Sometimes in life, we need a few bad days in order to keep the good ones in perspective.

Maybe Someday | Colleen Hoover
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Just days after her father’s unexpected death, Ibby Bell is dropped off on her estranged grandmother’s doorstep with nothing but the urn that holds her father’s ashes. Nobody knows when, or if, her mother will return. At Fannie’s house, Ibby is thrust into an entirely new world. Until then, she’d grown up in Olympia, Washington. Now she lives in New Orleans. She’d never lived anywhere with a maid, or a cook, or anything, but Fannie has several people who help her out. As Ibby adjusts to her new life, she also finds out that her family has kept many secrets hidden throughout the years.

I really enjoyed Dollbaby, and it’s hard to pinpoint why I didn’t want to give it a higher rating. The characters are well-developed, and all of them have distinct voices. Queenie and Dollbaby are clearly the backbone of Fannie’s household, and I enjoyed their backstories and side plots. There were a few twists throughout, and I did see all of them coming, but that didn’t ruin it at all for me. I enjoyed learning the details along with Ibby.

The thing that I probably disliked the most is that the book felt almost like a movie script. I felt like there were some awkward transitions that would have done well with a “fade to black” kind of movie transition. At times, especially when Doll and Queenie were telling Ibby about her grandmother’s past, it felt like the stories should be in that kind of fuzzy, weirdly lit effect that movies so often do. It would have helped to better differentiate, because the story jumps at random from a present day conversation to a story, several pages long, about something that happened twenty or forty years ago. It’s not necessarily bad, and of course in the final version may be differentiated a little better, but it took some getting used to. (I also have to admit that I wondered how Doll and Queenie knew so many details about how Fannie was feeling and what she was thinking when she made certain choices. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to feel like they were telling the story. Maybe it was just supposed to be a flashback.)

In the end, I can safely give Dollbaby 3.5/5 stars. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy.

Final rating:  

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In Kiss Me Hard Before You Go, Evie Barnes is the daughter of a dairy farmer who’s always looking for another way to supplement his income. Gray Barnes takes full advantage of the hundreds of acres he owns, bringing in extra money with a rollerskating rink and by allowing a circus to take up residence at the edge of his property for five weeks each summer. Evie, however, doesn’t see the draw of the circus. The sounds, the smells, the hordes of people – all of it annoys her. Her father gives the carnies strict orders to stay away from his daughter – all the better, Evie thinks, since she barely tolerates them anyway. But when Finch Mills, the carnival’s handyman, worms his way into her heart, she begins to realize that there’s no basis for her deep-seated dislike of the carnival.

First things first, I had Summertime Sadness playing on repeat in my head the entire time I read this book.

Anyway, onto the real review.

I can’t say anything about this book without mentioning the persistent grammatical errors throughout – multiple errors in each chapter. I wondered if I’d accidentally been sent an uncorrected proof, but in the acknowledgements, McCrimmon thanks her editor. Honestly, if I were that editor, I would be ashamed to have my name associated with this book. Common mistakes in this book were the incorrect use of your/you’re, too/to, its/it’s, so on and so forth. Plurals were indicated with apostrophes. It was painful. I had to subtract a star for that alone.

The story itself is fine – it’s a sweet, innocent romance and a very quick read. There are quite a few subplots, many of which are never quite resolved. It’s neither terrible nor amazing, just somewhere in the middle. I wasn’t disappointed, but given the many glowing reviews, I was hoping I would like it a little more than I did.

Final rating: 

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I guess I should start this off by saying that I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started this book. I got an email from Netgalley with a list of new romance titles, and I requested a bunch of them without reading the summaries. (That was my first mistake.) I saw that this was a slightly different type of romance than I usually read, but I went with it, thinking it would be a good introduction to the genre. Of course, the fact that it has almost a 5 star average rating helped. I’m sorry to say that I just didn’t get this one. I don’t understand why everyone liked it. I didn’t think it was sexy – I actually found Kyler to be very creepy, and while I liked Ella at the beginning, I was very disappointed in the way her character devolved from a strong, single woman to a woman totally dependent on, and totally willing to change, for a man she barely knows.

