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The Eleventh Hour

Reading for fun, knowledge and power.

Currently reading

A Hundred Summers
Beatriz Williams
Progress: 10/277 pages
The Weaker Vessel
Antonia Fraser
"Imagine your books are persons. Then arrange them according to the conversations they could have with their neighbors."
Source: http://ask.metafilter.com/31462/Im-like-a-cat-lady-but-with-books-Also-not-a-lady#493171
His Christmas Pleasure - Cathy Maxwell So, the story is: Abby is a 25 year old, almost spinster whose father is trying to get her to marry a morbidly obese widower with 13 children in an arranged marriage that would benefit everyone but Abby herself. Obviously, as you do, she elopes with a sexy, Spanish guy named Andres at the first opportunity, to thwart her father. This handsome Lothario, however, is flat broke and marrying Abby primarily for her money to fix up a house given to him by his ex-paramour's husband. It's...weirdly complicated. The short of it is, Abby's parents won't let her live her life and Andres can give Abby the life she wants...if she gives him her dowry. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement for both of them.

I felt really distanced from this story. There's a lot of telling and not a lot of showing in the narrative. "She is this" and "he did that", and -- after a while -- it got tedious because it felt like I was reading a summary of events rather than an actual, engrossing story. Abby and Andres didn't feel like real people to me either, just a couple of dull, poorly fleshed out characters placed in a wallpaper historical. Yes, Andres is Spanish, but he is such a cardboard cutout character, along with Abby, that I never felt like either of them were anything different from every other hero and heroine out there. I'm pretty sure by tomorrow I won't even remember their names.

Still, this was an okay book. Right up until the climatic ending, which ENRAGED me. The heroine gives the hero your standard "prove your love to me" test, which is fine, but... The actual test itself threatened everything that the hero held dear; he could have lost it all for the super selfish heroine! I'm sorry, but JERK MOVE, Abby. We don't test the people we love by forcing them to choose between you and something they've been working super hard towards, something else that they love. I was half-hoping that Andres would roll his eyes and leave her to teenage emo angst, but ALAS. This last half ruined the book for me. 2 stars = D-ish grade.

Fighting Fair - Anne Calhoun Fighting Fair is the story of a marriage at the crisis point, and the one night that supposedly saves an estranged couple from divorce. Natalie and Shane once had a passionate and committed partnership, but Shane's commitment to his work over his wife have strained the marriage to the point where Natalie is seriously considering cutting her losses and moving on. In a last ditch attempt to save their marriage, Natalie schedules a couples counseling session with a marriage and family therapist -- a session to which Shane is 20 minutes late and pretty dismissive with both Natalie and the therapist. When Shane makes partner at his investment firm a few days later, however, he realizes how empty his marriage has become and how close he is to losing Natalie for good.

Needless to say, given my 2 star rating, I didn't quite buy it. The story starts out pretty interesting, with the counseling session between Natalie and Shane. We see how good their relationship used to be, contrasted with how bitter and strained things have become between the couple. Natalie and Shane are shown to have some serious problems in their relationship, that are years in the making. These problems are magnified when Shane is at a party to celebrate his recent promotion to partner, alone, when he realizes that he has no idea where his wife is and that he wants her back with him. When he spies her talking to another man through the window of a bar, he assumes she's cheating on him and goes to confront her.

This is where the short story fairly unravels. From this point, the angst, resentment and emotions that had been building up between the hero and heroine devolve into a boring sex game of hide and seek, which I thought was unbelievable that Natalie would even agree to at all. At this point in the story, she's barely talking to him. She resents him so much that she can't even look at him without choking on her bile and bitterness. But, when they get home after Shane's accused her of cheating on him, he's like wanna play a game, lol? And she falls in line even though she's already got one foot out of the door. The sex scene itself was, in my opinion, a very drawn out, half-hearted apology from Shane to Natalie after years of ignoring her. Then everything's fine! I guess I wanted to see more actual emotional repairing of the relationship, because it seemed like they slapped a sex band-aid on the mortal wound of their marriage, and I wasn't very confident that any of this would last. I've had this problem before with Anne Calhoun novels, where the sex takes center stage and emotions come in a distant, distant second place. Just not my cup of tea. 2 stars.
Beautiful Disaster (Beautiful, #1) - Jamie McGuire This is a really difficult book to even express my thoughts about... So, the book's compulsively readable, that's one thing. It's also compulsively screwed up, any prospective reader should know that too. I read this book with a sense of dawning horror at what was to come next, and as the page count mounted, what came next was usually the main male protagonist beating people up while the female heroine waited anxiously in the background.

