The Best Kind of Trouble by Lauren Dane (Hurley Boys #1)

Synopsis:

18688614A librarian in the small town of Hood River, Natalie Clayton’s world is very nearly perfect. After a turbulent childhood and her once-wild ways, life is now under control. But trouble has a way of turning up unexpectedly—especially in the tall, charismatically sexy form of Paddy Hurley…. And Paddy is the kind of trouble that Natalie has a taste for. Even after years of the rock and roll lifestyle, Paddy never forgot the two wickedly hot weeks he once shared with Natalie. Now he wants more… even if it means tempting Natalie and her iron-grip control. But there’s a fine line between well-behaved and misbehaved—and the only compromise is between the sheets!

Review: I liked this book in spite of myself. Contemporary (ick) with basically no kink (boo), our heroine has a stalker-esque father (grah) and lots of issues to deal with (ugh). She (re)meets rock star Paddy, sparks fly, etc. What I liked most about this book is that our heroine acts rationally and sanely throughout. She knows she has issues, she deals with them. Her best friend offers guidance. She learns from her mistakes and works to make things right. While there is a Big Misunderstanding it didn’t piss me off as much as usual because of the way the hero fixed things afterwards. Another like – best friend Tuesday is a person of color but it’s not hounded on, or even said in so many words. It’s revealed in pieces, and some people may even get through the book without realizing it (though I have a hard time imagining that). Throughout the book the characters are people before they’re a collection of features and that’s awesome. If I were into contemporaries I would probably give this four stars – a great read for a long flight.

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The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata

Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker

Synopsis:

13752Go is a game of strategy in which two players attempt to surround each other’s black or white stones. Simple in its fundamentals, infinitely complex in its execution, Go is an essential expression of the Japanese spirit. And in his fictional chronicle of a match played between a revered and heretofore invincible Master and a younger and more modern challenger, Yasunari Kawabata captured the moment in which the immutable traditions of imperial Japan met the onslaught of the twentieth century.

Review:

Every time I read a Japanese book in translation I’m racked with guilt. My inner critic asks, why aren’t you reading it in the original? You translate, you know how it can completely change the feel of a text. Stop being so lazy!

For this book, I tell myself, the story is more important than the exact language. Continue reading “The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata”

In the City by Colette Brooks

Synopsis:

89844What kind of person is a city person?

This is a question of increasing importance, Colette Brooks suggests, as the city begins to spread, inexorably, into the furthest reaches of the modern mind. One possibility: a city person is someone “who doesn’t feel the need to finish a jigsaw puzzle, who relishes jagged edges and orphaned curves, stray bits of data, stories parsed from sentences half overheard on the streets.”

Someone who is willing, sometimes eager, to immerse herself in mystery.

Winner of the PEN/Jerard Fund Award, In the City is an idiosyncratic, lyrical, edgy exploration of the urban experience. This daring, unpredictable work breathes new life into the nonfiction form. Chronicling the often haphazard lives of city dwellers and cities themselves, In the City is a window into the urban psyche.

Review:

How does someone become a city person? Here’s one way Brooks thinks it may start: Continue reading “In the City by Colette Brooks”

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (Cruel Beauty #1)

Synopsis:

15839984Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom – all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected.  As she searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

Review:

Arrrgh, this book. One of my Goodreads groups chose it as a book of the month so I had high hopes. While the beginning was very blunt and jarring I became interested when Nyx started exploring the castle. It felt like a mini Night Circus, with each door opening up into a different world. A ballroom that turns into a pool of water dotted with floating lights. Libraries that rain on the inside. A room like the bottom of a large, dry well. The setting kept me interested.

But the more I learned about the heroine the more questions I had. Continue reading “Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (Cruel Beauty #1)”

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (Sorcerer Royal #1)

Synopsis:

sorcerer_front mech.inddAt his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, freed slave, eminently proficient magician, and Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers—one of the most respected organizations throughout all of Britain—ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up.

But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

Review:

This book has so much going for it I shall make a list.

The good:

  • It’s set in Regency England, with the amazing language and politicking that go with.
  • A healthy dose of reality. Sounds weird to say that about a fantasy novel, but look:

She spent a full half-minute considering whether she might pass herself off as a man: it would be so very convenient! But she gave up the notion with a sigh.

