Commentary: “My (Not So) Perfect Life” by Sophie Kinsella

PerfectFull disclosure: I only sometimes like Sophie Kinsella’s books. I liked Confessions of a Shopaholic, but I loved Can You Keep a Secret?, which was uproariously funny and charming. Confessions, though, was less charming, mainly because of the main character Becky Bloomwood, who often works against her own self-interest, but entertaining, mainly because she rarely lies to herself; she knows what she’s doing is problematic and she recognizes her flaws while dodging her creditors. She lies to almost everyone else, but rarely to herself.

My (Not So) Perfect Life has another problematic character in Katie Brenner, a country girl who lives in London and has just started her career at the bottom at a marketing firm. She lies to everyone, too, courtesy of her fake life that she projects on Instagram. But she doesn’t merely project her lies through Instagram. She lies to everyone for various justifications that she gives ad nauseam: she lies to her friend Fiona because Fiona’s life seems perfect in New York, she lies to her father and her stepmother because she doesn’t want them to be hurt or indignant on her behalf, she lies to people at work about the places she’s been to impress them, but most of all, she lies to herself about who she really is.

Kinsella seems to want us to be more sympathetic to Katie because she’s obviously struggling with her identity. But it doesn’t work. Katie is just as petty and selfish and deluded than even the eventual villains within the story. Her character is not nice, although I think we’re supposed to think she is. Her constant state of envy of those with “perfect” lives becomes an obsession. She is even jealous of a girl who lives with her parents, albeit the girl lives in her fabulous parents’ mansion. But, seriously, the girl wheedles money from her parents instead of relying on herself. Like a CHILD. And Katie is still JEALOUS of the girl’s entitlement instead of PROUD that she doesn’t have to debase herself like that.

In fact, Katie is often embarrassed by all the things of which she should be proud, like supporting herself in a tough city, knowing her budgetary limits and not going overboard (like Becky), and being smart, although insecure. But she’s only 26. What 26-year-old isn’t insecure, especially about her job? Oh, and there’s the job. It’s a crappy research associate position, but she seems to think that after seven months there, she should have been moving up the corporate ladder already.

And there is the fact that she mentions over and over that she’s going to focus on the positive, but this too is a lie. She never does. She only focuses on her bitterness and jealousy, making her totally unlikeable and not the sweet country girl I get the impression Kinsella is trying to create. We’re also supposed to see her as clever and under-appreciated for her talent. But she’s not clever; she a little mean and revenge-y, executing the second meanest revenge plot in the book all because she jumps to the wrong conclusions and reads situations wrong ALL THE TIME. And we’re supposed to forgive her for it.

Full disclosure: (I’m using this phrase because Katie uses it in almost every chapter right after she’s told us a lie, forcing the reader to understand that she lies to us, too. I think Kinsella is trying to create a trust bond between Katie and the reader because Katie eventually tells us the truth after this phrase. So noble!) Her obsessions are RIDICULOUS. First, there’s her obsession with everyone who has anything better than she does (that’s everyone, btw). Then, there’s her obsession with Alex, one of her younger bosses on whom she fixates after one encounter. After four encounters, and none of these a date, I came to the conclusion that she was in love with him, even though she tells us and herself that she isn’t. I told you: she lies to herself and to us, too.

Kinsella tells us there is a reason for all of her lies; Katie had overheard former co-workers making fun of her country accent. Because they laugh at her, I think we are supposed to think she’s justified for lying constantly, but I think this is one of those times where we can pull in T.S. Eliot’s objective correlative—the reason or motivation just doesn’t match the actions that follow.

Even after all of this, though, I found myself unable to put Katie’s story down. I really wanted to know how her train wreck of various lies would end up. HINT and SPOILER: Repercussions are almost nonexistent for her MANY lies. I mean, this is a romantic comedy. You can see where it’s going from about chapter three or four, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to see where it landed. So, despite the fact that Katie as a character is what I would call uneven, I finished the book and was entertained, even though mostly I was entertained by either laughing at the absurdities of Katie’s stupidity and eventual dumb luck or railing at Katie that she and real life needed an introduction.