Anyway, Beautiful Disaster is the story of Abby and Travis. They are a freshman and sophomore, respectively, in college. Travis is a frat boy and a cousin to Abby's best friend's boyfriend. Abby has come to college to get away from her terrible father figure who used to play pro poker and drink a lot. She's determined that she'll be someone new this time, which is why she wears a lot of cardigans and fake pearls. For his part, Travis is seducing (which is the classy way to put it) anything that moves and has breasts. He also has a reputation for having breathtaking anger management issues. Sounds like these two people are about to enter a healthy and mature adult relationship, amirite?

This destined duo of soulmates, Abby and Travis, meet at an illegal, underground fighting ring where Travis is fighting; he walks up to her as she is trying frantically to clean up blood (sprayed into the crowd when Travis punched his opponent) on her pink sweater set. It really just sets the tone for entire story, actually. Because the rest of the story consists of Travis stalking Abby and everyone harassing Abby to just go ahead and date Travis, even though he is clearly an unhinged emotional terrorist. For example, Travis violently assaults men who vocalize an appreciation for Abby's physical appearance. He violently assaults men who even dare to come within a 5 foot radius of Abby. He follows her, and forces her to change her hair-style and clothing so that other men won't admire her. He tries to strong-arm her into staying in a relationship with him because he needs her so much, can't she see!

I was honestly unsure, until about 80% of the way through the story, if this was a romance novel or a cautionary tale about abusive and/or co-dependent partners. It really could have gone either way. It's scary the way this is presented, actually. Because Travis comes across as pretty textbook domestic abuser (he just doesn't hit women allegedly), and all of the characters seem to think that Travis is romantic and this behavior is just fine. I spent the whole story thinking "oh honey no" to Abby, as she tried to rationalize her boyfriend's unpredictable and violent actions. To be honest, I left the story thinking I had just read the prequel to a Scorned: Love Kills episode on the Investigation Discovery channel.

As for technical considerations... The writing is readable. I would put this, stylistically, with Fifty Shades of Grey on writing technique. Nothing great, but passable. On the whole, I can't really recommend this book. I feel like I need to read something non-romance to cleanse my palate from this story, and that almost NEVER happens to me. 1 star = F.
Overseas - Beatriz Williams Thoroughly pleasant escapist romance. As a former history major, I have a soft spot for WW1-era books, as that is the time period which I wrote my senior seminar paper about (ages and ages ago, lol). So, I was predisposed, I think, to love this book. The writing, plot and romance are engaging, fresh and fleshed-out. I devoured this book in 2 days and had an awesomely fun time reading it -- the romance between the hero and heroine, as well, made me melt.
The Legend of the Werestag - Tessa Dare Summary: Cecily and Luke, childhood sweethearts, are reunited at a country house party. Luke has been at war for the past four years and has returned home a different man, determined to push Cecily away for her own good. However, the hunt for the mythical Werestag, a local legend about a half-man / half-beast creature that roams the woods, serves to pull them closer and closer together...

Cute, fluffy. It's very short (83 pages on my Kindle), but a nice fix for romance junkies who like historical romances with paranormal themes. I don't know as I entirely bought Luke's turnaround at the end of the story (he was pretty cruel and resistant to Cecily for most of the story), but such is the nature of novellas. It's so hard, in such a short amount of pages, to write a fully fleshed out, angsty romance. IMO, this is a short, pleasant read -- something to read on your lunch break.
Lovers and Ladies - Jo Beverley This is not really a review, just my scattered thoughts on finishing the book.

So, I'm not a huge fan of Jo Beverley's heroines. Almost all of them tend to be very...shrill. They think they know best, which is cool, but they often form their opinions on nothing but misguided spite, malice and stupidity, which makes it hard for me to root for them. So it goes with the heroines of this book, a double book comprised of two of Jo Bev's traditional regency stories, I'm left wondering: why would *anyone* want anything to do with these heroines? I'm normally super into the heroines and adore female characters, but...these heroines are so downright cruel to the heroes. For pretty much the dumbest of reasons. There were so many Big Misunderstandings and TSTL moments on the heroines's end (all centered around the steadfast refusal of both heroines to clearly communicate with the hero) that I just eye-rolled my way through most of the book. I was hoping both heroes would catch a clue and just find smarter, more awesome women to love. Alas, it didn't happen. This will be my last Jo Beverley, as she just doesn't write characters or stories that I enjoy.
The Lion's Lady - Julie Garwood DNF. I really enjoyed the beginning, but then when the love story kicked in, I lost interest. I just found the plot and the characters silly, contrived and dated. I could tell this was a romance novel written in the 1980s. The hero is extra Alpha-y with an especially dated "all women are liars and I know this because of my experience with my ex-wife" type of mindset. The heroine is plucky, almost tiresomely so. She often mixes up her words, which leads to frequent misunderstandings in conversations with the hero. I'm pretty sure this was for comedic effect, but I found it gimmicky and annoying. We're also told that she is super talented with fighting and also very intelligent, but this is never evident in her actions. The side plot with the heroine's mother and father is also pretty unbelievable, tbh. It's just poorly written and executed.

