Wednesday, June 14, 2017

An Extraordinary Union (The Loyal League #1), Alyssa Cole

This is a great book. I didn't enjoy it as much as I think other people will because a couple of things about it bugged me, but it was truly enjoyable and wonderful to read a book about a topic I never thought would pop up in a romance novel, and to have it be historical and believable. This is the story of Elle, a free Black woman, who has agreed to go undercover as a slave during the Civil War to get information to help the Union and end the war. She meets Malcolm, who is a Pinkerton detective also undercover, on the same kind of mission. Oh, and importantly -- Malcolm is white. 

It's a fascinating story with no easy resolution. Elle is brilliant and beautiful and Malcolm loves her and respects her and treats her like a human being (whenever he can -- really only when they're alone). Elle loves him but she knows all the problems their relationship would face, even in the North. 

I was frustrated that Elle goes back and forth with Malcolm so many times. She has very, very good reasons not to trust him or want to be with him, and once she does, she seems to immediately change her mind, over and over. They also each get a turn being jealous over situations they know mean nothing to the other person. I was also a little frustrated that Malcolm is incredibly perfect from the very beginning. I can definitely see why the hero of this kind of book needs to be a man who is better than almost every other man; it's the only way it's justifiable that Elle will love him when there is so much to go against their union. But I have realized that as a reader, I always prefer selfish scoundrels or lying assholes who are reformed by love, to men who are fundamentally good and true from the beginning. It's just less interesting to me that way.

Grade: C
#46 in 2017

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

An Unnatural Vice (Sins of the Cities #2), KJ Charles

The last book in this series was not really my thing; this book VERY MUCH was. I love Justin. He is an amoral schemer who pretends to be a medium and talk to the dead. (Side note: one of my least favorite things in the world is watching someone cold read on television and make people cry. It infuriates me. I can't sit through a commercial for the Long Island Medium without storming out of the room.) Justin is fully aware that what he does is awful, and has nothing but contempt for people who believe in what he does. But it's what he's good at, and he's built up a little family of assistants he needs to look out for. Nathaniel, on the other hand, is a crusading lawyer, who despises what Justin does (but is ridiculously attracted to him). Nathaniel doesn't really get much of an arc in this book, most of the forward movement is Justin's, because Justin is being crushed under the weight of what he does, and what he wants to do, and the idea that maybe, just maybe, he could be someone better if he got the chance. ...Oh, and also the fact that people are trying to kill him for most of this book.

Justin is the perfect kind of scoundrel; convinced he is bad through and through, that he doesn't want anything and he doesn't deserve anything, and fiercely unapologetic for the choices he's made. Nathaniel is sure that there's some good inside Justin, even if Justin refuses to see it or admit it. I loved the way they came together and I love this book.

Grade: A
#45 in 2017

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

On Point (Out of Uniform #3), Annabeth Albert

The last book in this series perfectly hit my favorite tropes, while this one was just enjoyable. Ben and Maddox have been best friends forever, secretly in love with each other forever, and then they have a threesome that makes this super awkward. They decide to try dating, but Ben has a lot of issues about believing that relationships can last, and Maddox just wants to settle down. 

I really felt for Ben, although his flip out at the end felt a little ridiculous, since the book had been hinting about what Maddox was going to decide to do all the way through. I was happy they got together, I'm just not going to remember this book for very long.

Grade: B
#44 in 2017

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Niccolo Rising, Dorothy Dunnett

This is a complicated book to review, because Dunnett's other series, the Lymond Chronicles, are my favorite books ever. And so as much as I liked this book, and as much as I told myself over and over not to compare it, of course I inevitably did compare it. It's also complicated because my Dunnett-reading friends haven't read this one yet, and as always there are twists and reveals I don't want to give away. (There great difficulty of getting people to read Dunnett for me, always, is that if you don't sell some of the upcoming plot, Game of Kings is so hard to get into. But there is no series that benefits more from a 100% cold read with no idea where it's going.)

Something I loved: the book is so beautifully written. The language is evocative and warm and describes life in Bruges (and Italy) so wonderfully that the atmosphere is immediate and enveloping. Dorothy's descriptions are so so so good.

