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!)

Kokoro Button (Love Button) #1 by Maki Usami

9533185I finally stopped in a used bookstore I pass on my commute and, oh my.  Every hardcover is less than four dollars US, some paperbacks are less than a buck, and the manga.  My goodness, the manga – full sets impeccably shelved, calling to me.  And it was 10% off day.

~ded~

I browsed for an hour and settled on a nonfiction book by a 911-esque dispatcher (old habits die hard) and the first volume of Kokoro Button (ココロボタン).  In it a guy (Koga) and a girl (Kasuga) meet at high school orientation – she is smitten, but he is not looking for a relationship with anyone.  She says how about a trial period to see if we could like each other?  His reply:

You don’t know much about me yet… are you sure?

It turns out Koga-kun is a “little bit S”, or a little bit sadistic, so she doesn’t realize how loaded the question is.  She says she’s sure, and the series is off and running.

Fear not, there is no BDSM in this high school manga; in fact, it’s purely PG.  This “little bit S” is the reason I picked up the book – what does that look like?

Well, it’s basically teasing in the form of misdirection.  He’d tell her one thing, she’d get worried or upset, and he’d enjoy that reaction (there’s the S).  Then he’d say no, actually it’s this other thing, and turn into a sweet boyfriend until it was time to tease her again.  It’s hurt/comfort, but with both parts from the same person.

I can see this working if Kasuga-san a) realizes what’s going on or b) gives as good as she gets, but she worries and laments about every little thing.  For example, one night Koga-kun doesn’t call and she’s reduced to a sobbing catatonic mess.  I’m okay with not-strong heroines (huzzah variety!) but this is a little much for me.

20171124_080951.jpgEven so it was a quick read.  The style is typical shojo with lots of white space and wispy lines, and while the art is average some frames stick out as particularly well framed or comical.  I love Kasuga’s reaction when Koga sees a beetle in her hair:

When I freak out I shout in squiggles, too.

All in all I’m not a fan, and can only recommend Kokoro Button if a “little bit S” is your sort of thing.


This is my first manga review on Always Doing, yea!  If you’d like to see more reviews like this let me know in the comments, and if you’d rather I didn’t review books I read in Japanese let me know that, too.  I feel bad that this series isn’t available in English (at least officially…) but my thoughts were overflowing and I couldn’t resist.

 

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.

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.

In Bed with a Stranger by Mary Wine (McJames #1)

Synopsis:

6025739Brodick McJames is an earl in name only. To secure his clan’s future he needs an English wife. Mary Stanford, daughter of the Earl of Warwickshire, will suit perfectly. He’s never met her, but what matter? She’ll grace his bed eventually, and once she bears his child he need see her no more.

Anne Copper looks just like her noble half-sister, but she was born illegitimate, and can never forget it. The best she can hope for is to stay a serving girl in her own father’s house. But when Lady Mary finds herself betrothed to a Scot, it seems there’s a use for Anne after all . . .

The woman who arrives in Alcaon is not what Brodick expects, and the passion that grows between them promises far more than a marriage of convenience. When fate draws two together, it may take more than a noblewoman’s plot to part them…

Review:

This book is so wrong for me.

First – you can’t tell from the description but it takes place during medieval times. Don’t let the talk of titles make you think it’s a Georgian/Regency/Victorian novel, like I did.

Second – it’s basically a Cinderella retelling complete with evil stepmom, evil stepsister, and a prince (er, Earl) that whisks her away. While of noble blood she keeps doing servant-level stuff. She even has to leave the castle before a certain time comes because… reasons. ~cough~

Third – instalust. Several times the heroine decides to say or do something next time she sees the Earl, but as soon as he walks in the room her mouth goes dry and hubba hubba music starts playing. (They had porntastic music back then, right?)

Third and a half – there were several scenes that went like this:

“Hey, your wife is hot.”
“I know! …you’re not getting any ideas, are you?”
“Nope. But she’s hot. Bet you’re looking forward to tonight.” ~winkwink~
“Am I!”~nudgenudge~

Say no more. -_-

Fourth – it takes someone the better part of a day to die from hemlock poisoning, when it should have taken hours at most. I mean, they didn’t give Socrates his tea, have dinner, sleep a bit, and then watch him die, you know? Even if the poison was weak it would have gone into effect fairly quickly.

Fifth – romances where the girl has zero agency are not my thing. She goes to the Earl in a proxy marriage, she’s pulled this way and that by others, but the only thing she gets to decide for herself is whether she’ll treat the blind girl nicely. (No brainer.)

While completely not a “me” book it somehow managed not to make me mad, so there you are.

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.

Hold Me by Courtney Milan (Cyclone #2)

24348034Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.

But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…

Review:

I had such high hopes for this book but I didn’t like it as much as the first in the series, Trade Me. There’s still a lot to like, though!

The good:

  • The heroine is trans and that fact is not the reason for the novel existing. The focus is on the romance, as it should be.  Yea!
  • The hero is bi (or perhaps pansexual, no label is attached), there are more people of color than white, and the author is a woman of color.
  • Jay sees how he was a crappy ally of women in science and does a little work fixing that.

The not-as-good:

  • The lawyer-ly logical banter of the first book turns into science banter, and even though I grok most of it I don’t find it charming.  Your mileage may vary.
  • It’s a hate to love story, but instead of growing attraction Jay’s attitude changes on a dime depending on who he thinks he’s talking to.  It’s hard to know which Jay is real, the arse on campus or the sweet guy in chat.

I was hoping Hold Me would be in my wheelhouse, but sadly it is not.  It looks like the third book in the series will go back to the first couple… I’m curious to see how it goes but won’t be running out to get it.

The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle #2 & #3)

17347389Now that (spoilers happened) nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

17378508Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.

Review:

While it took me a long time to get into The Raven Boys once I was there I was all in.  The characterization finally bloomed and while the plot was meh it was enough to carry me into the next book immediately.  Yup, I went against type and read book two, and then book three, in quick succession.  How lucky to not have to wait between books, I thought!  This is the ideal reading experience!

Until it wasn’t.  This is a spoiler-free review so I won’t get into details but I was more disappointed with each book.

The Dream Thieves is Ronan’s story and I feel like I’m out of step with other reviewers on Goodreads because he is my least favorite Raven Boy.  I still like the character well enough, but he doesn’t have Gansey’s pull or Adam’s development or Noah’s sense of mystery.  I’m just not as interested in his story, and this book is pretty much all his story.  The main plot gets advanced a few centimeters and we move on to Blue Lily, Lily Blue in a holding pattern.

It’s something like a thousand pages into the series and the characters are settling – Adam isn’t quite the loose cannon anymore, we know what makes Ronan tick, and all the aunts that live with Blue are the same as they always were. I’m normally a plotty reader but the lack of character development here made me sad, especially compared to the first two books.

So things happened, someone died (someone always has to die), and the finale is set up. I feel like the gothic wonder of the first book is completely gone now – the group knows that crazy shit can happen so they take anything and everything in relative stride. Maybe I’m burnt out after reading straight through but I need a break from ~waves her hands~ all of this.