So, yeah. I DNF'd this book after about 150 pages and skimmed to the end. I really wanted to like this book, but it's not my cup of tea, sadly. :(
Sanctuary of Roses - Colleen Gleason Started out as a strong, character-driven drama and ended on a weak, disappointing note. Towards the end of the book, the carefully wrought, emotional story of the first several hundred pages devolved into a boring, snooze fest of plot machinations, complete with clumsy descriptions of combat and a mustache-twirling villain that should've been christened "Giant Plot Contrivance", because that's what he was. I was terribly disappointed, and enough so that I won't be seeking out additional books in the series. 2 stars.
The Post-Birthday World - Lionel Shriver The book, I found, has a tendency to lean towards the gimmicky. Instead of fully exploring two divergent, independent universes, the narrative is limited to a kind of bizarro, mirror universe. If Irina has hot sex in one timeline, then she has tepid sex in the second one. If she starts an argument, then the reverse universe sees her mediating an argument. If Irina becomes passionate and free-wheeling with one lover, then she turns into the exact and line-point opposite with the other: prudish and chained to her relationship. It becomes predictable, after a while. I knew exactly what was coming; there were no surprises, and it left me with the very distinct impression that I was reading a book, rather than getting lost with the characters in their world.

However, where the book does excel, is at portraying human relationships. Anyone who has been in more than one intimate relationship will recognize themselves in Irina's interactions with her boyfriends. The question of who Irina is better with - the shy Lawrence or the exciting, sexually magnetic Ramsey - has a universal quality to it: hasn't everyone thought...what if? Though I am happy with my significant other, I'll be honest: I've thought, on occasion, about some of my ex-boyfriends, and where I might be now if we'd stayed together. The book offers a tantalizing glimpse, a rare resolution to that what-if question. It may be a bit gimmicky in spots, but the real treat here is the writing style and the heartbreaking relationships between Irina and her (would be) lovers.
The Society Wife - India Grey I honestly don't think this book should be classed as a romance. It was one of the most soul-crushing romances I've ever read, outside of Thomas Hardy's oeuvre. You see, the "hero", Tristan, brutally destroys the heroine's life, spirit and will to live, pretty much in that order. At the end of the book, I just felt really badly for the heroine and I was left praying that she could move on from Tristan to find someone who truly loved and appreciated her.

I actually kind of dig alphahole heroes, for sure, but there has to be a good grovel at the end of the book. And there was *no* grovel AT ALL in this book, even after the hero basically ripped the heroine's self-esteem and dignity into flimsy, confetti shreds. Like, even as he does worse and worse things to the heroine (because he had a crappy childhood, *eyeroll*), there was barely any acknowledgement from him that he regretted what he was doing. And at the end of the book -- and this is after the hero has been verbally abusive, cold, horrible and left the heroine bleeding and alone in the hospital after a traumatizing miscarriage -- the heroine actually apologizes to him. TO HIM. For not having enough faith in him or something, I DON'T KNOW. At that point, I felt like I needed a shower and if I hadn't been reading the book on my iPhone, I would thrown the whole thing against the wall.

So, yeah. I do have strong feelings about this book, mostly anger. I think India Grey writes wonderfully, but this hero of hers was a little too dark and sociopathic for my taste.
Suite Française - Irène Némirovsky, Sandra Smith 5 stars = A+. An unfinished masterpiece, a snapshot in time of German-occupied France in World War II. I haven't read a book this powerful or engrossing in a very long time. The book is comprised of two novella-length stories, which are:

1.) 'Storm in June': follows several Parisians as they flee the city after they learn of the collapse of the French army and the advance of the Germans. I thought this story had an almost dream-like quality about it: the prose is so gorgeous, descriptive and lush. There are several passages here that just resonated very strongly with me, because they were so eloquently described. I also felt that the author captured the essence of real people. So often, characters in stories are a little like Sims characters: not really, totally human, but you pretend they are, anyway. The characters in 'Storm' just felt so real. Real people, with all their vices, vanities and ridiculousness on display. It made the read all the more compelling for me, because every character felt so genuine and life-like.

