"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

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review #27: The Castaways, by Elin Hilderbrand

When Tess and Greg MacAvoy mysteriously drown on a sailing trip on their twelfth anniversary, the remaining members of their group of friends - the Castaways - struggle to absorb and accept their loss.

We are introduced first to the men: the Chief, Ed Kapenash, Nantucket's chief of police; Addison Wheeler, the millionaire real estate agent; and finally Jeffery, the quiet and solid farmer. Then we meet the women: Andrea, the Chief's wife and Tess's older cousin, mother of two nearly grown teenagers; Delilah, the slightly wild wife of Jeffrey, third in command at the local restaurant, and mother of two young boys; and Phoebe, Addison's perpetually drug-numbed wife.

Through their stories, we learn about Tess and Greg, the kindergarten teacher and the high school music teacher, parents of young twins Chloe and Finn. The six voices tell the group's history, and we watch as everyone meets. We go on group vacations with them, we relive their miscarriages, their family deaths, the births of their children. And slowly, slowly, we discover their secrets: resentment, pain, love, jealousy, hidden alliances, hidden affairs.

Hilderbrand employs an interesting style, giving each of the six characters a voice, so that the reader is able to see all sides of the story. Each character feels responsible for Tess and Greg's deaths, and the individual reasons are all revealed towards the end of the novel. Unfortunately, once those secrets come out, the novel wraps up far too quickly and neatly. With a different ending, this novel would have stayed with me, but instead, it left me disappointed.

Review #26: Enslaved, by Shoshanna Evers

One of the side effects of the success of Fifty Shades is the plethora of BDSM novels that have come out. I guess I shouldn't be surprised; after all, Twilight gave birth to about a half-million different vampire stories. (Seriously. I was in the teen section of Barnes & Noble this weekend (don't judge!), and that was all there was. I feel bad for kids who don't like vampires. What are they supposed to read?

Anyway, on to the story. Elisabeth is a recently uncollared sub (in a weird and halting B side to the novel, her former Master realizes he's gay), who has been sent to be trained by Trevor, one-third of the BAD boys club. The BAD (Billionaire Arrogant Doms) Boys are the hottest thing at Manahattan's hottest BDSM club, The WhipperSnapper. It's a nice set up for a trilogy (what's with the trilogies all of a sudden? Can't someone just write a book?), with secondary characters Marc and Roman rounding out the threesome.

Elisabeth is true masochist, and Trevor, for all his dominance, isn't exactly a sadist. He's falling in love with Elisabeth, and wants hearts and flowers along with his spreader bars and nipple clamps. Realizing that Elisabeth isn't quite the way he needs her to be, he sends her to Roman for further training. Elisabeth is sad and confused and misses Trevor, but knows she must complete this training to go back to him. But it's not as easy as she hopes; Roman is falling in love with her, and Elisabeth is starting to develop reciprocal feelings.

Things come to a head when she runs back to her former Master to figure things out, and, of course, he helps her make her choice. It's utterly predictable, of course, and there's actually very little conflict. A few dramatic speeches, a few tears, and then there's a happily ever after ending.

My biggest problem with this book was, ironically, the sex. I've read my share of books with sex - everything from Judith Krantz (I think that was my first lesbian scene) to Danielle Steele to Fifty Shades to erotica collections. This fell somehwere near Danielle Steele in the spectrum. Actually, it was Danielle Steele with a side of clinical coldness. It was almost bizarre in its non-sexiness.

I hate leaving trilogies unfinished, but I think this is one that's better left forgotten.

Review #25: Eternal Eden, by Nicole Williams

I think I found Eternal Eden on the 99 cent list. I know better. The 99 cent list should be banned. First of all, nothing good is 99 cents, except for the iced tea I get every morning at my secret Dunkin' Donuts. Second of all, the only time you should pay 99 cents for a book is either a) at a yard sale, in which case it should be two for a dollar, or b) at the Friends of the Library bookstore, in which case you should pony up the extra penny becuase it's for a good cause.

Anyway, I downloaded it, because I never learn. And I've been on this weird YA kick lately, and this looked semi-YA, because they were in college, and it made me feel less weird reading YA books than when I read YA books about high school kids.

