"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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The End, For Now...

Eighty-five books reviewed.
More read and not reviewed. I'd like to say that's because
they weren't any good, but it's also because I was lazy.
On to 2014!

Review #85: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

I don't know what I can say about this book that hasn't been said in a million ways all over Cannonball. My first Rowell book was Fangirl, found quite by accident, and while I loved it, what solidified my love for Rowell was Eleanor & Park.

Rowell knows what it's like to be a teenager, how it feels to feel different, like nobody else in the world gets you. She knows - and can express perfectly - how it feels to fall in love at that age, to know that it won't last, but to hope that you might be the one couple that makes it.

Amazing, awesome, and of all the authors I learned about this year from Cannonball, I'm so, so glad that I found Rainbow Rowell. (She's also a hoot on Twitter!)

Review #84: Alison's Automotive Repair Manual, by Brad Barkley

Alison, a widow in her thirties, is stuck. She's mourning her husband, stuck in a fog, living with her sister Sarah and brother in law Bill, and can't move forward. Her sister finally holds an intervention, telling Alison's that she's got to get it together and being to move on with her life. Finally, she promises she will, just as soon as she restores the vintage Corvette that's rusting in Bill's garage.

The problem is, Alison doesn't know a socket wrench from a screwdriver, and as anyone who has ever been involved with car repair knows that it's not a cheap undertaking. With the entire town watching and judging - including Sarah's nutty group of elderly dancers and the town's demolition man - Alison picks up her grease rag and gets to work.

What I thought was going to be a humdrum book turned out to be a pretty compelling novel about love, loss, grief, moving on, and fitting in. (And I don't want to spoil the ending, but I thought the last few scenes were exactly perfect.)

Review #83: The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han

Belly spends her summers at Cousins Beach with her mom, her mom's best friend, and her two sons Jeremiah and Conrad. The boys have been Belly's constants, her first friends, her brothers, her confidants, and, in Conrad's case, her first crush. But the summer Belly turns fifteen, everything changes. Suddenly, the boys are looking at her differently, and she can't understand why.

The book was okay, nothing fantastic, but then again, I'm not the target audience, and I read this with the more cynical eye of an adult who has already dealt with the boy/girl thing. (Although, do you ever really stop dealing with the boy/girl thing?) It was a quick read, definitely a "beach read", with some heavy emotional issues thrown in. It was nice to see a YA book that didn't involve vampires or other worlds, but just boys and girls and how life goes on, despite the fact that sometimes it feels like it never will.

Review #82: Dollface, by Renee Rosen

Vera Abramowitz is a young girl living in Chicago in the middle of the roaring 20s, determined to have a better, more glamorous life than the one her mother has lived as the head of Abramowitz Meats. Chicago in the 20s means speakeasies and prohibition, Al Capone and the Charleston, North Side versus South Side, and the St. Valentine's Day massacre.

Vera falls in love and gets married to a North Side gangster, but she's still inexplicably, and dangerously, drawn to a South Sider, and in between shopping and lunching and dancing, she finds herself sneaking into hotel rooms and running booze while her husband is locked up. She brings the reader in to her world of gin and dancing and mob molls, and seems to live almost a double life as the mother of a young baby, as a member of the Jewish Ladies Club, as arm candy for her husband.

The entire time I read this book, I felt like Vera was hurtling herself towards disaster. She knew it, I knew it, and we were both powerless to stop it. This was an interesting read, and I'm curious to see what Rosen does next.

Review #81: The Summer I Found You, by Jolene Perry

This is a pretty formulaic boy-meets-girl YA romance, but with a couple of wrenches thrown in the mix. Kate is a high school senior, and she's just broken up with her boyfriend. She's also dealing with having been recently diagnosed with Type I diabetes, and, while I admittedly don't know a thing about that, even I could tell Kate wasn't on board with her treatment and/or watching her blood sugar. Aiden is Kate's friend's cousin, recently home from Afghanistan after losing his arm, and living at Kate's friend's house until he can figure out what to do with his life.

Of course, Kate and Aiden fall in love in the way that only two teenagers can. They both manage to screw it up, but they eventually manage to get it together. I found myself drawn more to Aiden than Kate, though, and felt like Kate wasn't quite worth the trouble. She was pretty immature, especially concerning her illness. The diabetes diagnoses was pretty serious - Kate passed out a couple of times and managed to get herself in to a diabetic coma at one point - and up until the very end, she chose to completely ignore the situation.

I think this is one of those angsty-teen romances that kind of got mushed in with that genre I'm really not liking known as New Adult. At least this male lead doesn't seem so smelly. But he's still painted as a pretty broken kid, and it makes me nervous that we're teaching young girls that broken boys can be "fixed" if only they love them enough. Aiden was a good person at heart, but his war injuries - both internal and external - are more than a seventeen-year-old girl can fix, no matter how much she loves him.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review #80: Crazy Thing Called Love, by Molly O'Keefe

I think this may have a been a Free Friday download. It was okay; your typical Harlequin romance. It passed the time for a couple of hours, when I needed something light and airy and that didn't make me think too much. The chaos of Christmas has descended, and there's no way I'd be able to read anything stronger than this right now.

Madelyn, a news anchor on the local morning show, is a perfectly coifed, poised reporter, until her ex-husband, hockey player Billy, shows up to do a makeover series. Billy's in need of a life makeover - his career is in the toilet, his coach is furious with him, and his public image makes him the least favorite player on the team. Nobody knows that Madelyn and Billy were married years ago, and she wants to keep it that way - and she wants to keep Billy out of her life. He hurt her once, and she doesn't want to risk her heart again.

