"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Circle of Cats

A Circle of Cats
Charles de Lint
Charles Vess

The Summary
"Lillian is an orphan who lives with her aunt on a homestead miles from anyone, surrounded by uncharted forest.  She wanders the woods, chasing after squirrels and rabbits and climbing trees like a possum.  Free-spirited and independent, Lillian is a kindred soul to the many wild cats who gather around the ancient beech tree.  One day, while she is under the beech, Lillian is bitten by a poisonous snake.  The cats refuse to let her die, and use their magic to turn her into one of their own.  How she becomes a girl again is a lyrical, original folktale that begs to be read aloud.

"Set in the hill country of the author's fictional city of Newford, A Circle of Cats is the much anticipated first picture book by longtime friends Charles de Lint and Charles Vess, whose masterful art is as magical as the story."

The Good
I enjoyed reading Circle of Cats.  I picked it up on a whim, curious to see more of Charles Vess' work (I loved his illustrated edition of Stardust by Neil Gaiman), and I'm incredibly pleased with Charles Vess and Charles de Lint's book.  Quite frankly, it's like nothing I've ever read--and I liked that about it.

Yes, it's a children's book, but it's accessible for all ages.  As an adult, I appreciated the subtle nuances of culture and magic that existed in the midst of the story, and I absolutely loved the artwork.  Besides which, it's not quite what you expect from a half-fairy tale/half-folklore story about cats--or, at least, it's not quite what I expected.

Moreover, it's unexpectedly southern.

I know that sounds almost ridiculous, but I enjoyed how it pulls from southern (specifically, Appalachian culture) and draws on many of the legends, stories, and fables of the area.  It lends magic to the real world, appreciating both the history and culture of Appalachia while simultaneously providing a compelling odyssey.

Although I liked Lillian as a character and I loved the charming legends surrounding the Father of Cats and the Apple Tree Man, I adored Vess' illustrations.  The art is absolutely beautiful, a unique blend of reality and imagination that's sure to impress.  I especially loved the greenery of the background and the mountains in the distance, the rustic charm of the landscape and characters, the almost cozy feeling that proliferates the pages.

It has a touch of something that makes it feel like home to me, and it makes me see that world with new eyes.  Honestly, that's probably one of the biggest draws for me with Circle of Cats and I highly recommend it to young readers and their parents, even if you're not the biggest fan of cats.

The Bad
Occasionally, I found Lillian's journey to be unfair.  I mean, she didn't ask to be turned into a cat--and yet she still had to pay the price?

No, I found that injustice rather hard to swallow.

The Ugly

Snakes, curses, and dangerous journeys.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Bonus: Do You Want to Start a Scandal?

Avon Books
Do You Want to Start a Scandal?
Tessa Dare

The Summary
"On the night of the Parkhurst ball, someone had a scandalous tryst in the library.
  • Was it Lord Canby, with the maid, on the divan?
  • Or Miss Fairchild, with a rake, against the wall?
  • Perhaps the butler did it.
"All Charlotte Highwood knows is this:  it wasn't her.  But rumors to the contrary are buzzing.  Unless she can discover the lovers' true identity, she'll be forced to marry Piers Brandon, Lord Granville--the coldest, most arrogantly handsome gentleman she's ever had the misfortune to embrace.  When it comes to emotion, the man hasn't got a clue.

"But as they set about finding the mystery lovers, Piers reveals a few secrets of his own.  The oh-so-proper marquess can pick locks, land punches, tease with sly wit...and melt a woman's knees with a single kiss.  The only thing he guards more fiercely than Charlotte's safety is the truth about his dark past.

"Their passion is intense.  The danger is real.  Soon Charlotte's feeling torn.  Will she risk all to prove her innocence?  Or surrender it to a man who's sworn to never love?"

The Good
Tessa Dare's novel was surprisingly amusing.  Kicking things off with its humorous title, Do You Want To Start a Scandal? is a fun little romance novel to read in an afternoon.  The characters are well developed, even if the plot is a little thin, and the romantic entanglements are deliciously steamy.  It's a guilty pleasure that has a sense of humor, which I enjoyed.

The Bad
Embarrassing moments are sure to happen in a romance novel, but I found these moments to be singularly embarrassing.  Mortifying, actually.  Like I blushed when I read them, and I'm not usually embarrassed by much when it comes to romance novels.

Moreover, despite enjoying Do You Want to Start a Scandal?, I wasn't very impressed with the plot.  I thought the characters were well developed and I liked the way they interacted; however, I didn't care for the overall setting or the plot.  Charlotte is a clever girl, and yet she's consistently trampled upon by her peers or underestimated or mocked or discounted as a shameless flirt.  I suppose I just hoped for so much more for her.

The Ugly
Society can be cruel and unforgiving.  It can tear a woman's reputations to ribbons and leave her cast out, savaged by the very people she considered her friends.  It's rather heartbreaking, all things considered.  My heart immediately went out to Charlotte.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Frisky Business

Sourcebook Casablanca
Frisky Business
Tawna Fenske

The Summary
"No more rich men for Marley Cartman.  Absolutely not.  Thanks to her dad, her ex-fiance, and the overbearing donors she schmoozes for a living, she's had more than her fill.  From now on, she wants blue-collar men with dirt under their fingernails.  But when Marley makes a break to handle donor relations for a wildlife sanctuary, she finds herself drawn to the annoyingly charming--and disturbingly wealthy--chairman of the board.

