Tuesday, October 27, 2015

There's the right way, then there's my way; there's a highway, if you don't like it you can take it.

Beautiful Broken RulesBeautiful Broken Rules by Kimberly Lauren

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

College student Emerson Moore has a hard and fast set of rules for relationships -- mainly: avoid them like the plague. She won't sleep with any guy more than three times, to prevent attachment of any kind. So far, Emerson has had great success with this, and she's having fun. Then Emerson meets Jaxon - when he and his twin brother, Jace, move in with Emerson's best friend, Cole. Emerson quickly becomes close to Jaxon. Is he the one who will turn her set of rules on its head?

This book had promise and it was a quick read, but overall, I just found it ridiculous and the writing was terrible - stilted and juvenile. It reminded me of something a middle schooler would write (though hopefully they wouldn't stray into this sexualized subject matter). Emerson is a college student absolutely determined not to have a relationship based on the fact that her parents split -- she has certainly had trauma in her life to cause her feelings, but her insane attachment to this gets to be a little silly. She is a poor communicator and a frustrating protagonist. The character development is nil and we're basically just told things about her and the rest of the characters, rather than shown them, or allowed to see things develop on their own.

Furthermore, some of the stereotypes in this book are beyond frustrating. Emerson's willingness to embrace being the school "slut" (a word she seems to have no problem with) is awful. When Jaxon enters the scene, no one seems to have an issue with his insane over-protectiveness and anger issues. It would be one thing if this was written somewhat cheekily, a la "Twilight," but these characters genuinely seem to think their actions and motivations are okay. The end result is a portrayal of college as nothing but sexual encounters with a mix of sexual harassment and domestic abuse thrown in. It all overshadows what could be a decent story (girl with commitment issues meets handsome guy with shadowy past). There were certainly some bright spots, but overall it just left me feeling too icky.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in.

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novel details the story of Lotto and Mathilde, who meet as their college days are ending and marry shortly thereafter. Lotto and Mathilde appear to all as a glamorous and lovely couple-- adored by all their friends. However, their marriage and relationship may not be all it appears - even to each other.

Groff starts off the book from Lotto's point of view and then halfway through, we get Mathilde's side. (Therefore, everyone must compare it to "Gone Girl," which is driving me crazy. Can we just stop using "Gone Girl" as the marker to which to compare every book written since?! Thank you.) It's an interesting and well-done plot device, in Groff's deft hands, and you find yourself amazed at how the relationship differs between the two perspectives.

There's a lot of discussion of Lotto and Mathilde's parties (a bit much for me) and a backstory to Lotto's childhood (and eventually Mathilde's). Groff does an excellent job of showing how Lotto and Mathilde's childhood formed the people they became as adults -- and how they acted as spouses. I won't lie - I enjoyed Mathilde's section a bit more, even if I didn't perhaps like her as much as Lotto as a person - she's an interesting character. The end is a little much, but the novel is still well-done. I'd rate it as 3.5 stars - some of it dragged a bit for me, but I certainly enjoyed it.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Give me what I deserve 'cause it's my right.

X (Kinsey Millhone, #24)X by Sue Grafton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The plot of "X" opens up with the story of a woman attempting to steal a painting. Then Grafton switches to present day, catching us up with Kinsey. "X" details several threats - mainly Kinsey trying to track down a recently released felon for a client and Kinsey working with Pete Wolinksy's widow to assist her with finding some files related to an IRS investigation. There's also a subplot involving Henry and Kinsey's new neighbors.

I have to state up front that I love Grafton and I love Kinsey Millhone. I hope they never make this series into a film, because I have my own picture of Kinsey in my mind, and I don't want anyone to ruin it. I started reading this series in middle school (!) and look forward to each and every release. Alas, while I enjoyed "X," it seemed a bit lackluster compared to many of Millhone's previous Kinsey efforts.

If you've read any Grafton book (or truly any mystery), you can envision that Kinsey's disparate cases will somehow overlap at some point. Her cases are fairly interesting, though Kinsey hems and haws a bit about her past with Pete. The side plot with Kinsey and her new neighbors (while somewhat appalling) just drags on, which makes me sad, because it involves Henry, and I do enjoy Henry.

Overall, it's a quick read and also good to catch up with Kinsey. However, I found myself wishing we could progress a bit more with Kinsey's personal life (besides Henry). Though perhaps the book represents how stagnant Kinsey feels in life? Hard to tell. But I do hope the next book brings her a little more excitement and happiness in both work and her personal life.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

You better kiss me 'cause you're gonna miss me when I'm gone.

The Guest RoomThe Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Richard Chapman reluctantly agrees to host his younger brother's bachelor party--at his own home. He suspects his brother, Philip, and Philip's good friend Spencer may be hiring some "entertainment" for the party, but isn't expecting the two women and Russian bodyguards who show up for the evening. Nor is Richard expecting what follows -- an evening of drinking, partying, sex, and suddenly - murder, when the women kill their bodyguards and disappear. Suddenly, Richard finds himself trying to explain what happened to his wife, their young daughter, his employer, and the world at large. Further he finds himself haunted by memories of his interactions with one of the girls, Alexandra.

