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review 2017-07-12 15:02
The Book of Dahlia, by Elisa Albert
The Book of Dahlia - Elisa Albert

Dahlia Finger is kind of an asshole. She's 29 and spends her days sprawled out on her couch, smoking weed and watching movies, funded by her well-off father. One night she has a seizure and learns that she has a brain tumor. Though no one will actually say it, she doesn't have long to live.

 

This is not one of those novels of illness where there's redemption ahead or that's supposed to make you hopeful and grateful for life (beyond not having a brain tumor). For that reason, I appreciated and responded to it. Unlike all the books on cancer Dahlia and her parents buy in bulk that say "you can beat this thing" if only you have the right attitude, in effect making you responsible (and to blame) for your own illness, The Book of Dahlia illustrates how we as a culture fail to deal with mortality. Though it's not addressed specifically in the novel, I personally wonder how much that American idea of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is at play, which easily translates into victim-blaming when one can't.

 

One of the platitudes often given regarding illness and healing is that a sufferer must let go of old resentments and anger, that these can make or keep one sick. As Dahlia considers and recounts her past, it's clear she has almost nothing but resentments, from a mother who essentially abandoned her family to the older brother, once close, who took out his own pain on her in the cruelest ways. Throughout her life she's plainly asked for help and been ignored. Maybe it says something about me that I couldn't blame her for her stubbornness in forgiving and forgetting. It feels like the only way she's able to have any agency during her illness.

 

If this sounds grim, it's not, or not only! Dahlia's voice is often funny, enough to make me laugh out loud while reading. Her humor may be bitter, but that suits me fine. At the end of the book there was a reading group guide that asked more than one question about whether one is able to sympathize with her; I absolutely could. I often like female characters in popular culture that others find abrasive, though I often wonder how much it's about gender.

 

The toughest and most affecting aspect of this book was the relationship between Dahlia and her older brother. As a younger sister myself, I'm always interested in and more sensitive to depictions of that dynamic. It broke my heart to read about the turn their relationship takes, how long Dahlia holds out and has faith in him, even insulting herself to get ahead of his insulting her. I both wanted and did not want Dahlia to forgive him. It made me want to call my own brother and thank him for not being a dick!

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review 2017-06-03 17:32
Unspoken: The Lynburn Legacy, by Sarah Rees Brennan
Unspoken - Sarah Rees Brennan

Kami Glass lives in a small town in the Cotswolds of England where the Lynburns, an old family with deep and mysterious roots in the community, have just returned. People are unhappy about it, including Kami's mother, but Kami doesn't care: she's an aspiring reporter on the trail of a story for her high school paper (founded by herself and reluctant best friend, Angela), which becomes even more fascinating (and dangerous) when she comes across an animal sacrifice in the woods.

 

Kami has a secret of her own: she has a sort of imaginary friend with whom she communicates in her mind. This (male) friend has his own problems, and the two "reach" for each other psychically in times of need. This friend, of course, turns out to be real and a Lynburn. I anticipated as much but was still surprised by whom it turned out to be and when the reveal was made. The two struggle with the reality that the other is an actual person; their strange intimacy is not always welcome. Their bond turns out to be magical in nature and tied to the Lynburns and Kami's family.

 

Threats in town escalate, and Kami's at the center. In the meantime, she's also at the center of love triangle involving the two Lynburn boys. The triangle isn't terribly emphasized, but Kami's relationship with her former imaginary companion yo-yos between easy repartee and angsty denial of feelings. It got old.

 

Somehow I didn't feel involved enough in the mystery, and the tension didn't come across as it should. In part this may be because, as in other YA I've read, the story is somewhat rushed or condensed, including the quicksilver of the characters' changing emotions.

 

There's some fine prose, one of the book's saving graces, and lots of banter. It's not quite as successful as Whedon dialog or Veronica Mars, but it can be funny. It also got to be a bit much.

 

Kami's also one of those typical YA heroines whose friends are gorgeous, and she's supposedly less pretty but still somehow at the center of a love triangle involving the new hot guy. One of the most sincere moments is when Kami observes how each of her younger brothers is a favorite of her parents', leaving her odd person out.

 

I like YA but am coming to find it has to be exceptional to even be okay for me. Or maybe I just wasn't in the mood!