"Judging by his hipster T-shirts, motley assortment of canine companions, and penchant for shaking up stuffy board meetings, you'd never guess that William Barclay the Fifth is a brilliantly successful businessman.  Will has good reason to be leery of scheming women, and as he and Marley butt heads over the wisdom of bringing grumpy badgers to charity events, he can't help but wonder if his new donor relations coordinator is hiding something other than a perfect figure beneath that designer suit..."

The Good
This book was so much fun.

Frisky Business is absolutely hilarious.  Granted, I found it slightly strange and a touch unrealistic, but, overall, it was enjoyable.  It made me laugh until I couldn't laugh anymore, which allows me to forgive any number of sins, including unrealistic romantic relationships.

Marley is a strangely endearing female character with overbearing parents and a penchant for people pleasing; Will has a dysfunctional family (an aunt who collects phallic rock statues) and trust issues (his ex-wife ran off with his sister).  They're an odd couple, especially after Marley vows never to date a rich man ever again, but they just seem make perfect sense.

I mean, I just love the way they interact.  They're funny characters with unique personalities and respecting baggage.  It's so much fun to watch them flounder through their feelings and combat all the day-to-day calamities involved with relationships and working with a wildlife sanctuary--like overbearing fathers, ex-convict mothers, slobbery canines, ex-wives turned sister's new girlfriend, etc.

It's hilarious.  Almost on par with Fenske's other romantic comedy, Making Waves.

The Bad
Personally, I just didn't care for the conclusion.  It seemed...forced, in my opinion.  But I think that's more of a personal preference than a true reflection of the novel.

The Ugly
Phallic rocks.

You heard me.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Packing for Mars

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
W.W. Norton & Company
Packing for Mars
Mary Roach

The Summary
"Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive:  air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer.  Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human.  How much can a person give up?  How much weirdness can they take?  What happens when you can't walk for a year?  have sex?  smell flowers?  What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a spacewalk?  Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout from space?  To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations.  As Mary Roach discovers, it's possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth.  From the Space Shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA's new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth."

The Good
After hearing about Mary Roach's book through the reader grapevine, I was absolutely fascinated by the idea of space travel to Mars.  Since I fell in love with The Martian by Andy Weir, I've been intrigued by Mars and outer space more than ever.  (That's part of the reason I slogged through How to Read the Solar System--and, you know, why I've been so inexplicably excited to start on John Carter of Mars.)

And I wasn't disappointed.

Packing for Mars is a fun and insightful science book.  Truthfully, it reminds me of Bill Nye:  humorous, but informative.  Roach makes science approachable and, dare I say it, fun.  Her writing is easy to read, yet she doesn't compromise facts or treat her reader as a big dummy for not understanding the intricacies of space.  Moreover, it gives you answers to questions that you never even knew you had.

Want to know what happens to a fuse when it's shot into space?  (Answer:  If a fuse blows in space, it fries everything; it's why they had to invent the transistor.)  Want to know what happens if you lay in bed for days on end with very little movement?  Want to know what happens to the human body when it meets lower-than-normal gravity?  Roach has answers to all these questions and more, and she does it with some highly humorous musings.

Overall, I found to Packing for Mars to be highly informative, incredibly rewarding--and lots of fun.

The Bad
I admit, I did sometimes lose interest in Packing for Mars.  Sometimes, I just wasn't interested in the subjects and I couldn't keep my mind focused enough on the trials and tribulations of animal test flights, or some other such thing; however, I think that's more my failing, rather than some grievous fault with Roach's book.

The Ugly
Porn.  In space.

For some reason, I was perturbed by the entire concept.  It bothered me, more than I'd like to admit, and I found myself in for some highly awkward reading.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Bonus: The Legend of the Werestag

Samhain Publishing Ltd.
The Legend of the Werestag
     Or, How to Catch a Wild Viscount
Tessa Dare

The Summary
"She's on the hunt for a hero...

"Luke Trenton, Viscount Merritt, returned from war a changed man.  Battle stripped away his civility and brought out his inner beast.  There is no charm or tenderness in him now; only dark passions and a hardened soul.  He has nothing to offer the starry-eyed, innocent girl who pledged her heart to him four years ago.

"But Cecily Hale isn't a girl any longer.  She's grown into a woman--one who won't be pushed away.  She and Luke are guests at a house party when a local legend captures their friends' imaginations.  While the others plunge into the forest on a wild goose....stag chase, Cecily's on the hunt for a man.  She has only a few moonlit nights to reach the real Luke...the wounded heart she knows still beats inside the war-ravaged body...or she could lose him to the darkness forever."

The Good
Portia and Mr. Brooke were probably the best thing for The Legend of the Werestag.  Personally, I liked them more than I liked the main hero and heroine.

The Bad
Oh my gosh.  Why did I read this novella?

I've enjoyed Tessa Dare so far; however, The Legend of the Werestag was a little...unusual.  And not in a good way.  It's not a supernatural adventure story/paranormal romance, if that's what you're thinking; rather, it's just an erotic Regency-esque romance.  It's only 80 pages or something like that (longer if you're reading from an electronic device), so it doesn't really have much to tell and no real way of building up the story.

It's amusing, it has it's sweet and tender moments, but I wasn't particularly impressed.  (I supposed that shouldn't come as a surprise with werestag in the title, but, you know, hope springs eternal.)  Moreover, I wasn't exactly impressed by Cecily's relationship with Luke.  Cecily feels very...malleable, maybe even naive.  She's got her heart set on a man that seemingly wants nothing to do with her--and then he breaks her heart, not just once but multiple times.

It's irritatingly repetitive.

