"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

Friday, March 31, 2017

Once a Dreamer

Title details for Once a Dreamer by Candice Hern - Available
Harper Collins
Once a Dreamer
Candice Hern

The Summary
"When Eleanor Tennant was called to look after her niece Belinda, she swore she'd help her find the perfect suitor.  Unfortunately, Belinda prefers the attentions of Geoffrey Barkwith, a handsome, notorious rake with an unsavory reputation.  In a letter to an advice columnist for The Ladies' Fashionable Cabinet, Belinda asks the woman - should she go after her heart's desire; her response is yes!

"Eleanor, furious with this advice, goes in search of the mysterious Busybody.  She finds out that the wretched woman giving such public encouragement is not a woman at all, but a man!"

The Good
After reading Once a Gentleman and Once a Scoundrel, I was excited to begin reading Once a Dreamer.  While I didn't enjoy this novel as much as the previous two I read, I did enjoy my time reading the first novel in the Ladies' Fashionable Cabinet series.  It's fun and funny and, of course, it's filled with incredibly sweet moments that warmed my heart.

Although Simon is more of a romantic than I would normally like (I think I am like Eleanor in that regard), I loved the way he was constantly falling in love with Eleanor.  Simon is hasty to fall in love, he's quick to jump in with both feet if his heart is behind the move; however, I found his affection for Eleanor to be more subtle.  He adored her, blemishes and all, and he lost himself to her a little piece at a time as they traveled together.

I liked how completely smitten he was with her, and I felt my heart melting as Eleanor slowly and surely began to return his affections.  Granted, his ode to her upper lip was a bit much, but his heart was in the right place.

Overall, Once a Dreamer is a cute, whimsical romance that will pluck at your heartstrings.  While it's by no means my favorite in the series, it's fun and light-hearted and certainly worth reading if you'd like to see more of the characters you love.

The Bad
This novel, more than either Once a Scoundrel or Once a Gentleman, had my disapproval for its unexpectedly dramatic moments and its achingly embarrassing scenes.  Honestly, I hated feeling so embarrassed for these characters.  For instance, I was mortified by Simon's actions at any given time, because he was so often taken by flights of fancy.  And, as for Eleanor, her gut reactions are equally painful.

I had several moments I had to stop reading and step away from the story.  I couldn't handle Simon's overwhelming romanticism; I couldn't deal with Eleanor's chilly, outwardly venomous retorts.  They're a sweet couple, don't get me wrong, but they seem to go through a gauntlet of embarrassing situations that just left me squirming.

Like I said, I don't like feeling embarrassed for characters.  It's too easy for me to see the experience from my perspective.

The Ugly
When I first heard of Eleanor's history, I was heartbroken.  She endured so much grief and heartache from her lover, from her parents, from her so-called friends, from her husband--from the people who were supposed to care for her.  I'm not surprised she was cold and prickly and, in a word, unapproachable.

Personally, I would be too if I'd been subjected to the same things.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Once a Scoundrel

Title details for Once a Scoundrel by Candice Hern - Available
Harper Collins
Once a Scoundrel
Candice Hern

The Summary
"When Anthony Morehouse wins The Ladies' Fashionable in a card game, he thinks it's a piece of furniture.  But he soon learns that it is actually a women's magazine.  He plans to sell it to the editor, but when he see the beautiful Edwina Parrish behind the desk, he changes his mind.  Edwina was his childhood Nemesis, besting him in many competitions and winning from him a family heirloom.  He's never forgotten it and so proposes another wager:  if she wins, he'll give her the magazine; if he wins, he keeps the magazine and gets his heirloom back."

The Good
After reading Once a Gentleman, I decided to look into the rest of the Ladies Fashionable Cabinet series by Candice Hern and, honestly, I can't say I was disappointed.  While I didn't feel the same connection to Edwina and Anthony as I did with Prudence and Nick, I enjoyed reading their story.

I love the way Candice Hern writes.  I like the realism and the attention to detail she affords all of her novels, and I fall in love with the story every time.  I always get that warm, fuzzy feeling when hero and heroine meet, realize they can't live without the other, and make the inevitable plunge into a real, lasting relationship.

Don't get me wrong, it has the predictability of most romance novels.  (I've mentioned this argument in the past, so I won't go into detail.)  However, I was always pleasantly surprised by how real the falling out between Anthony and Edwina felt.  Their argument is heart-wrenching, full of all the ugly and hateful things we are wont to say when our pride is stinging, when we want to lash out and bruise someone else's heart.

