Prisoner of Love by Beverly Jenkins

18898429Kansas, 1884
Abandoned by her husband, Elizabeth Franklin is struggling to keep up with the chores on her 60-acre farm. Desperate to stay in the only home she ever loved, the resourceful Elizabeth agrees to marry a prisoner, Jordan Yancey – an arrangement that will set him free while affording her the farm help that she so urgently needs. But what Elizabeth never expects is that this former prisoner will arouse the kind of passion and desire she’s only heard about and capture her instead…

Jordan Yancey would do anything to get out of prison, and the arrangement with the pretty, but prim Elizabeth seems like a good bet – his freedom for a little farm work, and a wife on paper. He never imagines that his pretend bride will become the most magnificent woman he’s ever met…and that his sensuous little ‘jailer’ will be the one to free his heart…

Review:

I needed a quick hit of romance and stumbled upon this Jenkins novella at the library. A marriage of convenience historical set in the American West? Yes, please!

Jenkins usually writes novels in the 385-page range and it shows – there’s a lot of story considering the two digit page count. The conflicts are resolved quickly and easily with a single conversation. Elizabeth warms up to Jordan quickly, which is a bit hard to swallow because he was a convict when she married him.

In fact, the plot is so minimal that the story ventures into porn-without-plot territory. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind – the love scenes are great! – it’s just not what I expected.

Her writing and historical chops are on fine display, so fans of Jenkins’ other historicals will enjoy this quick hit of romance. If you’re looking for an un-rushed story, though, you may want to try one of her longer titles like Breathless or Night Hawk.

Everneath by Brodi Ashton (Everneath #1)

9413044Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now she’s returned—to her old life, her family, her boyfriend—before she’s banished back to the underworld . . . this time forever. She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can’t find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack, the person most devastated by her disappearance—and the one person she loves more than anything. But there’s just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to take over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he’ll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.

Review:

Complicated feelings about this one.

The good:

  • A mythology-based story that I don’t want to throw against the wall! This is super rare.
  • The plot was pretty interesting, and the world has been thought out. Things stay pretty consistent… but are not sufficient. More on that below.
  • I like love triangles in general (don’t hate!) and this one is particularly well balanced. The good guy/bad guy roles are stereotypical (high school football star vs rock musician dressed in black) but the affection each has for Nikki shines through.

The not-so-good:

  • While the world is thought out I had a bunch of niggles and questions that aren’t addressed. If Feeding fuels an Everliving for 100 years, why does Cole feel so drained within a year of topping up? It seems like everyone Feeds at the same time so all kinds of Everlivings on the Surface, as well as the people they Feed on, disappear from Earth at once. Wouldn’t that sudden spate of missing persons cases get noticed? What is the point of letting Forfeits return for an arbitrary six months? And so on.
  • On a similar note, the characters’ motivations are muddled or unclear.
  • The book could have done with a better edit. It felt like people jumped around in their actions – like someone sitting is somehow lying in bed half a page later. I didn’t spend time dissecting but it was still there.
  • The writing didn’t get in the way but it didn’t add anything to the story, either. The prose is simple, even for YA.
  • Each section starts off mentioning not only a time reference (good as the plot bounces around) but also a wholly unnecessary place reference. From chapter nine:

NOW
My bedroom. Four months left.

“Time’s flying for you, Nik.” Cole was sitting in the darkest corner of my bedroom….

  • I don’t remember a single person of color or minority character of any sort. It’s set in Utah so my hopes weren’t high, but still.

I don’t see myself continuing the series as the jacket copy for the next two books tells me pretty much everything I want to know plot-wise. I would like to read Ashton in another context, and am excited to see she’s one of the authors of My Lady Jane. It’s currently on hold at my library, so hopefully it’ll arrive before too long….