I didn't like Luke.  As a hero, he's more than a brute; in fact, he's intentionally cruel.  I get it:  he's tortured.  He has pinned so much belief and significance to pretty little Cecily and, now, he's afraid of tearing her apart, because war has turned him into a monster.  (This is much the same plot as Dare used for A Lady by Midnight and When a Scot Ties the Knot.)  Love is there, but it's just simmering beneath the surface.

It's enough to turn your legs into goo.

However, I just didn't like Luke as a hero.  Sure, he saves her from a malicious beast; sure, he kisses her with an unbridled passion that sends her heart to fluttering.  But, personally, he's not a lover.  A protector, yes, but passionate and gentle and understanding are not in his vocabulary.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I just couldn't find much I liked about Luke.

Or Cicely, for that matter.  She's a bit...colorless.  Pale, pretty, and endearingly determined, she is the quintessential romantic heroine.  She's doting, passionate, kind, and she has the capability of doing the unexpected, like loving someone as crass and cruel as Luke.  She is, in all appearances, perfect.

I don't like perfect.  I like realistically flawed.

Truth be told, I really wanted to hear more about recently widowed Portia with her scandalous plans to write tawdry Gothic novels, take multiple lovers, and, in essence, flout social expectations.  I really liked Portia and I wanted to learn more about her--and her relationship with the scathingly cynical Mr. Brooke.

I loved listening to their arguments.  It was probably the highlight of my entire reading experience.

The Ugly
It's a bit explicit.  It's a romance novel--a "bodice buster," if you will (a term my co-worker gifted to me, and I love using it)--with a half-nude male on the front.  I mean, you can't exactly go into this novel expecting chaste kisses and sweet professions of love.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Clarion Books
Betsy Cornwell

The Summary
"Nicolette's awful stepsisters call her 'Mechanica' to demean her, but the nickname fits:  she learned to be an inventor at her mother's knee.  Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have turned her into a servant in their own home.

"Then, on her sixteenth birthday, Nicolette discovers a secret workshop in the cellar and begins to dare to imagine a new life for herself.  Could the mysterious books and tools hidden there--and the mechanical menagerie, led by a tiny metal horse named Jules--be the key to escaping her dreary existence?  With a technological exposition and royal ball on the horizon, the timing might just be perfect for Nicolette to earn her freedom at last.

"Gorgeous prose and themes of social justice and family shine in this richly imagined 'Cinderella' retelling about an indomitable inventor who finds her prince...but realizes she doesn't want a fairy-tale happy ending after all."

The Good
I ended up reading Mechanica in one sitting.  For some reason, I just couldn't seem to put it down.  It was a novel story that managed to combine magic and Faerie kingdoms with science-fiction and steampunk fantasty, while tying in threads of fairy tales--namely, Cinderella--and complex political and/or social conditions.

It reminded me in many ways of Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  Mechanica has many of the same elements:  a downtrodden heroine, a mechanical best friend, a delicate political and social balance between disparate groups (between the human race and the Lunars in Cinder; between humankind of Esting and the magical citizens of Faerie in Mechanica), an endearing human friend, a handsome prince who conceals his identity to mingle with the rest of the population, a mysterious disease.

It's actually quite startling the similarities.  I can see why other readers can draw such parallels--and why more than a few have managed to toss it aside.

However, like Cinder, Mechanica has its own unique Cinderella-esque story.  Like Cinder, Nicolette is a strong and intelligent heroine.  She's a builder, an inventor.  She repairs automatons and maintains her mother's inventions, and she makes them using her own ingenuity...and a little magic.  At its core, Cinder is a science-fiction novel; Mechanica rings of fantasy and fairy tales.

Now that I've gotten those comparisons out of the way, I'd like to talk about just Mechanica.  As the book jacket promises, it's a "richly imagined...retelling" of Cinderella.  I found I liked reading Nicolette's narrative, not only for the inventiveness of her elaborate, steam-fueled world of cogs and glass and metal, but for the depth of her personality.

Nicolette is incredibly introspective and thoughtful.  She's a dreamer, an inventor, and she seems to have this elaborate world stretching out in her head as she imagines new things, creates new inventions, frets over her plans--for she does eventually have plans when she finds her mother's workshop--and wonders at her new friends.  At the same time, she recognizes her faults and her mistakes.

And yet she knows she will make them, regardless, because no one is perfect.

For instance, after Nicolette meets Fin and Caro (you'll hear much more about them, I'm sure), she finds herself slowly falling for Fin, the first boy who has shown an interest in her work and, more to the point, has shown her even the smallest bit of courtesy.  She realizes it's silly to daydream about a boy she barely knows, but she does, because she likes to believe in fairy tales and romance, like, let's face it, we all do:
"I held whole conversations with him in my mind, telling him about the Steps' inanity, or their coldness, or the transparent fawning of whatever beaux they had entertained that day.  I told him about my work as I made it, explaining the movements and turnings...the delicate clockwork that went into replicating Mother's mechanical insects.  I spoke more with my imagined Fin than I did with the real Caro in our letters.  [...]  Every once in a while, I would remember that I could count my actual interactions with him on one of my hands..."
Besides which, I absolutely loved that Nicolette was so self-sufficient.  Not only does she find a way to sell her beautiful baubles and some of her inventions, she uses her money to go the grand "Royal Exposition of Art and Science."  The ball at the beginning of the event is not her goal; no, her true goal is the Expo to show off her inventions, to gain a patron, to open a shop of her own and leave the horrible "Steps" behind.