So, would I suggest buying My (Not So) Perfect Life? No way, but if you like Kinsella’s stories in general, I would definitely suggest reserving it from the library. Personally, I got it for free for signing up with Audible, so Yay! that I didn’t waste the money.

That’s all for now, my lovelies. Sorry for the harshness. But full disclosure: It wasn’t a stellar read, but was entertaining on my drive to and from NOLA. So that’s something, I guess.

Ta-ta for now, my dears!

HMichaele

Literary Fiction: Summer Reading 2017

Hello, my lovelies! It feels like it has been forever since I last wrote, but now that I’m finished with grad school and teaching for a while, it’s time to get serious about reading for pleasure. This past year I’ve read A LOT of Shakespeare and composition theorists and not nearly enough romances, mysteries, literary fiction, or young adult novels. I know, GASP!, right?

So here are my choices for this summer’s selection. Will I get to all of these? Doubtful—highly doubtful. And, of course, I’ll add to the list as a book or books strike my fancy, as they inevitably do over the summer time. But for now, here are the main contenders.

Literary Fiction

handmaidI’m starting with literary fiction because I’ve already started The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book has been on everyone’s lips ever since Hulu came out with its adaptation, which I refuse to watch until I’ve read the book. I’m one of those, ya know? Anyway, so far, so good. I’m enjoying the unraveling of this story piece by piece. Oh, and if you’re interested in the audiobook, Book Riot just had a story on audiobooks, and apparently this book’s audiobook is read by Claire Danes, if you prefer audio.

Here’s a list of the other potential stars for 2017:

  1. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  4. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
  5. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler—A holdover from 2016, but it was so popular I couldn’t get it through the library until I was elbows deep in composition theorists for my thesis. ūüė¶
  6. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  7. My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophia Kinsella

Young Adult 

  1. Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  2. Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
  3. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugohillbilly

Nonfiction

1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Rollovers from last year (ahem, and the year before)

  1. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
  2. Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
  3. Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato
  4. Epitaph by Marie Doria Russell
  5. Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  6. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
  7. We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
  8. Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
  9. Fever by Mary Beth Keane
  10. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
  11. Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
  12. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
  13. The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer
  14. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

So, now that I’ve developed an impossible-to-meet list for the summer, I guess I’ll get started reading! Until next time, my dears, enjoy your summer books!

Ta-ta for now,

HMichaele

 

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 writes 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

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

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

Random Romance Review

The fact is this: I read way more than the books I review. So to make up for this, I’ve set up a system to review in brief those books that I simply didn’t have time to write a complete review for. Here’s the rating system:

  • Blech–What a waste of time! I couldn’t stomach this. I might have hated one or more of the main characters.
  • Hmmm…–I’m not totally sure I remember this, neither loved it nor hated it. Just read it.
  • Interesting…This plot had a lot of action or a lot of friend/family scene, sometimes at the expense of the love story. But I liked it, mostly.¬†More importantly, I remember this.
  • Sweet–This was a good love story, and it had an entertaining plot. It might have lacked one of the following:
    • A character-driven, sometimes heartbreaking, tension between the two characters that I like.
    • Love interests who complement each other.
    • Believable character development.
    • Intense passion.
  • So close!–This had almost every aspect of the top category, but characters might have had unbelievable backgrounds/traits or lacked depth (just a smooch too formulaic). Also, the plot devices used might have been questionable or unbelievable. ¬†But still, emotional connections and tensions rule this book and made me want another from the author because I could sense the potential despite the issues.
  • I-WANT-TO-MARRY-IT!–Yeah, this book had it all–interesting plot, multi-layered characters, emotional connections, intense passion, and believable tension between the love interest. This book made me root for the HEA and look up the author’s other books on Kindle immediately!

Okay, so here’s the most recent list of romance novels I’ve read with brief impressions of the novel.

