Summer Reading: Romance

As you might be aware, when I really want to have a moment of escapism, I turn to a romance novel. I can read a romance novel relatively quickly while being entirely entertained with the HEA of the couples. You may also be aware that I get into slumps with these types of novels. Romances can follow a particular formula, which is not the real problem. The real problem is that a lot of subpar writers offer tripe with little or no character development or history with the others characters, which means BORING in book terms for me. Sometimes, it’s the romance and passion that takes me away—when a couple really makes sense and develops toward each other, rather than a couple who seems to be pushed together because of a contrivance that is unbelievable.

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t really mind contrivance; I just mind bad writing. And grammatical errors. And cheesy dialogue. And deus ex machina plots. And the obsessive-don’t-understand-why-she-would-want-him heroes because he’s really an ass. (Too many!) And there are a lot of all these issues in the world of romance novels, and it makes it hard to filter the garbage from the quality romances. END OF RANT NOW. ūüėõ

Here are a few proven authors for me whose work I will read over the summer. These authors write endearing and passionate stories about characters who are thoroughly realized and have truly sigh-worthy romances.

  1. Laura Trentham—She might be my favorite romance novelist right now. Last year, I raved about her Cottonbloom series (here, here, and here), and she has returned to Cottonbloom in two recent novellas, Candy Cane Christmas and Light Up the Night (free on Kindle right now), l plan on reading both in preparation for her continuation of the Cottonbloom world in Leave the Night On, out August 1st. I’m super exited about returning to the charming world of Cottonbloom with this full-length novel. Maybe we’ll even see the Fornettes? Fingers crossed! ūüôā Oh, and there is a fifth and sixth book planned! Whee! Can’t wait to be charmed by the Southerns again!
  2. Tessa Bailey—I’ve read some of her books off and on through Entangled Brazen publishers, and they are sooooo good. I don’t think she has anything new coming out this summer, but I’m determined to catch up on all of her books, which are much more extensive than I realized. My favorite of her books so far? Boiling Point—there’s something about this particular con artist and hacker that really worked for me. In fact, a review of this Crossing the Line series will be out soon, and (spoiler) the series is awesome! Here’s hoping the rest in her oeuvre will be as good!
  3. Vivienne Lorret—Here’s another author I’ve just discovered who write historical romances along the lines of Lisa Kleypas (her good ones!). I’ve read the first three books in her The Season’s Original series; I liked the first one, The Debutante Is Mine and the second one, The Earl Is on Fire, but the third one? I LOVED it! When the Marquess Loves a Woman is one of those unrequited love tropes with twist. The first two books really build up the ostensible hate between Juliet, Lady Granworth and Maxwell Harwick. *Sigh.* I adore this couple and their backstory. Their antagonism is believable, as is their switch to passion and love. Her fourth book of the series is a novella. Just Another Viscount in Love comes out August 1 and focuses on the familiar characters of Viscount Ellery and Gemma Desmond, both of whom are entirely lovable in the other books. Yay!

That’s all for now, my dears. Let me know if there are any authors I should check out, in addition to reading these three favs this summer! Just tweet me @bknrdadventures, and I’ll check out your suggestions!

For now though, enjoy your book boyfriends and their true loves!

Until next time, my lovelies,

HMichaele

Review: “The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King HiResSouthern culture. Teenage angst. A bridge by a flowing river. And a preacher who believes rattlers can tell whether or not you are a true believer. This book surely has it all for the young adult enthusiast, which I totally am.

“The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner centers around Dillard Early Jr., whose daddy was a “signs preacher” and used venomous snakes and poison to see if his congregation were above reproach. Of course, now Dillard’s preacher daddy is in jail for child pornography, and that reputation fogs Dillard’s life in the small town of Forrestville, Tennessee. Dillard’s family life is poor because of a massive medical debt hanging over them, which Dillard and his life-weary mom work to repay.

Dill has exactly two friends. One is Travis, whose family life is also terrible and whose obsession with a fantasy series that sounds a little like Game of Thrones and a little like Lord of the Rings is one of his main defining traits. But it’s Travis’s gentle giant character that will have you fall in love with him. The other is Lydia, whose life is so far opposite of Dillard’s and Travis’s it’s almost painful to read her somewhat judgmental and narrow-minded perspective. She’s the daughter of a dentist. She is loved by her parents. She has a car. Her number one college pick is NYU. She runs a fashion blog that is immensely popular and gives her a notoriety beyond their little town. When compared to Dill and Travis, you might scratch your head as to why the hell they are all friends.

I can tell you. Loyalty. They had no one else, and in turning to each other, their friendship became a way to survive in Forrestville, where on any day any one of them could be bullied and picked on or, in Dill’s case, screamed at by ex-parishioners of his father’s church. The fact that these misfits of Forrestville High found each other made me doubt Lydia’s ever-present belief that she was wronged by having to grow up there; if she hadn’t grown up there, she would never have met two of the most loyal boys she’ll ever meet, a fact I think she realizes as the book progress. Lydia gains a wider perspective, which benefits the growing maturity of her character.

