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review 2014-09-04 01:10
Likeability is Key
Love Hacked - Penny Reid

Maybe this makes me shallow, but whether or not I find a main character "likeable" makes a huge difference in my enjoyment level. Love Hacked is a prime example. I have read the two previous books in Penny Reid's Knitting in the City series, and enjoyed Reid's humor and writing style, and liked the stories reasonably well, but rated both books only three stars because I found the main characters so unpleasant. Elizabeth (Friends Without Benefits) I found to be so toxic I couldn't see what the hero saw in her. Janie (Neanderthal Meets Human) was better, but still hard to connect with in that she's very rigid in her world view in a way that I am not. I warmed up to Janie's love, Quinn, but it took awhile, because at first blush he's a typical icy, reserved alpha male. 


By contrast, I really, really liked both Sandra and Alex in Love Hacked. Sandra is funny, smart, and relatable, and Alex is one of the best contemporary heroes I've come across in months: he has a heartbreaking backstory, but it hasn't broken him, and he is honest and emotionally forthright (in contrast to alpha men like Quinn, who don't like to talk about their feelings or even acknowledge that they have any). -And the fact that I liked both characters so much made Love Hacked an almost five star read: everything I liked about Penny Reid's writing combined with a couple whose happiness I could invest in (because if I don't like a character, how am I supposed to give a damn about their HEA?). 


I found the premise of this story really fascinating, too: more so than plain-jane-meets-billionaire (Neanderthal) or celebrity-pining-for-the-one-that-got-away (Friends). Sandra is a therapist who has spent two years trying to find Mr. Right, but no matter how normal they seem, they can't help but open up to her Magical-Therapist-Vibe and they always wind up crying before the first course. Alex is the waiter who has watched her reduce men to tears every Friday night for two years… but he's so much more than a waiter. Alex has a Tortured Past, but unlike all the other guys Sandra meets, he's not interested in letting her put on her Therapist Hat and poke around in his psyche. This means that Alex is the one guy that Sandra can't figure out, which makes him endlessly fascinating--but also scary. 

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review 2014-07-02 16:55
Oooh, Pirates! (Plus a Really Good, Angsty Conflict.)
I Kissed an Earl - Julie Anne Long

The first book in Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green series, The Perils of Pleasure, is one of my favorite historical romance novels ever, but as I've been reading the rest of the series (not in order, which is fine, since mostly the books stand alone), I've found them all over the map. Most are solidly entertaining, some are good (none as good as The Perils of Pleasure, yet), and some of them really piss me off. I like Long's writing style, but I often find I don't like her characters. 


This one I really enjoyed while I was reading it, and I spent the whole time I was reading thinking that it was nice to have another great story in the Pennyroyal Green series after the last two I read, which were disappointments (Like No Other Lover and Between the Devil and Ian Eversea), but now that I've had some time to reflect, I think I got sucked in by the pirates and the pretty boats and the good, angsty conflict, and really the book isn't all that. 


The Good: I really love romance novels where there's an angsty, apparently insurmountable conflict standing in the way of the couple's happiness. Here, the hero and heroine both have the same objective -- to find the heroine's brother -- but with very different ultimate goals: Flint wants to capture and kill him, avenging the death of his (Flint's) mentor and friend, while Violet wants to warn her brother of the search and thus save his life. The success of one would mean the other's failure, and despite their strong and immediate attraction, Flint and Violet both resist each other as long as possible, knowing that the only possible end to their romance will be betrayal. 


The Bad: I had a hard time willingly suspending my disbelief through parts of this book, particularly where Violet, blindfolded, threw a dart at a map and hit her target (the tiny island nation of Lacao) on the first try. Yeah, right. But what really, really bothered me is that Flint was too rapey for my tastes. He never actually does rape Violet, but he makes sure that she is ever aware that he could, and most of the sex in this book is Angry Sex. Some readers like that, but not me. 



