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review 2016-03-15 17:29
"Nuts" by Alice Clayton
Nuts (The Hudson Valley Series) - Alice Clayton

When Roxie moves back to upstate New York to take over her mother's diner for the summer, she doesn't plan for the move to be permanent. She spent her whole childhood trying to get out of Bailey Falls, after all. Furthermore, when she meets a gorgeous hipster farmer, Leo, she plans to keep their relationship a casual summer fling... but life doesn't work out as she planned.


Alice Clayton is hit-or-miss with me, but this one was mostly a hit. It was breezy and funny and the plot seemed tighter than most of the previous books I've read of hers.

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text 2015-12-18 18:19
Reading progress: 67%. That took way the hell too long.
Hold on Tight - Serena Bell

Finally, at the very end of Chapter 21, they tell the kid the truth about his dad--and then only because the kid caught them in flagrante delicto and started asking sticky questions. I am still really, really annoyed by this. 

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text 2015-12-17 20:02
Progress 38%: Tell the Truth Already!
Hold on Tight - Serena Bell

I am very frustrated by one aspect of this otherwise so-far very compelling, well-written book: Hero and Heroine are big fat lying liar pants! They had a brief fling 8 years ago while hero was on leave from the military, which of course resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. Heroine tried to find him to tell him about the pregnancy, but there's a bazillion Jake Taylors in the world, and she couldn't track him down. Fast forward to present day, and Jake (having served in Afghanistan and lost his leg in an IED attack) comes into the same physical therapy clinic where the Inadvertantly-Secret-Baby is getting PT after falling out of a tree.


Heroine recognizes Jake, practically chokes on her tongue, makes a big speech about how she's got to be honest with him and surprise, you're a daddy! See that little boy on the other side of the glass? He's your kid! Act casual!


But never, not in this initial conversation, nor over the course of the next several weeks, during which Jake and kid meet several times and have several excruciatingly awkward conversations about kid's MIA dad, and Jake and Mira have several excruciatingly awkward conversations about these awkward conversations -- NEVER DO THEY TELL THE KID THE TRUTH. Why? In fact, they both outright lie to him, over and over again, telling him that his dad was just a sperm donor.


This is making me crazy. I have two boys, 2 and 5, who actually do have a sperm donor dad, and they know the truth about their origins and have since they developed the ability to ask questions and listen to age-appropriate explanations. Jake and Mira's kid is 7, by far more able than my boys to process and understand, and yet THEY'RE SCREWING IT UP!


In many other respects, I am enjoying this book a lot, but I'm so pissed off about this issue, I'm not sure I'll be able to keep going.

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review 2015-12-15 14:35
A Promising Start to a New Series, but Room for Improvement
Once Upon a Marquess (Worth Saga) (Volume 1) - Courtney Milan

If I had to pick my number one, favorite romance author, it would be Courtney Milan. No hesitation. She's a lawyer. She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She puts lawyer-geek jokes about the Rule Against Perpetuities in her historical romances. She's smart. She's funny. She's basically my hero.


Still, her latest effort, Once Upon a Marquess, didn't quite ring my bell. I'm excited about this new series and its premise, focusing on the five Worth siblings, who used to be aristocracy until their father and brother were convicted of treason. This first book stars the eldest Worth daughter, Judith, who more than anyone has borne the burden of holding the family together since their ruin. She manages to support herself and her siblings -- albeit not in the style to which they are accustomed -- by designing clockworks. She scrapes together enough money to send youngest brother, Benedict, to Eton (where he is mercilessly bullied), and to set aside a small allowance for her two sisters' come-outs. But when the money for her sisters goes missing and Judith's solicitor won't explain what happened, Judith has no option but to call on an old acquaintance who owes her a debt of honor -- none other than Christian Trent, Marquess of Ashford, Judith's ex-intended and the man whose testimony condemned his best friend, Judith's brother Anthony, to transportation from England.


One of the themes of this book that I enjoyed is the idea that even doing the right thing can have irrevocable consequences, as when Christian did the right thing by offering testimony on behalf of the Crown, but as a result lost his best friend, his intended bride, and ruined their family. He is haunted by guilt, particularly since Anthony was lost at sea during the transport to Australia. There are other examples of the same theme, where telling the truth, though right, nevertheless brings pain and consequences. Even a mother's love for her son, and her actions to protect him, have consequences that Christian still wrestles with years into his adulthood. Eventually, we learn that even Anthony's treason, though a crime against England, may have been morally right when viewed from another perspective.