But for Dill, things are changing too much. It’s senior year, and while Lydia is happily planning her what-is-sure-to-be-her outstanding future, Dill feels the cage of his small life shrinking dramatically. He writes music, but being told his whole life that it’s a sin to use it beyond church definitely puts a damper on his enjoyment of creating his songs. Zentner definitely shows a side of a crazy church culture that remind me of Boyd Crowder in Justified (ūüėÄ). Plus, Lydia’s leaving him, and the fact that she doesn’t seem to care breaks his little ol’ heart. Dill is in almost in a constant state of conflict with himself, wanting to be more, like Lydia, while still retaining his belief in God and trying to respect his less-than-deserving-of-respect parents.

Dill definitely both broke and won my heart. His desire to BE something is tangible, but his circumstances hold him back continuously. His desire to break free of the chains his mother and father and their religious beliefs created had me cheering him on, even when he didn’t believe in himself and had doubts, which was more often than not.

Zentner created three characters about whom I not only cared but for whom I rooted. I’m not going to lie; I cried a few times. Okay, more than a few, but sometimes it was happy tears, ya know? But be warned: Sometimes, it wasn’t.

If you enjoy a good young adult read about kids who are trying to define their identity, sometimes despite their circumstances, you’ll definitely want to pick up “The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner. I loved it, and I know anyone else who gives it a shot will too!

Until next time, my lovely readers, enjoy your angsty YA!

Ta-ta for now, my dears,

HMichaele

Quick and Dirty Book Reviews: Romance and One Young Adult

So, I’ve read a few books very quickly lately, which means they were not labor intensive like, say,¬†The Book Thief (see review here)¬†or¬†The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kid. (Read that, too, but it was for a class, so no review.)¬†Really, once school starts, intelligent reading in my life becomes class-centric, whether I’m teaching the class or I’m in it (grad school!), but I have to read something, ya know?

Of course, being an easy, entertaining (in some cases) doesn’t make them any less worthy of a review, but since my time has waned with the start of school, I’ve decided to do a quick review of the books I’ve read since the start of 2017. And here we go!

Mechanica (Mechanica, #1)Mechanica¬†by Betsy Cornwell. Let’s start with the only YA book I’ve read so far. Here’s the lowdown: A Cinderella retelling,¬†Mechanica¬†focuses on Nicolette, nicknamed Mechanica by her steps due to her penchant for creating mechanical devices. Of course, creating inventions is kinda hard to do when running around, cooking, cleaning, etc. You know, all the things Cinderella does. But when she Venturess (Mechanica, #2)finds her mom’s old hidden workshop, it’s inevitable that she is drawn to the mechanical designs floating in her head. Throw in a friend, a handsome prince, and a Faerie black market, then the interesting concept has been achieved. The only problem I had was the MAJOR front loading of Nicolette’s and parents’ history. I suppose it was necessary, but it weighed down the beginning and could have been parceled out as the book went on. The ending made up for it though, and I’m already looking forward the second book, Venturess, which seems to diverge from the Cinderella tale (a benefit, I think).

Fan the Flames¬†and¬†Gone to Deep by Katie Ruggle. Okay, so Ruggle’s a new author to me, andFan the Flames (Search and Rescue, #2) Gone Too Deep (Search and Rescue, #3)I think I’ll probably read more of her romances as she becomes more prolific. (Right now, she only has the four books in this series, as far as I can tell.) These two books are the second and third book, respectively, in Ruggle’s¬†Search and Rescue series, which are set in a small town in the Rockies where rugged, good-looking men abound, apparently. The women in both are well-developed with layers to their characters. They didn’t whine or act too indifferent to the heroes, nor did they fall madly in love at first glance. Not even in lust at first glance. I liked both of the women characters. And the men are your standard protect-and-serve-the-woman heroes. They are sweet and mildly unsure of their position in the women’s lives, but man, do they know how to fall in love. My only complaint was that in¬†Fan the Flames, we don’t get to see the story from the hero, Ian’s, perspective, except in the prologue. But in¬†Gone to Deep, Ruggle does include a few glimpses at that hero, George’s, perspective, and I think that made it a better book. I will definitely pick up the rest of these books and probably all of Ruggle’s from here on out. Oh, and there is suspense. All four books connect to a murder, while individually dealing with different aspects surrounding that murder.

Dancing at Midnight (The Splendid Trilogy, #2)Dancing at Midnight¬†by Julia Quinn and¬†Love Is Blind by Lynsay Sands. I’m looking at these together because I got these recs from the same forum topic, of which I can’t remember right now. I’m sure it has something to do with the hero loving the heroine to distraction, which both of these heroes do. Or maybe it had to do with having scars and self-worth issues? I really can’t remember. If you like strong heroines, theLove Is Blindwomen in both books are headstrong, I would say even more so than the men. Oh, maybe it was from a “heroine wears glasses” thread. Both the heroines needed to wear glasses, but didn’t for different reasons. (I get recs from some oddly chosen thread titles, I’m realizing.) I’ve read both of these authors before, and although I don’t think either of these is their best work, I enjoyed both books and read them in one sitting. They both have passion and heart and are not insta-love, a trope I’m pretty sick of. Plus, I love good historical romances! I would definitely check out both of these books…from the library, which is what I did.

A Match Made in MistletoeA Match Made Under the Mistletoe by Anna Campbell. This was a very cute, quick read. I enjoy Christmas romances (think¬†A Wallflower Christmas), so I picked this one up. Giles has been in love with Serena for ages, but she loves his best friend, Paul. Giles never even thought he stood a chance and never tried until he sees something in Serena’s eyes over Christmas while visiting her family’s estate (historical!). Giles is the dark horse in this one, and I quite enjoyed the romance that played out between him and Serena.