2.) 'Dolce': this story was about the arrival of a German regiment in a little French country town, set after 'Storm'. The French and Germans form uneasy relationships with one each other, discovering that they really are more alike than different. This revelation is highlighted by the growing relationship between a young German officer and a pretty, kind Frenchwoman whose soldier husband has been taken prisoner. I found this story to be sad and emotional; the strange friendship/chaste love affair between Bruno and Lucile was heartbreaking, really well-drawn. I kept thinking that in another time and place...maybe... Tragic. Just a beautiful read, though. Slow-paced, but melodic -- Bruno refers to his time with Lucile as the eye of the storm, everything is raging around them, but it's calm in the center, where they are. It's a great way to describe the story: a quiet rumination of every-day events, emotions and relationships, set against the backdrop of a horrific, brutal war.

A little background: Suite Française was written by Irène Némirovsky, a Russian-born Jewish woman who emigrated to France after the Russian Revolution in 1917. A gifted writer, with an amazing, clear writing style, she was still in the process of writing this novel when she was deported from France and murdered by the Nazis in 1942. She envisioned the finished novel as being a written symphony, to have five parts -- however, only two (unfinished parts) were written at the time of her death.
Wicked Intentions - Elizabeth Hoyt really don’t know why I keep reading Elizabeth Hoyt’s books. They’re such wallpaper historicals, with modern-thinking characters running around in historical-looking costumes, everyone talking about how they totally, would do that, like, right? Because, I guess, historical research is hard and attempting to use the actual cadence and language structure of the period would be too difficult for modern readers to understand. Or something. So, the plot… There’s the hero, Lazarus (a.k.a. Lord Caire), who is a Lucius Malfoy clone, complete with prematurely white hair and a surly, cruel demeanor. He starts off the book with intentions to try and avenge his murdered mistress, Marie. Strangely, Caire’s revenge quest had no real motive that I could discern (he didn’t love or like her). But, anyway. Instead of hiring a sturdy guard or ex-soldier to help him navigate the seedy, unsafe neighborhood of St. Giles, where Marie lived, he hires…Temperance, a flighty and wide-eyed widow who owns an orphanage that is hemorrhaging money after the death of its wealthy benefactor. Caire promises to be her benefactor if she guides him through the neighborhood. Yes, it’s an excellent plan, by the way [/sarcasm]. It’s so excellent that they’re actually attacked several times by roaming thieves, who (correctly), perceive them to be rich, easy targets.

Anyway, the main characters have little actual development and depth. Temperance was stock romance heroine #9, the Shamefully Sensuous Widow™. She let her passions run away with her when she was married to her late husband, Benjamin, and she had an affair with some other random dude. She was actually having sex with the other random dude at the exact moment that her husband was…hit and killed by a runaway produce cart, I think. LOL, the unintentional hilarity. Anyway, this revelation is NEVER explored or commented upon in any detail except once, very late in the story. I was never sure why this was; it seemed like a pretty important detail. Like, once a cheater, always a cheater? Apparently, however, no one – not even the hero – cared, which I found a little odd.

The hero was also…just all right, whatever. He was gossiped about, by others, as being “depraved” and “perverted.” His perversion? A little, light, consensual bondage. Think handcuffs. That’s it. There’s so much angst and drama over the hero’s INSATIABLE, HORRIFIC depravities and, in the end, all he likes to do is tie up and blindfold his ladies. Um, okay, whatever blows your skirt up? Why is this a big deal? Trust me, people in the Georgian era did this, it was a valid kink, even then. Caire also has this weird thing about not being touched; it causes him physical pain to be touched by another human being. Again, like Temperance’s cheating, this is mentioned maybe once or twice, then never again. There was also never any reason given for this, which – what? Why include this detail if it’s never explained?

The writing was average; the story’s setting was unexceptional. I'd say this would be an okay beach read, if nothing else. Turn your brain off and (maybe) enjoy.
Skeletons at the Feast: A Novel - Chris Bohjalian Haunting. I was completely obsessed with the story and the characters while I was reading this. The novel captures the WWII the era -- the fear, the uncertainty, the relentless and unbelievable brutality -- and the lives of common people just...brilliantly. An incredibly written book, overall, that is worth a read for just about anyone.

That said, I had a hard time rating this, vacillating between 4 and 5 stars. I eventually choose 4.5 stars, only because I felt that the inner lives of the main characters, Anna and Callum, were not as well-developed as some of the supporting characters. This detracted from my enjoyment of the novel slightly, particularly at the ending. Still, an amazing and sad book; reading this completely broke my heart. 4.5 stars = A grade.
Surrender to an Irish Warrior - Michelle Willingham The story is pretty average Harlequin Historical stuff. It’s, more or less, modern people running around a fantasy version of historical Ireland, circa some random Hollywood Medieval year. So, the plot: Morren’s village was attacked by a Viking clan. She was raped and left for dead. She’s now having a miscarriage in an abandoned cottage where Trahern, the hero, is trying to save her life. The only reason that Trahern is in this part of Ireland is because he has come to avenge his fiancée, who died in the raid on Morren’s village. Together, they must discover who raided the village, which proves to be a difficult and dangerous plan of action.

