Thursday, February 14, 2019

Review: The Bargaining

The Bargaining The Bargaining by Carly Anne West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Penny is sent to live with her father, stepmother, and stepbrother.

She ends up spending the summer with her stepmother, as her mother works on flipping an old house in the woods near a small town.

Bad things have happened in that house, in those woods; the locals give them problems; her stepmother is frantic not to lose her investment.

This as a good, scary, haunted house book. The two things I liked best about it: Penny, who is very real in how she handles herself and the situation, neither too brave nor too timid. And, that while there is a local cute guy, this is not a romance, there is no real romance.

I'm so over every book having to also have a romance in it. Can't it just be a scary book (or a mystery or whatever.)

So this: four stars because scary and no romance.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Review: Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs

Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs by John Bloom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I remember watching a made for TV movie inspired by this years ago.

Short version: Early 1980s Texas. One church-going housewife murders another, in a pretty violent, nasty way. Why? And, how does her community respond?

This is old (a reissue), and it works in that the time period being depicted is shown "in the moment," rather than with a historical distance. But, that is also a flaw, because I would have liked more distance: more judgment, more post-crime information on the key players, more analysis that only time can give. And, in a way, less judgment -- the women were judged for what they did or not do with their lives and their marriages, and while those were the judgments of the time, today, there would have been more sympathy, in some places; and less in others.

But if you like true crime, it's a quick read; and it's easy enough to do a google search to find out what happened to the survivors after.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Review: Much Ado About You

Much Ado About You Much Ado About You by Eloisa James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical romance, first in a series about the Essex sisters.

Tess is the oldest of four sisters. Their father just died, and they've gone to live with a guardian.

Their father was loved by them; but their father loved his horses and the result is that the young women haven't been introduced to society (so explains why they are older and still single); and don't have much money, so their value on the marriage market is charm, beauty, pedigree, and oh, yes, the horses their father left to them.

Their guardian, the Duke of Holbrook, was a last minute choice by their father, and so unexpected all the way around that the Duke thought four little girls were coming to live with him. He's not prepared for young ladies to introduce to society, but he adjusts quickly. As a side note: this is the type of book where the Duke and his friends may be tipsy or rogues, but they are the good kind, not the rapey kind.

This first book is about Tess, the oldest, but most of it is actually introducing all four sisters as well as Rafe (the Duke) and his circle. Tess's romance begins as something practical -- her duty to marry to help the others on their way. But love happens, of course. A younger sister falls for someone already engaged. I was both sympathetic to the younger sister and annoyed at her.

All in all, a good read; the only thing is that all the sisters were oh so gorgeous.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: I've Got My Eyes on You

I've Got My Eyes on You I've Got My Eyes on You by Mary Higgins Clark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoy Mary Higgins Clark, and especially the New Jersey settings!

Unfortunately this fell a bit flat: the killer was pretty obvious, a few characters who were supposed to be likable I found annoying, and some of the main character's choices so soon after her sister's death felt off.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Review: The Woman in the Window

The Woman in the Window The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anna Fox doesn't leave her house. Hasn't for almost a year. She gets everything delivered, included wine -- lots of wine. She doesn't say why she won't.... the clues come slowly, the truth not revealed to close to the end of the book.

Something happened, something bad.

She now lives alone, talking on the phone to her husband and young daughter. Drinking wine. Watching old movies. Drinking wine. Watching her neighbors.

She lives in New York City, in a brownstone, and the neighbors she watches are just across the street or the garden.

Anna has had a few glasses of wine when she looks out the window and sees someone murdered.

The combination of wine, her agoraphobia, and other parts of her story leave Anna and the reader wondering what, if anything, Anna actually saw.

This is a great thriller, a mystery that had me guessing, and also a sad look at a broken survivor of a terrible trauma.

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Review: P.S. I Still Love You

P.S. I Still Love You P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The sequel to To All The Boys I've Loved Before, which I read years ago and just watched on Netflix.

I adored the movie so much I had to return to the books.

This takes place immediately after the first book ends. It has some elements that the movie used, leaving me to wonder about what the movie sequel (if there is one) will be like.

Short version: Lara Jean and Peter navigate their now-real relationship. Continues to be charming and sweet and romantic and real.

The move from pretend to real, and how Lara Jean addresses her feelings, emotions, wants, and desires is terrific. Part of that includes addressing her jealousy about Peter's ex-girlfriend (and her own ex-best friend.) Part is her insecurity in that this is her first real relationship, yet it is not Peter's. And it's not just about expectations about sexual intimacy -- it's about learning about each other, and learning what it means to be a couple.