The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

Translated by Ros Schwartz

29501558Working at a job he hates, Guylain Vignolles has but one pleasure in life. Sitting on the 6.27 train each day, Guylain reads aloud. It’s this release of words into the world that starts our hero on a journey that will finally bring meaning into his life. For one morning, Guylain discovers the diary of a lonely young woman: Julie, who feels as lost in the world as he does.

This is a tale bursting with larger-than-life characters, each of whom touches Guylain’s life for the better. This captivating novel is a warm, funny fable about literature’s power to uplift even the most downtrodden of lives.

Review:

A friend lent me a hard copy of this book saying, “It’s a fun read, I think you’ll like it!  You could probably blow through it in an afternoon.”

And I totally could have but no, I had to be cute about it.  I read it on the train home after we parted.  I put random moments at home towards it, as it’s hard to fit a paper book in my work bag.  A huge chunk of my reading time is on my commute so my progress suffered, and this ‘afternoon read’ took over a month to complete.

First things first – it’s not the book’s fault.  Didierlaurent weaves a charming story that reminded me in some ways of The Red Notebook.  I like the way details are unspooled over time and the characters kept me interested.  The pages of text Guylain reads on the train may have been the best parts.  In a way that was frustrating – why wasn’t the whole book written like that? – but the contrast sets off differences nicely so I can’t complain too much.

The whole thing feels a little thin when stretched out over weeks but it would have been perfect on a lazy weekend.  So if you’re in the mood for charming with a side of ‘book on books’ give this a go – and set some quality time aside for it so you don’t end up like me.

Filthy Beautiful Lies by Kendall Ryan (Filthy Beautiful Lies #1)

The jacket copy is misleading (the hero is not that cold or calculating), but here goes:

29412025I have no idea why she auctioned off her virginity for a cool mill. Regardless, I’m now the proud new owner of a perfectly intact hymen. A lot of good that will do me. I have certain tastes, certain sexual proclivities. My cock is a bit more discriminatory than most. And training a virgin takes finesse and patience – both of which I lack.

Sophie Evans has been backed into a corner. With her sister’s life hanging in the balance, the only choice is to claw her way out, even if that means selling her virginity to the highest bidder at an exclusive erotic club. When Colton Drake takes her home, she quickly learns nothing is as it seems with this beautifully troubled man. Being with him poses challenges she never expected, and pushes her to want things she never anticipated.

First things first – this is not a 300 page book. Sure, the print copy has that many pages, but the margins are generous to say the least.  On my ereader it felt like 150 pages. And to top it off, this is only half a story, ending in a cliffhanger. Not a ‘oo, one problem solved, another arises’ cliffhanger, but a ‘oo, things are finally getting interesting… whad’ya mean I’m at 100%?!?’ cliffhanger. Gah.

I originally picked it up because I like romance that pushes the envelope, and I wanted to see how a hero and heroine who “meet” at an auction can fall in love. I thought it would be heavy with BDSM but there are only overtones of power exchange. Sophie has good reasons to sell her virginity (to pay for sister’s cancer treatment), and Drake has reasons of his own for hiring her for six months. While the setup is a recipe for non-con or dubious consent sex the couple takes things slow, and Drake is loathe to take something that is not freely given. In that way the avant garde-ness of the plot fades out rather quickly.

The emotional arc is realistic, especially with Sophie. She’s understandably timid to start and takes time to get used to the situation, and when she does she’s good about asking for things she wants and communicating with Drake. He’s a bit more cagey, especially where past relationships are concerned, but there is no Big Misunderstanding.

Most of the action takes places in LA, with the secondary characters being shallow people in designer clothes whose only worries involve who is dating whom. The only way I can tell Drake’s brothers apart is that one is more explicit about the tail he chases, and the other women with speaking lines are his former or wannabe paramours. I didn’t notice a single person of color or other minority character.