It might serve for a time, but i could not sustain it for long; indeed I would not wish to. I must make as good a fist of being female as I can….

  • Zacharaias and Prunella, though very different, are natural allies. Zacharaias has had to deal with all kinds of nastiness for being a “native” and black so he understands why Prunella, as a woman, resorts to the methods available to her.
  • At one point Prunella walks into the figurative lion’s den without realizing what she is doing. Visions of the dreaded “too stupid to live” and damsel in distress tropes floated before me but neither was realized. In fact she does a great job of saving herself, and off-screen to boot. You never doubt or question it, for she is that awesome.
  • Diversity and feminism. Need I say more.

The not-as-good:

  • The characters felt a little under-developed, but it feels like grasping at straws. An amazing, wonderful read.

Tracks by Robyn Davidson

Synopsis:

78895Robyn Davidson’s opens the memoir of her perilous journey across 1,700 miles of hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog for company with the following words: “I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.”

Enduring sweltering heat, fending off poisonous snakes and lecherous men, chasing her camels when they get skittish and nursing them when they are injured, Davidson emerges as an extraordinarily courageous heroine driven by a love of Australia’s landscape, an empathy for its indigenous people, and a willingness to cast away the trappings of her former identity. Tracks is the compelling, candid story of her odyssey of discovery and transformation.

“An unforgettably powerful book.”—Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

Now with a new postscript by Robyn Davidson.

Review:

Many travelogs are obsessive – here’s everything I did to prepare, here’s all the worries and fears I had, here’s a day by day account of what happened. Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country covers Australia in this way to great effect.

Tracks is nothing like that. You get dropped along with Davidson to a remote post and follow her as she scrapes together everything she needs to cross the Outback by camel. The first part of the book feels frenzied and unsettled, and while it may not be on purpose it serves the crazy time she had in Alice Springs. As the journey finally gets underway you can feel her slip into the ways of the desert and come into her true self through the more solid and considered writing style.

Davidson wrote this book two years after the journey and it provides her just the right amount of perspective and hindsight. A postscript written thirty years later is a fitting digestif and addresses some concerns I had while reading the book, first and foremost being “how the heck did they make this into a movie?!” Davidson writes:

First [my journey] was hijacked by my own book, then by Rick’s photographs, and any day now, by a film that will have almost nothing to do with ‘what really happened’.

Ahhh. Skipping that movie, then.

If you like being led on an adventure, if you’d like to learn something about the Outback, or if you’d like a reminder that nearly anyone can do anything as long as they don’t give up, this is the book for you.

Heart of Honor by Kat Martin (Heart #1)

Synopsis:

500980Krista Hart, publisher of the weekly London ladies’ gazette Heart to Heart, is not afraid to speak her mind. Even on such unpopular issues as social reform – risking her reputation and her very safety – Krista will not be intimidated, although she knows full well she is the target of angry opposition for her outspoken views.

When she encounters a powerful Viking descendant imprisoned as a local sideshow attraction, Krista angrily demands his release. Although she tells herself that freeing Leif Draugr is simply the right thing to do, she can’t deny being attracted to the fierce Nordic chieftain, especially after her father transforms him into a “proper” English gentleman.

But as anonymous threats against Krista become more and more aggressive, it is Leif who must face the unseen enemies desperate to silence her, even as they push her closer into the embrace of a warrior prepared to do whatever it takes to make her his.

Review:

As an American living abroad and a person that married into a different culture I was looking forward to seeing how Martin dealt with culture shock and the mixing of different worlds in a relationship. The answer: horribly.

Our hero Leif doesn’t speak a lick of English but is fluent in the matter of months. After he learns he apparently never speaks his native language to Krista again, even though she is one of the few people that can converse in it. Or maybe he does – there were several times in the text we are told Leif is speaking Norse when I thought he was still rambling on in English. And the times he does speak in Norse his expressions are simpler and less nuanced, even though it’s his mother tongue. What?

