The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

33815781Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist.

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about the other…

They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century–or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…

Review:

There’s a lot to like in the first half but as the book went on I got more annoyed and ended up disappointed.

The good:

  • Interracial romance written by a person of color – totally my thing.
  • Both the hero and heroine are awesome at their jobs, and there’s no throwing away of a career for the sake of love.
  • I love marriages of convenience in historical romance so this “date of convenience” is just the thing for me.
  • The banter is on point and we get to see it with different people from the couple, friends/co-workers, and family.
  • The fact that Alexa is black and Drew is white doesn’t matter to them, but there are parts of society that do notice.  Drew is clueless but Alexa points out troublesome stuff and offers a subtle education.

The neither-good-nor-bad:

  • The sex is shown through foreplay but fades to black once a condom comes out.  I like my novels more steamy; your mileage may vary.
  • I had medical nitpicks but most novels written by a non-doctor will have something off, so whatevs.

The not-so-good:

  • The amazing communication that kicks off the book devolves into a Big Misunderstanding that had me pulling my hair out.  How could two people who were so good at talking suddenly suck at it?  GAH.
  • While the first part of the book reads like a single title romance (better writing, more complicated story for its 300+ pages) as it wears on it devolves into a 200-page category romance.  Sure, there’s a few more characters and scenes but the resolution and Big Mis were a disappointment.

While The Wedding Date has a lot to like early on the resolution hurt my overall enjoyment.  The book has a lot of early buzz, though, so I may be an outlier!

Thanks to Berkley and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

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Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

33295690As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.

But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.

Review:

I like a lot about this book, so much so that it gets over my usual “enh, YA”-ness. This is no small feat, guys!

The good:

  • Everything comes together well – the plot moves at a nice clip, characters and their relationships change and grow, and you end up caring about everyone, even people you don’t necessarily like.
  • There’s loads of questioning rep.  Billie is attracted to both a guy and a girl and she wrestles with her feelings and gender identity.
  • The group of six friends is close, and guys and gals are allowed to have platonic friendships.  Billie’s best friend is a guy – so rare, so appreciated.
  • At the same time love is a big theme.  What’s the difference between friendship love and romantic love?  How about love born from a long shared history versus the fireworks of a new acquaintance?
  • Perspective shifts serve the story well and don’t turn gimmick-y.

The not-so-good:

  • Billie’s dad is a pastor and her circle of friends form the church’s youth group so religion comes into the story a bit.  I’m agnostic and shy away from scripture in my fiction but if you’re nominally Christian I doubt you’ll bat an eye.  The religious teachings aren’t pervasive, but they’re there.
  • While the plot moves well once things get going they follow the track you’d expect.  The contest later in the book is particularly anti-climatic, more of a checkbox so later events can come together as ordained.
  • As a result the end is telegraphed and, despite some action, not as satisfying as I had hoped.

If you are a fan of contemporary YA, books that follow a group of friends, and questioning/queer representation Dress Codes for Small Towns is the book for you.  I’m surprised I haven’t seen it around more – it deserves more hype.

Bad for the Boss by Talia Hibbert (Just for Him #1)

36493723Theodore Chamberlain is notorious for his razor-sharp focus, his terrifying temper, and his anti-social tendencies. What most people don’t know is that the powerful businessman is just as demanding in the bedroom as he is at the office.

So when model employee Jennifer Johnson stumbles into his life, Theo turns his infamous intensity towards a masterful seduction. The plus-sized knockout may be the office’s angel, but only Theo sees the flames simmering beneath.

Jen knows better than to risk the job she desperately needs for a relationship that can’t last. But when a threat from her dark past surfaces, Theo overturns her protests to protect her from the danger.

Review:

Is this a perfect romance?  No, not at all.  But it’s working to fix some of the ills in the genre, especially the “rich guy/younger gal” type, so I forgive it completely.  I mean, check all this out:

The good:

  • It’s an interracial romance with an Asian hero and a black heroine, written by a black woman.  I will always and forever be here for this.
  • The heroine is a large gal and Theo loves her for it.  Not qualified “even though you have curves” kind of love, but:

    Her brown skin shone luxuriously over full, luscious features, and her body curved like a country hillside beneath her plain, grey skirt suit.  She was a big girl, but that skirt was deliciously small.