So, is the book enjoyable? Hard to say, seeing that this volume only covers half of the story. ~fume~ I will be reading on, if only to see what happens to the main couple, so we’ll see.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (Wolves of Mercy Falls #1)

24538654For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf–her wolf–is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human–or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Review:

I’ve gotten out of the habit of reading urban fantasy which is a shame because I love it.  I found this ranking of Best Urban Fantasy and was surprised to see that I’ve read 23 of the top 100, go me!  Shiver wasn’t far from the top and I recognized the author so I’d thought it would be a good place to start.

I like that werewolves are tied to the seasons instead of the moon, and Stiefvater’s writing is solid.  But it turns out that, at that moment, I wasn’t in the mood for reading YA.  My mind drifted off, thinking about the different ways parents are disposed of so high schoolers can do what needs doing, how sleeping in the same bed kind of non-romantically is a thing, and how you can see the collateral damage from a mile away.

The world building is good and the story is fine, but I didn’t fall in love with it.  I won’t be continuing the series but I will take a look at Stiefvater’s other work.  I guess The Raven Boys would be the best place to start?

Watching the English by Kate Fox

Synopsis:

288448In Watching the English anthropologist Kate Fox takes a revealing look at the quirks, habits and foibles of the English people. She puts the English national character under her anthropological microscope, and finds a strange and fascinating culture, governed by complex sets of unspoken rules and byzantine codes of behaviour. The rules of weather-speak. The ironic-gnome rule. The reflex apology rule. The paranoid-pantomime rule. Class indicators and class anxiety tests. The money-talk taboo and many more …Through a mixture of anthropological analysis and her own unorthodox experiments (using herself as a reluctant guinea-pig), Kate Fox discovers what these unwritten behaviour codes tell us about Englishness.

Review:

I’ve met a lot of Brits here in Japan so I thought I would learn what makes them tick. I feel empowered in a way – I now know how to order at a pub and properly “moan” about the weather.

But oh, the quibbles.

  • The book feels looooong. It’s not (only) due to the page count, but because Fox ends each chapter with a summary. I get that she’s doing the “tell him what you’re going to tell him, tell him, tell him what you told him” thing but it feels like blatant rehashing. The conclusion at the end of the book would have been enough.
  • “Liminal” seems to pop up twice a page. Ditto “dis-ease”. There isn’t any difference between unease and dis-ease, right? It was a cute visual joke the first time but grated after that.
  • Woah, there’s a lot here about class. It was interesting in short bursts but some sections never seem to end. Names were used as stand ins for lower and upper class teenagers – Darren and Chantelle, Jamie and Saskia – and for the life of me I could never remember which was which. To my American ear it’s two normal guy names and two uncommon girl names, so… yeah. I guess I fail that test.
  • If most of the class comparisons were between working and upper classes I may have been able to deal with it, but the fine differences between lower-middle, middle-middle, and upper-middle were a bit much for me.
  • Even though it took me a long time to get through the book repeated phrases and jokes kept jumping out at me. “The English have satire instead of revolutions” is great the first time, but by the fourth I’m rolling my eyes.

As much as I learned I’m glad to have this one behind me.

Managed by Kristen Callihan (VIP #2)

30325011I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I was upgraded to first class on my flight to London.

That is until HE sat next to me. Gabriel Scott: handsome as sin, cold as ice. Nothing and no one gets to him. Ever. He’s a legend in his own right, the manager of the biggest rock band in the world, and an arrogant ass who looks down his nose at me.

I thought I’d give him hell for one, long flight. I didn’t expect to like him. I didn’t expect to want him. But the biggest surprise? He wants me too. Only in a way I didn’t see coming.

Review:

Much like the previous book Idol, the romance in Managed is sweet and comforting. It wraps you in a big fluffy blanket, brings you a cup of tea, and says yes, love is this awesome. Go ahead, roll around in it. Enjoy the warm fuzzies.

One of the many things I love is that the relationship between Gabriel and Sophie is stripped down to its core. They’re attracted to each other, but for a variety of (good!) reasons, they’re not acting on it. Instead of the common “I can’t love you because I’m damaged!” it’s “I think I’m falling in love with you but that doesn’t work well considering the situation we’re in, and I respect you too much to force myself on you.” As a result what could easily be an instalust storyline fits into a friends-to-lovers paradigm. It’s also the longest and perhaps most delicious slow burn I’ve ever read.

