Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dual Review: IT HAPPENED ONE WEDDING by Julie James

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Sydney is thrilled for her sister when Isabelle announces a sudden engagement, but also kinda bummed. You see, less than a year ago Sydney herself was about to get married, before she found out her fiance was a cheating bastard. Now she has a 32-point list of everything a man has to have before she'll date him: a steady job, friends with steady jobs and/or families, etc. Too bad her future brother-in-law doesn't pass the test, because he's super cute and has a sexy job (FBI agent). Maybe they can just be fuck buddies instead. Yeah. That'll work out.

As regular readers of this blog know, I have some issues with Julie James novels. I loved Just the Sexiest Man Alive, but many of her other novels have irritated me with their unbelievably perfect heroines, gender issues, and complete and utter lack of anything resembling a plot. Since I knew Anachronist from Portable Pieces of Thoughts has had similar issues with James' books—only with an added soup├žon of hatred—I thought it would be fun if we discussed James' latest, It Happened One Wedding.

So what did Anachronist and I think? You might be surprised. Read on to find out:

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Anachronist: When it comes to novels of Ms. James one saying comes to my mind: the more it changes the more it is the same thing (a famous epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr). Would you agree with me?

Tasha: Yes, but maybe that’s a good thing. It Happened One Wedding is a romcom twist on Pride & Prejudice, but fortunately James does that kind of story really well.

Ana: Define ‘well’. The one thing that makes me rather angry and disappointed about her books is the fact that they feature plastic-perfect heroines and heroes, people who deal with artificial problems while they are unvaryingly beautiful, successful, rich, relatively young and desirable. Real life calling  Ms. James: it never happens.

Tasha: Totally agree. I suppose that was the point of all those work scenes we had to sit through, just so we knew Sydney and Vaughn were both successful.

Ana: To tell you the truth I would love to have a chat with Sydney’s ex, that guy who left her almost by the altar and had had sex with his fitness instructor before that. I kept wondering why he cheated on his girlfriend if she was so perfect, pretty, rich and so good...

Tasha: In bed? Presumably because he’s a playa playa. Tigers can’t change their stripes (unless they’re romance heroes of course). Speaking of which, what did you think of Vaughn’s sudden realization that he wanted to get married and have a parcel of kids?

Ana: Option A - his hormones switched on during that wedding preparation period and he hit the early male menopause. Option B - Sydney was feeding him a fidelity drug all the time. Option C - he was UNREAL from the first page to the last and the poor author never had any idea how to make him change from a sexual predator into a family man so she went all deus-ex-machina and ta-dah! Here you go, all of a sudden Vaughn becomes a serious guy who loves kids and wants nothing better than a wife and a family of his own. Tigers can’t change their spots, hein?

Tasha: Why’d he even have to turn into a family man is what I wonder. Uhg that ending was so dumb. If only they’d had a double wedding, then AT LEAST someone would have saved some money. That’s a conclusion I can get behind.

Ana: By the way tell me whether wedding preparations in the USA are really so ridiculously arduous and long as described in this novel (and many other novels as well)?  I admit I half-laughed half-snorted reading about those rehearsals, practices, choosing the dress, trying on the dress, tasting the dishes in a restaurant, stag parties, hen parties and so on. Honestly people, so much fuss and then you divorce after a year or two…

Tasha: lol Actually, yes, that’s pretty standard. Is it not in Europe?

Ana: Not really. Some people do like copying the rehearsals from our lovely American cousins but it is hardly common or widespread. It takes too much time and too much effort I suppose.

Tasha: I don’t know why people have rehearsals—all you have to do is walk down an aisle slowly! Is it really that difficult? But I guess it’s an excuse to go out to dinner afterward.

Ana: Oh, now I see. Dinner at somebody else’s expense. It sounds reasonable at least ;p. Let return to the book, though. What do you think of Sydney’s sister pretending that she wasn’t pregnant before her marriage? Preposterous? Normal? Both?