Our story starts with Bryn, who is starting her first day at Oregon State University (go Beavers?). She immediately meets dreamy William Hayward, which pisses off the mean girls. Bryn has a dark secret, plus she has zero self-esteem, and she can't understand why William's got the hots for her. But you see, William has a secret, too! Turns out he's Immortal. And he's been looking for Bryn for almost 200 years. It's like it's meant to be, and she must fall just as in love with him as he with her.

Ah, but trouble awaits the young lovers! The Council of Big Fat Jackass Immortals has rules, and one of those rules is that Immortals can't love Mortals. The goon squad shows up to threaten Bryn and William in a bizarre mafia-esque middle of the night attack, and William decides to leave Bryn "for her own safety". Bryn, distraught over the loss of William, wanders in to the ocean to escape...

...and wakes up days later in a mansion owned by John, the head of the Council of Big Fat Jackass Immortals. Turns out, William loves Bryn so much that he knew she was dying, and he just had to save her, and the only way to do that was to turn her Immortal. Bryn, because she's an idiot, isn't mad about this, not when William tells her that she's not allowed to have kids, not when she discovers she can no longer go back to her former life, and not when William tells her that the Council is going to make all her decisions - including who she's going to be Immortally Married to for the rest of her life. Bryn's a little bit dumb (clearly), and she doesn't figure out till about 200 pages after the reader that John wants her to marry him, not William. William figures it out about thirty seconds before Bryn does, and now they have to figure out how to escape from the mansion.

There's more but I'm not going to bore you. I'll just go right to the end, where the book just...ends. When I bought this thing, I didn't realize that it was a trilogy. The frst rule of a trilogy is that the books should stand on their own. This one practically ends mid-sentence. I'm sure that's because Williams wants me to buy the other two books, but... no way. I've got too many other things to read.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review #24: The Lost Husband, by Katherine Center

"Dear Libby,
It occurs to me that you and your two children have been living with your mother for - dear Lord! - two whole years, and I'm writing to see if you'd like to be rescued.
Your horrible aunt Jean"
Libby Moran, at odds with her widowhood, her mother, her living situation, and her life, packs herself and her two children in to the car and drives out of Houston and in to the waiting arms of her eccentric aunt Jean. She arrives on New Year's - a subtle nod to the start of a new life - and quickly, if reluctantly, settles in to life on Aunt Jean's goat farm. The town is painted as a commune of sorts, and has a complete cast of characters: the burly lawyer, the sweet church ladies, the former actress hiding out from real life, the mysterious and handsome ranch hand, and the goats, all of whom are named after strong women of history. All the marks of a good story are here - family secrets, grief, loss, love, hope, and a sexy, mysterious love interest.
I don't know how else to describe Libby's character other than to say she is achingly human. She loves her husband, and struggles with the anger she has with him for dying and the anger she has at herself for being angry. She loves her children, but doesn't quite know how to relate to them, and doesn't want to let get of their babyhood, because to do so would be to admit they are growing up, and if they grow up, they won't need her any longer. She questions every day whether she is doing the right thing. But with Aunt Jean's help, some drunken seances with the local feed store clerk, a night locked in the cheese refrigerator with the sexy farmhand, and some profound moments alone with the goats, she begins to learn to trust herself, and to realize that she is finally home.

Review #23: Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal, by Grace Burrowes

Oh, Lady Maggie. I had such high hopes for you. You, the daughter of a courtesan, the bastard child of an earl/duke/lord/marquis, have been accepted by your stepmother as her own. Your sisters and brothers love you. You are independent, intellingent, and strong. You can read, you understand the financial papers, you invest your own money, and you own your own home, complete with servants. You're not too terribly skinny, you're taller than is fashionable, and you have fire-engine red hair, the mark, as we all know, of a true trollop. And Benjamin wants you. Shirtless, hot, half-naked on the cover Lord Benjamin wants you. And he wants you because you're smart and independent and all of the things girls aren't supposed to be.
And Mags, honey, you really had me, for about three-quarters of the book. I was totally on your side. Even when you had to lie to Ben about the whole half-sister-who-may-or-may-not-be-turning-into-a-hooker thing. Even when you told Ben you didn't want to have sex with him (which, dear GOD that had to have been difficult). Even when you agreed to be pretend engaged so that your reputation wouldn't be sullied after some nosy old lady caught you with your hand in Ben's pants in the garden.
But then.
But then, stupid Grace had to go and ruin it all by making you have to turn to hot, shirtless Benjamin to save the day.
In the end, you couldn't solve the problem on your own. You needed Benjamin and his cousin (way to set up for a sequel, Grace, I have to give you props there) to help you rescue your half-sister.
And that just really, really, really pissed me off.