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review 2017-01-09 16:57
First Star I See Tonight (Chicago Stars #8) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips Review
First Star I See Tonight: A Novel (Chicago Stars) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (2016-08-23) - Susan Elizabeth Phillips

A star quarterback and a feisty detective play for keeps in this sporty, sexy, sassy novel—a long-awaited new entry in the beloved, award-winning, New York Times bestselling author’s fan-favorite Chicago Stars football series.

Piper Dove is a woman with a dream—to become the best detective in the city of Chicago. First job? Trail former Chicago Stars quarterback, Cooper Graham. Problem? Graham’s spotted her, and he’s not happy.

Which is why a good detective needs to think on her feet. “The fact is...I’m your stalker. Not full-out barmy. Just...mildly unhinged.”

Piper soon finds herself working for Graham himself, although not as the bodyguard he refuses to admit he so desperately needs. Instead, he’s hired her to keep an eye on the employees at his exclusive new nightclub. But Coop’s life might be in danger, and Piper’s determined to protect him, whether he wants it or not. (Hint: Not!) If only she weren’t also dealing with a bevy of Middle Eastern princesses, a Pakistani servant girl yearning for freedom, a teenager who just wants to fit in, and an elderly neighbor demanding Piper find her very dead husband.

And then there’s Cooper Graham himself, a legendary sports hero who always gets what he wants—even if what he wants is a feisty detective hell bent on proving she’s as tough as he is.

From the bustling streets of Chicago to a windswept lighthouse on Lake Superior to the glistening waters of Biscayne Bay, two people who can’t stand to lose will test themselves and each other to discover what matters most

 

Review

 

I love me some Susan Elizabeth Phillips and this book is just great.

What happens here, that always happens in a Phillips' boo, is the hero and heroine come to deeply respect and value each other. They like and admire each other. They are also really hot for one another but that seems to follow this deep connection the Phillips does like nobody else. Sigh.

The hero and heroine a difficult people. They are cranky. I love them. They are both very witty and so much themselves. They meet in a moment where they are both struggling.

They both kick ass and are loyal and brave. But not so much with the emotionial bravery which lingers for a little longer than I would like.

The secondary characters are grand. We have the old crew show up. The opera singer needs her own romance please.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-08-10 20:55
The Mésalliance or He's Come Undone. . .
The Mésalliance (Rockliffe) (Volume 2) - Stella Riley

Every time I've decided to sit down and write this review, I became distracted. I'd pull out my copy of The Mésalliance, notes, and highlights, and then a strange thing would happen. I'd begin to read a passage I loved and pretty soon the review, and all else to be honest, was forgotten. Three times now, this has happened. One minute I would have a million thoughts waiting to be translated to somewhat coherent sentences, and then poof! I was lured right into reading the entire book. Again. And again. So perhaps distracted is not exactly correct. Ensorcelled? Fascinated? Mesmerized? Bewitched? All of the above? Now, I have battened down my hatches, girded things that need girding, clicked my ruby red slippers three times, and I'm hoping some sort of review will really happen this time. No guarantees, however.

 

I love/adore Georgian historical romances. It's an era that's so rich, so flamboyant and lusty and liberated. And, oh, those exquisite fashions for both men and women - hoopskirts and panniers, corsets, petticoats, clocked stockings, snuff/patch boxes, red-heeled shoes with diamond buckles, and, of course, longer hair for men. *sigh* Where's my DeLorean? How could I not enjoy The Mésalliance? And I did. At last count, three times. Oh, yes, indeed. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

 

Like the first meeting between Tracy Giles Wynstanton, fourth Duke of Rockliffe, and Adeline Mary Kendrick. She's just a sixteen year old wild child, and he's a twenty-eight year old seasoned soldier. Tracy has not yet assumed the ducal title and is visiting his "most distant and least favourite estate" in Northumberland, Redesdale. He escaped the heat of London while on furlough from an injury, avoids his garrulous bailiff, Mr. Forne, as much as possible, and is hopeful of returning to his army regiment soon. He's intrigued by the barefoot Adeline as much as he's dismissive of the "untidy child of incredible simplicity" who's "all eyes and mouth and wildly disordered nut-brown hair." Adeline likewise is fascinated by Tracy. Fascinated by his gentleness and kindness and calm reassurance the few times they accidentally meet. Though not experienced with either "gentlemen" or kindness, Adeline recognizes both qualities in Tracy. It's an unusual meeting without any of the banality.