She doesn't have designs on the prince; in fact, she doesn't want the prince.  She wants to create a life for herself, out of the shadow of her so-called family.  Her happily-ever-after doesn't involve a crown; it involves a socket wrench and a mechanical horse named Jules.  Who needs the heir apparent when you have a strong pair of hands and a noble steed to take you places?

Altogether, I enjoyed Mechanica and, just because it does resemble Cinder in many respects, I don't think it's a novel to easily dismiss.  It has a strong heroine and, I think, it has an interesting story that is rich with detail and magic.  It's a good start to a new series, and I'll be looking for more from Betsy Cornwell.

The Bad
I am a bit ambivalent toward the conclusion of Mechanica.  Don't get me wrong, I love that you get to see Nicolette standing up for herself, fulfilling her wishes and dreams.  It's strangely inspiring; however, it left me with a lot of questions about Faerie, about Esting and its rocky relationship with the Fay, and about Jules--and the Ashes that gave him life.

Granted, Mechanica is only the first in the series, but I would have liked a little more closure.

The Ugly
The stepsisters and their cruel, frigid mother.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Read Harder Challenge 2017

Image courtesy of BookRiot
It's that time of year.  Cold weather, chilly mornings and wintery nights--and a whole new book list to tackle.  Once again, I'll be dipping into the Read Harder Challenge.  This year, there are new and challenging tasks to complete, including:
  • Read a book about books
  • Read a book that is set more than 5000 from your location.
  • Read a nonfiction book about technology.
  • Read a classic by an author of color.
  • Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey.
  • Read an LGBTQ+ romance.
  • Read a book published by a micropress.
  • Read a collection of poetry in translation on a them other than love.

A few of these challenges will be difficult.  I mean, I don't know that I've ever read a book by a micropress or I've never consciously sought out one.  Likewise, I don't think I've thought about a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey or actively looked for an LGBTQ+ romance.

I've already found suggestions.  Thanks to my coworkers (and a few hints on Goodreads), I've managed to find a potential book for just about all 24 challenges and I've already gotten a start on my reading.  (By the way, I highly recommend Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder for reading an all-ages comic.  It's very good.)

And with that, I'm off to hunt down new books!

Happy reading.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Once Touched

Ballantine Books
Once Touched
Laura Moore

The Summary
"The youngest of the three Knowles siblings, Quinn has in her blood the love of the land and its beautiful creatures.  Raising enough money to build an animal sanctuary is a dream Quinn lives every day--while fending off her family's well-intentioned matchmaking schemes.  Though harboring secret fears about intimacy, Quinn soon realizes she cannot fight her growing attraction to a man who has suddenly entered her life.

"Scarred by his months in Afghanistan and the violence he witnessed there through his camera lens, photojournalist Ethan Saunders throws himself into hard ranching work as a prescription for healing.  But falling for Quinn has given him the one thing he thought he'd lost forever:  hope.  Ethan discovers that Quinn, like the innocent animals she rescues, is shy, and afraid of entrusting her heart to a man.  Passion soon awakens Ethan's strength, and his tender seduction may be just what Quinn needs to believe in herself--and in his love."

The Good
Truthfully, I liked reading Once Touched.  Granted, the cover is a little--well, incredibly--provocative, but it's a good, solid story that details a complex romantic relationship and examines the complicated nuances of intimacy.  Some parts feel a little unrealistic, using familiar expectations about sex and relationships that don't feel quite right; however, I think it does a fair job of detailing the intricacy of romance, as well as the unexpected highs and lows all couples have.

Plus, I liked Quinn.  She's a great character:  bright, thoughtful, kind, optimistic, and rather shy.  She's almost too good if we're being honest.  But I grew to like her, especially as she opened up her world to Ethan and shared with him her love of animals.

I mean, a character can be a total troll--like a literal troll--but, if they like animals, if they are kind to animals, I will immediately warm to them.  And Quinn was no exception.  She's willing to sacrifice anything to protect the critters she rescues, and she's always so good with them, including Tucker, her skittish rescue horse.  Honestly, I probably just liked her for that fact alone.

I'm an animal lover.  We tend to base (most of) our impressions on how well people treat their pets.

And Ethan wasn't too bad either.  He's a bit surly, but, considering he just went through some of the most horrific months of his life and recently staggered out of a hospital after surviving an IED, he probably has reason enough to be a bit prickly.  However, as he and Quinn grow closer, it's really very sweet to see the ways in which he shows Quinn how he loves her.

It's the little things.  Like recognizing how much she loves animals and respecting her affection; or putting thought into a gift she'll want and use, one that reflects her personal interests and passions; or bringing her breakfast in bed.  But, most importantly, respecting when she needs time and when she needs a hug or a kiss or just, in general, someone to lean on.  I have to admit, I felt my heart melting a time or two.

Overall, I enjoyed Laura Moore's novel.  It wrapped me up in a wonderful world of warm characters and loving families and unconditional love.  It was a delightful little romance novel, and I was glad I took the chance to read it...even if the cover made me feel a bit awkward.

The Bad
Once Touched is actually the third book in the series.  Although it does well to stand alone, I wish I'd had a little bit more background information on the Knowles siblings and their family ranch.  It would have, I think, cleared up a little bit of confusion about some of the characters and their relationships.

The Ugly
Relationships are hard work.

And, sometimes, heartbreak is inevitable.  This time, I seriously had some doubts they would mend their fragmented relationship.  I mean, it's almost inevitable in romance novels that they break up at least once, but, oddly enough, I was legitimately worried about them.  I've never read Moore and, while I doubted she would just break her readers' collective hearts like that, I felt a hint of uncertainty.