  1. The Earl Takes All¬†by Lorraine Heath.¬†So close! Edward Alcott is pretending to be his twin brother, the Earl of Greyling, so that his brother’s pregnant widow won’t lose the baby she’s carrying. To complicate matters, he has loved Julia, his brother’s wife, for years. Julia realizes something’s amiss, but thinks it’s due to being apart and her husband losing his brother. There’s passion and love, and the animosity between Edward and Julia doesn’t last long after the big reveal is made. But there’s a ick factor in HER marrying HIM. The reason is there; I’m just not sure I liked it. But once I learned to overlook this issue, I really enjoyed this book, like I do with most of Heath’s works. ūüôā

  2. To Pleasure a Prince¬†by Sabrina Jeffries: So close! I actually really liked this book. The Dragon Viscount, Lord Marcus North, makes a deal with Lady Regina Tremaine to help protect his sister Louisa from Regina’s brother, the Duke of Foxmoor, who Regina believes is courting Louisa sincerely. But really, it’s all a ruse set up by Prinny, the heir to the throne of England, who is Marcus’s true father and thinks he is Louisa’s as well. Everyone in the book has their own agenda, but it doesn’t take too much away from the romance between Marcus and Regina. This is the second book in Jeffries’s The Royal Brotherhood¬†series, all of which focus on the bastards of Prinny, King George IV. I would definitely recommend this book, and I plan on reading the others in the series soon. Plus, Louisa and Foxmoor have their own book, set seven years from this one.
  3. Ha’ven’s Song by SE Smith¬†and¬†Jaquin’s Love¬†by SE Smith: Somewhere between Hmmm… and Interesting. ¬†These were okay. Aliens with powers, like turning into dragons, find their mates on Earth and bring them back to their home planet. Reminds me of the Brides of the¬†Kindred¬†series by Evangeline Anderson, a little. I am not reading anymore of these. I thought they were okay, but not something I want to continue reading.
  4. Forevermore by Kristen Callihan: ¬†Sweet. This is the seventh novel in Callihan’s Darkest London series. The main romance is between Layla Starling and St. John Evernight, both of whom are powerful in this supernatural world. But there’s a side romance between the angel Augustus and Layla’s mother Lena, which I actually thought was more interesting. I wanted more of them, honestly, but overall the book was decent.
  5. Claimed (The Outlaw series)¬†by Elle Kennedy¬†and¬†Addicted (The Outlaw series)¬†by Elle Kennedy:¬†¬†So close!¬†This new series by Elle Kennedy is erotica, set in an alternative rough-and-tumble world of outlaws, and includes multiple partners and voyeuristic sex scenes, so these books might not be for everyone. Honestly, I was a little uncomfortable with some of the scenes (I don’t usually read erotica.), but I overlooked it because the romances in both were passionate! I might write a review of the entire series once it’s done.
  6. Truth or Beard¬†by Penny Reid: So close!¬†Okay, this is the first book in Reid’s new series, The Winston Brothers. These brothers have names like Cletus, Duane, and Beau. What’s not to love? This first book focuses on Duane and Jessica. Jessica has a crush on Duane’s twin, Beau, but Duane has loved Jessica since high school. There’s a ton of passion and intensity in this book, although I liked Duane more than Jessica. He’s a sweetie pie! I will definitely read the rest in this series when they come out. The second one, Grin and Beard It, is out and in my queue waiting to be read, actually!
  7. Rescuing the Bad Boy¬†by Jessica Lemmon: ¬†I did not enjoy this one that much. The hero, Donovan Pate, was kind of an ass, even though we’re supposed to feel sorry for him because of his abuse-laden past. And the heroine, Sofie Martin, was ridiculous in her belief that one night with her would change his entire personality when they were younger, even though she knows he’s a player. When they meet again some years down the road, the attraction is still there, of course. I don’t know. Sofie just had very little self-respect. She is almost obsessed with him even though they only slept together once when they were younger and didn’t date. ¬†Plus, he was super rude to her, and I mean SUPER RUDE, after they slept together, and she barely holds that against him. It would have been a better book it they had never had that night, merely the past attraction, then maybe I would have liked them both more.
  8. Clay’s Hope¬†by Melissa Haag: Hmmm…¬†I don’t know. This was a weird one. Includes shifters and humans interacting. Not sure I remember enough to comment, which says something, I think.
  9. Midnight Action¬†by Elle Kennedy: Interesting… Jim Morgan, leader of a company of mercenaries, and Noelle Phillips, an assassin for hire, have a complicated past filled with betrayal and heartache. But when Jim is in danger, Noelle is there to help him, even under some duress. The animosity between the two is too much at times, honestly, but the cast of characters surrounding them made this a better book for a change. I might read some of the other books in this series, but not all.