But Billy's persistent, and he still loves Madelyn, which is why he signed up to do the makeover in the first place. They come together and fall apart a few times, and the arrival of Billy's niece and nephew just about does everyone in, but in the end, they wind up happy ever after, because that's exactly how books like this should end.

Review #79: The Other Side of Midnight, by Sidney Sheldon

Sidney Sheldon's been around forever, but I never got around to reading him. I think when my mom went through her Sidney Sheldon phase, I was too young to be interested, and then later, I just wasn't interested. But Boss insisted that I would love him, and when he ordered a copy of The Other Side of Midnight for me, I couldn't very well not read it.

Boss was (and this kills me, I'll have you know) right. It was just the right delicious mix of murder, mayhem, sex, romance, and back stabbing. The characters are well drawn, and Sheldon brings them in with a thousand interconnected threads. There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing, and one or two surprises that I never saw coming.

Set in the years before and after World War II, Midnight tells the story of two women - sweet, innocent Catherine and tough, beautiful, badass Noelle. The two are connected through several men, including the unscrupulous but devastatingly handsome Larry Douglas, Washington power player Bill Fraser, and the complicated billionaire Constantin Demiris.

Some of the book seemed dated, in a way that I think an older Danielle Steele novel would seem dated if I went back and read it now. But that doesn't mean it's not still a good story, and Boss was right: it's not great literature, but it was a great read.

Review #78: Sweet, by Erin McCarthy

Sigh. I know better. I don't know why I insist on reading these books.

Jessica is trying to break free from her parents' ultra conservative lifestyle, so she stays at school for the summer, landing in her roommate's boyfriend's house. The boyfriend has a brother - bad boy Riley - who's dealing with raising his two younger brothers after the drug overdose death of his mom. Jessica and Riley have never gotten along, and being thrown together in the house for the summer doesn't help.

Until, of course, they fall in love. And it's true love, because they're 19 and 23, and that always works out. And they have bonus point because he's from the wrong side of the tracks, and has tattoos and smokes and drinks, and she's a good Christian preacher's daughter who repaints the kitchen while Riley's at work. Jessica's parents disown her once they realize who she's dating, and Riley's dealing with keeping custody of his brothers (one of whom has Down's syndrome) while hiding the fact that he might have to go to jail for awhile. So OF COURSE it's going to work out and end happily ever after.

I'm kind of tired of these New Adult books. And I feel like all the lead male characters probably smell pretty bad.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review #77: Addicted to You, by Krista & Becca Ritchie

This is one of those books that I either downloaded for free, or got from Netgalley. I can't really remember. It follows the story of Lily and Loren, two very close friends who are keeping each other's secrets. Lily is a closet sex addict, and Loren is an alcoholic. For years they've lived together, pretending to be together, under the guise of friendship and love, but what they're really doing is enabling the daylights out of each other. Never have I seen two more co-dependant characters.

Of course things come to a head, and they realize that they're really, truly, actually in love with each other. Loren gives up drinking, or at least tries, but Lily can't give up sex, because sexless relationships generally don't work. Off to rehab they go, amid promises to wait for each other.

This could have been an interesting look at addiction and the ways we harm people while we think we're helping them, but it just kind of fell flat for me. The writing style was average, but the characters were pretty one-note. Had they been more nuanced, I could have felt some sympathy for them, and it would have given the novel more depth. As it was, this was just another New Adult romance that I forgot nearly as quickly as I finished it.

Review #76: Parlor Games, by Maryka Biaggio

Parlor Games is a historical novel based on a turn of the century con artist named May Dugas, who was once named the world's most dangerous woman. Told from May's point of view, the novel opens with May being sued by a Frank Shaver, a woman who was once considered her best friend, for a hundred thousand dollars.

Alternating between the present day of the trial and the events that have led up to it, May slowly seduces the reader. It wasn't until about halfway through the book that I realized just how manipulative May really was, and when I did figure it out, I was mad at myself for falling for her story. She's a compelling character, and it's hard not to like her, even once you realize that she's not who she claims to be.

The book moves from the suburbs of Chicago to the city itself, and then goes international, to Shanghai and London, and all the while, Reed Doherty, a Pinkerton agent who has made it his life's work to catch May, is hot on her heels, sometimes even a step or two ahead. May is the epitome of a woman who survives by her wits alone, and I was left wondering whether some of the tales were written a little taller than they actually were. Exaggeration or not, though, the story was a compelling one, and a very interesting peek in to the life of a woman who was definitely ahead of her time.

Review #75: While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, by Wendy Wax

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is one of those books that you don't realize how much you like it until you're halfway through. Actually, what I think I enjoyed most about this book were the characters. They stayed with me well after I was finished reading their stories, and now that I've finally getting around to writing my review, I find myself wondering about them like old acquaintances.

The novel follows three very different women and the concierge of a hoity toity Atlanta highrise. I'm so small-town that I didn't know that high end apartment buildings had concierges, so I learned something there. (Also? Concierge is a weird word to type. It just looks weird.) Anyway, Edward (the concierge) organizes a Sunday night viewing party for Downton Abbey, and in doing so, manages to form a strong friendship bond between three very different women: Samantha, a well-to-do but lonely high society wife, empty-nester Claire, who is struggling with her daughter being off at college and determined to write a book, and Brooke, who's a suddenly single mom with two young daughters, and a soon to be ex husband who just happens to live in the same building with his new girlfriend.

Between the viewing parties and Edward's machinations, these three very different women forge an incredibly strong bond. And if they discover themselves, find love, and/or make a certain ex husband's life a little more difficult along the way, well, then that's just icing on the cake.