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

Advertisements

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

Commentary: “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline

OrpahnI always forget how much I enjoy historical fiction until I read an exemplary researched work, and it reminds me. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is one of those astonishing works that make me realize exactly how much research and work can go into a novel.

In Orphan Train, Kline introduces us to our two protagonists, Molly, a teenager in the foster care system in 2011, and Niamh, a orphaned Irish nine year old who gets put on the “orphan train” in 1929 so that she can become part of a new family after a tragic fire kills hers.

These orphan trains sound awful, let me tell you. The Children’s Aid Society, a Christian-based society that “helps” orphans, piling orphans from NYC, in Niamh’s case, onto train, making stops at Midwestern or Western train stations. At these stations, the children are offered up to the masses for “free.” To promote the fostering of these children, the social workers say things like they are “‘strong, healthy, good for farm work and helping around the house.'” If we can’t pick up from this announcement what these children are to society in 1929, Molly is conveniently being taught in her history class about indenture servitude. The fact is that while some end up with good homes and adoption, most end up abused and mistreated in their new “family.”

Molly meets Niamh, who has become Vivian Daly, when Molly is sentenced to community service for trying to steal Jane Eyre from the library. Molly works to help Vivian clean out her attic for her community service, going through boxes from Vivian’s 91 years of life. As they work, Molly and Vivian talk about the items, and Molly decides to ask Vivian to become the focus of a research project at school, giving her the opportunity to hear more about Vivian’s experiences, including mistreatment by families similar to Molly’s own experiences in the foster care system.

Kline portrays Molly as a kid who is really smart, but her lot in life has made her cynical and bitter. She encourages everyone’s suspicions of her as the typical “bad girl” persona that she acquires through her Goth look. Molly acknowledges this has become a character for her to play and not really who she is. But she uses it to keep people back after she is bounced from foster home to foster home since the death of her father. This character she has created is on the verge of becoming who she really is until she meets Vivian. As Vivian shares her experience on the orphan train and beyond with Molly, a connection is made between the two orphans.

I really enjoyed this novel because Kline made me care about both Molly and Vivian. I wanted to know what happened to Vivian, how she came to be successful and independent, and I wanted to believe that this success would translate to Molly, who is sensitive despite trying to portray herself as a badass. Of course, this is a commentary about how the foster care system hasn’t changed all that much since the time of orphan trains, since Molly is bounced back and forth between foster families, not all of whom are stellar.

It made me think about many students whom I have taught who have been in the foster system; all of a sudden I realized that I had no idea what fears and disappointments they must have gone through in their lives, things with which I can empathize but not really know. I felt proud of those whom I know have succeeded and agony for those whom I know did not. I hope that going into the next school year, I will remember this book and remember to have compassion for teenagers who seem to have a tough outer shells but are really just babies on the inside.

So, I would definitely suggest this book, my friends. It made me cry, but in a good way because I cared, ya know? 🙂

Until next time, my dears, enjoy this wonderfully thorough piece of historical fiction!

Ta-ta,

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. 🙂

  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 LindenI-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

Addendum: Review of “Eligible” by Curtis Sittenfeld

eligibleOkay, so I have an addendum to my review of Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.

I went to Goodreads to update my reading profile, and I discovered that Eligible is listed as Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice (The Austen Project, #4)

I thought: What the hell is “The Austen Project,” and what are the other three books in the project?

Turns out HarperCollins has a assigned Austen’s books to contemporary authors. There are three others, besides Eligible, in the project out already. They are as follows:

There has not been an announcement about authors for the retellings of the other two books in Austen’s collection, Mansfield Park and Persuasion.

But there is a Facebook page dedicated to the project, as well as blog articles about the project and reviews of previous retellings or about the project’s lack of success, as some of the opinions may be. There’s also a whole blog on Austen called “The Austen Project” that reviews Eligible and includes blog posts on varying aspects of Austen’s works in general. Pretty interesting.

I don’t know if I’ll read these other books, but I wanted to give you a chance to look up the others in case you wanted to. Just thought it was interesting to share this discovery because I had no idea about this project when I picked up Eligible!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele

Review: “Eligible” by Curtis Sittenfeld

eligibleLiz Bennet. Darcy.  Bingley and Jane. Kitty and Lydia. Mary. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Nope, I’m not listing the characters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. …Well, actually, I am, but I’m also listing the cast of characters from Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book Eligible, “a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice.”

