  Some are distant, some are short, and some are with people who died long (or not so long) ago.  Many characters feel like islands – well connected to neighbors with bridges and tunnels and waterways, but islands all the same.

I’m glad Reisz is expanding the genres she writes in and hope this book will get her more mainstream attention, but it didn’t quite hit the spot with me.

Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville #1)

14461Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station – and a werewolf in the closet. Her new late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged is a raging success, but it’s Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf-hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew?

Review:

When I read the first book of a long series I’m not looking for perfection – I’m looking to be drawn in. Kitty and the Midnight Hour does just that.

Kick-ass heroines are a time-honored trope in urban fantasy and Kitty is not one of them. She’s at the bottom of the supernatural pecking order and it’s refreshing. I’m used to seeing pack politics from the top down, but here we get a look from the bottom up. What is life like for the weakest members of a pack? What is it like to be the protected instead of doing the protector? Some reviewers see it as a weakness – how dare the heroine not be strong from day one! – but it allows her to develop as a person and hopefully avoid the power-up trap many series fall into.

Speaking of development, the characterization is on point and deep for everyone from Kitty down to the guests on her radio show. While some parts of the plot don’t strike me as believable – weres are outed and accepted in society too quickly for my taste – the characters always ring true. I can’t wait to meet them again in book two.

Give this a go if you’re in the mood for fun urban fantasy that colors outside the lines.

Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic’s Life by Alice Childress

28186071First published in Paul Robeson’s newspaper, Freedom, and composed of a series of conversations between Mildred, a black domestic, and her friend Marge, Like One of the Family is a wry, incisive portrait of working women in Harlem in the 1950’s. Rippling with satire and humor, Mildred’s outspoken accounts vividly capture her white employers’ complacency and condescension—and their startled reactions to a maid who speaks her mind and refuses to exchange dignity for pay.

Upon publication the book sparked a critique of working conditions, laying the groundwork for the contemporary domestic worker movement. Although she was critically praised, Childress’s uncompromising politics and unflinching depictions of racism, classism, and sexism relegated her to the fringe of American literature. Like One of the Family has been long overlooked, but this new edition, featuring a foreword by best-selling author Roxane Gay, will introduce Childress to a new generation.

Review:

This collection of vignettes is a joy.

Marge, I sure am glad that you are my friend… No, I do  not want to borrow anything or ask any favors and I wish you’d stop bein’ suspicious everytime somebody pays you a compliment.  It’s a sure sign of a distrustful nature.

Even more than the joy, though, I love the look at what it’s like to be a black domestic worker in 1950’s New York.  While the way of life is different there are other parts that are eerily familiar.  When Mildred riffs one Christmas about what peace would look like she dispenses with “no war” quickly – peace would be not being turned away from an apartment because of her race.  Peace would be not seeing signs on the subway asking for “tolerance” “regardless” of what other people are.  And,

…if nobody wanted to kill nobody else and I could pick up a newspaper and not read ’bout my folks gettin’ the short end of every stick… that would mean more peace.

How little has changed.

As Roxanne Gay says in the foreword, it’s “political without trying to manipulate the readers’ sensibilites, without ever forgetting that a novel, political or not, must first and foremost entertain.”  The short chapters go down easy and are perfect for reading on the train or at the doctor’s office.  I’m thankful that Childress wrote down the experience of this overlooked slice of society.  I’m so glad I read it.

Jacked Up by Samantha Kane (Birmingham Rebels #3)

32506423Linebacker Sam Taylor feels like a ticking time bomb. He left the army with emotional wounds as fresh as the scars on his back. Sam’s been living like a monk, but his best friend, defensive lineman King Ulupoka, wants to get him laid. Easy for him to say. The larger-than-life Samoan is a hard-bodied, tribal-tattooed fantasy. Sam agrees, under one condition: King stays to watch.

ER nurse Jane Foster is done being a good girl, and nothing says wild like picking up two of football’s sexiest players and bringing them back to your hotel room. Trouble is, she can’t decide which one she wants more. Sam is hot, sweet, and vulnerable. Jane’s more than willing to ride him into oblivion. But King’s intense gaze from across the room promises that the best is yet to come.

Sure, King has had his choice of girls and guys in the past. That doesn’t mean he’ll jeopardize his relationship with Sam over a case of locker-room lust—until a naughty nurse pushes them both out of their comfort zones. Seeing Jane and Sam together turns King on more than he ever imagined. If they’re game, he’s ready to tackle a three-way play.

This book has a lot going for it but man, its flaw is a fatal one. First,

The good:

  • The series revolves around a football team where all of the guys seem to end up in poly relationships. I am so here for this.
  • Representation is everywhere. One of the heroes is a person of color, the other is a veteran who has been scarred, literally and figuratively, by a recent deployment. In the background there’s a neurodiverse character, a female veteran in the process of recovering the ability to speak, and a couple more people of color. Excellent.
  • The sex is hot and two of the main characters are explicitly bi. It makes for a nice threesome.
  • Secondary characters are fleshed out and human, making it fun to guess who will be featured in the next book. (Nigel, please!) In fact I’d say characterization is the best thing Kane has going.

The not-good-for-me:

  • The story is much more psychological than I was expecting, especially over the first half. This isn’t a problem per ce, but part of my day job is interpreting psych counseling, so I don’t look forward to reading two full sessions in my romance. Your mileage likely varies.
  • I don’t buy all the football stuff. The wife and girlfriend dynamics don’t ring true, and some logistical things don’t quite work for me.

The no-good-at-all:

The word slut comes up over two dozen times, almost always by Jane in reference to herself. In an early scene she has a one night stand with the two heroes and, while having sex, totally enjoys it. But afterwards she cries and moans, ‘I’m a good girl, but look at what a slut I’ve become!’

It’s an understandable thought after her first experience, and another character talks her down, but Jane doesn’t let it go. Like, ever. Check out this quote from 82% in, when a friend yet again tries to talk sense into her:

“As long as everyone involved is an adult and no ones gets hurt who isn’t asking to be hurt, no harm, no foul.”

“That’s what everyone keeps saying,” Jane said miserably, turning away from Margo. “But it doesn’t feel normal. It feels like everyone is staring and pointing fingers because I’m a freakish slut who’s with two guys at the same time.”

“No one is doing that,” Margo said softly.

“I know,” Jane admitted.

She created a ton of problems by not opening her eyes to reality and continuing to believe in crazy notions without a shred of proof. ‘My job put that guy who got arrested for DUI on night shift, so heaven knows what they’re going to do to me for sleeping with two men at once!’ Seriously? Do you hear yourself?

The way this slut/bad girl language carries over into the sex also bothers me. I mean, it obviously is a triggering thought for Jane. But then there are scenes like:

He leaned over and pinned Jane’s hands above her head. “Dirty girl, you are so bad. You want to watch me get fucked? Is that what you want?”

She bit her lip and nodded with hooded eyes and flushed cheeks, looking like a sex kitten with her pretty hair spread all over the bed around her.

I just… no. No.

Despite all that I still think I’ll go back and read the previous books in the series. They’re well written, the (non-Jane) characters are interesting, and I like the direction Kane is headed in. Here’s hoping the other books are better.