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review 2015-11-23 20:09
Squicky Power Dynamic, and then the Ending Sucked.
The Chocolate Temptation - Laura Florand

The most memorable thing about this book is that I was reading it when I heard about the Parisian terror attacks earlier this month, which made it a more poignant experience (as it's set in Paris). Otherwise, this book fell a little flat. Sarah is a Korean-American interning under pastry chef Patrick Chevalier in Paris. She struggles with the weight of her family's expectations, particularly since she's given up a lucrative career as an engineer to bake sweets. With all that on her plate, the last thing she needs to juggle is the advances of her boss.


The fact that Patrick realizes and is uncomfortable about the uneven power dynamic between them doesn't keep him from making those advances. He's just so into her, he can't really help himself. He's constantly manipulating her to get an outcome that suits his benefit, and though he berates himself for being a perv, he continues to do it. Even realizing that this is fantasy, I couldn't get past that manipulative power and control dynamic to take much pleasure in this book.


And then the ending sucked.

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review 2015-05-11 16:28
Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me.
Overruled (The Legal Briefs Series) - Emma Chase

I have no one to blame for this but myself. I hated Emma Chase's Tangled (see my rage-review here), and so I just should have known that whatever Chase is selling, I don't want to buy. However, being a criminal lawyer myself, I'm kind of a sucker for romances involving prosecutors/defense attorneys (although, note to self, I rarely actually like these books as I find the legal plots rarely ring true), so I stupidly decided to check out this new series. Reading the blurb should have been all it took to warn me that this book would not be for me: Defense attorney Stanton Shaw takes his big city, Latina f*ckbuddy back home to Hicksville, Mississippi, to try to break up the wedding of his high school sweetheart.


As I should have expected, stereotypes abound.


Also as I should have anticipated (because Drew of Tangled was such a douchenozzle, and because the blurb basically tells us that Stanton brings his hoochie mama with him on a mission to win back his baby mama), the "hero" of Overruled was a total jackhole. What isn't clear from the blurb is that Jenny, the high school sweetheart, is not Stanton's ex -- he got her knocked up in high school, and they agreed that he would go to college and support his family, and that while they're apart they can have an "open" relationship. This has gone on for ten years, with Stanton catting around like a manwhore with anyone he likes, and paying only occasional booty calls on Jenny. This works fine for him, until Jenny falls in love with someone else, which Stanton gets all butthurt and betrayed about.


I didn't mind Jenny, but Sofia (the hoochie mama) was kind of a doormat. Like Stanton, she's supposed to be this brilliant lawyer, except that we never see her doing any actual lawyering. She spends the whole book talking about how she knows men because she's got three brothers, and she knows men don't like commitment or clingy women, so she's not going to make any demands on Stanton. That's all well and good, but have a little self-respect, please! No woman with any self-esteem or sanity would willingly accompany the guy they're sleeping with to help him win back someone else. Sofia keeps setting limits--I'll go with you, but no sex. Okay, once we get to Mississippi, no sex. Okay, absolutely no sex while we're staying with your parents--and then ignoring those limits, so she just came across as weak and ineffectual.


Stanton eventually sees the error of his ways and tries to make things right with both Jenny and Sofia, and readers who enjoy a good redemption story may be satisfied here. As for me, I solemnly vow: NO MORE EMMA CHASE FOR ME!

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review 2015-01-14 17:52
Quite Possibly the Worst Sequel EVER
The Rosie Effect - Graeme Simsion

Last year when I read The Rosie Project, it blew me away. (My review here.) 5 stars, funniest book I'd read in ages, I bought copies for friends and family, I sang its praises to all who would listen. So I had high hopes for The Rosie Effect, but as is so often the case with sequels, I should have quit while I was ahead.


The Rosie Project was a joy to read. I devoured it in an afternoon. The Rosie Effect was the opposite: I had to keep taking breaks and thinking about other things because the reading experience was literally traumatizing. This is not a fun read. It's an engaging read, because I enjoyed Rosie and Don so much from the previous book that I pulled for them and wanted to know what would happen, but it's painful, frustrating, vicariously embarrassing, anxiety-provoking, anger-making, and sad.


And worst of all? It isn't funny.


For those not familiar with the Rosie phenomenon, Don Tillman is a genetics professor whose Asperger's Syndrome (on the autism spectrum) is obvious to everyone but him. Rosie is his medical student wife. She's working on her MD and her PhD at the same time, and as if she were not busy enough with her thesis and her clinical studies, she's now pregnant.


In Rosie Project, Rosie was able to use her admirable frankness and open communication to cut through and compensate for Don's social obliviousness. She was willing to be totally blunt and straight-forward in communicating her needs and expectations, because Don does not appreciate subtlety or nuance. In Rosie Effect, she has completely lost that gift, or perhaps she's just stretched too thin and lacks patience. At any rate, Rosie and Don are no longer communicating. His social cluelessness gets him into seriously hot water -- a near arrest at a playground has him facing mandatory mental health evaluation and potential deportation -- but he doesn't tell Rosie about it (or about the snowballing consequences of that initial secret) for fear of causing her stress, which he worries might hurt the baby. Rosie assumes (perhaps because of Don's secretiveness re: the playground incident, or perhaps because of his unorthodox reaction to the news that she was pregnant) that he's not interested in or equipped for parenthood, and she starts preparing to go it alone.


