Recurring themes of the month: Main characters whose siblings get married to their exes. Ambiguity. Characters being killed off so their loves will get new romances. (Ew.) Small heroines with big heroes. Jewish characters. Children being kidnapped. (Ack!) References to “Top Gun.” Organized crime bosses. Romance heroes who would be considered abusers in real life. Childhood sweethearts. Water sex. Homicidal mania. “Me” titles. “Girl” titles. Pittsburgh, again. High school boys with odd social roles. Characters who were adopted. Widows, virgin or otherwise. First books in series. The name Voldemort.
The horror… The horror…: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. The main character and his friend like to remake movies, including “Apocalypse Now.”
I have mixed feelings about this book. It was funny, and had moving moments, but its frequent self-conscious meta asides about not being one of those profound YA books about cancer got really old. (They might work better in print than audio, but reviews seem to indicate not.) And the portrayal of Earl made me uncomfortable — he came off as a magical Negro, and he’s totally shafted.
Turtle: Leave Me by Gayle Forman.
This would also work well in “Blossom,” but I like the metaphor of the main character retreating into her shell and then slowly emerging.
(Holy crap! I wrote the above before finishing the book, and just opened it up and read, “when she and Jason got into a fight, this was exactly what he did: became a turtle, all hard shell.” BONUS.
I started out finding this really upsetting, and ending up finding it heartwarming.
October: Asperger’s From the Inside Out by Michael John Carley. Because it took me all October to struggle through this book. Not that it’s bad! I have kind of a block about autism books of the “helping kind (as opposed to, say, fiction or autobiography) and there wasn’t much here that was new to me. I’ll save it for my son. Though his block is worse even than mine.
From Beyond the Grave: Return to Me by Shannon McKenna.
I chose this square name, and I was envisioning a book in which characters are brought together because of a will. It turned out to be more apt than I figured, because the plot is driven by a letter from a dead man… and there are also ghostly visitations. My TBR Challenge read.
Spring: Sting by Sandra Brown. They have to spring someone out of jail — I won’t say who. Prime Brown romantic suspense with great twists.
Power Failure: The Rich Man’s Whim by Lynne Graham. A perfect square because every time the book comes close to possibly being interestingly dramatic, it pulls its punches. It’s like reading The Little Engine That Could going “I think I can, I think I can… nah, it’s a bad idea, better forget about it.”
Head: The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev. Ria’s mother and grandmother were both severely mentally ill, and she spends a lot of time in her own head, freaking out.
I didn’t get the love for Dev’s first book, which I remember as kind of twee, but this one caught me with its intensity. There are some problematic aspects — Miss Bates’s comparison to Jane Eyre is apt — but the combo of angst and strong writing can’t be beat.
Fester: Unforgiven by Mary Balogh. I had planned to use this square for The Hating Game — and then I noticed “Death Stare.” No contest! Anyway, Unforgiven is the ultimate in festering resentment. These are some seriously bitter people.
Signed sealed delivered: Galgorithm by Aaron Karo. Dorky boys, your time has come — Shane’s technique will get you the girl of your dreams, signed, sealed, delivered.
I started this audiobook right after The Girl Before (see directly below) and it was almost terrible timing. Nothing like a book about sex trafficking to make you really, really not in the mood to read about a junior PUA. I kept going because Shane’s character seemed genuinely good-hearted — his goal is to get boys into happy relationships, not get them sex — and I was glad I did, because it’s not the book it initially appears. Also, the secondary character of the bully who has two moms and will threaten you for not recycling was straight out of Gordon Korman, which made me happy.
Whitewash: The Girl Before by Rena Olsen.
Note: all the trigger warnings for this book. It’s not very explicit, but scary and upsetting af. The best you can say is I don’t think any dogs die.
My initial thought for this square was that it fit because the ugliness of Clara’s life has been whitewashed/prettied up but then I realized it fits even better than that… because the villains have convinced her to do some of their dirty work for them. Tom Sawyer would be shocked.
This is a very compelling psychological thriller about extreme Stockholm syndrome, and the ability to use our minds to deceive ourselves. It’s not that plausible and has some plot holes, but I was glued to my mp3 player. (An excellent narrator helped.)
But then I thought about the game: Talk of the Town by Beth Andrews. The hero is a hocky player who generally puts the game — winning and security — before his daughter.
This is an ambitious, interesting romance. Both main characters have messed up badly in different ways; both earn sympathy and forgiveness. But there’s so much bad feeling between them that much of the book was a tough slog.
Campus Life: Winning Back His Wife, by Gwen Hayes and Zoe York. The characters originally fall in love at summer camp, and then meet again as college students. Though as the book starts, they’re on the verge of divorce. Not especially memorable but nice lead in to a series — they buy the camp to run it for adults.
Delight: The Secret Life of the American Musical by Jack Viertel. I have to put this in the “delight” square, because not only is it a delight to read, but it’s about delight, and how it’s created in a musical show.
BEER: Another Man’s Wife by Dallas Schulze.
“You might be surprised what a man will do for a cold beer on a hot day.”
A widow and her husband’s best friend fall in love irritatingly slowly. Pleasant enough, but meh. Very little real conflict.