To be honest: I'm not that thrilled with how the Lara Jean - Gen dynamics are shown, particularly at the beginning. It's a bit too "mean girls" for my taste, especially as it falls into a particular story line I'm not a fan of, because if Gen is so terrible, why were she and Lara Jean friends, why did Peter date her for so long, and why is Peter still friends with her? This does get addressed, a bit, with the idea of Lara Jean realizing that her perspective of people and events is not always the right one. Still, I would have liked that to be stronger.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Review: The Governess Game

The Governess Game The Governess Game by Tessa Dare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tessa Dare is one of my favorite writers; and her books really highlight, to me, what is so wonderful about Regency (and Regency adjacent) Romances. Yes, there is a certain structure, certain things to expect (a happy ending, for one.) But there is a lot that a writer can do within that structure.

The Governess Game is part of a series, Girl Meets Duke. So, that tells you the plot in a nutshell, right? Except not so much. In The Governess Game, for example, the "governess/employer" storyline is twisted a bit by a few things: first, Alexandra isn't a governess. I mean, she is - but her profession, her career, sets and repairs clocks. Self-employed. For various reasons, she finds herself taking the short-term job of governess to two young girls.

Chase Reynaud is the guardian, and a rake, etc. But here's the thing: it's clear from the start he is a good guy because of all the efforts he is making for these two young orphans. His interactions with them show the reader that he's more than "a rake."

The employer/employee interaction isn't problematic in part because the power is more in Alexandra's hands than Chase's. He's gone through several governesses because the girls keep acting out; yes, she needs the money but she's negotiated a huge salary, it's short term, and she has friends (the other ladies from the "Girl Meets Duke" series) so she has options and isn't beholden to Chase. He needs her more than she needs him; and she has options; so it's a more equal footing.

Anyway, I won't get into the particulars of why she ends up having to be a governess; or the ins and outs of the romance. That's the fun of reading the book. But yes, highly recommended!

And like the best of these series -- yeah, you're going to want to read the other ones. But it really isn't necessary to read in sequence, because you know the girl is going to get her duke so it doesn't matter if you read the romances out of order. (In my opinion.)

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Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Review: Never Deceive a Duke

Never Deceive a Duke Never Deceive a Duke by Liz Carlyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enjoyable historical romance.

She's the widow of the recently deceased duke.

He's the long lost and very reluctant heir.

There is backstory angst. Antonia has buried two husbands, and there is heartache and betrayal in her past. And, her family while not terrible isn't very supportive (in part because the times and sexism.) But she's basically had loss and her own demons, even if she is beautiful, rich, and from the upper class.

Gareth is a self made man who has basically been on his own since he was about 12 or 13. His earliest childhood was good -- loving grandparents and mother. But then his father died, and then his mother, and his grandfather lost his money, and the relatives who should have taken care of him did not. And that's just the start of it. He does not view being the duke as a good thing.

In addition to these two getting together, and helping each other, there is also a murder mystery!

I like that this touched on issues of class, and sexism, and the value of work, and responsibility. Honestly, the best part of "long lost heir" stories isn't the "and now I'm rich and powerful, wowza" bit but the "huh, there is responsibility here." Because, especially for this time period, being a duke is equivalent to being a CEO. And how most of these stories approach that aspect is to have the person take it seriously. (Bad guys and villians and bad fathers tend to focus on the "rich and powerful" part and irresponsibility leave the estates, and those dependent on it, in a terrible place.)

Other bits: Gareth's mother is Jewish, and the prejudices of the time are part of the story.

Also: Gareth spends time on a ship and there is abuse. Not a lot of detail about it, but a heads up because that's a big "no" for some readers.

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Friday, September 28, 2018

Review: Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I saw the HBO miniseries and had to read the book.

Camille is a journalist who returns to her home town to report on a child murder, and a missing child. She has secrets, the town has secrets, and her home and family and the town is a freshly painted house that is rotten inside but darn, it looks good on the outside and isn't that what counts?

For the record, that always works better for me -- so I typically enjoy the book for the additional details, and can appreciate how the film/TV series interpreted the book. The other way around usually leaves me wondering about what was left out.

I appreciate how closely the miniseries followed the book; and also how certain background things were filled in, so that the watcher saw things earlier than the narrator in the book revealed them -- or, also, saw things that the narrator never saw or realized herself.

One thing I had difficulty with in both the book and the series is the timeline of it all. I'm a timeline person, and in both, Camille's own fractured telling, and her unreliable memories, make it a bit difficult to pinpoint when and where things in her past happened. But, I think it's on purpose, to keep things on edge and uncertain, and it's why the series used dreams and memories so much.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Review: Wicked and the Wallflower

Wicked and the Wallflower Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy MacLean's historical romances! This one is sent in 1837 London.