This was an interesting book with a somewhat fascinating premise. It brings up a lot of questions about morality. What role does our society play when it comes to bachelors parties -- and what is the expectation of those attending? And the spouses and fiancees on the other side? What do we tell ourselves about the origin of the "talent" that appears at such functions? Bohjalian attempts to explore these questions through Richard's story - which unfolds from Richard's perspective, that of his wife, Kristin, and one of the hired girls, Alexandra. It becomes almost a bit of a thriller - as we piece together bits before the party, the aftermath, and also learn what led up to the girls' fateful decision.

A bit of the book lags in the beginning, but it picks up quickly and becomes quite compelling. One would think Richard would be the main character, but for me, the story revolved around Alexandra. Her tale is the most thought-provoking and insightful. At points, the novel is simply heart-breaking. Richard's sections are often irritating and frustrating, as you can only have so much sympathy for the man at points. Kristin is a good go-between - the innocent bystander blindsided by what occurred in her home when she was not there.

Overall, the book weaves the story nicely around its characters. Little details give a nuanced perspective that authors less experienced than Bohjalian may lack (he's also one of the few authors that has me hitting the dictionary from time to time to look up words). There was a time when I really felt my rating for this could range from 2 - 4 stars. It received a bump for the ending, which just felt fitting, and for Alexandra, who was a lovely protagonist and written in such a quiet way that doesn't come along very often. In the end, this felt more than a "life in suburbia gone terribly wrong" story - it was cold and heartless, yet heart-breaking and compassionate. A worthwhile read, for sure.

(Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Dumb as a box of hammers but he's such a handsome guy.

The Theory of OppositesThe Theory of Opposites by Allison Winn Scotch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Willa Chandler-Golden grew up in the shadow of her famous father, a renowned scientist and self-help author whose advice about just leading your life and giving into your fate has basically taken over Willa's entire life. Case in point: she is actually named William, since she was "supposed" to be a boy and her father assumed it was her fate to be named William. Willa is now married, but her life seems to be falling apart at the seams - she's been let go from her job and her husband, Shawn, wants a "break" from their seemingly happily married life. Willa needs to decide if she's really on board with her Dad's laissez faire theory, or if she's ready to take charge of her own life.

I stumbled across this book on the library's ebook website and it was basically exactly what I wanted/expected - a simple, fun, easy read. Willa is a frustrating character at times - girl has absolutely no ability to stand up for herself or take charge of her life sometimes! However, as you get to know her family, it does make a little sense. The book is silly at times and a little crazy and fantastical, but it's fun, and the outcome isn't entirely predictable. A good, quick read.

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

If my Mom could see me now, she'd lock me in the sin closest.

All of Us and EverythingAll of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Rockwell sisters are returning home. Now grown, Esme, Liv, and Ru grew up with their slightly eccentric mother, Augusta, on the Jersey Shore. As kids, Augusta told the girls their Dad was a spy, and the girls were never quite sure what to believe. Each sister has her own struggles. Esme's marriage is failing and her daughter, Atty, has had a major breakdown at school. Liv is doing great -- when it comes to rehab and divorce. Ru is struggling with her engagement and the contract to write her second book. When they all arrive home, they discover that Hurricane Sandy has unearthed something related to their childhood. Will it finally cause Augusta to tell them the truth about their father?

This was certainly a quirky book. At times, a little too much quirk and angst, to be honest. The whole "your father is a spy" thing seems a bit crazy at times. The girls quibble and bicker, but don't really appear to be real characters you can get behind. Neither does their supporting cast. The exception is Atty, who was quite hilarious, even if her tweeting gets out of hand (that is the point, though). The book grows on you, however, as the girls reunite at home and learn more about their past. It's all a little crazy and over the top, but if you embrace it, it's a fun, quick read, with some real emotion thrown in by the end.

(Note: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

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Saturday, October 03, 2015

Hey, it's how Dickens got started.

Carefully Everywhere DescendingCarefully Everywhere Descending by L.B. Bedford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Audrey Anderson is a bright student from a low income family. Audrey spends most of her time focused on school, with college as her ultimate goal. While she's close to her best friend, she isn't that involved with other kids at her school. However, when one of the most popular (and beautiful) girls in school, Scarlett, asks Audrey to tutor her in English, Audrey finds herself caught up in the typical drama of high school - friendship, prom, etc.

Okay, first of all, I probably bumped up this rating a bit because it was just so refreshing to read a YA LGBT novel with a nice, normal protagonist who seemed real. Most of Audrey's friends and family seem fine with her sexuality and other girls at her school go to prom together. It's wonderful to see a LGBT book where the character's sexuality is just part of her life, versus what drives the entire plot.

The book also does a good job of portraying Audrey and Scarlett's romance - Audrey's unrequited love for Scarlett seemed a bit much at first, but remembering back to the angst of teen love, it seemed right on point.

My problem with this book was some of its odd plot twists, which really didn't seem necessary. I won't spoil the book here, but I think Bedford could have stuck with Audrey and Scarlett's love story and been just fine. That being said, I didn't think they were that crazy or out of left field. I found Audrey to be a compelling and realistic character and it was great to see an author use a YA protagonist from a low income background, even if it did seem a bit overused at times. Too often these books focus on the popular kids, driving their parents' cars and living life without a care in the world. Audrey's life is probably far more realistic for many.

Frankly, the book had some holes and issues, but it was still worth the read for its portrayal of a real YA lesbian relationship and Audrey's overall situation. I enjoyed her character and read the entire book in one day - I'll certainly be recommending it to several of my friends.

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