They react as anyone might when they're hurt by the person they love, which gives them a level of realism and depth that I find appealing.  Moreover, they're just enjoyable characters:  Edwina is a thoughtful, brave and outspoken woman with a mind of her own; Anthony is, at his core, an intelligent and kind fellow with a heart of gold.

They're good people, and I liked getting to know them.

The Bad
I enjoyed reading Once a Scoundrel.  I liked the characters, I liked the plot, I liked the historical details; however, I didn't like the unending competitions between Edwina and Anthony.  I mean, I understand they're competitive by nature.  They are, of course, going to clash over the various challenges they attempt to set for one another.

But I was quickly wearied by how Anthony made everything a competition.  He makes bets on everything:  racing horses, card games, boxing matches, and anything else that can bring a thrill to his gambler's heart.  He's especially intent on winning matches with Edwina, which, at first, is cute; however, as time goes on, I found myself annoyed by his inexhaustible betting.

The Ugly

Monday, March 27, 2017

Once a Gentleman

Title details for Once a Gentleman by Candice Hern - Available
Harper Collins
Once a Gentleman
Candice Hern

The Summary
"When two friends are found in a compromising situation, their marriage of convenience turns into something neither was looking for...and something neither can live without.

"Nicholas Parrish wakes one morning to pounding at the front door of his London townhouse.  Standing before him is the irate father of Prudence Armitage and several of her scowling brothers.  They accuse him of compromising Prudence, and to his astonishment the woman in question walks out of his study, looking as if she's just been roused from her bed!  Prudence had a tiring night putting the finishing touches to The Ladies' Fashionable Cabinet, the magazine she and Nicholas, along with his sister Edwina, have been working on.

"With Edwina on an extended wedding trip, Prudence had wanted everything to be perfect.  But she fell asleep at her desk, and when she walks out of the office and sees her family ready to murder the man she had secretly had a crush on, Prudence is appalled.  And when a marriage is forced between them, she is devastated.  The damage is done, though, and now she's determined to make things right between herself and her new husband--making him fall in love with her."

The Good
When I first picked borrowed this book from my local library's e-book collection, I have to admit I was a little excited.  I'd read Candice Hern a couple weeks prior when I picked up It Happened One Season, a collection of novellas she wrote with Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balough, and Jaquie D'Alessandro.  In her short story, "Fate Strikes a Bargain," she created a believable romantic relationship, intriguing characters, and used accurate historical details.  Personally, I was thrilled with her work and I couldn't wait to dive into this novel.

And I am so, so glad I did.

It's what you might expect from a romance novel--silly misunderstandings, tried and true romantic tropes, sappy love lorn moments--but it caught me by surprise a few times and made my heart melt.  I was absolutely enchanted by Once a Gentlemen, which is the third and final book in the Ladies Fashionable Cabinet series, and I almost immediately fell in love.

I loved the characters, who felt realistic and unerringly human; I loved the pace of the story, the cadence or, rather, tone it seemed to strike as I was reading; I loved the way the plot--and, subsequently, Prudence and Nicholas' relationship--developed.  Granted, I found the way Nicholas and Prudence were suddenly thrust together in a marriage of convenience to be a little...well, cliche.  I mean, it's been done before and, confidentially, I wasn't expecting that much.

But this is what won me:  they didn't fall in love immediately.

Prudence already loved Nicholas, so it wasn't such a leap for her.  Nicholas just didn't love her; in fact, he saw her more as a little sister than a wife.  Their relationship went from a very close friendship to a deeper intimacy, as they slowly learned more about one another and, more to the point, discovered new things about one another.

Nicholas, in particular, finds himself astonished time and again by the little things about Prudence, like her love of music or her crazy family or her ability to keep the magazine from going under.  I have to admit, I had stars in my eyes as I watched Nicholas' appreciation--and adoration--for Prudence grow.  It basically turned me into a puddle of jelly, which I'm not proud to admit.

Okay, anyway, my point is that I was very impressed by Hern's ability to slowly and believably build a story and, more importantly, build a relationship.  Plus, I loved the historical accuracy, which makes everything feel authentic.  I mean, a book is only as good as the reader's imagination, but Hern does an excellent job of allowing her audience to sink in and really swim the full depth of Regency era England.

I'll be honest, I loved it.  And I plan on binge reading the other two novels--Once a Scoundrel and Once a Dreamer--as soon as I can get my hands on them.

