Dance with Me by Alexis Daria (Dance Off #2)

35832887Natasha Díaz is having a day. She’s trying to prove she can make it as a professional dancer, but when she comes home to find a hole in her ceiling and her bedroom flooded, she’s desperate enough to crash with the one guy she can’t quit.

Dimitri Kovalenko has never lived with a woman before. But when Tasha’s in need of a place to stay, he suggests she move in. Since their first dance, she’s never been far from his thoughts. Sure, she’s a pro and he’s one of her show’s judges, but they’re not currently filming, so no one needs to know.

When an injury forces Natasha to take it easy or risk her ability to dance, it’s his chance to show her that the rules have changed, and she can trust him with her heart.

Review:

In one line – “I really want to love this book because it’s so good but this particular collection of tropes is working against me, gaaaaah-”

It is good.  The storyline has much more angst than the first book, though, and that’s where you start to lose me.  If you don’t mind angst and (well explained!) miscommunication this is your jam.

The good:

  • The writing is solid and little things that sometimes fall by the wayside are perfectly in place.
  • The characterization is spun out slowly and realistically, aided by the duel points of view.
  • It’s a friends-with-benefits to lovers storyline, which I haven’t seen in quite this configuration before.
  • The baddie gets her due and ooo boy is it good.
  • Dimitri’s backstory is interesting and even fun in places.  Wait until you see what his breakout movie role was, bwahahahaha. 🙂
  • I love what Daria has to say about acceptance, the importance of friends, and the different ways one can be Latina.

The not-for-me:

  • Miscommunication is rife.  There are good reasons for it but my tolerance is pretty low.
  • One of the characters is always prepared to believe the worst and it drove me a bit nuts.  ‘This awful thing will totally happen, leading to this and that which mean ruin!’ No. Please breathe and think for a sec.
  • The reality show the series is based around is in the off season so there’s none of the associated happy crazy.  I don’t usually read contemporary romance and having something a bit outside of everyday real life makes it more interesting for me.

Even though this wasn’t the best book for me it’s still an easy recommend if your tastes run counter to mine.  I’m excited that Daria has more books planned in this universe, and a f/f relationship is teased in the prologue!  Love it.

Thanks to Swerve and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

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A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King (Mary Russell #3)

93938August 1923. All is quiet in the Holmes household in Sussex as Mary Russell works on academic research while Sherlock Holmes conducts malodorous chemistry experiments. But the peace quickly disappears as out of the past comes Dorothy Ruskin, an amateur archeologist from the Holy Land, who brings the couple a lovely inlaid box with a tattered roll of stained papyrus inside. The evening following their meeting, Miss Ruskin dies in a traffic accident that Holmes and Mary soon prove was murder. But what was the motivation? Was it the little inlaid box holding the manuscript? Or the woman’s involvement in the volatile politics of the Holy Land? Or could it have been the scroll itself, a deeply troubling letter that seems to have been written by Mary Magdalene and that contains a biblical bombshell…

Review:

I love this series. It’s been two years since I’ve read the last book and everything came back quickly – the awesomeness of the characters, the interesting mysteries, the glimpses into human nature that are striking, quiet, and earned.

The mystery is good but it’s not the real reason I’m here. I mean, I enjoyed it, of course! The setup is interesting, and it’s always fun to see Holmes surprise Russell in some sort of disguise. But the whodunits aren’t why I keep coming back to the series. It’s the characters. They live and breathe, have faults and tics and ideals and tendencies. They’re people, damnit, and I want to spend more time with them.

At the end of the previous installment the relationship of Holmes and Russell goes through a major change… a change I was afraid would squick me out. I should have known King would have things well in hand, though. A gap of four years between the last book and this means that we miss any troubles our leads may have worked through, instead seeing them now as intellectual partners that have a deeper insight into each other than before.

Are they in love? You bet. But they don’t drool over each other. It’s an intellectual and emotional partnership first, with the physical aspects falling far behind. With both Holmes and Russell being analytical minds insights abound. For example, Russell notes:

An unread paper meant an unsettled mind, and to this day the sight of a fresh, folded newspaper on a polished surface brings a twinge of apprehension.