Tasha: Another deus-ex-machina to get the wedding to happen quickly instead of over the course of a year like normal. It seemed a little old-fashioned, honestly. Like anyone would care, even a Catholic mom? Probably not, but if Isabelle wants to make life miserable for herself…

Ana: I live in a very Catholic country but a bride with a bun in her oven going proudly to church in a white dress is quite normal here. Nobody cares as long as there is a wedding because sometimes there is not. That’s why such a plot device was shocking to me - it sounded so quaint and not in a positive way. I thought the author was hard-pressed for fresh ideas or rather joking...anyway it didn’t make me liking this one more.

Tasha: Yeah, I think she was using it for comic relief to a certain extent. Not to mention that the kid and the wedding is basically the plot. I thought for sure Sydney and Vaughn would connect over a case—I mean, he works undercover in white collar crimes, she’s an investment banker—but James totally missed the boat on that one. Kind of a let-down, even if it would have been a predictable way to bring them together.

Ana: You’re right - so far in the series there has been a crime, a case and there have been two protagonists forced to cooperate in order to solve it. No more of it in this one.

Tasha: Maybe she’s realizing suspense isn’t her strong suit. Kind of like writing about food isn’t her strong suit. Did you catch the tomato cutting scene? Pretty sure that wouldn’t have worked out the way she described it.

Ana: I am not a chef or a good cook but I did wonder how you can cut a tomato into even squares without using some super-extra-outer-space-technology kitchen tool instead of your ordinary knife...perhaps it can be done in James’s America where tomatoes are grown as cubes ;p. Overall did you enjoy It Happened One Wedding? So far we’ve been criticizing it pretty consistently...

Tasha: I did like it. It had a plot (yay!), Vaughn and Sydney had a lot of chemistry, and it was a fun read.

Ana: I suppose the book was better than the previous novels because I managed to finish it at all (yay seconded!) but still I can’t get over the plastic Barbieland all James characters come from. It gives me creeps, really, thinking about all these imperfect readers who all of a sudden are faced with the fact that in some novels only handsome/beautiful/successful people have any chances to find a partner, marry and be happy. Not fair.

Tasha: That’s basically 98.2% of romance novels, though.

Ana: Small wonder I hate them on a daily basis.

Tasha: At least Vaughn wasn’t inexplicably wealthy.

Ana: But he was an FBI agent, they don’t have to be wealthy.

Tasha: They don’t? Oh right, because they can provide security with their shooting and fighting super powers.

Ana: Exactly. And they are handsome, all of them. It is a prerequisite I suppose.

Tasha: And Sydney manages to be the only investment banker who isn’t a sleaze. haha

Ana: If you were to recommend this novel what would you say?

Tasha: That it’s James’ best novel since Just the Sexiest Man Alive and it’s a fun and romcom-y. I think that’s what James’ audience is mainly looking for, anyway.

Ana: Now I am asking myself a rhetorical question: should I read Just the Sexiest Man Alive? Maybe.

Tasha: Since the question’s rhetorical I won’t answer. *wink*





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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Book Review: DEAD, UNDEAD, OR SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN by J. A. Saare

undead cover

Rhiannon works as a bartender in a strip club and can see dead people. When a group of local vampires decide they need her to help solve the mysterious deaths of some of their friends, her life changes forever.

Dead, Undead, or Somewhere In Between was okay. I've never been a huge UF fan; kick-ass chicks are all well and good, but I can only maintain a limited interest in them (in print--this is another example of me having completely opposite tastes in TV and movies, because on screen I'm a huge fan of this stuff). Also, the tropes of the genre are just too ridiculous. They're like those adventure novels from the '60s where the guy has all these women throwing themselves at him for no good reason; except in UF novels it's a bunch of guys throwing themselves at a woman, and instead of fighting cannibalistic natives she fights vampires. I can handle some UF novels as long as I like the characters and there's plenty of romance (NOT every single male chasing after the one girl character, actual romance, like hearts and flowers and stuff); but while I liked the romance in this book, there wasn't a lot of it, and I thought the main character was a grump.

