I wanted to love this book. Most romances tell the story of how a couple gets together, but books about how couples stay together after years of marriage when the going gets rough are rarer and, frankly, more important, because all of us in long-term relationships eventually hit a rough patch (or several). Happily Ever Ninja is about Fiona and Greg, who have been together for nineteen years and have two kids. Their rough patch stems from the fact that Greg travels for months at a time for his job, leaving the day-to-day work of child-rearing and managing the house to Fiona, and even when he's home he doesn't support her as he could. Greg's unhelpfulness is driven by cluelessness rather than malice, but the result is the same: Fiona is drowning in work and resentment.
I wanted to love this book because of that very real, very relatable conflict, and also because I really liked Greg and Fiona as a couple as we met them in Ninja at First Sight, the novella about the early days of their relationship. That story ended with a cliffhanger, which I was willing to forgive because I knew Happily Ever Ninja would follow in a month. However, this book doesn't pick up right where the novella ended, and Fiona and Greg have changed a lot as individuals and as a couple in the intervening years. While I understood those changes (indeed, they'd be pretty dull if they hadn't grown up in 19 years), that gap in time was a major shift in the emotional tone, one I didn't like and wasn't prepared for, much as I understand how it fit the plot.
My biggest problem with Happily Ever Ninja was that the plot is kind of over-the-top, and I had a really hard time willingly suspending my disbelief. Mild-mannered mother-of-two Fiona turns out to be ex-CIA, which comes in handy when Greg gets kidnapped by a corrupt splinter group of Boko Haram in Nigeria. I found myself rolling my eyes repeatedly as I read, thinking "oh, come on. No way," as the plot twists got crazier and crazier.
Yet even though it didn't work for me, one of the things I enjoy most about Penny Reid is that she takes these crazy risks with her writing. While everyone else is setting their romances in glittering English ballrooms and cozy American small towns, Penny Reid's protagonists are stealing jeeps in Nigeria and knocking out terrorists with ketamine darts. I've gotta give her major props for that, even though this book didn't really work for me.
Add me to the ranks of Courtney Milan's squeeing fangirls. I was up until 1:00 AM reading this book, and then for another hour just enjoying the post-book Feels. While I didn't enjoy the Brothers Sinister series quite as much as I loved Milan's Turner series (and that mostly only because I really disliked book three of Brothers Sinister, The Countess Conspiracy, and also because I luuuuurrrrvvveee books one and three of the Turner series, Unveiled and Unraveled, like I love no other romance novels ever written), it was still pretty great, and this was a hugely satisfying capstone to the series. (There is supposed to be a novella coming out in August to officially wrap things up, but we all know novellas don't count.)
Frederica "Free" Marshall is a fantastic heroine--smart, funny, sexy, and unapologetically independent. She runs a newspaper by, for, and about women and women's causes, and she will stop at nothing to get her story -- even pretending to have syphilis and getting herself incarcerated in order to write about the deplorable treatment of imprisoned prostitutes in the government's lock hospitals.
Unfortunately, she finds herself in a bind that will seem all too familiar to modern readers: she rejected a man's sexual advances, and now he's trying to destroy her by threatening her, ruining her business, and burning down her house. As another reviewer pointed out, despite its Victorian-era English setting, something about this book feels like the most epic #yesallwomen tweet ever.
Enter Edward Clark, the brother of the man trying to ruin Free. Edward aligns himself with Free first to protect one of her writers, who is an old friend, but within moments he becomes devoted to Free alone. However, Edward doesn't consider himself worthy of her because of his (literally) tortured past, and so he tries to keep his distance even as he falls deeper in love.
This book works as a standalone, but readers familiar with the series will get more out of the scenes in which Free and Edward meet up with her family -- her parents, brother, her brother's half-brother and cousin -- because they will recognize these couples from prior books in the series, and it's lovely to see everyone still enjoying their happy-ever-afters.
Code Name Cassandra picks up right where When Lightning Strikes leaves off. Sixteen-year-old Jess has gotten the press off her back by telling the world her psychic ability to find missing people vanished as quickly as it had arrived, but the feds don't believe her: there's still a white van parked on her street, and she's sure they're bugging her calls. To escape this scrutiny (and also to avoid toiling away at her father's restaurant all summer), Jess takes a summer job as a counselor at a camp for musically gifted kids, but of course trouble follows her even into the wilds of Northern Indiana.
This book, and this series, is hardly groundbreaking, but I'm still entertained enough to keep reading the next book -- and Meg Cabot's poor grammar didn't bother me as much in this one (but maybe I'm just building up a tolerance for it).
I put this series in my massive TBR queue a long, long time ago, when Sarah Wendell mentioned it on a DBSA podcast. I finally got around to starting the books on Sunday night, as my vacation was in its final hours. Today, Tuesday morning, I have finished books one and two and started book three, so I'll give Meg Cabot props for grabbing my attention.
Protagonist Jess is a high school sophomore who just wants a normal life, but she isn't normal: she has an anger management problem that keeps landing her in detention, a schizophrenic older brother who hears voices directing him to kill himself, and a mom who likes to make Jess wear home-made, matching mother-daughter "Little House on the Prairie" dresses. -And all of this before Jess gets struck by lightning and develops the ability to look at a picture of a missing person (like the kids on milk cartons), and when she wakes in the morning, she knows exactly where they are.
The story moves right along as Jess discovers her "gift" and quickly discovers its drawbacks. First, not all who are missing want to be found, which she learns when she accidentally turns in a milk carton kid who was actually on the run from an abusive father. Second, she wakes up in the morning knowing a person's location, but she doesn't necessarily know whether that location will turn up a living person or a body. Third, when word gets out of her skills, the media descends, and all of the hoopla drives her schizophrenic brother into having an episode that lands him back in the hospital (and of course Jess blames herself). Finally, the US Government wants Jess to use her powers to locate dangerous criminals and terrorists, and they don't necessarily mean to give Jess a choice in the matter.
On top of all this, there is a mild romantic element: Jess has a crush on Rob, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. He is entirely inappropriate: a 'Grit' to Jess's 'Townie', two years older and on probation for an unspecified crime, and determined not to get involved with Jailbait Jess. But he proves himself very good to have around in a crisis.
One pet peeve I have to mention: When reading contemporary books written for and about high school girls, there's a superficiality and casual slangyness that one just has to expect, and that's fine. What isn't fine is the characters' use of 'gay' and 'retarded' to mean 'uncool.' Jess's best friend refers to Jess's prairie dresses as "gay outfits." To her credit, Jess immediately corrects her, pointing out that most gay people actually have very good fashion sense. However, a few pages later Jess herself describes school discipline as "kind of retarded" -- apparently without any sensitivity to the inappropriateness of that description, which is especially rich since the very reason she's in detention so often is that she gets into fights when anyone calls her older brother a retard.
Oh, and one other annoyance: Cabot's grammar sometimes sucks. The whole book is littered with sentence fragments and atrocious statements such as "It [my scar] hadn't faded hardly at all." I found this an entertaining read, but I had to take off my Grammar Police badge to do it. (I really do have a badge: see?)