Wild at Whiskey Creek by Julie Ann Long. Yeah, didn’t love this one. Eli’s loved Glory forWild at Whiskey Creek (Hellcat Canyon, #2) years, but after he arrested her brother, who was also his best friend, she gave him the cold shoulder, which pisses him off. Honestly, I thought both characters were immature–Eli because while he claimed to expect her to blame him, he really didn’t think it was deserved; and Glory because, well, she’s just immature. I like some of Long’s historicals, but this contemporary romance left me cold.

And that’s it, my lovely readers. Hope you enjoy a few of these lovely romances or YA novel soon!

Until next time, my dears!

HMichaele

Review: “The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B” by Teresa Toten

unlikelySo, this book was a rec from…well, I really can’t remember where. It was one of many recommendations that I tend to gather to me, often to be put in a very long list of other delightful novels that I should read and bring back out again…maybe.

I’m definitely glad, though, that I brought this one back out.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten is about Adam Spencer Ross, an almost-fifteen-year-old who falls in love with the newest member of his OCD support group, Robyn. In this meeting, the attending doctor in the group, Chuck, has the members assign new identities to themselves to boost their confidence. And, of course, they are all superhero-based, and Robyn decides to be Robin, which leads Adam, in the throes of his first stirrings of true adolescent love, to become Batman.

This becomes who Adam is: He is the central guy, the wisdom giver, the idea man, and, ultimately, the wannabe savior of all in his group. He wants to save not just Robyn from her problems but most of the members of his group as well, doling out advice to everyone in the group who rely on him for ideas and leadership. But there are problems with his nascent romance with Robyn. She’s 16, and he feels he needs to grow, height-wise, to get an older girl like her. So, you know, logically, he wills himself to grow taller. (Luckily, it seems to work!)

But while the height thing seems to be looking up, he can’t seem to rescue himself from his actual problems. His OCD issues are big, and they get worse as the book progresses, due largely to outside forces that increase his anxiety to massive levels. His family, like his group, largely revolves around him, pulling him from one household to another between his divorced parents. Oh, and you’ll love his little brother, Sweetie, who sometimes unintentionally causes problems for Adam but is too charming for words! These two boys and their love for one another made for the most stable relationship in the book.

Adam, too, charms. You’ll root for him to overcome his struggles, which go far beyond his OCD. I would definitely suggest you add this book to your own recommendation list and make sure that you, too, bring it back out to read and enjoy.

Until next time, my young adult enthusiasts!

HMichaele

Review: “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

the_book_thief_by_markus_zusak_book_coverA little behind the eight-ball here, but I (finally) read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Being a middle school/high school teacher, coming this late to the party is a little bit of an embarrassment for me. EVERYONE I worked with had read this book.

Ha. I’m kidding. Many of them, like the students, mostly just saw the movie. ūüėČ (I haven’t seen it, but I’ll watch it now. You know, to compare and determine that the book is waaaay better, as inevitably happens!)

But I did have a STUDENT who had read it and told me what a great book it was, so I decided to read it over the holiday break.

So, first, I should tell you, at 540 pages, according to my Kindle, it took me a week to read. That’s a long time for me, BTW. Usually, I can read a 350 page book in an evening and night combo. And I had some downtime to read during the day, which never happens when school is in. (Not much mind you! I do have young children! ūüôā )

Anyway, I mention how long it took me to read because…it was a hard book for me to get into, I guess. Usually, if I’m not absorbed with the book within 50 pages, I generally toss it aside for another book. It took about 100 pages for The Book Thief to capture me, but once it did, I was well and truly caught.

“How many had actively persecuted others, high on the scent of Hitler’s gaze, repeating his sentences, his paragraphs, his opus? Was Rosa Hubermann responsible? The hider of a Jew? Or Hans? Did they all deserve to die? The children?

“The answer to each of these questions interests me very much, though I cannot allow them to seduce me. I only know that all of those people sensed me that night, excluding the youngest of the children. I was the suggestion. I was the advice, my imagined feet walking into the kitchen and down the corridor.” —The Book Thief, pages 375-376

In The Book Thief, Death is our narrator, describing his fascination with Liesel Meminger, a German girl during World War II. Now, this was interesting to me. I’ve read plenty of books set during WWII, but never from the perspective of poverty-stricken Germans. Or, rather, from the perspective of Death looking at poverty-stricken Germans. It shows how little control the people of a nation have in the face of a destructively evil government; I had never really thought about the German people before, who are shown here with little power over their own lives during this time. For this interesting perspective alone, I would suggest this book.

But there is more to recommend it. Turns out, that while Death is claiming an obsession with Liesel, he’s really fascinated with the cast of characters that are interwoven throughout her life from the years 1939-1943 in Nazi Germany. Given to a foster family, Liesel encounters characters who are complex and rich in their development—way more complex, in fact, than Liesel herself. She is rather, like Death becomes to us, the curator of these lives—including a man whose empathy defies the Nazis in little ways that he does not even understand, a woman whose outward ferocity and hardness conceals her true compassionate nature, a young Jewish boxer who is forced to hide away while fighting the Fuhrer in his dreams, and a boy whose spirit and vivacity cannot be destroyed by the dehumanizing poverty he (and, in fact, all of the characters) faces. Of them all, that boy, Rudy Steiner, Liesel’s best friend, is by far my, and I think Death’s, favorite.