 

Eight years pass before Tracy and Adeline meet again at a house party, and their second meeting holds an element of disappointment and shock at the changes in both of them. After her grandfather's death, Adeline is shunted off to live with her aunt, Lady Franklin, and identical twin cousins, Diana and Anthea (or "Dianthea, the stomach disorder"), shades of Cinderella. Adeline is not treated as family but as a servant at the beck and call of her aunt, intimidated by her Uncle Richard, and subjected to Diana's whims and tantrums. Her aunt and her brother, Adeline's Uncle Richard, scolded, locked away, and then beat the wild, gypsy child in Adeline into submission, but though she conformed and shored up her defenses for self protection, she also discovered a more subtle way to rebel: by combining "apparent docility with an under-current of clever, hard to combat acidity." Tracy ("Rock") is disillusioned to see the "unspoilt, sensitive, and fragile" creature from eight years ago has been replaced with a sharp-tongued, bitter woman. But Tracy doesn't know why she's changed; he merely sees the effects of seven years of having to hide her true self.

 

Meeting long-lashed aquamarine eyes filled with detached irony and set beneath narrow, winged brows, his first thought was that she was changed beyond recognition ... and his second, that he would have known her anywhere. The eyes and the voice were the same; it was only the suggestion of frosted bitterness that was new. (26)

 

All that remained was a cold-eyed woman with a barbed tongue - a fact that left him feeling faintly cheated until he remembered that painful flush, swiftly followed by flight. (27)

 

Likewise, Adeline's memory of the kind, young gentleman is replaced by a man who lashes out at Adeline in his anger and disappointment, words which Tracy later regrets and are a source of embarrassment for him.

 

He smiled at her with what at least two persons present recognized as dangerous benevolence and said gently, 'Perhaps you did indeed have just cause for doubting my ability to place you. After all, I'm compelled to acknowledge that I find you considerably changed.' He paused and conducted a leisurely head to foot appraisal. 'You appear, for example, to have discovered the benefits of wearing shoes - an achievement on which I can only congratulate you.' (27)

 

Adeline recognizes this man, the Duke of Rockliffe, is not Tracy. He is a man of her aunt's social strata, a stranger to her, remote, untouchable. This man with his practiced manner, courtly bows, elaborate mode of dress, snuff box, powdered hair, and subtle sarcasm was foreign to her. Eight years ago, he had demonstrated no artifice. His dark hair, sometimes so black "it glinted blue in the sun", had been natural, without powder. All of the changes are encapsulated in his powdered hair.

 

She remembered wanting, more than anything to touch it - but, of course, she never had. And now he chose to wear it powdered ... and stupidly, illogically, she had felt disappointed. (38)

 

And yet, she knows he was ashamed of the way he humiliated her in front of her aunt and her aunt's guests. And he tries to understand "why" she's different. Through all the conflict in these first meetings, the mutual attraction, whether wanted or not, is never in question. They strike sparks off each other and seem to be perfectly matched, in temperament, in wit, and in intelligence. I didn't even wonder why poor Tracy wasn't sure whether he wanted to kiss Adeline or shake her or why Adeline felt she needed to avoid Tracy.

 

I loved their separate moments of recognition, two moments at different times but that complement the other, moments in which they each see in the other a flash of their familiar selves from eight years ago. The sense of loss is replaced with an affirmation and confirmation of who they were and are separately and what they may become together. It's a reassurance for both that whatever the obstacles between them, they are simply Tracy and Adeline.

 

This time it was no fleeting brush of the lips. This time, he took what he had been wanting to take for a week; and Adeline, stunned as much by the suddenness of it as by the feel of his body against hers, found herself powerless to resist.

 

Slowly releasing her, Rockliffe looked into eyes that were no longer coolly composed but startled, confused and a little shy. Eyes that belonged less to the woman she was now than to the girl she had been eight years ago. ‘Ah,’ he thought. ‘Yes. There you are.’ (87-88)

 

Rockliffe emerged from the breakfast-room. His coat was of plain black cloth and, beneath it, his shirt was open at the neck and worn without cravat or vest. But it wasn’t his clothes that stopped her mid-step and made her forget to breathe. His hair, apparently freshly washed, was unpowdered … and black as a raven’s wing. The air froze in her lungs, something lurched behind her blue dimity bodice and she thought foolishly, ‘Oh. There you are.(116)

 

The Mésalliance is, to me, more Tracy's book than Adeline's. By that I mean, it is his character who undergoes more of a transformation than Adeline. She has to learn to trust, a hard battle and a difficult journey on its own, and it is her sense of unworthiness and lack of trust that allows a blackmail scheme instigated by her Uncle Richard to become the barrier between her and Tracy. It is also at the center of a series of misunderstandings and the impetus for the "Dark Moment", or the "point of ritual death" (Regis, The Natural History of the Romance Novel) and emotional separation between Tracy and Adeline throughout the second half of The Mésalliance.