Here’s the thing: I’ve read MANY retellings and reworkings and revisions of P&P; it’s kind of a requirement for the modern romance reader, ya know? I mean, Pride and Prejudice is the plot from which many of today’s romance novels take their formula for love. Also, go to Listopia on Goodreads, and type in best love stories. Guess what’s always at or near the top of list? That’s right! P&P, baby! Jane Austen rules the modern romance reader!

Anyway, I only say this because I want you to know this: I know P&P, and I love it and all things related to it. And I want you to know that out of all of the MANY P&P tributes I’ve read, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible is officially the most memorable and the best written one I’ve read so far.

Yeah. That’s right. I said it. THE BEST.

In Sittenfeld’s world of Eligible, Liz Bennet is a writer-at-large in NYC for the magazine Mascara, where she writes feature stories and a column on notable women. But she’s home in Cincinnati with her sister Jane, who also lives in NYC as a yoga instructor, due to a health scare that Mr. Bennet has had. They are 38 and 39, respectively, and Mrs. Bennet bemoans not her husband’s health but her two eldest daughters’ unmarried states (of course!) and the fact that they will not be able to have children in their advanced ages.

Did I mention that the other three–Mary, 30, Kitty, 26, and Lydia, 23–still live at home? Of course, they do, even though they all have college degrees! (Mary’s actually working on her third degree!) Liz is the only Bennet who is completely self-sufficient and not relying on her father’s dwindling inheritance.

Enter Chip Bingley, doctor and former reality star from the TV show Eligible (think The Bachelor), where he asked no one to marry him with a major influx of tears. On his part, natch. Well, Mrs. Bennet, who you have to know is drooling over the idea of one of her daughters hitching her wagon to the handsome doctor, arranges for her daughters to meet Chip at the Lucases Fourth of July BBQ. And, you know, Jane and Bingley ensue, but in a contemporary way.

But the BBQ also allows us to meet Fitzwilliam Darcy, handsome doctor extraordinaire with a seemingly prideful demeanor that Liz finds equally humorous and antagonistic. As with P&P, Darcy insults Liz (in her opinion) with the most demeaning insults of her hometown, which she left (Hello, many ironic moments!), and her looks (not her specifically but those of Cincinnatian women, in general). Confrontation ensues between the two, and she proceeds to tell everyone about his insults. This Liz has a predilection for gossip and an interest in people that fits with the modern times and her job as a writer.

Well, anyone who has read P&P knows how this will turn out, but here are a few things that are specific to this novel. Ill-timed pregnancy. Transgender relationships. Financial hardships, including massive debts and no income. Crossfit. A reality TV program filming a confrontation between Liz and Caroline Bingley. 🙂

And satire, but that’s in the original, too. But modern readers who have never been able to get through Jane Austen’s version will enjoy the modern updates and Sittenfeld’s satirizing of characters in today’s society and their values, as much as Austen’s contemporaries must have enjoyed her satirizing the original characters and the views on marriage and women during her time. (Seriously, there were parts that I felt like I was reading The Onion.)

SIDEBAR: There’s a Charades scene where Kitty and Lydia star as the ridiculous Millennials in a roomful of Generation Xers. Some view them with resigned tolerance, and some don’t. You can probably guess which ones.

Plus, it’s a funny book. Liz is funny, even though Darcy is right when he claims she’s “not nearly as funny as” she thinks she is. She’s a lot like her family in this regard. While the rest of the Bennets are almost always eye-rolling funny without meaning to be, Liz is sometimes funny without meaning to be, too, a description that truly would burn her britches, as she thinks she’s a little above the absurdity that is her family, but is an accurate description, nevertheless. Her penchant for gossip and for viewing others through her sometimes narrow lens is fodder for the problems of defining people on just one instance, rather than the whole of the interactions. And I’m not just talking about the lens through which she views Darcy, either. She has a married lover, Jasper, whose reality is much worse than her perception, a piece of dramatic irony that we, as readers, can see, while Liz is in the dark for a loooooong time.

For those of you who have read Pride and Prejudice (or watched Keira Knightley’s version of the movie), you know that some misunderstandings and regrets are in store for our heroine, Liz, but though it all, her good humor and focus on the positive gets her and us through these issues. In fact, Sittenfeld deftly maneuvers us through Liz’s disappointments, which Sittenfeld could have easily turned into a dour look on life and love, but instead, ends up showing how gracefully, humorously, and maturely a character can face these reality-based bumps in the road.

I would, and have, recommended this book to all of my reader friends, and I hope that you, my readers, will also pick up Sittenfeld’s Eligible!

Until next time, enjoy Liz and the Bennets!

Ta-ta for now,

HMicheale

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. 🙂

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! 😉

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