And, of course, there are the books. Liesel steals them. They become symbols of the significant moments in her life. Not because of what they are about, but  because of the events that made her take them. The books become her memories, her photographs, of those moments, reminding her of those instances, allowing her not only to learn how to read but attach those memories and the people and events to her soul, creating a powerful definition of survival among the destruction that surrounds the poverty-ridden in Nazi Germany.

I will say this. I think this book is the definition of post-modernism. It is told from the perspective of Death, who is tormented by humans and the destruction of WWII. It was painful to read in parts because Death visits concentration camps and others beyond the characters of Himmel Street, Liesel’s home during this period. Plus, it is not told, necessarily, in sequential order. It cuts in here and there with observances from Death and his foretelling of the future of many of the characters.

I’m not going to lie. This book was difficult to read because of its subject matter, and I had to put it down many times to mull over the actions and reactions within the book. But it’s not a book I regret reading. It made me think; it made me cry and smile; it made me want, desperately, to have someone with whom to discuss the book. And, I think that is a hallmark of a piece of great literature, don’t you?

Until next time, my literature lovers,

HMichaele

Oh, and P.S.: There is an additional book thief by the end of the book. ūüėČ

Final Summer Reading List

GracelingSo, here it is. The night before I go back to school, so summer reading is officially over. ūüė¶

This day is always depressing, but inevitable. And you may be wondering: What’s the final tally on my (delusional) summer reading list?

Sooooo…it turns out I deviated. A lot. Here’s the final list of the books I read this summer and to whom I would recommend them.

  1. The Vacationers by Emma Straub. YES! You can read my full review, but everybody who enjoys a great beachy read should check this book out. Because of this book, I’ve been on the waiting list at my local library eBook checkout FOREVER for her newest, Modern Lovers. Only 11 more people ahead of me! Whoo-hoo. ūüėõ
  2. Rhymes with Love series by Elizabeth Boyle. Wasn’t my cup of tea, but read them if you enjoy romances with a lot of friends and family on the peripheral. And if you enjoy gentlemen-of-leisure heroes.
  3. The Romantic by Madeline Hunter. Even though this contained one of my favorite archetypal plots (the hero loves the heroine without her knowing), this just didn’t sit well with me. It was kind of “meh” for me, honestly. Check it out if you enjoy an unrequited love.
  4. Defiant¬†by Pamela Clare. Again, “meh” for me. Not great, but not bad either, really. If you like American historical romances.
  5. Marrying Winterborne. This one upset me, if you’ve read my review. Read it if you’re a fan of Kleypas and plan on reading the next one in the series which the hero will be the son of St. Vincent and Evie, one of romance novels true power couples. If you’ve read a lot of Kleypas (usually she’s AWESOME!), then you know who they are and probably love them.
  6. Kiss Me That Way, Then He Kissed Me, and Till I Kissed You (The Cottonbloom Series) by Laura Trentham. These books truly made my summer romance reading a wonderful experience. Read them if you enjoy Stars Hollow-esque towns with lots of passionate romances. Oh, and Trentham has said that there will be a Christmas novella out in October and more books in Cottonbloom out next year! YAY!
  7. Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh. I really liked the hero and heroine in this one, especially how they realized how much they needed each other. Check it out if you enjoy the hero in love with the heroine resisting.
  8. To Wed a Wild Lord by Sabrina Jeffries. Lots of family interaction in this one with the hero and heroine resisting because of their families’ history. Read it if you enjoy a light-hearted romance with tons of family interaction.
  9. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I like Morton, and this fell in line with her other ancestral mysteries. Read it if you enjoy a decades old mystery and individual self-realization.
  10. Unlawful Contact by Pamela Clare. A escaped convict and a reporter with a past. Yeah, I really liked this one! Read it if you enjoy a little history between the hero and the heroine.
  11. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. I LOVED this¬†Pride and Prejudice redo! I love how publishing houses are redoing oldies with a modern take…most of the time. This one was definitely a keeper for me! I’ve already recommended it to several of my bookish friends! Read it if you love Elizabeth and Darcy!
  12. I did a review of 10 different romances at one point, but the ones I remember are¬†Truth and Beard¬†by Penny Reid,¬†Elle Kennedy’s¬†The Outlaws series, including¬†Claimed¬†and¬†Addicted, and¬†A Rake’s Guide to Seduction by Caroline Linden. Loved them all for different reasons, but you should check them out if you enjoy good books where the characters (especially the heroes) long for the heroine.
  13. Orphan Train¬†by Christina Baker Kline. Great historical fiction piece about orphans who are forced onto a train and marketed as workers to potential families. It has a happyish ending for most of the characters, so that’s a plus to me!
  14. The Raven Boys and¬†The Dream Thieves¬†by Maggie Stiefvater. Pretty decent young adult novel with an interesting concept of magical lines running through the world. I would definitely recommend this series (there are two more that I haven’t read yet) to anyone who likes what young adult authors are doing nowadays! (They are breaking down barriers and creating conflicted characters who make realizations about life and love. And sometimes magic, too. ūüėČ )
  15. What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman. This just couldn’t compare to¬†Orphan Train, even though there are tons of similarities in the more modern characters.
  16. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Okay, I was upset with myself that I had this on my Kindle and hadn’t read it immediately, instead of waiting months. This book was AMAZINGLY descriptive and wonderfully romantic. Read it if you enjoy the whimsy and romance contained within a circus.
  17. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. This was a fantasy with a romance that I didn’t really get. It wasn’t bad, and I want to read the others in the series. But that’s mainly because I liked the side characters more than the main characters in this one. Read it if you like your fantasy with gods and goddesses and a little romance.
  18. Red Queen¬†by Victoria Aveyard. I think I’m a little tired of YA novels that are about a girl being the savior of a people. I think that with the books later in the series, from what I’ve read, the sole heroine savior in this one morphs into dual saviors (at least one of the princes needs to help her save her people), but I haven’t read them yet. (But I will. Eventually.) I did like Aveyard’s love triangle. She knows how to do one right (not like Maas, whom I have a book rant about), but I would have liked for¬†the heroine to have read both political and romantic situations better than she did. I might just need to take a break from fantasy YA. They all seem to go this route, and it’s boring me lately.