  10. A Rake’s Guide to Seduction¬†by Caroline Linden:¬†I-WANT-TO-MARRY-IT! I loved this story between Anthony Hamilton and Celia Reece. Anthony has loved Celia for years, even asking her father for her hand. But she had already been promised to another. After her husband’s death, Anthony works to kindle a relationship between them. I love unrequited love stories, so this is definitely going on my keeper shelf!
  11. The Study of Seduction¬†by Sabrina Jeffries: Hmmm…. Part of her Sinful Suitors¬†series, Jeffries pairs Edwin Barlow, the Earl of Blakeborough, and Lady Clarissa Lindsey. Again, I don’t know what to think about this one. Edwin’s prim and proper, and it makes sense to pair him with Clarissa because she’s a little bit more free spirited. But… I’m not sure I remember enough about this. I do remember that I didn’t like Clarissa that much. This is one of those times when I don’t like Jeffries books, which happens every once in a while. There was a lack of passion between the two characters.

That’s it. Until next time, enjoy one of the above selections!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele

Update: My (Delusional) Summer Reading List

I’ve decided to update My (Delusional) Summer Reading List…obvs. Here’s what I’ve read so far from that list and links to any reviews. No surprise that I’ve read all the romance novels except the one that hasn’t come out yet. ūüôā

Romance Genre 

  1. Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas:  Missing something that would make it a great read; review here.
  2. Cottonbloom series by Laura Trentham: Read the first two, and they were awesome! Love small town drama and romance! Read my review of Kiss Me Like That and Then He Kissed Me. Looking forward to the release of the third of this series, Till I Kissed You on August 2nd.
  3. Rhymes with Love¬†series by Elizabeth Boyle:¬†Couldn’t finish; review here.

Young Adult: As of right now, I have read none of these. Boo, me!

Literary Fiction:¬†I read and reviewed¬†The Vacationers¬†by Emma Straub–LOVED IT! And that’s it. I did start Summer¬†House with Swimming Pool¬†by Herman Koch but sadly didn’t finish it. (I have a 50 page rule. If it doesn’t grab my interest by then, I close it and regulate it to the pile of the unread.)

I also read a Kate Morton novel, The Forgotten Garden, and while I didn’t love it as much as The Lake House, I always enjoy her intricate plotting. (See that review here.)

eligibleI’ve also added Eligilble¬†by Curtis Sittenfeld to this list…because who doesn’t enjoy a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice¬†by Jane Austen with heavy satire on today’s societal values? ¬†(I’ve already started it! Can you tell?) I’ve read A LOT of retellings of P&P, and I’ll tell you this one has already made me laugh out loud and contemplate our modern world.

I also bought Orphan Train¬†by Christina Baker Kline, so I’m hoping to get to that one soon.

On my library eBook loan status, I’m, like, 11th in line for Jane Steele,¬†7th for What She Left Behind, and 3rd for The Good Girl. These are pretty popular at the library! Oh, and The Nest. 15th in line. Don’t know if I’ll get to any of these before the end of summer. Fingers crossed, though!

Historical Fiction:¬†I’ve downloaded the audiobook for Wolf Hall¬†by Hilary Mantel. I’ll listen to that in the car, but that’s all I’ve gotten around to on this list.

ClashAs for my Science Fiction/Fantasy list? Nada. But I have decided, after that TUSHIE KICKING season finale of Game of Thrones¬†that I’m definitely reading the rest of the series. (I’ve already read the first one. Twice.) But ASOIAF is a series that I actually need a copy of the book, not a downloaded version, so I’m off to the bookstore today to pick the second of the series. There are just some books I want to hold, rather than read on my Kindle…although I love my Kindle, too. Anyone else like this?