Review #22: The Bet, by Rachel Van Dyken

Every once in a while, I venture out to the "most popular" books on the Nook website, and see what's for sale for around 99 cents. Turns out, The Bet was at the top of the list, so I bought it. There are worse ways to spend 99 cents, I guess. But there are probably lots of better ways, too. (And I think I may have found it in what I just downloaded last night.)
The Bet centers around Kacey, Jake, and Travis. Kacey (no offense to people with names that are spelled differently, but that just drives me bananas) grew up with Jake and Travis, who are brothers. Kacey's parents owned a restaurant in town, and were tragically killed when she was in college. The same night, Kacey lost her virginity to Jake, as well as their close friendship. (See, kids? Make sure you know what you're doing before you give up the v-card.) Because of this, Kacey feels she's lost everthing, and doesn't know how to move forward.
Jake is the heir apparent of the family company, and of course he's a playboy. He and Kacey were closest when they were younger because they were the same age, and spent most of high school joined at the hip. Jake, naturally, is so gorgeous that Kacey had no female friends because they were so jealous of her friendship with Jake. Travis, older than Jake by two years, is quiet and sullen and wants nothing to do with the family business, so he hides off on a farm or a ranch or something. It's not particularly clear, and it's used to show that Travis is good with his hands and not scared off by hard work and is clearly a Better Man than Jake. Of course, it's not so hard to make a go of a ranch when you are a jabillionaire thanks to the family fortune.
Fast foward a couple of years, and now Jake needs Kacey to pretend to be his fiancee to get his family and the board members off his back for being such a jackass. Kacey reluctantly agrees, and they go home. Travis is sulky and sullen, of course, and he and Kacey fight like cats and dogs. But we all know what it means when a boy is mean to us, right? He means he really does love us. Shenangians and miscommunication ensue, Jake and Travis fight over Kacey, Kacey wants nothing to do with either one of them, there's a big climax, and then a sweet ending. I'm not going to spoil it on the off chance that one of you will have 99 cents in the bottom of your couch and you decide to read this.
But honestly, gather up a few more 99 cents and go buy a cocktail instead.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Review #21: Hemingway's Girl, by Erika Robuck

Mariella Bennet is a young girl living in Key West in 1935, struggling to make ends meet and support her family after the death of her father, when she meets Ernest Hemingway at a boxing match. Young and gorgeous, Hemingway is immediately entranced by her, and hires her to work as a maid in his home. In the hands of a more predictable writer, they would fall in to a brief and torrid love affair, leaving Mari devastated and alone once Hemingway moved on.

But Robuck takes a different turn, and that's where things get interesting. Mari and Hemingway become friends of a sort, and while there is definite tension and a definite attraction, they both know that to cross the line would destroy their friendship, and they want the friendship too much to take the risk.

The novel also chronicles Mari's burgeoning relationship with a young boxer and former World War I veteran, Gavin Murray, who is working on the Overseas Highway in the middle Keys. Floridians who know their hurricane history know that the Overseas Highway was destroyed by the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, and thousands of workers and their families were killed because they weren't evacuated in time.

Robuck closes out the story with letters between Hemingway and Mari. It's a risky move, putting her words in Hemingway's mouth, and I'm not sure she suceeded, but it was an interesting way to wrap things up. In the end, I felt myself hoping that Hemingway actually did have a friend like Mari, someone who saw through the bluster and the bravado, and loved the man for who he was despite, or perhaps because of, his flaws.

Note: Robuck recently published Call Me Zelda, which has gone on my must-read list.