Callihan keeps that burn going by masterfully playing with the tension, using small events as release valves to both blow off steam and show us that these two people are hot for each other and the status quo won’t last forever.

And the banter! Gabriel’s British-ness highlights his dry and wry humor, and the American Sophie gives as good as she gets.

“Seriously, you look grumpy even for you. Who pissed you off?” I grin at him. “Do I have to break some skulls?”

He finally huffs out a small laugh, his shoulders easing a fraction. “I can see it now, you nipping at someone’s ankle like an angry Pomeranian.”

“So you’re familiar with my methods.”

There are bigger themes beyond the romance – found family, loyalty, and what it means to be wealthy not only with money but also with friends and time. There is so much to love here. The first 85% of the book was a solid four star read for me.

But then. An ex introduced earlier stirs up trouble, just as you expected. Then there’s a Big Misunderstanding that drives me bonkers. I know that the couple needs some adversity to reach a satisfying happily ever after, but does it have to be so inane? I pushed through but it killed off all those warm fuzzies.

A moment of silence for the fuzzies.

While the ending is unfortunate I truly loved the vast majority of this book, and it will be a go-to comfort read when I need a literary hug. A big recommend to lovers of slow burns.

The Laws of Medicine by Siddhartha Mukherjee

25409816Over a decade ago, when Siddhartha Mukherjee was a young, exhausted, and isolated medical resident, he discovered a book that would forever change the way he understood the medical profession. The book, The Youngest Science, forced Dr. Mukherjee to ask himself an urgent, fundamental question: Is medicine a “science”? Sciences must have laws—statements of truth based on repeated experiments that describe some universal attribute of nature. But does medicine have laws like other sciences?

Dr. Mukherjee has spent his career pondering this question—a question that would ultimately produce some of most serious thinking he would do around the tenets of his discipline—culminating in The Laws of Medicine. In this important treatise, he investigates the most perplexing and illuminating cases of his career that ultimately led him to identify the three key principles that govern medicine.

Review:

I’ve been meaning to read Mukherjee for a while now, especially considering how highly regarded Emperor of all Maladies is. That tome is 571 pages, though, so I thought The Laws of Medicine would be a better introduction.

And straight off I can tell you that I like his writing and his style.  He neither dumbs down examples nor overexplains details.  I want to read more… especially because this book is so short.

Clocking in at under 100 pages, it introduces the three laws of medicine Mukherjee devised.  One is more aimed at research than clinical practice, and one is dead obvious to anyone who has studied medicine (even this lowly interpreter) but they’re still good points and worthy of the attention.

What hurts the most for me is that book could have been longer.  The idea of laws could be better explored, corollaries proposed and debated, and exceptions that prove the rule gone over.  As it stands the information is sufficient but not satisfying.

I listened to the audiobook and like the reader and the way it is produced.  Having the author read the introduction is always a nice touch.

While I liked The Laws of Medicine it didn’t affect me as much as What Doctors Feel and other medical non-fiction does.  But that’s okay – I’m viewing it as a tantalizing preview of Mukherjee’s longer, more in-depth work.  Onward!

Coffee Boy by Austin Chant

32146161After graduation, Kieran expected to go straight into a career of flipping burgers—only to be offered the internship of his dreams at a political campaign. But the pressure of being an out trans man in the workplace quickly sucks the joy out of things, as does Seth, the humorless campaign strategist who watches his every move.

Soon, the only upside to the job is that Seth has a painful crush on their painfully straight boss, and Kieran has a front row seat to the drama. But when Seth proves to be as respectful and supportive as he is prickly, Kieran develops an awkward crush of his own—one which Seth is far too prim and proper to ever reciprocate.