I’ve had a run of Alpha Assholes lately, and Leif is right up there. The gods have determined that we need to be together, so I’m going to kidnap you and put you through hell, because love… even though I never really think about love, oddly enough.

The plot sags, characters’ motivation is muddied or nonexistent, and too many times I was left thinking, “Wait, what? Why?!” I was hoping for much more.

All Involved by Ryan Gattis

Synopsis:

22756871In 1991, a black man named Rodney King was severely beaten by multiple white police officers after a high-speed car chase that ended in a suburb of Los Angeles, an event that might have escaped the eyes of the American public had a witness not videotaped it from his balcony. The officers were taken to court, but eventually acquitted, and thus spawned the 1992 Los Angeles Riots: six days of looting, arson, assault, and murder that spread from South Central LA into the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and only stopped after soldiers from the National Guard were called in as backup for the overwhelmed and vilified LAPD.

But on the streets of the South Central neighbourhood of Lynwood, the story played out differently than on the national news. In All Involved, Ryan Gattis weaves a narrative from the perspectives of people whose stories of the riots were never told–members of the gang underworld. Inspired by unprecedented access to the inner workings of these organizations, Gattis channels their experiences into a gritty, cinematic tale that is both shocking and devastating. Though the events of this book are fiction, every word is infused with authenticity and intimacy. Evoking the anger, the uncertainty, and the turmoil of those six days, Gattis turns Los Angeles from merely a setting to a living, breathing entity.

Review:

All Involved is set during the LA riots, but it’s not about the LA riots. If you want a detailed account covering all sides of the six day affair look elsewhere, as this is just a slice.

A juicy, engrossing, bloody slice.

When chaos broke out after the verdict in the Rodney King trial was announced some people saw it as an opportunity.

There are no rules now. None. Not with people rioting. I shiver when I realize every single cop in the city is somewhere else, and that means it’s officially hunting season on every fucking fool who ever got away with anything and damn, does this neighborhood have a long memory. I snort and take a second to appreciate the evil weight of it.

The story, told by 17 different first-person narrators, covers one thread of plot that very well could have happened. Gang members are rife, as you would expect, but there’s also a nurse, a homeless man, a firefighter. I thought things would feel fractured but it’s more like advancing the same story from a different angle. There’s no going back but now and then previous narrators reappear, allowing you to see them through another character’s eyes.

Be warned though, it’s violent. The worst is in the first chapter so if you can get through that you should be fine for the rest of the book. Gattis has faced violence in his own life and it shows in the visceral, unromanticized way death is detailed. His extensive research bases it in a gritty neighborhood that’s all too real.

I thought this book wouldn’t be for me – I was on the other coast, too young to grok the riots – but I read it in gulps while traveling. A hearty recommend if you have even a little bit of interest.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch

Synopsis:

9476292Caught up in grief after the death of her sister, Nina Sankovitch decided to stop running and start reading. For once in her life she would put all other obligations on hold and devote herself to reading a book a day: one year of magical reading in which she found joy, healing, and wisdom.

With grace and deep insight, Sankovitch weaves together poignant family memories with the unforgettable lives of the characters she reads about. She finds a lesson in each book, ultimately realizing the ability of a good story to console, inspire, and open our lives to new places and experiences. A moving story of recovery, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is also a resonant reminder of the all-encompassing power and delight of reading.

Review:

Many “stunt” memoirs are about doing a crazy, unsustainable thing – making every recipe from a huge cookbook, living to the letter of the Bible, going without or making do with.

Sankovitch makes it clear from the beginning that she will not fail. For her reading a book a day isn’t a trial, but an escape and path to healing after the loss of her sister. By giving herself permission to take a year “off” and simplify her life she finds what she was looking for… and what she was running from.

If I found this book at a different point in my life – after a profound loss of my own, say – it would have been more meaningful. I live on the other side of the world from my family and have no sisters nor kids of my own, making it hard for me to identify with much of what Sankovitch talks about. Even so I was left misty eyed repeatedly… not good when you’re reading in a restaurant. But hey, at least it wasn’t crowded.

This would be a great read for someone that’s looking to restart their life after a death of a loved one. While many works are mentioned if you’re itching for book-on-book action you’ll probably be disappointed.