The Bad
I don't really have any complaints.  I mean, like I said, it seems to follow many of the standard plot points that most romance novels follow; however, I think Hern does an admirable job of creating something unique and believable with endearing characters and realistic details.  Overall, I was impressed and I think that Once a Gentleman will probably hold a special place in my heart for a few weeks.

The Ugly
Heartbreak.  Poor Prudence.

I admit, I feel less sympathetic toward Nicholas.  I mean, I'm definitely on Pru's side in their argument.  Maybe it's a female solidarity thing, but, regardless, I was much more sympathetic for Prudence's heartbreak than Nicholas' plight.  She acted selflessly out of a desire borne of love; he reacted out of pride and frustration.

Yeah.  I'm going to be behind Pru all the way on this one.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

It Happened One Season

It Happened One Season
Stephanie Laurens
Mary Balogh
Jaquie D'Alessandro
Candice Hern

The Summary
"We asked our readers what story they would most like to see from four bestselling authors.  They responded....

"A handsome hero returns from war, battle-scarred and world-weary.  But family duty calls and he must find a bride.

"A young lady facing yet another season without a suitor never expects to find herself the object of his affections.

"Four amazing talents...have come together to create one of the most unforgettable events of the year.  The results are spectacular--each story is as unique as a lover's first kiss."

The Good
Okay, full disclosure:  I did not read this whole book.  I read "Only Love" by Mary Balogh and "Fate Strikes a Bargain" by Candice Hern in full, but I basically skimmed "The Seduction of Sebastian Trantor" by Stephanie Laurens and "Hope Springs Eternal" by Jacquie D'Alessandro.  So I won't make any judgments on the stories I didn't read; rather, I'll tell you all about the ones I did.

Mary Balogh wrote a sweet little romance, but, sadly, it was...well, forgettable.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but I can't even remember the names of the characters anymore, let alone the full story.  It was good, but it wasn't seared-into-my-memory kind of good.

"Fate Strikes a Bargain," on the other hand, made more of an impact.

Like the other three short stories included in this book, Candice Hern's short story--or, ahem, novella--features a female protagonist facing another season without a suitor and a weary, battle-hardened hero who must somehow convince her to accept a marriage proposal.  (All the stories literally have the same plot points, so no surprises here.)

I absolutely loved reading "Fate Strikes a Bargain."  It hit all the right notes for me:  wonderful character development (for such a short story), satisfying plot pace, historical accuracy.  Granted, it's a bit predictable, but it quickly had me smiling and laughing by turns.  I loved watching how Philippa and Nathaniel interacted, and I enjoyed watching their relationship develop.  And I really liked that the author wasn't afraid to create characters with flaws, like Philippa with her physical infirmity and Nathaniel with his PTSD.

They're not perfect people.  Nathaniel can't stand getting caught in crowds; Philippa can't dance.  Nathaniel suffers from night terrors regularly, struggling with his memories of the war; Philippa fights to fend off even the best intentions of her family, trying to establish her independence and show her impairment does not make her weaker.  They're not perfect, but they manage to find happiness in each other--and I appreciated that.  I know when I finished reading "Fate Strikes a Bargain," I had to sit back and sigh with contentment, pleased with my book and, somehow, pleased with the world at large.

There are all sorts of warm, fuzzy feelings to be found in this book.

The Bad
I kind of hate I didn't like all the stories; however, I think It Happened One Season is worth checking out if only for the variety and the curious way in which the authors all approached the same story differently.  It was fun, even if I didn't enjoy every single story.

The Ugly

Oh, and explicit material.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Image result
Open Road
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Richard Atwater
Florence Atwater

The Summary
"It was hard enough for Mr. Popper to support himself, Mrs. Popper, Bill and Janie Popper.  The addition of twelve penguins to the family made it impossible to make both ends meet.  Then Mr. Popper had a splendid idea--the talented penguins would be a sensation on the stage.  And so they were...

"A classic American humor, this story of a gentle house-painter and his high-stepping penguins has delighted children for generations."

The Good
Mr. Popper's Penguins is actually a lot of fun.  It's full of little adventurous:  trying to figure out how to support a house full of penguins, creating such a grand display with 12 penguins in tow, looking for a taxi that would take them all across town--and wouldn't be frightened of the birds.

And, speaking of penguins, I loved those little birds.  Starting with Greta and Captain Cook, it's such a fun journey to see how their little clan grows and flourishes and becomes national performance stars.  They were such characters, and I could see why Mr. Popper loved them so.