 

Tracy's metamorphosis, however, is so very dramatic. A major part of my enjoyment of The Mésalliance was watching Tracy with his vaunted self-control, self-possession, charm, confidence, elegance (with just a touch of ennui, don't you know), a man who defines the word "languid" in both deed and word, a man whose rapier wit and laconic manner of delivery comes completely undone.

 

He is a kind man, a patient man, meticulous in his manners, tasteful and a trendsetter in his mode of dress. He is a loyal and supportive friend and brother. He is a man who eschews violence but who can deliver a stinging rebuff in a soft dangerous tone of voice with a modicum of words. For example, Tracy admonishes Adeline to be civil when her aunt and her self-absorbed cousin, Diana, come to London for the season. But, he can't resist one of his double-edged barbs to put Lady Franklin and Diana in their place.

 

And then, as the girls moved away, "Poor Thea is so timid, I sometimes despair of her. I only wish she could acquire just a fraction of dear Diana's confidence."

 

'I am sure you must do,' agreed Rockliffe sympathetically. 'And vice versa.'

 

Lady Franklin continued to gaze up at the Duke with faintly baffled suspicion for a moment and then gave it up. (148)

 

And then there are his snuff-boxes. Ah, me. These little trinkets are not simply accessories to be coordinated with the proper jacket and waistcoat. Be they Sèvres or "silver gilt decorated in the Florentine style", a Wedgwood beauty, a pretty enameled bauble, or a fine old ivory trifle from Paris, these little boxes are his way of deflecting the too personal question, buying time, a relief from boredom, an object of meditation, the opening gambit in a search for information, and a million other uses. In other words, snuff-boxes are to Tracy what the little blue blanket is to Linus van Pelt in Peanuts.

 

Over the course of the second half of The Mésalliance, his closest friendships with two men are strained to the breaking point for no greater reason than he is a man at his wits end trying to court his wife, knowing something is wrong and realizing she won't or can't share the problem with him but turns instead to his friends. The man who cooly dismissed a tempestuous mistress without lifting an elegant eyebrow is . . .jealous. Of his friends, Jack and Harry.

 

'I don’t know what the two of you have quarrelled about and I don’t want to know –but the sooner you make it up, the better for all of us.’ He grinned suddenly. ‘You may not have realised it, but you’re not the only sufferer. It’s making him extremely touchy and putting a nasty edge on his tongue.’

 

‘Dear me,’ drawled a soft, mocking voice, ‘Who can you mean, I wonder?’

 

'I find I object...rather strongly...to both curiosity and interference. And - much though I may regret it - I am quite willing to press the point, if necessary.' He paused, meeting Jack's gaze with cold amusement. 'I'm sure you understand me.'

 

'Oh for God's sake, stop being so damned ridiculous,' came the irritable and largely unexpired retort. 'I've told you before - it'll be a cold day in hell before I let you provoke me into crossing swords with you. And particularly over something like this.'

 

'Still craven, Jack?'

 

'No. Still sensible.'

 

'Ah. And do you consider it sensible to closet yourself away with my wife for a full fifteen minutes?'asked his Grace sweetly. 'For, if so, I believe I must acquaint you with your mistake.' (252-253)
~~~~~~~~~~
Well!’ exclaimed Harry with dry humour. ‘Am I allowed to sit down –or had I best take myself off to the other room?'

 

‘That,’ replied his Grace, ‘rather depends on what you want to talk about.’

 

‘Oh –I’ll be dumb, never fear. Though it would be a damned sight easier if I knew exactly what’s eating you.’

 

‘What is all this?’ asked Lord Amberley, laughing. ‘Do you know, Jack?’

 

‘It looks,’ observed Mr Ingram, ‘rather like a quarrel.’

 

‘Lord, no! Nothing of the sort,’ said Harry, seating himself. ‘You have to talk to each other for that.’ (244)
~~~~~~~~~~~
At a saner level beneath his involuntary jealousy, Rockliffe was well aware where Harry’s heart lay and, although this did not help him in his dealings with Adeline, it did make it possible for him to tacitly heal the breach with his lordship.