Okay, so the set-up is a bit complicated. Overly complicated, I actually thought. There was a lot of potential for the characters to go on an emotional journey together, given their past baggage, but they just…don’t. No one’s problems are explored with any depth, sensitivity or empathy. So why such a complicated beginning plot? If you’re never going to deliver any emotional catharsis for the characters, or explore the themes of rape, loss and grief, why even include them in the story? I didn’t understand it. The characters simply move past their grief with limited thought, which I thought was very shallow characterization.

Speaking of characterization, the characters were paper-dolls with strange viewpoints designed not to anger readers. For example, Morren is pregnant by her rapist(s). But, she loves her baby, without reservation. …I mean, I found it unrealistic that Morren had no mixed feelings about her pregnancy. I just wish the author would have let Morren be more conflicted about the baby. Like, let the girl have her anger, let’s explore it, because she has a right to be angry and sad about this. There’s no discussion of the complexity of Morren’s situation, only tired moral platitudes that we’ve all heard before. Trahern, by contrast, was…all right. He also had a pseudo-sad backstory that was complete window-dressing, and that’s about it.

To sum up, I was pretty unmoved by the superficial romance, lack of historical detail and very spare, plain writing style. Not a good story me, personally.
Fallen - Celeste Bradley FALLEN is the story of the very plain, but sweet and kind, Izzy Temple and Julian Blackworth, handsome and a bit of a playboy. The story starts off with Julian seducing Izzy in her bed while the two are at a house party -- except he thinks she's someone else and she's so frightened that she knocks him unconscious with a candelabra, bringing everyone at the house party running to her room to see what all the noise is about. Izzy and Julian are forced into a sham betrothal to satisfy his father, who has threatened to disinherit him for despoiling an innocent virgin.

This is a very cute story. Izzy has a delightful -- sweet and kind without being cloying or forced -- personality. She is rather plain-looking, and I *loved* that, even when she is made over with new clothes and a hairstyle, she's still plain. But, of course, Julian gradually comes to think of her as quite beautiful (even though he's alone in that opinion). Julian and Izzy have delightful chemistry, and they become good friends before they're lovers, which adds a deeper dimension and weight to their eventual romantic relationship. They have an easy, lovely rapport together that I enjoyed *so* much.

The writing is nice, but the plot, especially at the end, tends to be a bit uneven. This is Celeste Bradley's debut book, though, so that's understandable. Still, it's a very nice romance and I had a lot of fun reading it. Will be looking to read more by Celeste Bradley in the future; I recommend this book; it's a good, cozy comfort read. 4.5 stars = A grade.
The Making of a Gentleman - Shana Galen Started out good, but -- about midway through -- devolved into a sloppy, boring mess. The characters are never well-developed, and the plot drags and drags and drags...

The story is this: Armand was a French aristocrat captured during the French Revolution, when he was 11. He was put in a prison cell and left to rot, growing up with only a pet rat for companionship. Somehow, 12 years later, Armand's brother rescues him and takes him to the family's new home in England (they can't very well go back to France, sadly). Armand, of course, is uncouth and dirty and childish in behavior, having been forced to grow up in a prison cell. He also refuses to talk or be touched. So, the family gets him a tutor. A young, nubile, blonde female tutor. Yeeeaaahhh, I don't know. It's an incredibly flimsy plot, just so you know.

Anyway, the story unfolds from there. Armand is, obviously, hot for sexy teacher, Felicity. There's also some sort of ridiculous spy plot or something about treasure. It's dumb and poorly executed, that's all you need to you know. Also, the chemistry between the two leads starts out strong, but then heads to Lukewarm City because the author never bothers to flesh out the characters. They are superficial; there are no hidden depths or motivations. Everything they feel or think, they express. There is no introspection and nothing to indicate that these characters are anything more than Stock Hero and Heroine #25,8897A, ripped straight from the Harlequin vault of characters. Totally bland, completely generic -- ALL THE CHARACTERS, too. No one had a lickspittle of real, genuine personality.

The writing wasn't awful, though. It was competent. However, the story, characters and plot were sub-par. IF you're looking for a rich, deep story with wonderful characters, though, look elsewhere. 2 stars = D grade.