You never know how a book is going to end, and I kind of liked how Moore kept me on my toes.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Behind Closed Doors

St. Martin's Press
Behind Closed Doors
B.A. Paris

The Summary
"Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace.

"He has looks and wealth; she has charm and elegance.  He's a dedicated attorney who has never lost a case; she's a flawless homemaker and a masterful gardener and cook, and she dotes on her disabled younger sister.  Though they're still newlyweds, they seem to have it all.  You might not want to like them, but you do.  You're hopelessly charmed by the ease and comfort of their home, by the graciousness of the dinner parties they throw.  You'd like to get to know Grace better.

"But it's difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are inseparable.

"Some might call this true love.  Others might wonder why Grace never answers the phone.  Or why she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn't work.  How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim.  Or why she never seems to take anything with her when she leaves the house, not even a pen.  Or why there are such high-security metal shutters on all the downstairs windows.

"Some might wonder what's really going on once the dinner parties are over and the front door has closed."

The Good
Behind Closed Doors crossed my desk purely by accident when I glanced through a stack of newly cataloged books--and I was hooked by the first page.  Honestly, I was probably caught a little earlier than that when I skimmed the jacket cover and read:  "The perfect marriage?  Or the perfect lie?"

Moreover, I read this little gem on the back cover that came from Publishers Weekly, which read:
"Appearances can be deceiving[.]  Terror is contagious...and impending peril creates a ticking clock that propels this claustrophobic cat-and-mouse tale toward its grisly, gratifying conclusion."
It sounded slightly scandalous, and more than a little terrifying.  I couldn't wait to dive in.

The plot is simple, straightforward affair.  At its core, Behind Closed Doors is a survival story; however, it hinges upon the suspense which the author builds as she slowly peels back the layers of Grace's story and reveals the monster behind Jack's angelic facade.  (See what I did there, huh?)  It's a psychological thriller and an abuse survivor story rolled all into one--and it will take your breath away.

It was a wonderful book, and I enjoyed reading Grace's narrative.  She's an eloquent narrator who evokes quick emotional responses, because it feels like she could be anyone--a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend.  Literally, anyone.  And it's so easy to get wrapped up in her story, to feel her gut-wrenching desperation and her dwindling feelings of hope.

And I found it so very, very easy to enjoy the ending.  I don't want to ruin anything, so I won't go into detail, but the conclusion was incredibly gratifying--one would almost say liberating.

The Bad
I like that Paris flashes back to the past, and I like that she gives her readers insight into Jack and Grace's relationship (such as it is).  It helps to flesh out the story, which I really appreciated; however, I couldn't help skimming these chapters for the simple fact that I wanted, more than anything, to find out what happens to Grace.

Yeah, sure, I liked the detail.  It told me a little more about Jack and his psychosis; it told me a little about Grace and her beloved sister.  But I knew Jack was a maniac right out of the gate.  I didn't need more detail telling me what I already knew; instead, I wanted to know if Grace could rescue herself and save her sister.

More importantly, I wanted to know if Jack suffered.

Priorities, you know?

The Ugly
This book made me feel a lot of emotions--and very few of them were good.

If it isn't obvious from the novel summary, Grace's husband, Jack, is not a good person; in fact, he's a horrible person and I despised him from the very beginning.  Even in the first chapter, in which Grace seems to be intentionally vague about her relationship with Jack, you get the feeling that all is not well.  There are red flags that make you perk up, like a dog hearing a whistle, and you can't help thinking, "Something isn't right here."

Well, something wasn't right.

As the story progressed, things went from bad to worse.  Listening to Grace's story, watching with appalled fascination as her terrible ordeal unfolded, I couldn't help feeling very strongly that Jack needed to be stabbed.  Repeatedly.  Possibly drowned for good measure.  As I got to know Grace and her sister, Millie, I couldn't feeling very strongly that Jack needed to die.

Honestly, Behind Closed Doors made me feel very violent, like abnormally violent.  I couldn't stand Jack--and it's all because of an incident with a dog.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I felt so bad for Grace and Millie and the psychological terror they must have endured; however, I was absolutely heartbroken for the dog.

I realize something of this nature had to happen.  It was just one more way of convincing the reader that Jack is horrible and depraved and, in a word, evil.  But I just couldn't handle it.  I can't stand when animals are hurt or killed in books.  My little heart just can't take it.  Besides which, I realize I am not a nice person when something happens to a dog.

I wished all manner of terrible things on Jack.  I even had to skip to the end of the book and find out the ending, so I could reassure myself that I wasn't setting myself up for complete and utter devastation.  Luckily, as one of the book blurbs attests, it has a grisly but oh, so satisfying ending.

That's the only thing that kept me going.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Make Me Love You

Gallery Books
Make Me Love You
Johanna Lindsey

The Summary
"One duel could be considered a matter of honor, but three duels are attempted murder!  With enlightened society outraged at such reckless behavior among young noblemen, the Prince Regent orders Robert Whitworth and Dominic Wolfe to end their dispute by allying their families through marriage.  Whichever party refuses to comply will forfeit his lands and title.

"Most young women on the brink of their first London Season would resent being sent to the Yorkshire moors to marry a complete stranger.  But not Brooke Whitworth.  Bullied by her brother and mistreated by her parents, she developed courage, resiliency, and even a little cunning.  She views the arranged marriage to Lord Wolfe as a welcome escape.  There's no room in her heart for fear.  She will make him love her.