Overall, Mr. Popper's Penguins was an amusing little book and easy to read, meaning it's a great book for a young audience.

The Bad
Admittedly, I did find myself feeling a little bored while reading Mr. Popper's Penguins.  I mean, it's a great children's book, but, honestly, I wasn't smitten.  Moreover, as an adult, I found some of the things the Poppers' did to accommodate the penguins made me wince.  Like turning the living room into an ice rink--I mean, do you know what kind of havoc that would wreak on wood floors, not to mention the walls?

And I lamented the debt that poor Mr. Popper accrued for the refrigeration unit in the basement, or the costliness of fresh fish and every day bills for keeping a dozen penguins happy and healthy.  It's a bit difficult to read as an adult, realizing the economic toll, despite suspending disbelief.

The Ugly
Crippling debt.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Read Harder Challenge 2017: Part 2

Next up for my Read Harder Challenge, I...
  • Read a book about sports.
  • Read a book you've read before.
  • Read a book published by a micropress.

Admittedly, I wasn't sure how to conquer this first task, because I am not a sports and/or athletic person.  I am, at best, a rather sedentary creature with a great affinity for books and chocolate and good food, preferably in that order; however, I was willing to take a crack at this one, because, surely, I could find a sport liked.  Considering the sheer variety of sports out there, I knew I could find something entertaining.

And, luckily, I did.  A co-worker recommended Playing for Pizza by John Grisham, and, since the challenge doesn't specify fiction or nonfiction, I thought I'd give it a whirl.  I'm so glad I gave Grisham's novel a chance, because I enjoyed it so much more than I expected.  Granted, I listened to the audiobook, which features Christopher Evan Welch as narrator, but I don't think that matters as Playing for Pizza is a fun, accessible and entertaining novel whether listening or reading.

Not to mention, I really enjoyed the description of food.  (I was craving pasta like mad, before all was said and done.)

Playing for Pizza begins with a game, specifically the worst game of Rick Dockery's career.  Now, marked as the worst player in the NFL--and effectively banished from Cleveland--and sporting a terrible head injury that would leave most player's contemplating retirement, Rick is at his wits end.  Since he can't find a new position in the U.S., his agent directs him to Parma--as in Parma, Italy, where he becomes quarterback for a ragtag group of Italians who just happen to be American football aficionados.  It's a huge change for Rick--and, as Rick learns, it might not be a bad one.

Next, I decided to reread Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee.  This is one of my favorite Batman comics for the simple fact that it has some of the most alluring, most beautiful art I've encountered, and it has such a richly detailed, incredibly poignant story that it kept me absolutely mesmerized the first time around.  I love every bit of this book, and I found it to be even better the second (okay, third) time.

DC Comics
Unlike Loeb's earlier works, Long Halloween and Dark Victory, which features Batman's earlier career, Hush follows the weathered and strained Batman/Bruce Wayne as he tries to keep Gotham safe from new and ever worsening dangers.  Together with his cadre of crime-fighting vigilantes--including Nightwing, Robin, Huntress, and Superman (but not quite Catwoman)--Batman sets out to find the puppet master who has set the whole of Gotham's underworld onto his heels.

Hush is one of those comics that will knock your socks off.  It's thoughtful, it's complex, and it explores every emotional side of a Dark Knight who has suffered innumerable losses, endured more grief and pain than most can manage, and defeated some of the most terrifying villains in the world.  Moreover, it has a level of Agatha Christie-esque mystery, which I enjoyed.

I mean, I certainly didn't expect it to end the way it did--and I found Batman to be all the more clever for ultimately solving the mystery.

Last, I read Master of Crows by Grace Draven.  Originally published by Amber Quill Press (which, I realize, is not a micropress), it was eventually republished by Grace Draven--and, as the definition of a micropess means it is a small and/or single-person publisher, I decided it would fit nicely into this category to complete my challenge.

Yes, yes, I realize I might be pushing the rules with this one, but I have to point out that I haven't had a lot of luck finding books published by micropresses to which I have easy access.  I know of a few local publishers, but they are publishing companies with a large enough staff that I feel they don't count.  Moreover, I couldn't find something I enjoyed by a micropress to which I had access at my local library, thus the Internet--and Master of Crows--became my go-to choice.
Amber Quill Press/
Grace Draven

Now, putting aside my (weak) justifications, Master of Crows wasn't a bad novel.  In a world where magic exists and dark creatures lurk at the periphery of civilization, Silhara and Martise are thrust together in an unexpected alliance when one of the old gods--Corruption--returns.  Determined to stop Corruption and deny his fate, Silhara enlists the aid of the Conclave and meets Martise, a slave girl turned spy.  Together, they must discover Corruption's weakness and save the world....or, quite possibly, die trying.