So, final tally: Around 13 books read from my (delusional) summer reading list, with around 15 or so that were added at my whim. Not bad, I say. But a little heavy on the romance and young adult genres. I need to branch out more. (I don’t know if this will happen.)

TorchIf you have time, let me know how your summer reading went! I’m reading another from my list right now,¬†Graceling by Kristin Cashore, but again, I think I’m a little burned out on the YA savior heroine books right now because it’s not blowing my mind at all. But¬†A Torch Against the Night¬† by Sabaa Tahir comes out August 30, so I’m hoping that will improve my mood about YA. (Having dual saviors helps, I think!)

Until next time, enjoy the last of your summer reading!

Ta-ta, my friends,

HMichaele

Review: “Till I Kissed You” by Laura Trentham

fbed1-tillMy friends, it’s decided. I’m moving to Cottonbloom, the dual-state small town in Laura Trentham’s summer Cottonbloom¬†series.

Why? Because, darn it, Trentham makes small town life seem CHARMING and FUN! I want to eat crayfish and drink beer on the Louisiana side and go to an ice cream social and drink lemonade on the ‘Sip side. (You’ll understand when you read it!)

Like the first two books in this series (Kiss Me That Way¬†review here and Then He Kissed Me¬†review here), Till I Kissed You¬†focuses on the love life of one of the Fournette siblings, in this case Sawyer. If you read my previous reviews, you know I was REALLY looking forward to reading about Sawyer and his love-hate relationship with former flame Regan Lovell, the mayor of the ‘Sip side of Cottonbloom. In fact, I was so looking forward to it that I was afraid I would be disappointed, like with so many others I had been looking forward to reading this summer.

But let me tell you, my dears, Trentham DELIVERS! Till I Kissed You is a fun-filled, sweet, sensual book that makes you fall in love with Sawyer and Regan as a couple, even if you were already in love with them from the previous books! (I totally was!)

And I don’t say this next part lightly: Till I Kissed You is officially my FAVORITE ROMANCE OF 2016!

Sawyer and Regan, unlike the other two couples, had an actual relationship in high school. Regan, from the ‘Sip side (affluent), and Sawyer, from the Louisiana side (not affluent), loved each other, but things got complicated once they ended up in different colleges. (Break-ups happen; in fact, I always think they should when couples meet in high school, especially in romance novels!)

Years after they both return to Cottonbloom, Sawyer and Regan’s animosity and hurt feelings from their break up are inflamed by a competition between the two towns’ new festivals and the possibility of award money that they both need to revitalized their respective sides of town.

But there’s a catch: Someone doesn’t like Regan’s efforts to help Cottonbloom on the ‘Sip side of town, mainly due to the raise in taxes she imposed as the mayor on the small business owners from Mississippi. When Sawyer finds out that she’s receiving threatening letters, he tries to watch over her, in spite of her protests, making sure she’s safe.

Of course, this protectiveness he feels toward her has just been waiting to shine through their hilarious confrontations in previous books. I expected this book to be funny, and it was, mainly because the two main characters possess self-confidence, a willingness to laugh at themselves, and optimistic outlooks in almost every aspect of their lives.

And while there were funny scenes (Regan catching Sawyer behind a corner of the courthouse after a meeting and him standing there awkwardly not really knowing how to explain), what really struck me was the PASSION! Regan and Sawyer LONG for each other, but are (legitimately) scared of getting hurt again. The little things they do for each other will make you sigh with happiness and contentment.

SIDEBAR: Oh, and I thought it was brilliant that Trentham made Sawyer realize how easily Regan was manipulated as a teen by her snobbish mother to break up with him, mainly because her mother casts her machinations in Sawyer’s fully-ADULT direction and manages to feed his doubts. I mean, I never blamed Regan for breaking up with Sawyer when they were in college (they did not go to the same school), but some readers might blame her for the initial break up, as his siblings Cade and Tally do. I thought this was a gentle reminder in how strong a TEENAGER has to be to stand up not just to distance but to masterful parental pressure, something even Sawyer can’t totally do as an adult. In fact, I totally blamed Sawyer more for the final college break-up, and you’ll see the reason why when you read it.