In Desired, Ella has just gotten out of a bad marriage. Her soon-to-be ex-husband was a violent alcoholic, and she moved from Savannah, Georgia to Las Vegas to start over. She hears a challenge on the radio to live like you only have a few months left, and decides that she wants to spend more time saying yes and less time saying no. She wants to try new things she never would have done before, and then she meets Kyler. Kyler is a police officer who’s very much into BDSM. As Ella and Kyler get to know each other, the pull to bring her into his world – where he’s a Master at Club Sin – gets stronger and stronger. But how can he bring Ella into his world of BDSM knowing that she’s had an abusive past?

The thing that really bothered me throughout this entire book is that everybody thinks they know better than Ella. She says she doesn’t want to talk about her past, that she wants to keep it in the past. But no, everybody is going to badger her about it until she breaks down and starts crying – but this is good, because it means she’s showing vulnerability. Ella says that she’s ready to join Kyler at Club Sin, but he says she’s not ready, because clearly, after a few weeks, he knows her better than she knows herself? Ella started the book by empowering herself to leave a bad situation and take her life back into her own hands, and she finishes the book letting other people call the shots. An example:

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she growled, angry tears filling her eyes. How many times did she possibly have to say that? “I don’t need to talk about it. I dealt with it, okay? For months I dealt with what it did to me. I have recovered from that. I don’t want to go back to that time in my life.”

Kyler didn’t move. Was he even breathing?

He finally said, “You must, Ella. It’s that simple.”

She wiped her tears, cursing those damn things trailing down her cheeks, and said through clenched teeth, “I don’t understand why you need to hear about what happened in the past.”

(This goes on and on and on and on ad nauseam.)

The second thing – and I have to preface this by saying that I read an uncorrected proof, so this may be corrected in the final version – is that Kyler’s voice is so stilted and awkward. One example – “I know that you’re a person who craves to be happy.” What’s wrong with “I know that you crave happiness”? Less words, not awkward. Also, his little pet names for Ella – especially “little one” – made my skin crawl. If any guy called me “little one” as he was trying to seduce me, I would probably vomit and then run away. Pet names like that are the polar opposite of sexy to me.

Finally, the narration constantly reminds the reader that Kyler is a Dom. Like, every other page. At least. “You’re asking Kyler to do the unthinkable when it comes to Dom behavior.” “He wouldn’t be a good Dom if he didn’t pay attention to the sadness in Ella’s soul.” “His eyes blazed with his dominance as he gripped her arms tight against her back.” I just searched my Kindle, and Kyler is referred to a Dom 160 times over 256 pages. This does not include all the mentions of a D/s relationship. I understand that Kyler is a Dom. He’s a Master. Okay. Okay. Okay. It’s pretty hard to forget. I do not need to be reminded every fifteen seconds.

Overall, given the other favorable ratings, I wonder if I just was not the target audience for this book.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy.

Final rating: 

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When he applied for his job, Lincoln didn’t know that “internet security officer” meant “email snooper.” He thought he’d be doing something cool at the newspaper, something to brag about, not writing citations for forwarding chain emails. He doesn’t enjoy his job, not at all. Not until emails from Beth and Jennifer start filling up his folder of flagged messages.

Beth and Jennifer send emails to each other about everythingexcept work. It’s a direct violation of company policy, and Lincoln knows he should give them written warnings, but he just can’t – then how would he keep up with their witty conversations? It isn’t long before he starts falling for Beth, but how would he ever explain how he knows her?

I swear, only Rainbow Rowell can make me fall for an email-snooper who, at 28 years old, still lives with his mother. And not only that, he’s been pining over his high school girlfriend for almost a decade, and his only friends are the people he playsDungeons & Dragons with on the weekends. Somehow, when Rainbow writes a character like this, he’s endearing, not creepy.

The story is so unique, unlike anything I’ve read recently (or maybe ever). It’s not your average chick-lit. In fact, it might not be chick-lit at all. It took a little while to get into, and the ending wrapped up a little too quickly for my taste, but overall it was a very good book, a very quick read, and I would highly recommend to anybody who likes quirky characters. Oh, and it’s a definite must for fans of Rainbow Rowell’s other novels.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

It was easy to love your idea of someone – to fall hard for their very best self. The question was whether, once you had to spend some time living with their worst self, you could bear to be with them anymore.

Truly | Ruthie Knox