I also enjoyed some of the foibles that make these characters unique. Christian suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or something very like it (and having been diagnosed with OCD myself, I think Milan did a credible job portraying his thought processes). Judith's younger siblings, Theresa (14) and Benedict (12), are very believable characters who behave in age-appropriate ways. Judith has a close friend, Daisy, with an intriguing backstory that will be the subject of a novella due out early next year, and I'm looking forward to that.


Yet this book bothered me in a few important ways. First, while I'm hardly a stickler for historical accuracy, some of the dialogue here was so anachronistic it pulled me out of the story and was very distracting. There were a few scenes between Judith and Christian where Milan was working so hard to make the dialogue clever and sharp that I think she sacrificed verisimilitude in search of a few good one liners, and in my opinion, that was not a good trade.


Second, I have noted before that I have a squick in historical romance where the couple consummates their relationship before the hero is able to commit to the heroine. I don't care whether they have formally committed to each other, so long as he is able to, but if he's engaged to someone else or otherwise unavailable to commit, it isn't honorable to expose his lover to pregnancy and social ruin and all the consequences of extramarital sex in that time period. Unfortunately, Once Upon a Marquess gender-flips that trope, and I found it just as unpalatable when Judith was the seducer, knowing she didn't intend for the relationship with Christian to have a future, and knowing that he did intend to marry her. Their first love scene struck me as deeply dishonest and wrong, and so I couldn't enjoy that part of the story at all.


Finally, the pacing of this novel was a little bit clunky and uneven. I suspect that's because Milan had to use this book to set up, not only Judith and Christian's story, but also to lay the groundwork for the rest of the novels in the series. There were times when the narrative was definitely bogged down by sequel fodder. I also found the ending too hasty and tidy to be fully satisfying, especially since most of the book was spent building certain conflicts (sorry to be vague, but I'm dodging spoilers), and then at the end Christian and Judith each decided, mostly by force of will rather than any external intervention, that those conflicts just weren't as troublesome as they'd initially believed. I understood their change of heart, but it wasn't as satisfying, from this reader's perspective, as an actual external resolution to the problem would have been. Actually fixing the conflicts wouldn't have left much room for sequels, so I get it.



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review 2015-12-08 13:40
Festive and Fun Christmas Novella - FREE ON AMAZON RIGHT NOW
Unwrapping Her Perfect Match - Kat Latham

I thoroughly enjoyed this little treat of a story, (which is part of the London Legends series but works perfectly well as a stand-alone read). I liked that both main characters were strong yet vulnerable, and I loved how well they communicated, right from the start of their relationship.


Both Gwen and John are giants: Gwen is 6'1", and John is 6'8". Both are used to feeling clumsy and out of place because of their size, and to being judged by their appearance, so they're both awestruck by how well they fit together (sexually as well as just generally). Gwen loves that John makes her feel feminine and delicate (for the first time in her life), and John loves that Gwen is strong and solid and he doesn't have to worry about crushing her.


John has a 10-year-old daughter, Agnes, he rarely sees because she lives with her mother in France. He is desperate to connect with this little girl, but stymied because of the language barrier (the child's mother doesn't speak English with her, and John has tried to learn French but isn't good with languages). To make matters worse, the day of Agnes' arrival, John suffers a concussion during a rugby match. Since John is barely able to care for himself, much less his daughter, Gwen gives up Christmas with her own family to spend the weekend with them.


I often find "plot moppets" (i.e., cute, unrealistic child characters used as a plot device) to be distracting, annoying, and inauthentic, but here I thought John's earnest but fumbling efforts to connect with Agnes were genuinely endearing.


I also liked that Gwen has self-esteem issues (as most of us do), but that she learns not to let them dictate her life or her choices. She advocates for herself and her needs powerfully and effectively, and I loved that John was receptive and respectful of her strength.


Finally, sometimes the pacing of novellas puts me off. It often seems that authors try to fit too much plot into the shortened form, leaving the reader frustrated by all that's left out, or, alternatively, there isn't enough plot and the novella is more of a vignette than a fully-fleshed out story. Not so here: Unwrapping Her Perfect Match struck a good balance, providing enough backstory and character development to orient the reader, as well as a satisfying narrative arc that builds and comes to resolution without feeling crowded or rushed.


If you're in the mood for a quick, feel-good holiday read, Unwrapping Her Perfect Match is a good pick.


PS - Did I mention it's free?!

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