Death Stare: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. What Lucy and her much-hated coworker Josh give each other every day.
I absolutely loved this, but it’s not for everyone. More at Heroes and Heartbreakers.
78: Castelli’s Virgin Widow by Caitlin Crews. Heroine was married to a dude old enough to be her grandfather, but young enough to be the father of the hero. (Which, in fact, he was. But it’s okay, ’cause like the title says, virgin widow.) I unilaterally declare dude to have been 78.
I am really liking these new Harlequin Presents! This is an updating of the classic “hero thinks she’s a gold-digging whore but she’s really a virgin,” always a fav. The main update is that Kathryn has a lot of backbone and doesn’t put up with Luca’s crap (though still unable to resist his punishing kisses), but I also liked the bit of a twist that she married Luca’s father not as a family martyr but to escape from a lifetime of being one. Luca is far less sympathetic but the intensity of his feelings let me forgive him. The resolution of the conflict was too abrupt and those seeking a grovel will be disappointed.
Spawning: Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold. I am chortling with glee over the perfection of this square choice. I don’t want to spoil the book but (metaphorical and otherwise) versions of Miles are spawning all over the place.
Dutch Oven: Didn’t find anything. #SorryNotSorry
SLIT: The Young Blood by Erin Satie.
“She narrowed her eyes down to slits and hunched closer to the rails.”
Lovely writing, strong characters, and a genuine unprincipled rake for a starchy heroine to reform while she gets unstarched. Excellent in many ways, but I found the pacing off — not that it was dull, but it kept switching from leisurely to fast-moving in jarring ways.
Wild thing: Fly With Me by Chanel Cleeton. Heroine has relatives on her case about relationships, implying she’s “too wild” to settle down.
Not really my kind of book — sex, sex and more sex — but I was grabbed by the heroine’s sassy narrative and the hero’s uncomplicated admiration for her. The unexpected sadness of the end was moving. But I didn’t buy the heroine as a potential strong and long-suffering military wife, given her high-maintenance freakout when her boyfriend simply grew a mustache without warning her.
Blur: Married for Amari’s Heir by Maisey Yates.
(There’s a line about blurring, but I returned the book before remembering to quote it.)
Kind of like a Harlequin Presents version of Dragon Bound (which I always saw as a paranormal romance version of The Hobbit.) The hero is Smaug guarding his treasure — for emo HP reasons, of course — and seeking revenge. The heroine is Bilbo, daring to steal from him — for emo HP reasons, of course — and then having to deal with his wrath. I enjoyed how blunt she was, even snarky at times, and there’s an unusually realistic (for an HP) discussion of their potential shortcomings as good parents. Topped off with a nice redemption for them both. Note: the heroine is apparently not white. We’re never actually told what her racial background is, but her skin is frequently compared to coffee, so we’ll know. Sigh.
In decent: Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker. An excellent square for this story about a BDSM relationship between two Orthodox Jews, which is very much about public modesty, private needs, and personal choices. It’s more on the SM side than I personally enjoy, and the relationship develops kind of abruptly, but the juxtaposition of religious faith and submission was fascinating.
BLOSSOM: The Greek Tycoon’s Unexpected Wife by Annie West
“He tried to match the clever, avaricious schmer with the woman of simple tastes. The woman who’d flowered before his eyes with just a little care and attention.”
Reread of one of my favorite fabulous wallbangers.
Legend…: Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie. On the scent of a murderer in a small village, our detective pretends to be studying old legends and superstitions.
This was an odd reread because it turned out to have been published in America in its edited serial magazine form, like The Moving Finger, and I kept being startled by the parts I didn’t remember. Unlike that book, I didn’t think the original was significantly better than the one I was used to. (I cherish my British copy of The Moving Finger!)
stripped: Almost a Gentleman by Pam Rosenthal. The heroine (ha! I originally wrote “hero”) has two personas, and stipping away her male clothes to reveal her female self is very emotionally significant.
More about it at Heroes and Heartbreakers.
Also read (or not):
Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle. DNF. Didn’t have the exuberance or high stakes of the first book… seemed to just be about a chaotic group of eccentrics.
A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James. DNF. Interesting premise, but very unfunny banter.
Falling for the Enemy by Dawn Stewardson. DNF. Hero works for the mob boss who kidnaps the heroine’s son. I figured he had a good reason, but I had trouble getting past that premise and the book didn’t especially grab me in any way.
The Invisible Orientation by Julie Sondra Decker. Very thorough, dense discussion of asexuality, yet I still don’t feel I entirely understand it. I could use a specific definition of “sexual attraction” and apparently that’s a hotly debated point.
Change of Heart by Sonali Dev. DNF. Ironically enough, I only read The Bollywood Bride because I was interested in this, but it was simultaneously too dark and too soppy for me, and unlike the previous book, the prose didn’t seem noteworthy.
Adulting 101 by Lisa Henry. DNF. Fun style, but I could not get past a 25 year old guy who’s traveled the world getting involved with an 18 year old virgin who still lives with his parents. Read some Dan Savage, dude, learn the campsite rules at least.