I realize it sounds melodramatic and, yes, I suppose it is; however, it's also an unexpectedly complex novel that I enjoyed.  It has its faults, but, overall, it had interesting characters and created a sturdy setting that I appreciated.  Personally, I think I enjoyed Draven's ability to build her world.  It's rich with detail and magic, and I absolutely loved learning more and more about the creatures, places, and history of Silhara and Martise's world.  I realize it's more of an acquired taste, but it's certainly worth sampling.

Unless, of course, you're not a fan of explicit romance.  In which case, I probably wouldn't recommend it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Ugly Duchess

The Ugly Duchess
Eloisa James

The Summary
"How can she dare to imagine he loves her...when all London calls her The Ugly Duchess?

"Theodora Saxby is the last woman anyone expects gorgeous James Ryburn, heir to the Duchy of Ashbrook, to marry.  But after a romantic proposal before the prince himself, even practical Theo finds herself convinced of her soon-to-be duke's passion.

"Still, the tabloids give the marriage six months.

"Theo would have given it a lifetime..until she discovers tat James desire not her heart, and certainly not her countenance, but her dowry.

"Society was shocked by their wedding...and is scandalized by their separation.

"Now James faces the battle of his life, convincing Theo that he loves the duckling who blossomed into the swan.

"And Theo will quickly find that, for a man with the soul of a pirate, All's Fair in Love--and War."

The Good
The Ugly Duchess was actually kind of fun.  I enjoyed reading about a heroine whom no one considered pretty.  She's striking, but never pretty; breathtaking in all her haughty, untouchable glory, but never beautiful.  And yet she's incredibly successful--she runs an entire estate, including multiple business, on her own--and manages her own affairs quite nicely.

More to the point, she's unwilling to take grief from anyone.  I mean, seriously, Theodora exercises her intelligence and her steely determination to do what she likes whenever she likes.  Even when her world feels like it's crashing down around her, she's unwilling to break under the stress.

When she finds out her guardian, the Duke of Ashbook, has been pilfering from her dowry, she kicks him out and cuts ties with him.  When she discovers that James has lied to her, learning he only married her to cover his father's tracks, she basically dissolves their marriage.  When she sees her visage in the newspaper with a terrible new moniker, the Ugly Duchess, scrawled beside it, she steps back, licks her wounds, and then astonishes them all by sending the world of fashion into a fervor and single-handedly reinvigorates the bankrupt Duchy of Ashbrook.

Theo is quite extraordinary.  I only sort of liked James.  He's not a bad guy and he really does seem to love Theo, even if he does a terrible job of letting her know.  But, as the story progresses, I couldn't help cheering for Theo.  She's completely, totally self-sufficient and she's not afraid to take charge of her life, even when things seem at their worst.

That's just the way I like my heroines:  spunky, smart, and self-sufficient.

The Bad
The Ugly Duchess is an odd story.  I mean, James does a passable job of creating a believable scenario and a relatable characters; however, you have to suspend disbelief a little when James sets out on his own and, drum roll please, becomes a pirate.

Don't get me wrong, stranger things have happened in history.  You have only to look at Rejected Princesses to see what I mean.  I just thought it seemed a little...strange, unbelievable for a book that truly felt like it made the effort to keep itself grounded in historical fact and kept just a touch of realism.

Otherwise, no complaints.

The Ugly
Two things:  one, people are cruel and it's terrible to see their cruelty acted out on others; two, it's a very, very explicit novel.  The latter made me feel especially awkward when I realized Theodora and James were 17 and 19, respectively, when they were first married.  I really didn't need all that explicit detail regarding people who are essentially minors.

Monday, March 13, 2017

She's No Princess

Image result
She's No Princess
Laura Lee Guhrke

The Summary
"The illegitimate daughter of a prince and a notorious courtesan, Lucia has been confined to schools and convents for most of her life.  But that hasn't stopped her from causing one scandal after another.  Exasperated, her royal father decides that his exquisite hellion of a daughter must be married immediately.  And Sir Ian Moore, Britain's most proper diplomat, is the perfect man to choose her a groom.