And read it, you should, my friends! It’s already in my favorites folder on my Kindle, along with Then He Kissed Me and Kiss Me That Way. I’m going to miss the quirky, charming, dual-state town of Cottonbloom!

With her Cottonbloom series, Laura Trentham has ensured a life-long reader in me, and I hope in you, too!

Until next time, hope you enjoy Cottonbloom and the Fournettes!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele

Commentary: “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

NightA stunningly lyrical and compelling novel, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of those novels where I asked myself: How did Morgenstern come up with this idea and execute it so beautifully? It’s one of those books that makes me wish I could write fiction. The book has deep themes, motifs, and deliciously delightful characters. Oh, and a sensual romance where the lovers court by creating dramatic and aesthetically heart-wrenching illusions for each other. Who wouldn’t want to read this novel?

In the late 1800s to early 1900s, Le Cirque des Reves¬†(The Circus of Dreams) arrives unexpectedly. Word of mouth announces its arrival, rather than promotions, and there’s a catch, too. This circus is only open at night. Once inside, everything related to the circus is in monochromatic colors, rather than the usual colorful array in a circus, and the acts are one-of-a-kind, from an illusionist to animal tamers to acrobats. All acts have separate tents, rather than one big top. Children and adults alike are swept by the magic of Le Cirque des Reves, but as suddenly it arrives, it vanishes, leaving disappointment in its wake.

The descriptions of the circus, the sensory details and imagery that Morgenstern uses, made me feel like I was there. I wanted to drink that spiced cider and could smell those candied apples. I wanted one of the “cinnamon whatnots” (19) that were “[l]ayers of pastry and cinnamon and sugar all rolled into a twist and covered in icing”(195). (Seriously, this book was hell on my diet!) The descriptions of the scents alone brought forth childhood flashbacks.

But really, the circus is just the platform for the real magic–the magical competition between Marco Alisdair and Celia Bowen. The competition was set up by Celia’s father, Hector, and his frenemy, Alexander. The rules are unclear to Marco and Celia, with very little information supplied by Hector or Alexander as to how they should play the game. The first part of the novel focuses on Celia’s and Marco’s varying lessons on magic. They both compliment each other, in terms of what they can do and what they can’t. As a venue for their competition, the circus provides them an arena where they can use whimsical imaginings to defeat each other. But with a lack of information on the parts of the mentors, the circus becomes a place where they use their magic to write “love letters” (346) to each other. This is one of the excerpts from a chapter entitled “The Lovers”:

“Standing on the platform in the midst of the crowed, high enough that they can be viewed clearly from all angles, are two figures, still as statues…They stand entwined but not touching, their heads tilted toward each other. Lips frozen in the moment before (or after) the kiss….. Many patrons only glance at them before moving on, but the longer you watch, the more you can detect the subtlest of motions. The change in the curve of a hand as it hovers near an arm. The shifting angle of a perfectly balanced leg. Each of them always gravitating toward the other. Yet they still do not touch.” (224-225)

FABULOUS! This statue’s delicate dance of courtship depicts the relationship of Celia and Marco, who have been forced into their competitor roles, but who unexpectedly want to change the rules of their mentors’ game.

And the descriptions of the clocks, one of the main motifs of the novel that fits well with the thematic concept of time, is well-wrought, such as this description:

“At the center, where a cuckoo bird would live in a a more traditional timepiece, is the juggler. Dressed in harlequin style with a grey mask, he juggles shiny silver balls that correspond to each hour. As the clock chimes, another ball joins the rest until at midnight he juggles twelve balls in a complex pattern” (123).

Like this clock made by Herr Thiessen, a clock maker who is enamored with the circus, many other of Thiessen’s elaborate circus clock creations show up repeatedly at significant moments, as do other implements of time.

So, my dear readers, I would definitely recommend The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for lovers of romance and literary fiction.

Until next time, enjoy the magic that Celia, Marco, and truly wonderful secondary characters create in The Night Circus.

Ta-ta, my lovelies,

HMichaele

Review: “What She Left Behind” by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Left BehindOkay, here’s the deal. I really wanted to like What She Left Behind¬†by Ellen Marie Wiseman. A co-worker suggested it and said she thought it was wonderful. And I did like parts of the novel. Plot-wise it was (mostly) entertaining to the point I wanted to see how the train wreck ended. And you can definitely tell that Wiseman did research into mental institutions and the like. But…I don’t know. It lacked what I perceive to be a larger theme. It has lots of thematic concepts–bullying, women’s rights, mistreatment of those with mental disorders, identity, acceptance–but I think those were smallish themes that certain chapters stressed more than others, never quite encompassing the book as a whole.

The main problem, besides the lack of a well-rounded theme, is the lack of connections between the two main characters, Izzy, a 17-year-old in 1995, and Clara, an 18-year-old in 1929. The idea is good: Izzy, working with her foster parents in an old mental institution, finds the diary of Clara in her steamer trunk. She thinks that by reading this diary, she might be able to understand what makes people insane. Why does she want to know this? Well, she’s in foster care because her mother shot her father in the head with his rifle when she was seven. Awful, right? Her mother’s in jail for the crime, but Izzy has never understood WHY her mother did what she did, because all of her memories of her father are wonderful. Of course, it doesn’t help that Izzy never visits her mother in jail to ask this question, mainly because she fears her inheritance from her mother is going to be insanity.