Something I didn't love: a lot of this book involves people making very secret and sneaky trade deals. I teach about the alum trade in the Mediterranean Sea and I was still baffled about half the time, trying to keep the various Italian families and city-states straight. I finally worked out what was going on about 75% of the way through, when Felix did, but it meant that a lot of the book was meaningful meetings and people giving each other hints that I wasn't sure the significance of. (In fairness, as a reader of GoK you often have no idea what Lymond is up to or who he's making deals with, either, but there's enough of Will and Christian that it doesn't feel as overwhelming to me.)

Something I loved: Dorothy is so good at writing teenaged boys with a bad attitude. Felix is completely real in both his good points and his bad points, which makes him very frustrating to read about, even while you totally understand where he's coming from. I also loved (or hated, as appropriate) Katelina, and Simon, and Jordan, and Marian, all of whom felt like well-rounded real people. Oh, and Gelis. I'd read a whole book about Gelis.

Something I didn't love: From the very beginning, I felt like I had a grasp on who Francis Crawford was. Sure, his motivations were secret, but he was drunk and charming and sarcastic, with a bitter side and a noble side, and he was not to be trusted. I've read this book twice now and I'm still not entirely sure I get who Nicholas is. The descriptions of him in the first third of this book are baffling, and while I know that different characters see him differently, I never felt like Dorothy totally landed on an explanation of his behavior and attitude that I entirely understood. (No, not even at the end, when you learn a lot more about him.) The book cover describes him as a "good-natured dyer's apprentice who schemes and swashbuckles his way" through history. But that's not totally what happens. I could absolutely love a book about a nice guy who's secretly scheming, or a street-wise apprentice who's smart way above his station and fights his way to the top (which my kindle suggests is the plot). But without spoiling anything, that's not how he's described, especially at the beginning. I liked Nicholas. But I can't love him without understanding him better. Maybe in the next book??

Grade: B
#43 in 2017

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Thirty Years' War, C.V. Wedgwood

It feels silly to say that a book about the 30 Years War was a bit confusing and the endless list of battles was pointless; that is the essence of the 30 Years War and why it's so difficult to understand or teach. This book does a great job when it settles down to talk about social history, the impact of the battles the economics of the battles, or the people involved in the battles. I got a lot of great information about Richelieu and Gustavus Adolphus and I can finally remember which one was Frederick and which two were Ferdinand. But my eyes did glaze over at some of the endless chapters about battles that went nowhere and accomplished nothing.

Grade: B
#42 in 2017

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Curious Beginning, Deanna Raybourne

I couldn't decide how many stars to give this. It's not actively bad, offensive, or upsetting, but unless you love -- LOVE -- this narrator and her narrative voice, there's nothing in this book. I've read plenty of books about sassy Victorian spinsters and the mysterious dukes and adventures they have, but this also included a weird few chapters of interlude at the circus that go nowhere, and no sex. I just wasn't delighted enough with the main character (or intrigued enough by the mystery), and the mysterious angry-but-sad-inside duke was so cliche.  I read it, and to be honest I'd probably read the sequels if they fell into my lap. But the whole time I was reading it I was like "....sure? Fine? I GUESS????"

Grade: C
#41 in 2017

Monday, May 8, 2017

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere), Lisa Cron

I think that ridiculous title is pretty indicative of how I felt about this book. There is good, solid advice in here, and a lot of the writing advice is very helpful. I've been plotting out a novel (because I can't watch the news or I'll lose my mind) and this was a good way to organize it and think about it. But the tone of the book was nails on a chalkboard for me. Other people may enjoy it. It's certainly upbeat and supportive. But it also felt like a manic pixie dream girl was trying to explain to me how how dreams are made, and I didn't find a lot of the sample writing sections very helpful. I didn't need most of the beginning to tell me that human brains like stories or why. I ended up skimming a lot of the end, rolling my eyes and sighing loudly.

Grade: usefulness is a B, tone is a D, let's even it out at a C
#40 in 2017