"But Brooke hadn't counted on the Wolf's being so big, formidable, and handsome, or on his hating her simply because she is a Whitworth.  When she learns why Dominic challenged her brother to so many duels, she attempts to unwind the mystery of a tragic death in the hope of unlocking her future husband's heart--and turning his strong passions into an exquisite, enduring love for her alone."

The Good
I rather enjoyed Make Me Love You.  I've not read much by Johanna Lindsey--in fact, I don't recall ever reading one of her novels before this moment--but I found I liked her latest novel.  Romance novels, as I've admitted, are something of a guilty pleasure for me and this one is no different.

It's a fun, adventurous little romance and it was oddly comforting to me.  (I was reading it over Halloween when I was freaked out about watching horror movies, so, honestly, it was a great distraction from all the spooks and goblins knocking at my door.)  Plus, I kind of liked reading about two very different people finding their way to love one another.

I like that Brooke stands her ground in front of Dominic; I like that Dominic is willing to bend his rules and humor her requests, as time goes on.  I mean, I can't not like a guy who, despite his misgivings, allows his--girlfriend?  Fiancee?  Lover?  I'm not really sure what to call her, as he doesn't appear to like her very much at the beginning of the book--betrothed to bring a hulking wolf-dog into his home.  Honestly, that's probably the sweetest gesture he could make.

I'm getting to be such a sucker for love stories.  It's terrible, really.

The Bad
Some of the relationship building in Make Me Love You felt forced; some parts of the plot felt crude and contrived, like the incident with the highwaymen.  I mean, I suppose it could happen, but, overall, it merely felt like a crude device to propel the story along and, honestly, I didn't think it was very clever.  It was an interesting deviation, but it wasn't something I expected to encounter and it wasn't something I really enjoyed.

Personally, I didn't think much of the premise.  Arranging marriages for mutual benefit is, in my mind, a hallmark of fabricating Victorian and Regency relationships in romantic novels; likewise, I think the forced union between the Wolfe and Whitworth families is a diabolically clever ultimatum made by the Prince Regent.  However, I'm a little doubtful that Brooke, for all the years of neglect and abuse she suffered, would immediately jump into a relationship with a man and think she could make him love her.

Love is a powerful thing, yes, but I've never categorized it as a quick or spontaneous thing.  Lust is different, of course, and it makes for quick work; however, love is a little more intricate and, in a word, complicated.  I felt Brooke, for all her supposed cleverness, should have recognized that love, like Rome, wasn't built in a day.  It takes time--and yet their relationship, their mutual affection seemed to coalesce at an astonishing rate.

I couldn't believe it.  I didn't believe it.

In that regard, I considered it a little disappointing.

The Ugly
Abuse.  Neglect.  Exploitation.  Attempted murder.  Gambling, cheating, lying.

And that's just Brooke's brother, Robert.

Honestly, Make Me Love You runs the gambit when it comes to disappointing male figures.  Brooke's father is a terrible tyrant; her brother is, as she dubs him, a "blackguard" and a scoundrel; and Dominic, her intended, has a temper that causes him to lash out emotionally and, on occasion, break her heart.

Let's just say I'm not exactly impressed.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bonus: Beauty and the Blacksmith

Beauty and the Blacksmith: A Spindle Cove Novella by [Dare, Tessa]
Avon Books
Beauty and the Blacksmith
Tessa Dare

The Summary
"Beautiful and elegant, Miss Diana Highwood is destined to marry a wealthy, well-placed nobleman.  At least, that's what her mother has loudly declared to everyone in Spindle Cove.

"But Diana's not excited by dukes and lords.  The only man who makes her heart pound is the village blacksmith, Aaron Dawes.  By birth and fortune, they couldn't be more wrong for each other...but during stolen, steamy moments in the smithy, his strong hands feel so right.

"Is there love forged strong enough to last, or are they just playing with fire?"

The Good
Honestly, I haven't had the best luck with Tessa Dare's novellas.  After reading Once Upon a Winter's Eve and The Legend of the Werestag, I'm currently two for two with disappointing stories; however, Beauty and the Blacksmith proved to be an unexpected delight.  Humorous and light-hearted, Beauty and the Blacksmith is a sweet little romance to read in one evening.

Personally, I liked Diana and Aaron.  Diana is an educated young lady who has spent her life stifled by her infirmity and her mother; she has been burdened with the knowledge that she should win a wealthy suitor and keep her family from abject poverty.  But she wants more for herself:  she wants Aaron, and she wants dreams of her own.  She's brave enough to go out there and put her heart on the line, daring to dream and hope and wish.

And I loved her for it.

And, I hate to say it, Aaron is terribly worthy of swooning.  As far as romantic partners go, he sets the bar pretty high.  He's a nice, steady man who cares about his family, about his village, about his friends; moreover, he's the quintessential "provider" and, while he's willing to protect Diana, he's also willing to stand out of her way when she needs it.  And he doesn't get angry when she burns dinner.

Let's face it, he's pretty much perfect.  (At least, I thought so.)

Together, they're absolutely adorable.  I couldn't help hoping and wishing for the best for them, as I watched their romance unfold, as I watched them struggle with social expectations--i.e. Diana's mother's lofty aspirations for her daughter--and their own misgivings.  It's sweet, it's romantic, and it's a pretty great novella.

The Bad
Not really anything to report.  There were a few moments that I didn't care for, but it happens in all romance novels.

At least it didn't have a love triangle.

The Ugly
Explicit material.