"Diplomacy, not matchmaking, is Ian's forte, but he vows to get the chit married off as soon as possible so that he may return to more important duties.  Yet, despite an abundance of very eager, worthwhile candidates, none is a match for Lucia's spirit and fire.  And the more time Ian spends with the infuriating beauty, the more reluctant he is to marry her off.  Could it be that he has already found Lucia the perfect husband...and it is Ian himself?"

The Good
For some reason, I adored this novel.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but I just found She's No Princess to be a wonderfully whimsical, terribly amusing, and incredibly refreshing.  You see, Lucia and Ian's romantic entanglement is far from conventional.  I mean, you have your generic boy meets girl, they fall in love, they discover some kind of barrier that keeps them apart then they finally marry and live happily ever after.

And yet...I found that their relationship seems to climax (no pun intended) with a series of selfish acts, which surprised me.  Most lovers (note:  not all) usually do something foolish--or, in some cases, something selfless--that breaks up a relationship.  They leave or let their lover leave, they uncover some hidden truth and accusations fly, or they do something they believe will save the one they love.

But both Lucia and Ian do something--that is, they actively make decisions that are thoughtless and, confidentially, selfish.  That's usually not the way of things and, honestly, I was completely unprepared.  It's actually very refreshing.

Besides it's unconventional conclusion, I loved the relationship development between Lucia and Ian.  I think it was nice to see Lucia evolve as a character and, more to the point, I think it was nice to see a passionate, rebellious young woman who really pushed the boundaries and tried to establish herself as an individual.

Granted, I don't think I always understood her--and I definitely recognize her selfish tendencies--but I appreciated her.  She's flawed, but she feels so relatable.  She's contrary, she's moody, she's delightfully passionate, but, overall, she's a good person and she's a good character who manages to convey all the facets of the human personality, all the good and the bad, which I appreciated.

The Bad
Scandal--especially very public scandals--embarrassment.  And I hate feeling embarrassment, especially when I become invested in these characters.

The Ugly
My heart broke a little for Lucia and Ian.  In some ways, they managed to betray each other:  Lucia tempting fate, pushing in just the right way to get the outcome she desires; Ian overstepping his boundaries, succumbing without thought to repercussions.  It's a bit...frustrating, you see, and it's not quite the "happily-ever-after" I expected.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Bonus: Sweeter with You

Title details for Sweeter With You by Susan Mallery - Wait list
Sweeter with You
Susan Mallery

The Summary
"Ana Raquel's greatest passion is food:  she's a gifted chef with the experience to prove it.  Armed with an Airstream trailer-turned-mobile-kitchen, she's back in her hometown of Fool's Gold, California, ready to make her dreams of running her own kitchen come true.  There's just one problem--one tall, dark-eyed,utterly exasperating problem:  Greg Clary, her archnemesis.

"Greg has always one-upped her at everything.  he even has a restaurant in Fool's Gold that's wildly successful.  And when the mayor asks Ana to collaborate with Greg on a cookbook, she's forced to confront her unresolved feelings for him.  Ana can craft the most delicate souffle, but can she navigate the desire of her own heart?"

The Good
I've been a fan of Susan Mallery for a long time, and I've come to love her imaginary town of Fool's Gold.  I don't know why, but I've always been enchanted by her stories.  They're short and sweet, but (not often) foolishly romantic.  Sweeter with You is much the same of what I've come to expect.

Except shorter.  Much shorter.

It was fun.  I read it quickly (during lunch, I believe), and I enjoyed a short jaunt back to Mallery's idealistic little town.

The Bad
Honestly, Sweeter with You feels rushed.  I mean, it's only a novella, so I understand that a lot has to happen in a few pages for the story to progress and for the romance to happen.  And yet I still didn't feel very interested in the characters or as invested in the story.

It just wasn't quite the same, like it was missing something.  It probably could have used an entire novel to improve upon the development of the plot and the emotional evolution of the characters.  I might have preferred a longer novel in that regard.

Or I might have like to read it in the original cookbook format.

The Ugly
Nothing really.  It's very mild for a novella, especially for a Fool's Gold story.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Rejected Princesses: Tales of History's Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics

Dey St.
Rejected Princesses:  Tales of History's Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics
Jason Porath

The Summary
"Well-behaved women seldom make history...and these women are far from well behaved.

"Let's face it:  the list of historical women we learn about in school is lacking.  It's safe, it's censored, it's short.  And even when we learn about a true legend--say, Harriet Tubman--we get half the story (and it's usually not the half about her as a plantation-torching Union spy-master).  This is just the list of women we know about.  What of the women we don't?