Review:

With this book I realized I have a new wheelhouse, a genre I can’t get enough of.  I’m still testing the edges to see how broad this love goes but for now I’m calling it own voices BTQIA* romance, as in LGBTQIA* without the L and G.  Don’t get me wrong, I like lesbian and gay romance! It just doesn’t thrill me as much as the rest of the acronym and who knows, I may be adding or dropping parts as I read more widely.  Let’s break it down as it stands:

own voices – fiction “about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group” (definition by the person who started the hashtag, Corinne Duyvis)
B – bisexual
T – trans
Q – (gender)queer
I – intersex
A – asexual
* – other gender and sexual identities not covered above

Coffee Boy is own voices, trans romance.  Kieran is an out trans man that runs into difficulties because he doesn’t quite pass.  His hair is long and curly, and his looks scramble the brains of his new coworkers.

“Kieran, you are the administrative intern, aren’t you?”

“That’s me.”

“Oh, that’s so funny.” Marie beams.  “Marcus thought you were a boy.”…

“He wasn’t wrong.”

We watch Kieran as he manages this new space and crushes on his boss, Seth.  Seth’s heart belongs to another, though, and the romance is watching the pair realize that love is right there in front of them.  The plot and page count match wonderfully, and while I was sad to see the story end it’s a sweet finish that left me smiling.

Along the way we see what it’s like to move through the world as someone that’s transgender.  Kiernan faces different issues depending on where he is and what the world expects of him.  We see how hurtful clueless people can be, as well as how allies can misplace their efforts.  We also see what good communication regarding gender looks like, often from Seth.  He asks the right questions, respectful questions, and accepts the answers calmly and completely.  Because when someone tells you who he is, you listen, you know?

While reading I thought the narrative would have been better served in the first person, with Kiernan being the I.  But then I realized – doing that would strip the text of the all important pronouns.  The reader needs to hear Kiernan being called he and him so the misplaced ‘she’ has all the impact it should.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed Coffee Boy and in the process found a writer and publisher (NineStar Press) to follow in my new-found wheelhouse.  Huzzah!

The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry (Charlotte and Thomas Pitt #1)

11639032While the Ellison girls were out paying calls and drinking tea like proper Victorian ladies, a maid in their household was strangled to death. — The quiet and young Inspector Pitt investigates the scene and finds no one above suspicion. As his intense questioning causes many a composed facade to crumble, Pitt finds himself curiously drawn to pretty Charlotte Ellison. Yet, a romance between a society girl and so unsuitable a suitor was impossible in the midst of a murder.

Review:

I’ve been on the lookout for a series I can dig my teeth into and the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries may be it.

The good:

  • I have a thing for historical mysteries, and is there any better time or place for them than Jack the Ripper’s London?
  • Perry doesn’t assume that the reader knows all the history and social mores of the time and weaves in explanations unobtrusively. We learn about Victorian gender roles, class, marriage, crime, and more.
  • All of the characters, from our heroine on down to the maid, are well developed. Everyone has strengths and flaws without being too over the top. This allows the narrative to be carried by the polite conversations of the time without bogging down or getting boring.
  • Feminism, we haz it. Charlotte questions of the ways of the world and tries to point out flaws and contradictions to the people around her. It feels good. But…

The so-so:

  • Holy crap, there’s a lot of gaslighting. It’s for the most part women being told their wrong, they didn’t see what they thought they saw, they overreacted, that things aren’t really that bad. It’s true to the time period, I’m sure, and Inspector Pitt balances it out a tad, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing.

The not-so-good:

  • The book does take some time to get into. It doesn’t bother me so much, especially at the beginning of a long series like this one, but if you like to be gripped from the first page you may want to look elsewhere.
  • The romance is slight but still feels rushed, especially considering how little time the two characters spend together.

I’m looking forward to continuing Charlotte and Pitt’s adventures and watching them develop over, lessee… ~searches~ …30+ books. Woah.