  • When Theo asks about Jen’s past boyfriends she throws in that she dated a girl and he accepts it without question or drama.  Yes, she is (or maybe has in the past has identified or questioned being) bi and guess what, that’s normal! Yea!
  • The meet cute is delicious – Jen emails a friend to vent about a coworker who won’t take no for an answer, but she misclicks and sends it to Theo, a higher up at her firm instead.  She only realizes her error when she gets his funny, charming reply which boils down to, ‘Hey, that’s sexual harassment – I’ll remind him of our company policy and you can tell him to fuck off.  For good measure.’
  • All the consent, all of the time.  It’s a balm when the real world is all dumpster fire.
  • More positive modeling – Jen tells Theo that she doesn’t want to put her job at risk by dating him and he gets it.  He really gets it, to the point where he has a lawyer friend draw up a contract giving her all the info she needs to sue his ass if the relationship doesn’t end well.  He gets that there’s a power imbalance and does what he can to correct it.
  • Jen’s roomie Aria has the best advice ever.

    Now, the third and final rule is this: nothing you do during sex is bad. As long as all involved parties are wholeheartedly up for it, don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad for whatever it is you end up wanting.

    Amen.

The not so good:

  • The instalust/love is strong with this one.
  • There’s a bit of BDSM-lite that is unnecessary and jarring.  It feels like it’s thrown in so the hero seems alpha enough, or whatever, but it doesn’t fit.
  • While it’s discussed and dealt with on the page the age difference and boss/employee thing doesn’t sit right with me.
  • I’m not big on suspense and this had a big suspense-y thread most of the way through.

So while Bad for the Boss isn’t in my wheelhouse I still gobbled it up.  I’m not sure I’ll like the next book in the series (ex-con-turned-author really isn’t my thing) but I’ll be looking out for this author all the same.

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West

35656812After the death of elder statesman Lord Slane—a former prime minister of Great Britain and viceroy of India—everyone assumes that his eighty-eight-year-old widow will slowly fade away in her grief, remaining as proper, decorative, and dutiful as she has been her entire married life. But the deceptively gentle Lady Slane has other ideas. First she defies the patronizing meddling of her children and escapes to a rented house in Hampstead. There, to her offspring’s utter amazement, she revels in her new freedom, recalls her youthful ambitions, and gathers some very unsuitable companions—who reveal to her just how much she had sacrificed under the pressure of others’ expectations.

Review:

I hoped I would like this book and I did – the writing is wonderful, the story is both of its time and timeless, and the characters are lovingly drawn and realized.   What I did not expect, however, was to unsettle my husband as I read the last chapter on an airplane, wiping stray tears as I raced to finish before we landed.

“There there,” he joked as the plane taxied to the gate.  “It’s all over now.”

“Hush,” I sniffled, head down.  “Two pages to go.”


Sackville-West’s writing grabbed me from the first page. It is beautiful without being flowery and it strikes on truths with the surety of a practiced ironsmith.

They all know that nobody cares for them; that’s why they talk so loud.

Characters are fleshed out in the usual away as well as through asides that are tiny yet enlightening.

“Besides, dear Lady Slane,” said Lavinia – she had never unbent sufficiently to address her mother-in-law by any other name….

The story is about a woman who, as the wife of a politician, put her own desires aside in order to be a respectable lady that is an asset to her husband’s career.  Her children, now elderly themselves, have only seen her this way.  Now that her husband has died the offspring debate ‘what to do with mother’, not realizing that she may have plans of her own.