"In place of complex, real-life heroines, we get sparkly, doe-eyed animated damsels who dominate children's minds everywhere.

"Rejected Princesses is here to provide an alternative to all that.

"In this fully illustrated, deeply researched, and totally entertaining collection, Jason Porath offers 100 women too uncompromising, too untoward, or too uncomfortable to fit the modern princess mold.  Gathering together a diverse set of some famous, some infamous, some forgotten, and some virtually unknown figures from history and myth, from all over the globe, this book presents the female role models we never knew we needed.  Yes, there are a few princesses, but there are also pirates, spies, journalists, activists, concubines, empresses, ninjas, pilots, samurais, mathematicians, sword-slingers, and war-lords too.

"These women were rebels and rulers, pioneers in their fields, and fighters for their causes (and sometimes for themselves).  In a time when women are still pushing for equal pay and equal opportunity, shouldn't we be putting brave women like Sybil Luddington, Hatshepshut, Nzinga Mbande, Josephine Baker, Khutulun, Rani Lakshimbai, Harriet Tubman, Emmeline Parkhurst, and Joan of Arc on equal footing with Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty?

"Women have always played a key, kick-ass role in revolutionizing our world.  The girls of today are the latest links in a long chain of geniuses, warriors, and fearless women.  It is the birthright of every woman to have a connection to that history.  Empowering, uproarious, and anything but traditional, Rejected Princesses seeks to provide just that."

The Good
I loved this book.

Yes, loved.

If it's not already apparent, I'm a bit of a history nerd and I love learning about quirky, unconventional history and feisty females who made their mark on history (see:  Bad Girls), so Rejected Princesses was the best of both worlds for me.

I imagine that many of the women featured in this book were too rebellious, too dangerous and, sometimes, too deadly to make it into high school textbooks; in fact, many of the women--whether resigned to the darkest parts of history or lingering at the edges of myth--were a pleasant surprise.  That is, I'd never read about them and I loved learning about them and the impact they made on history.

Here are some of my favorites:
  • Khutulun
  • Noor Inayat Khan
  • Julie d'Aubigny
  • Annie Jump Cannon
  • Iara
  • Mariya Oktyabrskaya
  • Olga of Kiev
  • Ching Shih
  • Sybil Luddington
  • Alfhild
  • Mary Bowser
  • Nanny of the Maroons
  • Tomo Gozen
  • Marjana
All of these women were incredible.  I mean, on this list alone you have fighters and warriors, spies and astronomers, pirates and Vikings, rebels and freedom fighters.  They're incredible.  Granted, I know some of them didn't exist (Marjana is a literary character, whereas Iara and, I think, Alfhild are myths and/or legends), but it was wonderful getting a glimpse into these individual cultures and their perceptions of women--and how these women flaunted conventions.

It was great.

And, of course, I can't forget the Night Witches from my list.  You can hear about me rhapsodize about the Night Witches here, so I won't go into much detail about them, except to say that they are without a doubt the most incredible pilots of World War II (I'm not joking) and, perhaps, some of the most incredible women about which I've had the pleasure to learn.

Overall, Rejected Princesses is a wonderful book.  Full of humor, colorful art, historical facts and, of course, incredible women, it's a great resource for those who wish to dabble in history--and it will show you just what it means to fight like a girl.

The Bad
No complaints.

I seriously want a copy for myself.

The Ugly
History is not always pretty--and, let's be honest here, it hasn't always been kind to women.  Some were burned at the stake because they were different; others were buried alive or faced a firing squad; some were even assassinated for their own violent reactions to society.  Not all these ladies had the luxury to happily retire.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Geis: A Matter of Life and Death

Geis:  A Matter of Life and Death
Alexis Deacon

The Summary
"The chief matriarch is dying.  Drawing her last breath, she declares a contest:  let fate decide the one worthy to rule.  Fifty souls are summoned in the night; fifty souls bound to the same fate.  But this is no ordinary trial...

"And so begins the first task."

The Good
Honestly, I was unexpectedly fascinated by Geis.  It's a book that I did, but somehow didn't, like.  That probably sounds strange, but Geis is a graphic novel that's difficult to explain.  It's rich with imagination, but terrifyingly dark, hinted with macabre undertones that make you shiver and make you think.