Like I would have put anything else?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Kingdom Come

DC Comics
Kingdom Come
Mark Waid
Alex Ross
Todd Klein

The Summary
"Winner of five Eisner and Harvey Awards, Kingdom Come is the best-selling graphic novel from acclaimed writer Mark Waid and superstar painter Alex Ross.

"Set in the not so distant future, the DC Universe is spinning inexorably out of control.  The new generation of heroes has lost their moral compass, becoming just as reckless and violent as the villains they fight.  The previous regime of heroes--the Justice League--returns under the most dire of circumstances, setting up a battle of the old guard against these uncompromising protectors in a battle that will define what heroism truly is."

The Good
First off, Kingdom Come is perhaps the most beautiful and breathtakingly intricate comic I have ever read.  I didn't realize, until my brother pointed it out to me, that Alex Ross actually created individual oil paintings for each of the panels.  So all that detail you see there on each page?  That's from one man taking his time, painting each shadow and line on a canvas.

There's beauty to be found in that much detail.  There's a realism and depth that's absolutely magnificent, that puts Kingdom Come into a class of its own.

Second, it's also one of the more confusing.  Despite it's deep philosophical reach, I have to say I loved it.  I was a bit confused by Batman's motivations and, honestly, I still don't think I understand what happened to the superheroes--like, why did the Justice League suddenly split up?  Why are there so many heroes and what happened that drove some of them to the brink of insanity?  Why did things have to go such extremes?  And what, exactly, is the Spectre doing--and where does Norman McCay fit into the grand scheme of things?

I'm sure the answers are buried in the story somewhere and, I think, I understand the basic premise of the story, but, regardless, I enjoyed it overall.  The story sheds light on aging superheroes, putting faces on a new generation of superhumans and creates a fascinating world that's hanging by a thread--a complex, precarious world that pits humanity against the superheroes that both save and endanger them.

Honestly, Kingdom Come is difficult to describe.  It's one of those you need to read to see and believe.

The Bad
Like I said, Kingdom Come is a bit confusing.  It's mostly the philosophical musings of the characters that throws me for a loop and the thinly veiled religious undertones that proved more puzzling than anything.  Otherwise, no complaints.

The Ugly
I haven't known much about Captain Marvel--well, I'm more familiar with him as Shazam, his newer DC moniker--but I feel truly bad for the guy.  I mean, here's a superhero who suddenly fell into the clutches of Lex Luthor I don't want to give anything away, but, just know, his story may break your heart.  I mean, he isn't a villain, not like  you might think.  His history and his fate are, truthfully, shattering.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Night Bookmobile

The Night Bookmobile
Audrey Niffenegger

The Summary
"The New York Times bestselling author of The Time Traveler's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger, has crafted her first graphic novel after the success of her two previous critically acclaimed novels-in-pictures, The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress.

"The Night Bookmobile tells the story of a wistful young woman who one night encounters a mysterious disappearing library on wheels.  This library includes everything, and only everything, she has ever read.  Seeing her history and most intimate self in this library, she embarks on a search for the bookmobile.  But over time her search turns into an obsession she longs to be reunited with her own collection and therefore, her memories.

"The Night Bookmobile is a haunting tale both of transcendence and the passion for books, and features the evocative full-color pen-and-ink work of one of the world's most beloved storytellers."

The Good
I read The Night Bookmobile at the suggestion of a coworker, and I found I was fascinated by the notion of a library existing that contains every single item that you have ever read.  It reminded me a bit of the Archive in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, and I couldn't help but be intrigued by the premise of Niffenegger's graphic novel.

Truthfully, I love the idea that every piece of information ever written is collected somewhere, tucked away in some supernatural library that can only be accessed by the right people.  It's something that has enchanted me for years, and I was glad to see it enacted in another story.  However, I'm not sure what to make of the way The Night Bookmobile handled the matter.  I'm still trying to figure out how it makes me feel.

Overall, The Night Bookmobile is a curious story.  It's not a tragedy, per se, but it isn't exactly a happy little story about a woman and her library.  It makes you think, it makes you feel things you might rather not feel, and it makes you question your own mortality...and wonder, what exactly, you will leave behind.

The Bad
I'm really not sure what to make of The Night Bookmobile.

It's intriguing, but it leaves me feeling slightly squeamish.  I mean, as a reader, I love books.  I must have 400 books in my house alone, not counting the bag I keep packed full of library books or the random copies I keep squirreled away in my desk for a rainy day; however, I don't believe my adoration of books has ever turned into something unhealthy.

The narrator of The Night Bookmobile is a young woman who encounters a mysterious library, a collection of books in the back of a Winnebago that reflect each and every book she's ever read, and it sparks an obsession.  It's based on a similar tale by H.G. Wells, "The Door in the Wall," in which a young man becomes consumed by rediscovering the verdant paradise he found behind a mysterious green door.  They have many of the same undertones:  obsession, desperation, an all-consuming (read:  deadly) need to go back to a time and place that was, in a word, happier.

I was really bothered by the way The Night Bookmobile ended.  I know I'm going to ruin the ending, I'm sorry, but I just can't adequately express how I feel about the story without telling you how it ends and how it made me feel after all is said and done.  You see, The Night Bookmobile ends when the narrator commits suicide and becomes a night librarian.  Shortly thereafter, she discovers her collection has been decommissioned, because, and I quote, "only the living have libraries."

Truthfully, I couldn't decide if I was bothered more by the fact the narrator committed suicide in her desperate attempt to reconnect with her library or the fact that her library--in essence, her collective knowledge, her entire sense of being and self--simply disappears.  The entire story raises questions about mortality and what really matters in life...and what's leftover for the next generation.