My general annoyance with these types of books aside, I probably would have enjoyed this particular novel more if I hadn't read the Anita Blake novels before it. I wouldn't call Dead, Undead, or Somewhere In Between derivative of that series, but there were certain scenes that felt like they were imagined directly out the Anita Blake universe, especially the scenes with Goose (a professional necromancer who is paid to settle things with the dead and can raise them and turn them into zombies). Rhiannon also reminded me of Anita Blake; but unlike Anita, who is tough as nails when she needs to be--but most of the time just really sarcastic--Rhiannon simply seemed bad-tempered. She reminded me of a teenager because she was always on bitch mode, and it didn't really seem justified. I can appreciate the fact that she has a temper, but almost everyone I know with a terrible temper seems pretty laid back until something sets them off. It's much more dramatic that way.

The author also hit on some of my personal pet peeves, like overzealous descriptions of clothing. ZOMG. I was literally begging her in my head to quit describing what everyone was wearing, not only because I didn't care and it was totally distracting, but because wearing an outfit consisting entirely of clothes all the same color is not fashion, okay? Honestly, the clothes were just boring, and if you're going to waste my time describing outfits FOR NO REASON, the clothes better at least not be boring.

Aside from what everyone was wearing, I didn't know what the point of a good half of the action was, and the fight scene descriptions were completely nonsensical. I know it doesn't really matter and these novels are really just about chicks kicking ass and then having sex with [insert paranormal creature here], but still. Scenes should, in a perfect world, have a point beyond exposition.

But! There were two things I definitely liked about Dead, Undead, or Somewhere In Between: first, Disco, who is the leader of one the "families" of vampires (why do vampires always travel in packs?). He was so cute and sweet! Second, the ending--about the last twenty percent or so--was where things finally got really interesting. Again, I'm not 100% sure why certain things were going on (why was Rhiannon wearing an obviously evil amulet all the time?), but at least I wanted to know.

So, all my personal grievances aside, those who enjoy urban fantasy and don't have migraine-inducing pet peeves about clothing descriptions probably won't have any problems with this novel. I have a feeling the series might pick up some steam as it goes on. And I want to say thanks to Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads for convincing me to read this book and not being TOO upset that I didn't like Dead, Undead, or Somewhere In Between as much as she did.



Monday, June 9, 2014

Review: THE WORD EXCHANGE by Alena Graedon

the word exchange cover

I received a copy of The Word Exchange from the publisher for review consideration via Netgalley. For more on my review policies, please see my full disclosure page.

In our not-too-distant dystopian future, the world is connected through Synchronic Memes, the next generation of smartphones that anticipate their owners' needs. Feeling sick? Your Meme will order a hot toddy for you in a restaurant even though you were planning on ordering water. Trying to come up with a specific word and drawing a blank? Simply look at your Meme and the word will pop up! Synchronic got all these words by buying up dictionaries and publishing companies; but when the editor of the last surviving dictionary in North America disappears just before Synchronic announces a new device that literally inserts into your brain, the editor's daughter, Ana, begins to suspect Synchronic's devices aren't as helpful and benign as they claim.

Guys, it took me soooooooooo long to read this book. Not that I wasn't enjoying it while I was reading it—if I hadn't been I would have DNF'd it—but by the time I got to the end I kinda felt like the time I invested in it wasn't worth it. So that was annoying.

Let me back up: I started The Word Exchange in a bit of a MOOD, but it immediately sucked me in. The story starts off with Ana immediately discovering her father is missing. She knows something's very wrong but she has no idea what. Then the point of view switches to Bart, her father's favorite employee, who is secretly in love with Ana. I absolutely loved Bart! The way he expresses himself is so unique—he uses a lot of really big and obscure words. It sounds tedious but it's actually really charming. Alena Graedon is super clever in the way that she uses Bart's speech patterns to give the reader a sense of how malignant and pervasive word flu is. There IS a lot of backstory at the beginning of the novel, but being so invested in Bart and his storyline, I didn't care.