All Passion Spent was written almost 90 years ago but some aspects struck close to home. Women putting aside their own ambitions in order to fit more neatly into a man’s idea of them.  Women being questioned, doubted, or ignored when they are honest about how they want to spend their life.  ‘She’s old, so let’s decide this for her’, ‘she’s young, she doesn’t know her own mind, surely’, ‘she must not be a good judge of character, that guy is obviously fleecing her’, ‘she’s not acting like herself, dad’s death must’ve broken her’.  Only one daughter gets that Lady Slane is a strong soul that has finally gained some freedom and is going to do what she damn well pleases with it, thank you:

Edith alone frolicked in her mind. She thought her mother not mad, but most conspicuously sane.

I think the ending got to me as much as it did because the character work is so well done.  Lady Slane is a woman I care about, am mad on behalf of, and root for the entire novel.  And while sitting beside her as death approaches I can’t help but think about my own old age, and who I will share it with.

My point about the people I like, is not that they dwell morbidly on death, but that they keep continually a sense of what, to them, matters in life. Death, after all, is an incident. Life is an incident too. The thing I mean lies outside both.

Very nearly five stars.

Visions of Heat by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling #2)

215643Used to cold silence, Faith NightStar is suddenly being tormented by dark visions of blood and murder. A bad sign for anyone, but worse for Faith, an F-Psy with the highly sought after ability to predict the future. Then the visions show her something even more dangerous – aching need…exquisite pleasure. But the very emotions she yearns to embrace could be the end of her.

Changeling Vaughn D’Angelo can take the form of either man or jaguar, but it is his animal side that is overwhelmingly drawn to Faith. While Vaughn craves sensation and hungers to pleasure Faith in every way, desire is a danger that could snap the last threads of her sanity. And there are Psy who need Faith’s sight for their own purposes. They must keep her silenced – and keep her from Vaughn.

Review:

It’s settled – I’m all in for this series.  There’s a lot to like.

The good:

  • While the books focus on different couples there’s a strong story arc that pulls them together and advances as we go.  I love that urban fantasy and paranormal romance often are set up this way because it’s like following a favorite TV series, watching characters and events develop over a longer period of time.
  • The contrast between the touchy-feely Changelings and cerebral Psy makes for interesting conflicts.  With different species of shifters and different designations of Psy it’s easy to see why the series is going on strong over twenty books in.
  • Visions of Heat is sexy, it’s fun, it’s full of characters I’ve come to care about, and it got my mind off the real world at a time I seriously need some escapism. Excellent.

The not-so-good:

  • This is the second book in a row where a woman Psy who is cut off from her emotions is paired up with a red hot Changeling male.  Nothing wrong with it, but I’m looking forward to the trope flipping in future books.

Huzzah for finding a new series to gorge on!  I’m not the type to swallow series I love whole, though, so I’m planning to leave two months or so between books so they have room to breathe properly in my brain.  I guess paranormal romance is like fine wine. 😉

The Star King by Susan Grant (Star #1)

35805990Years ago, Air Force pilot Jas Boswell believed she met the love of her life. She shared a mesmerizing encounter with a stranger after a terrible crash. As soon as rescuers arrived, the mysterious golden-eyed man disappeared. She has spent the last two decades trying to convince herself it was all a dream…

Once heir to a galactic kingdom, Rom B’kah is captain of a starship of derelicts and smugglers. He remains haunted by the memory of the “saving angel” he met during wartime and who vanished without a trace. His loyal crew thinks he has pined for this fantasy woman long enough. Then Jas suddenly returns to him and sets their lives on a collision course with destiny…

Review:

I was hooked early on but as the story developed I lost interest and got more and more annoyed.

The good:

  • The world building early on is well done and kept me curious about what this Earth was like and who the aliens who want to visit are. The story is contained and moves at a good pace.
  • At the beginning Jas’ development as a character is realistic and interesting.  She works hard to learn an alien language from scratch and while she’s a quick study Grant lets her grasp for words and speak awkwardly.  As someone who lives and interprets in a second language learned as an adult I can totally relate.