Some parts are just fun, like Holmes writing to Russell while on a train:

“I should prefer to have the patterns reflected either by your perception or Watson’s lack thereof; however, a stub of lead pencil and this unsavory length of butcher’s paper will have to suffice. (From the expressions on the faces of my compartment mates, none of them has ever before witnessed the miraculous generation of the written word. I shall attempt not to be distracted.)”

My e-library doesn’t have this book so I ended up buying a paper copy. I liked filling it with post its, but not being able to carry it around easily meant it took much longer to finish than I would like. I think it may have been a four star read if I were able to keep the momentum and get through it faster… guess I’ll have to reevaluate when I reread it. (‘Cause I’ll totally reread it!)

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande

1580804Atul Gawande explores how doctors strive to close the gap between best intentions and best performance in the face of obstacles that sometimes seem insurmountable. Gawande’s gripping stories of diligence, ingenuity, and what it means to do right by people take us to battlefield surgical tents in Iraq, to labor and delivery rooms in Boston, to a polio outbreak in India, and to malpractice courtrooms around the country. He discusses the ethical dilemmas of doctors participation in lethal injections, examines the influence of money on modern medicine, and recounts the astoundingly contentious history of hand washing. And Gawande gives us an inside look at his own life as a practicing surgeon, offering a searingly honest firsthand account of work in a field where mistakes are both unavoidable and unthinkable.

Review:

Medicine is unforgiving because every mistake could be a disaster.  Wrong prescription, wrong dose, wrong operation site, wrong treatment… any of these could kill a patient.  But how can you be error-free every time, never mind a job with so many technical details and judgement calls?

Perfection is impossible, of course, so Gawande looks at how doctors can improve their performance.  The three main sections cover diligence, doing right, and ingenuity, and while the stories are interesting only a few moments have stuck with me.  For example check out this cystic fibrosis doctor working with a teenager:

At school, new rules required her to go to the nurse for each dose of medicine during the day. So she skipped going. “It’s such a pain,” she said…. Warwick proposed a deal. Janelle would go home for a breathing treatment every day after school and get her best friend to hold her to it. She’d also keep key medications in her bag or her pocket at school and take them on her own. (“The nurse won’t let me.” “Don’t tell her,” he said, and deftly turned taking care of herself into an act of rebellion.)

Points of brilliance like this and the afterward with tips on how to become a “positive deviant” are my highlights.  Gawande’s writing is as good as ever but this isn’t as game-changing as The Checklist Manifesto. I’ll get back to you once I read Being Mortal. 😉

One Hot December by Tiffany Reisz (Men at Work #3)

29568847Never mess with a woman who carries a blowtorch in her backpack. Welder and artist Veronica “Flash” Redding’s playful sense of evil sometimes gets the better of her. Like when her insanely handsome, wealthy, suited-up boss gave her the most sensuously wicked night of her life…then dumped her. Yep, revenge is a dish best served hot.

Only Ian Asher isn’t quite letting Flash get away quite so easily. He’s not ready to forget the intensity between them. The searing heat when they touch. And the deliciously demanding control Ian wields in the bedroom. Now he has only the holidays to convince Flash that they belong together…and that even the most exquisite, broken things can be welded back together.

Review:

While I loved the first book in this series One Hot December was a so-so read for me.  The snark and fireworks I expect from Reisz are here but it’s not a solid story.

The good:

  • An own voices bisexual heroine, complete with spiky red hair and kick ass ink. Right on.
  • Flash is unapologetically strong and goes after what she wants.  As a welder at an all-male construction company she deals with a lot of crap but she gives as good as she gets.
  • The mental strain of dealing with prejudice and harassment in the workplace is explicitly covered.  Yes, Flash is doing a great job as a welder, but it saps her of the energy she needs to do her own metal art.  Changing jobs wouldn’t be giving in or giving up, it would be getting what she wants.
  • Feminism for the win.