SIDEBAR: The fact that I’m buying A Clash of Kings while still reading Eligible¬†prompted my husband to ask, “Do you really need to buy that now since your reading something else?” Silly man, of course I need to buy it! Buying books is a compulsion that I no longer fight, though I do love library eBooks for the ones I can read on Kindle. It’s like he doesn’t know me at all! ūüėČ

So, as you can see, I’m doing pretty poorly on My (Delusional) Summer Reading List…but I have plans, I tell ya! Plans!

Ta-ta for now, my readers,

HMichaele

Commentary: “Then He Kissed Me” by Laura Trentham

ThenSo, you know that I really liked the first in the Cottonbloom series by Laura Trentham, Kiss Me That Way. (Read my review of that one here.) And I enjoyed Then He Kissed Me, just in a different way.

Here’s the rundown: Nash Hawthorne is back in Cottonbloom, Mississippi, after getting a job at the local college. His childhood friend from the Louisiana side, Tallulah, sister of Cade from book one, has never left Cottonbloom and owns her own gym on the Louisiana side of Cottonbloom. She’s successful and pretty, but she has some pretty deep insecurities, probably from not having parental guidance after her parents die in a car crash when she’s ten, a few days after Nash loses his own mother to cancer. Before his mom died, Nash lived next door to Tally, but he moves to the ‘Sip side after her death and never sees Tally again until he moves back for the challenge of building up the history department at Cottonbloom College.

But the challenge of the work isn’t really what draws Nash back. It’s a feeling of home that he’s always had in Cottonbloom, the river, and, of course, Tally herself, even if he doesn’t realize she’s one of the reasons he’s back. (We totally know though!)

Once he’s back, he goes looking for her, showing up every night in a bar he hears she visits every so often and trying for a casual first encounter. Okay, that first encounter? Pretty funny. Nash is asthmatic, and the smoke really makes it flare up. But would you want to pull out your inhaler in front of the girl you dreamed about? Yeah, he doesn’t either and eventually has to hightail it outta there without a real explanation. Heee-larious!

Nash, of course, chases Tally, but she’s a mass of anxiety. She’s attracted to him but feels they have very little in common because he has a Ph.D, and she’s dyslexic, which no one knows except her brothers. She feels intimidated by the amount of books he has in his little cottage and feels like a relationship between them would burn out quickly. But that’s not her only problem. She, even more than her brother Cade, has a serious fear of putting herself out there, and she doesn’t want to take a leap to trust Nash, who is totally book boyfriend material, I tell ya! Her inability to trust stems from the fact that many people, teachers especially, implied she wasn’t as smart or good as her older brother Sawyer, who will be featured in book three of the series. Nash points out that she’s practically a genius with numbers, but this does not get her to believe in herself. Eventually, a couple of people tell her the same thing I want to tell her about halfway through the book: Grow up. But nicely, you know?

This book didn’t really have as many humorous scenes as Kiss Me That Way¬†did, probably because Regan and Sawyer were largely absent. (Seriously, their love/hate relationship makes me chuckle every time I read a scene where they are conniving against each other. Can you tell I really want to read their book?) Plus, Trentham is dealing with a pretty serious subject of disabilities and how people can negatively view themselves based on others’ opinions.

Even though¬†Kiss Me That Way¬†touched on the subject of childhood abuse and abusive relationships, it still had many lighthearted moments that made me consider it a “beach read.”¬†And¬†Then He Kissed Me¬†is a beach read, too, just in a less lighthearted way. Tally constantly questions her worth and struggles to overcome her belief that she’s not smart enough for Nash.¬†Then He Kissed Me¬†is poignant in highlighting the struggles Tally has faced since her parents’ deaths, how alone she really was since her support system always seemed to desert her, including her parents, Cade, and Nash, when she was younger.

Overall, I liked Then He Kissed Me and strongly recommend it to the romance reader! The somber tone surprised me since there were many funny scenes in the first one (Like I said, the humor in the first was really Regan and Sawyer-centric for those scenes.), and I guess I expected it in the second as well. But that didn’t make it worse, just different. The romance was sweet and sappy and lovely and all those things a summer romance should be!

Until next time, enjoy the Cottonbloom¬†series by Laura Trentham. The final one, Till I Kissed You, is out August 2nd, and I can’t wait!

Ta-ta for now, my friends,

HMichaele