The not-so-good:

  • Once the action moves off Earth and into space the tightness of the world and plot fall apart.  The setting is expanded tenfold with all kinds of planets and peoples and things to take in, losing what groundedness it had.
  • Jas gets an case of being too stupid to live.  Rom leaves her to wait in a hotel with all kinds of warnings – keep your hood up so people don’t realize you’re from Earth, don’t stray far, oh and here’s a bodyguard to keep you safe.  So of course Jas immediately talks to random people and accepts their invitation to go up to a remote mountain retreat because, something.  And when they give her a necklace that freaks the hell out of birds she doesn’t get suspicious, just thinks ‘ah, silly birds, scared of a benign piece of jewelry.’ Gah.
  • While early on Jas’ language acquisition is within the realm of suspendable belief later she’s all, ‘I’m picking up this completely different alien tongue just by eavesdropping on conversations for a few days’.  Maybe if she was with three year olds or something, but high-level political conversations when you don’t know the grammar or how to read it?  I call bull.
  • The hero and heroine have sex on the top of a giant snail.  For real.  It’s the sort of thing that could be amazing in a crazy way if done right but I’m not even sure why the scene is there.

If the second half were as good as the first this would be an amazing read but alas, I don’t even think I’m going to pick up the next in the series.

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

32768606Struggling to cope with urban life – and life in general – Frankie, a twenty-something artist, retreats to her family’s rural house on “turbine hill,” vacant since her grandmother’s death three years earlier. It is in this space, surrounded by countryside and wild creatures, that she can finally grapple with the chain of events that led her here-her shaky mental health, her difficult time in art school-and maybe, just maybe, regain her footing in art and life.

Review:

A Line Made by Walking is a frustrating book for me because as I’m reading I can tell the writing is amazing.  I mean, right here on page five is a passage that speaks to me and my life with an image I never would have dreamed up:

Why must I test myself? Because no one else will, not any more. Now that I am no longer a student of any kind, I must take responsibility for the furniture inside my head. I must slide new drawers into chests and attach new rollers to armchairs. I must maintain the old highboys and sideboards and whatnots. Polish, patch, dust, buff. And, from scratch, I must build new frames and appendages; I must fill the drawers and roll along.

I highlighted pages’ worth of passages even more wonderful than this.  When I’m in the book it’s beautiful, even a little haunting.  But after putting the book down it took a lot of effort to bring myself back to the page, namely because there is no plot to speak of.

Now, this is a very individual thing.  It’s one of the reasons I dive into romance and urban fantasy but have to pick my way around the edges of Booker longlists – more often than not nothing happens!  I once heard literary fiction cheekily defined as ‘white people sitting around talking’.  That isn’t true for the entire genre, of course, but it’s the part I like the least, and the part this book falls into.

If literature (with a capital L or in scare quotes, your pick) is your thing A Line Made by Walking is the book for you.  I admire the writing and the depiction of mental illness in an up close and personal way.  Baume’s descriptions of performance art sent me scurrying to the internet and YouTube to see pieces for myself.

Works about Time, I test myself: Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010. A 24-hour film, a collage of extracts from several thousand other films, the complete history of cinema. Each extract represents a minute of the day. Mostly, though not exclusively, by means of a clock face. Wherever the film is screened, it is played in sync with actual time. But I have never seen it for real. Right the way through from beginning to end. I don’t imagine many people have. Nevertheless, I love this piece. I love the idea. I love that an idea can be so powerful it doesn’t matter whether I’ve seen the artwork for real or not.

I was there for each moment of the book but the lack of direction and nothingness of the plot kept me from engaging.  A five star read for some people, but a three star read for me.

Dark Lover by J.R. Ward (Black Dagger Brotherhood #1)

Synopsis:

42899In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, there’s a deadly turf war going on between vampires and their slayers. There exists a secret band of brothers like no other – six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. Yet none of them relishes killing more than Wrath, the leader of The Black Dagger Brotherhood.

The only purebred vampire left on earth, Wrath has a score to settle with the slayers who murdered his parents centuries ago. But, when one of his most trusted fighters is killed – leaving his half-breed daughter unaware of his existence or her fate – Wrath must usher her into the world of the undead – a world of sensuality beyond her wildest dreams.