It's haunting, and it makes me squirm.  I can't decide whether I like it or whether I hate it.  Part of me dislikes it, dislikes the narrator's suicide and the disappearance of her library (her knowledge); however, another part of me is intrigued by the entire thing, by the notion that all books written or read are available somewhere--and that something, however small, is left for the next generation, some semblance of knowledge is passed down and never really lost.

Like I said, I'm conflicted.  As a coworker noted, The Night Bookmobile is not a book that anyone can read without feeling something, good or bad, and forming an opinion about it.

The Ugly

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year: Read Harder Challenge 2016

Since I completed my Read Harder Challenge of 2016 and filled in all the categories recommended by BookRiot, I created some of my own unique categories.  As part of my continued challenge, I've decided to:
  1. Read a book by or about a librarian (or about a library)
  2. Read a medical book (fiction or nonfiction)
  3. Listen to an audiobook romance
  4. Read a brand new, recently published book (anything from 2016)
  5. Read a spin-off from a classic novel and/or fairy tale
  6. Read a book about cake (fiction or nonfiction)
  7. Read a fantasy book featuring dragons
Gotham Books
I thought it might prove fun to dive into some new books I might not otherwise find.  Some are based on recommendations from co-workers, while others are based on books from my TBR pile--and still others are just ideas that seemed like fun.  And with the countdown to the New Year on, I can't wait to tell you all about the books I've read, starting with a book by (and about) a librarian:  The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne.

If you've never read Josh Hanagarne I highly recommend his memoir.  It's funny, it's candid, it's insightful, and, ultimately, it's uplifting.  Although Hanagarne does discuss religion, his main focus is his family, his battle with Tourette's, his struggles with infertility, and his general love of the library and all things literary.  It's enjoyable to see his passion for his family, his books, and his weightlifting come to the forefront as he learns to balance all the different aspects of his life.  Overall, it's a pretty great read.

Next, I read (or, rather, listened to) a medical book--a historical medical drama, fyi--by Tessa Harris:  The Anatomist's Apprentice.  Narrated by  Simon Vance, The Anatomist's Apprentice was an interesting deviation from my usual reading material.  Thomas Silkstone is a young anatomist from Philadelphia who finds himself in England about the time of the Revolutionary War, caught in the midst of a medical mystery...and a murder  It's dark, rather macabre, but it's ultimately fascinating with the sheer depth of detail and history included.  I enjoyed my time in Silkstone's world, and I found myself quickly gravitating to book number two, The Dead Shall Not Rest.

As for listening to an audiobook romance, I decided to check out more by Sarah Addison Allen and picked up The Peach Keeper.  Now, let me give you a warning, I have read almost everything by Allen, except Lost Lake (that one is currently in my TBR), and I have loved almost everything she's written.  The Peach Keeper was no different.  I loved the characters and the complexity of their histories; I loved the little hints of every day magic she weaves into her novels; I even loved the ghost story, which is saying something, as I am not a fan of ghosts.  It was a wonderful visit back to her world, and it was so much fun recognizing an old friend.

I also picked up a brand new book just published this year, a little novel by J. Ryan Stradal called Kitchens of the Great Midwest.  Another audiobook, I know, but it was just as rewarding as any other.  Although it follows a myriad of characters, it focuses on Eva Thorvald and her life as she grows into her own--and all the foods that influenced her in the process.  That's really the simplified version; Kitchens of the Great Midwest is much more complex, much more nuanced than I make it out to be.  It's a recurring cast of characters centered around Eva, but it's quite unlike anything I've ever read.  It's wonderful, and I absolutely adored the narrators, Amy Ryan and Michael Stuhlbarg.
G.P. Putnam & Sons

Speaking of new books, I also discovered Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, which fit nicely into my category for a spin-off novel based on a classic work or a fairy tale.  There were several options for this particular category, but I decided on Jane Steele because Jane Eyre.  I love Jane Eyre (as is probably apparent here), and I loved having the opportunity to reimagine her story not as the quiet, resolute girl who refused to give ground to anyone or relinquish her personal beliefs, but as the sharp, deadly woman with no qualms whatsoever of killing if it means protecting herself and her own.  It's fascinating the contrasts, and I came to love Jane Steele equally for her unwavering commitment to being bad.  It's a rousing good time.

Next, I decided to keep my love of food alive with a book about cake and sisterhood:  The Secret to Hummingbird Cake by Celeste Fletcher McHale.  While I will admit that I liked Garden Spells and The Glass Kitchen better, I enjoyed reading McHale's debut novel--and I absolutely loved getting to know her characters.  I liked Carrigan and I liked Ella Rae for their bravery, sass, and sheer stubborness, but I adored Laine.  She's the impetus of the story, the reason for it all, and, like Carrigan and Ella Rae, I felt an unexpected affection and wonderful kinship with her.  I enjoyed reading their story more than I thought I would.  For a debut novel, The Secret to Hummingbird Cake was pretty great.

Little, Brown Books for
Young Readers
Last but not least, I read a fantasy book featuring dragons with How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.  I picked Cowell's novel up because I fell in love with the movie of the same name; however, I was a little disappointed.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading How to Train Your Dragon.  It's fun, it's inventive, and it's a great series for young readers (I especially liked the Hairy Scary Librarian), but, unfortunately, it's not what I expected.  I made the critical mistake of judging the book in comparison to the movie--and they're two very different creatures.  How to Train Your Dragon the book is very different from How to Train Your Dragon the movie, and it's best not to go into either one with the same expectations.