It was around the middle of the book, after Ana discovers the Nautilus sweatshop, that my patience started to wane. There was a whole lot of wondering what was going on and not much explanation or investigation into discovering answers. Also, at that point I was getting pretty sick of the backstory. I may have started skimming a little.

Then came the end. WHAT A DRAG. Lots of explanation about stuff I didn't care about at all, drawn out for the longest possible time with little in the way of a satisfying emotional resolution. I could have skimmed like a mutha through the second half and still would have gotten the same result as far as closure is concerned.

That said, I still recommend this novel.

jon snow confused


I know, I know. Yes, a bad ending can completely ruin a book, but I think The Word Exchange is clever and well-crafted enough to check out anyway. If I hadn't been busy that month (yes, it took me around three weeks to finally finish this thing), it probably would have gone a lot faster (? Maybe. Initially my Kindle told me it would only take 6 hours to read, although how that's supposed to be possible when there's one chapter for each letter of the alphabet and each chapter takes an hour to finish, I don't have any earthly idea). Graedon takes numerous high-concept ideas and complicated theories and synthesizes them all into something that's easily digestible and approachable, with a relatively good story to boot. I thought The Word Exchange was going to be pretentious and annoying, but it's not—for the most part it's surprisingly fun and fast-paced.

Finally, there's just something so, so right about reading a book where smart phones destroy our civilization WHILE ON A SMART PHONE. Oh, the delicious irony.

The Word Exchange is a really good book, but not a satisfying one. If you're into literary thrillers or books about books, though, you should definitely give it a shot.


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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Review: THE BOOKSELLER by Mark Pryor

the bookseller cover

Hugo Marston is the head of security at the US Embassy in Paris and a bibliophile, which is how he comes to know Max, a bouquiniste—one of the people who sell used books from stalls along the Seine. While chatting with Max one wintry day, Hugo witnesses his old friend being kidnapped, but the police refuse to do anything or even believe Max is in danger. So Hugo takes matters into his own tentacles and decides to do some investing on his own time, with assistance from his CIA friend, Tom, and a beautiful Parisian journalist. Will he be able to discover why Max was taken and if he's still alive?

I am on a serious Paris kick lately—not intentionally, but maybe subconsciously. First there was The Chocolate Touch, Chocolate Thief, and Chocolate Heart by Laura Florand (I basically spent all of April reading Florand novels), and now The Bookseller. But this novel shows a very different Paris from the one in The Chocolate Touch or Thief—this is Paris' dark side, locked in gunmetal grey skies, where a person can disappear as if they never even existed. I kind of loved it. The Bookseller isn't a perfect novel, but it has a lot to recommend it.

First of all, this is the type of book that has everything you want in a noir-ish type mystery: mysterious women who may not be trustworthy, friends who drink too much and have their own agenda, hidden messages, Nazi hunters, gangs, lying cops, corruption, aristocrats, a smart-mouthed secretary, an American who wears cowboy boots. Add in a bunch of Agatha Christie references, a glimpse into the culture of bouquinistes (which I had never really thought about), and several books with incredible histories attached to them, and it would be pretty difficult to make me NOT like this novel.

The main character, Hugo, was also really well-drawn. He has an extensive history; at times The Bookseller felt like the second or third book in a series, not the third. And unlike many mystery heroes, Hugo is uniquely qualified to investigate a kidnapping on foreign soil—in addition to being head of security, he used to work for the FBI (or was it CIA? Anyway...), and he knows his way around guns and stuff, because 'Merica.

That being said, there were a lot of coincidences in this novel that were just too convenient and never explained, aside from being coincidences. Why does Tom just show up suddenly in Paris? Even if he did have a thing going in Marseilles—which sounds fishy—that's not exactly in the neighborhood. And the sexy reporter who hits on Hugo just HAPPENS to be tangentially involved in Max's disappearance? Mmmrkay.

But on the plus side, at least there was more to the investigation than just walking and talking, and you really can't beat the setting. The Bookseller is a very promising start to a series, a book about books, and I wouldn't be averse to reading the further adventures of Hugo. Definitely worth checking out!


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