Review:

I really wanted to fall head over heels for this book, considering that I keep seeing this series again and again in paranormal “best of” lists.  While the character development is awesome there are too many things that distracted me to warrant a higher rating.

First the little stuff – this book is close to being timeless except for the pop culture references, grah. In my ebook edition one of them was slugger “Sammy Sousa”. Ahem. There were also a couple of phrases that annoyed me, like “weed out… the best”. No, you weed out the worst so the best can survive. Sigh.

The story changes focus quite often, following several characters’ stories until they merge for three minutes at the end. Speaking of – the final fight was over way too fast and had next to no suspense. I mean, the bad guy’s animals were better fighters than the actual bad guy. Disappointing.

Choices come easily to these characters but most are explained. Beth and Butch chose new lives because their previous ones were sad sack. Wrath seems to be driven by fate or what have you, and I can accept that. The rest of the brothers obviously have their own moral codes so we’ll see how their stories pan out in later books.

The Reading Year Ahead – 2018

Last year I was all about the goals and, uh, it didn’t go so well.  Let’s recap:

  • Read 36,000 pages

I counted by pages instead of books this year, hoping it would encourage me to read longer books.  But… no.  Not only did I miss the goal (31,000 pages read in 2017) but my average pages per book went down.  Eep.  Part of this is due to a huge reading slump I had late in the year so while I’m not happy I missed my goal 110 books is awesome in its own right.

  • Add at least five titles to my ongoing 20th Century list
  • Add at least five titles to my ongoing Dewey list (hopefully 10+)

No and no.  I had maybe one or two for each list.

  • Have 30%+ of my reading be by authors who are people of color or otherwise diverse

This is the one goal I rocked. 33% of books were by authors who are PoC or from other marginalized groups.  Most excellent.

One out of four goals is an awful percentage, and I’m beginning to wonder if these year-long goals are the best thing for me right now. The 20C and Dewey lists, in particular, had no bearing on what books I picked up.  Making sure at least one book in three is by a marginalized author has become ingrained but the rest has fallen by the wayside.

It’s time to shake things up.

2018 Reading Un-goals

I know they say that goals should be worded positively as something you will do, not something you will avoid. But seeing as how last year went I feel a new approach is justified.  Bring on the un-goals!

  • I will not set a hard number of books or pages to read.

I’m still going to put a number in the Goodreads challenge to give myself some kind of pace to measure by, but I will edit it whenever I start getting stressed out.

  • I will not join any challenges that dictate what books to read (with one exception).

Over the past couple of years I fell hard for group challenges on Goodreads and while they were good for me at the time they feel stifling now.  I want the freedom to read what I want without outside pressure.

This doesn’t mean I’ll be skipping out on all challenges, though!  Anything based on a time frame (Dewey’s, 24 in 48, Bout of Books, and so on) are still fair game.  You didn’t think I could give up cold turkey, did you?  I’m also working a major exception in: Reading with Style, a Goodreads group I’ve been with for over four years now.  The challenges there are more an invitation to branch out in your reading, and hopefully that will soak up any challenge-y energy I have.  Ideally RwS will be the frame my 2018 reading is built on, but we’ll see.

  • I will not update my Dewey Decimal and 20th Century lists monthly.

It doesn’t matter when I crunch the numbers so I can wait until the end of the year if I want.  Time and peace gained, no harm done.

  • I will not hold myself to these goals if they’re not working for me.

One year is a long time to stick with something I’m not happy with, so I reserve the right to revisit and change goals as I see fit.  I might want to do a personal challenge or follow a shortlist or do Nonfiction November again, and I can decide at the time if it’s working for me.  Maybe I’ll check in quarterly, maybe not – no pressure, no worries.

The one thing I haven’t touched on is my diversity goal, but it’s for a good reason – reading diversely has become second nature (yea!)  Whenever I open my read shelf on Goodreads I scan the covers, making sure at least two of the six books on the first row are by PoC and other marginalized folks. I may aim for a higher percentage in the future but for the moment this is working great.

Those are my un-goals for 2018!  Have you changed your goals drastically this year?  Which one are you most excited about?