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review 2014-04-10 16:20
Bah Humbug! The Slump Continues...
Just the Sexiest Man Alive - Julie James

This was on sale a little while ago, so I picked it up because I've liked Julie James' more recent stuff (this is her debut), but this was a disappointment. Partly I think that's my fault: as a lawyer/litigator myself, I have little tolerance for the overdramatized, oversimplified simulacrum of legal practice that appears in fiction. Because I know what happens in real life courtrooms, the heroine, Taylor, seems cartoonishly unrealistic: a hotshot lawyer who snarks at judges, disrespects opposing counsel, doesn't trust a junior associate to handle the simplest motion hearings, has never lost a case, is the darling of partners and juries alike, yet appears (by my lights) to have no grasp of nuance, ethics, or evidence. This has bothered me about other James novels, so there is a degree of should-have-known-better in my disappointment with this book, but it's worse here because Taylor's case is more central to the plot than the trial work of the Assistant U.S. Attorneys featured in James's more recent books. 


Leaving the Ally McBeal-esque courtroom shenanigans aside, I just didn't feel the romance between Taylor and Jason. Jason is a movie star, voted People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" (hence the title), and he has all the trappings of celebrity: buckets of money, women, a 12,000 square-foot mansion, women, a private jet, women, an Aston Martin Vanquish, and all the women he wants, and any woman he wants. (Again, there's probably an element of should-have-known-better here for me, because I've never been a fan of the current trend of "billionaire" heroes: if a romance is going to work for me, I need a lot more verisimilitude.) Jason is prepping for a role as a lawyer and needs to work with Taylor to see how it's done. 


They get off on the wrong foot when the entitled Jason stands Taylor up twice. She'd have blown him off then and there, but because he's a big, important guy who could become a big, important client of the law firm, Taylor's boss won't let her. The story follows a pretty formulaic enemies-to-lovers plot arc, with both of them secretly attracted to the other even as they needle and annoy one another. 


Jason's attraction to Taylor makes sense. I imagine it's refreshing, after years in the Hollywood bubble, to meet someone who isn't looking for attention, who isn't with him just for the reflected glory of being seen with the It-guy. Taylor's attraction to Jason was, in my opinion, far less believable. At the start of the story, Taylor is still reeling from a broken engagement to a man she caught banging his secretary, and her resistance to Jason's womanizing ways is not just self-protective, it's rational and entirely reasonable. The way she overcomes that resistance is just too hasty and too convenient for my satisfaction, and I just don't believe a woman who cares as much about her career and her independence as we're told Taylor does would blow everything she's worked toward just for the opportunity to be with a pretty face, especially when Jason has done so little, over the course of the book, to prove himself worthy of such sacrifice. 


The only thing I enjoyed about this book was Jason's friendship with his much more down-to-earth wingman, Jeremy. Despite his comparatively minor role, he has a depth that the other characters in this story lacked. Jeremy holds this book together. He deserves a story of his own. 

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text 2014-04-09 13:22
Progress Update: 49 of 296 pages. Stereotypes Abound.
Just the Sexiest Man Alive - Julie James

"Been there. Done that." Then he grinned slyly, unable to resist, and proudly pointed out several other Lakers girls. "And that. Oh, and that and that, too." He winked deviously. "Together."


"And amazingly, combined they total one brain." Jeremy replied dryly.


Jason shook his head regretfully at this.


"Unfortunately, not quite."


Yes, let's portray all cheerleaders as easy and stupid... because that's never been done before.

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review 2014-02-06 12:51
The Difference Between Intriguing and Fucked Up
In the Woods - Tana French

Toward the end of the book, the narrator goes out with a woman who tells him (by way of kiss-off), "I'm old enough to know the difference between intriguing and fucked up. You should date younger women. They can't always tell." 

The problem is that Tana French doesn't seem to recognize this difference: these characters are not as intriguing as she seems to think. The narrator, Adam Robert Ryan (Rob) is the sole survivor of the 1984 child disappearance and presumed murder that is one of two mysteries at the core of the plot, an experience which (understandably) has left him more "fucked up" than intriguing. He is also, all grown up, one of the lead detectives investigating a present-day child murder that took place in the same woods (the second mystery). His partner, Cassie Maddox, is something of a literary Mary-Sue: she is smarter, prettier, cooler, more talented -- in short, her only flaw is that she is apparently a magnet for maladjusted men (Rob included) and psychopaths. Over the course of the story, Rob makes one bad decision after another, solving the present day mystery almost by accident (some hundred or so pages after I figured out "whodunnit," incidentally), all the while overriding Cassie's infallible Mary-Sue instincts, to his predictable peril. 

All that said, for all of its disappointments in plotting and character development, Tana French writes sparkling, beautiful prose, and this book is worth reading just for that.

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