This is the first in a series (The Bareknuckle Bastards) but has characters introduced in earlier books and series. That said, you don't have to read any of the other books -- these stand alone. In point of fact, I had forgotten the character (Felicity) who was in an earlier book. And it was A-OK.

Felicity is unmarried, and a bit of an outcast in the social circles. It bothers her, because she used to be in, but well, for one reason and another her former friends are her current enemies.

Devil is the illegitimate son of a Duke. As the introduction tells us, the Duke had three illegitimate sons, and one legitimate daughter (born to his wife, but not his child), born on the same day. The series is named for these children: The Bareknuckle Bastards. Because in one way or another, they have had to fight: for life, for a place, for safety, for money.

Devil has revenge on his mind; and Felicity wants a marriage to bring her status and love. She's seen love, and won't settle for anything else. Devil promises her he can get an eligible Duke to propose and to fall in love -- Felicity accepts, not realizing that it's part of Devil's revenge and he has no intention of meeting his promises.

It's a romance -- of course they fall in love! And Devil is keeping secrets and thinks his birth status as well as his income sources (not entirely legal) makes Felicity out of his reach. Felicity still has a bit of wanting social acceptance, and other reasons drive her choices, but most importantly she wants love.

I eagerly look forward to the next book!

(that said, what I would also like are books about Victoria and Valerie, the sisters of Penelope from A Rogue by Any Other Name. All their siblings got love, and they didn't, and I am haunted and fascinated by them.)

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Friday, September 07, 2018

Review: The Party

The Party The Party by Robyn Harding
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An entertaining look at the dynamics in an upper class neighborhood.

Something happens at a sixteenth birthday party, and the aftermath reveals and illuminates the truth about the parents and children and teenagers.

The reason it's only "OK" is that, well, I found all the people at best, annoying, and at worst, pretty horrible. Both adults and kids.

Still, I was curious as to what exactly happened at the birthday party, and why. And I was interested in just what people would do and how they would react, and why.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review: The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love multiple stories told over time - the story of Edie, in 1992, as she figures out her life, her career, her relationship with her parents.

Edie's favorite book as a child leads her to tour the castle where the book was written, and to meet the three sisters who live there, the daughters of the author. They are all old women now, living in a run down house, with history and each other but little money.

Edie discovers that during WWII, her mother was a child evacuee. And where was she evacuated to? That castle, when those three sisters were younger.

The stories unfold, in 1939, in 1941, in 1992 -- and before, also. A mystery, several mysteries.

Without spoilers, I'll also add that it was a relief to read a book that was a mystery that did not involve sexual abuse, rape, and babies. Seriously, one of my recent historical reads had plot/character development centering around so many various unplanned/ out of wedlock babies that it got a little ridiculous.

Also, I would love to read the fictitious book that was at the center of this book. It sounded amazing.

Finally, the time period that most of the book is about -- Britain during WWII -- was fascinating. I want to read more.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Review: What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alice is in her late 20s, expecting her first child, in love with her husband.

Until she wakes up on the gym floor -- she fell, hit her head, and is 39, with three kids, in the midst of a messy divorce.

I loved Alice discovering her current life: adjusting to three children, finding out her best friend is no longer in her life, finding out about the person she has become.

Twentysomething Alice doesn't always like present-day-Alice or the choices she's made.

It's a fascinating concept and it's done very well. A twentysomething judging the person she becomes; bewildered by the person she now is. I confess, maybe someone younger would have a different view, but at times I found Alice (the 2o something Alice) a bit too annoying and frustrating. Almost, even, stupid, in her failure to sympathize with her older self. To understand her.

That said, there was also something sweet and hopeful in the younger Alice, the Alice who wasn't so hurt by life, and how she tried living, and fixing, the life she found herself in.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Review: Under the Harrow

Under the Harrow Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nora is visiting her older sister Rachel. When she walks into her sister's house, she finds her sister's body.

Rachel has been murdered.

About 15 years ago, when both girls were teens, Rachel was brutally attacked. The person was never caught. So Nora stays around her sister's town, investigating, not trusting the police.

Nora is a bit of an unreliable narrator, and she holds back certain information from the reader. I'd go, wait, what, and then realize that Nora holds some details back. And the way Nora tells the story -- sometimes it's almost dreamlike. In that Nora thinks "if only." Pretends alternates. Like, if Rachel was still alive. Or, what if I do this. So now and then -- including at the end -- I wasn't sure what was real and what Nora was hoping was real.

One more thing, and I don't consider this a spoiler. I like mysteries but I hate how often teen girls or women are Victims. Not in, the victim the story revolves around; but in how victimized they are. Rachel is a victim without being a Victim.

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