It's a startling combination of adventure and horror and supernatural elements, fabricating a dark and fascinating world that's rich, but stark in its shadows.  I was reluctantly intrigued by Geis.  I almost didn't want to read it, but, at the same time, I ended up devouring it in a matter of hours.  It's so morbid that you almost can't help following along with the story.

Overall, it's a fine comic.  It had an interesting story, a well-developed world, and a fascinating cast of characters that caught my attention.  Although I'm still not sure how I feel about Alexis Deacon's book, I will probably read the second volume when it arrives on the scene.  I could use some closure--I feel I'm invested now.

The Bad
I can't quite put my finger on it, but something didn't quite catch me with Geis.  It left me with a lot of conflicting emotions, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about it.  I wasn't overcome with joy when reading it, yet I didn't find it horrible or distasteful; rather, I liked it.  I liked it even if I didn't care to like it.

It's a muddle.

The Ugly
The premise of this book is a competition.  Fifty individuals are summoned to the castle of the chief matriarch to witness her death and receive her decree on who shall succeed her; however, a dark enchantress is added to the mix....and she has other plans in mind.  The chief matriarch creates a trial:  whosoever succeeds in the competition shall be crowned the new ruler.

And everyone else dies.

Seriously.  That's how it goes.

Only one person will survive the trial, which means everyone else will meet horrible, gruesome deaths--and, somehow, the enchantress will triumph over all.  I won't say anything more for fear of ruining the story; however, I will note that I was surprised by the dark turns that Geis seemed to make.  It's almost difficult to read in that regard, because I don't foresee the series ending very well.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: BFF (Volume 1)

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur:  BFF (Volume 1)
Brandon Montclare
Amy Reeder
Natasha Bustos

The Summary
"Lunella Lafayette is an inhuman preteen genius who wants to change the world!

"That job would be a lot easier if she wasn't living in mortal fear of her latent inhuman gene.  There's no telling what she'll turn into--but Luna's got a plan.  All she needs is an Omni-Wave Projector.  Easy, right?  That is, until a red-scaled beast is teleported from the prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call...today!  Together they're the most Marvelous Team-Up of all--the Inhuman Moon Girl and time-tossed Devil Dinosaur!  But will they be BFFs forever or just until DD's dinner time?  And Lunella soon learns that there are other problems with having a titanic T. Rex as a pet in the modern-day Marvel Universe.  School, for one.  Monster hunters are another--especially when they're the Totally Awesome Hulk!  Then there's the fact that everyone's favorite dino didn't journey through time alone.  Beware the prehistoric savages known as the Killer-Folk--New York City's deadliest tourists!  Can Lunella handle all this turmoil...and keep herself from transforming into an inhuman monster?"

The Good
Featuring smart, sassy Lunella and, of course, the indomitable Devil Dinosaur, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is an amusing and adventurous comic to read.  More to the point, it's a good comic for all ages as it's both entertaining and accessible without compromising on complexity or content.  (Plus it's a great comic for the Read Harder Challenge for 2017, just so you know.)

I admit, I was a little hesitant to pick up Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.  I'd seen single issues in the local comic book store and, for some reason, I couldn't imagine myself reading them.  They seemed too young for me or too cartoonish or too...well, something, but then I discovered the first volume collection and I immediately fell in love.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is one of those comics that has a feel-good message and a strong moral (i.e. girls can like science--and they can be kick butt heroes just like anyone else), but it also has a good story, a strong female protagonist, hilarious hero-villain interactions, unusual adventurers and unconventional victories.  It reminds me a bit of Squirrel Girl, minus the acorns and furry tails, of course.

Granted, it's a bit absurd, but it's fun and it's wonderfully light-hearted and it's incredibly colorful.  I loved how expressive each panel seemed, taking into account facial expressions and background colors and movement.  Plus, I just loved Lunella.  She was such a fun character to follow and she a great narrator.  Sassy, but not obnoxious; humorous, but not clownish; intelligent, but not overwhelmingly smart.  She was a perfectly balanced character.

Overall, I thought it was a great comic and I'm so glad I took the opportunity to read it.

The Bad

For some reason, I just couldn't take the "Totally Awesome" Hulk seriously.

The Ugly
It's easy to forget that Lunella is only 9-years-old.  She's such a strong, dynamic and intelligent character, you sometimes don't think that she's still in elementary school.  But then you come across a scene where she's broken-hearted, sobbing because she's terrified her Inhuman genes will turn her into a monster--and that's when you remember.

She's just a kid.  She still needs her mom and her dad.

It's a bit heart breaking.