Sooo, this didn’t work for me. I liked Izzy as a character (mostly). She has faced many struggles in her life and has seemed to come out on top of them. And she faces even more in her new school, where she is bullied mercilessly by the bitch drama queen, Shannon, whose boyfriend wants to be Izzy’s friend.

SIDEBAR: I also had an issue with Shannon. Why would a school let a child run roughshod over an entire school? I mean, I guess it happens, but Shannon even went over the heads of teachers, causing havoc and mayhem in class. In the nineties, this¬†girl would not have frequented school (because she would have been suspended A LOT) or would not have been as popular as she is described. At least, that’s my opinion. And her bullying. Damn. I mean, she was vicious and mentally unstable, and people followed her like puppies, even her boyfriend, Ethan, who becomes friends with Izzy. They all make excuses for Shannon’s behavior, which is absurd.

Anyway, back to Izzy. She was probably my favorite character, honestly. But I didn’t get how reading the journal of a mentally ill patient would help her figure out the cause of her mother’s temporary insanity in killing her father. Of course, she discovers that Clara wasn’t really insane; she was just sent there by vile parents when she disobeyed their edicts.

Then, there’s Clara. *Sigh.* I dislike it when I feel like lecturing a character for not being smart or logical. She really went to go pack a huge steamer trunk when she was running away. That she couldn’t carry. Also, I feel like she, more than she did, should have known her parents and how they would react to her lower-class boyfriend and her rebellion. Everything that happened to Bruno was because Clara couldn’t seem to grasp the concept of: Play the game the way the want you to play it until you have an actual PLAN! Planning was not Clara’s strong suit; rather she acted on instinct and teenage angst. Every time she opened her mouth, I wanted to scream, “Just say what they want you to say until you get out! Then, you can make an actual plan!”

But she didn’t. It was heartbreaking, really. She seemed smarter than her actions showed, and I think that’s what bothered me the most. She again and again made the same mistakes. Plus, would police really take a daughter of a well-respected banker away for disobeying the parents? (Wiseman establishes that Clara’s parents have some kind of vague control over the police because of their wealth.) Would a well-respected banker rather have his daughter in a state mental institution for an indeterminate amount of time? Wouldn’t this reflect badly? Also, where the hell are all of Clara’s friends? Why do they not try to help her? Also, this was 1929. Great depression hits, and there is the perfect excuse from taking Clara from the nice institution she’s in to the hellish one the state runs. Seemed convenient and far-fetched. Oh, and the length of time she’s there? I don’t know if I believe that, either.

And then there was the ending, and a lot of things were tied up in a nice little bow with very little character change. Maybe that’s the problem. These characters don’t seem to CHANGE at all or learn from their mistakes, which is problematic. Don’t we want dynamic characters? I mean, I like characters with flaws, and I understand the irony in making a character so delusional as they never reflect on where they’ve been and what they’ve done, going on with their same mistakes because of indifference or a lack of intelligence or a lack of understanding of the nuances in complex situations. But Wiseman isn’t doing this. I think she’s trying to make both Clara and Izzy reflective, but she never really succeeds.

But maybe I’m looking at this through the lens of Orphan Train¬†by Christina Bake Kline, which was thoroughly researched with believable, dynamic characters, and because of that, I’m judging this one to harshly. Maybe if I hadn’t just read Orphan Train¬†I would really have liked this one.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Should you read it? I do think the historical aspect of the mental institutions is interesting and made me want to look at the conditions of mental patients, then and now, but I don’t know if that will hold everyone’s interest, especially with such frustrating character development.

I guess that’s all for now, my dears. Until next time, I hope you enjoy your reading. And if you pick up or have read What She Left Behind, let me know what you think!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele

Commentary: “The Raven Boys” and “The Dream Thieves” by Maggie Stiefvater

Raven BoysFor years, I’ve seen students bring in Maggie Stiefvater’s books, from her Shiver series to The Scorpio Races, but I’ve never read any of her books. Since I’m teaching 9th grade next year instead of seniors, I thought that maybe I should catch up on my young adult book list, starting with Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys¬†series.

After reading the first two in the series, I’m really looking forward to reading the last two. (Yeah, I’ve already read the last part of the last book. I had to know, you know? It’s a compulsion that does not affect my reading the entire series! I’m a spoiler girl!)

Any-whooo, let’s look at The Raven Boys¬†first. Blue Sargent is a very practical teen, emanating partially from the fact that she is a non-psychic in a houseful of women psychics, including her mother, and partially from the fact that they have all told her one thing her whole life: “If Blue was to kiss her true love, he would die.”

So she’s very sensibly developed two rules regarding boys: “One, stay away from boys, because they were trouble. And two, stay away from Aglionby boys, because they were bastards.” You see, Blue lives in Henrietta, where Aglionby Academy, a boys’ prep school for the wealthy and elite, is located, and she thinks the boys who go there are arrogant and unworthy, obviously. Her vow to stay away from them has been unbreakable until St. Mark’s Night, a night where those who will die within the year walk a mystical energy line. On this night, she sees the ghost of an Aglionby boy, unusual in the fact that Blue never sees¬†the ghosts of the dead, merely powers up psychics who can see them. (She’s like an electrical current for psychics and the supernatural.) His name? Ganey. Why can she see him? According to one of the psychics, it’s because he’s either “her true love” or she “kills him.” Ominous, huh?