See? The entire premise is not funny. In The Rosie Project, it was amusing to watch Don's clueless bumbling and wonder if he'd pull it together enough to make a relationship work. Here, the stakes were much higher, and it's not at all amusing to watch an imperiled marriage get dashed upon the rocks, especially where there's a baby involved. It was heartbreaking and anxiety-provoking to read about Don working so hard to prepare himself for fatherhood, with the best of intentions but due to his disorder making the wrong decision at every turn, and Rosie somehow completely blind to both his efforts and his struggles. 


It was doubly frustrating because the Rosie I knew and loved from the first book would never have let this happen. She would never have gotten pregnant without discussing it with Don ahead of time. She would never have expected him to show up at her doctor's appointments without explicitly telling him she wanted him there. She would have told him what she needed and expected at every step in the process, rather than pulling away and letting the chasm between them grow. Her ability to communicate clearly was the key to their relationship--we always knew that things wouldn't be easy for them because Don is so different, but at the end of The Rosie Project the reader could root for them and have faith in their Happy Ever After because Rosie alone knew how to speak to Don on his level. She got him in a way no one else could. And, here, suddenly she doesn't anymore.


There's no recovery from that. Even though The Rosie Effect pulls off another Happy Ever After, I no longer believe in Rosie and Don, because I no longer believe in Rosie.


The Rosie Problem is exacerbated by the fact that in this second book, Rosie's actions and motivations are not explained until the very end. At that point, finally, the reader can understand and to a certain extent relate to her, but for 80% of the book she was distant and withdrawn and unsympathetic, and not at all the character I remembered so fondly. The explanation, when it came, was enough to make the plot make sense but not enough to restore my shaken faith in Rosie as a character.


In The Rosie Project, Don's failure to pick up on social cues and follow social conventions often got him into trouble, to great comedic effect. In the sequel, Don's obliviousness continues to land him in hot water, but these incidents are not funny any more. In fact, most of them are downright terrifying: Don nearly assaults a neighbor and chases him down the street, resulting in Don and Rosie being evicted. Don nearly assaults a cop who quite reasonably suspects Don of being a child molester, resulting in Don being mandated into mental health treatment and nearly being deported. Don's unorthodox behavior makes an federal marshal reasonably suspect Don of being a terrorist, resulting in their flight turning around in mid-air. Don may be too clueless to consider how his behavior impacts the people around him, but the reader isn't, and these incidents just absolutely are not funny.


So, my advice: if you haven't already, read The Rosie Project. It's wonderful -- funny, heartwarming, original, thought-provoking, sweet, entertaining. It's entirely delightful.


Then stop. Do not read this book. Just Stop. I wish Graeme Simsion had.


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review 2015-01-13 13:32
One Long Cheesy, Clich├ęd Epilogue
Last Call - Alice Clayton

I am pathologically unable to leave a series unfinished. Thank goodness, Alice Clayton's Cocktail series is now finished, and I'm glad to see the end of it. I liked the first book, Wallbanger, which was funny and irreverent and original, despite some flaws -- like a tendency to ramble, a sometimes juvenile tone, and a predictable plot. Unfortunately, as the series went on, the flaws got worse -- more rambly, more juvenile, more predictable -- and the rest of the books were less funny and less original.


That said, Clayton's fans will enjoy this little novella, which ties up all of the loose ends in Caroline and Simon's romance (and revisits the HEAs of their friends, who starred in other books in the series) with a neat if unbe-fucking-lievably clichéd little bow. If you are the kind of reader who likes the cheesy epilogues so common in romance novels wherein the hero and heroine either have a fairy-tale wedding or a baby, or both, this book is for you: Last Call is just one long cheesy epilogue. If you're the type who, like me, would rather skip the epilogue and leave the details of the Happy-Ever-After to the imagination, learn from my mistakes, and skip this.

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review 2014-10-15 17:49
Perhaps This Series Is Not For Me.
Visions of Heat - Nalini Singh

I liked the first book in the Psy-Changeling series, Slave to Sensation (despite the awful title and even worse cover), but I couldn't get into this sequel at all. The story was too similar to the previous book (emotionless Psy woman falls for hot-blooded Changeling man/cat, thereby waking her scary, dangerous emotions, plus sex, plus murder), but the hero and heroine of this book weren't as interesting as the main characters in the previous book. Also, the previous heroine, Sascha, had a very real fear that if she gave in to her emotions, the other Psy would find out and lobotomize her. That made for a much better conflict than this story, where Faith is just afraid that if she gives in to emotions she's going to break her brain somehow. I got bored and annoyed with Faith's weird mental fragility.


As with the prior book, there's lots of sex here. Neither book is covering any new ground, but while the sex scenes in Slave to Sensation didn't wow me, the sex scenes between Faith and Vaughn actively turned me OFF. I was annoyed by Faith making advances only to back off whenever she started feeling too much (which came across as the worst kind of teasing), but I was also annoyed that Vaughn made clear his intentions to push her into physicality regardless of whether she was ready (which set off consent alarms, though nothing in this book amounts to rape).


Finally, I was confused and irritated by all the talk of the PsyNet and how it works, and all the Airy-Fairy business of psychic connections and powers. I think this series is not for me.

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