    “He couldn’t date a professional welder when he worked as a teller at a bank.  His friends would never let him hear the end of it, he said.  He just couldn’t date a woman, no matter how hot – his words, not mine – who came off as more of a man than he did.  I said that was fine.  I didn’t want to date a guy who was less of a man than I was, either.  He called me a couple nice words after that and then he was gone.  Good riddance to him and his poor little ego.”

  • Everyone is reasonable and talks things out, from our couple to the hero’s father.  While there is a misunderstanding it’s legit and not even between the hero and heroine.
  • While Christmas is name checked and Hanukkah is a minor plot point it doesn’t feel like a “holiday romance”, which I really appreciate being agnostic myself.  And two religions mashed together in one book without feeling religious is pretty awesome.
  • Reisz’s snark is here in spades.

The not-so-good:

  • Said snark is of the shocking, no-filter variety, which isn’t everybody’s thing.
  • Flash and Ian have been lusting for each other since they met 18 months ago so we don’t see their relationship develop very much.  ‘I thought you hated me!’ ‘Nope, I love you!’ ‘Oh, good!’ ~sexy times~
  • Flash’s best friend is her downstairs neighbor, an elderly Jewish woman.  That is neat, but I don’t care for her role in the story.  Category romances often have a best friend that provides perspective and advice, but here it feels like allll advice, and of a motherly bent to boot.  I wasn’t sold on it.
  • There isn’t much of a plot.  Hero and heroine state that they’ve actually been in love all this time and… that’s about it.  I saw the misunderstanding from a hundred pages away so there was no suspense there, either.

A diverting read, but more enh than anything else.

Jackaby by William Ritter (Jackaby #1)

23003390Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Review:

I mostly enjoyed my time with Jackaby, but after coming highly recommended I was hoping for more.

The good:

  • I enjoy the time and setting, 1890s New England not being one of my usual literary destinations.
  • The story is Sherlock Holmes inspired with a paranormal element.
  • The characters were interesting and have room to grow as the series continues.
  • Even though the story is about Jackaby and his assistant there is no wiff of romance between them, huzzah!  The titular-guy-falls-for-the-new-gal trope has been way, way over done.
  • In its place there’s the hint of a romance with another character and I like where it may head.

The not-so-good:

  • While I like the setting it wasn’t evoked very well.  I could picture the inside of houses well enough but once the action headed outside I felt lost.
  • The mystery wasn’t all that mysterious.
  • There are tons of paranormal creatures but the lack of world building makes each feel like a one off.  I don’t need a taxonomy of creepy crawlies but a hint at some structure would be nice.
  • Overall the writing and characterization were thin and obvious.  It’s a common complaint I have with YA books, but there you go. ~shrug~

While I might recommend Jackaby to my niece I don’t see myself continuing the series.

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh

24510511In neurosurgery, more than in any other branch of medicine, the doctor’s oath to “do no harm” holds a bitter irony. Operations on the brain carry grave risks. Every day, leading neurosurgeon Henry Marsh must make agonizing decisions, often in the face of great urgency and uncertainty.

If you believe that brain surgery is a precise and exquisite craft, practiced by calm and detached doctors, this gripping, brutally honest account will make you think again. With astonishing compassion and candor, Marsh reveals the fierce joy of operating, the profoundly moving triumphs, the harrowing disasters, the haunting regrets, and the moments of black humor that characterize a brain surgeon’s life.

Review:

You know you’ve read a lot of medical nonfiction when you think, “This is an alright book by a neurosurgeon discussing the intricacies of brain surgery, but I’ve read better.”  (For the record I like When the Air Hits Your Brain by Frank T. Vertosick Jr. more.)

Marsh hits all the expected beats and themes – surgery that goes well despite all odds, surgery that doesn’t go well despite all efforts, kids you don’t want to see die, adults who face death with dignity. The cases are engaging and the writing solid.