And here’s the introduction to the raven boys, so dubbed by their school uniform, which displays a raven on their sweaters. Ganey, the leader of his little crew, is obsessed with the supernatural, looking for mystical energy lines in Henrietta to lead him to the ancient burial grounds of Glendower, a mystical being who if discovered, is said to grant one wish to the one who finds him. His friends help him with his search–the angry, resentful Ronan who has known Ganey for years, the problem solving Adam who is from Henrietta himself and goes to Aglionby on scholarship, and the mysterious Noah who tries to go unnoticed.

Blue’s introduction to these Aglionby boys does not go well, not surprisingly. Blue’s what you might call prickly in her demeanor, and Ganey, well, he’s rather used to his money and his charm working for him. Needless to say, the combination of money and charm really does not impress the somewhat cynical Blue. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t recognize Ganey as her ghost since the ghost’s features were indistinguishable. When the boys go to a reading at her house, she finds out his name and realizes that this is the boy who will be dead within the year. The one that will be her true love or the one she will kill.

This is not a comfort to her, especially since her mother forbids her to see these boys again. But she’s a typical teenager, and you know how that goes.

So, let me be clear. This is not one of those teen romances with the ostensible supernatural plot. This is really a story about friendship. These boys have a tight knit one, and Blue becomes one of them. Adam’s the one who brings her into the group, as she tries to avoid Ganey, for obvious reasons, and Ronan, who’s kind of an a-hole most of the time. Once she comes into the group, she and Noah also have a connection, as well. But it’s not about them dating or all of them constantly wondering who she will choose. (I hate those type of YA books, actually.) It’s about them merging Ganey’s quest with Blue’s attempt to prevent Ganey’s death from coming true. It’s about them being friends and about what they are willing to do for one another. (Quite a lot.) It’s also about the conflicts that all friendships have, whether it’s trying to change someone into the person you think he/she should be or someone trying to maintain his/her independence and identity within a close-knit group like this one. And it’s about how the characters define themselves by their experiences (most have some terrible events in their pasts) and who they’re trying to become.

This is told in third person, largely from Blue’s, Adam’s or Ganey’s perspective. Oh, and the bad guy, which was different and gives us insights into the history of the mystical in Henrietta. I don’t think you get very much from Ronan’s perspective in this one, probably because the next book, The Dream Thieves, is really his book, told mainly from his perspective, although there are some chapters in The Dream Thieves¬†that show the conflicts that emerged in The Raven Boys¬†between Adam, Ganey, and Blue.

So, now let’s talk about The Dream Thieves. This is really a background information book. (SPOILER: While Ganey has no supernatural abilities, his friends do.) Stiefvater focuses on Ronan’s mystical background, while incorporating Adam’s supernatural abilities as well. Not much is added to the whole Glendower plot or the whole Ganey’s eventual death plot, which I think makes this book less necessary than the first, but it’s interesting in finding out more about Ronan and Adam and their conflicts with Ganey’s sometimes overwhelming personality. I mean, how would you feel if you were friends with someone who could command the room in an instant? Ronan doesn’t seem to mind; he has other problems with Ganey. But Adam seems to constantly struggle with his desire to be his own person without Ganey overpowering his personality. While rage is definitely Ronan’s vice, envy is Adam’s , definitely, but he has had a more difficult life than Ganey or Ronan. Hopefully, Adam’s insecurities will be worked out and settled by the last book.

I don’t want to give too much away that will ruin the books for those who don’t like spoilers as much as I do. But I will say by the end of the second book, The Dream Thieves, I was definitely shipping two different couples (possibly three, if I count Blue’s mom’s love interest!) than I was in book one, The Raven Boys. Oh, yeah, I was! I loved the gradual way Stiefvater brings about the romance, while not focusing on it too much.

I will also say this: I enjoyed The Raven Boys¬†way more than I did The Dream Thieves. I gave The Raven Boys four stars on Goodreads, but three stars for The Dream Thieves, for the reasons I stated earlier. Dream just¬†doesn’t advance the Glendower or mystical energy plot, and it also doesn’t do much with the whole Ganey’s death thing, either. Plus, there were weirdish villains in Kavinsky and the Gray Man, a character whom I liked waaay better than Kavinsky. (Kavinisky sucked! And I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to like the Gray Man, despite his, ummm, professional proclivity.) But I liked getting the background about Ronan and more on Adam, to whom, really, I just want to give a big reassuring hug.

Raven KingSo, who’s my favorite character? Adam! I love Adam because his seems to be a magnet for struggles outside of his control, but he always seems to grasp onto what power in those situations he can and come out better for it, in my opinion, although he’s often conflicted afterward. He struggles to be his own person and tries to overcome his substantially terrible circumstances that would totally¬†defeat other people. Love him! (People like Ronan more, I’ve found, but this is totally baffling to me!)

Anyway, I will definitely be finishing the rest of the series soon, which includes Blue Lily, Lily Blue, then The Raven King.

Until next time, hope you decide to enjoy the Aglionby boys, Blue, and the mystical town of Henrietta!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele