"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review #32: One Reckless Summer, by Toni Blake

When I read the reviews of this novel, one of them said that there was too much sex. Sold!

One Reckless Summer begins with Jenny Tolliver coming home to Destiny, Michigan, to lick the wounds her rat bastard of an ex-husband inflicted on her by having an affair with a 21-year-old student teacher. Destiny is the quintessential romance novel small town, complete with a slightly dotty old woman living next door and a bookshop with a clever name. (In my next life, where finances and reality are not issues, I want to run a bookshop with a clever name in a romance novel small town. And maybe meet a strapping cowboy. Or construction worker. Ahem.) Jenny's dad is still the sheriff, and her best friend Sue Ann is thrilled that Jenny's back home.

On one of her first nights back in town, Jenny takes the old canoe across the lake to the old Brody place, long abandoned since the the elder Brody brother was taken to jail and the younger brother, Mick, left town. Only it turns out Mick is back, and he's none too pleased to see Jenny on his land. He confronts her, they argue, and then they inexplicably have sex in the middle of the woods. Because that's the natural thing to do when confronted by a scary guy in the woods in the middle of the night.

It turns out that Mick is hiding a secret - his brother has escaped from prison and is living in their old cabin, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He comes to Jenny's to remind her of how important it is that she keeps his secret, and then they inexplicably have sex again.

There's a lot of lather, rinse, repeat in this, but overall, it's not a bad story. Jenny's clearly struggling with finding her new role in life and Mick's interactions with his brother are surprisngly sweet. The sex is pretty good, too, which always gives an extra star to any review. It did bother me that Mick made several references to how Jenny was sweet and good and pure and the only thing that could take away the ugliness in his life.  I felt at times that he was using her to forget about things, without a whole lot of thought to her problems, but then I remembered that this is a romance novel and not my life, and I pushed those thoughts to the side. I focused on the sex instead.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Review #31: Wicked In Your Arms, by Sophie Jordan

Hey, Mrs. Julien, I've got another name for you to add to your list. Sevastian. And no, that's not a typo. It's Sebastian, but with a v. What? Who does that? That's like naming your kid Lesleigh. That's just a misspelled name. (No offense to any Lesleighs out there; it's not your fault your parents didn't like you.)

We start out with Sevastian, the prince of Maldania (really? Maldania? We couldn't come up with a different country name that doesn't sound quite so made up?) coming to kiss the ring of his grandfather, the king, and promise that he'll help rebuild the country after years of war have kept him away. Naturally, the way to rebuild the country is to get married, so Sev heads off to London to check out which women are on the market.

Grier Hadley is the recently recognized bastard child of the town's gambling guru (are female children considered bastards, or is there a different word?), and she's on the market. At twenty-eight, Grier is a little long in the tooth (yes, that phrase is actually used), but she's got a wicked dowry, thanks to dear old Dad.

Of course, Grier is unsuitable. She used to be the game warden back home, back before her biological dad recognized her as his, and she used to wear pants. This, I assume is done to show us how independent she is. She's also got red hair, which is so that we know she's kind of a harlot. Or good in bed, which I think is kind of interchangeable in this instance. And she reads, which means she's smart, something that evidently frowned upon in polite society.

In the beginning, I kind of liked Grier, because she hangs out behind the plants at the party eating cookies and grumbling to herself about how stupid the whole thing iss. When she overhears Prince Sev saying something not very flattering about her, she dumps her water on his head. Sev kind of deserves it; he was being a pretentious douche. But then Grier had to go and piss me off by falling for him.

Sev never really gets less douchey, and the sex isn't particularly awesome. Grier's dad never really redeems himself, and a subplot with Grier's half sister and a significantly older duke (lord, earl, whatever) just kind of fades off. There's a bit of excitement with Sev's cousin Malcom, but you see it coming a mile away.

As a romance novel, it's servicable, if you can get past Sevastian's name. (Seriously, I can't imagine crying out that name in the throes of passion.) It was a Free Book Friday download, which is good, because I would have been mad if I'd paid $7.99 for it. It was mindless reading, which sometimes I need.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Review #30: Whip Smart: The True Story of a Secret Life, by Melissa Febos

I picked this up after seeing Alisonrt25's CBR review the other day. I've been drawn to memoirs lately. I'm fascinated by people's lives, their inner secrets, the dark corners of their worlds. Maybe I'm secretly a voyeur. Or maybe I'm just nosy.

Whip Smart is Melissa Febos' account of her time as a dominatrix in a dungeon in New York. She spends her days dressed in leather and latex, whipping stockbrokers and berating attorneys, and her nights looking for her next fix. In between, she attends college at The New School, hides her track marks from her clients, keeps her profession secret from her family, and has a series of nondescript relationships.