But I’m not sure I get along with Marsh as a person.  He’s nearing the end of his career, which is good in that we can see how hospital conditions and doctor training have changed over time.  These changes, though, are often framed in terms of the good ol’ days and how they compare with the bad ol’ now.  For example, an anesthetist refused to do a big surgery at 4 pm because she didn’t have childcare for the evening.

“But we can’t cancel it,” I protested.  “She was cancelled once already!”

“Well I’m not doing it.” …

For a few moments I was struck dumb. I thought of how until a few years ago a problem like this would never have arisen… I envy the way in which the generation who trained me could relieve the intense stress of their work by losing their temper, at times quite outrageously, without fear of being had up for bullying and harassment.

Oh, I’m sorry that asshole-ry is no longer tolerated.  Geesh.  This doesn’t take away from the amazing work Marsh has done in his life, including humanitarian work in rural Ukraine, but neurosurgeon as god thing turns me off.

In sum the book is good but there’s better out there – check out Vertosick’s first.

Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling #1)

25578803In a world that denies emotions, where the ruling Psy punish any sign of desire, Sascha Duncan must conceal the feelings that brand her as flawed. To reveal them would be to sentence herself to the horror of “rehabilitation” – the complete psychic erasure of everything she ever was…

Both human and animal, Lucas Hunter is a changeling hungry for the very sensations the Psy disdain. After centuries of uneasy coexistence, these two races are now on the verge of war over the brutal murders of several changeling women. Lucas is determined to find the Psy killer who butchered his packmate, and Sascha is his ticket into their closely guarded society. But he soon discovers that this ice-cold Psy is very capable of passion – and that the animal in him is fascinated by her. Caught between their conflicting worlds, Lucas and Sascha must remain bound to their identities – or sacrifice everything for a taste of darkest temptation.

Review:

Singh is one of the big names in paranormal romance and while I have read from her Guild Hunter series this was my first foray into the world of Psy-Changelings. While I had no idea what I was in for I like what I found.

The Psy are Borg-like, shunning emotion and sharing a hive mind of sorts.  Uniformity and logic rule.  Changelings are were creatures that burst with emotion and sensual energy.  I see why this series is at sixteen books and counting – a romance between such opposites is a gold mine of internal conflict, and the mechanics of the world provide all the external oomph you could need.

A series opener like Slave to Sensation could be overloaded with info dumps but the romance balances out the world building nicely.  While part of me would love some more back story I’m more than willing to let it play out in the many books ahead.

As for the romance itself… it’s okay.  Lucas is sexy as all get out and respects Sascha’s professional abilities from day one, which is much appreciated.  Once the action plot kicks in, though, I got annoyed.  Any time the heroine is offered up as bad guy bait my mental alarm bells go off.  Luckily she’s not too stupid to live, and the way things went down stayed just this side of forgivable, but I’d rather it not happen in the first place.

A negative note, to be sure, but I’m excited to continue the series.  The world Singh is building holds a lot of promise and fans clamoring for volume eleven-zillion of a series can’t steer me too wrong.

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

34460584Mary Davies lives and works in Austin, Texas, as an industrial engineer. She has an orderly and productive life, a job and colleagues that she enjoys—particularly a certain adorable, intelligent, and hilarious consultant. But something is missing for Mary. When her estranged and emotionally fragile childhood friend Isabel Dwyer offers Mary a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in Bath, Mary reluctantly agrees to come along, in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes that she lives in Regency England.

Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this triangle works out their lives and hearts among a company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.

Review:

I love and respect Jane Austen as a literary figure but I have a confession to make – I haven’t read any of her books.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried! I’ve started Pride and Prejudice many times but haven’t gotten past page 30. Sigh.

That being said I love the Regency period so the idea of a “real” manor vacation is exactly my thing.  I like the way it was handled, too – technology is put into the background but not shunned all together.  A vacation spot that confiscates cell phones probably wouldn’t be popular, you know?  The days are filled with as many Regency activities as the guests can handle with chances to tap out when needed.  The pragmatism kept any nitpicking part of my brain at bay.