 

‘But he made damned sure I wouldn’t dare ask any awkward questions,’ confided Harry later to Nell. ‘Gave me the sort of smile you usually see over a yard of steel and advised me –ever so gently, mind –not to meddle. Then he showed me his newest snuff-box.’ (246)

 

The climax, so to speak, is at a very public venue - the Queensbury House Ball - among a few hundred of the crème de la crème of London Society. Though Tracy gives the appearance of a man in control at the beginning of the evening, dressed in his finest, he's a man who loses every bit of his control in just a few hours.

 

". . . elegantly saturnine in silver-laced black with the Order of the Garter displayed upon his chest and diamonds winking on his fingers and in his cravat. As always, his hair was confined at the nape in long sable ribbons - to which, tonight, was added a narrow diamond clasp; and as had been his habit again in recent weeks, it was thickly powdered." (263)

 

By the end of the evening, he has raised his voice, raised a little hell, lured Diana the viper into revealing her true colors to all and sundry, delivered a look so intimidating to poor Adeline she flees the ballroom, separated the villainous Uncle Richard from a few of his teeth, promised a fate worse than death if Richard Horton and his "hell-born niece" ever come near Adeline ever again, and chased Adeline down to his country estate at Wynstanton Priors.

 

Remember the silver-laced black brocade coat, diamonds, etc.? When he finds Adeline, he's covered in dust from the road, his right sleeve is "partially adrift", the Garter is missing as well as the lace at his wrists. The diamonds are probably scattered like breadcrumbs from London to the Priors. In place of his elegant buckled shoes, he's now wearing top boots, and his hair, still bearing faint traces of powder, is "hopelessly windswept." Tracy, it is fair to say, isn't a happy camper at the moment. He has unraveled in a most spectacular and very public way.

 

"So far, I've lost my temper, my finesse and a particularly fine snuff-box. I've bruised my knuckles, winded my favorite mare and missed my breakfast. But what I have not done is ride forty miles in a guise I can only describe as lamentable, merely for the pleasure of your conversation. Let's go." (280)

 

This is my first book by Stella Riley, and I thoroughly enjoyed every word despite a little disappointment that Adeline was so completely cowed and intimidated by her Uncle Richard and his blackmail scheme in the last half of the book as well as her inability to be honest with Tracy and place her trust in him once and for all. Tracy gave her every reason to believe he would not judge her poorly for the skeletons in her closet, and he generously gave her so many opportunities to enlist his assistance. She justifies her actions as protecting the man she loved, ensuring his name was never tainted with her scandal. I understood that in one respect, and that it led to a more disordered, unraveled, slightly messy Tracy made it a little easier to swallow. I'm ecstatic that there are two more books in this series - The Parfit Knight (Rockliffe #1) and The Player (Rockliffe #3) as well as the possibility of a fourth in the series in the future. Life is very good indeed!

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review 2015-11-02 00:00
Borrowing Trouble
Borrowing Trouble - Kade Boehme

Alright, this is going to be hard.

Because I adore Kade Boehme, as a person and as a writer. He and his books are always authentic, alsways real, always funny and smart and sexy and everything else I like - in books and people.

And I liked the MCs in this story, too. Jay is a sweatheart. Unsure of his sexualtiy, he likes his uncomplicated life, even though he does have his ups and downs with his ex-wife and his level of contentedness. And I loved Landon. Sure of his sexuality, but not exactly clear on what exactly he wants to do with the rest of his (love) life, he is one adorable and loveable guy. The story line also worked fine for me. I know some complained about the ex being an awful harpy - again. I didn't think so. Yes, she was upset first and said some pretty awful things. But come on! Her ex - the one she might or might not still have had positive and negative feelings for - just told her he was gay and blamed himself for the failure of their marriage. So she had a freak out moment - I felt like she might have been a tiny little bit entitled to it. Plus, she came around pretty fast afterwards and apologized. That's not what a harpy looks like to me. So yeah, I didn't have a problem with that, either.

I'm really sad to say it, but this time the writing was the thing turned me off. Parts of it felt too stilted. Sometimes I was wondering if it was really Kade Boehme who wrote this, because every so often a sentence, an akward phrasing or a conversation that felt too forced and wrong, threw me so completely, I couldn't really enjoy the book. It pains me, it really does, but this didn't click with me. Which is a real shame because I could have loved it so much, but I didn't, because for the first time ever the writing absolutely didn't work for me.

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