Febos' story came roaring out of the gate. I loved her writing, her style, her matter-of-fact way of talking about the gritty underbelly of both sex work and drugs. I was fascinated by how she felt lost and adrift, the push/pull of the drugs, her disgusted fascination with her clients' sexual proclivities. But somewhere along the way I kind of lost interest. Febos became off-putting, selfish, self-indulgent. Even her writing changed; it became more awkward. She referred to things - her parents' divorce, a fairly serious relationship with a man - as though she had talked about them earlier. Her writing became almost condescending and I found myself losing patience with her manufactured (at least to me) angst. I found it increasingly hard to relate to or have compassion for her. This is not a woman who turned to sex work out of need or desperation; this is a woman who chose this line of work and yet bizarrely comes across as looking down on others who made the same choice.

Febos is an excellent and talented author. Today she teaches at SUNY, NYU, and The New School, as well as being involved with other literature projects. I have no nits to pick with her writing. But she rushes the end of the memoir, leaving the dungeon abruptly and rather quickly quitting most of her regular clients. She keeps a couple - the money is too good to turn down - until she finds a man, and then the story is tied up with a neat little happily-ever-after bow that left me unsatisfied.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Review #29: Th1rteen R3asons Why, by Jay Asher

I discovered this book via a CNN article about the most challenged books of 2012. (For the record, it was number 3, coming in one above Fifty Shades of Grey, and two behind the Captain Underpants series, which took top honors last year. See the entire list here.) My subversive side came out, and I requested from my local library (which, thankfully, doesn't listen to that nonsense), and I read it in two days.

The story begins in present tense, with high school student Clay receiving a package containing audio tapes. There's no note, no instructions, just seven tapes, each side numbered one through thirteen. Clay finds an old tape recorder in the garage, pushes play, and hears the voice of his friend Hannah Baker, who killed herself two weeks before the story begins. There are thirteen tapes, Hannah explains, because there are thirteen reasons for her suicide. Each tape references another person, and each person is charged with sending the package on.

Asher's style is very unusual, switching between Hannah's voice and Clay's reactions every few lines. In theory it shouldn't work, but it does, and brilliantly. Clay is slightly reminiscent of Fitzgerald's Nick Carraway, and I loved him for the man I hope he becomes. I vacillated between liking Hannah, feeling sorry for her, and wanting to smack some sense in to her. She tends to come across as a spoiled brat, but the more I think about her, the more I wonder if that brattiness was her trying to put up a brave front, even in her last words. I went in to this book worried that it was piggybacking on the crisis of the month (bullying), but Hannah's reasons are not related to bullying. At least, not in the same way the media is leading us to believe it's happening with Kids These Days.
My boss also read this book and felt like it glamorized suicide. I can see his point, but I disagree. I'm not Asher's target audience though, so I can't speak for how this book would make me feel were I a sixteen-year-old girl who has been made fun of for months and months. But I can say that I think that Th1rteen R3asons Why should be on every high school student's reading list. Every English class in every high school in the country should read this, and then they should discuss it. Open discussions, truthful discussions where kids feel safe to have actual conversations about the things that happen in the story, and then these kids' parents should read it, and it should be discussed some more.
Note: this is Asher's first book. I'm interested to see what he does next.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Review #28: Whiskey Beach, by Nora Roberts

Whenever I read a Nora Roberts book, I always wish that I lived in a small coastal town where everyone knows everyone else, where I could be the local independent bookstore owner, or the girl who runs the coffee shop, or the centered yoga instructor with a devoted following of old folks. Sometimes I wish that I could be the florist or antique shop owner. Then I remember that independent bookstores are closing every day, I hate the smell of coffee, and I fall over when I try to do yoga. Also, plants commit suicide when they see me, and I would never be able to part with my treasures.

But that's the point of a book sometimes: to escape reality, and Nora always lets me do that. Whiskey Beach is vintage Nora Roberts, complete with mysteries, a couple of murders, some secret passageways in a really awesome house, a best friend, a police officer buddy, a fun and rich grandmother, and of course, a smelly dog with a crazy name.

Eli Landon comes to Bluff House, his family home on Whiskey Beach, to escape the stress of the last year, during which he found himself the subject of the police investigation in to his estranged wife's murder. Eli is hoping for solitude, but soon finds himself embroiled in another mystery. It appears someone is after Eli and his family's fortune, and he is still contending with the lead detective on his wife's murder case, a man who is convinced Eli is guilty. Abra Walsh is the town's resident yoga instructor, jewelry maker, and Bluff House's housekeeper. Roberts weaves their lives together with the right blend of mystery, sadness, hope, and romance, and wraps it all up with a nice bow.