Even with the interesting setting the characters take center stage. People grow and change and everyone is fleshed out from the leads down to the manor maid.  While Austen is discussed a lot over the course of the story I felt like I was able to keep up.  Some references went over my head but it didn’t get in the way of the story.  Needless to say, Austen fans will have more to dig into. The writing is solid but not stylistically notable, and the plot pulled me through no problem.

The more you love (and know) Austen the more you’ll get out of The Austen Escape, but even if you’re a relative know-nothing like me you can enjoy the ride.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Curry: Eating, Reading, and Race by Naben Ruthnum

34144408By grappling with novels, recipes, travelogues, pop culture, and his own upbringing, Naben Ruthnum depicts how the distinctive taste of curry has often become maladroit shorthand for brown identity. With the sardonic wit of Gita Mehta’s Karma Cola and the refined, obsessive palette of Bill Buford’s Heat, Ruthnum sinks his teeth into the story of how the beloved flavor calcified into an aesthetic genre that limits the imaginations of writers, readers, and eaters. Following in the footsteps of Salman Rushdie’s Imaginary Homelands, Curry cracks open anew the staid narrative of an authentically Indian diasporic experience.

Review:

A deep and thoughtful look at what Ruthnum calls “currybooks”, or books of the South Asian diaspora.  Curry has adapted to the many parts of the world it has been brought to, with spices and cream added and subtracted to cater to the tastes of a particular people.  Likewise, currybooks charge form based on different factors but have nostalgia, authenticity, and the idea of getting back to one’s roots as overarching themes.

Is there a problem with these expectations in the genre?  Only that they constrain and limit the potential methods of expression for brown writers.

Ruthnum examines novels, cookbooks, movies, and touches on his own experience as the son of Mauritian immigrants.  The writing is well-done and interesting, falling more on the educational side of things than entertaining.  There’s nothing wrong with that,  but go in knowing that Curry will require (and reward) your mental effort.  My e-copy is full of highlights that I suspect I’ll be returning to as I read more books set in and by authors from this part of the world.

Great for those interested in representation, the immigrant experience, race, and how they’re expressed in literature.

Thanks to Coach House Books and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

23377543Beauty’s wealthy father loses all his money when his merchant fleet is drowned in a storm, and the family moves to a village far away. Then the old merchant hears what proves to be a false report that one of his ships had made it safe to harbor at last, and on his sad, disappointed way home again he becomes lost deep in the forest and has a terrifying encounter with a fierce Beast, who walks like a man and lives in a castle. The merchant’s life is forfeit, says the Beast, for trespass and the theft of a rose—but he will spare the old man’s life if he sends one of his daughters: “Your daughter would take no harm from me, nor from anything that lives in my lands.” When Beauty hears this story—for her father had picked the rose to bring to her—her sense of honor demands that she take up the Beast’s offer, for “cannot a Beast be tamed?”

Review:

McKinley is proving to be a “me” author.  I like her prose, I like her stories, and I fly through her books in record time.  I got through Beauty in one sitting during Dewey’s Readathon and it made for a wonderful morning.  I was surprised to see that this is McKinley’s first novel, released some 25 years before Sunshineas there’s little “hi i’m an early novel” awkwardness.

The cover says this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but I think it’s a straight up telling.  There’s nothing terribly new or exciting but the story kept me interested and engaged throughout. I was hoping that tropes would be pushed a little more than they were, though.

Case in point – early on Beauty ruefully says that for someone with her name she is rather homely looking.  Beast thinks her beautiful, though, and when she protests the point he says,

“You will find no mirrors here, for I cannot bear them: nor any quiet water in ponds.  And since I am the only one who sees you, why are you not then beautiful?”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!  Unconventional heroine!  Huzzah!  I was cheering until the end, where the castle’s magic gave her conventionally pretty looks and made her seven inches taller.  Ah, well.

I would have liked Beauty even more if I were a full on YA person, but even so it was an enjoyable ride.